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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Nov 01 2013 10:42am
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> summary <

 So, Theros has joined the party, with all its remarkable load of Greek mythology and enchantments. More the former than the latter, actually, given that the announced "enchantments matter" them isn't as much so as is a "there's some enchantments where there shouldn't be" theme. Still, the idea of "enchantment creatures", which definitely improved on their underwhelming ancestor Lucent Liminid, generates some nice if casual-sounding applications in eternal formats (the "enchantment artifact" combo is a bit less interesting, if not for learning that, for some reason, the enchantment type has priority over the artifact type on the type line. And shouldn't Nykthos, home of the Gods, be an "enchantment land" then?)

So bland. But so cute!

 In any case, the flavor aspect of the set is mostly great, and the same goes for the gorgeous art direction. I guess the top-down designs are always those that inspire the artists the most, and in this case there was also the added fascination of the mythological setting, something that has always been around (after all, the Ancient Greek myths are, as MaRo himself noted, a big influence on every fantasy game, and early Magic: The Gathering's in particular), but rarely focused on, and not even especially trendy, and therefore worn-out, in current pop culture — the Clash of the Titans remake from a few years back was successful, but didn't trigger a massive follow-up, and with things like Hercules and Xena being almost twenty years old now, even television doesn't look that interested at the moment in this particular brand of gods, heroes and monsters). The design and creative team came up with very interesting ideas for flavorful cards, which were then graced with some truly great art, making Theros the more visually striking set in the last years (just look at the cards featured in this article). And the remaining sets in the block, Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx, will likely keep on with this trend. Just look at this piece that Clint Cearley reportedly sold for an upcoming card featuring Naiads:

Aren't they beautiful? And yes, they will drown you!

 But enough with this. Time to give a better look at what these highly flavorful and nicely represented creatures actually do, and how good they will be in constructed formats all over the map. Plus, something Theros did for the creature side of things was to bring back some forgotten tribes, due to their link to the setting, and create three new ones, which isn't something you see often.

 Theros Infodump

  • Cards: 249 (including 20 basic lands)
  • New cards: 217
  • New creatures: 136
  • Reprinted cards: 32
  • Reprinted creatures: 2 (Nessian Courser, Mnemonic Wall)
  • Creature types affected: 56

Advisor: +2

 

> summary <

 All in white for the Advisors, who get their own Grizzly Bears, which is, uhm, interesting? And a little bizarre for a tribe that's eminently non-aggro — in fact, this is the only vanilla Advisor beside Tobias Andrion (who wasn't conceived as an Advisor back in Legends). Because, you know, what's the point of giving a creature such a specific role if then it's just a beater without abilities? In particular, it seems a missed opportunity with a flavor like Traveling Philosopher in an Ancient Greek setting. (Plus, we learn that a philosopher is as good as a bear in a brawl. Guess they're talking their enemies into drinking hemlock).

 Lagonna-Band Elder is another card that would hardly see play outside of Limited, in that it's just a worse, situational Centaur Healer in mono-white, but it's notable for being the only (!) card in the set that has an "enchantments matter" clause. Which is very underwhelming for a set that was expected to be all about enchantments, and not just all about having stuff that also happens to be an enchantment.


Archer: +2

  

> summary <

 The green goddess Nylea is Artemis, ergo she loves archery, ergo the Archers loves her, ergo both the new ones are green and use the devotion mechanic. Devotion is definitely the most interesting of the somehow clunky and Limited-oriented mechanics of Theros. It's still tricky, though, since it's essentially a mechanic based on having a lot of creatures on the battlefield (the other most common permanents, lands and artifacts, for the most part don't have colored mana symbols on their costs, while planeswalkers and enchantments — the old-fashioned type where they are ONLY enchantments — are bound to always be present in an average deck as a minority, if at all). As such, and on top of requiring heavy or exclusive commitment to a single color (which isn't that hard of a demand nowadays), devotion has the issues of working only after the board is adequately developed, which means at least midrange, and to be fairly susceptible to fold against sweepers. This pair of Archers exploits devotion to get life and a big beater, and you can do worse. There are ways to build towards an early, big Reverent Hunter (especially with something like a turn-2 Predator Ooze, aka devotion to green's BFF), but doesn't really seem a competitive strategy, due to a high level of situational constraint that's not paid off enough if pulled off.


Archon: +2

 

> summary <

 Archons have been essentially always treated as Angels with a knack for going over the top, both in cost and abilities. Theros stays on track, with Ashen Rider becoming the new reanimation target for when you need to eliminate (exile, no less!) a nasty permanent or two, putting Angel of Despair out of business. And Celestian Archon being, well, the over the top bestow creature that nobody will play in a constructed environment, like, ever. Even in an Archon tribal deck doesn't seem to make too much sense, as there are better options at CMC 5, like Archon of Justice and Archon of Redemption. Unless you want to include up to twelve 5-drop Archons. In which case, you're welcome.


