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Theros: Beyond Death: The Standard All-Stars Brewing Company Pt. 2

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Welcome back to Part 2 (Check out Part 1 if you haven't already) of my look at the Standard All-Stars from Theros: Beyond Death. This review will bypass entirely and without comment any cards I feel are not worthy of Standard consideration due to not being good enough. Most cards in the set are not and were not intended to be good enough. Simple as that.

Green

Ignored because it's not even close and if they're good I'll metaphorically eat my hat (NO STARS):

Cards I don't think are good enough but which would not make me metaphorically eat my hat if they had some roll to play somewhere (1 Star):

Cards in brief:

Ilysian Caryatid (3 Stars) - I hate how exposed and powerless this is as a 1/1, but getting two mana out of this is not difficult at all. Follow this with Lovestruck Beast and you can pump out another 2-drop right away with no additional help. Later in the game, this should often be two mana and that's a big game. Perhaps the one toughness is not that big a deal right now due to the lack of other great reasons to do one damage at a time. Mayhem Devil is a big problem.

Ironscale Hydra (2 Stars) Complete immunity to combat damage is nice, and you cannot block this forever with anything that dies to combat damage. I would have liked to see this be all creature damage so you could use Mayhem Devil to make this go gigantic, but alas our fun has been denied.

Mystic Repeal (3 Stars) - Does the job right, if it is the right job.

Nessian Hornbeetle (3 Stars) - This triggers on combat on newly cast creatures. That means that if you follow the standard pattern of following this up with Lovestruck Beast or Bonecrusher Giant or Gruul Spellbreaker, it goes to 3/3 on the spot then keeps growing. I am mildly sad that the word 'another' is on this card, since it would be cool to make it self-reinforcing once you get the first two triggers. Green's 2-drop options were not getting it done and this seems like a leap forward. I am excited to put this into Gruul or Mono-Green aggression.

Nylea, Keen-Eyed (2 Stars) - Nylea is one of the sad deities this time around. It is still an indestructible creature that gives you a useful mana sink if your deck does all this stuff naturally, so I am not opposed to trying one or two in Mono-Green decks that already run Yorvo, but it seems super thin.

Nylea's Forerunner (2 Stars) - This is me being somewhat unrealistically bullish on a staple common, but trample is super valuable right now and one can only play so many copies of Vivian.

Relentless Pursuit (3 Stars) - For three mana we hope to draw two cards and put three cards into our graveyard. This seems poised to give us the things we want but not the things we don't want, while filling our yard for a future escape. I can get behind this quite a bit as a backup to Cavalier of Thorns, which this is good at finding, and this puts Green above Blue in my affinity-for-escape rankings. Which is good since Green also has a share of the best two escape cards. Can this push out Risen Reef?

Return to Nature (2 Stars) Already in Standard.

Setessan Champion (3 Stars) - This card makes me excited about looking for enchantments to play. The only other card that does this in the whole set is Archon of Sun's Grace. Some combination of those two is going to have to be the backbone. Neither is an enchantment themselves, which is a serious problem for the plan, and Setessan Champion clashes with our desire to take advantage of the White devotion complex where all of White's good enchantments are.

Setessan Petitioner (2 Stars) If we were Green devotion and wanted life gain badly we could certainly be into this. We aren't Green devotion because there is no reason to care about Green devotion, but Yorvo decks might exist anyway, at which point this would be a reasonable thing in a world in which life gain mattered and it wasn't fighting against Yorvo and Lovestruck Beast for the three slot. Two stars is an abundance of bet hedging.

The Binding of the Titans (2 Stars) - You put three cards in your yard, clean up anything in theirs that you put there other than any unfortunate cats, then get back your card. This is slow as hell, but if this is what our world is about, perhaps it isn't quite as universally awful as I initially thought it was. I do stand by it being terrible.

