One of the more interesting things about the Standard format in its current state is the amount of room most of the decks have to grow, evolve, and vary. There are at least ten decks I can think of off the top of my head and almost all of them have viable variants to them. The monocolored Devotion decks at Pro Tour Theros are no exception, and this week we’re going to go into each Devotion build (including white!) and every variant.
This is a long one, folks, so let’s get right into it!
Understanding Each Build
Each Devotion deck behaves drastically differently, so grasping a basic understanding of them is essential before trying to get crazy. While one color may splash, say, black for something, doesn’t mean that another color will splash black for the same reasons. This is actually one of the pitfalls of playing a Devotion deck. If you’re trying to treat one just like the rest, then you’ll run into major problems. With that said, there are certainly similarities to keep in mind.
Each Devotion deck revolves around one of two major things: maximizing their use of the legendary land Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or using a critical mass of devotion to maximize a card or effect. Some builds try to take advantage of both, and many have some sort of mana sink—a way to expend all of the excess mana Nykthos gives you. The Gods are generally the first option in most colors since all of them are pretty backbreaking when you have a ton of mana to work with. You generally want to have more choices available though. Fireball effects, for example, are a pretty effective and simple way of going about it. For purposes of organization, I’ll discuss the goals, mana sinks, game plans, and variants of each color within the appropriate sections.
White devotion builds are primarily based around producing tokens and/or efficient threats, making them bigger, and backing them up with a way to push them through. Like most of the other Devotion builds, there’s a lot of macro-synergy to be had in white. Precinct Captain and Phalanx Leader work very well together when things are lining up right. Boros Reckoner, as we’ve seen in Mono-Red Aggro decks last season and this season, can be a huge beating in matchups based around damage, and both Heliod, God of the Sun, and his Spear can provide a powerful offense without sacrificing defense.
One of the big synergies of white Devotion builds is Heliod and Ethereal Armor. Heliod creates 2/1 white Cleric enchantment creatures, meaning your Ethereal Armor will give an enchanted creature +1/+1 for each of those 2/1 Cleric enchantment tokens (in addition to any other enchantments you may have of course). Throwing the Armor on a Phalanx Leader can be a huge momentum swing for you and your team if you’re on the Heliod plan, and with Heliod himself being an enchantment along with the Spear, you aren’t short of ways to make Ethereal Armor as powerful as ever.
(A big thanks to Brian David-Marshall for the initial idea of the deck.)
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 2 Banisher Priest
- 3 Fiendslayer Paladin
- 4 Phalanx Leader
- 3 Heliod, God of the Sun
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
Mono-White Devotion does not have many great choices when it comes to two-drops and mana sinks. While Precinct Captain is an exceptional card, especially in this deck, the next best and only real option is Phalanx Leader. While this isn’t ideal, it doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of working. This is where the aforementioned Ethereal Armor comes in. It’s a very elegant solution to a problem involving an underpowered tool in this deck, as it makes not only Phalanx Leader but Fiendslayer Paladin and Boros Reckoner even bigger threats, both of which are natural fits here and both are huge factors toward your devotion count.
Blessing is one of the only choices when it comes to a viable mana sink in white, and while it’s not a particularly powerful card in the abstract, it goes with this build’s plan fairly nicely, being yet another way to turn on Phalanx Leader, pump Ethereal Armor, and maximize Nykthos.
One of the first weaknesses I see with this deck is how soft it is to Anger of the Gods. Granted, you can quickly get out of range of an Anger by having an absurd Ethereal Armor, a few Mutavaults, or a couple of Phalanx Leader activations, but things really need to go right for you. That said, I do think that Supreme Verdict decks are a bit of an easier time because of said spells and effects.
