Revisiting Mono White in Commander - Heliod, Sun-Crowned Life Gain
Mono-white Commander decks have been grossly undervalued due to their inability to draw cards, ramp mana, or combo out. However, no one removes a permanent like white and no one holds the board down like white. Five years of playing a Mono-White Commander in my arsenal has taught me some tricks, and I can reveal to you now the fun and success hidden in these plains. I will be focusing on one especially degraded white technique: lifegain. Often considered a useless strategy in commander because of the prevalence of combo decks and the alternate win-con of commander damage built into the format, lifegain has been waiting for it’s time in the sun. With the fantastic new cards printed in Theros Beyond Death, lifegain might just provide a stronger line of play than ever before. Let me walk you through the building of a dedicated lifegain deck with three major goals:
- Gain incredible amounts of life
- Control the board
- Win the game
But First, the Commander:
My personal white commander deck had Heliod, God of the Sun as the commander. An indestructible and hard to target commander is a fine resource to build a deck around and the sun god quickly became my favorite card. But Heliod, Sun-Crowned has far surpassed his previous form.The new Heliod’s +1/+1 counter ability is no joke in this deck, where we plan to gain life at least twice a turn, and most of our creatures either have lifelink or have a lifegaining ability. Nothing goes to waste as any mana left over after advancing our board state can be used to give our creatures lifelink to swing in or to make a more beneficial block. We won’t be a sitting duck just because we are using our time to gain life; no one wants to attack into a Rhox Faithmender with two +1/+1 counters on it, or our former 1/1’s that are now 3/3’s with lifelink! Once we set up our defenses as well as our lifelinkers, we can start attacking for bits a pieces each turn, to gradually gain more life. By the time our opponents realizes what’s happening, we’ll be pulling far past everyone else, and move towards winning the game.
Life Total as a Deterrent
No one wants to swing in for six against the person with sixty life. We want to increase our life total so quickly that our opponents spend their combat damage on each other and plan to save their alternate win-cons for us. To achieve this goal, we utilize cards such as Wall of Reverence, Beacon of Immortality, Suture Priest, and Pristine Talisman. These are cards that our opponents will never consider worth removing or countering, but will incrementally gain us consistent life and have us well over our starting life total by the time our opponents are set up. Repeatable effects such as Beacon of Immortality or Sanguine Sacrament will keep us over fifty life far into the late game when opponents start taking each other out and discover that they don't have a plan to defeat us. We want to dissuade opponents from attacking us with cards such as Ghostly Prison, Authority of the Consuls, and Blind Obedience. Soon enough they’ll decide that the one way they are going to defeat us is with commander damage or an alternate win-con.
The Commander Damage Dilemma
The greatest mark against life gain in commander is the alternate win-con built into the format. What good does sixty life do us if we can be taken out by twenty-one commander damage? There is sure to be at least one deck that can win with commander damage at any given table, and that deck is going to be our biggest enemy. For this, I turn to one of the greatest strengths of mono-white: incredible removal. Swords to Plowshares, Faith's Fetters, Banishing Light; any one of these is a prime card to keep in your hand while waiting for a dangerous commander to hit the field. However, to truly prepare ourselves against commander damage, we must go after our opponents tech. A Lightning Greaves on the field ready to be attached is a major threat to us. For this reason we run cards such as Return to Dust, Disenchant, and Generous Gift. I pack lots of removal in this deck and with good reason. This deck plans to win in the late game and to control the board for several turns leading up to the win. If all we do in a turn is gain life and hold up removal, that is a success! Winning with Mono-White requires patience and strategy.
Theros Beyond Death gives us Heliod's Intervention and Shadowspear, which are must-haves for this deck. Heliod's Intervention scales very well in this deck as mass removal, and if the occasion should rise we can always use it to gain a massive amount of life. Shadowspear not only provides a source of lifelink, it allows us to destroy our opponent’s otherwise untouchable creatures.
Commander damage is not the only win-con we have to be wary of. There will be plenty of combo decks at any given table and we need to plan for it. A well timed Silence during your opponent’s upkeep, or mid-combo, will give you another turn to shut down their combo pieces. No blue player will expect you to have Lapse of Certainty up your sleeve when they move to combo out. Ashes of the Abhorrent is another fantastic hate card that your reanimating opponents will need to answer before they can hope to win. Remember, use the long game to your advantage and answer threats only after your opponent has fully invested into their strategy. With devotion and faith in the one true Sun God we are sure to get ourselves a win.
One Hit From the Sun Spear
Controlling the board with a Mono-White Commander is easy. Winning afterwards can be much more difficult. For that reason I have packed this deck full of win-cons that our opponents won’t be able to do much about. The slowest win-con in this deck is Celestial Convergence. It’s a fine card that says ‘hold down the board for seven turns and win the game’ which is a somewhat easy thing to do in a dedicated control deck, especially once an opponent or two is out of the way. As a backup along similar lines, I’ve included Approach of the Second Sun. For a faster win I’ve slotted in the classic-cat Felidar Sovereign. If your opponent is packing counterspells however, you may want to drop an early game Aetherflux Reservoir or Evra, Halcyon Witness and use them to win the game once you have enough life. An honorable mention goes to Test of Endurance, which wins you the game on your upkeep if you have fifty or more life. I did not include it for budget reasons, but it’s a worthy upgrade should you choose to want it. Keep in mind that once your opponent sees one of these cards, you will be the target, so don’t reveal them until you already have a lock down on the board and some removal or disruption in hand. After all, the last thing we want is another control deck striking us down at the last moment.
I built this deck with a $150 dollar budget in mind, based on the deckbuilder on TappedOut. That said, there is plenty of room to improve this deck! To anyone looking to make some upgrades when plunging into Mono-White, here are some cards to consider: Extraplanar Lens, Archangel of Thune, Tithe, Endless Horizons, Grand Abolisher, and Avacyn, Angel of Hope.
Please leave any feedback you may have on this deck in the comments section! I am always looking for suggestions on how to improve my decks and am happy to discuss the merits of Mono-White Commander decks any time. Good luck, have fun, and praise be to Heliod!
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