The First Iroan Games (3 Stars) - One can think of this as mostly getting a 4/4 and then drawing two cards. The fourth phase here seems purely for flavor, does very little and I hate that it exists. The nice bonus is that this creates a 1/1 for Lovestruck Beast and you can then put the counters onto the Lovestruck Beast. This is also a great setup for a fatal Embercleave. We also shouldn't be so spoiled that a 4/4 for 2g with substantial upside of likely drawing two cards gives us zero excitement. Card is growing on me as I think about the implications.

Warbriar Blessing (2 Stars) - This could be me falling for a common again for no reason, but I see a lot to like here between winning combats and also killing creatures while providing a boost. Perhaps this can serve in the Thrash // Threat or Rabid Bite slot and be a better option.

Wolfwillow Haven (2 Stars) Getting only Green off this is sad and the Wolf is no great prize, but two mana acceleration is at a premium these days. Maybe we get this desperate.

Once again, I see a few cards to slip into existing decks, but what is the genuinely new concept available? Green devotion seems like a reasonable thing to try, except that it contains zero payoff cards because the payoff cards are bad. It's the baseline creatures that are good. What does Mono-Green look like in the new world?

I see two basic approaches.

Approach one is to go low to the ground. We don't use any mana acceleration, and try to get kills on turn four or at the latest turn five. We can do this with pump and Syr Faren, the Hengehammer, or we can do a slightly slower approach with even more creatures. I think if this works we are a Syr Faren deck.

Approach two is to be into Paradise Druid and perhaps Gilded Goose, and accelerate into bigger threats.

My heart is with the first approach, and I have a bunch of experience with it as it crushed Field of the Dead back when that was a thing. Again, let's lay out the matrix of reasonable choices.

How many lands do we need? Given how we have multiple four-mana cards, but we can get fourth turn kills off three lands, we likely need to be at 22 or 23.


The other route definitely tosses out Syr Faren, Giant Growth, Titanic Growth and Wildwood Tracker, presumably Barkhide Troll. That gives 14 new slots. Two of them are lands, four of them are Paradise Druid, a few of them should be Gilded Goose to help get us a good turn one; let's say two copies to avoid drawing multiples too often. That leaves six high end cards, one of which should presumably be the fourth Vivien, Arkbow Ranger. I'm going to assume we run at least two Nissa, Who Shakes the World, leaving three slots free. We want some combination of The First Iroan Games, Gilded Goose, Ilysian Caryatid, Wildborn Preserver, Nessian Hornbeetle, Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Shifting Ceratops, presumably. So something like this:


Gold and Artifacts

Ignored because it's not even close and if they're good I'll metaphorically eat my hat (NO STARS):

Cards I don't think are good enough but which would not make me metaphorically eat my hat if they had some roll to play somewhere (1 Star):

Cards in brief:

Altar of the Pantheon (2 Stars) - Devotion is not what it used to be, but I can see it being better than the other upside options on this three-mana artifact mana.

Field of Ruin (3 Stars) - Is a fine Magic card. Welcome back.

Labyrinth of Skophos (3 Stars) - Seems like a very useful colorless land for those who can afford colorless lands. Doing this to blockers to get through trample is potentially exciting.

Soul-Guide Lantern (3 Stars) - It's odd to put this in the same set as all the graveyard stuff. I thought the new plan was to wait until the following set to ruin everyone's fun?

Temple of [Abandon / Deceit / Enlightenment / Malice / Plenty] (4 Stars) - As I expected, the other five temples are back, and they are as good as ever. Enjoy.

Dream Trawler (3 Stars) - People are likely sleeping on this card. This gets you an extra card a turn, attacks for five points with lifelink and is hexproof on demand. That seems like an excellent finisher candidate for control, especially if Time Wipe is the sweeper. It would be great if we could drop this on six and feel good about doing so. I can also see this being a sweet thing to accelerate into with a Bant deck.

