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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jan 16 2020 1:00pm
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Going into a new Standard set after the mess that was Throne of Eldraine is a difficult thing. The absurd power creep hasn’t retreated, though nothing seems absurdly broken in Standard at first glance. Limited also feels like a lot of retreads both in mechanics (the literal redoes, and Escape isn’t breaking too much new ground) and themes (a lot of Theros stuff just moved around, and things like flash and graveyard aren’t new either). Still, inventiveness isn’t key to a new format, so we can still see how things ended up, starting with the mechanics.

Mechanics:

Constellation:

Enchantmentfall is the mechanic that’s changed the most from original Theros block, as while there are a lot more enchantments (and enchantment creatures in particular), Constellation is limited to the Bant colors and exclusively on non-enchantments. In addition, the triggers seem very low impact, especially on the commons. Yes, Captivating Unicorn and Triton Waverider are good threats, but do you really want a Pious Wavefinder or Nexus Wardens? There are also a lot more enchantments with Flash, which means some of the effects are better. We run into the Metalcraft problem though, as only the best payoffs are worth slots, especially if you aren’t fully building around it.

 

Devotion:

Devotion is in a similar place as Constellation, as while the Devotion cards at lower rarities aren’t nearly as good (other than Blight-Breath Catoblepas, an early contender for best common by a mile) there are a lot more CC permanents at common to feed it. I don’t think it’s worth building around, but most of the cards are fine if you’re playing permanents.

 

Escape:

The only new mechanic of Theros: Beyond Death is a hybrid of Flashback/Unearth and Delve, except that it’s infinitely repeatable as long as you have fuel. That means you don’t need a lot of Escape cards to get the benefits, and thus more marginal cards that require you to exile lots of cards like Glimpse of Freedom don’t seem right for the average deck. The average exile cost is three cards though, which isn’t a lot, and you can expect to Escape multiple times in the average game. I also want to keep an eye on the Escape Auras, which are extremely minor effects but only escape for 2 cards, which means they’re a repeatable source of Constellation triggers. I don’t know if you can build around Escape or just want to use it for value, but we’ll keep an eye out for enablers.

 

Enchantment Creatures:

Theros: Beyond Death is a lot more lax with what constitutes a “worthy” enchantment creature as original Theros block, as while a lot have random abilities (even the commons) there are also a cycle of vanilla commons. In general on cheaper creatures being an enchantment is a net benefit due to all the synergies, but it’s more risky on more expensive creatures since it makes them easier to kill. Speaking of that, feel free to maindeck Revoke Existence, Return to Nature, and even Mystic Repeal, as most decks will have a couple targets and the enchantments are some of the most powerful cards in the set.

 

Sagas:

The quick turnaround for one of Dominaria’s surprise success stories makes sense for an enchantment set, even if it isn’t making many strides forward other than a fourth chapter on some cards. Each color has an uncommon and a rare/mythic, and they continue the trend of providing lots of value and seem generally good.

 

Archetypes:

 

White/Blue: Evasive Creatures??

We’re starting with a strange choice for a signpost, as while Staggering Insight is strong, it points in a bunch of possible directions. I initially thought it was focusing on card draw, but the payoffs like Dream Trawler and Nadir Kraken are all rare. There aren’t lifegain synergies unless you count Heliod, Sun-Crowned, so instead we’re left with a typical strategy for the Azorius. Your typical efficient fliers like Daybreak Chimera, Triton Waverider, and Vexing Gull are here, but there isn’t that much synergy.

 

Blue/Black: Self-Mill

Conversely, Devourer of Memory is an obvious signpost with clear synergies with Escape, even if there aren’t many blue cards with the mechanic. Blue in general seems like a strange pairing for this theme, as Sweet Oblivion and Sage of Mysteries feel more like they want to use mill as a win-con, while Towering-Wave Mystic has anti-synergy with the signpost, though it still seems fine in the deck. The question is how aggressive the deck is, as it feels like Sleep of the Dead needs to be good for this deck to work. Of course black has more traditional enablers like Funeral Rites and Mire Triton that are as good as you would expect, along with the great Escape creatures Underworld Charger and Pharika's Spawn. The deck feels good at first, but most of the cards you want feel generically powerful, so it might be hard to get.

 

Black/Red: Sacrifice

Another classic archetype, and Slaughter-Priest of Mogis is another obvious signpost, as strange as the Rakdos sacrificing enchantments is. There are a surprising number of enablers as well, with Lampad of Death's Vigil, Soulreaper of Mogis, Final Flare, and Skophos Warleader all at common. The problem is fodder, as while the random Satyr tokens that can’t block fill that role, I don’t want them in my deck in most cases. Then again, maybe I’m massively underestimating Satyr's Cunning. You have better choices like Discordant Piper and Anax, Hardened in the Forge, and Portent of Betrayal gives you more beneficial fodder as well. There’s also good removal that’s fairly unconditional, so maybe it doesn’t have to be massively synergistic to be successful.

 

Red/Green: Ferocious

It appears the Temur have infiltrated Theros, as “power 4 or greater” is a loud theme for the Gruul here. (Warden of the Chained) seems fairly bland though (especially in a high-powered environment), and (Stampede Rider) isn’t exciting either. (Ilysian Caryatid) and (Nessian Hornbeetle) are better, but it doesn’t seem great to build around unless you have (Furious Rise). Thus, instead of focusing on the enablers like (Loathsome Chimera) and (Nyxborn Brute) you should go with the generally-efficient creatures like (Voracious Typhon) and (Flummoxed Cyclops). Yet another deck where synergy is a bonus and not the point.