Assassin: +1

> summary <

 This lonely Assassin from Theros gives us the chance to discuss another of the thematic mechanics, heroicAgent of the Fates is probably the best representative, because what's better than a free Diabolic Edict every time you target him? And it's even better in multiplayer, given that he has the "each opponent" clause that all Commander players are always on the lookout for. Plus, a 3/2 deathtouch for 3 mana isn't overcosted and has some pizzazz of its own, both in attack and defense. But all boils down to heroic's inescapable flaw: how many spells that target a creature can we expect to find room for in a deck? Mostly, the best ones are protective instants like Vines of Vastwood or Apostle's Blessing, but you want to keep these in hand until they're absolutely needed to counter a removal, while the heroic trigger calls for a different and more frequent timing. Another kind of targeting spells are things like Rancor (which might well mean just Rancor), a cheap, relevant aura that works around the typical 2-for-1 concerns of the auras. I imagine inside the Theros universe, the bestow creatures are supposed to be the main heroic enabler, as they essentially work like Rancor. Except they're mostly overcosted, and don't really worth the effort in a constructed deck. Which is precisely the same thing you could say for the heroic creatures.


Beast: +1

> summary <

 A mono-black Beast is a rarity: there are only 19 of them over the 300 Beasts in existence (this was in fact the 300th Beast! Congrats!). Our first Catoblepas (nice flavor, as it's a mythical creature from Ethiopia first described by Pliny the Elder) could have been a good one, if they didn't decide to put it at common, which resulted in it being costed pretty much the double of what it should.


Berserker: +3

> summary <

 Berserker isn't really a Greek concept, but Minotaur is, and the Minotaurs get angry easily (they're bulls, after all), so that's where we find most of the new Berserker additions. Which leaves us with this one, apparently just Limited fodder, but actually... well, it mostly is just Limited fodder, but in a black-based aggro deck makes for decent alpha strike, no? Okay, maybe not.


Cat: +3

> summary <

 The only relevant Cat is also a strong creature, probably the best monstrosity representative. As a 3/3 for GW, Fleecemane Lion is as aggressive as Watchwolf. But in later turns, it can turn into a 4/4 hexproof indestructible, which is something you really want to have on the battlefield. The total cost of the operation is low enough to make this lion very, very attractive. Also, a huge Lighting Bolt-attractor in early turns.


Centaur: +6

   

> summary <

 Centaur is one of the central tribes in Theros, helping making up for the absence of Elves in green, and this means they got the most consistent boost in a very long time. And the result is... a giant, underwhelming meh. In addition to an Advisor and an Archer, both equally forgettable, the Centaurs only show at common and uncommon, and even there don't shine much. Centaur Battlemaster could be decent, what with getting 3 heroic-enabled +1/+1 counters at a time, but that's not enough to make us forgive the fact that at the end of the day, it's a damn 3/3 for 5. Decent is also a card-drawing Centaur Healer, but the situational element, if workable, makes it less exciting. Ironically it's Pheres-Band Centaur, even in their general vanilla blandness, to seem more noticeable as a 10-body common for 5 can be useful in Pauper. Maybe. Toughness 7 is certainly not that usual. Finally, the zombified Returned Centaur is mostly a self-milling engine, but I can't really imagine a deck that cares for self-milling and would find this guy a good option, outside of the realm of extreme casual play. Here's hoping that the next sets in the block will grant us some rare, or at the very least more interesting Centaurs. They deserve better.


Chimera: +4

   

> summary <

So, Theros doubled the Chimera ranks and, more importantly, took the whole tribe away from that weird, mechanical concept from Visions and back into the realm of Greek mythology where they belong. We salute the Chimera liberation, but the first fruits aren't reason for applause so far, since they essentially work as the Theros version of the Drakes, i.e. the run-of-the-mill blue flyers that are meant to provide Limited with decent evasive beaters at common and uncommon. The neo-Chimeras aren't bad at that, and are all definitely high picks in drafts, but there's not much else to them. The Simic excursion of Horizon Chimera is probably the best one, offering different strategic options with flash and a steady lifegaining, and the Izzet Spellheart Chimera is the most likely to see some play in the "instants and sorceries matter" type of (probably casual) deck. But that's it. Oh well, at least now they're fantastical animal hybrids instead of whatever the heck the Visions ones were. And Chimera tribal is slightly more viable. More luck next time?


Cleric: +6

    

> summary <

 All the Clerics in Theros are Human. Guess the other races aren't that religious? (Well, at least Centaur and Merfolk should be). They're also, once again, all common or uncommon. Are there even rare creatures in this set? (Yes, there are! And more than in Return to Ravnica, 44 to 32, despite the latter being a slightly larger set). Anyway, among these Cleric there are several instances of heroic and devotion guys that are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike something that people will actually use. Evangel of Heliod in particular seems attractive way to generate tons of tokens. Then you notice that it's a 1/3 (!) for 6 mana (!), and heh. And Ephara's Warden is a 1/2 for 4. In her flavor text she promises to "smite" people. Dressed like that. And by tapping them. Provided they're not too, ehm, mighty? This is getting wrong.


Crab: +1
 

> summary <

 The herald of Thassa is a Crab. Appropriate enough, she lives in the sea. Makes more sense than a Cat for Nylea. Other than for being a Crab, though, Thassa's Emissary is notable for giving us a glimpse into the madly overcosted world of bestow. Sure, Ophidian ability and +3/+3 are both good bonuses. And the aura becomes a creature after death. But 6 mana? Even with the added versatility of not being exclusively a 6-mana card, in which situation should I want to invest 6 mana for such an effect? But again, it's all nice and hot in Limited.


