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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Feb 21 2018 1:00pm
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It's a new year, which means new Flashback formats. However, it also is a change for Flashback formats as a whole, as all the 2018 Flashback formats will be Phantom events. This doesn't seem great at first, but it means the prizes are more consistent (the event is now Swiss and has the same payout as Swiss Cube). The entry fee is also slightly different, as the traditional 10 Ticket/100 Play Point cost is joined by the awkward-seeming 2 tickets + 2 Theros boosters—it was made to seem weird since it's a Phantom format, and I certainly won't complain about a price decrease either way. Finally, the choice of triple-Theros is weird as the first Flashback of the year after Lorwyn was bumped out of 2017 to make room for the special Vintage Masters draft, but apparently there was a bug introduced with the Rivals of Ixalan build that impacted the format, so it was postponed again (which is much better than having a hamstrung format). Anyway, let's talk about Theros!

 

Theros, the first enchantment-focused block that was marketed as such. However, while the block has a lot of enchantments in all the sets, there isn't any "enchantment-matters" until the last set in the block, so it mostly exists as a downside for now. In addition there are a lot of interesting mechanics in the block, so let's talk about them.

 

Mechanics:

Bestow:

At its heart, Bestow is a simple idea: creatures with Bestow are Enchantment Creatures that can be cast either as a creature or an aura, and if a creature enchanted by a Bestow aura dies the aura becomes a creature. However, the devil is in the details here, as a lot of hacks to the rules needed to be made that aren't intuitive at first glance, most importantly that if your opponent removes a creature you're enchanting with a Bestow aura the creature enters as a creature as normal (despite having it hammered in normally that "spells with no legal targets are countered"). As for the mechanic itself, it's spread throughout all the colors, as each color gets a common and uncommon Bestow creature, while white and black each get an extra common. However, the most important thing is that Bestow is much stronger that it looks: you want every Bestow card in your colors, as their base rate isn't that bad in most cases and the Bestow is overpowering.

 

Devotion:

Chroma returns in a much more streamlined form, as it always counts colored mana symbols on the battlefield. The mechanic shows up in every color (though blue only gets it on two mythics), though it only appears at common in green and black. As such, these are the colors you need to watch for, though they were careful: multiple colored mana symbols only show up at common on the cards with Devotion and the marginal Vulpine Goliath, and the existence of Devotion makes a marginal uncommon like Insatiable Harpy much more valuable. Otherwise, Devotion mostly just counts the number of permanents you have of a certain color.

 

Heroic:

Heroic is one of the best designed parts of Theros, as it's a way for creatures to interact with auras without directly calling them out, while providing a lot of strategic complexity. The mechanic is mostly focused in white, but it's mostly evenly spread out through the other colors (only black doesn't get a common). There are lots of various spell effects Heroic gives, but just like Zendikar's Allies, the best cards generally end up as the ones that put +1/+1 counters on the Heroic creature (Wingsteed Rider), even before you consider their synergy with the Ordeal cycle (Ordeal of Thassa). You do have to note all the instants that target in the set, notably the cycle of instants that target two creatures, as well as other generally good cards like Gods Willing and Titan's Strength.

 

Monstrosity:

Yet another late game mana sink that is on cards that are already good. Red and green are the only colors to get common Monstrosity cards, but all the non-white colors get an uncommon as well. Important notes here are that you can activate the ability multiple times if you have the mana (say, in response to damage-based removal) and that, again, these cards generally all have a good rate before the Monstrosity ability.

 

Scry:

Scry wasn't evergreen yet, but Theros block was the block that introduced the regular use of "Scry 1" as an alternative to the cantrip. Flamespeaker Adept also exists as a semi-build-around but will mostly exist as a 4/3 First Striker (or the threat of becoming one) than something you pump a ton of times in a single turn.

 

Archetypes:

Hooray, a modern set design! We have ten signpost uncommons (as well as cards with off-color activations at common), and with one exception they'll guide the archetype review.

 

White/Blue: Durable Heroic

Battlewise Hoplite is a nice blend of the aggressive and card advantage-focused Heroic strategies, and while Coastline Chimera isn't great, it exists as a durable place to put Auras. Otherwise the Heroic deck at its core is very simple: combine the good Heroic creatures (Wingsteed Rider, Wavecrash Triton) with Auras that generate advantage, either through cantrips (Fate Foretold, Chosen By Heliod) or Bestow creatures (Hopeful Eidolon, Nimbus Naiad), and win. This plan is the easiest with WU since there are so many ways to get evasion in the color combination (Aqueous Form is one I haven’t mentioned) and you get so much advantage from both sides of the equation if you pick your creatures and Auras right.

