Theros Beyond Death Spotlight: Heliod Combo


Time for some sweet New Year's spoilers from Theros Beyond Death. In today's article, Rone goes deep into the latest infinite combo involving Walking Ballista and Heliod, Sun-Crowned. Powerful in Modern and possibly ban-worthy in Pioneer, it's the Splinter Twin of the new decade!

Hello everyone and Happy New Year! I hope you had a blast during the holiday season and got a chance to play some Magic as well. We are already deep into Theros Beyond Death preview season, which means new cards to talk about. There's also a lot to write about, so you'll find several articles regarding the upcoming set on Insight.

Let's get right into today's topic, the new and improved Heliod, Sun-Crowned, a card that is likely to see a ton of play across multiple formats. Without further ado, let's break down the why and how!

Understanding the Infinite Life/Damage Combo

As you may already know, Theros Beyond Death is bringing back the five monocolored Gods from original Theros. There are new versions of Heliod, Thassa, Erebos, Purphoros, and Nylea to showcase, though the general recipe remains unchanged: indestructible enchantment creatures that aren't a creature unless your devotion to their respective color is five or more. Indeed, all of them once again have one automatic and one activated ability too.

Heliod is the cheapest to cast, a big upside in terms of playability for competitive formats. The card's passive ability is like an Ajani's Pridemate that, interestingly enough, allows you to put +1/+1 counters on enchantments, even if they aren't creatures, for example Heliod itself. Then there's the activated ability, which allows you to pay 2 mana to give any creature lifelink. This is perfect for decks like Soul Sisters or white midrange …

heliod, sun-crowned walking ballista

However, what happens when you combine Heliod with a Walking Ballista with two counters? The answer is pretty obvious: you have a two-card combo that suddenly deals infinite damage and gains infinite life. The combo is pretty straightforward: step one you cast Heliod, step two you play Ballista with at least two counters, step three you target Ballista with Heliod's ability, and step four you proceed to ping your opponent for 1 damage. This creates a recursive loop where you gain 1 life due to the lifelink, so your Ballista gets a counter, and then you repeat the process as often as you want.

Alternatively, you can achieve infinite lifegain with Heliod and Spike Feeder. Using the green card's second ability to gain 2 life will create another infinite loop resulting in a million life for you, although that doesn't guarantee victory of course.

walking ballista

Overall, the Heliod-Ballista combo has some great features, starting with the mana requirement and cost. With some mana acceleration you can play Heliod on turn two and Ballista on three, going off on turn four. Besides, both cards are creatures that can be tutored up with cards like Once Upon a Time, Eladamri's Call, or Commune with Nature, and they are both easy to add into a two- or three-color deck; plus Ballista being an artifact makes it possible to find it with cards like Trinket Mage or Karn, the Great Creator.

Also, when going off, it's quite hard to interact with the combo since Heliod is both indestructible and not a creature as long as you don't fulfill the devotion clause. If someone tries to kill Balista in response to Heliod's ability or in response to the Ballista's ability, you could just pay another 2 or 4 mana to win in response. So in general it's going to be quite challenging for opponents to disrupt the killing blow.

Modern: Is This Splinter Twin 2.0?

spike feeder

If you are interested in brewing a deck around the combo, my suggestion is to start with some Vizier of Remedies/Devoted Druid shell. Adapt it for the newer iteration, and also include Spike Feeder as an alternative win condition in case Ballista gets caught by Surgical Extraction.

Some people are already comparing this to the infamous Splinter Twin combo that dominated Modern a few years ago and eventually got banned. That enchantment combined with either Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite was one of the most dominant decks for a long time, but also played the role of a tempo strategy that could win without the combo. It is still too early to know what the impact of the new strategy is going to be moving forward. However, the fact that you cannot play your creatures at instant speed tells me that the comparison is not quite apt.

I saw this configuration posted and it immediately caught my eye. It features plenty of deadly combinations inside: there are the two already mentioned, with either Ballista or Spike Feeder, and then there's the interaction between Heliod, Kitchen Finks, and Altar of Dementia: Basically, with all three cards in play, every time you sacrifice Finks, the creature comes back thanks to persist, gaining 2 life in the process, so Heliod adds a new counter. As a result you can repeat the loop and mill out your opponent while gaining infinite life.

Aside from the combo pieces, the list runs seven mana accelerants, some protection in the shape of Giver of Runes, and finally some sweet silver bullets like Eternal Witness to rebuy a destroyed piece, Ranger-Captain of Eos to tutor for Ballista, and Shalai, Voice of Plenty to give hexproof to the whole team. The spell suite consists of of some of the best green tutors. Notably, Collected Company can't hit Heliod and Ballista, but it can hit Heliod and Spike Feeder.

I am unsure if this is the new deck to beat but having a milling plan in the main deck reminds me of a crazy Avatar that terrorized Modern not long ago …

Pioneer: Is This Worth Banning?

radiant fountain

Although there is fewer card selection compared to Modern, Pioneer also means less and worse spot removal to disrupt the combo: no Path to Exile or Lightning Bolt for instance. Therefore the combo seems even scarier in the recently created environment. It's not for nothing that Wizards have been making huge efforts to forbid absurd two-card combinations like Saheeli Rai plus Felidar Guardian, which they banned on the first announcement after Pioneer became a real thing.

That being said, we are still recovering from the Oko, Thief of Crowns fiasco, so let's assume Wizards are taking good care of Pioneer. Maybe this combo is not as broken as we think and can smoothly slot into the format's metagame without dominating.

Note that LSV's original list included eight copies of Commune with the Gods and no Incubation // Incongruity — which is strictly better at finding the combo pieces. He did mention that this was a rough sketch of what the deck could be.

This deck also relies on twelve mana dorks to speed up the combo and a ton of search effects including Shared Summons. The blue splash is almost exclusively for Teferi, Time Raveler, one of the best proactive cards to protect the combo. Radiant Fountain is a brilliant piece of technology and a real game changer. Usually, you'd have to spend 4 mana on Ballista and another 2 to give it lifelink. With Fountain as your land drop, though, you can actually win on turn three!

It is too early to say if any of the cards need to be banned. For now we have to wait until the set releases, then see how the strategies melts into the metagame.

Wrapping Up

I must say I am really hyped for Heliod, Sun-Crowned since it is one of the set's marquee cards and will probably see a ton of play across various formats. Sometimes older players tend to misjudge newer cards because they are designed for Standard, but then they end up over-performing in older formats, just like Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft is crushing it in Legacy right now. This could also be the case for Heliod, in the right build. I could even see a Bomberman shell adding a couple of them, since they already play Ballista, so the possibilities are endless.

In any case, thank you so much for reading and have a wonderful start into 2020!

Until next time,
Rodrigo Martin

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

If you're interested in picking up any of the new cards, check out our Theros Beyond Death page!

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