While there is only one card with Devotion in the event deck for Born of the Gods, it's full of Bestow creatures. Many creatures in this deck saw Standard play at the time. When the entirety of this deck was legal in Standard, it had some real value rares within it!
Let’s take a look at the Underworld Herald deck list:
1 Agent of the Fates
1 Blood Scrivener
1 Crypt Ghast
1 Desecration Demon
1 Erebos’s Emissary
1 Herald of Torment
3 Mogis’s Marauder
1 Pack Rat
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Rakdos Shred-Freak
3 Spiteful Returned
3 Tormented Hero
2 Xathrid Necromancer
NON-CREATURE SPELLS (10)
2 Bile Blight
3 Doom Blade
1 Fated Return
1 Gift of Orzhova
1 Hero’s Downfall
2 Ultimate Price
2 Dark Betrayal
2 Gift of Orzhova
2 Pharika’s Cure
2 Staff of the Death Magus
Blood Scrivener helps you get a couple of cards if your hand is empty at a minimal cost of 1 life. While it’s not the most exciting card, it’s a creature with upside. Those are usually pretty good, and this one still sees some play in EDH.
Crypt Ghast doubles the production of your black mana. It also has the Extort mechanic on it. This Gatecrash mechanic allows you to pay either a white or black mana any time you cast a spell. If you do, each opponent loses 1 life and you gain that much life. It’s become a staple in many Commander decks and was quite good in its Standard heydey. Crypt Ghast is probably the most valuable rare in the deck today.
Desecration Demon was the best rare in the deck, by far, when this deck was released. It is a monster that proved to be the primary beater in mono-Black Devotion decks. When “Underworld Herald” first released, this card alone took up a good chunk of the deck’s value. While its drawback is significant, forcing your opponent to sacrifice a creature to stop it from attacking is also quite meaningful.
Also, each time your opponent stops it from attacking, it gets bigger, too. As if a 6/6 flyer wasn’t enough, this Demon was often going to be swinging for 8 damage or more in most games. The Demon never really panned out in Modern, because there are enough flyers in the format that can easily chump block it. Somewhat ironically, Desecration Demon was reprinted in Modern Masters 2017, despite seeing almost zero play in the format.
Herald of Torment proved to be a decent Bestow card in Black. It’s a 3/3 flyer on its own and as an Aura, the Herald gives +3/+3 and flying. While you lose 1 life during each of your upkeeps, it’s a small price to pay for that amount of power in the air. While it was never a money card, it was a useful role player in Standard, for sure.
Pack Rat is a very playable card that can pump out copies of itself by ditching an extra card in hand and paying 2B. Also, the Pack Rats get bigger the more that you have in play. It’s a deceptively simple card with a flavorful concept that proved to be extremely good in Standard. Heck, it’s still played in casual Rat decks everywhere! Pack Rat also continues to see occasional play in the Modern format.
The last rare creatures in the deck are two copies of Xathrid Necromancer. It’s super useful for when your Human creatures die by replacing each of them with 2/2 Zombie tokens. The Necromancer even replaces himself! Really, the only drawback is that the tokens come into play tapped. It’s a shame that this guy hasn’t found a good home in any other format, because he’s really a superb card.
In the non-creature spells, you have Fated Return and Hero’s Downfall as rare cards. Fated Return is a pricey reanimation spell, but it makes the creature coming back indestructible. Still, it’s not so great as a Standard card, but it works well in Commander. On the other hand, Hero’s Downfall is simply excellent removal that you would definitely want more than one of in a deck.
The most obvious exclusion in this deck is everyone’s favorite mono-Black Devotion staple, Gray Merchant of Asphodel. That choice actually is not a mistake. The reason for this is that Wizards decided to include a different Devotion-based card in Mogis’s Marauder. Whereas “Gary,” as he’s often called, makes you gain X life and an opponent lose X life where X is your Devotion to Black, the Marauders give X creatures intimidate and haste until end of turn where X is that same number.
To anyone who has witnessed the power of Gray Merchant of Asphodel, it’s understandable why people are confused about that omission. But there’s a good reason for it. Wizards went out of their way to try a new take on a mono-Black deck that didn't involve Devotion. It's an aggressive build, built around Xathrid Necromancer and a bunch of Human creatures. Tormented Hero, Mogis’ Marauder, and Rakdos Shred-Freak are all Humans. Therefore, this makes the Necromancers extremely good and allows you to be extremely aggressive. Spiteful Returned, a Bestow creature from Born of the Gods, is actually decent enough as a creature, as whenever it declares an attack, the defending player loses 2 life. This is a super aggressive deck.
There’s also a pretty good removal package in this event deck with 2 Bile Blight, 3 Doom Blade, 2 Ultimate Price, and 1 Hero’s Downfall.
The sideboard includes more removal, plus 4 copies of Duress for control purposes. The 2 extra copies of Gift of Orzhova to complement the one in the deck could prove useful if you’re playing this deck as is. Cremate is nice for messing up Graveyard-based strategies, but little else (although it draws you a card, as well). The Staff of the Death Magus is kind of a cute addition, as well, rewarding you by playing Swamps and black spells and giving you 1 life for each.
