New life for Standard escapes from the graveyard with Theros Beyond Death!
Standard has had a bumpy, elky road lately, but with the recent bannings and now a whole new set full of interesting cards we're looking at a major resurgence. The power level of Theros Beyond Death is high, but it feels much more spread out than Throne of Eldraine. This is great because powerful cards are fun, but too much power in individual cards leaves us with Oko, Thief of Crowns and Once Upon a Time. With multiple themes that draw on both Theros Beyond Death cards as well as cards already in the format, we've got a lot to take in here.
So without further ado, here are my loves and hates for Theros Beyond Death!
Love - Dream Trawler
Maybe this should more accurately be a preemptive "hate" because I'm guaranteed to lose to this card in sealed/draft at least once tomorrow during Grand Prix New Jersey (seriously why on earth is this card not a mythic!), but there's no doubting the raw power of Dream Trawler.
Mixing all the best parts of Baneslayer Angel, Consecrated Sphinx, and Prognostic Sphinx, Dream Trawler comes out ahead on almost all fronts. Each of these cards was a player during it's time in Standard, but the melding of all of them into one creates one of the best midrange/control finishers we've seen in a very long time. Unless you have mass removal, a Diabolic Edict effect, lethal on the board the turn they cast it, or a handful of removal spells to tap it over a few turns while you attack and win, the game pretty much ends. Dream Trawler covers all fronts; gaining life, winning races, drawing cards, and killing quickly. The only real downside is that it's casting cost can be a little restricting.
It's a Dream Trawler's world; we're just living in it.
Hate - Polukranos, Unchained
Had Polukranos, Unchained been printed ten years ago, it would have been one of the better threats in the format. However, for 2020 Magic, Polukranos is essentially just a big idiot with a lot of words on it.
Polukranos may look like a four-mana 6/6, but the fact it shrinks every time it takes damage takes much of the luster out of its size. You can just a throw a 3/3 under it if you have to and take it down to size. Furthermore, Polukranos does nothing the turn it comes into play and has no evasive properties. The fight ability is nice but very expensive, and the escape ability is also nice but again very expensive. One removal spell, or even worse Teferi, Time Raveler bounce, and you've hit a major tempo snag that is going to put you way behind.
If a Golgari deck is looking for a recursive big idiot threat, Polukranos isn't unplayable, but it's not a card I'm actively excited to put in my deck at all in Constructed.
Love - Nightmare Shepherd
If you're looking for a powerful 4-drop that makes moves, Nightmare Shepherd is where you want to be.
Already well above rate even without a text box as an evasive large flyer with no drawback, Nightmare Shepherd's ability plays amazingly well with creatures with enters the battlefield and leaves the battlefield effects. However, things get extra crazy when you add a sacrifice outlet into the mix like Woe Strider or Ayara, First of Locthwain. Now you get to double up on your enters the battlefield triggers, doing crazy things like draw step Yarok's Fenlurker or just doubling up on Gray Merchant of Asphodel to kill your opponent out of nowhere.
Nightmare Shepherd is a synergy card at a rate that is far above the bar, making it one of the most powerful cards in Theros Beyond Death.
Love - Nyx Lotus
Nyx Lotus creates an absolute ton of mana, untaps with Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner, and is available to fuel huge payoffs like Gadwick, the Wizened, Hydroid Krasis, and Finale of Devastation. There is certainly a cost to the initial investment, but the boost you get on the following turn will usually be enough to make up for it and then some. Having access to Kiora's untap is huge, and Kiora already plays great with Lotus Field which is another great big mana element.
You need to be doing something broken with it, but Nyx Lotus is a very real Standard card.
Hate - Tymaret Calls the Dead
I was extremely high on Tymaret Calls the Dead at first. I saw History of Benalia with graveyard synergy upside, but there's one huge difference between the cards - Tymaret Calls the Dead's chapter three kinda sucks, whereas History of Benalia's chapter three was often a game ending attack that made back to back Histories a brutal opening.
Furthermore, between Tymaret Calls the Dead and Aphemia, the Cacophony you end up with a smattering of 2/2 zombie tokens. The problem is there just isn't much to do with them. Standard is at a pretty high power level right now, and some random 2/2s just don't affect the board that much.
The whole Tymaret Calls The Dead / Aphemia, the Cacophony engine looks really cool but just doesn't play out in a profitable way.
Love - Elspeth Conquers Death
If you're looking for an awesome saga, Elspeth Conquers Death has you covered.
Elspeth Conquers Death feels a lot like The Eldest Reborn, but the first chapter is unbelievably superior. Being able to exile anything is a huge game, letting you hit things from creatures to planeswalkers to Nyx Lotus, and of course exiling has a lot of value in a world of escape and recursion. This effect is probably worth about 3.5 mana in Standard, as it's a bit better than Banishing Light. However, you also get some small value from chapter two, and then the monstrous value of chapter three providing you with a very real threat.
