With the return to Theros, devotion is back! In the original Theros block, devotion made a huge impact on Standard; many of the best decks were mono-colored in order to take advantage of the devotion payoffs. White, however, was one of the weaker colors for a devotion-based deck. I expect this to change with Theros Beyond Death. There are plenty of signs that white devotion decks are going to be quite strong, and I have another card to add to the mix.
My exclusive preview given to me by Wizards of the Coast is Reverent Hoplite.
On the surface this card may look underpowered, and it is. However, we must look at the card in context with other cards you might be able to play alongside of it. Initially I was underwhelmed, but now that I have done some digging I believe Reverent Hoplite will outperform expectations. Devotion cards are very easy to misevaluate; when the first Theros set came out I didn't think a card like Gray Merchant of Asphodel would be Constructed playable, and it ended up being one of the most-played cards in Standard.
Based on the white cards from Theros Beyond Death that have already been previewed, there is clearly a push to make white a good devotion color. With that being the case, Reverent Hoplite could slot in as a nice top-end payoff card. Let's take a look at some other cards in Theros Beyond Death that could fit nicely in a white devotion deck.
The community is currently abuzz upon discovering the combo of Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista, but that's not why I'm mentioning Heliod, Sun-Crowned. In the context of Standard it is tough to imagine a white devotion deck that doesn't include Heliod, Sun-Crowned. The Gods are kind of the ultimate payoff for a devotion deck, and because Heliod, Sun-Crowned counts itself, you only need four other white symbols to turn it into a creature. The ability to give something lifelink and start putting counters on creatures or enchantments symbolizes exactly what white wants to do. With this being said, we may not see four copies of Heliod in white devotion decks because drawing two copies can be pretty brutal.
Here is a card that I would be surprised if every white devotion deck doesn't want four copies of, even though it's legendary. Getting two white symbols on your two mana play is exactly what a devotion deck is looking for. Then there is also the fact that Daxos, Blessed by the Sun improves with each other white permanent in play alongside it.
Being able to gain life from a creature entering the battlefield happens to work really well with the other devotion cards we are discussing. In the case of Reverent Hoplite, for each token created you are gaining an additional life. That's right—Daxos, Blessed by the Sun does not say nontoken creature, as many might have expected it would!
Incidental life gain is also exactly what Heliod, Sun-Crowned is looking for. With enough life gain triggers off Daxos, Blessed by the Sun you are going to have some very large creatures. Having Daxos, Blessed by the Sun and Heliod, Sun-Crowned in play when casting Reverent Hoplite is extremely powerful. It basically means you can make all your incoming creatures into 2/2s or better. We are talking about a ton of triggers, which seems like basically the dream scenario for a white devotion deck.
It is somewhat difficult to pull off though as it requires drawing them all, and not have Daxos, Blessed by the Sun or Heliod, Sun-Crowned removed from play. This is the downside, but keep in mind it is still early, there are plenty of Theros Beyond Death cards that are still unknown as I'm writing this article. There are plenty of other cards that could work to fill out this deck, both in Theros Beyond Death and in other Standard-legal sets.
Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis should be another pretty easy inclusion in white devotion decks. This card is an on-color planeswalker, though the fact it can't actually gain loyalty on its own does create some vulnerabilities. It is two towards your devotion count, which is fine but not amazing for a four-mana play. Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis does work well with the cards previously mentioned. With Daxos, Blessed by the Sun or Heliod, Sun-Crowned in play you will almost always want to be making creature tokens, as it creates a similar sort of effect as Reverent Hoplite.
Each effect of Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis feels underhwhelming, but it has escape. It is okay if it dies a lot of the time because the power level of escape cards needs to be lower in general because of the recursion. I do expect the middle mode to be the most used though, as gaining three life does not seem worth such a large amount of loyalty. The pump ability certainly should come in handy in close combat situations. Overall, Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis is a tough card to evaluate, but still one that should fit what the devotion decks are trying to do.
Devotion decks don't want instants and sorceries, they want permanent-based removal. Oblivion Ring has always been a solid role-player, and it fills an important role here. Banishing Light will be better-positioned the less we see of Teferi, Time Raveler.
The first thing to look for in devotion decks is the number of colored symbols on the card. Tomik, Distinguished Advokist has already seen some play in white aggressive decks as a reasonably costed two-drop flier. This is a card I expect to make an impact in White Devotion even though the text on the card is mostly irrelevant.
Again, cards that only cost white mana are exactly what we want. Linden, the Steadfast Queen looks like another great three drop to play with alongside Heliod. The two do go well together, as any way to gain life is going work nicely. Also, Linden, the Steadfast Queen is good with Reverent Hoplite because going wide is going to mean gaining a lot of life. If there is a deck where it makes sense to play Linden, the Steadfast Queen it would be white devotion.
There are four-mana creatures you can play that are only white mana, which by themselves turn on Heliod and also allow you to curve nicely into a Reverent Hoplite. The issue is these cards are less powerful than the other cards I'm mentioning. Still, it might be worth it, and I think Resolute Rider might end up being the better of the two cards. If there is a version of devotion that ends up playing some enchantments I could also see Arcanist's Owl going in this slot.
This is where we see the ultimate question of how far you want to go in order to make your devotion count as high as possible, as it is a delicate balance. Building a devotion deck is a real challenge and I have highlighted some—but not all—of the cards that can go into a good version of the archetype.
I expect white devotion to be at a minimum a viable deck in the new Standard format. I can't come up with a final decklist because we don't know the full contents of Theros Beyond Death yet. However, grabbing an under the radar card like Linden, the Steadfast Queen now would probably be smart, as you can see that there will be a push towards making devotion have an impact on Standard. Thanks to Wizards for allowing me to preview Reverent Hoplite as it gave me a good reason to dig into what white devotion will look like, and I'm glad I did.
Seth Manfield is a professional Magic player and member of both the Magic Hall of Fame and the 2020 Magic Pro League.
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