Cyclops: +2

 

> summary < 

 Another well-established creature type that was Ancient Greek all along. And another monstrous guy only-for-Limited. Not that the Cyclops can be too picky. A 3/3 trampler for 4 that becomes a 6/6 trampler later on might even see play in Cyclops tribal. And look, Polis Crusher is rare! Essentially the same deal as Ill-Tempered Cyclops, but with a further +1/+1 on P/T and some occasional enchantment hate. I'll take it.


Demon: +1


> summary <

 You know, this Demon could have been pretty good (good, not great) if it wasn't for that sacrificial upkeep cost. On its own he would create 8 power worth of flyers, which might easily become much more. Granted, if you manage to exploit it fully, you'll just untap, sacrifice one of the Harpies, and probably swing for lethal. Still, I don't like the idea that he summons a host of Harpies only to start eating them one by one. Well, I guess it makes sense in Demon-logic.


Dragon: +1

> summary <

 Are there Dragons in Greek mythology? Maybe there are. The Dragon Week will tell us all about it (click that link only if it's past October 25, 2013). In any case, Stormbreath Dragon isn't just your typical mandatory Dragon. It's the freaking heir to Thundermaw Hellkite in Standard and Modern! And that doesn't even factor the kinda random monstrosity effect (cards in hand? So, this Dragon punishes... uhm... knowledge?), although a late game chance at transformation into a 7/7 is definitely welcome. Thundermaw remains probably better in virtue of a bigger body, inevitable damage upon arrival, and the capacity to sweep lesser flyers (where "lesser" includes Delver of Secrets and Vendilion Clique). But Stormbreath responds with protection from white, which is never not relevant. It won't reach the insane prices of its predecessor, but it'll do well for itself.


Druid: +2

> summary <

 Are there Druids in Greek mythology? Okay, I'll stop it. (Plus these terms can be flexible enough to refer to similar things. I mean, a Druid is a person a Celt would call a Druid, even if that person wouldn't.) One of the two Theros Druids is a Satyr. The other is this fruit-gathering gal (see? A druid in Ancient Greek was just someone who, uhm, fetches vegetables). It's an unsurprising use of the devotion mechanic that was inevitable in green. I like it on paper, but I can't decide if it even makes sense. I mean, it's a high-end ramper that's based on, essentially, having lower-costed green creatures already on the field. Those are probably Elves, in most decks. And Druids, for that matter. So why should I use this rather than, say, Elvish Archdruid? It doesn't add nothing, if not some more resilience, but it also comes one turn later. And it doesn't even enable a very different tribe, since it's a Druid like all the mana-ramping Elves, and a Human, a tribe that doesn't particularly needs this effect, especially in green. It's a bit baffling how little use this has. You can try and build a deck that goes turn-1 Birds of Paradise into turn-2 Predator Ooze into turn-3 Karametra's Acolyte (by the way, we'll probably see Karametra as a God card later in the block), to untap on turn 4 with up to 10 mana. Not really bullet-proof, but maybe worth a try. And in a pinch, she does block better than the other mana dorks, so there's that.


Elemental: +2

> summary <

 The one Elemental worth mentioning is another case where monstrosity is hard to judge (well, actually it's not, but "hard to judge" is a more respectful turn of words than "utterly terrible"). On its own, this guy is a 4/5 vanilla for 4. Not awful, but not something you'd absolutely want in your deck. The idea is that you want him to hit monstrosity, make him bigger, and forcing the opponent (and yourself, but you'll be prepared) to lose 3 lands. Yeah, except you're not realistically doing it on turn 3. More like on turn 10. So what gives?


Elk: +2

> summary <

 Other than being Heliod's own totem animal, the Elk tribe gets this little artifact, that's already a staple. In Commander, of course.


Fish: +1

> summary <

 It's a Fish! And a Horse! I'll never get tired to feature Fish in these evaluations, even if they're never relevant except toward themselves. It's just such an inherently comical type of creature to include in an army. Especially when they're also horses. The types of this Breaching Hippocamp (which is mythological again) really sound like a Lewis Carrollian joke. But hey, it has flash, for some reason. This makes it automatically not bad, for a common Fish. Which is also a Horse.


Fox: +1

> summary <

 Whoa, that's a BIG Fox! It's pretty much everything I have to say about it.


Giant: +6

  

> summary <

 Giants are an important element in Greek mythology, considering the tribe also famously has Titans in it. The first batch of them from Theros isn't exactly super-exciting, though. These three rare ones are just cute, if for different reasons. Arbor Colossus is nicely costed, for once, being a 6/6 reach for 5. The monstrosity activation is also nicely costed, also for once, and relevant enough both in effect and boost. Plus, it's a good devotion enabler with those 3 mana symbols in its cost. Even in a heavily green deck, though, I'm not sure if it'll be able to defeat the competition of things like Thragtusk or even Vorapede. Hundred-Handed One, aside from having the more snarkily awesome flavor in the whole set, it's also similar to Arbor Colossus in the quality/cost ratio. It's probably too defensive to have a place as curve-topper in a white aggro deck, but it's not outside the realm of possibilities that someone might want to try it in a slower deck where he can provide a combination of protection and hitting power. Titan of Eternal Fire is mentioned only because it's the set's reference to Prometheus. Unless some endgame combo won't come out of it (but the ability having both a mana AND tapping cost makes it extremely unlikely), even a Human-based deck would be better off using Inferno Titan in his place.


