Self-Appointed Flavor Judge: Fun with Devotion

Last time I had a real point about what’s wrong with the design of [card]Sidisi, Brood Tyrant[/card] from a flavor point of view, even if it was written very tongue-in-cheek. This time, not so much. Still written tongue-in-cheek, but this time I can’t really fault any one for the possible problems. There’s just too much history to take it all into account. And I like Devotion as a mechanic.

I recently made a [card]Pharika, God of Affliction[/card] deck for our EDH games. It looked something like this:

[deck]
[commander]
Pharika, God of Affliction
[/commander]
[creatures]
Ambush Viper
Big Game Hunter
Blood Seeker
Bloodghast
Bone Dancer
Coffin Queen
Consumptive Goo
Dawntreader Elk
Deadly Recluse
Deathrite Shaman
Dross Harvester
Fauna Shaman
Fleshbag Marauder
Gatekeeper of Malakir
Hag Hedge-Mage
Hypnotic Specter
Liliana’s Reaver
Nightshade Peddler
Nyx Weaver
Ohran Viper
Ophiomancer
Pain Seer
Pit Keeper
Predator Ooze
Reaper of the Wilds
Royal Assassin
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Scavenging Ooze
Scute Mob
Servant of Tymaret
Skirsdag High Priest
Skullbriar, the Walking Grave
Slum Reaper
Spawnwrithe
Stalker Hag
Strangleroot Geist
Troll Ascetic
Ulvenwald Tracker
Vampire Nighthawk
Viridian Emissary
Wasteland Viper
Wickerbough Elder
Wight of Precinct Six
Wolfir Avenger
Young Wolf
[/creatures]
[lands]
Bojuka Bog
Command Tower
10 Forest
Gilt-Leaf Palace
Golgari Guildgate
Golgari Rot Farm
Grim Backwoods
Jungle Hollow
Llanowar Wastes
Overgrown Tomb
11 Swamp
Swarmyard
Tainted Wood
Temple of Malady
Twilight Mire
Woodland Cemetery
[/lands]
[spells]
Demonic Tutor
Overrun
Prey Upon
Sever the Bloodline
Liliana of the Veil
Back to Nature
Cremate
Doom Blade
Go for the Throat
Golgari Charm
Hero’s Demise
Hero’s Downfall
Provoke
Shriveling Rot
Silence the Believers
Ultimate Price
Beastmaster Ascension
Deathreap Ritual
Necropotence
[/spells]
[/deck]

Its not a serious deck (and I’m pretty sure that’s not the actual list either, because I remember making some last minute changes). Its more about playing with cards I don’t usually play (although it does include plenty of cards I play regularly). Still, won me a game. Weenie power.

Playing this sort of deck is both liberating and educational. Liberating in the sense that I don’t feel the same pressure to have the deck perform as I do when I play decks I’ve actually designed instead of just a bunch of cards selected on some random criteria (here the curve is very low for an EDH deck, capping at five and only one card at that). Educational in the sense that when I play these more or less random cards, some of them will work surprisingly well. Here [card]Servant of Tymaret[/card] performed extremely well, pushing through a couple of sweepers and gaining me around 30 life over the course of its “career”. In the end, I didn’t have mana open, and it died to the heavens falling after their bearer had been flung at me.

But today, we’re not interested in all that. We’re interested in all the things that Pharika apparently enjoys. After all, she’ll only come out and play if we play with the toys she likes, just like the other gods. Therefore, while playing her, I couldn’t help put note which of my cards are to her liking.

The number one was [card]Stalker Hag[/card]. Its not the only card in the deck with triple colored mana in the mana cost, but it is the only one I saw in the one game I’ve played with this deck.

[draft]Stalker Hag[/draft]

I think it works. This solitary figure living in the swamps, killing everybody who dares enter her domain. Perhaps its not quite up Pharika’s alley. I sort of think of Pharika as more subtle, killing with disease and such. On the other hand, “She is also the god of potions and poison, and prayers to her are usually letters rolled up in ceramics and dumped in bogs” (from Salvation Wiki). Perhaps the hag is there in the bog to take the letters to Pharika? Also, making potions is a very hag-like thing to do.

[card]Predator Ooze[/card] is another creature in the deck Pharika really seems to fancy. I guess we can chalk that up to the “potion” part again. Maybe there’s someone out there cooking up oozes in honor of the God.

On the other hand [card]Ambush Viper[/card] feels very much like something Pharika would like. After all, snakes seem to be Pharika’s own animals. But apparently doesn’t do nearly as much for her as the hag does. If you look at snakes in general, most of them don’t really help with Pharika, except for the snake creatures of Kamigawa, who often have GG in their casting cost. Also, [card]Ohran Viper[/card].

Also, [card]Slum Reaper[/card], which seems like it would get some respect from Pharika, but apparently no more than any other creature, like [card]Tavern Swindler[/card] or [card]Slate Street Ruffian[/card], to take random examples.

There are creatures that can activate Pharika alone, for example [card]Khalni Hydra[/card] and [card]Primalcrux[/card]. Actually nothing else comes to mind right now (although the major God [card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card] has plenty more). So, for whatever reason, these two are really, really loved by Pharika, and – in fact – by Nylea, Kruphix, Karametra and Xenagos as well. What’s so special about them? How can these two creatures entice five different gods in such a way? And not just any gods. These gods encompass the whole color pie (with the obvious concentration of green).

So, lets come up with explanations.

The flavor text of [card]Primalcrux[/card] is as follows:

When nature is backed into a corner, just like its children, it lashes out.

Although those five gods have very different domains, they are all basically gods of nature. So, basically Primalcrux itself is an avatar of the god. Perhaps a tool brought into the fight the god itself felt was necessary.

And onto the [card]Khalni Hydra[/card], which has the following flavor text:

“In ages past, bargains were struck and promises were made. Now we must collect on our debt. Begin the hymns.”
—Moruul, Khalni druid

The Hydra’s presence is a sign that you have been a good worshipper in the past. So, why wouldn’t the god respect that?

All in all, I like the devotion mechanic. It has resulted in some questionable readings of things from the past, but that’s very understandable. They couldn’t go back and change all the casting costs to fit their new idea. Devotion is pretty well balanced and – as we can see from the current meta – they have been able to use it carefully enough to guide the standard meta in such a way that devotion was a big thing before rotation with all the Ravnica cards granting three devotion. Now, devotion is hard to achieve, but I bet there will be something in either Dragons of Tarkir or M16 to make it really good again, for a short while.

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