Ikoria's companions are changing the way Magic is played in every format, so when I was preparing to play Pioneer last weekend I knew I had to find a deck using one. In the Super Qualifier two weeks ago, just a day after Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths was released on Magic Online, I played the Dimir Inverter deck that had served me so well in the weeks prior, but quickly realized I was behind the curve against the new companions. I didn't want to make that mistake again.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den won that first Super Qualifier in a Boros deck, and the Orzhov Sram Auras deck with Lurrus broke out at the same time before eventually becoming the most popular in Pioneer. I knew it would be a safe and solid choice to play, but I couldn't ignore the result of the following Super Qualifier, where both finals slots were taken by another companion: Yorion, Sky Nomad.
I've never held the White Devotion deck in much regard, maybe because it was so vanilla compared to the Dimir Inverter deck, which many claim it's supposed to beat, though I never found that to be true in my experience. But with Dimir Inverter off the table I was starting from a clean slate, and the addition of Reflector Mage and Teferi, Time Raveler for some flavor made the idea of the deck much more palatable.
This blue splash, which was an increasingly common trend before Ikoria, is also crucial for helping to hit the 80 card threshold necessary for enabling Yorion, Sky Nomad, which is proving to be one of the best companions. It turns out that in the deep cardpool of formats like Pioneer, adding twenty extra cards, 8 or 9 of which are lands, is not much of a stretch. Adding what essentially amounts to playsets of three different cards to a deck just doesn't require a meaningful sacrifice in card quality.
It does decrease consistency, in the sense that a deck won't see specific cards as frequently. Accordingly, the Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista combo is no longer the defining feature of White Devotion (if it ever was) but only a tertiary backup plan. It's behind the secondary plan of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx—a one-card combo is easier to find than a two-card combo. It doesn't require any particular setup beyond playing cards, but it gives the deck an explosive engine. It can be game-changing when providing just an extra mana or two, but it often makes a huge amount, and it's great for fueling the deck's primary plan—Yorion, Sky Nomad.
No amount of cards in a deck negates the consistency that comes from the 100% certainty of having access to a companion, and as such, the deck revolves around making the most of it. The beauty of the marriage of Yorion, Sky Nomad and White Devotion is that Devotion is already very well equipped to support it, and with some further modifications, it brings the companion to a truly broken level of power.
The blue splash for Reflector Mage and Teferi, Time Raveler provides powerful disruption that works well with Yorion, Sky Nomad—they're likely the best cards in the deck, and the ones I want to cast early and often every game. The deck was already heading toward blue without Yorion, and with it, the Mage and Teferi are no-brainers in terms of both synergy and helping to reach 80 cards. The previous versions would often be seen with Dragonlord Ojutai, but now with Yorion, Sky Nomad providing a five-mana flier every game, the deck no longer needs such a finisher.
Yorion, Sky Nomad generates raw card advantage with Thraben Inspector and Arcanist's Owl, and while even getting just one extra card makes Yorion pretty impressive, Yorion often does a lot more and will completely break open a game. Its value is taken to the extreme when combined with the one new addition to the strategy that's dedicated to breaking Yorion: Charming Prince.
The Prince's blink ability can target Yorion, Sky Nomad and create a loop that sends them both dancing in and out of the battlefield at the end of each turn—and each value-creating creature along with it. This capacity for an endless stream of disruption is among the most powerful endgames in all of Pioneer.
I've found Yorion and its potential for endless value to be particularly strong against the more measured value of Lurrus of the Dream-Den and the decks it's used in. I jumped into playing the deck when Sram Auras was the deck to beat, and while I was unprepared to handle it the first time I saw it, in the second match of my first league with the deck I defeated it in the final round to close out with a 4-1. I followed that with a Super Qualifier and a Challenge, and in each of these events I played against Sram in what felt like every round, and managed to beat it every time by confronting them with a steady stream of disruption, inevitably followed by Yorion to close out the game.
The Sram deck doesn't play any maindeck removal, and my opponents rarely if ever show me Fatal Push after sideboard, so it's in these matchups that I learned the full extent of what Yorion can do, along with some of the more subtly powerful interactions.
Yorion can blink Stasis Snare or Glass Casket to reset them, which can be really valuable when they aren't already removing something, like if your opponent protects the target with Karametra's Blessing or Alseid of Life's Bounty. The blink interaction is also great against legends like Sram, Senior Edificer. The enchantment leaves the battlefield, releasing a copy of the troublesome legend, your opponent sacrifices one copy to the legend rule, and the enchantment targets the other when it returns at the end of the turn.
Things get interesting with Baffling End, which is weaker in the sense that it lacks this capability, and is outwardly very poor with blinks by giving the opponent value when it leaves play. It's stronger in the sense that it permanently exiles problem creatures, so it can be re-used to remove future problems bigger than a 3/3, which the deck is well equipped to deal with (if all else fails, you can block with Yorion). The 3/3 token is acutely susceptible to Reflector Mage, and together they give the deck a very potent interaction with Yorion. Blinking Baffling End to exile a creature and giving the opponent a Beast to bounce leaves them cleanly down one creature each time, and if looped with Charming Prince, will inevitably strangle them out of the game.