Staggering Insight (3 Stars) - This is no Curious Obsession, as one and two are very, very different numbers, whether you're talking mana cost or number of colors. Lifelink is still an exciting bonus, and not falling off if you do not attack is also appreciated. If you could play a wu deck with evasive creatures capable of protecting them, you'd be in business. There was always a wu flyer deck that was missing some ingredients. Could this be what it needs? The issue is that we did not in any way solve this strategy's other problems. We desperately need good things to do on turn two, but getting this creature killed by Bonecrusher Giant is so bad.

Ashiok, Nightmare Muse (3 Stars) - A bad Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is still sort of a Hero of Dominaria? And perhaps we can play Dimir and get one without having to splash for it? Maybe. The -3 ability lets them lose a card that's dead against a control deck rather than be down a card. The +1 gives you a 2/3 that doesn't do much rather than be a card. The ultimate seems much less exciting than before. Are we desperate for some traditional planeswalker? I am not, but others doubtless are, and this does give you the ability to go straight for decking your opponent in control mirrors.

Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths (2 Stars) - I love the mind games. I do not love the value. You are getting a 3/2 menace creature, and that seems like a thing you will be of little use. This is closer to a card drawing spell than we might like. For four mana we get one and a half cards if we play pure defense and choose at random. We can almost certainly do better than that, but we probably can't make this better than drawing two. I expect a lot of 'put two cards that are not exciting face up' which puts you in a highly awkward game theoretic spot, since if there are three non-impactful cards you want to get two of them, but if there is one good one you don't want to lose it, and this is the right play either way.

Allure of the Unknown (1 Star) - Giving them a card of their choice for free? Hell to the no. Yes, this is a five for one if the cards are useless to them, but compare this to Escape to the Wilds.

Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger (3 Stars) - This is a highly unexciting thing to do on turn two, essentially evoking to get it into the graveyard so it can escape later. It does get somewhat more exciting if you sacrifice it for two food tokens with the trigger on the stack. When it escapes, it's a great rate, so we can still try to make this happen. The mana requirements are intense, so it'll be tough to use the Green or Blue cards that would best enable us to get this rolling, which makes me think Uro is almost always the better option, since it plays much better with the necessary companions on lots of levels, and seems like a more exciting payoff on both ends.

Slaughter-Priest of Mogis (3 Stars) - This payoff does seem potentially exciting. The sacrifice ability is expensive but will be a valuable backup option for getting things rolling, and powerful late. If you get the oven online on turn three you get to attack for six plus an extra drain as a start, which is already 15 damage by turn four with half your mana still available, which is presumably a fourth turn kill most of the time. Can we get these decks low enough to the ground to be in the turn four kill business in general? That would excite me a lot more.

Gallia of the Endless Dance (3 Stars) - Where are the Satyrs? Never mind, ignore that line of text, drawing off this doesn't even work. This is all about trying to attack with three creatures. How happy are we doing this on turn three or four after playing two setup creatures? Seems like a fine third or fourth turn to do this and refuel, digging for the Embercleave and perhaps discarding any duplicate Gallias. It is not an adventure creature, which may be an issue since we want enough 1-drops to ensure that on the third turn we can do this if left alone. Beyond Lovestruck Beast and Pelt Collector our options are not thrilling and did not improve. Another note is that Gilded Goose and Arboreal Grazer can attack, so you could use this as a way to fix your awkward hands in the Gruul mana accel deck that tries to hit three on two. So you could try to do things like second turn Legion Warboss or Krenko and then play Gallia on turn three or four. Interesting.

Klothys, God of Destiny (2 Stars) - I am profoundly unexcited by this card when it is not a creature. Devotion of seven is a lot, and I'm not that excited even when it is a creature. There are too many other good things to do in this slot. It is a reasonable sideboard card against Escape strategies I suppose.

Bronzehide Lion (2 Stars) Decent creature. I fear decent creature no longer cuts it.

Siona, Captain of the Pyleas (2 Stars) - If there was a backbreaking aura and you could play enough others that this never missed, maybe? It's still a 2/2 for three mana. We don't really have this kind of time.

