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By: Psychobabble, PB
Feb 12 2014 1:00pm
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Last week I wrapped up at my set review of Born of the Gods by taking a look through the multicoloured cards in the set, with a few notable omissions. As flagged then, I held off looking at the gods because most of them were exciting enough to warrant a much deeper look, which is what I'll be doing this week. The mono-coloured gods from the first set in the block have ultimately proved to be of limited power (Erebos being the exception), but that's at least in part because the limited card pool makes it difficult to build sufficiently powerful and consistent mono-coloured decks. The difficult to interact with gods are an inherently powerful card type, though, and the new two-coloured versions have a higher chance of seeing play and potentially even being pivotal parts of the upcoming format. I'm certainly excited to play with them, and I hope these speculative brews get your creative juices flowing.

Xenagos, God of Revels

In a recent R&D discussion about Born of the Gods with Mark Rosewater and Tom LaPille, Xenagos was described as "ambitious". That's one way of putting it, I guess. Quite frankly Xenagos scares me. If there's something this block doesn't need, it's 8/8 Stormbreath Dragons and hasty 8/8 Polis Crushers smashing face. Heck, even 4/4 satyr tokens (no, the legend rule doesn't do anything to stop you having both the planeswalker and god formats of Xenagos out) or mere 12/12 hasty colossi are pretty nasty.

Quite frankly, I can see Xenagos (along with a couple of other additions) replacing Elspeth and white entirely in the GRx monsters deck, and given the absurd power of Elspeth that's saying something. While Xenagos can't get you back into games in the way that Elspeth can, he can give you difficult to play around reach, threatening to turn any creature off the top of your deck (especially if they are evasive or have trample) into lethal damage. And the toughness boost too is absurd, making blocking extremely tough. Combined with his new fanatic, and possibly the red archetype, Xenagos could push the GR deck in an even more aggressive (and difficult to play against) direction. I'm not sure what the right number is exactly, but I'll start off with two. Note that I think the presence of playable 3-drops in the deck might lessen the importance of running the full 8 mana accelerants. Also, the sideboards on all of the lists I present today are highly speculative for obvious reasons, and in some cases for the more innovative decks were too speculative to bother including.

GR Xenagos
 
Creatures
4 Sylvan Caryatid
2 Voyaging Satyr
2 Polukranos, World Eater
4 Polis Crusher
4 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Fanatic of Xenagos
2 Archetype of Courage
2 Xenagos, God of Revels
24 cards

Other Spells
4 Xenagos, the Reveler
4 Lightning Strike
2 Magma Jet
10 cards
Lands
4 Temple of Abandon
9 Mountain
11 Forest
24 cards

Sideboard
2 Magma Jet
2 Peak Eruption
3 Arbor Colossus
3 Fall of the Hammer
2 Unravel the Aether
3 Hunter's Prowess
15 cards
Xenagos, God of Revels

I'll just note that the Hunters Prowess in the sideboard seems insane in the mirror, or against any deck which can't remove/bounce your big threats at instant speed. It's often going to be hard to lose after connecting with a prowess-ed up creature. The blowout potential with instant speed removal is high enough that it's a strictly sideboard card, but it seems like it could be a very powerful one.

Ephara, God of the Polis

Xenagos might be the most immediately attractive and obviously powerful of the new gods, but I have a feeling Ephara could be a real sleeper. Having the first creature that you have ETB each turn draw you a card is hugely powerful, having an unconditional cantrip on a creature is so inherently powerful that cantrip creatures rarely printed with anything other than underwhelming stats (eg. Elvish Visionary, Wall of Omens) or prohibitive costs (eg. Regal Force). I think Ephara's ability is powerful enough to see play even if she's never turned into a creature, which is a key criterion when evaluating these gods.