– Excellent synergy
– Cards that can act as both threats and enablers
– Decent sweeper recovery
– Plenty of ways to push damage through
– Solid creatures that function well on offense and defense
– Limited choice of creatures that contribute to devotion, leading to quite a bit of skew in card selection overall
– Can be very flimsy if brick walled
– Subpar sweeper protection (different from sweeper recovery)
– Prone to instant-speed removal spells
Variants & Splashes
One of the more attractive splashes for Mono-White Devotion is red. This gives you access to protection and reach in Boros Charm and Aurelia’s Fury (another mana sink); some added utility in Wear // Tear and Anax and Cymede; and some extra staying power and evasion in Tajic, Blade of the Legion and Firemane Avenger. Black gives you Profit // Loss, which is excellent in aggro matchups and not too shabby against Jace heads up; some spot removal; Sin Collector; Xathrid Necromancer; and if you really want to Alms Beast, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and discard effects.
Blue offers Lyev Skyknight—a powerful flyer that can really set some midrange decks back—Lavinia of the Tenth, and a bit of countermagic. I don’t see much use for a green splash other than Mistcutter Hydra and Selesnya Charm, and I don’t think it’s worth it, especially without having access to scry lands in those colors.
The choice of Gods Willing versus Brave the Elements is entirely up in the air and is dependent on if you value the scry and Phalanx Leader trigger more than protection for your team. In the Anger of the Gods situation that I mentioned, you will probably be fine with a Gods Willing anyway, but the big selling point for Brave the Elements is its ability to punch through a stall, which on paper looks like a problem for this deck. You can also find room for more Blessings and some big-mana spells like Angel of Serenity; Devout Invocation; Angelic Skirmisher; Evangel of Heliod; and/or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. I personally prefer the smaller route since you’ll always have something to do with your mana, but it’s entirely up to what you’re expecting.
Mono-White Devotion was the only devotion color not highlighted at the Pro Tour, but I expect that to change soon in the coming weeks. You’re still doing very powerful things with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and some really powerful anthem effects without sacrificing much consistency.
What many consider to be the best deck in the format and the obvious breakout deck of the Pro Tour, putting three players including Team StarCityGames.com very own deckbuilding mastermind Sam Black into the Top 4, Mono-Blue Devotion is very much like a White Weenie/Fish style of deck. All of its threats are pretty efficient, with a ton of maindeck incidental hate for red and green decks. Backed by some major card drawing in Bident of Thassa; incredible reach with Thassa herself; a whole lot of subtle disruption in Judge’s Familiar and Jace, Architect of Thought; and "what the heck just happened!?" card (and Mark Nestico invitational card) Master of Waves, it’s no wonder why this deck did so well in Dublin.
- 4 Judge's Familiar
- 4 Frostburn Weird
- 4 Cloudfin Raptor
- 4 Nightveil Specter
- 4 Tidebinder Mage
- 4 Thassa, God of the Sea
- 1 Omenspeaker
- 4 Master of Waves
This particular build is more focused on maximizing Master of Waves than Nykthos, and it has access to the best devotion contributors as well. There isn’t much to be said about this deck that hasn’t already been said by Sam, Mark, and other notable pilots and players, but the more interesting thing is where possible evolutions happen via variants.
While it was said that the deck does have a bad matchup against B/W Midrange, the glaring weaknesses don’t seem all that terrible for Mono-Blue Devotion. I can see Polukranos, World Eater being a huge problem, especially in green-based Devotion decks. The claim that Supreme Verdict stops this deck cold is greatly overstated since Mutavault in combination with Bident of Thassa can easily help you rebuild and in some cases out-card those decks.
– Strong, evasive, and disruptive early and midgame
– Great game 1 hate against traditional Mono-Red Aggro
– Relatively high flexibility in card choices and splash colors
– Not too many bad matchups
– No, seriously, Master of Waves
– Moderate sweeper recovery
– Particularly reliant on curving out and having a Thassa, God of the Sea on time
– Has problems with big Mistcutter Hydra and Polukranos, World Eater
– Awkward draws are more punishing for this deck than other Devotion decks
Variants & Splashes
Some Mono-Blue Devotion builds take a more controlling route, eschewing the Cloudfin Raptors for more Jaces and/or adding countermagic. Claustrophobia, maindeck Rapid Hybridization, Mizzium Skin, Voyage’s End, Disperse, Domestication, and even Aetherling have popped up in various builds. Adding more Nykthos, Shrine to Nyxes was one of the first things that was mentioned after the Pro Tour, and going higher up on the curve alongside this addition can allow you to play spells like Opportunity and Prognostic Sphinx on top of making your Master of Waves even more insane. Galerider Sliver was played by Joel Larsson since it makes your Mutavaults very powerful as well as is a decent early flying creature that evolves Cloudfin Raptor.