 

Green/White: Auras

Siona, Captain of the Pyleas is another obvious and powerful signpost, but in a world without Bestow the question is how dedicated you can be to Auras. Warbriar Blessing, Dreadful Apathy, and Heliod's Punishment are all good removal Auras, and Heliod's Pilgrim, Transcendent Envoy, and Dawn Evangel are good support, but the question is how much farther can you go? Is Sentinel's Eyes going too deep? You also get a decent amount of Constellation support, but this deck both seems more dependent on synergy and not that good unless you fully get there. Maybe that means the deck works if you can get the removal Auras early and the synergistic creatures late, but I wouldn’t risk it in my first draft in the format.

 

White/Black: Recursion

Rise to Glory feels like a good card but it’s an interesting signpost, as it’s crossing the GW and UB streams. However, you don’t need many Auras to make it work, as both Dreadful Apathy and Mire's Grasp naturally end up in the graveyard even before you consider the natural self-mill in black. As such this becomes a general control deck with a lot of removal where the baseline is good and the synergy is both easy to obtain and powerful. Hateful Eidolon is also worth noting, as it works if you enchant an opponent’s creature and they sacrifice it, and the baseline isn’t awful either. I’d start with this deck as one to beat.

 

Blue/Red: Flash

The Izzet get a particularly loud theme this go-around, and Mischievous Chimera is just the tip of the iceberg. The key is that not only are the payoffs either okay on their own (Dreamstalker Manticore, Stinging Lionfish) or only require one trigger to be great (Arena Athlete), the instant-speed things are extremely strong like Thirst for Meaning, Vexing Gull, and Omen of the Forge. Just as important are the mana sinks like Witness of Tomorrows, Oread of Mountain's Rise, and the Omens that let you have a threat of activation without wasting your mana. This feels like another strong deck full of value, though I don’t know if a lot of minor benefits are as good as the major benefits of other archetypes.

 

Black/Green: Graveyard

As efficient as Acolyte of Affliction is, it’s not as loud of a signpost as other archetypes. Yes, the Golgari have a lot of graveyard synergies, particularly good Escape creatures, but as I mentioned in the mechanics section, I don’t know how hard you can go on self-mill to fulfill Escape. Yes, Skola Grovedancer is a nice minor enabler/payoff, but there isn’t much else that helps the strategy in green. The archetype seems fine, but it feels like it has a low ceiling and not as high of a floor to compensate.

 

Red/White: Wide Heroic

The Boros still have a few heroes left, but apparently all they know how to do is give creatures extra power. Hero of the Nyxborn is still fine, but between most of the tokens not being able to block, a lack of good Heroic enablers (though Phalanx Tactics and Infuriate are clearly great in the strategy), and relatively average creatures the deck doesn’t seem that great. It also seems very single-minded, which is never great in an average limited format. Maybe this deck is just meant to keep people honest in their quests for value, but I don’t want to start here.

 

Green/Blue: Constellation

Eutropia the Twice-Favored is by far the best non-rare Constellation card in the set, and the high density of Enchantments helps a lot with triggering it as much as possible. Destiny Spinner and Brine Giant are also great pay-offs, and you naturally get a lot of enchantments. This feels like another deck with a high top-end, but the question is how deep you need to go to get there, and how good the marginal enchantment is. It feels like it’s going to be good overall, but there’s a lot of variance in the top and bottom end.

 

Other Notable Cards:

Flicker of Fate is probably the best a flicker effect has been in a while as it’s extremely versatile: in addition to expected uses like saving creatures from removal and reusing Constellation effects or Sagas (note you can flicker a Saga after the last chapter triggers but before it resolves) to more nefarious uses like killing tokens, knocking Auras off an opponent’s creature, moving an Aura to an opposing Hexproof creature, or even activating Dreadful Apathy then flickering it so it moves to another creature. There’s also a lot of ramp in green with Illysian Caryatid, Omen of the Hunt, and Wolfwillow Haven, which helps feed all the mana sinks in the format. As for colorless cards, there are some mediocre fixers and equipment, but Entrancing Lyre, Soul-Guide Lantern, and Thundering Chariot are all worth looking for.

 

Conclusion:

Overall Theros: Beyond Death is an interesting set, and the problems don’t seems as blatant as 2019’s sets. My gut is that the self-mill strategies have enough hate to stop them in the short term, so I’d focus on GU Constellation and UR Flash as the best archetypes, at least on day one.

 

As for other news in my sphere of articles, the MTGO schedule has four Flashback drafts on it, though they’re all formats I’ve covered before: Ravnica Block (Ravnica: City of Guilds, Guildpact, Dissension), Triple-Zendikar (original, in-depth), Amonkhet Block (Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation), and Invasion (mechanics, cards). I don’t think I can add much to these formats (though my Amonkhet review is the most outdated relative to the birth of the format), so I don’t think I’ll do follow-ups on any of them. The treasure chest update is also there, and I don’t see many big changes there. Instead, my Magic writing work has been focused on the remastered sets coming to Arena, and I’ve made a surprising amount of progress on my designs: Return to Ravnica is complete, Theros is almost complete, and Pioneer Core Sets finished its commons and uncommons. My next article will probably be on Return to Ravnica Remastered, where I’ll also lay out my vision for what the remasters would be. I also want to do something on Mystery Boosters, but I don’t know how much I can do, especially since it doesn’t appear to be coming to MTGO. However, whatever it is, I’ll see you later.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter