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Abe's Top Ten Cards from Theros: Beyond Death


Hello folks! I hope you are having a great day today!

By my count, Theros: Beyond Death (TBD) brings us over 20,000 unique cards!

Vintage legal (according to Gatherer): 19,420

Ante, Shahrazad, and Manual Dexterity Cards Banned in Vintage: 12

Three Silver Bordered Sets: 475

Total Cards - 19,907

Now this list does not include these sets of cards that you may want to consider:

  • Promos from things like Christmas Silvered Bordered cards, such as Snow Mercy.
  • Conspiracies
  • Promos for release events like The Philosopher, Garruk the Slayer, and unique cards for events like Face the Hydra.
  • Cards from online games that were never released in card form, such as Call from the Grave and Aswan Jaguar from the MicroProse game or Angelic Reward and Soulhunter Rakshasa from Arena.
  • Planes.
  • Vanguard Cards.
  • Schemes.
  • Play-test list from the Convention Edition of the Mystery Booster.

Now some, or all of those, won't count for most of you. If you counted the other silver-bordered cards and the Conspiracies, you'd only hit around 19,950. Assuming you don't count over-sized cards, event-only promos that cannot be played elsewhere, or the bizarre play-tested list, then we hit 20k in a week.

I'm sure I missed a list somewhere of random cards officially made for the game by WOTC but not in a traditional booster set.

You get the idea though!

With the new influx of cards from Theros: Beyond Death, we are hitting the 20,000 plateau!

Today I want to take a look at my picks for the best ten cards from Theros: Beyond Death for the kitchen table. These will include multiplayer, Commander, and other causal formats too. Given that this set brings us to a new plateau, the number of cards released is so high that new cards need to meet a high bar for entry at the kitchen table.

Honorable Mention #1 - Naiad of Hidden Coves

Naiad of Hidden Coves

After reviewing the set, I suspect this little common is set to make some serious appearances across formats. With its solid body and cost reduction for spells on others turns, the ability increases with the more foes you have. It will adore cards like Teferi, Time Raveler that can give your whole hand flash. Flash.deck is going to covet these. While there have been spells with type-based cost reduction by type before, this is the first time an entire strategy of Draw Go is enabled. Welcome!

Oh, these foils are ramping up. I tried to preorder them twice here at CoolStuffInc.com and they had them when I went to make the order but were sold out as folks bought them out. I've noticed the same at other stores too that have been bought out or raised the foil price. I suspect this'll be a big foil hit too, by the by.

Honorable Mention #2 - Thassa's Intervention

Thassa's Intervention

This is a good tag team with Naiad of Hidden Coves above. You'll enjoy the drawing of card's instantly, and getting two good ones, as even four mana for two cards at instant speed is fine. Its second ability can reliably counter something hard as it'll double the X. Either way it's a solid, flexible tool for many a deck!

10. Nyx Lotus

Nyx Lotus

Hello Lotus fans! I saw some folks on the Commander Facebook group dismiss this because it enters the battlefield tapped. But why? It's an artifact version of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx but it doesn't require mana to use, instead it gets a round of not being useful before doing so. Nykthos is useless when you have a devotion of two, and pretty weak when you have three. It's easy to interact with by taking out the devotion cards. The Nyx Lotus is always tapping for something, as long as you control a single devotion somewhere. It's a strong card; you dismiss it at your own risk.

9. Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis

Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis

It's hard to consider any cardin a vacuum. She's four mana for 5 loyalty and 3 minus abilities. She doesn't have an ultimate. The main question is, are those abilities worth it? And is her Escape ability enough to give her some distance over the competition? Her best 4-drop previous was Elspeth, Knight-Errant. Here she could both create a 1/1 dork and give something an Angelic Blessing for a turn with positive loyalty. That gave her a stickiness. After her first ability on that opening turn, she'd be at 5 loyalty. She was heavily played in many formats and remains a strong 'walker. Meanwhile the Sun's Nemesis can make two dorks a turn but only twice.

At the end of your turn four, assuming you only made dorks, you'd have 5 loyalty and 1 dork against 3 loyalty and 2. Turn five you'd have 6 loyalty and 2 dorks against 1 and 4. On the next turn, The Knight can make another while all the Sun's Nemesis can do is pump and then die. Although, if you have 6 mana (likely), and if you have enough cards in your graveyard (less likely) you can immediately exile those and bring her back and make two more tokens. A sixth turn with 6 1/1s, two of which are 3/2 for the turn, and a 3 loyalty 'walker is something difficult to answer. Meanwhile the KE at that time has 3 dorks and 7 loyalty, one away from going off, so two turns from caring enough to matter.

I think that once you see how strong the Nemesis is in the early game, the less the K-E looks better by comparison at that time. The fact that she's growing for both abilities means that the K-E has more stickiness, and the high number of four cards needed to Escape means your Nemesis may only manage it once a game. But that's probably enough to win with. It's like flashback, but you get it again and again, and that's really good. In dedicated builds that will abuse her double token making on turn four? She can punch quickly.

For example, by the end of turn six, the most damage KE can have done, assuming they dropped a 1/1 every turn on T6 too is 3 (1 on T5, 2 on T6) (or 6 on turn six if they forgo making a dork to pump). That's not bad!

But Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis with this:

Made 4 dorks, +2/+1 two - 10 damage innately. (2 on T5, 8 on Tu6,) If they returned Elspeth they could have pumped again for 14 damage, or just created two more dorks.

You can see how the double dorking ramps up much more quickly.

Assuming no pumps, on which turn would a player of KE win if they made a soldier every turn? 21 damage was dealt on turn 10. You could get to 18 on turn nine with her +3/+3 on that turn, which may kill many.

Assuming no pumps other than turn six when you can't do anything else, and no Escapes, how soon would SN win? 18 on turn eight. 22 on turn nine. A full turn sooner.

Speed matters in MTG, and there are lots of dorks who would prefer two 1/1s on turns four and five each time. You have lots of cards that will help your team of Soldiers or more for cheaper than four and will love a Sun's Nemesis. As you can see, she's pretty solid as an early game threat!

8. Nadir Kraken

Nadir Kraken

Drawing cards is important. Netting nice abilities when you do is great. Whenever you activate this for a single mana, you are getting two great boosts - an extra +1/+1 on this to swing with and an extra 1/1. That gets you two closer to killing your foe. Did they start at 20 life? Great! You can move quickly!

Typically when you have card-draw triggers they frump around with counters or do something weird:

Moonring Mirror

But in this case, you are pushing yourself to winning. I don't need to self-exile with a 5-drop or play a weird Illusion Squid, I can just win. Which is what most games are about (except for something that breaks that trope like To the Moon or The Stanley Parable.)

7. Shadowspear


Shadowspear is great for several kitchen table formats and metagames. It's a 1-drop you can reliably cast on the first turn. Its equip is a cheap two mana so that's easy as well. Its two abilities and +1/+1 is better than a lot of other cheap equips. And you can spend mana any time you wish to hose your foes' indestructible and hexproof. What's not to like? I think you'll see it a lot in many places, much like Blackblade, Reforged or Sword of the Animist.

6. Allure of the Unknown

Allure of the Unknown

Let's look at this card. For your five-mana investment at the kitchen table, you draw five cards. In Rakdos. Without any loss of life or other weird things happening. And what are you giving up? One of your opponents nets a free cast from your deck. You can work with a foe to tag-team a bigger threat that's about to kill you both. You don't target an opponent when you cast it, so you can wait until resolution to see who will get that choice. I look forward to many an Allure of the Unknown.

5. Storm Herald

Storm Herald

It seems to me that Red is becoming more and more the Aura loving color, and that's fine with me! If you read my article a few week ago on ways to fix Red, I talked about moving over some stuff like legendary matters and counter removal. This does so in a very Red way! Bring them all back in one fell swoop. Then they head to the exile zone at the end of the turn, assuming your foes aren't dead. Compare it to Retether. It's much better! It's cheaper, it provides a body to enchant with haste so you can cast it on a naked boar, and more. Enjoy the Herald of the Storm.

4. Gravebreaker Lamia

Gravebreaker Lamia

The Lamia is highly useful because fetching a card into a graveyard is rare. From Buried Alive to Entomb to Corpse Connoisseur, we have a small selection of cards that can perform this service. A smaller number can get any card. Before now? Two - Entomb and Intuition. That's it! Gravebreaker Lamia is going to do just that. And with this 4/4 for five mana with lifelink? And it reduces your graveyard costs? Get ready for a Lamia invasion!