 

Blue/Black: Control

Both Returned Phalanx and Shipwreck Singer are great control creatures, with the Singer dominating any board on which it is allowed to live. There are other good roadblocks as well, such as Wavecrash Triton, Omenspeaker, and Baleful Eidolon, while Keepsake Gorgon and Horizon Scholar are good win conditions once you stabilize. The removal is okay with cards like Pharika's Cure and Dissolve, and you have great card advantage with (Thassa’s Bounty) and Read the Bones if you can survive. Of course, that’s the question, as the Heroic decks are very fast and don’t give you that much time to set up.

 

Black/Red: Minotaur Tribal

Kragma Warcaller and Deathbellow Raider send a simple message for BR’s theme: attack with Minotaurs! However, there aren’t actually that many total in the set: seven total, though four are common and two are uncommon. Kragma Warcaller is a very good incentive to draft Minotaurs specifically though, and it’s not like Borderland Minotaur and Minotaur Skullcleaver are that bad of a rate. Fanatic of Mogis also fits the archetype well (note the RR in Borderland Minotaur’s cost), and Blood-Toll Harpy and Gray Merchant of Asphodel also help you force through damage alongside good burn like Lightning Strike and Magma Jet. Overall the deck looks good, but I don’t know how much you need the Minotaur synergies for the deck to work.

 

Red/Green: Ramp/Monstrosity

Satyr Hedonist maybe looks like a Ramp card if you squint at it, but Destructive Revelry is just a very efficient Naturalize (which is great in a world of Enchantment Creatures). Otherwise your main ramp tools are Voyaging Satyr and Karametra's Acolyte, which are good cards but not necessarily ones you want to build a ramp deck around. However, the genius of Monstrosity means you don’t have to ramp to get the creatures out (just to get the bonuses), which gives you more flexibility. I feel like this deck might need higher rarity things to ramp into to be truly good, but the core is there.

 

Green/White: Big Heroic

Most of the Heroic creatures in GW give you +1/+1 counters as a bonus, and Chronicler of Heroes points in that direction as well. Setessan Griffin is just a big creature, and the big Monstrous creatures in green also work with Chronicler of Heroes. I’m worried that being “big” isn’t good enough in Theros where everything is big, but white has enough evasion so it can hopefully work.

 

White/Black: Grindy Bestow?

Sentry of the Underworld is a great card, but doesn’t really point in an obvious direction. Instead, remember that white and black are the colors that get multiple Bestow commons, and Sentry of the Underworld is a great place to put them. The off-color activation common is Scholar of Athreos which works well as both a grindy card and a good place to put Auras. The one problem with the Bestow strategy is that black has almost no Heroic cards to synergize with the Auras, but white has more than enough, especially since a grindy deck probably doesn’t want all the cheap creatures the Heroic deck does.

 

Blue/Red: Instants/Sorceries

By contrast, Spellheart Chimera’s signpost is as clear as day: play spells! Keep in mind you don’t have to have too many spells for the Chimera to be good (a 2/3 flier is more than good enough, and a 1/3 isn’t awful), but the smoothing provided by all those Voyage's Ends and Titan's Strengths helps you include more spells in a low-curve deck (and then you get to play Flamespeaker Adept at its max power as well). You also get a nice creature in the off-color activation slot with Crackling Triton.

 

Black/Green: Midrange/Graveyard

The Golgari are the color of two-for-ones in Theros, as Pharika's Mender is one of the biggest Gravediggers below rare and Loathsome Catoblepas is a the rare two-for-one at common (if one that is very slow, and not worth playing in the average matchup). Baleful Eidolon also fits into the two-for-one plan, along with other efficient cards like Keepsake Gorgon and Read the Bones. Card efficiency normally isn’t enough by itself to make an archetype viable though, and a grindy strategy might not be good enough in this format. The graveyard synergies could be enough though, with self-mill like Returned Centaur and Commune with the Gods combined with Pharika's Mender and Nemesis of Mortals, but the payoffs seem to be at higher rarities, which isn’t a good sign for consistent success.

 

Red/White: Wide Heroic

At first it seems like there may be a contradiction in this color pair: Akroan Hoplite want to have a lot of creatures attacking alongside it, but Heroic generally gives you an incentive to go tall and stack a lot of enchantments on a single creature. The key is that red’s Heroic creatures do both: Akroan Crusader creates tokens, while Arena Athlete is just getting blockers out of the way (and of course Phalanx Leader kicks everything into overdrive). Even the off-color activation common Priest of Iroas fits into this plan as it’s a one-mana creature early and a removal spell later—an interesting way to play it could be stacking Bestow creatures on it, then killing an enchantment and creating a sudden army. Of course, the key to this color combination is all the great burn red gets that can even double as Heroic triggers in a pinch. The combination of a synergistic plan and high raw card quality makes this one of the decks to beat in the format.

 

Green/Blue: Good Cards?

Unlike WB, I can’t find a hidden message in the GU gold cards: both Horizon Chimera and Agent of Horizons are efficient creatures, but there isn’t much to them that describes a deck. Are you supposed to draw cards? Play instants/cards with Flash? Cast a bunch of evasive cards? Again, a deck doesn’t need to have a theme to do well in Limited, but some of the linear decks in Theros are strong.

