Oh, My Gods!

Oh, poor Heliod. Of the five original Gods in Theros, you are the only one who hasn’t seen top-level Standard play. Is it because nobody cares about vigilance? Maybe because people were already sideboarding [card]Glare of Heresy[/card] against [card]Detention Sphere[/card] and Elspeth? Or could it be because none of the other cards in white really played into a devotion strategy? After all, being able to crank out 2/1 tokens at will is pretty powerful, right?

I think basically the white devotion deck never got a chance to get off the ground. The red and green decks were too fast, the black one too disruptive and the blue one too consistent for a strategy that likely wants to control the board before winning through attrition and grinding people down with tokens. It also probably wants to splash blue for [card]Detention Sphere[/card], [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] and maybe even [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. At that point, aren’t we just better off playing UW Control?

With five new Gods coming in Born of the Gods, people are already looking at ways to abuse them. Unlike with Theros, we won’t have a Pro Tour full of Standard decks to guide the way as this one is Modern. All five have now been revealed, and all five have given me ideas on how to incorporate them into some FNM-level Standard decks.

Ephara, God of the Polis

Ephara, God of the Polis

Two of the five “minor” Gods cost 4: Ephara and Mogis. If we have learned anything from Theros, the cheapest Gods are the first ones to look at. Not only is Ephara cheap, she’s also blue. Islands have been historically pretty good, so we’ll start with this lady.

A 6/5 for 2UW is relatively ridiculous, and despite outward appearances it shouldn’t be too hard to do just that. She provides 2 to her own devotion, and every [card]Detention Sphere[/card] adds 2 more. However she needs to be playable without ever turning sideways, and as the three best words in Magic are in her text box that seems likely.

The first thing that came to find for me was [card]Heliod, God of the Sun[/card]. With the two of them in play Heliod effectively reads “2WW: Put a 2/1 enchantment creature token with vigilance into play. Draw a card at the beginning of the next turn’s upkeep.” Normally I hate reducing cards to that sort of level, but that’s what we’re looking at here.

Another potential avenue here is Bant Flash. Little-used Dragon’s Maze common [card]Deputy of Acquittals[/card] has some interesting applications in a deck like that, being able to draw you a card and bounce itself at instant speed for reuse the next turn. [card]Boon Satyr[/card], [card]Advent of the Wurm[/card] and potential [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] tokens can all have the added bonus of a cantrip, because those cards weren’t already good enough. Tokens sadly won’t help turn on Ephara, so bear that in mind. What they CAN do is get populated, again at instant speed, by things like Trostani and [card]Rootborn Defenses[/card]. There might even be an argument here for [card]Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage[/card]. The plan needs a bit of polis but I think the concept is solid.

[card]Prophet of Kruphix[/card] makes your whole deck terrifying. It’s my choice right now as the most underplayed card in Standard, as it is incredibly powerful in any deck that wants to do things at instant speed. Like, all the things. Prophet would let an Ephara deck play a few counters while keeping the cards flowing and the threats on the board. This is where I will be starting with an Ephara brew.

One other potential way to go here is [card]Pack Rat[/card]. Gerard Fabiano was playing an Esper deck that basically jammed all the powerful cards from black and blue devotion strategies into a white black midrange shell, then added [card]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/card]. Everyone’s favourite format-ruiner works very well with Ephara, drawing you cards to make more Rats at no extra cost. The deck runs enough symbols to turn Ephara on even if the Rats don’t help on that front, and the fact that almost every card in the deck is a game-winner makes Ephara that much more dangerous.

Mogis, God of Slaughter

Mogis, God of Slaughter

Most people seem to be rating this guy very highly, though for some reason my local group has not taken to him quite so readily. Four mana for an even bigger 7/5 is a good start, the question is whether or not he’s better in an aggro deck than [card]Purphoros, God of the Forge[/card]. Where Purphoros does not give the opponent a choice and is not essentially shut down by something like Elspeth or [card]Assemble the Legion[/card], Mogis will do his thing every turn even if you top deck a land. It’s possible that a Rakdos Aggro deck will want both, but there is certainly a debate to be had between the two.