There's two directions you can go with Ephara. First of all you can try and go deep, and take advantage of the possibility of drawing two extra cards per turn cycle by finding a way to have creatures enter the battlefield on your opponent's as well as your turns. Prophet of Kruphix seems like the best avenue to explore there. I'm not sure that bant mana colours are going to be viable/consistent in a deck, but Prophet + Ephara seems utterly sick if you are able to get it going, with all of your extra card draw giving you something to do with all of the extra mana you're getting from Prophet untapping your lands. I can't imagine you would lose too many games if you set that combo up and didn't have the Prophet immediately die. Other avenues to get the triple-draw going are repeatable token producers (Heliod, God of the Sun, Hammer of Purphoros, Akroan Horse) and natural flash creatures (Boon Satyr, Horizon Chimera and, um, Breaching Hippocamp - but please don't). There's no self-flicker creatures like Aetherling or Obzedat, Ghost Council in the format currently, but there's a few ways to go really deep with repeatedly cycling creatures such as Triad of Fates and Champion of Stray Souls, but you're getting really deep if you start considering those kind of possibilities.

I'm going to suggest a more straightforward approach with Ephara, though, given that I'm unconvinced of the ability of synergy-based strategies in this block to compete with the raw power of GR and the disruption of Thoughtseize. The idea here is to use Ephara as the top end of a primarily white-based aggro deck, with Brimaz in the maindeck to help you keep making creatures even if you haven't drawn any and Heliod, along with countermagic, in the sideboard to give you a nearly unbeatable late game against control decks. One advantage this aggro-based approach is that Ephara stands a decent chance of being activated, although note that I've cut back somewhat on the instant-count you might expect in a white heroic deck given that you really want to be playing with a lot of permanents.

 

UW Ephara heroic
 
Creatures
4 Favored Hoplite
4 Battlewise Hoplite
2 Phalanx Leader
2 Nyxborn Shieldmate
4 Akroan Skyguard
4 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
2 Eidolon of Countless Battles
2 Ephara, God of the Polis
24 cards

Other Spells
4 Gods Willing
4 Ordeal of Heliod
4 Ordeal of Thassa
4 Temple of Enlightenment
12 cards
Lands
14 Plains
6 Island
20 cards

Ephara, God of the Polis

 

UW heroic is spoiled for choice at the two-drop slot now. I feel like Akroan Skyguard is the top pick, given that it fills the Cavalry Pegasus/evasion role. There's a tough choice between Battlewise Hoplite and Hero of Iroas, I just don't feel you get enough value out of Hero's mana reduction and scry is very important in getting a synergy deck like this working. Vanguard of Brimaz is another interesting one to consider, if the deck was playing more instants then it's a decent way to trigger Ephara on your opponent's turn if that's something you're interested in doing. Anyway, this deck might need a bit more evasion to work properly, perhaps it's premature to cut the Aqueous Forms, but it's got a pretty strong ordeal plan backed up with some good midgame power and potentially unbeatable card draw from Ephara, I'm excited to try something like this out.

Phenax, God of Deception

Phenax is a card which really gets you thinking. First of all, you need to have a deck which can win other than through milling, because you aren't going to draw him every game. But you do want to have a deck which either is able to win through milling if you draw him, or which can just get good value out of his self-tap ability. That's when you realise that this might be the card which makes inspire work. Then you might start looking at the inspired cards to see what might work together, and something sweet starts to come together:

 

BUG inspired Phenax
 
Creatures
3 Prophet of Kruphix
4 Kiora's Follower
4 Pain Seer
4 Siren of the Silent Song
3 Phenax, God of Deception
1 Arbiter of the Ideal
19 cards

Other Spells
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Hero's Downfall
4 Dissolve
4 Thoughtseize
16 cards
Lands
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Temple of Mystery
5 Island
6 Swamp
6 Forest
25 cards
 
Phenax, God of Deception

 

Ok, I lied. I'm not sure this deck has a plan B if it doesn't draw Phenax. But take a look at the synergies here! You have seven tap effects, seven untap effects and ten strong inspired creatures. Siren of the Silent Song + Kiora's Follower stops your opponent from ever drawing another non-instant card again, Springleaf Drum + Pain Seer gets the cards flowing early and ramps you, Phenax + Prophet seems pretty likely to end the game quickly - you mill your opponent for 10 per turn cycle if you have even a single additional bear out. It's possible that this deck wants a Courser of Kruphix to recoup some of the life lost from Pain Seer, I could see his ability becoming a liability particularly if you are trying to mill with him using Phenax and an untap effect.