Athreos, Shroud-Veiled (2 Stars) - This is almost never a creature, although Basilica Bell-Haunt is a thing perhaps. That might be fine? Every turn you mark a creature, which long term means getting a creature every turn, which means if you have removal you take over the game. Then again, we're talking about a six mana investment for no payoff until future turns, which usually falls in the 'no way this is fast enough' category slash involves other similarly back-breaking effects.

Kunoros, Hound of Athreos (3 Stars) - Can you give me a hand? There's too many things on my nose. With that out of the way, there is a lot to like. This counters the most powerful cards in the new set while providing a solid combination of numbers and abilities. That does mean this embodies everything I hate about the 'Arena best of one' design philosophy, but use 'em if they print 'em.

Rise to Glory (2 Stars) - Reanimation effects that cost five mana are a tall order. Does also getting an aura make up for that? It could if we could get full value from this in a deck that was strong otherwise, which means finding some big juicy and yet playable aura, ideally auras plural. This is not going to be an easy job.

Dalakos, Crafter of Wonders (2 Stars) - Development notes made it clear this was intended as a commander card. Right now I expect that to hold, because our artifact options are truly terrible, but that does not have to be true more broadly. This combines with Renowned Weaponsmith to give us eight two-mana sources for artifacts, and Renowned Weaponsmith provides a way to get cheap equipment to trigger the bonus abilities. The problem is, what are we accelerating to, Gate Colossus? The pickings be slim.

Polukranos, Unchained (4 Stars) - Wait, what? I like the value here even before we get the ability to escape. This seems like a great thing to do on turn three or four with no expectations of future glory other than long term incidental gigantic 12/12 that fights things on command. If you can cast this and aren't already abusing your graveyard, it's going to be very hard to convince me this does not belong in your deck. When you get to do this for six mana, it is even crazier. We'll want to give it trample, but we could also use fighting to clear our path. Suddenly self-mill is looking like a great idea, and cards like Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis look sad.

Haktos the Unscarred (4 Stars) - This card is super dangerous. You get six damage a turn and no reasonable amount of work is going to give an opponent more than a 50/50 chance of having a way to deal with it. Even when they do have a way to deal with it, it's still probably a trade. The issue is that the casting cost of wwrr is pushing you in a very strange direction, and you want to be playing something very aggressive. Is this going to be enough better than other cards to justify some very strange other card choices that come with the implied mana base? Boros is quite a bit behind as a baseline. You have to give up almost every other exciting thing to do this exciting thing.

Hero of the Nyxborn (2 Stars) - This provides two creatures and gets you triggers, so potentially it could be a creature that Feather, the Redeemed is interested in. I guess. It's shocking how little help Feather got in this set.

Enigmatic Incarnation (3 Stars) - Remember Prime Speaker Vannifar? I was one of many people excited to do crazy powerful things, then it turned out to do nothing worthwhile and it wasn't especially close. Can't get fooled again. This is harder to use, because you are sacrificing enchantments but finding creatures, which means you need two sets of things rather than one or you need to be restricting to enchantment creatures which is going to be a severe limitation on quality. The big improvement is that this triggers on your end step, so you get at least a blocker and value right away if they don't have removal or a counter ready. Our dream scenario is to play a three mana enchantment we want to get rid of, say by drawing three cards, then use this to discard it for a 4-drop on turn four, then keep pumping out value. That does sound rather good when it happens but we should worry our deck is a convoluted mess and the mana requirements are all over the place. Another proposal is to play Fires of Invention, play this off of Fires of Invention, then sacrifice the Fires of Invention to get a Niv-Mizzet Reborn or Kenrith, the Returned King. That seems like a good turn, and gives us very good use for duplicate Fires of Invention and duplicate Enigmatic Incarnations. Now I'm starting to get interested, if we can get our enchantment-we-don't-mind-sacrificing count higher. Definitely worth brewing.