One of the first colors I’d look to splash here is white. While you don’t have access to a scry land, you do gain Sphinx’s Revelation, which allows Nykthos-heavy builds to really go crazy with their mana. You also gain some added utility in Detention Sphere, Lyev Skyknight, Frontline Medic, Rootborn Defenses, and Lavinia of the Tenth, further solidifying your aggro matchups and giving you a nice cushion against sweepers. A black splash would probably be second on the list, and that gives you Temple of Deceit; discard and spot removal spells; Far // Away; Woodlot Crawler; and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, all of which are great options for minimal cost.
A green splash gives you Mistcutter Hydra, Master Biomancer, and possibly Prophet of Kruphix. Master Biomancer is the most exciting and most inclusive out of the three since on paper we know exactly what we’re getting with it; making 4/3 Elemental tokens that don’t die when Master of Waves leaves the battlefield is nothing to scoff at. The only cards I feel that a red splash would give us is Teleportal and Turn // Burn, both of which feel unnecessary and not worth it, especially without a scry land. Ral Zarek doesn’t really do enough, and Steam Augury is lackluster when you already have Jace, Architect of Thought and Bident of Thassa.
I highly recommend you check out the in-depth discussion here on StarCityGames.com by the aforementioned pilots and other contributors to the deck. They have a lot of insight that could give you a lot of direction in where you want to wind up if you choose to play this archetype.
The Mono-Black Devotion deck performs much like a midrange-control deck and is the only one out of the five to play that role. If you thought your Pack Rat nightmares were gone with Return to Ravnica Limited, then this deck will give you a rude awakening. While Pack Rat is the weakest out of the two-drops when it comes to reaching devotion, this archetype doesn’t really mind.
It’s one of the least reliant on Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, playing anywhere from zero to two. It isn’t reliant on its God, Erebos, God of the Dead, to take over the game compared to the others, and the only mana sink available to the stock build is—you guessed it—more Pack Rats! Having Nykthos is more of a luxury here than it is a strict enabler because it does allow you to do two things in one turn, which cards like Underworld Connections and Erebos help you do.
This deck is also pretty good at making the best Thragtusk impersonation in Gray Merchant of Asphodel. The life swing that this creature provides is immense, and since a lot of Mono-Black’s devotion contributors are either very hard to kill efficiently (Pack Rat, Desecration Demon) or aren’t creatures in the first place (Underworld Connections, Whip of Erebos), a single Gray Merchant can easily drain for at least four to six.
Combined with the lifelink and reanimation ability from Whip of Erebos on top of a ton of creature and planeswalker removal and Thoughtseize, Mono-Black Devotion can easily rip other decks to shreds and definitely has the most staying power of all the Devotion decks. Lifebane Zombie is the incidental hate card here, giving that much more game against the G/W Aggro decks while still being a legitimate clock against other nonblack decks.
- 4 Thoughtseize
- 3 Underworld Connections
- 4 Ultimate Price
- 2 Devour Flesh
- 4 Hero's Downfall
- 2 Whip of Erebos
While Mono-Black has the most midrange-control qualities, it does suffer from "first world midrange problems." Oftentimes drawing the wrong part of your deck or in this particular deck’s case using too much life resourcefully can lead to a disaster against aggressive starts.