This deck is pretty ambitious, in particular it might be a stretch to run these three colours without the golgari temple or Sylvan Caryatid, but the synergies here seem so strong that something along these lines seems worth exploring.

Mogis, God of Slaughter

Alright, we get it WoTC. You want us to play minotaurs. You print them in red black and then you give us a minotaur-god thing that supports an aggressive shell along with the Rakdos temple. OK, I'll try.

 

RB Mogis Minotaurs
 
4 Temple of Malice
Creatures
4 Deathbellow Raider
4 Minotaur Skullcleaver
4 Rageblood Shaman
2 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Kragma Warcaller
4 Felhide Brawler
2 Ragemonger
3 Mogis, God of Slaughter
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
28 cards

Other Spells
4 Hero's Downfall
2 Asphyxiate
2 Searing Blood
8 cards
Lands
9 Mountain
11 Swamp
24 cards
 
Mogis, God of Slaughter

 

You may have got the impression that I'm fairly underwhelmed by this archetype. You'd be right. I'm not sure this deck does anything if it doesn't draw Rageblood Shaman. Ragemonger might have been the key second cheap lord which made the deck work, but the cost reduction is such an underwhelming effect that I'm not sure it's even worth two slots. I've kept it there, because maybe it brings Kragma Warcaller into the realm of playable, but I'm probably being overly optimistic here.

Anyway, this deck does have some things going for it, it's not all bad. In particuar it's got reach and a surprising degree of inevitability. Mogis is a key part of that, the two damage per turn complements an aggressive strategy quite nicely as long as you are able to keep token-producing walkers off the table with Hero's Downfall. Given the late game reach that your gods and Fanatic of Mogis give you, I wanted the early game of the deck to be as aggressive as possible, hence the full playset of Minotaur Skullcleaver. Searing Blood also fits into the reach category, providing there's enough targets that it hits in the likely metagame but that shuouldn't be too tough - it's possible you just want Lightning Strike there though. Maybe I'll be proved wrong and minotaur aggro will actually be a thing, but the creatures are so underwhelming that I'm not holding my breath. I think Mogis may well be playable, but I'm not exactly sure what deck it's going to belong in.

Karametra, God of Harvests

If I was underwhelmed by the possibility of Mogis's Minotaurs, I'm completely at a loss when it comes to Karametra. In fact, I'm out, this card is appalling. The more I thought about it, actually, the angrier I became. Didn't WoTC listen to the outrage over the last "epic" Selesnya creature they tried to make?

Emmara Tandris

There's a lot of players, myself included, that self-identify as Selesnya. We're not particularly difficult to please, at heart we're timmy's and just want to dream of casting something big and awesome and taking over the game. Emmara does not do this. But at least Emmara is always able to eat a Craw Wurm. What does Karametra even do? By the time you've got yourself up to five mana, what are you going to do with a bunch more plains and forests? This effect could have been quite interesting on a 3-cost god, with appropriately reduced stats, but on a 5-drop? I was mulling over the card while driving the other night and I had a vague thought that maybe the clause triggered on a creature entering the battlefield under your control - like one of the other, actually good, gods in this set - in which case you might be able to setup something with Heliod where as you produce more tokens you get out more lands to create more tokens. Or you could go completely off with Elspeth (although I'm not sure what "go off" with means in this context, it would basically be a deck thinning exercise). But no, Karametra only triggers when you cast a creature so no shenanigans.

