Exploring the Pantheon

Posted in Top Decks on May 30, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

I haven't been as devoted to Standard recently as I'd like, so I decided to change that, and what better way than to take a look at what all the gods have been up to? I have a Grand Prix coming up in a few weeks, and a little divine guidance can't hurt.


Nylea, God of the Hunt | Art by Chris Rahn

Mono-Green Devotion

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I talked about this deck last week, but I still like it, so here we are. I've been a fan of green devotion since Pro Tour Theros, and the addition of Eidolon of Blossoms only makes me more interested. This deck is great at smashing midrange decks, as it goes over the top very easily. Casting a fast Polukranos, tapping Nykthos for eight+ mana, and drawing four+ cards off Garruk are all good ways to crush opponents who don't have wraths.

The goal of this deck is simple: cast as many permanents as possible as soon as possible. Eidolon and Garruk provide the cards, Nykthos and the mana creatures provide the mana, and all the three- and four-casting-cost creatures provide the defense (plus eventual kill mechanism).

Things Nylea Likes: Creatures, playing against creatures, drawing creatures, casting creatures.
Things Nylea Does Not Like: Supreme Verdict, Desecration Demon, Lifebane Zombie.
You Should Follow Nylea If: You like activating Polukranos for absurd amounts.


Purphoros, God of the Forge | Art by Eric Deschamps

Red Devotion

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The last time I was devoted to Purphoros was during Pro Tour Theros, where I finished in the Top 75. While that's not the most thrilling result, the deck was reasonable enough, and the addition of Chained to the Rocks goes a long way in dealing with cards the deck had problems with (mostly Master of Waves and Desecration Demon).

This is the aggressive way to use Nykthos, featuring all sorts of damaging and hasty creatures to pressure the opponent. Between Stormbreath Dragon, Hammer of Purphoros, Purphoros himself, and Fanatic of Mogis, no opponent can ever feel truly safe. Eidolon of the Great Revel is a hot new addition, and the 4–6 damage it routinely can deal goes a long way.

Things Purphoros Likes: Dealing lots of damage, playing against decks that can't kill Stormbreath Dragon, hammers, fighting green monsters.
Things Purphoros Doesn't Like: Detention Sphere, Doom Blade (and similar spells).
You Should Follow Purphoros If: You've always wanted to overload Mizzium Mortars.


Thassa, God of the Sea | Art by Jason Chan

Mono-Blue Devotion

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Thassa and her minions have been as dependable as the tides, and really all that's changed is the addition of a lone Hypnotic Siren and a lone Hall of Triumph. Siren is the ninth one-drop, and Hall keeps your Master of Waves tokens around even if the Master is dealt with. The deck is still the winner of the Synergy Award for taking the worst cards and making an awesome machine out of them, and someone always makes Top 8 with this whenever a Standard Grand Prix rolls around.

Things Thassa Likes: Playing against decks with expensive removal spells, playing against green monsters, fish, having her Master of Waves survive, drawing cards off Bident.
Things Thassa Doesn't Like: Supreme Verdict, Nykthos-fueled Mistcutter Hydras, opposing Nightveil Specters.
You Should Follow Thassa If: You like your decks to be more than the sum of their parts.


Gray Merchant of Asphodel | Art by Robbie Trevino

Sorry Erebos, we know who the real power behind the throne is.

Black-green Devotion

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The green version of Black Devotion seems like the most popular right now, so I'll use it to represent Erebos's domain, but don't feel like you have to play Abrupt Decay to play the deck. It did just fine for itself before Temple of Malady, and the combination of Thoughtseize, Pack Rat, Underworld Connections, and Gray Merchant will continue to do well, regardless of which Temple it chooses to reside in.

This is the boogeyman of the format, just so we are clear. Between Thoughtseize and a whole boatload of removal spells, it can deal with anything, and the threat of Pack Rat, Desecration Demon, and Gray Merchant is enough to pressure every deck. Aggressive decks have trouble getting past the life gained by Gray Merchant, and control decks have trouble slogging through the life spent by Underworld Connections, making this the most consistent and well-rounded deck.

That being said, I don't believe it's an auto-play, and there are plenty of decks that can flourish in a format that's heavily impacted, if not outright dominated, by Mono-Black. All of this deck's removal spells cost two or more mana, and spending that kind of mana on highly efficient threats can often be a trap. Likewise, the Sphinx's Revelation decks can try and blank all that removal, at least in Game 1, and win by presenting only answers, and not threats.