– Super-powerful midgame
– Great at handling single large creatures and planeswalkers
– Strong slingshot effects in Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Whip of Erebos
– "Free win" factors in Pack Rat and Desecration Demon
– Moderate amount of synergy
– Can suffer hard from typical midrange problems
– Many spells cost life, making a timely Gray Merchant extremely important
– Relatively clunky
– Lack of an efficient primary-colored sweeper
Variants & Splashes
Nightveil Specter can be played in some builds, but I’m unsure if it’s worth weakening the effectiveness of an early Mutavault, which can lead to some hard stumbling. There might be some merit to going much bigger with Crypt Ghasts, Corrupts, and Abhorrent Overlords backed up by some Liliana of the Dark Realms to really power things out.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
- 2 Pack Rat
- 3 Desecration Demon
- 4 Lifebane Zombie
- 2 Abhorrent Overlord
- 4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 1 Erebos, God of the Dead
Splashing red makes the Crypt Ghast plan exceptional since you gain access to Rakdos’s Return, and honestly that’s good enough for me, especially if I’m leaning more toward Nykthos. Splashing blue gives us a nice one in Far // Away. Green gives us Abrupt Decay, Golgari Charm, Gaze of Granite, and Grisly Salvage, all of which are fine, but like some of the other splash colors in previous Devotion builds, doesn’t seem worth it without having access to a scry land of that color. Finally, there’s white, which doesn’t really have much to offer at all aside from Profit // Loss, Sin Collector, and Alms Beast, none of which are too exciting.
Todd Anderson wrote a great piece on this strategy this week. I strongly recommend going there if you’re looking to learn more about it.
Oh boy, we’re in my wheelhouse now!
The aggro-combo deck of the bunch, Mono-Red Devotion not only boasts the largest array of devotion creatures at the two-drop slot (Burning-Tree Emissary, Frostburn Weird, and Ash Zealot), but it also has the fastest win condition via devotion (Fanatic of Mogis), arguably the best weapon for creatures (Hammer of Purphoros), the second-best planeswalker in the format, and one of the largest amount of mana sinks available to it. What makes the Mono-Red Devotion deck particularly strong is its ability to play out on a super-aggressive curve, like many other Mono-Red Aggro decks, and still have a solid midgame filled with reach, residual threats, and a ton of things to do with your mana.
- 4 Ash Zealot
- 4 Frostburn Weird
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Fanatic of Mogis
When you get to your midgame, you begin to hit them hard! Your top end has one of the best creatures in the format, and Fanatic of Mogis is at its best here. You will often send eight, ten, and sometimes more damage upstairs with this build, and with Chandra giving you a solid amount of devotion as well as pushing you toward your power cards, Master of Waves can’t help but stare at the giant heap of damage flying toward its controller.
However, Magma Jet isn’t the greatest removal spell. In fact, oftentimes it’s hot garbage against a lot of decks, but you’re so reliant on getting a Nykthos on the board—along with the fact that flooding without an outlet is incredibly bad in this deck—that it’s a necessary evil. Burning-Tree Emissary is also not nearly as good in this deck as it is in the Mono-Green Devotion decks. You’ll wind up just casting a single Emissary and just passing the turn more often than not, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but we’ve seen more busted things happen with the starting shooting guard for #teamchandra.
Amassing a good amount of devotion can prove to be a much more difficult task against decks like Mono-Black and Esper Control, and since cards like Fanatic of Mogis are so reliant on getting a critical mass of devotion, against heavy removal decks you’ll find yourself falling behind fast.
That said, the amount of things you can do with your mana is absurd and well within reach as well, even through resistance and removal. Hammer of Purphoros in particular is a great way of giving your deck game against the control decks of the world, pushing damage even harder with any creature that comes in after it. Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] began its downswing after the first week of Theros Standard because of Fanatic of Mogis, but here they’re both excellent fits.
Purphoros is the only God that can come out swinging the very turn it sticks, which can end games very unexpectedly. The additional reach it provides makes managing opposing planeswalkers much easier, and giving your team Firebreathing is vastly underrated, especially when some of them have first strike. Stormbreath Dragon in particular can end the game on its own, but with a turbocharger like Nykthos, you’ll often have turns where you cast it and monstrous it in the same turn!
