Sam Black piloted White Devotion to a 4-0 Standard finish and a Top 4 berth in last week’s World Championship. The previous weekend, I watched Craig Wescoe make the Top 4 of my local WMCQ with a deck that looked very similar. Given Sam’s outstanding performance, and the natural appeal that such a fun and off-beat deck has, I predict that you’re likely to run into White Devotion at your next Standard tournament.
The day after seeing Sam’s deck list, I put the deck together and took it for a spin in an SCG Standard Open. My impression was that White Devotion is a very real deck, with a high raw power level, and a lot of valuable strengths against the field.
I don’t know how to categorize White Devotion other than to call it a midrange deck. It plays a healthy number of cheap weenie creatures, and is capable of fast starts that will punish opponents who have slow draws, or sideboard out too much of their early defense. However, those weenie creatures—Soldier of the Pantheon, Kytheon, Hero of Akros, Knight of the White Orchid, and Hangarback Walker—are handpicked for their non-combat abilities, and play support for the late-game trumps of Mastery of the Unseen, Wingmate Roc, and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.
The lion’s share of White Devotion’s wins will come from Mastery of the Unseen and Wingmate Roc, but part of the strength of the deck is in its diversity of powerful threats, and the way it can change gears depending on its draw and the context of the game.
The devotion mechanic is all about board presence. Like devotion decks in other colors, White Devotion can easily outclass anybody trying to fight fair with creatures. Its weaknesses will come from players doing something even more powerful, or those who are well prepared to keep the board under control.
If you’re an Abzan player, a controlling build with board sweepers is going to perform well against White Devotion, while a build that’s dependent on attacking and blocking with creatures is going to perform quite poorly.
What to Do
- Do something more powerful than White Devotion. If both players are allowed to “do their thing” Green Devotion will bury White Devotion, by virtue of being faster and more explosive. Just be prepared to beat fliers, and watch out for Tragic Arrogance. Other good examples are combo decks like Rally the Ancestors, UR Mill, or Jeskai Ascendancy Combo.
- Play with Stormbreath Dragon. I’ll leave it to your imagination why Stormbreath Dragon is excellent against a medium-speed mono-white deck…
- Play with Languish, or other board sweepers. Devotion decks rely on achieving critical mass, and if you can pull the rug out from under them with an End Hostilities, you’ll make their life very difficult. Specifically, one of White Devotion’s best tools is Wingmate Roc, which is not well suited to beating board sweepers.
- Destroy enchantments. The worst thing you can do in Standard is to lean heavily on a small number of maindeck enchantments. By doing so, you make Dromoka’s Command as powerful as possible against you. Because of this, many decks play no maindeck enchantments, but White Devotion takes the opposite approach, overloading Dromoka’s Command with Mastery of the Unseens and Banishing Lights. Sideboarding targeted enchantment removal like Destructive Revelry, or something even better like Back to Nature, will be great against them.
What Not to Do
- Don’t play a creature deck that can’t achieve one of the goals in the “What to Do” section.
- Don’t play a slow deck with no plan for beating Mastery of the Unseen.
- Don’t under-prepare for flying creatures.
If you’ve played a fair amount of Standard over the past few years, then you’ll recognize the play pattern that all devotion decks have in common. They’ll start slow, developing their board, and as the game progresses, the plays they make will scale in power level. Eventually, you’ll be facing down Mastery of the Unseen and a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx generating 12 mana per turn!
The key is to not let them get to that stage. You can try to win the game before that point—you can keep their resources low with board sweepers, or you can try to target their engine cards like Mastery of the Unseen. Many different plans can work, but be sure to have a plan.