New Ephara: Devoted to White

A few days ago I was looking at Magic Online deck lists for a new project to work on in Standard. For a minute this seemed futile, as every deck was Black Devotion, Esper Control, RG monsters—like nothing had changed. Then I saw something that caught my eye.

Up to this point in Standard, nearly every color has had some sort of successful devotion strategy except white. This isn’t the suprising—Heliod sucks. Evangel of Heliod? Not gonna cut it. This new deck omitted Heliod altogether, instead relying on Ephara to take advantage of devotion. You may remember I was pretty anti-Ephara in blue devotion, but that was because of how competitive the 4-drop slot was in that deck, a problem white doesn’t really have.

This first list I saw of white devotion definitely had some holes: not enough 2-drops, too many removal spells, no Boros Reckoners or Brave the Elements, and weird, clunky creatures like Archangel of Thune. However, I decided to take the idea and run with it, and this is where I ended up. I’ve since discovered that PT regular Tom “The Boss” Ross played this deck to a Top 8 finish at his local states. I consider any endorsement by Tom to be a pretty strong one.

White Devotion

Card Choices

Keening Apparition

The discovery and use of Keening Apparition is actually one of the driving factors behind why I like this deck so much. The problem with many of the white creature decks in this format is the drop-off in power level of their two-drops after Precinct Captain. Players try all manner of cards: Daring Skyjek, Imposing Sovereign, Azorius Arrester—none of which are particularly impressive—especially in a midrange shell like the one above.

Keening Apparition, on the other hand, is a solid 2-power two-drop with tons of applications as the game goes on. The most obvious of these is against control decks relying on Detention Sphere and Banishing Light as answers. In some of these matchups, holding Apparition back as an answer is better than playing it early into a wrath or other removal spell. Apparition is also great at fighting Underworld Connections when the Mono-Black matchup becomes a war of attrition. This doesn’t always happen, but sometimes you are able to run them out of answers using grindy cards like Dictate of Heliod and Elspeth.

Perhaps the biggest reason to play Keening Apparition is the rise of Courser of Kruphix (a trend which I expect to continue after the Block Constructed Pro Tour). Courser is a pretty big problem for creature decks to attack through (as you’ll see in the three-drops section), so Apparition doubles as a threat and answer against Monsters and Junk as well.

These uses are just the tip of the iceberg. Against any deck playing Eidolon of Blossoms or Unflinching Courage… Apparition has certainly earned its keep.

Three-Drops

Choosing three-drop threats for this deck is extremely hard, but also rewards customization and preparation. This slot is highly competitive: Brimaz, Boros Reckoner, Banisher Priest, Lyev Skyknight, Fiendslayer Paladin, and Frontline Medic are all very playable cards with a history of success in Standard. This is not to mention the three-drop spells, like Ajani, Spear of Heliod, Detention Sphere, and Banishing Light.

Each of the creatures shine in a particular matchup, which means you can build your main deck and sideboard to be strong against basically anything you might expect to face. However, there are obviously trade-offs and sacrifices for each choice.

Frontline Medic

I’ll start by saying that I think it will almost never be right to include Frontline Medic in this deck. Providing only 1 devotion is a pretty significant downside, and this deck rarely goes wide enough to take advantage of the battalion trigger.

Brimaz, King of Oreskos

Brimaz is definitely the best individual threat of the bunch. He is by far the most capable of winning the game on his own, and also defends very well against all of the aggressive decks. Brimaz is resilient to Lightning Strike and Bile Blight, and a single attack will put him out of range of Devour Flesh. The only thing preventing you from playing four is his legendary status.

Boros Reckoner

Reckoner gets a huge bonus by being the only three-drop that provides a full 3 devotion. As usual, the Minotaur is at his best against creature decks (particularly red or green), and at his worst against black removal and control. Against black devotion, Reckoner is definitely very good at attacking through their defensive creatures, but frustratingly dies to Bile Blight.