The first obvious thing about this deck is that it’s combining two distinct strategies: an aggressive approach with the Human/Xathrid Necromancer combination, and Bestow. For Devotion purposes, Bestow is extremely useful as a mechanic. Honestly, this deck can work as-is, but it’s not quite strong enough in a serious competitive setting.
First of all, Agent of the Fates is a really nice card, a 3/2 creature with Deathtouch, and there are ways to make it work pretty well with the Bestow abilities in this deck. It’s also a Human, which works with the Necromancer. Blood Scrivener is a bit too situational, and would probably be our first cut. Crypt Ghast is super cool, in that it can double mana, but one copy in an aggressive deck probably doesn’t cut it here.
Desecration Demon is an auto-keep, and a second copy could easily replace the Ghast. Erebos’ Emissary is an interesting little Bestow card, but a third Desecration Demon replaces it easily on the curve. If you’d rather not build around the Demons, two more Necromancers would slot in nicely! The reason for more Necromancers should be obvious: the more Necromancers, the more tokens you acquire!
Herald of Torment is OK, but it’s another slot better occupied by a Necromancer or a Demon. The Marauders might be okay, especially if you’re maxing out the Human potential with Necromancers. Pack Rat is nice, and good in mono-Black devotion in general, but not in this particular build. It’s still super solid if you go a different direction, though. Cacklers are fine one-drops, as are Tormented Heroes, even if the Heroic ability is never relevant. Rakdos Shred-Freak is a bit sub-par on average, but super good with the Necromancer.
For non-creatures, the removal count is fine except for there only being one Hero’s Downfall. Fated Return is too pricey and situational to be worth main-boarding, so that’s an easy swap. Gift of Orzhova isn’t bad, and helps devotion, but another Hero’s Downfall or perhaps a Herald of Torment (which gives you more value) is probably better here instead.
Of course, you could go the more traditional route of mono-black Devotion decks, cutting Shred-Freak for more Pack Rats, cutting the Marauders for Gray Merchant of Asphodels, and cutting the Necromancers for Demons. But I think the mono-Black Humans route is much more interesting, and it’s possible to run 4 Necromancer and 4 Demon in the deck.
Also, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is simply too good not to run in a mono-colored deck. Three copies should do the trick. Here’s the revised Underworld Herald deck list with these upgrades.
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Desecration Demon
2 Herald of Torment
3 Mogis’s Marauder
3 Rakdos Cackler
4 Rakdos Shred-Freak
3 Spiteful Returned
4 Tormented Hero
4 Xathrid Necromancer
NON-CREATURE SPELLS (9)
2 Bile Blight
3 Doom Blade
2 Hero’s Downfall
2 Ultimate Price
In the end, this is the list I would have gone with at the time. It keeps the Human factor alive, with the Marauders still in, cutting the more fragile and situational creatures with more heavy hitters. The Agent was nice, but it was 1 Human, replaced by two more. I also flip-flopped the count of Tormented Hero and Cackler. There’s still enough Bestow in the deck to make the Tormented Heroes sort of relevant. Of course, if you’re looking to go super-Human and not wanting to spend on the Demons, replace the 4 Demons with 4 Agents of the Fates.
As for the sideboard, I’d cut the Gifts of Orzhova for two more Herald of Torment, if you’re going to keep going to Bestow route. The Staffs are silly, and Pithing Needle could take their place to shut down activated abilities. Cremate is also pretty sub-par and Thoughtseize is strictly better than Duress if you can afford them. Sideboards really depend on your meta, however, so go with whatever works against your meta. Heck, Gild might even have had a place in here.
Overall Value of the Born of the Gods Event Deck
In the context of when this deck was released, the Underworld Herald event deck looks really good on the value side of things. At the time buying multiple copies of this deck was not a bad investment, if you planned to flip the cards immediately. Desecration Demon and Hero’s Downfall looked to be Modern-playable, but only Hero’s Downfall has really ever seen any play at all in the format. As good as Xathrid Necromancer was at the time, he’s pretty worthless now, mostly due to there being an extremely common promo version of him available.
When this deck was first released, I gave the Underworld Herald Event Deck a B for play-ability, but an A for value. I really liked the different take on mono-Black, without automatically resorting to Black Devotion. However, what’s killed this deck in the long term is that shortly after this deck’s release, in October 2014, there was a major Standard rotation that gutted the deck. The big value cards from the Return to Ravnica block and Magic 2014 (Desecration Demon and Xathrid Necromancer, plus the Rakdos creatures) were no longer legal in Standard.
In late 2016, you could still find sealed Underworld Herald Event Decks available for a price around $20. Unfortunately,there were only three rares, Crypt Ghast, Hero’s Downfall, and Pack Rat, that continued to hold $2-3 price tags.
From a strictly “bang for your buck” perspective, this isn’t a good deck to buy as sealed product today. This deck is not going to make back your $20, although Crypt Ghast and Pack Rat will likely continue to gain in value as time passes. A Commander reprint of Crypt Ghast has slowed its growth, but Pack Rat remains un-reprinted.
In any case, the Born of the Gods Underworld Herald Event Deck is a fun deck to play. As the upgrades above show, there are several different ways to build from this shell. My recommendation would be to build the deck from scratch, however, since it would be cheaper to do so that way.