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath (4 Stars) Wait, what? This time with italics. On the way down it is Growth Spiral that costs one more mana but gains you three life, plus various options while the trigger is on the stack, if you happen to have something like Witch's Oven lying around for some odd reason. Then it comes back and does all of that again. The difference between two and three mana in mana acceleration is admittedly large, but getting the ability to turn around afterward and take over the game seems gigantic. This is also the best friend of Cavalier of Thorns. Using this to accelerate into Cavalier, then using Cavalier to find the cards for this to escape, then escaping, seems like an excellent plan for turns 3 through 5. When it is done, you have gained six life, drawn two cards and put three extra lands into play, plus have a 5/6 reach and a 6/6 that will keep triggering when it attacks, and you've used two cards total. If you draw either on its own, that's still pretty great.

Thus, the default place to go with the new set seems to me to be an escape engine deck. Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Polukranos, Unchained are the best two cards in the set, and both combine into an obvious engine with Cavalier of Thorns. The rest of the deck can be the usual Sultai Good Stuff in some combination with additional self-mill. With eight great escape cards, you'll almost always be happy to put more cards into your yard.

What are our other self-mill options that appeal?

Thought Erasure seems great. It's a strong card by default and it puts itself and another card into your yard.

Emry, Lurker of the Loch seems great, and if we are self-milling we can combine all this with the food engine and see if her restaurant likes the new main dish. Polukranos, Unchained seems like a great way to set up The Great Henge.

Glowspore Shaman and Merfolk Secretkeeper are selling out to mill some cards into our graveyard. Sweet Oblivion lets us do it on repeat if we are interested, even using this to turbo toward a Jace kill.

Jace, Wielder of Mysteries gives us the backdoor victory condition and now we like the +1 activation that much more on the baseline, if we can get enough Blue mana sources. Doing this on turn three and getting two activations sets us up for an escape nicely.

Relentless Pursuit is fighting for a crowded three slot and is pretty slow but gives us a very strong divination-style effect while putting two or three cards into the yard, four if we miss. Tymaret Calls the Dead is faster but less impactful, giving you 2/2s instead of cards but milling a full six. If we can sacrifice this after its second activation, maybe?

The Binding of the Titans is good for three cards in the yard and replaces itself, but the whole thing is a slow process.

Ashiok, Dream Render is easy to forget about, but you can mill yourself while exiling their graveyard, which certainly gets the job done in a world full of escape, if you don't mind a card with zero board impact.

Drowned Secrets is a different deck.

Enter the God-Eternals in small quantities seems like a great way to reinforce what we are doing.

Vantress Gargoyle can reinforce the complex of Emry, Lurker of the Loch and The Great Henge.

This suggests a few possible approaches.

Approach 1: Generic Sultai Control. Play mostly as if you are a Good Stuff deck. Use Paradise Druid and Growth Spiral on turn two, with options on Thought Erasure. The high end plausibly begins with Hydroid Krasis, Casualties of War, and Nissa, Who Shakes the World like always, combined with our new escape plan. But I think I'd rather go with Tamiyo, Collector of Tales over Nissa, Who Shakes the World, because that's exactly who we want to be. That's nine unique cards already, so if we trim we are already finished.


That's probably too top-heavy and too light on removal, once we figure out what we can cut. Gilded Goose to get to turn two Uro seems appealing so I'd be inclined to start either there or with Agonizing Remorse. Lots of other reasonable options. Sideboard is obviously super quick and rough rather than trying to be accurate.

Approach 2: Pattern off the Elemental deck. We can either keep or discard the actual Elemental theme, while splashing Black to get Polukranos, Unchained and making room for Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath.

Let's say we keep the theme. What are the loose slots working from Menguchi's list?

A few are easy. We likely no longer need Agent of Treachery. Quasiduplicate is cute but we are presumably now too good for it. Finale of Devastation can go down to one copy. That gets us four of the eight. Our mana sacrifices a bit and we need to go for four Fabled Passages to fuel our graveyard. The last four slots are trickier. It's not so obvious that we want to fight that hard for Polukranos, Unchained here given we are starting from no Black sources and things seem pretty tight already.

