Welcome to my flavor gems of Theros: Beyond Death! Theros is easily one of the most interesting planes in Magic from a metaphysics perspective, and one of my favorite places for lore discussion. While The Theros Beyond Death Story on Cards article captures some of the flavor, and we get a summary from the Theros: Beyond Death Story Summary, it's not the deep dive many Vorthos fans would want. Unfortunately, we didn't get fiction this time around, just story summaries.
Let's start with the key art for this new set.
In the art, Elspeth is holding a funerary mask made of gold. When people on Theros die, they're laid to rest with a clay mask. In the Underworld, those contemplating escape forge a new mask from gold, and the Returned wear them upon their escape. But the cost is their very identity. This particular mask is more symbolic than anything else, and to save my word count, I talk about it in this thread about the Arena Rector promo.
Okay, some Godsend/Elspeth Trivia, because my post last night didn't contain a ton of context. #vorthos #mtgthb— Jay Annelli (@jay13x) December 11, 2019
First, this is a 2020 Judge Promo that appears to depict Elspeth's Funerary Mask. It's a cute reference. We also see the mask on the Mythic Edition version of Elspeth. pic.twitter.com/s3yhFW0R8D
Agonizing Remorse depicts Ashiok tormenting Elspeth with visions of Daxos, who she killed in the original Theros block. Like the art of Elspeth's Nightmare, Xenagos and a former priest of Phenax had come looking for Godsend, and cast a nightmarish illusion on Elspeth. Believing Daxos to be a Phyrexian Obliterator, she slayed him.
Agonizing Remorse by Wisnu Tan
Rise to Glory shows Daxos the Returned being restored to life and becoming Daxos, Blessed by the Sun. While this isn't a story spotlight, it is a plot thread that has been dangling for around seven years. It's also nicely flavorful, implying that Daxos's new Demigod status is a sort-of 'aura' bestowed by Heliod.
When Ashiok sends visions of Heliod, torturing her with her own death, she snatched the nightmare Heliod's spear, dubbed the Shadowspear. In Triumphant Surge, we see Elspeth charging through the Underworld, taking advantage of belief-based magic of Theros (and Nyx) to empower her new weapon, claiming it is the 'true' spear of Heliod.
Elspeth is pursued by Calix, Destiny's Hand, who was created by the god of destiny, Klothys, specifically to hunt down Elspeth and return her to her place in paradise. Elspeth Conquers Death by defeating Heliod and using his own power (belief in the Shadowspear) against him. Erebos sees to Heliod's Punishment while Elspeth is allowed to go free, returning to life once more.
Anax, Hardened in the Forge is one half of Anax and Cymede. Cymede, his queen, was claimed by Keranos, God of Storms in exchange for the god's aid in raising the river and flooding out the minotaur invasion of Akros. Anax was wounded in the battle, and we didn't know what became of him until now. He's been made a demigod, a champion of Purphoros.
Aphemia, the Cacophony is our first legendary harpy in Magic. But more interestingly, the flavor text and name seems to reference Cacophony, the proto-god created by Ashiok in Dreams of the City. The proto-god of cities was quickly subsumed into Ephara, and I wonder if Ashiok simply has a fondness for that name, or if someone on the creative text team did.
Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea by Zack Stella
Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea is the character I most wanted to appear in a return to Theros. While the card itself doesn't scream 'legendary mariner', it's still cool to have such a prominent name finally get a card, the Theran equivalent of Odysseus. Callaphe is quoted in flavor text and even has an in-universe text, The Callapheia, named after her. Most notably, Kiora, the Crashing Wave disguised herself as Callaphe during the events of the original Theros block, in order to find Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle in the story Drop by Drop.
Eutropia the Twice-Favored is intriguing in that she is not aligned with Kruphix, who is , but instead with Nylea and Thassa, who are Green and Blue respectively. It's rare we see a character devoted to more than one god, but great to see Therans who aren't devoted to a single god on the cards.
Gallia of the Endless Dance is simply a legendary satyr. We've never actually had one before, as Xenagos was a planeswalker and a god. She represents the less insidious side of Satyr life.
Klothys, God of Destiny had been hanging out in the Underworld keeping the leash on the Titans before the war of the gods erupted in the mortal realm. With her carefully woven destiny out-of-whack, she's begun taken action to weave everyone back into their proper place.