If you're playing creatures... great! Bring those back. But even in a control deck getting back a planeswalker is great. Blue/White has two highly disposable planeswalkers in Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils that often end up in the graveyard, while also having Thirst for Meaning and a bunch of other great enchantment support.
Elspeth Conquers Death is a phenomenal endgame in any enchantment based White deck.
Hate - Klothys, God of Destiny
Klothys, God of Destiny has a lot of words on it. The problem is that most of these words don't actually matter. You're much better off looking at Klothys as this:
Does this card look playable to you? Are you really taking off turn three to play an enchantment that may or may not make mana or deal some chip shot damage next turn? Don't be fooled by the large power and toughness, "indestructible," or the mythic rare symbol; Klothys is a dud.
Love - Phoenix of Ash
Escape is an extraordinarily powerful mechanic. It gives you a seemingly unlimited supply of things to do with your mana, providing you card advantage at the expense of an often underutilized resource. Most escape cards are worth a second look and Phoenix of Ash looks great!
Unlike other recursive Phoenixes in Magic's past, there's no awkward must attack clause or hoops to jump through. Just play your reasonable rate Skyknight Legionnaire early and often and be happy when your opponent kills it, then be ready to do it again and again. It even has firebreathing, so if you're a bit flooded you can apply some extra pressure to make sure they kill it or push it through larger attackers.
There has to be a deck that wants it, but Phoenix of Ash is a great Red aggro card.
Hate - Hateful Eidolon
Dead Weight isn't really a card you want to be putting in your deck normally, and while Hateful Eidolon's lifelink body does wear auras well, that's just taking two mediocre cards and putting them together for a medium payoff. More often than not you're just going to be stuck staring at a Mire's Grasp in your hand while your opponent builds up with Nissa, Who Shakes the World or Teferi, Time Raveler and you're going to wonder why you're playing a draft deck in Constructed.
I want Hateful Eidolon to be good, but I'm not really seeing it.
Love - Mire Triton
However, if you're looking for a good cheap Black creature, Mire Triton is the truth.
Mire Triton packs a lot of words onto it's small frame, but you're really getting a touch of everything. A 2/1 deathtouch creature is a great blocker and fine attacker, while two life is also a nice little buffer that adds up. Furthermore, putting cards in your graveyard is always a good thing, so Mire Triton helps your synergies as well as being playable on its own (unlike a card like Stitcher's Supplier).
Hate - Heliod, Sun-Crowned
It's expensive, requiring a total of nine mana broken up into payments (without any help from +1/+1 counter givers), as well as broken up by a stiff breeze. Walking Ballista is already a great Magic card, but Heliod requires some serious work to make playable. Packing your deck full of Knight of the White Orchid and Boros Reckoner isn't exactly a winning formula in Modern and Pioneer.
Don't get me wrong, Heliod is not a bad card and is one of the best gods in the set, but the hype around it right now is far too high. The talk of banning one of the pieces in Modern or Pioneer is crazy talk for the moment, unless someone is able to come up with a really solid shell that makes great use of Heliod while also being able to win without comboing.
If Heliod is going to see play, it's much more likely to be with various lifegain elements like Ajani's Pridemate rather than as a pure combo piece.
Love - Shadowspear
Shadowspear is the best equipment they have printed in a long time.
Like most new card types, they missed pretty high early with equipment. Cards like Sword of Fire and Ice and Umezawa's Jitte were far above the bar, and the result of this is that we haven't really seen a playable equipment in a very long time (Embercleave is more of a combat trick than equipment; it's also color locked to one color). Shadowspear changes that.
Shadowspear is cheap enough to be played early and moved around often, while providing two very important keywords; trample offers a key piece of evasion to larger creatures, while lifelink makes racing very difficult. In a lot of ways Shadowspear is a sleek and efficient Loxodon Warhammer. Any deck playing large creatures looking for ways to break through and ways to race should take a look at it.
And it helps you kill Dream Trawler! The anti-hexproof and indestructible clause may feel like flavor text, but when it comes up it will be very good.
What Did I Miss?
There are a bunch of other exciting and interesting cards in the set to work out and we've got a lot of work to do figuring them out individually as well as how they mesh with the overall context of the format. The good news is that it looks like we've got a lively and exciting format to work with so it should be a very fun challenge.
After playing some Limited at Grand Prix New Jersey this weekend I've gotta start thinking about SCG Tour Philadelphia, where my team is going to need great Standard, Modern, and Pioneer decks, so we kick into high gear exploring those formats next week!