Last updated on July 20, 2021
Thassa, God of the Sea | Illustration by Jason Chan
Devotion is a fun, flavorful mechanic that rewards your, well, devotion to a color. It’s been in MTG for a bit under eight years, but it’s a popular and successful mechanic at the kitchen and tournament tables alike.
What’s notable about this success is that it comes in many different forms. There are tons of viable devotion decks across past Standard formats, Commander, Pioneer, and more. We have a good amount of ground to cover about the mechanic and its history/current usage, so let’s get started!
How Does Devotion Work?
Abhorrent Overlord | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
To put it simply, devotion counts the number of mana symbols of a color that you have in play, giving you a bonus effect based on how many symbols of that color you have. Or in the official, stuffier wording:
700.5. A player’s devotion to [color] is equal to the number of mana symbols of that color among the mana costs of permanents that player controls. A player’s devotion to [color 1] and [color 2] is equal to the number of mana symbols among the mana costs of permanents that player controls that are [color 1], [color 2], or both colors.From the official Comprehensive Rules
Let’s take a look at an example. You control Sanctuary Cat and play Evangel of Heliod. This’ll create three 1/1 white soldier tokens because your devotion to white is three: W from the Cat plus WW from Evangel, which sees its own trigger.
Having more white permanents would create more 1/1s, while losing Evangel or the Cat in response to the trigger would result in less. Devotion is a fairly straightforward mechanic. The more permanents you control with the associated color pips in their mana cost the stronger your payoff will be.
History of Devotion
Daybreak Chimera | Illustration by Lars Grant-West
The history of devotion begins not with the mechanic itself but with a very similar, short-lived mechanic called “chroma.” Chroma debuted in Eventide in July 2008 and has yet to reappear in any form. Compared to devotion, chroma cared about colored symbols on cards but wasn’t tied to permanents in play and counted symbols in your graveyard, in exile, etc.
There are 13 cards with chroma, though it mostly appeared on rares (only one common featured the mechanic). None of the cards saw any tournament play that I know of, and their impact on casual play was also limited.
Only Primalcrux and Sanity Grinding really impress. They’re both effective kitchen table cards for mono green stompy and mill strategies respectively. The rest of the chroma cards command bulk prices and are mostly unloved.
Devotion’s first appearance was in Theros, which was released in September 2013. It was a sort of do-over for chroma, repurposing the mechanic with more flavor and simplifying it a bit. Theros introduced five mono-colored gods and a variety of payoffs for stacking up devotion to each color spread out among all the colors and rarities. Particular standouts from the set are Thassa, God of the Sea, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.
Devotion also featured in Theros’ two companion sets, Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx. The highlights from those sets include the multicolor gods, particularly Phenax, God of Deception and Karametra, God of Harvests, and Aspect of Hydra.
Current Standard also has cards with devotion thanks to the recent return to Theros in Theros: Beyond Death. Each of the mono-colored gods from Theros returned with a new card plus the newcomer Klothys, God of Destiny. A pair of tournament staples, Anax, Hardened in the Forge and Thassa’s Oracle, show off the mechanic as well, though the Oracle is rarely played in typical devotion shells.
Which Colors Have the Most Devotion?
Tymaret, Chosen from Death | Illustration by Chase Stone
Devotion is a well spread-out mechanic that has appeared in each color. It offers a solid incentive to build five very different mono-color decks. If you want to be more specific, the most devotion cards (10+) are in black and green, and the least (4) are in red. White and blue have a medium amount.
Do Cards with Devotion Count Themselves?
Yes, cards with devotion do count themselves. But if they’re removed from the battlefield when the trigger resolves, then their symbols are gone and won’t be counted.
Do Copies of Cards Add to Your Devotion?
Yes, copies add to your devotion as long as the card specifies that the copies have the mana cost as the original. This wouldn’t be the case with a mechanic like eternalize (see Hooded Hydra for an example), which specifies that the token has no mana cost. No mana cost equals no devotion!
Do Tokens Count Toward Devotion?
Tokens don’t count towards devotion unless the token is an exact copy of something with mana pips. It’s all about whether or not the permanent has a mana cost, which can vary depending on how the token was created.
Do Mutated Cards Count Towards Devotion?
Drag to the Underworld | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez
A mutated card has a devotion equal to whatever the top card’s mana cost is. If you have Dreamtail Heron mutated under Regal Caracal, it’ll provide two devotion to white and none to blue. Mutated cards underneath the top card provide text to it but no devotion.
How Does Devotion Work for Gods?
A god you control is a creature if your devotion is five (or seven for multicolor gods) or more. If at any point your devotion falters, it’s no longer a creature and will just be an enchantment. Removing your opponent’s Healer’s Flock during combat could prevent their Heliod, Sun-Crowned from connecting with you since it would stop being a creature before dealing any damage.
Every god has a passive ability that doesn’t require it to be a creature and then rewards you for devotion by bashing as an indestructible creature if you can honor them enough.
