Eleventh-ranked Samuel Black is always a safe assumption on the player most likely to be doing something really, really cool with a Constructed deck. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to watch him and twenty-fourth-ranked Chris Fennell square off in the feature match area for Round 4.
However, the games weren't particularly close. Fennell scooped up his cards for a second game after Black assembled a mighty life-gain and card-manipulation engine that involved...well, this.
With the ability to gain 6, 7, 8 life and then some with each creature turned face-up as he continued to add creatures to his board via Mastery of the Unseen, Black also had the ability to—ironically—see what he was getting with Courser of Kruphix. If anything seemed better suited for his hand, Temur Sabertooth gave Black the option to “draw” that manifested card instead, and also ensured that there were few ways Fennell would be able to address the avalanche of free cards Black was finding.
The second game was a little more direct, with Black playing a third-turn Whisperwood Elemental (which earned an Abzan Charm from Fennell), a turn four Nissa, Worldwaker (that met a Hero's Downfall), and a Genesis Hydra for five that found Whisperwood Elemental #2 (that granted Black four manifests after an End Hostilities). The resulting manifests dropped Fennell to 2.
When Black found a third Whisperwood Elemental, it ensured that he could turn over his face-down Elvish Mystic to get a replacement manifest should Fennell cast a second End Hostilities. That's exactly what happened, which left Black with the lethal attacker, at 4-0, and me with a couple of questions.
The most notable question being: just how good is Mastery of the Unseen?
“It's great!” he replied, referring not specifically to the card, but to the deck in general, with Mastery being the key reason why Black's selection for this weekend was Green-White Devotion.
“I tried it [Master of the Unseen] in Red-White and it over-performed,” Black explained. “I first put it in the sideboard, because I knew I wanted it against control but I wasn't sure where it would be good. I brought it in in a couple of different spots and it kept over-performing. At that point, I said, 'I think this might be a main-deck card!'”
Black did just that, shifting the four copies of the manifest-maker into the main-deck of Red-White. “I put it in the main-deck of Red-White for a while, and it was consistently good,” he continued. “Then after seeing Blue-Black do well, I decided that Mastery was the truth. I just needed to find the right home for it, and green was better than anything else.”
Eleventh-ranked Samuel Black discovered the power of Mastery of the Unseen at Grand Prix Memphis, and now he's primed to maximize what the card can do for him.
Green did a multitude of things for Mastery of the Unseen that Red-White couldn't do. First of all, the Green Devotion strategy in general was just a better home for a deck that wanted to manifest things (as Hall of Famer Frank Karsten pointed out with regards to Whisperwood Elemental a few weeks ago in Seville).
“It's a combination between the fact that you want your deck to be all creatures anyway, and you have a ton of mana,” Black elaborated. “You just gain literal hundreds of life, and you're manifesting all-stars. They can't really play around the idea that all of these 2/2s could be Whisperwood Elemental or Polukranos, so they have to play like they're 2/2s and just get blown out when they're an all-star.”
Of course, it doesn't stop there. Potentially blow-out manifests include (but are not limited to) creatures like Courser of Kruphix, the earlier-mentioned Temur Sabertooth, or potentially other creatures that are much better when they transform from mystery 2/2s into something bigger.
And this deck certainly loves to turn its creatures face-up. A lot.
“I played a lot of games where I just let my opponent attack for 20 a turn,” Black said. “It's not worth trading creatures because of devotion, and each creature represents a large amount of life gained over each turn. They'll attack me with some Siege Rhinos and some fliers and I'm like, 'Yeah I could block and trade, but I'll just take 20, gain 50'. I've ended games where I was taking 20 a turn at over 100.”
It certainly allows Black to win the races where he's swinging back should the opponent ever try to think attacking is a real game-plan. But the concept of swinging back is not one that Black is playing toward.
“I'm not even swinging back!” he exclaimed. “I don't care about my opponent's life total. I'm just not even attacking.” Rather than pretending that a real race is going on, Black is more than content to just sit there, manifest creatures, gain a ton of life, and then attack for the win in a single combat where nothing out of the ordinary could possibly go wrong. And he's right: why bother when you know for a fact you can't lose? It's far better to sit and wait for the right moment.
Of course, while Mastery of the Unseen is the key card, the powerful green devotion creatures provide the perfect storm of power.
“Courser and Mastery is absolutely huge,” Black said. “It just gives you a ton of control over your draws and allows you to dig for a land to play. Getting perfect information on when and how to spend your mana on Master is huge.”
Black was not the only person playing Green-White Devotion this weekend.
“Everyone I've been preparing with closely is,” he answered. “I posted it on the Team Work Facebook group and said it's really good, but they haven't seen me play with or have prepared with it, so they're playing with decks they know. But certainly anyone who would listen, I told them to play this.”
On top of Black and the Madison contingency that tested with him, Brad Nelson's play-group sleeved up Green-White Devotion as well. However, both Nelson's Black's play-groups has slightly different variations on the deck that suited each group's respective play-style, and we'll get a bit more into those variations when I take a closer look at Mastery of the Unseen as a whole (along with the deck lists that are include it) tomorrow during Day Two's coverage.
The thing about Mastery of the Unseen is that you rarely ever activate it once. We'll be revisiting the manifest-machine again this weekend, so look out for more tomorrow when we look at the full 75-card lists for this deck (and more that are utilizing the enchantment).