Think about that for a second.
We aren’t even talking Magical Christmas Land. This is an occurrence that is perfectly reasonable in board stalls and stalemates, and having something as powerful as that be an option makes me believe that Mono-Red Devotion is one of the best decks at utilizing the mana that Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx gives you.
– Second only to Mono-Green Devotion in explosiveness
– Has the largest selection of mana sinks
– Has solid aggressive starts that also compliment devotion
– Has the largest devotion count at the two-drop slot (three creatures)
– Excellent in board stalls;
– Moderate defensive game against other aggressive starts
– Decent amount of individually powerful threats
– Devotion pieces are fairly easy to break up
– Incredibly reliant on Nykthos to do much
– Very weak sweeper protection and recovery
– Not much room to work in Mutavault due to the demanding casting cost on spells
– Magma Jet is lackluster but is needed to avoid flooding and unfavorable draws
– Absurdly clunky draws and curve; splashing makes this even more difficult to work with
– Plan easily falls apart if put on the backpedal too early
Variants & Splashes
Rakdos’s Return from black is the most obvious one for me. You have access to truckloads of mana at times, and sticking a Return on a control player during their stabilization turn can be crippling for them. You also gain access to Rakdos Charm, which is yet another way to push through damage against creature decks and Mono-Blue Devotion. If you really want to go deep, you can add yet another devotion contributor in Rakdos Shred-Freak, making it easier to get black mana if you don’t draw a black land but have a Nykthos.
White is another great option, giving you Aurelia’s Fury, Chained to the Rocks, Boros Charm, Wear // Tear, Legion’s Initiative, and Warleader’s Helix. Splashing Green will look very similar to what CFB did at the Pro Tour, with Domri Rade being, well, Domri Rade; Xenagos, the Reveler providing a great source of board presence as well as functioning as a mini Nykthos; and Destructive Revelry in the sideboard (Armed // Dangerous being another strong choice). Blue doesn’t offer much aside from Turn // Burn and maybe Teleportal. You can do some cute tricks with Ral Zarek and Nykthos, but I don’t really think that’s worth splashing another color for.
Ask me! This is going to be my deck of choice for the foreseeable future, and you can certainly expect more insight about it in the coming weeks. AJ Sacher wrote an amazing piece focusing on Hammer of Purphoros, and you should definitely check that out if you want a good idea on how the card functions as a whole and relative to this deck.
This deck, while prone to clunky starts and heavy pressure, can end games on a ridiculously high note. I feel that it boasts one of the stronger matchups against Master of Waves decks, and if you’re looking to beat that deck, I’d start here.
Go big or go home! Mono-Green Devotion is the Terry Crews Old Spice commercial of the format, stepping on all of the puny fools that think they can fight a Hydra. Functioning very much like a pure combo deck, this deck utilizes a ridiculous amount of ramp, attempting to get to a huge threat one, two, and sometimes three turns ahead of schedule. Backed by additional support in Boon Satyr; self-sufficient removal in Polukranos, World Eater; a gas station in Garruk, Caller of Beasts; and Nylea, God of the Hunt helping all of those big creatures push through, this deck hits super hard super fast.
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Kalonian Tusker
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 3 Reverent Hunter
- 3 Nylea, God of the Hunt
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 2 Arbor Colossus
- 3 Boon Satyr
- 3 Voyaging Satyr
The fact that your creatures are almost always going to be larger than your opponent’s is reason enough to play this deck, with more than ten mana dorks enabling your endgame to happen much sooner than your opponent may be ready for. Polukranos in particular is very effective as a large creature as well as a sweeper against smaller aggro decks. Like many of the other dedicated Nykthos decks, you certainly don’t have a shortage of things to do with your mana, and being the most explosive of the five Devotion decks really drives that point home.