Do Lands Count Towards Devotion?
No, lands don’t count towards devotion. Lands are colorless unless stated otherwise. A Plains, for instance, has no mana value and no color identity. Even making your Plains white with a card effect still wouldn’t provide devotion, as the land still has no mana value.
How Does Hybrid Mana Work with Devotion?
Hybrid mana works great with devotion! As an example, Nightveil Specter would give you three devotion to blue and three devotion to black. This interaction was used quite a bit in Theros Standard, with cards like the Specter and Boros Reckoner showing up quite a lot in devotion strategies.
Devotion in Competitive Magic
Gray Merchant of Asphodel | Illustration by Scott Murphy
Devotion took a few weeks to catch on, but it was a major fixture in competitive Magic after its debut. The mechanic had four successful flavors across that Standard format, with only mono white failing to deliver tournament results.
Mono black devotion, featuring Gray Merchant of Asphodel and surprise all-star Pack Rat, was a very memorable tournament deck. It basically ran the show with blue devotion (a tempo deck featuring four Thassa, God of the Seas and lots of average creatures) and Azorius control (draw-go deck that won with Sphinx’s Revelation) for over a year). Nightveil Specter was an all-star in both blue and black flavors of devotion since it provided UUU/BBB and played well in the very common mirror matches.
The other two devotion flavors that succeeded in Theros’ Standard were red and green devotion. Red devotion had decent success at the first PT but had poor matchups against mono blue and Azorius control which kept it from seeing future success.
Green devotion was a later breakout. It came about years later in Selesnya builds featuring Mastery of the Unseen as a late game mana dump. This culminated in an incredible final at the Grand Prix Miami in 2015 where Daniel Cecchetti broke 100+ life and we got to witness an insane board state:
Heliod, Sun-Crowned | Illustration by Lius Lasahido
Anax, Hardened in the Forge has been a fixture in red aggro strategies since its printing. It’s resilient against removal and deadly with Embercleave. Heliod, Sun-Crowned has been a tournament staple as well, though this has more to do with infinite lifegain and damage combos (e.g., Walking Ballista) than its power in fair mono white decks.
There’ve also been some noble attempts to make Gray Merchant of Asphodel work again, but no one has really succeeded and time is running out before rotation. Another current devotion deck that’s been attempted is mono blue devotion.
Devotion hasn’t really had any competitive success in Historic yet, but this isn’t for lack of effort. Phyrexian Obliterator is a pretty exciting reason to try it! Historic is a powerful enough format that Gray Merchant of Asphodel and friends have struggled to do much at the top tables. Other flavors of devotion have gone mostly un-played, and many of the better payoffs for the mechanic (Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx most of all) are absent.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx | Illustration by Jung Park
Mono green devotion/ramp was an awesome deck at the start of the format. It had incredibly explosive draws with Leyline of Abundance plus Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, excellent anti-interaction with Veil of Summer, and free consistency thanks to Once Upon a Time. But every single card I just mentioned has been banned at this point, so the deck is no longer a tier 1 fixture. It’s still quite playable though and makes up roughly 4% of the metagame at this point.
Mono white devotion was another dominant deck in Pioneer. It was a combo deck with Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista that also managed to play a passable midrange game with Arcanist’s Owl and other white dorks. It could play decently fair Magic while holding the looming threat of combo over your opponent’s head. Sadly, bans came for this deck too and it’s mostly dead with Walking Ballista gone.
Mono blue devotion has been attempted as well. Leyline of Anticipation can go off with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and the cast of UU/UUU creatures to choose from is pretty decent. It lacks any real tournament finishes at this point, though.
There have certainly been attempts, but Modern is a fast, punishing format that’s proven much too powerful for something like Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Mono green devotion has been the most successful shell in Modern as it’s capable of fundamentally broken draws with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx that makes 10+ mana on turn 3!
Devotion is certainly viable in EDH, either as a payoff/choice for your commander (with one of the many available gods helming your deck) or as individual card choices. Karametra, God of Harvests, Aspect of Hydra, and Thassa, Deep-Dwelling are particularly nice cards that care about devotion, though Karametra and Thassa are arguably more about their other abilities than attacking.
Best Devotion Cards
- Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- Fanatic of Mogis
- Thassa, God of the Sea
- Heliod, Sun-Crowned
- Purphoros, God of the Forge
- Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
List of Devotion Cards
Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea | Illustration by Zack Stella
Devotion is a mechanic I personally like a fair bit. It’s fun to set up, flavorful, and easy enough to fight against that it never felt too oppressive. We likely haven’t seen the last of devotion, even if it’s current status in Standard is a bit disappointing.
What are your thoughts on devotion? Do you think the chroma revamp was a good move, or do you wish we could go back to the original mechanic? Let me know in the comments down below! Be sure to follow us on Twitter for more great articles like this and to check out the rest of the blog.
Until next time, may your gods always be creatures!