The removal spells are among the most important in the deck, and along with the blue creatures give it quite a potent suite of disruption. They've been so good that I've moved two Glass Casket to the maindeck, replacing Elspeth Conquers Death, which I've removed entirely. It's a card I kept reaching to cut in most matchups because it lacks many targets. It also suffers from being a five-drop, which interferes with Yorion, Sky Nomad on the curve.
In practice Yorion, Sky Nomad is so good that it wins most games where I cast it, so I don't see a big need to play other five-drops—if I have five mana I am probably doing alright anyway. I will say it's hard to argue against the success of the people who have excelled with it, and if the metagame shifts I could see re-adding it (and it does seem like the metagame is shifting) but in my limited experience so far it's not necessary.
With Yorion, Sky Nomad, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Heliod, Sun-Crowned as the three main angles of the deck, along with simple creature beatdown, the deck has to develop the battlefield. Yorion wants as many blink targets as it can get, and the devotion cards want as many white permanents in play as possible, so the deck desperately wants to spend its mana and gets things into play. The game tends to work itself out from there, and one of the power cards will run away with the game or the opponent will succumb to the value and disruption-backed beatdown. I don't do anything out of the ordinary like choose to draw with Knight of the White Orchid, and rarely will sandbag a land to get one from it—it's usually just better in play for devotion or to attack.
Ultimately this is a deck full of creatures and does lend itself to aggression. The disruption like Reflector Mage generates mana advantage that also allows the deck to employ a tempo-oriented plan. It gets ahead of the opponent and keeps them down, all while overwhelming them with creatures, often with Yorion, Sky Nomad flying over for the final points. Most games are not won in an impressive Yorion loop but by limping over the finish line with the extra cards from Clue tokens after a long grind, and every point of damage counts.
I've had great success against Sram, Senior Edificer Auras, along with other Lurrus of the Dream-Den decks including Hardened Scales variants and red aggro, along with aggressive green Obosh, the Preypiercer decks. However, I've suffered against Lotus Field Underworld Breach combo, which is quickly rising to counteract the Sram-lead metagame. I was knocked out playing for Top 8 of the Super Qualifier by Lotus Breach, which another player used to sweep the Swiss and the Top 8, winning the event. In the Challenge the following day I took no less than three losses to the deck, which also won that event.
In the list for that Super Qualifier I removed Damping Sphere entirely, not expecting Lotus Breach, and paid the price. After the Challenge I realized that they were not enough, so I advocate for using two Deafening Silence on top of them. Overloading them with hosers is one path to victory, and having a mix of casting costs helps against Blast Zone. Combined with some countermagic, the deck has enough tools to win the matchup if it can apply adequate aggression or pull off a quick Heliod, Sun-Crowned combo. I recommend against Mystical Dispute, which opponents can often play around, but I've been experimenting with Negate over some Disdainful Stroke, as it's a bit more versatile in the matchups you typically want countermagic, and can crucially counter Underworld Breach.
Sideboarding with the deck is relatively straightforward. Either creature removal is good and you bring a bit more in, or it's poor and you almost struggle to remove enough of it. In the worst case, like against the creature-less Fires of Invention planeswalker deck, you have to keep Stasis Snare purely as a Devotion play (it actually won me a game by turning on Heliod, Sun-Crowned), and Reflector Mage is still a vanilla creature.
The key here is to just overwhelm them with removal. Kill their threats and eventually take control with the advantage from Yorion.
A big innovation for me in the matchup was Rest in Peace, which is a very clean way to counteract Lurrus of the Dream-Den, coming down early to prevent it from ever generating card advantage. RIP also turns off the recursive abilities of Sentinel's Eyes and Gryff's Boon, and even the death trigger of Hateful Eidolon, so it adds up to a really effective card that I don't think they see coming.
This is a race that Yorion Devotion isn't really equipped to win. Your best hope is a perfect turn-four combo kill with the help of either Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit or Daxos, Blessed by the Sun, but it's an unlikely draw. The realistic plan is aggression backed by some countermagic or hosers, so mulligan away the slow hands.
The matchup against Sultai has gone both ways for me. Their disruption suite is good for breaking up the deck's synergies, and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath is capable of outgrinding the deck. On the other hand, they're vulnerable to Yorion, Sky Nomad, especially as a deck that relies on Thoughtseize, and Rest in Peace is a powerful sideboard card.
I've been very impressed with Yorion, Sky Nomad in White Devotion, but I can't help feeling there are other good homes for it out there, and that the best Yorion deck is yet to be built. The most promising list I've seen is the Bant build popularized by Andrea Mengucci, and taken to the Challenge Top 8 last weekend.
Whatever the deck around it, I recommend playing Yorion, Sky Nomad as much as possible in Pioneer. I know I will be.