Approach 3: Lean into the graveyard

We have a bunch of different potential packages, and only 36 slots at most to fit in all of them.

The central card is Emry, Lurker of the Loch. At least three copies, preferably four.

The food package is Gilded Goose, Trail of Crumbs, Witch's Oven, and (three) Cauldron Familiar. Fifteen cards. Wicked Wolf is certainly an option but I have to assume that's a sideboard card at most. This gives us an artifact for Emry and another good thing to mill that doesn't eat the rest of our graveyard. Witch's Oven plays very well with Uro.

The escape package is Cavalier of Thorns and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Polukranos, Unchained. We don't have to play all twelve, as much as we might like to. The more we mill ourselves, the more reliably we can have one escape creature, so in some ways we need less of them.

The Great Henge package is 3 The Great Henge plus some consideration for Lovestruck Beast and Vantress Gargoyle. Vantress Gargoyle has an escape problem, since it will never attack and help fuel their engine along with our own, so it got a lot less exciting in that way. It got more exciting in the sense that the self-mill is now a lot better, and The Great Henge can now work with the escape creatures or with Cavalier of Thorns, so perhaps we don't need much help here from the other creatures that don't fuel the engine.

The finisher package is some combination of Jace, Wielder of Mysteries and Tamiyo, Collector of Tales. Tamiyo, Collector of Tales seems like an amazing way to enable escape and we were already plausibly running ourselves out of cards. With this many 4-drops, we really want more mana acceleration, so Paradise Druid sounds good. We converge back to the generic Sultai Control base, except we can ask whether we want to bother with Hydroid Krasis and Casualties of War at all. Perhaps we just want to go for doing our own thing instead.

The problem, as always, is that this does not remotely fit when taken collectively. It's not easy to take an existing deck that was already pushing its slots and then add a bunch of new things. Vantress Gargoyle was doing important work in ensuring we could come out fast, so we can't really cut it for something that doesn't cost two, which means we can't free up space for the new cards that way. Lovestruck Beast was also providing early defense. I can see using five of those slots to get escape cards, but after that what can we go after? If we cut the food engine, where do we find our artifacts for Emry?

Thus, my gut tells me the right approach is to stick with the more generic good stuff version. We have enough card advantage already and don't need to look for more.

Top 10 cards of Theros: Beyond Death

  1. Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
  2. Polukranos, Unchained
  3. The Five Temples
  4. Agonizing Remorse
  5. Underworld Breach
  6. Heliod, Sun-Crowned
  7. Daxos, Blessed by the Sun
  8. Kiora Bests the Sea God
  9. Shatter the Sky
  10. Ashiok's Erasure

I had to reach a bit to fill this out to ten cards.

Compare this to Throne of Eldraine. How many cards crack this list?

With hindsight and being a harsh critic, my list would at least be some combination of Brazen Borrower, Fae of Wishes, Gadwick, the Wizened, Murderous Rider, Bonecrusher Giant, Fires of Invention, Embercleave, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, Edgewall Innkeeper, Gilded Goose, Lovestruck Beast, Once Upon a Time, Questing Beast, Wicked Wolf, Doom Foretold, Escape to the Wilds, Oko, Thief of Crowns, and Fabled Passage.

All of those eighteen cards, sixteen of which remain legal, I would rank at least seventh on this list right now. There are a bunch of others that might as well, including several castles.

If we compare first impressions to first impressions, which is tough because I didn't write a review so I have to go from memory, I would have Once Upon a Time in first position, Oko, Thief of Crowns second, then (based on my reconstruction of my thinking at the time) some combination of Brazen Borrower, Bonecrusher Giant, Gilded Goose and Questing Beast. Uro might get the sixth slot. Again, power wasn't being subtle. I was too low on Fires of Invention and Embercleave on first impression, and got distracted by other shiny things.

That's not to say Theros won't have an impact on Standard. It will certainly do that. Escape is a big deal. The set won't rock our world the way Throne did, is all.