3. Haktos the Unscarred

Haktos the Unscarred

Hello Achilles! I hope your day is going well! I love this sorta-Ball Lightning thing that's going on. 6/1, for a lot of colors (hence it being at #4) and protection against almost everything! Only one mana cost won't be protected, and you won't know. I guarantee that there will be many a time when you'll stare at the Vindicate in your hand sadly as it's weakness was 2-drops. Note that many commonly played creature answers, like Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolt, cost one, so they are out. You can block and interact with him. Because you don't know the number, you can't build around it. If you knew it was two mana, then you could toss in Lightning Greaves and attack with an equipped haste/shroud combo that would further protect. But it's harder for your foes to plan around him too, they'll need removal spells in each of three casting costs to reliably have an answer. That's pretty good!

2. Nylea's Intervention

Nylea's Intervention

This is a lazily designed card, but it's mega-powerful. This may be Commander banned. Powerful cheap effects that grab any land are often banned (Primeval Titan, Sylvan Primordial). This is five mana to get all three Urzatron lands. Much like Once Upon a Time, it removes any aspect of random chance from your game and will get you the same game each time. It's first ability single handedly removes cards like Sylvan Scrying or Reap and Sow from the conversation. It can kill in one turn with enough lands for a Seismic Assault. Grab your Manabonds now!

And that has ignored it's second ability, which can be a bit of a Whirlwind which remains the best flying killer of all time. Just five mana deals 6 damage to all flyers, which is likely killing most, and just one more mana increases that to 8, likely enough to handle any stragglers. By setting it up as a damage-based removal spell, it gives you the option of saving your fliers should you have a higher defense than theirs. You can also build around it with things like protection from Green or sorceries.

Now you could have done this concept differently. Just getting basic lands on an x spell is already powerful enough. You could have had the other option just Blaze a single flying dork instead. That spell? Would have probably hit like 7.

Purphoros's Intervention
Erebos's Intervention

Why can Nylea destroy all of the flyers but Purphoros only a single grounded dork or 'walker? Why can Nylea grab tons of land but Purphoros only make a single token that doesn't stick around after more than one turn? The same is true of others like Erebos. These don't even feel part of the same cycle.

All right, ready for my top choice?

1. Whirlwind Denial

Whirlwind Denial

If you take a look at my previous selections for my Top Ten, they aren't always splashy cards like Gods, Mythics, Planeswalkers, and more. They can be! But they aren't always. Many times a new way to do something important at the kitchen table is going to get tons of play. For example, I had Cloudkin Seer in my Core Set 2020 Top Ten and it's seen the play I expected. I had Insidious Will at the top of my Kaladesh list and it's been played a lot, as has some of my other choices for Harmonize as one of my top choices for Planar Chaos, among others. Heroic Intervention as my 3rd best choice for Aether Revolt? You get it. Now to be fair, I've missed. I still think Deathsprout is an amazingly useful card, but no one seems to have adopted it in large measures. (You should).

If one deck runs a powerful God out there but seven decks run Whirlwind Denial, then which was the better card? Which had the bigger impact? And that's why you'll usually see some of these great new utility cards chart in my lists. They do something old in a new way. Counters are a perfect example. Most new counters fit into one of four spaces.

  1. A limited counter that's cheap to cast but can only target a subset of spells.
  2. A counter that combines a new mechanic in a set with countermagic.
  3. A Cancel variant.
  4. A brand-new counter we've not seen before.

Memory Drain
Insidious Will

As an example, compare these two counters. Insidious Will can counter, double, or redirect a spell, making it maximally useful at four mana. Memory Drain is just a scry 2 version of a generic counter. It's just a variant of an existing card.

Now I am giving you all that set up, because I want to show you why Whirlwind Denial is so good. It's a super Mana Leak that works for abilities as well. You can counter someone tapping and using a Nevinyrral's Disk or sacrificing a Pernicious Deed. You can put it on the stack after other players have loaded up, and counter many an effect. It's even splashable. It's great! It'll get played a lot. Welcome.

And there we go! Those are my choices for the top cards in the set for casual, multiplayer, and Commander tables. Anything you agree with or think I missed. Just let me know!