Polukranos, Unchained was killed by Elspeth in the original Theros, but apparently all dogs (and hydra) do go to heaven... or at least the Underworld. The world-eating hydra is loose in the Underworld with a very flavorful new card.
Taranika, Akroan Veteran by Eric Deschamps
Taranika, Akroan Veteran references the Signature Spellbook: Gideon version of Rest In Peace, with Gideon's legacy (referred to here as Kytheon) looming large over a new generation. It's nice to see a bit of Gideon's legacy on our return to Theros.
Tymaret, Chosen from Death was the 'king' of Odunas, a necropolis (literal city of the dead, a polis for Returned) in the mountains of Theros. I use quotations on king here, because he's the Returned the others listen to most, not really a king, organizing raids against the living.
The Titans, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, are elder giants, ancient creatures akin to the Titans of greek myth rather than the 'Titans' we've seen on Theros already, who are merely giants. It's very cool to see the Elder type brought back to denote these creatures as primordial beings, and I'm disappointed we're only seeing two.
Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis depicts a cloakless Elspeth (remember: Ajani has it) in the Underworld (completed with stab wound) wielding the Shadowspear. The Shadowspear was created by a weird confluence of Ashiok's nightmare magic and Theros's own ambient belief-based magic. It's a warped version of the Spear of Heliod, known as Khrusor, the Sun Spear.
Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis by Chuck Lukacs
Her showcase artwork depicts her in as a sculpture with a relief carving of the events of both Theros and Theros: Beyond Death. Behind Elspeth to the left we see the scene from Deicide, with Elspeth striking down Xenagos. Note, however, that the spear in the image is the Shadowspear, not Godsend. To the right is Elspeth doing the same to Heliod, although note that the spear hasn't pierced Heliod's chest like it did Xenagos's. That's because Heliod is imprisoned, not slain, by Elspeth.
I don't really have a lot to say about Ashiok's art, other than to say I love the Showcase frames this time around. They're very reminiscent of the Hero's Path cards from the original Theros block (down to being made by Chuck Lukacs).
Calix, Destiny's Hand is a new planeswalker this time around, an agent of fate tasked with hunting Elspeth down. Like other agents of fate, he's armed with a needle-spear and thread from Klothys's own hair, to reweave Elspeth back into the pattern and return her to Ilysia, the paradise of the Underworld.
Blood Aspirant shows us that Xenagos might be gone, but his faithful aren't. I think it's cool that there are still Xenagos cults out there.
Final Death was the preview card of my podcast, The Vorthos Cast. While a sort-of life may go on in the Underworld, it doesn't last forever. Get 'killed' too many times in death and you may find yourself a misera, a soul in the Underworld turned to stone. It's an appropriate name for such a fate.
Leonin of the Lost Pride by Aaron Miller
Leonin of the Lost Pride shows us what happens to the usually non-believing leonin in the Underworld. I think it's pretty cool that even in death, the leonin band together.
Labyrinth of Skophos finally introduces us to the minotaur polis of Skophos. It lies far beyond human lands. It's not well known by humans because most minotaur humans interact with in life are the wild, bloodthirsty tribes that border or raid the poleis.
Minion's Return is the first glimpse we get into Phenax's past, that the god was the first Returned. This would explain Phenax's patronage of the Returned, but whether it is true or merely a myth isn't clear.
Nadir Kraken is just great flavor, the tentacles of a sea monster attacking a ship almost like they're individual monsters themselves. In classic films, during storms, the tentacles attack and latch onto ships, having to be fought off one by one.
Thirst for Meaning shows us Nerono in the Underworld, one of the realms where the dead can go to forget their lives. It's a vast ocean whose waters work like the Lethe river from Greek myth.
I don't have room to write in detail on every top-down flavor reference, so here are some quick hits of greek myth (or pop culture) references I caught on to.
- Alirios, Enraptured - Narcissus
- Allure of the Unknown - Pandora's Box
- Arasta of the Endless Web - Arachne
- Bronzehide Lion - Nemean Lion (A Labor of Hercules)
- Dalakos, Crafter of Wonders/Wings of Hubris - Daedalus
- Haktos the Unscarred - Achilles
- Kunoros, Hound of Athreos - Cerberus
- Nessian Boar - Erymanthian Boar (A Labor of Hercules)
- Siona, Captain of the Pyleas - Jason of the Argo (Note the Golden Ram)
That's it for now. Join me next time as I dive deep into the new Sagas in Theros: Beyond Death!