God: +5

   

 

> summary <

 God is arguably the most iconic creature type of Theros, as the pantheon of the Theros Gods is the main thrust in the background story, and in the very existence of the plane. The new God cards (of which we'll get 10 more in the following sets, assumedly covering all the 2-color pairings) were announced as something very different from anything seen before, which reminded of planeswalker revolution. The reality is that they're just creatures. Yes, they're indestructible, but so were the Myojins from Kamigawa (which should retroactively get the God type, as should the Spirit Avatars from Shadowmoor/Eventide). And they're enchantments, but so was Lucent Liminid.

 They're essentially extremely low-costed indestructible creatures with two enchantment-like abilities, and a downside, needing devotion to not be "pacified", that balances their low cost. Don't get me wrong, they're all pretty strong just for being indestructible beaters for 3 or 4 mana, in the right deck, and all decks able to support one of them should include at least 1 copy of it. Still, they're far from a revolutionary concept.

 This said, some of them are better than others. In particular, Erebos (who has a good chance to find a fitting deck in black) and Thassa are the only ones whose abilities are good even if there's no creature on the field, and therefore useful even when they're not capable of turn themselves sideways. Erebos negates any opponent's lifegain, which is situational but strong, and the kind of thing you like to get as a bonus, and draws you cards, which doesn't even require a comment. Thassa is a 3-mana (which makes her the only God fetchable via Zur the Enchanter) free scry engine. She also can make herself, other than any number of other creatures, unblockable, whereas Nylea and Heliod's static abilities don't work on themselves. Nylea is particularly underwhelming among the Gods, because giving trample to green creatures is only mildly useful, and her pumping is really overcosted. Heliod's army of 2/1 vigilant Clerics looks better. Finally, Purphoros is mostly interesting for the combo potential of his damage-dealing ability combined with some infinite tokens engine. Or just as a commander (all of them make for decent to good commanders, after all), exploiting the many token-makers spells in red to inflict punishment to each opponent at the table.


Golem: +2

 

> summary <

 Ah, Golem! The famous mud and clay creature from Greek mythology! All jokes aside, this, even more than for Druid, is a case of necessary reduction to a known category of something that needed to fit somewhere. And that something is nothing else than the Colossus of Rhodes! Here depicted in the form of... a strictly worse Darksteel Colossus that costs 18 rather than 11. But you can pay for it in two different turns. Or reanimate it and then pay the remaining... 10 mana. Which is 1 less than a freshly cast Darksteel Colossus. Or 2 less than a Blightsteel Colossus, if you want to win faster. But if you're playing Colossus of Akros, you really don't! It's all for the flavor! The Colossus of Rhodes, you guys! Which clearly was... uhm... indestructible. And at some point started walking and wreaking havoc. Or maybe that was Ghostbusters.

 And you know what? Guardians of Meletis might look like useless junk, but in a Golem tribal deck is actually gold, because it's the only defensive Golem you can drop in early turns (you really don't want to cast Steel Golem), while you're waiting to build your Cloudpost base or whatever else.


Gorgon: +4

   

> summary <

 Another star among Greek-based creature types. Who doesn't remember the Medusa by Ray Harryhausen from the original Clash of the Titans? That was probably one of the most memorable sequences in the movie (the other being "release the Kraken!), so Theros clearly had to pay homage to it.

 I recently made a full review of the Gorgon tribe (which has now 12 members), while attempting to find a way to play them as a successful Tribal Wars deck, and in that occasion I commented on all the new ones, too. In short, Hythonia is not as good as Visara, Keepsage Gorgon is another overcosted monstrosity case, Pharika's Mender it's hard to understand why it's even a Gorgon to begin with, and Reaper of the Wilds is very solid and the most important addition to the tribe since Damia. Read that link!


Griffin: +3

  

> summary <

 Ugh, Griffins. They had a mythic once, and it's like now they're exempt from not sucking for another 10 years. How can a 36-member tribe that's been around since Mirage have gotten only 4 rares in its whole history? It's beyond pathetic. But yeah, they're Greek too.


Harpy: +2

 

> summary <

 Meet Harpy, another Greek classic and a tribe that only had 3 members before Theros. Now they're five. Their overall situation has only got slightly better.


Horror: +1

> summary <

 This Horror suspiciously looks like a rabid Squirrel. (Rosewateeer!) Nighthowler is not a bad card. I'm not sure how the surprisingly fair-costed bestow plays into a quasi-Lord of Extinction, if not as some sort of undying for aggro purposes (in fact, when the enchanted creature dies, Nighthowler essentially enters the battlefield with a +1/+1!). It's playable.


