During Pro Tour Gatecrash, when Boros Reckoner was the new standout hybrid creature, the Dimir entry, Nightveil Specter, sat on the sidelines completely overshadowed by its then-sexier brethren. However, Pro Tour Theros was Nightveil Specter's time to shine. Empowered by the devotion strength in both blue and black, Nightveil Specter was already an auto-include in three-drop slot for many devotion decks. And though it turned Thassa, God of the Sea into a creature with ease, its triggered ability was even more relevant.
Essentially stealing a card from the opponent's library allowed for endless possibilities. For example, in the quarterfinals, eventual winner Jeremy Dezani used it against Kamiel Cornelissen to steal both a Mountain and Mizzium Mortars during one of their games, and he cast the off-color spell to give him some breathing room in the damage race. When No. 25 Ranked Player Sam Black took a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx from No. 20 Ranked Player Makihito Mihara and used it to create a truck-load of mana, he graciously thanked his opponent when handing it back. But even when it's not doing something giant and splashy, it can still be helpful, like when Kai Budde took an off-color Plains from Osyp Lebodowicz to cast Judge's Familiar, another hybrid Return to Ravnica creature which saw play at the top tables all weekend.
What really pushed Nightveil Specter over the top was how effective it was in the mirror. The ability to steal not only lands, but cards that add devotion to spells like Master of Waves, or heaven-forbid a Master itself, makes for one of the more important mirror breakers. A few Mono-Blue Devotion players expecting the mirror coming into the tournament played Domestication; one of the Aura's best uses was to take an opposing Nightveil Specter. Not only does it knock your opponent off devotion, turning off Thassa, but the play single-handely turns on yours.
One of the most interesting changes to the format with the addition of Theros is the cards from Return to Ravnica block that were criminally underplayed before, and have since found a home. Though there are many, few cards highlight this transition as well as Nightveil Specter.
Though Garruk, Caller of Beasts is definitely the most powerful card from the various Colossal Gruul builds this weekend, no green or red card had a larger impact on the format than Polukranos, World Eater. The Japanese pros specifically saw the legendary beater's power and used it superbly, vaulting Makihiro Mihara into the semifinals. Even though the Mono-Blue Devotion deck has good game against the deck, this guy, with just one activation, can often take out every problematic creature on the board – often involving a Tidebinder Mage – allowing the Gruul deck to take games it has no business taking.
Mihara's version of Colossal Gruul uses the tag-team combo of Voyaging Satyr and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, which has been shown (against Brian Kibler, for one) to sometimes create upwards of 15 mana on the fourth turn. A great sink for that amount of mana is a gigantic monstrosity activation of Polukranos, letting the creature truly live up to its title "World Eater," wiping your opponents board and swinging for a devastating blow.
And let's not even go into what happens when you use Domri Rade's fighting ability with Polukranos. After just a small monstra-sizing, it's quite capable of taking out Stormbreath Dragon, Desecration Demon, Alms Beast, and many of the other similarly sized midrange staples.
What made the Colossal Gruul deck so successful was its ability to go from a strong midgame to an even stronger late game. Polukranos, World Eater is the lynchpin that makes this happen.
3. Doom Blade
"My only regret is not playing more Doom Blades."
These words, spoken by Patrick Chapin, emphasize how important Doom Blade has been to the black-based midrange and control decks in the field. In a field filled with various flavors of Devotion, spot removal cards like Doom Blade play a key part in keeping those decks away from being able to fully utilize their cards. Thassa is just an enchantment. Nykthos never gets broken. Xenagos, the Reveler, never has enough creatures in play to enable a mana explosion. Doom Blade keeps things simple.
Best of all, it is an instant, which is impossible to ignore. Being able to drop a player out of devotion mid-combat is incredibly powerful. Opponent trying to block with a Mutavault? Doom Blade kills it. Master of Waves got you down? Doom Blade kills it. Stormbreath Dragon breathing down your neck? Doom Blade kills it. Opponent activating Polukranos, World Eater, to kill your team? Doom Blade kills it. Joke about how Doom Blade kills everything? Doom Blade kills it.
