The Theros sets that have been released so far may not be the most liked sets and may be among the most hated sets ever released, but they have given us a powerful mechanic, devotion. Devotion uses the colored mana symbols in permanents that you own to turn on abilities or gain some kind of advantage. Despite the low number of cards with this ability, it is often very good and there are always brewers that try to make a devotion deck work and right now the spotlight is on mono white devotion. The gods of Theros interact with this mechanic by turning into a creature if your devotion to their color is high enough, and if it isn’t they simply stick around as an enchantment. Upon first glance there aren’t that many cards with devotion to white and only a few are used in this deck, most notably is the white god Heliod, Sun-Crowned. Being a god, Heliod is indestructible and you need 5 white mana symbols among your permanents to use him as a creature. The rest of his abilities basically say that when you gain life, you get to put a +1/+1 counter on a creature you control. You can also pay 1 and 1 white to give another creature lifelink until end of turn. The first creature that probably comes to mind is Ajani’s Pridemate, which can get two +1/+1 counters while Heliod is in play, 1 from Heliod and 1 from its own ability. While it is a good card, there is a better one, one that allows for an infinite damage combo. Walking Ballista is an artifact creature that costs XX. It has 0 for its power and toughness but it enters the battlefield with X +1/+1 counters on it. You can pay 4 mana to put a +1/+1 counter on it and/or simply remove a counter to deal 1 damage to anything. If you were to give it lifelink with Heliod and then start removing counters for damage it would get that counter right back with Heliod’s other ability. This combo may not stay legal for too long, but it is a major strategy of this deck for the time being.
White is known for using a lot of creatures and this version of mono white devotion is creature heavy. You can certainly run Ajani’s Pridemate as mentioned earlier; its a great beater that can keep growing and easily surpass any creature your opponent may have, which makes it a prime target for removal most of the time. It’s one of those cards that needs to be killed on sight. It doesn’t offer any additional value and to get the most out of it you need to protect it and keep blockers out of its way. I hate to say it, but it’s too much of an investment sometimes. Unlike the pridemate, Heliod is indestructible and a 5/5 is nothing to laugh at. He can also grow himself with his ability so in a way he is a much better pridemate for only 1 more mana. The hard part is having enough devotion to make sure he stays a creature, which is why most of the creatures in this deck don’t have a generic color requirement. Starting with the 1 and 2 drops you have Thraben Inspector, Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, Knight of the White Orchid, and Daxos, Blessed by the Sun. The inspector and the knight offer more value than just a body. The inspector brings a clue token which can be sacrificed later to draw a card and the knight ensures that you can get a 3rd or 4th land which doesn’t need to be a basic plains, it just needs the plains type. They are on the weaker end of the spectrum, but Anafenza helps remedy this with bolster which puts a +1/+1 counter on the creature with the lowest toughness. If Heliod is a better pridemate, then Daxos is a better soul sister; he gains you life whenever a creature enters the battlefield or dies. With his toughness being equal to your devotion to white, he can just become a wall that can take some pretty heavy hits.
At the top of the curve for creatures you have Benalish Marshal and Arcanist’s Owl. These cards provide 3 and 4 to your devotion respectively which is great for Heliod and Daxos. The Marshall boosts all of your creatures by +1/+1, always good. The owl is a decent 3/3 creature for 4 with flying, but it can also help you dig for an enchantment or an artifact. This can help you find Heliod, Daxos, Walking Ballista, or a removal enchantment which I will get to later.
In some match ups aggro may not be enough and other times you may not be able to get the Walking Ballista + Heliod combo, so for a third win condition against decks that don’t care about how many creatures you’ve got or how much damage you can do, the deck runs a few Gideon planeswalkers. Gideon of the Trials can immediately use his ultimate ability and give you an emblem that says you can’t lose and your opponents can’t win as long as you control a Gideon planeswalker. Once you have this emblem Gideon of the Trials can do a little attacking himself by becoming a 4/4 soldier with indestructible. While the emblem may sound like you have the game won, it only works as long as you control a Gideon planeswalker and if the opponent has planeswalker removal or is able to get enough damage on Gideon, that’s the end of that. To ensure that you can keep the emblem active, run a few more Gideons, and there are quite a few to choose from. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is probably the best one and all of his abilities are highly useful. For his +1 he has the classic Gideon ability of turning into an indestructible creature. For his second ability, which costs 0, he can make a 2/2 knight token to serve as another body on the battlefield. You also have the option to immediately use his ultimate ability which gives you an emblem that gives +1/+1 to creatures you control.
For removal, white has a plethora of Oblivion Ring-style enchantments at its disposal. Since enchantments are permanents, these also add to your devotion. It’s up to you to decide on which ones to run. Personally, I prefer to have something that can remove a variety of targets, has minimal downsides or decent upside, and doesn’t need a huge mana investment. Banishing Light is great as it can exile anything that isn’t a land and it’s fairly costed compared to other cards like it. Prison Realm costs the same, but is more limited as it can only hit planeswalkers and creatures, which will be the main threats you want to remove anyway, and getting to scry 1 is a bonus since white needs all of the advantage it can get in some instances. Stasis Snare is similarly costed and it has flash so you can surprise the opponent when they swing in with a huge creature. You can also run Elspeth Conquers Death as removal. It’s is very costly compared to the other removal spells, but it does have some great upsides by slowing down your opponent during the next turn cycle and then it lets you bring back a creature or a planeswalker from the graveyard with a +1/+1 counter on it or an extra loyalty counter.
Although this is a mono white deck, you don’t just want to throw in 20 some odd basic plains and call it good. There is so much more to utilize from non basic lands. Castle Ardenvale helps against control decks by letting you create tokens instead of casting a creature spell that will probably get countered. Idyllic Grange lets you put a +1/+1 counter on a creature when it enters untapped by controlling 3 or more plains and since it is a plains itself, you can fetch this with Knight of the White Orchid. The best land that you can run is Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. This is a devotion deck after all and if you find yourself mana starved, all you need to do is pay 2 and you have mana equal to your devotion to white. That’s more mana that you can pump into a Walking Ballista or use to play a bunch of spells in one turn.
As of the time of this post, mono white devotion in pioneer looks something like the following:
Heliod, Sun-Crowned x3-4
Walking Ballista x3-4
Thraben Inspector x4
Knight of the White Orchid x4
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit x2-3
Daxos, Blessed by the Sun x2-3
Benalish Marshal x2-3
Arcanist’s Owl x2-3
Gideon of the Trials x2-3
Other Gideon planeswalkers x2-6
Removal enchantments x3-7
Nykthos Shrine to Nyx x2-3
Idyllic Grange x2-3
Castle Ardenvale x2-3
Mono white devotion can play the basic aggro game, but it also has some great combos that can score an easy win. Some games will be won by attacking, others will use the infinite damage combo with the ballista and Heliod, and other times you may just need to keep a Gideon planeswalker alive until time runs out. Be mindful that with such a strong synergy with Heliod, Walking Ballista may be a candidate for a ban in the future, possibly the Monday after this goes up. That doesn’t necessarily mean mono white devotion won’t be around anymore. Heliod is still a new card right now and I think Wizards is more reluctant to ban new cards, just look how long it took to address Oko. I’d also be surprised if Heliod was banned since the ballista is more of the problem. Let me know what decks you want to see next in the comments down below.