Horse: +3

 

> summary <

 When they're not Fish, or useless stuff, the Horses of Theros are... the Trojan Horse! The design surely is clever. The applications... well, giving a creature to the opponent, any creature that's not going to explode on his face or something, it's a risk. But this is a free token generator, after all. Those are always good. In multiplayer, you're making all the players but "the Trojan" get some Soldiers. Guess there weren't just Greeks inside, in that case.


Hound: +2

 

> summary <

 Cheap double strikers aside, Underworld Cerberus is one of my favorite Theros designs. It's just so wonderfully flavorful: the three heads, the blocking access to the underworld, except when it's killed, and then every soul will escape. And on top of that, it's also a strong creature. A nearly unblockable 6/6 for 5 mana is great stuff, the partial graveyard hosing can be useful, while the death trigger might end up being dangerous or cleverly exploited by the Cerberus player. All in all, one of the most reliable beaters in the set.


Human: +33

> summary <

 Here's another tonload of Humans that enter the system. The situation with them is spiraling out of control lately (do you realize that there's more Humans in the game than artifacts? Not artifact creatures, ALL artifacts!). I, for one, would welcome for the Human type to be moved before the dash and turned into a supertype, but that's above my pay grade. Arena Athlete is the only Human that's not also something else (I don't even bother to list what they are anymore, Humans are everything, even Ooze or Insect), and it's a typical Limited-loving hero.


Hydra: +2

 

> summary <

 There's been a lot of hype about the Hydra tribe coming into Theros, what with the whole Face the Hydra Challenge on Theros Game Day, plus Hydras being very iconic in Greek mythology in the form of the Lernaean Hydra killed by Hercules. We only got two of them in the end, because it's not that easy to keep designing new Hydras, I guess. Mistcutter Hydra is very good at that, simply adding a bunch of useful green/water-related abilities to the generic "X mana for X body" shtick. One of the worst downsides of almost the entire Hydra tribe is that you typically invest a lot of mana in these suckers, and they have to sit there one full turn before doing anything. Haste solve this, just as resistance to countermagic and bouncing adds another safety net. As for Polukranos, he was initially saluted as a protagonist of the set, and while he's certainly not bad, its monstrous fight is just a little bonus to what in the end amounts to just a glorified Deadbridge Goliath (so very solid, but nobody ever went crazy about it). Still, green may use something like that in the middle of the curve, especially in Standard.


Knight: +1

> summary <

 Why isn't this a Pegasus? And what the heck is a Knight in Ancient Greece? Doesn't matter. This is a surprisingly strong heroic ability for a common, but the problem is: it's still a heroic ability.


Kraken: +1

> summary <

 THIS is the Kraken?! THE Kraken from "Release the Kraken"?! A 6/6 vanilla that might tap four creatures if the stars of mana align? I really hope that later in the block we'll find out that this was just the Son of the Kraken, and we'll get something more Kraken-y.


Merfolk: +5

   

> summary <

 Here are our old marine friends the Merfolks, substituting for the more Ancient Greek-friendly Tritons. Did this powerful tribe get something useful for its many, many incarnations all over the constructed formats? Well, they got a couple heroic dudes with decent abilities that nobody will ever play in constructed, and a curious red-splashing pinger capable of inflicting 2 or more damage, which might be relevant somehow. But mostly they got Master of Waves, the instant sensation of the set (it was valued at 24 tix at some point, and it's still at about 9). Master of Waves is beloved because he's protected from red and uses devotion to blue, which is something every Merfolk deck can provide in its sleep, to create an Elemental Army of Alpha-Striking Doom. I'd like to try him in a non-Merfolk setting (I'm convinced there's a viable blue-based midrange deck in Modern that uses Plumeveil), and the regular Merfolk build doesn't strike me as something that would need the Master as a finisher, if not as a 1-of or sideboard card.


Minotaur: +7

  

 

> summary <

 Just like it happened with Centaur, the Minotaur tribe is used in Theros as a backbone, in this case for red-based decks. Unlike Centaur, though, the Minotaur boost didn't produce only stuff meant for Limited (although there's certainly a couple of vanilla ones thrown in the mix). For one, it produced not just one but two lords. The smaller one, Rageblood Shaman, is pretty straightforward, giving trample and +1/+1 to his tribesmen, while being a (slightly underwhelming) trampler himself. The larger one, Kragma Warcaller, provides the tribe with a very strategical haste, on top of an aggressive boost in attack. The main issue with Warcaller is that a 5-mana creature shouldn't really be a meager 2/3, but that's what you get for being uncommon (and seriously, why is this kind of lord even uncommon? It's for some higher-complexity constructed play, you need to collect other Minotaurs first, it's not something you want to have a lot of, even in Limited). To round up the number, the two Berserkers, and especially Deathbellow Raider, are good in a Minotaur tribal deck that wants to lower the curve (for when you don't draw into Didgeridoo, you know). And Fanatic of Mogis features an aggressive use of devotion. Considering that he might well come after a Warcaller and immediately swing for 6, his devotion-based damage might become part of a finishing move.


