Last week we went over all the great devotion plants that are already legal in Standard, and this week we start to mix them in with all the new goodies from Theros: Beyond Death. Life gain has been an underutilized theme in Standard prior to the Theros: Beyond Death, but with so many of the devotion cards in White and Black interested in gaining life and life gain/payment synergies, those cards also get to come out of the woodwork.
Today we're going to look at two devotion builds that look to exploit these great life gain/life payment cards for major profit!
Mono White Lifegain Devotion
Mono White Lifegain Devotion | THB Standard | Jim Davis
- Creatures (23)
- 2 Alseid of Life's Bounty
- 2 Reverent Hoplite
- 3 Linden, the Steadfast Queen
- 4 Ajani's Pridemate
- 4 Daxos, Blessed by the Sun
- 4 Healer's Hawk
- 4 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
Core Set 2020's planeswalker cycle is well known for Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, and Chandra, Awakened Inferno (sorry Mu Yanling), but Ajani, Strength of the Pride has not gotten the respect he deserves.
Like Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, Ajani, Strength of the Pride needs some extra work to be good. Sorin needed a good critical mass of great vampires (which he got for a time when Ixalan was legal), while Ajani needs a deck where Ajani's Pridemate is an all star. Having played both Mono-White and versions of Ajani, Strength of the Pride lifegain decks, they had a very powerful core that was a few cards short of being a break out deck.
Everyone is talking about Heliod, Sun-Crowned in Modern and Pioneer for his infinite combo with Walking Ballista, but what they are forgetting is that there's a lot of power here for a three-mana card that is very hard to remove. Just like Thassa, God of the Sea was by far the best of the original Theros gods, Heliod looks to be the early frontrunner for best Theros: Beyond Death god by a significant margin. Weird how much better three mana is than four or five! Heliod, Sun-Crowned compares favorably to Thassa in a number of ways - White is a much better color for creatures and putting permanents in play, both of Heliod's abilities effect the board, and Heliod's abilities synergize very well with many other cards that care about life gain or counters. Heliod is insane!
Daxos, Blessed by the Sun also feels like one of the best entries into the new uncommon demigod cycle as well. Never smaller than a 2/2, and often much bigger, Daxos is the best Soul Warden ever printed. More durable and individually powerful than Soul Warden and friends, Daxos also triggers when your creatures die to give you even more triggers. Daxos and Heliod are like peas and carrots and that's just the beginning.
The reason that past Soul Sisters decks have worked is because they have a critical mass of life gain effects alongside a critical mass of payoffs for gaining life. With Heliod joining the eight pack of Ajani's Pridemate and Ajani proper, that's a lot of things getting very large off of lifegain triggers. Ajani's Pridemate does an amazing job of taking over a board and out sizing everything, and if your opponent is removal heavy then the planeswalkers can do the heavy lifting.
Linden, the Steadfast Queen is perhaps the weakest of the CCC legends from Throne of Eldraine, but she is the perfect fit for the deck. Every Ajani's Pridemate or Heliod now grows on attacks, while she also buffers your life total and gets you almost all of the way there on Heliod.
Aside from the heavy hitters the deck is rounded out nicely with a great suite of blue collar workhorse cards. Alseid of Life's Bounty and Healer's Hawk are great 1-drops that synergize with everything, while The Birth of Meletis is a very interesting new card that is a Wall of Omens variant with lifegain applications as well. One of the biggest new additions however is the return of Banishing Light, giving White a universal answer it has been missing for a long time. It even adds to devotion!
There's still a lot to work out and the sideboard is entirely theoretical, but there is a lot to be excited about here. Don't underestimate Ajani, Strength of the Pride!
Mono Black Citadel Devotion
Mono-Black Citadel Devotion | THB Standard | Jim Davis
- Creatures (26)
- 2 Cavalier of Night
- 2 Deathless Knight
- 2 Erebos, Bleak-Hearted
- 2 Gutterbones
- 2 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 4 Ayara, First of Locthwain
- 4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 4 Murderous Rider
- 4 Yarok's Fenlurker
- Instants (2)
- 2 Disfigure
- Artifacts (2)
- 2 Bolas's Citadel
If you wish to stray from the light to the dark side of things, Gary is back to welcome you home.
Always a fan favorite card, Gray Merchant of Asphodel is a poster child for the power of the devotion mechanic. The old Mono-Black Devotion decks didn't even play a ton of permanents for devotion, but draining for four or six was always a welcome sight. This Standard format however has a bunch of great options that make Gray Merchant even more appealing now then he was then. The biggest one?
Whoa boy we've got something here.
Bolas's Citadel has already seen a good amount of play in Standard as a mirror breaker in decks like Esper Hero, but when you've got access to Gray Merchant of Asphodel again things start to get wild. Bolas's Citadel is an enormously powerful card when given the fuel and Black has a number of good lifegain options to keep it flowing until your opponent is dead. These options are very creature based, and therefore good for devotion, forming a powerful midrange deck that can kill things, take over the board, and draw cards.
Ayara, First of Locthwain is a very powerful creature that can provide a steady stream of life and cards, which is to say nothing of the three pips of devotion she provides a well. Alongside the underplayed Dreadhorde Invasion she forms a fantastic card draw and blocking engine that negates the drawback on Dreadhorde Invasion while adding value to every creature you cast. Rankle, Master of Pranks fits this theme very well, as she is at her absolute best when you are utilizing the "both players sacrifice a creature" mode.
Like the Mono-White lifegain deck, there are a number of great Mono-Black cards currently in Standard that fell just short of enough for a full deck. Yarok's Fenlurker is Ravenous Rats on steroids which also provides two devotion and fodder for sacrifice effects, while there's no doubting the power of Murderous Rider and Cavalier of Night as removal that can double as both devotion, threat, and lifegain.
Tymaret, Chosen from Death is an excellent 2-drop just like Daxos, with a great floor and a huge ceiling. Never worse than a 2/2, Tymaret can be much bigger and has an ability that compares favorably to the eternal playable Scavenging Ooze. Graveyards are going to matter a lot in the new Standard format, while the lifegain is exceedingly relevant for fueling your life payment effects.
Erebos, Bleak-Hearted plays well with the sacrifice themes of the deck, but is a little awkward on the devotion side as if you are sacrificing things he may be hard to turn on. More testing is needed to see if Erebos is worth the trouble. The same is true for Deathless Knight, which offers an astounding four pips of devotion on a recursive body that is awesome in grindy matchups but probably falls short if you need to be defensive. Even in those cases, a 4/2 recursive blocker isn't bad.
And let's not forget we get the entire suite of Black removal in Standard at our fingertips, as well as the raw power of Castle Locthwain and the sideboard goodness of Duress. With extra removal to fight creatures, the ability to grind with all of our card draw, and Duress and planeswalkers to fight control, theoretically we should be able to adapt to whatever the format can throw at it. Mono-Black Devotion certainly has a historical pedigree, let's see if this deck can keep it up!
Early Access Next Week!
The best news is that Theros: Beyond Death is almost here!
Next week I'll be playing the usual MTG Arena Early Access Streamer Event, and not only will I be playing some variation of these two decks but I'll be playing my usual ten new brews in our first look at Theros: Beyond Death Standard!
And even better, I'll be doing my usual write up on all ten decks right here next Friday on CoolStuffInc.com with full decklists and my thoughts on each deck after playing it!
See you there!