Like many other mana-dork decks, your plan does become considerably crippled if they have an efficient way of dealing with your enablers. Since you aren’t playing as many land as other Nykthos decks, your plan can fall apart way before it even gets started, especially if you have the ever so awkward Burning-Tree Emissary with one green source and Nykthos draw.
Having a ton of dorks with nothing to do (or vice-versa) is also a major problem that many decks can easily punish. Nylea in particular doesn’t do much in the department of defense or utility, unlike Heliod, Erebos, or Thassa. Even with all of that, the amount of power each individual threat can deliver is amazing. Arbor Colossus gives the deck some great defense against Stormbreath Dragon, and Nylea’s Disciple can really give hyperaggressive decks headaches if they aren’t prepared for it.
– Big creatures
– Really big creatures
– Gets to the endgame extremely fast if left uninterrupted
– Individually powerful threats
– Most creatures have strong inherent abilities against aggro and other creature-based decks
– A great refuel engine in Garruk, Caller of Beasts
– Easier to splash due to Sylvan Caryatid
– Various answers to aggressive strategies
– Very low sweeper recovery and protection
– Very reliant on mana dorks to get ahead
– Somewhat poor mulligans
– Fairly linear
– Spot removal is lacking
Variants & Splashes
Kalonian Hydra was in the first iteration of Mono-Green Devotion, and most of the big threat creatures utilized +1/+1 counters. This is still a great plan when you’re expecting a ton of opposing Devotion and aggressive decks, as it could prove to be incredibly difficult for those decks to find a way through (or they might just die). Another option is using Wild Beastmaster with pump effects like Giant Growth, Bow of Nylea, Boon Satyr, and the like to get very quick kills against unsuspecting opponents.
Splashing red is the most straightforward splash, and Makihito Mihara’s deck from Pro Tour Theros is a great example of what that splash looks like:
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 2 Nylea, God of the Hunt
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Arbor Colossus
- 4 Voyaging Satyr
Having access to Domri Rade, and Xenagos, the Reveler creates a similar effect to what splashing green in the red Devotion deck would create. The difference here is that you’re hitting your Domri, Xenagos, and huge threats following those so much earlier that you can create a much bigger snowball effect much faster than the red version. Splashing blue gives you Cyclonic Rift, Master Biomancer, and Give // Take, with Give // Take being the most interesting of the three. Drawing a bunch of cards is never a bad thing, and if you’re on the Kalonian Hydra plan, it makes Give // Take that much better, especially when taking counters off of a Scavenging Ooze or maybe even the Hydra itself.
Black doesn’t provide much more than red can give us, and white gives us a bigger version of G/W Aggro, which is fine but not that much more appealing than sticking to just green.
There doesn’t seem to be a general consensus as to what the exact best build is. Mihara’s build is very strong, but it doesn’t utilize cards like Reverent Hunter and Kalonian Hydra, which are powerful in and of themselves. Another glaring question is exactly how big do you go in these decks? Is it safe to ramp all the way up to Sylvan Primordial? Perhaps Skarrg Goliath for surprise wins? There isn’t too much talk on this strategy as of yet, but I’d certainly watch for more of these decks to pop up in the coming weeks. The game plan is too powerful to take lightly, and I know someone will start working on it.
What Are You Devoted To?
With all of these Devotion decks now at the forefront of the metagame, how will players react? Is Encroaching Wastes something that midrange and control players want to be packing now? How will blue-based control decks react? How far will these Devotion decks push the limit on Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx before getting punished for it? Will we perhaps see a three-color Devotion deck at some point in the future? With the StarCityGames.com Open Series showing up in Seattle, the aftermath of Pro Tour Theros will certainly be on display, and I for one can’t wait. What do you think will happen? Where does your devotion lie? Let me know in the comments!
Chandra and I are in it for the long haul, and we’re going to take Master of Waves and all of its goons head on. That much is for certain.
May all of your creatures be unable to block. Oh, and take one.
Anthony "Pyromaster" Lowry
Twitter: @aulowry (#teamchandra)