Nymph: +5

  

 

> summary <

 Nymph makes for a strange case, in that they're one of the three new tribes that debuted in Theros, and yet their existence somehow reactivated the good old Shanodin Dryads from Alpha, that back in the time, and until 6th edition, had a "Summon Nymphs" line. In fact, the Nymphs of Greek mythology are the larger category to which Dryad belongs (you can see there's a whole classification of them). So, the Dryades are Nymphs of the Trees, and going with the other types chosen by Theros (among many) to represent the other colors, the Lampades are Nymphs of the Underworld (torch bearers of Hecate), the Naiads are the Nymphs of Fresh Water (which actually doesn't work for Thessa, but okay), the Alseides are the Nymphs of the Glens, and the Oreads are the Nymphs of the Grottoes. Therefore, every Dryad (they've always been mono-green, except for a few Selesnya-colored) should be given the Nymph type now. I really hope they'll fix that, otherwise having only two of them being Nymphs becomes really weird.

 This said, this cycle is a pretty basic "Huey, Dewey and Louie cycle", which is what I call a 5-color cycle where the creatures are all the same with each color getting a distinctive element that is exactly the most obvious: green gets trample, white gets vigilance, and so on. All together, this first serving of Nymphs perfectly embodies the general irrelevance and forgettability of bestow.


Octopus: +1

> summary <

 Meet our third Octopus ever! Woot! Finally Giant Octopus and Lorthos, the Tidemaker got a playmate! It's an absurd tribe made of a 3/3 vanilla, a legendary monster that can take over the game, and this thing here that's essentially an 8/8 vanilla for TWELVE MANA. Yeah, it's pretty bad. I mean, it doesn't even change the land into a true Island, it only gives it the Island type. But it's an Octopus! Woot!


Pegasus: +1

> summary <

 So, this Pegasus is actually able to carry an entire army of Humans? Whatever. It's another case of a creature type that you would expect to have some weight, what with Perseus riding "the" Pegasus, but maybe there will be room in the following sets to give it more justice.


Plant: +1

> summary <

 I like this thing. Is it better than Wall of Roots in its role of phase-2 ramper in Modern, after a 1-drop mana dork? Probably not. Wall of Roots gives mana while staying untapped to block, and gives mana in the opponent turn, too. And it starts at toughness 5, so it blocks more stuff, and it's hard to kill even without hexproof (it's rarely targeted anyway, you'll have to waste a Doom Blade or Dismember on it, and Path to Exile it doesn't even make sense.) The one big upside of Sylvan Caryatid? Mana of any color. If you aim to fix other than to ramp, maybe in a Golgari build where you have lots of double black costs, this does much more work. It's a strictly better Utopia Tree. More than strictly better, actually: it's an Utopia Tree worth playing.


Sable: +1

> summary <

 And here's the third entirely new tribe! After God and Nymph... Sable, of course!

 ...

 Wait, what?! What the heck is a Sable? [checks Wiktionary] Ah, it's the fur animal, the zibeline, what in Italy we call "zibellino". Okay.

 ...

 Wait, what?! A zibeline?! In Ancient Greece?! "The sable (...) inhabits forest environments, primarily in Russia from the Ural Mountains throughout Siberia, eastern Kazakhstan, northern Mongolia, China, North and South Korea and Hokkaidō in Japan. Its range in the wild originally extended through European Russia to Poland and Scandinavia." I believe the first zibeline that entered Greece was worn by Jacqueline Onassis.

 I really need to figure out the thought chain that brought Sable into Magic. Like:

 – Hey, we have this 2/1 vanilla artifact that still doesn't have a type. Any ideas?
 – Mmm, some kind of real life animal? Nothing says fantasy setting better than a real life animal.
 – Yeah, maybe a mustelid? Everybody loves a mustelid.
 – Do we have any mustelid that we never did? I'd like to do something new.
 – An entirely new mustelid? That might be hard. We already did a lot of them.
 – Yeah, everybody loves them.
 – Better than dragons, I say.
 – Hey, look at this, we never did sable!
 – What's a sable again?
 – It's that thing they make fur of. It's from Russia.
 – Russia, uh? We're doing a Greek setting, though. Will it fit?
 – Well, Russia is still Europe. Climates should be similar.
 – Guys, it doesn't matter. It's not a real sable. It's the statue of a sable. Can live anywhere.
 – Right. Perfect. 


Satyr: +7

   

  

> summary <

 Satyr, that in a strange turn of events, acts as a replacement for both Elves and Goblins, is going to end Theros block with the most impressive boost a tribe ever had, considering that it was going into it with just two members, and both quite old and nearly forgotten: Willow Satyr from Legends, and Lumbering Satyr from Mercadian Masques. Not two bad members at that, but the tribe really needed something more, even just to be called tribe. Enter the children and associates of Xenagos, capable to do a bit of aggro and a bit of utility. There's disparate if unimpressive stuff in there, like a Jackal Pup variant and a better Batterhorn. Will some of these see use outside the tribe? Probably not, but the better candidates are Satyr Hedonist with his Tinder Wall impression, and especially Voyaging Satyr, who shouldn't be underestimated: he can untap Gaea's Cradle.


Shaman: +4

> summary <

 Shamans get two Minotaurs, one Satyr, and this one here, which is cute because it tries to give scry a secondary function. I might be wrong, but I doubt scry.dek will be a thing. For now.