 

Mono-Black: Devotion

It shouldn’t be much of a shock that the color that naturally gets the most double-color spells has a strong Devotion theme, but the Devotion cards for black at common are the key: Disciple of Phenax isn’t awful as a big Ravenous Rats but the upside of getting Coercion instead is nice, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel doesn’t have an awful body before possibly draining your opponent for a quarter of their starting life total or more. You also have a lot of defensive permanents to help you survive, including Returned Phalanx, Returned Centaur (which works well with March of the Returned), and Baleful Eidolon. The removal in black is great as well, with Pharika's Cure keeping you alive on the cheap end and Sip of Hemlock and Lash of the Whip killing big things. You have the problems with a mono-color deck (especially one that’s reliant on casting a lot of black spells), but the potential is very high.

 

Other Important Cards:

The colorless cards aren’t that important in Theros, as they exist entirely of color fixers, filler creatures, and bad Equipment. The color fixers are good, as Opaline Unicorn and Burnished Hart are decent ways to ramp and Traveler's Amulet and Unknown Shores are fine “in case of emergency” fixers. Moving to creatures, Bronze Sable is the filler you would expect, but Anvilwrought Raptor isn’t an awful place to put an Aura—just note that more Naturalize effects will be played thanks to all the enchantments. Equipment is hurt since you’re probably playing Auras in that “creature enhancement” slot, but Prowler's Helm isn’t awful if you somehow missed all those Auras (or are playing mono-Black, which is where a lot of the colorless cards will likely end up). Finally, Flamecast Wheel looks awful on rate, but what can you expect from colorless removal?

 

Speaking of removal, all decks can play an enchantment removal spell or two, but focus on instant-speed removal—Fade into Antiquity still shouldn’t be in your maindeck. Otherwise I’ve covered most of the overall points: all Bestow cards are playable in the average deck, Scry 1 is a powerful rider on instants and sorceries, and there’s a lot of removal overall, even if a lot of it is at sorcery speed.

 

Conclusion:

Theros is in a strange place as it’s a very modern Flashback, and thus the average player (especially on MTGO) has likely played it before. That means you aren’t as likely to get an edge by learning about the format, especially since the format wasn’t that great overall (not like a Ravnica or Invasion) and thus the queues might not be firing as fast. In addition, there are a lot of other topics to touch on before I go today.

 

Masters 25 Previews:

The packaging for Masters 25 was revealed at the Pro Tour and revealed three artworks: Jace, the Mind Sculptor (correct, and an obvious pick), Azusa, Lost But Seeking (correct, though I had pushed it to mythic and WotC left it at rare), and an unknown artifact creature (probably incorrect, considering I had almost no artifact creatures at high rarities)—not bad for the first batch. Phyrexian Obliterator was also revealed through unofficial channels, which is a miss. The final M25 note is that the set will have “at least one card from each of (WotC’s) major releases,” and most cards (all non-Planeswalkers?) will have a watermark noting its original set. This is similar to what I assumed, but “major releases” is very vague, and it doesn’t necessarily say “unique” reprints—Phyrexian Obliterator has a watermark, but so does Azusa, which had a judge foil reprint (and in fact that’s where the M25 art is from). We don’t have much longer until the full set is revealed, and I’ll be able to take full stock of how well I did at that point.

 

Valentine’s Day Mini-Announcement Day:

Wizards of the Coast continues to release a million supplemental sets every quarter, and they aren’t slowing down this summer. There are lots of things MTGO doesn’t care much about here, but there are three sets with new cards in them: Battlebond (a Conspiracy-style set focused on Two-Headed Giant Limited play), Commander 2018 (self-explanatory), and Global Series Jiang Yanggu & Mu Yanling (a pair of Planeswalker Decks with new Planeswalkers designed for the Chinese market). Of course, MTGO won’t get these products, but instead some subset at some point in the future, with no word as to how much or when.

 

Great Designer Search 3:

As I mentioned in my last article, I entered the Great Designer Search 3 not expecting much, but instead I’m actually one of the 94 people who made it to Trial 3! However, I don’t know anymore than that as of this writing, and can’t say much else until I find out one way or the other. Trust me, I want to say more (and in fact have an article talking about my essay questions waiting to be submitted whenever I can, and I planned a similar one talking about my design test), but if I’m privileged enough to be one of the top 1% of entrants I don’t want to jeopardize that. Until then, wish me luck.

 

Anyway, all that said I don’t know what my next article will be. If I’m freed from my GDS shackles (aka I don’t make the Top 8) I’ll probably start articles on that, but otherwise it’ll probably be one of multiple articles on the final Masters 25.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter (This is a change)

1 Comments

@Schwibbery by Cheater Hater at Fri, 02/23/2018 - 01:36
Cheater Hater's picture

Thanks for the compliment. Unfortunately I didn't make it to the Top 8, though that just means I have more stuff I can write about.