One thing I will note right away: black/red has the fewest non-creature permanents seeing play right now, making Mogis harder to turn on against decks with a lot of creature removal. Even a [card]Whip of Erebos[/card] and an [card]Underworld Connections[/card] won’t do it.

Sadly Mogis does not work too well with two of the more powerful yet underplayed red/black cards in the format, being [card]Cryptborn Horror[/card] and [card]Rakdos, Lord of Riots[/card]. The opponent is taking damage on their turn and not yours so you won’t get to do unfair things in that regard. He will do his best work as a curve-topper that gives the opponent a choice between sacrificing a blocker or dropping themselves within burn range. [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] into [card]Ash Zealot[/card] or [card]Rakdos Shred-Freak[/card] into [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] makes Mogis a dude on turn 4 and makes blocking very hard for the opponent. Dream curves aside, I’d be happy playing a pseudo [card]Sulfuric Vortex[/card] effect in an aggro deck, especially if it can randomly swing for 7.

I think Mogis might be a bit more flexible than that, however. His ability synergises very well with something like [card]Desecration Demon[/card], making it very difficult for opponents to keep anything on the board. With the [card]Temple of Malice[/card] in the set as well, splashing red into mono-black devotion gives some additional reach to the format’s boogeyman while allowing it more access to planeswalker removal in [card]Dreadbore[/card] and potent anti-control weapons in [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card], [card]Slaughter Games[/card] and even [card]Sire of Insanity[/card]. The Demons and Dragons deck from the last Pro Tour was built along these lines, and Mogis would slot right in. He is even likely to attack in this deck!

Those of you watching GP Vancouver this weekend would have seen Paul Dunn’s Agent Aggro deck taking the format by surprise and putting up a top 64 finish. Now I might be biased as Paul is a Newfoundlander, but I was ecstatic to see a brew doing so well on a big stage. If the mana base could accommodate it I could easily see Mogis doing good work in that deck, feeding [card]Nighthowler[/card]s or dealing 2 a turn. I haven’t played with the deck much so I don’t know if it wants to stretch to a second colour, but this seems like a good direction to go if you decided to add red.

Xenagos, God of Revels

Xenagos, God of Revels

We can leave the argument over whether a God is an upgrade or a downgrade from planeswalker for another time. What is not up for debate is that the divine Mr X is an absolute house. He reminds me a lot of a miniature [card]Domri Rade[/card] emblem, making any decent-sized creature from the top of your deck into a real threat. The Gruul pairing is already being played as red splash green devotion, green splash red devotion and RG Monsters, and I think Xenagos can fit into all of them.

I’d want to start with any deck containing a God. Already undercosted for their stats, they get even more ridiculous if they get the boost from their new brother. Attacking for 12 with Purphoros or Nylea on turn 5 is going to be hard to handle, even without trample. He slots right in to both the Rg and Gr builds floating around, and even has the bonus of adding to devotion for both Purphoros and Nylea. Oh, and he’ll attack too. Remember that he can’t target himself, but I don’t think that will be a concern…

My loose playtest team, the Angry Birds, has been working on a GRw deck for the past few weeks that is absolutely drooling over the addition of Xenagos. His planeswalker version has been occupying a slot in the deck and, as I told the team the other night, feels like either the best card in the deck or a complete blank depending on when you draw it and the matchup. The God version I think solves that problem, as it still draws a [card]Detention Sphere[/card] if they have one but it has the benefit of not dying to [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] AND making top decks better. He’s also immune to [card]Pithing Needle[/card].

I’m sure you have all read and heard enough about Xenagos by now to understand how good he could be. While I don’t think we’ll be cursing its name by May, I do expect some resurgence in GR midrange decks, possible even stretching in to Jund, with this guy playing a key role. All will be reveled in the coming weeks.

