The Return of Mono-Black Devotion

Gray Merchant of Asphodel creates a huge incentive to play Mono-Black Devotion

Starting with Mono-Black Devotion

There are a ton of great new decks (and new looks at old decks) thanks to Theros Beyond Death entering Standard…

But both Patrick and Michael think Mono-Black Devotion will be one of the most important breakout strategies.

Haven’t we seen this deck before? In the pretty recent past? Why Mono-Black Devotion now? Simple: Lots of the new additions actually reference the mechanic! Examples include:

  • The aforementioned Gray Merchant of Asphodel,
  • Drag to the Underworld, and
  • Tymaret, Chosen from Death

But despite missing some key words on its cardboard, Michael thinks that a different card is the one that makes this deck…

Nightmare Shepherd in Mono-Black Devotion

Nightmare Shepherd

This new Demon is one of the cards that really makes this deck hum. If you play a Gray Merchant of Asphodel with it on the battlefield, you can enjoy the intense combination of black mana symbols… But that’s not all. Sacrificing the five mana Zombie to a card like Woe Strider can set up another trigger.

Thanks to Nightmare Shepherd, it will be child’s play to take an opponent from half their life total to zilch in a single turn.

You can also exploit timing tricks, like sacrificing a Yarok’s Fenlurker or Burglar Rat during the opponent’s draw to keep them locked at no cards in hand (a pretty rare opportunity for instant speed discard).

Tons and tons of focus on Mono-Black Devotion this week… But that’s not all!

The Best of the Rest…

  • Where do Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven fit into this metagame?
  • How about Rakdos instead of Mono-Black? Do you get more from the second color… Or more from the literal Devotion to Black?
  • All the different ways folks have tried The Akroan War so far. What’s more exciting? Pairing it with Witch’s Oven… Or stealing creatures permanently with Thassa, Deep Dwelling?
  • “Time Wipe my Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths” … Also at instant speed
  • Which deck does Mike call “the king of mid-range”?
  • What seeming non-bo does Patrick point out is actually a combo?
  • WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Listen now!

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The Masterful Design of Dream Trawler

Dream Trawler is a wonderfully designed Magic: The Gathering card

Dream Trawler… Is Mike’s favorite card from Theros Beyond Death

Now that the whole set has been revealed, Mike has a slam dunk favorite card… And it’s this big sphinx!

  • Flying, Lifelink
  • Discard a card: Dream Trawler gains hexproof until end of turn. Tap it.

A large flyer with five toughness and lifelink is reminiscent of Baneslayer Angel. This card actually costs a little more (6 instead of 5 mana). But this one offers a little something extra: It doesn’t die to Doom Blade.

“Protect the Queen”

One of the most celebrated blue strategies of all time is “protect the queen”. Rather than using your permission to stop threats like a Draw-Go deck; or to force through your combo like Trix or High Tide… Protect the Queen seeks to use permission to defend a key creature.

Usually the creature — often a large flyer — will win the game in just a few swings. You don’t need enough permission to stop everything… Just enough to keep the creature alive for as long as it takes to win. Finite and finite.

There are two advantages for protecting this sphinx.

First, you can use any card to give Dream Trawler hexproof. You don’t need to draw into particular permission.

Secondly, and subtly, you can consistently attack. Because of its draw-aligned ability (and lifelink) Dream Trawler is better on offense than defense. The trick is, if the opponent lets you attack, your Dream Trawler will already be tapped. If they use removal mid-combat, you can discard without losing the damage.

Everything to Every One

Dream Trawler has a little something from all the great and iconic control finishers from over the years. Like evrything from Serra Angel on down, it’s a large flyer… Six mana instead of five, maybe, but similar.

While it doesn’t have vigilance, Dream Trawler’s lifelink allows it to play offense and defense simultaneously. Its hexproof makes protecting it easier.

But how about those other two lines?

  • Whenever you draw a card, Dream Trawler gets +1/+0 until end of turn.
  • Whenever Dream Trawler attacks, draw a card.

It’s got some power-buffing like Psychatog.

It draws cards when attacking like Ophidian.

But even more than its nostalgia; even more than its improvement on just dying to Doom Blade; Dream Trawler is an elegantly designed card. Come listen to Patrick’s breakdown on how this creature is a masterwork:

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There’s Lots to Love with Thassa, Deep-Dwelling

Meet Thassa, Deep-Dwelling from Theros Beyond Death:

Thassa, Deep-Dwelling

Let’s break down Thassa’s abilities…

Indestructible is great! Especially if you turn Thassa “on” with devotion to blue of five or greater, a 6/5 indestructible for four mana deserves a second look.

“3U: Tap another target creature” though…

Probably too much mana.

If you’re in for Thassa, you’re probably in for that exile ability.