Siren: +1

> summary <

 The Siren tribe debuted back in Magic 2010 with Alluring Siren and now receives its second member. More are expected because Siren is kind of a big deal in Greek mythology. Homer and everything, you know. This one isn't bad, actually: cheap cost, cheap activation, flies, kills stuff, messes with the battlefield. Plenty of tactical value. I like her.


Snake: +3

 

> summary <

 Snakes in Theros are big monsters, and big monsters in Theros get monstrosity. Nemesis of Mortals is the "5/5 for 2 mana" MaRo hinted at before the spoilers. It can also be a 10/10 for 4. If you have seven creatures in your graveyard. The thing with this kind of clause is: the only way to fill a graveyard fast is via self-milling and dredge. But the question then becomes: does a dredge deck really care about some vanilla beater that costs little yet not zero? Maybe. Not likely, though. Nessian Asp is only-for-Limited, but I like to mention it because it's an only-for-Limited bomb.


Soldier: +13

    

   

> summary <

 Apart from one Merfolk and one Zombie (and some bland Cat and Skeleton), Soldiers in Theros are all Humans. Which means they're almost all heroic variants, mostly giving +1/+1 counters and other combat bonus left and right (weirdly enough, the one to stand out is the common Akroan Crusader, that creates tokens). Only exceptions: the Goblin Piledriver-esque Akroan Hoplite, the complicate stealing/lifegaining effect of Daxos of Meletis, and especially Soldier of the Pantheon, which has been already seen in white weenie builds as a new take on "strictly better than Savannah Lions" (see, for instance: Dryad Militant), with protection from Abrupt Decay and Dreadbore (and in Modern, Terminate, Lightning Helix, and Maelstrom Pulse.) Other of these little guys could see play as well (Phalanx Leader and Fabled Hero look strong enough), if only a reliable heroic enabler will come to light, at least for Standard.


Sphinx: +3

   

> summary <

 Sphinx is a very flavorful creature in Greek mythology, and as such it was expected to get a special treatment, being also a creature type that was granted some very cool members in the past. And while Horizon Scholar is just an unimpressive Limited fodder, the other two do some interesting things, although none of them is really that poignant as it seems to be, at least as seen from inside the Sphinx crowd. Medomai, which also makes for a potentially strong commander, comes with the "time walk" aura of wonder, but deep down, it's a unreliable finisher that just inflicts 2 damage per turn (per Medomai's player's turn, that is). Of course, the advantage of an extra turn can be incomparable, but given that it's far from guaranteed, Consecrated Sphinx might just do better most of the times. And strong Prognostic Sphinx, which remains a nice discard outlet, with occasional hexproof and a scry 3 ability that's nothing to sneeze at, can't however hold a candle to (Sphinx of Lost Truth) in a deck that cares about self-discard, since the latter actually digs into your deck and not just dumps into the graveyard what you have already in hand. Of the three, Prognostic is definitely the most useful, though, and might see moderate play in a Solar Flare kind of build.


Spirit: +2

 

> summary <

 The couple of Eidolons (another Greek concept, even if Magic had already borrowed it back in Dissension) are possibly the most playable bestow creatures, with a cheap bestow cost and a very cheap normal cost. They grant a little P/T bonus but a relevant ability in both deathtouch and, especially, lifelink. I've no idea if there might be a deck that could use them somehow, as part of an "enchantments matter" strategy or something, but being common they might well have Pauper applications.


Unicorn: +1

 

> summary <

 Unicorn (which, guess what, is also originally from Greek mythology) is a very neglected tribe, for such an emblematic figure of fantasy. Opaline Unicorn is the 11th member, but that doesn't help much, since it's just a common mana dork. But oh well, at least the ability is useful, even if it's a strictly worse Alloy Myr, which was a strictly worse Scuttlemutt.


Warrior: +9

    

> summary <

 Beside the ones that are also Centaur, Minotaur, or Zombie, Warrior gets another whole bunch of heroes (and we don't need another one of those, really), with costs or effects mostly negligible – even Anthousa doesn't really look that great. The only one that deserves a mention is Labyrinth Champion, that, similarly to Agent of the Fates, tries to use heroic as removal, which is probably one of the best ways to make it worthwhile.


Wizard: +9

 

 

> summary <

 There's Wizards among Centaurs and Merfolks (Master of Waves is one of them), but the Human rare ones are quite interesting. Clunky, but interesting. Except Prophet of Kruphix, of course, which is just outright awesome, an improved Seedborn Muse that gives something to do with all the untapped mana: cast your creatures. Immediate Commander staple.

 Artisan of Forms is a curious application of heroic to a clone concept; doesn't work only because of the inherent difficulty in making heroic work (if she was an actual 4-mana Clone upon hitting the battlefield, rather than a 1/1 for 2, it could have actually been better). Meletis Charlatan comes from a long lineage of "spell-copiers" (Uyo, Silent Prophet, Sigil Tracer, Echo Mage), but might be the more straightforward of all his predecessors. And Triad of Fates looks like an idea not entirely realized, or ruined in an attempt of balancing it. As it is, having to wait three turns since you dropped the Fates in order to flicker/kill/convert into cards a creature is really too much.