I'd never argue against anyone who was determined to play this deck, but I want to make sure nobody feels like they absolutely have to.

Things Erebos Likes: Making connections, playing against green monsters (notice a trend here?), robbing other Gods of devotion, trading one for one, Thoughtseizeing good cards.
Things Erebos Doesn't Like: Hyper-aggressive decks, creatureless control decks before sideboarding, Bident of Thassa.
You Should Follow Erebos If: You like playing the best deck.


Ephara, God of the Polis | Art by Eric Deschamps

Blue-white Devotion

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While the presence of four copies of Thassa and two copies of Ephara might demonstrate their relative importance, the fact remains that Ephara is a powerful card in this deck. The addition of white to Blue Devotion adds another card-draw engine and a versatile removal spell, all at the low cost of playing a couple tap lands. Four of them are even Temples, which some monocolor decks naturally want (although Mono-Blue isn't one of those decks).

UW Devotion is the slower version of Mono-Blue Devotion, but the speed tradeoff is (presumably) made up for in power, and that's a trade I often enjoy making. Why not be a little slower and draw more cards, right? In a deck with that philosophy, it also makes a lot of sense to trade Judge's Familiar for Hypnotic Siren. Taking out the tempo card for the more powerful late-game card lines up with the other choices in this deck, and it's always important to be consistent. Especially in a synergy deck, you really need to make sure you have a game plan and are sticking to it. The swap of Familiar for Siren might not seem big, and indeed you could probably survive with either, but little decisions like that add up.

Things Ephara Likes: Pretending this isn't a Thassa deck, drawing extra cards, fighting attrition wars, putting Pack Rats in a Detention Sphere.
Things Ephara Doesn't Like: Polis Crusher, getting Detention Sphere destroyed at inconvenient times, drawing too many Temples, Sphinx's Revelation decks (trading speed for power hurts against the super slow decks).
You Should Follow Ephara If: You want to play longer games with the Mono-Blue shell.


Xenagos, God of Revels | Art by Jason Chan

Gruul Monsters

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Other (60)
8   Forest 3   Mountain 4   Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx 4   Stomping Ground 4   Temple of Abandon 2   Arbor Colossus 4   Burning-Tree Emissary 4   Courser of Kruphix 4   Elvish Mystic 1   Nylea, God of the Hunt 4   Polukranos, World Eater 1   Ruric Thar, the Unbowed 2   Scavenging Ooze 4   Sylvan Caryatid 1   Xenagos, God of Revels 3   Mizzium Mortars 3   Domri Rade 2   Garruk, Caller of Beasts 2   Xenagos, the Reveler
60 Cards
Sideboard (15)
1   Mizzium Mortars 2   Anger of the Gods 1   Bow of Nylea 2   Burning Earth 1   Chandra, Pyromaster 3   Mistcutter Hydra 3   Nylea's Disciple 2   Unravel the Æther

Xenagos has always been overshadowed by his previous incarnation, as just about any deck that wants Xenagod wants the Planeswalker version in greater quantities. That doesn't mean that Xenagos isn't effective, and depending on how you look at it, having two different cards with your name on them getting played is a victory in and of itself.

This is the red version of Green Devotion, but it's trying to accomplish the same goal of flooding the board with giant green monsters. Xenagos helps ramp them out (while attacking with an ever-increasing army of Satyrs), then Xenagos helps give them haste, and both abilities add reach to the deck.

While I personally like the Eidolon of Blossoms version more right now, I wouldn't fault you for wanting red removal spells and more Planeswalker threats. Removal + Planeswalkers helps cover bases against aggro and control alike, although my first inclination is to just go with the option that draws more cards, and that's the one with Eidolon of Blossoms.

Things Xenagos Likes: Attacking for 14, revels, not getting his creatures killed.
Things Xenagos Doesn't Like: Supreme Verdict and Doom Blade rear their heads again.
You Should Follow Xenagos If: You like green devotion but want to go wilder.


Athreos, God of Passage | Art by Ryan Barger

Orzhov Aggro

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I played this deck before Athreos, or even Brimaz, and wasn't unhappy with it (although it was Ben Stark who carried it to the Top 4 of Grand Prix Dallas, not me). This is still a deck that lives or dies on Brave the Elements, but Athreos adds a little more late-game resilience to the mix. Judge's Familiar and Keening Apparition both have useful sacrifice abilities, and both fit the curve, so they seem to be what the deck is looking for.