Thassa, Deep-Dwelling as a “personal Howling Mine”

One of the most obvious ways to play Thassa, Deep-Dwelling is with a lot of 187 creatures. If you play any creatures with abilities that trigger when they enter the battlefield, Thassa represents an easy way to build card advantage over time.

It does what it does without any incremental mana requirements every turn.

If you just choose and play creatures that generate card advantage, this God will help you generate lots of card advantage! What about…

Thassa’s Oracle from Theros Beyond Death

Thassa’s Oracle is a perfect MichaelJ card! Highly reminiscent of his beloved Omenspeaker, Thassa’s Oracle is even more on-brand with Thassa’s devotion to blue theme. It’s a card that can help you to set up your early game and blocks effectively for its casting cost. And, of course… Sometimes it just wins the game!

Arcanist’s Owl from Throne of Eldraine

How about this Bird?

Arcanist’s Owl is a good “engine” card. Meaning, once it’s already on the battlefield, Thassa can profitably exile it for more and more card advantage. Not for nothing, but the Owl also increases your devotion to blue by four (despite being an artifact). Interestingly, because it is an artifact, it can be a good target for other deck manipulation. For example, Emry, Lurker of the Loch is an early game creature you might want to play. Emry is another nice setup spell, and a worthy exile target itself.

Both these cards make nice friends with Meteor Golem!

Meteor Golem

It’s not going to be easy to lose once you start “Blinking” Meteor Golems every turn.

Best of the Rest

  • Which Elder Giant is best… And why?
  • How do you counter the un-counter-able?
  • Rating Interventions
  • All the ways you might want to UNLEASH THE KRAKEN

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All the Ways to Play (and break!) Heliod, Sun-Crowned

Heliod, Sun-Crowned

Heliod, Sun-Crowned + Walking Ballista deals infinite damage (and gains infinite life!)

As if we didn’t get enough out of Walking Ballista…

This combination is great because it can be played in not only Modern (and larger formats) but Pioneer!

The simple procedure:

  • Play out Heliod, Sun-Crowned on three mana
  • Play Walking Ballista for four mana (possibly the next turn) for a “2/2” Walking Ballista (two +1/+1 counters)
  • On turn five you can use Heliod’s ability to give Walking Ballista lifelink, then remove a counter from the Ballista to get the party started! Remove a +1/+1 counter to deal a point of damage; lifelink means you’ll gain a point of life… Meaning you can put another +1/+1 counter on the Ballista.

This is awesome, of course; but you’ll have to be a little careful. For example you can’t go three-into-four cleanly. A 1/1 Walking Ballista will die before it can get the next counter.

That said, there are ways to be faster otherwise; for example…

Mortal’s Ardor

Mortal’s Ardor saves you a ton of mana. For instance you can play Heliod on turn three and then a 1/1 Walking Ballista on turn four. Follow up with a Mortal’s Ardor for only one more mana and you will also make the Ballista a 2/2.

With this three-card combination you don’t have to use 1W and Heliod to turn on the Ballista. Mortal’s Ardor fulfills both size and lifelink requirements… Heliod’s job in this case is “just” to pay off infinite +1/+1 counters.

“Holy Tooth and Nail, Batman!”

-Mike

If You’re Interested in Another Color… Can we Interest You in Green?

Collected Company is a potential option because Heliod, Sun-Crowned is a creature card whether it’s a creature on the battlefield.

From the perspective of Collective Company, Heliod is priced to move. Walking Ballista, however, is not. But…

Spike Feeder

At least in Modern, Collected Company into Heliod and Spike Feeder doesn’t even require any more mana. Just remove a +1/+1 counter from Spike Feeder to gain two life, and Heliod will pay it back. You don’t kill the opponent outright, but gaining infinite life will usually win the game.

Builds including these cards can also exploit cards like Archangel of Thune for redundancy.

“Soul Sisters” Can Break Heliod, Sun-Crowned in a Variety of Formats

There are no shortage of Soul Warden effects.

In Theros Beyond Death alone, we’ve got…

Daxos, Blessed by the Sun

If you’re on the Mono-White Beatdown train, you can just play Daxos and Walking Ballista in the same turn (which will trigger Daxos, and therefore Heliod, and therefore grow Walking Ballista) to again save mana.

The advantages of this build are many. Daxos and Heliod are highly synergistic coming from the whole “Devotion to White” angle. You probably have great fundamental expectation against decks like Mono-Red or Boros Burn. And a legitimate Plan B attack strategy.

While it lacks the infinite damage (and infinite life gain) of the Walking Ballista builds in Pioneer or Modern, a Standard deck can play these two cards together… With a great likelihood of actually turning Heliod into a monstrous 5/5 for three.

And lots, lots more…

Example:

What’s better, Birth of Meletis or Wall of Omens?

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