The number of things you want to do with a surplus of lands above five in this format is pretty small. You can gain some life with Courser of Kruphix, which I guess is something. You can feed big monstrous effects, although the mono green devotion deck is already pretty good at doing that and it's not enough of an effect to be really worthwhile. And you can cast a large Mistcutter Hydra. But these things fall way, way short of winning you the game. Spending five mana for what's going to either be a ramp spell or at best a bad vanilla beater is not what you want to be doing in this, or any other format for that matter. Karametra is an abject failure, WoTC should be ashamed of themselves.

Conclusion

Karametra aside, the gods in this set seem set to shake things up. Xenagos slots into the existing dominant archetype, and might even displace one of the more powerful cards in it. Ephara could give new legs to UW heroic, and potentially inspire a synergy-based white midrange deck. Phenax is a brewer's delight, unlocking the puzzle of how to get value out of the combination of him and inspire seems like it could open up a whole new deck type. Mogis is a bit simpler, although figuring out the specific home for him may be just as difficult. it's just us poor members of the selesnya conclave that get shafted... again.

10 Comments

I like it. I learned a lot by MichelleStroude at Wed, 02/12/2014 - 19:14
MichelleStroude's picture

I like it. I learned a lot from this one. I hope i can play that well. - Aldo Disorbo

Phenax by IYankemDDS at Wed, 02/12/2014 - 19:28
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I'm with you - excited about the Phenax possibilities. I didn't even think of the interaction with Prophet of Kruphix. If not super competitive, it'll at least be fun!

If these lists are any indication I think we'll continue to see a lot of Forests and Mountains out there.

The possibilities with Phenax by Psychobabble at Wed, 02/12/2014 - 22:47
Psychobabble's picture

The possibilities with Phenax are just awesome. Like you, I'm not sure on their competitiveness, but the possibilities are there for some sweet things. Imagine if you ever get Phenax active while Prophet is out - that's > 20 cards milled per turn cycle! I can dream, can't I?

Underworld Cerberus? by IYankemDDS at Thu, 02/13/2014 - 01:22
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Btw, PB, what do you think of Underworld Cerberus in the Mogis deck? I understand the Minotaur theme and all of that stuff, but Cerberus seems quite strong as a finisher in there, and interacts with Mogis pretty well IMO.

It seems that if you include by Paul Leicht at Thu, 02/13/2014 - 05:04
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It seems that if you include green for Phenax's deck you could think about Unexpected Results as another way to get him out.

haha, i'm pretty sure that's by Psychobabble at Thu, 02/13/2014 - 05:46
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haha, i'm pretty sure that's the second time you've tried to suggest unexpected results in my THS block deck! You'd think after 40 articles ppl would figure out which format I write about by now :P

Yeah I don't know why I have by Paul Leicht at Thu, 02/13/2014 - 05:55
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Yeah I don't know why I have this block on you writing about block. I guess because I never see anyone in Juff actually playing Block so I just forget that it exists and then boom I say something off the wall stupid. :) I still think it would go great :p Also maybe you should write about Standard so you could include the card :p

I've got my niche, I'll let by Psychobabble at Thu, 02/13/2014 - 07:12
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I've got my niche, I'll let others write about Standard - and there's plenty of them! I do write intend to write about standard in the pre-rotation period again, maybe I'll make an unexpected results deck for giggles :).

As a correction to the by Psychobabble at Thu, 02/13/2014 - 07:54
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As a correction to the article, someone's pointed out to me that Polis Crusher can't be targeted by Xenagos due to pro enchantments which is CERTAINLY a factor, and not an interaction I had considered. That alone could push the equation a little back in Polukranos' favour in the 4-drop slot.

Xenagos replacing Elspeth by VonPapen at Mon, 02/17/2014 - 19:05
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I am not sure xenagos will replace elspeth and the reason why is that both white and green recieved easy answers to god's in unravel the aether and revoke existence. However, this is likely more of an argument for playing only 2 xenagos. I think if GRw stops it will be because of aggro/deovtion which will power up mono black again as well.