You can splash any color in a Brave the Elements deck, but black is my current favorite, as the combination of removal spells, hand disruption, and sideboard Xathrid Necromancer beats what the other colors have to offer. Athreos is nice too, although he really only shines in the attrition-based matchups, so don't let him halt your passage if you really want to switch to another color.

Things Athreos Likes: Attacking for 2, playing against nonblack devotion decks, control decks with lots of Temples, monocolored decks.
Things Athreos Doesn't Like: Black devotion decks with too much cheap removal, getting flooded, Courser of Kruphix.
You Should Follow Athreos If: Your name is Pat Cox.


Keranos, God of Storms | Art by Daarken

Red-blue Devotion

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This new devotion list seems to be taking Magic Online by storm (or at least is played enough that multiple people are doing well with it). I can't say I've got much hands-on experience with this particular version of Red Devotion, but the differences between this and the devotion lists I've played aren't so great that I can't wildly speculate on them.

Besides Keranos, the addition of blue gets you Ral Zarek as a midrange threat, Turn & Burn as a solid removal spell, and Cyclonic Rift as a way to dump a lot of mana into something worthwhile. Those all seem like good additions, and I like the idea of more noncreature threats to make the deck resistant to removal. Having Keranos, Ral Zarek, and Purphoros makes it so you can play against a fistful of Doom Blades without fear.

Things Keranos Likes: Drawing a card, any card; Lightning Bolts; incremental card advantage.
Things Keranos Doesn't Like: Detention Sphere or Banishing Light, large green monsters (this deck is a bit more vulnerable to them without Chained to the Rocks), getting attacked quickly.
You Should Follow Keranos If: You want a Purphoros deck with a twist.


Pharika, God of Affliction | Art by Peter Mohrbacher

Standard Dredge

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Strength from the Fallen is a card that's yet to fully come into its own, and I wouldn't be surprised if there was a tier 1 deck based around it. Strength is just one of the graveyard interactions this deck is based around, and the deck as a whole can be described with this two-part process:

Step 1: Dump cards in your graveyard.
Step 2: Profit.

Nighthowler, Shadowborn Demon, Pharika, Nyx Weaver, Strength from the Fallen, Jarad, and Whip of Erebos all get powered up by a full graveyard, and once you are enabling one or two of them, it doesn't make sense to skimp on the rest. Like all true synergy decks, you either go all the way or you don't bother, because playing graveyard enablers for only a couple payoff cards is futile.

Once the deck gets rolling, it is quite strong, as you can imagine, but it's got a somewhat perilous mana base and can be vulnerable to beatdowns. I also like that it can play a bunch of one-ofs, and even justify it by using Nyx Weaver and Whip of Erebos to dig them up as necessary.

Things Pharika Likes: Spiders, playing against attrition decks, bestowing Nighthowler, feeding Shadowborn Demon, dredging up the past.
Things Pharika Doesn't Like: Getting attacked, graveyard hate (luckily, this doesn't really exist right now), enchantment removal.
You Should Follow Pharika If: You like having 30+ cards available to you at all times.

Extinguish all Hope | Art by Chase Stone

So, which god speaks to you? There are a ton of viable choices (and for the gods that didn't get featured: try accumulating some devoted followers next time). Deciding what to devote your Standard deck to is tricky, and there are some recurring themes if you look at what each god likes and Doesn't Like.

The heavy devotion-based gods (Nylea, Purphoros, Xenagos) tend to dislike playing against spot removal, although some of them get around that by having all cheap threats (Thassa/Ephara).

Other gods go with the more attrition-based approach, and Athreos and Erebos are examples of gods that don't particularly care about opposing removal spells.

Some gods go for the full combo finish, with Pharika being the best example, but even Keranos counts here.

At the end of the day, you should just make the decision based on which deck you like playing the most. All these decks have strengths and weaknesses, although some decks are just stronger than others. All of these decks are also tier 1 under the right circumstances, and picking the right deck for the metagame has always been a huge part of any Constructed format. There are no decks here that I'd consider an auto-play, with Erebos and Thassa being the two safest choices for an unknown field.

Lastly, there are options that don't involve pinning your hopes and dreams to any member of the Theros pantheon. Plenty of strong Standard decks rely on the hard work of mortals and Planeswalkers, with no need for any divine assistance. Looking at those decks is a bit outside the scope of this particular article, but I'm sure you can find other options if you poke around a bit. I know that the card I've been most devoted to over the last few years of Standard is Sphinx's Revelation, and it's rewarded me with many cards and lots of life.


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