Three different styles of decks took advantage of Doom Blade to push their way to the Top 8. Paul Rietzl's Orzhov Midrange deck paired it with Hero's Downfall (also known as Doom Blade plus) to remove even the peskiest of planeswalkers. Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's very Wafo-Tapa Esper Control deck and Kentarou Yamamoto's Mono-black Devotion deck used this same pairing to keep themselves safe all weekend long, taking full advantage of black's new found ability to slay planeswalkers and creatures alike to secure their berths in the Top 8. Seeing their success served as an incredibly flagrant reminder that Doom Blade kills it.
Unless it's a planeswalker. Then Hero's Downfall kills it. Either way, it's dead.
It's rare that a card actually lives up to the hype generated before its release, and even rarer when it exceeds it. From the moment that Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, was previewed, people began to buzz about its potential. Lands aren't usually able to provide multiple mana anymore, and when they are, it usually comes at a reasonably steep cost. For Nykthos, there was the ever-present threat of Supreme Verdict, expected to be a major player in Standard, which worried people. Nykthos requires a large commitment to the board in order to get even an even return on your investment. In the world of Supreme Verdict, that was a dangerous idea.
Time passed, and the true shape of the format began to coalesce. One thing was clear: it was not a Supreme Verdict world. For Nykthos, nothing could have been better. By the time Pro Tour Theros began, the hype surrounding Nykthos reached a fever pitch. Team ChannelFireball was referring to their Nykthos Red deck as Academy Red, a throwback to Tolarian Academy, one of the most hilariously overpowered cards to ever see the light of day. With such a lofty comparison, it would be easy for Nykthos to have fallen on its face.
But it didn't. In fact, it thrived and contributed to some of the most exciting moments of the Pro Tour. There were stories floating around the room of Makihito Mihara's Colossal Gruul deck generating twenty mana on turn four. Kentarou Yamamoto's Mono-black Devotion deck used it, on more than one occasion, to utterly go off with Pack Rat and Erebos, God of the Dead. It even carried Kamiel Cornelissen to a Top 8 berth with a pre-tuned version of the ChannelFireball red deck. At this point, the power level is undeniable. The real question from here becomes how does it evolve? Where can it find a home that it didn't previously have one? What can players do to stop it? Should they even bother trying to stop it?
Even with all it has accomplished, there are still so many unanswered questions about Nykthos, questions that will only be answered as Standard continues to evolve in the weeks to come.
Thassa, God of the Sea, is the God of long voyages, introspection, and ancient knowledge. On his own long voyage to becoming the Pro Tour Theros champion, Jeremy Dezani needed his fair share of introspection and knowledge. Fortunately, it appears that the Gods were on his side.
The most exciting new deck creation will not necessarily always win the Pro Tour, but it sure did here at Pro Tour Theros! Mono-Blue Devotion quickly proved itself to be the big story of the weekend in the Swiss portion, dwarfing all other deck archetypes in the Top 8, and dominating the playoffs. While it certainly wasn't a deck that was difficult to find once the new Standard card pool had been introduced, it was clearly difficult to optimize. In the end, it was Team Revolution's version of the deck that proved the mightiest, with the two players in the Top 8 playing it storming through the bracket to meet in the finals.
Thassa has so many things going for it. As a cheap 5/5 creature that is virtually always animated, Thassa provided a clock that few decks could keep up with. Even in times when Thassa lacked the devotion to directly attack, its activated ability ensured that there would always be a constant stream of damage. In most cases, after the boards had come to a stall, Thassa broke it open, forcing through the last points of damage and stealing many a game, including the last game of Pierre Dagen's semifinal match against Sam Black.
With all of the reasons to play devotion, Thassa was aided by one of the best supporting casts in the format. Nightveil Specter is an absolute beast against the other blue decks in the field. Tidebinder Mage is phenomenal against the Gruul and Naya Decks that made up the majority of the midrange decks in the Pro Tour. And you simply can't overlook Master of Waves. With all of the devotion working for Thassa, the Master was able to leech enough off to result in some incredible explosions of power, often spewing upwards of ten points of power onto the table for a mere four mana.
Of all the Gods in the pantheon, Thassa isn't the flashiest or the largest. But with the best, most devoted followers in Standard, Thassa proved to be the champion on all levels.