Fiendslayer Paladin

Fiendslayer is your best three-drop against black, provided that you have a way to get through Nightveil Specter (which many decks have cut anyway). However, he is also pretty horrible against control and any green deck, which is why I would recommend relegating him to the sideboard. Fiendslayer +Dictate is a pretty good way to close out the game against any aggressive red or black deck.

Banisher Priest

Banisher Priest was classically played in white aggro decks as a way to combat Mono-Blue Devotion. The blue devotion deck has little in the way of removal, so Priest helps put on pressure while dealing with important cards like Nightveil Specter or Master of Waves. Priest is not a card I’m excited about in many other matchups, but sometimes the tempo of removing a creature for a turn is enough.

Lyev Skyknight

The Skyknight has seen a bit of play in the Esper humans deck over the course of recent Standard. Skyknight provides a similar tempo play to Banisher Priest while also getting around ground defenders like Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix. Skyknight is particularly good at both detaining and pressuring planeswalkers, often taking down a freshly-cast Jace by himself.

Dictate of Heliod

Dictate is the card that has impressed me the most in the first few days of testing. This card is outstanding at winning any sort of creature mirror and breaking open board stalls. Flash usually results in a blowout, wrathing them the first turn and killing them the following one. Dictate also allows you to play a slower game against removal heavy decks, turning any creature into a bonafide threat and lets you avoid overextending into a Supreme Verdict. With Keening Apparitions, it is easy to keep a Dictate on the table instead of hiding under a Detention Sphere or Banishing Light.

Ephara, God of the Polis

Ephara is your payoff for being such a permanent-heavy deck. I like that we get to play so many answers in the form of permanents and threats—this makes it easy to control the board while also having a high threat density against black and Esper. Against Esper, I usually try to assemble an Ephara, a Dictate, and a Detention Sphere, allowing me to turn on Ephara with only a single creature. This makes it exceptionally easy to grind out the opponent, but also leaves you vulnerable to big Revelations, which is where the Dispel/Negate package comes in.

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

Despite being a powerhouse, Elspeth is the card I’m most unsure about in this deck. You have more than enough lands and play long enough games to make her castable, but she also doesn’t really explicitly fit into any game plans. I actually think that it could be right to cut both Elspeths for a Heliod and another Dictate, keeping a high power level while also lowering the curve slightly and adding cards that synergize more with the rest of your deck.

Aegis of the Gods

Aegis is a cute one-of I’m trying out against Burn and Black Devotion. The idea against black is that it forces a removal spell, or otherwise turns off Thoughtseize and Devour Flesh. I’d obviously much prefer a two-mana Ivory Mask that isn’t attached to a 2/1 body for those matchups, however.

Problems

The most individually problematic cards for the white devotion deck are Stormbreath Dragon, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Lifebane Zombie, and Deicide. Stormbreath Dragon and Blood Baron are fairly obvious, and also the sole reasons for the inclusion of Celestial Flare in my sideboard. It’s possible some blue bounce spell may be a better answer, but I like Flare for now. They are also good reasons to continue playing Elspeth, whose -3 ability is great at coming down a turn after they do.

Deicide is interesting because it represents a permanent solution for our powerhouse enchantments (Ephara, Detention Sphere, and Dictate). These cards are normally answered on a semi-permanent basis because we have so many ways to deal with Detention Sphere and Banishing Light. Any form of hard enchantment removal is going be extremely efficient and powerful against white devotion.

Lifebane Zombie is definitely the least “solvable” problem. It is always going to be a great card against us, but at least our creatures are generally very good at attacking into it and racing it.

Moving forward I’m really excited about this deck, as I think it attacks the format from a few unique angles while getting to take advantage of powerful cards that haven’t seen much play in Standard recently. The deck isn’t format-breaking, but with strong play and practice, I think it can contend with the other top dogs. Look out as I continue to build upon this very promising start. I hope I’ll get to put my money where my mouth is at a tournament sometime soon!

Thanks for reading,

Matt Costa
@mattccosta

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