Zombie: +4

   

> summary <

 The Greek Chorus of the Dead, aka the Zombies. On top of the self-milling Centaur, we got Gray Merchant of Asphodel, which is a nice, potentially lethal use of devotion to cast a Drain Life (to all opponents). Returned Phalanx is an effective little defensive barrier, that probably the Zombies don't need. And Tymaret, meh, he seems a bad version of Jarad, honestly. Two mana and a creature just to inflict 2 damage to one opponent? Two mana and a creature to return Tymaret from graveyard to hand? This has to be a deck that REALLY wants to sacrifice its creatures.


SUMMARY

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BEST IN SHOW

  

  

> top <


THE ONE WHO REVELS

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 Xenagos, just like his fellow Gruul resident Domri Rade, is a creatures' planeswalker. He's able to create some nice 2/2 hasty tokens (and multicolored, which might be relevant at times) without losing any loyalty; and the more creatures are around, the more his +1 ability will generate mana. Much like with devotion, though, it might prove hard to figure out his correct position within a ramp curve, since you need to build your board in order for him to (likely) help you build your board even more. With no card drawing involved (except with his ultimate, which is sort of a Genesis Wave with X = 7), this engine might exhaust itself before Xenagos can really make the difference, or else the deck might require a very precise balance of big threats and accelerators, with Xenagos in the middle. Still, even just as a free 2/2 generator, the good planes-hopping Satyr remains very attractive, and you don't even need to go big to exploit his mana ability: if you drop him with, say, just two creatures on your side, he'll immediately give back 2 of the mana used to cast him, the same way Garruk Wildspeaker does. In fact, Xenagos has many things in common with the original Garruk, starting with the whole combination of creature-making and mana production; but where the latter could provide an endgame in the form of his Overrun, Xenagos is entirely devoted to build up the board, so his ultimate success strictly depends on the composition of the deck.

8 Comments

You missed the Archon tribal by AJ_Impy at Fri, 11/01/2013 - 13:16
AJ_Impy's picture
5

You missed the Archon tribal synergy: Celestial Archon on Krond, the Dawn-Clad, enabling you to activate it without using your spare slots for auras.

The Colossus of Akros is, in a deck planning to hardcast indestructible Colossi, better than the other two. Mana is less of an issue as you're ramping anyway, which means it hitting earlier and being both cheaper to activate and bigger are relevant. Not many things want to attack into a 10/10 indestructible, and not much can stop a 20/20 indestructible trampler.

Can't argue on Sables.

You know what I totally by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 11/01/2013 - 14:40
Kumagoro42's picture

You know what I totally missed? That the Colossus becomes a 20/20 after the monstrosity activation. Yeah, it's not bad. Both those Golems are going to be played in Tribal, I think.

Vantar's picture

Great article as always one minor nitpick.

"Arena Athlete is the only Human that's not also something else. " Lovisa Coldeyes was oracled to Human only in the Gatecrash rules update. Arena Athlete is the second.

Nope, the only human _In by AJ_Impy at Sun, 11/03/2013 - 06:27
AJ_Impy's picture

Nope, the only human _In Theros_ is what was meant. There are half a dozen human and nothing else humans elsewhere.

In Theros, of course. I by Kumagoro42 at Sun, 11/03/2013 - 15:45
Kumagoro42's picture

In Theros, of course. I didn't think I needed to specify because we're getting at least a pure Human every set now (there was Imposing Sovereign in my previous evaluation article, and Seller of Songbirds before that). In fact, half a dozen? No, they're many, MANY more. There's 35 online, and we miss a lot of stuff from Portal Three Kingdom. A few of them are very well-known cards like Ali from Cairo, Peacekeeper and Merieke Ri Berit.

I think you dismiss the power by Paul Leicht at Sun, 11/03/2013 - 08:04
Paul Leicht's picture

I think you dismiss the power of Bestow. Wait and see, it will have an effect, even in Tribal Wars Legacy where everyone loves the 1 mana removal spells, feisty mono red decks, and combo critters.

As the Greek mythology buff I by ricklongo at Mon, 11/04/2013 - 13:45
ricklongo's picture
5

As the Greek mythology buff I am, I've always said Dryads should actually be Creature - Nymph. Sadly they went out of their way to make Leafcrown Dryad a Nymph Dryad (weirdest creature type ever), so that's probably not gonna happen. Frown.

Yeah, I hear what you say. by Kumagoro42 at Tue, 11/05/2013 - 07:46
Kumagoro42's picture

Yeah, I hear what you say. Essentially Dryad should be a subtype of Nymphs, therefore a sub-subtype (requiring a whole new dash in the type line). There are already other cases where two creature types aren't horizontally organized but each other subsets instead. All the classes work that way, for instance (even if in that case it's more complicated because classes are also transversal: there's only a few Elves that are Warriors, but there are Warriors that aren't Elves, and so on). Or things like Elder, that only refers to a specific characteristic of 5 creatures. I think we should treat the types as not necessarily perfectly juxtaposed; they are things you can say of a creature, either based on what they do (Warrior), how old they are (Elder), or in case of Nymphs, where they live. Nicol Bolas is a Dragon who also happens to be very ancient. Leafcrown Dryad is a Nymph who also happens to dwell in trees.

The greater issue is why the other Dryads but Shanodin aren't Nymphs.