Phenax, God of Deception

Phenax, God of Deception

Hands up if you’re surprised the blue/black God is mill-based? Like most people with a Johnny side I like a mill deck and would love to see one rise like a Phenax from the flames, and if there was ever going to be a time for that to happen it would be now. With two planeswalkers supporting the strategy, Dimir having it as a key component in Gatecrash and now Phenax, the pool is as deep as it’s likely to get.

The obvious route to take is one using high-toughness creatures that can both keep you alive and provide a big hit to the opponent’s library when needed. Most of these creatures will have defender, which fits in nicely with RTR block’s [card]Doorkeeper[/card]. I’d be starting with [card]Wall of Frost[/card], [card]Hover Barrier[/card], [card]Guardians of Meletis[/card] and maybe even [card]Pontiff of Blight[/card] to provide an alternate way to win. With this sort of setup you don’t need much in the way of milling from your spells, but [card]Pilfered Plans[/card] and [card]Psychic Strike[/card] are basically freebies. [card]Grisly Spectacle[/card] isn’t the worst card ever printed, but we’re not running four of them.

If you’re the kind of person who prefers winning in two ways, Gatecrash gave us some powerful creatures that love to mill the opponent: [card]Consuming Aberration[/card] and [card]Wight of Precinct Six[/card]. If you go this route you’ll want to avoid Ashiok (who exiles stuff) but you’ll likely want to go heavy on cheap spells to trigger the Aberration as much as possible. [card]Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker[/card] is also potentially crippling and has evasion.

Mill is usually a slower and more dangerous way to win the game, given that nothing you do actually affects the board and your opponent has 53 life on turn 1 instead of 20. There are also cases where milling the opponent can help them (such as in graveyard-based decks) and of course [card]Elixir of Immortality[/card] is seeing main deck play right now. At least there are no Eldrazi to randomly hose you. On the bright side, decks like this don’t care about the enemy life total and can actually enjoy an opposing [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card].

Karametra, God of the Harvest

Karametra, God of Harvests

I wanted her to be so much more. I’m here to tell you folks that by any Kara-metric, this card is just not good. It COULD have been: triggering off a creature entering the battlefield, costing 4 or even 3 mana, putting the land in untapped. I get that R&D is terrified of essentially free ramp, but we’re starting at 5 mana. [card]Primeval Titan[/card] was so good because it got any land AND did it every turn on a huge body with trample. It didn’t rely on other cards to make the engine go, it just had to turn sideways.

Sure, I can envision a deck that ramps Karametra out on turn 3 and then uses her to fix mana, thin the library, cast a couple of creature spells a turn and eventually just overwhelm the opponent. While she is the worst of the 5 Gods on the surface, she might also be the one that best lends itself to being broken. The others all do ultimately fair things, but ramping has never been particularly fair. Can something be done with an [card]Amulet of Vigor[/card] maybe, or free creatures? Could [card]Deputy of Acquittals[/card] be good here too?

That might be it, actually. One thing about ramp is that it is almost always done on your turn, but if we can do it at instant speed (allowing us to then untap with the new land) it might be a lot better. We spoke about a Bant Flash deck earlier, and if we’re flashing in dudes to enable ramp then Ephara is also drawing us more cards. Since we’re dragging lands out of the deck on a regular basis those draws will be gas more often than not, and we’ll be able to cast them as we’ve put our whole mana base out. [card]Prophet of Kruphix[/card] once again makes this idea even stronger. She’s probably a two-of at best, but I can see this working.

Divine Verdict

It’s a close race to the bottom between Phenax and Karametra. There’s more potential for shenanigans with Karametra, but Phenax has an obvious deck built around her. Xenagos is probably the best of the bunch, with Mogis not far behind. Ephara is therefore right in the middle, which seems correct.

Personally I will be trying the Bant deck first. I’m a sucker for synergy and there seems to be a lot of it there. Some sort of Rakdos deck will follow, in fact I will probably do two: one aggro, one more controlling. Born of the Gods in general seems pretty unexciting, but all of the Gods have me inspired to build around them. That has to be a good thing, right?