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By: gwyned, gwyned
Sep 26 2013 11:19am
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I. Introduction

The cards have all been spoiled for the Greek mythology inspired world of Theros, and so it's time once again for my review of a new set for Standard Pauper. As always, I leave the impact of these cards in Standard, Limited, or Pauper to those much better qualified than myself. Instead, this review will focus on how these Commons will play out in the Standard Pauper format with the forthcoming rotation of Standard. Today, in Part One, I will briefly touch on the new and returning mechanics for Theros, then dive deep into all of the Commons that make use of these mechanics.

II. New Mechanics

It's always interesting to not only see what new mechanics come into the rules of Magic the Gathering with the release of each new set, but also whether or not these mechanics are simple enough in design and philosophy to be represented at Common. Fortunately for Theros, all of the mechanics have been included at Common, and thus will have at least some effect in the post-rotation format.

A. Bestow

Theros is a world where "enchantments matter." In addition to having a larger than normal pool of Enchantments, the set also features a new card-type known as Enchantment-Creatures. This card type is affected by any spell or ability that cares about either type, meaning that such creatures can be destroyed as equally well with Murder as with Naturalize. All such creatures include the Bestow mechanic, which allows the creature to be cast an Aura for a different mana cost, with the added bonus of transforming back into a Creature in any instance in which its targeted creature becomes an invalid target. In practice, this means that if the creature the Aura is enchanted onto dies, the Aura remains on the battlefield as a creature rather than going to the graveyard like any other enchantment. Such cards are also visually represented by an alternate frame.

Bestow is represented in Standard Pauper by seven cards, five of which are part of a cycle. They range in quality from fair to good, and several of these will probably see play. Auras typically are not great in Standard Pauper, and while these are all expensive to cast for their Bestow cost, the flexibility of allowing them to be either Auras or Creatures is quite strong.

B. Heroic

Technically not an actual mechanic, Heroic is a keyword ability that is essentially a reminder that this card gives a beneficial effect to its controller whenever he or she cast a spell that targets the creature in question. The beneficial effects vary from creature to creature, but are always triggered the same way - by targeting the creature in question while you control it. This means that any type of targeting spell - an Instant, Sorcery, or an Enchantment - all trigger the effect. Also it's worth noting that the spell need not resolve to trigger the effect, so even a Cancel won't keep the Heroic effect from taking place.

Heroic is represented in Standard Pauper by five cards, with two in White and none in Black. There is a significant range in quality among these effects. But the best ones are strong enough to certainly see play in the format, and may even be enough to help define an archetype. Thus this mechanic will definitely make an impact in the format, and will also encourage the inclusion of more Enchantments in decklists.

C. Devotion

Devotion is another keyword ability, representing an effect that gives a numerical stat to an effect based on the number of mana symbols in the casting cost on permanents you control of a particular color. In other words, your devotion to a color is equal to the total number of mana symbols on all of the cards you have in play, not including any colorless symbols or any symbols of activated effects or alternate costs. It's also worth noting that hybrid mana symbols also do not count. So, for example:

  • A permanent that costs 3 ManaBlack Mana adds one to your devotion to black.
  • A permanent that costs Red ManaRed ManaRed Mana adds three to your devotion to red.
  • A permanent that costs 1 ManaGreen ManaWhite Mana adds one to your devotion to green and one to your devotion to white.
  • A permanent that costs 1White or BlueWhite or Blue adds zero to your devotion count for either white or blue.

This number then applies to a particular effect, like how much life you gain or how much damage is dealt.

Devotion is represented in the format by only three cards, two of which are in Black. While two of them are decent, this mechanic probably will only play a small factor in the resulting metagame.

D. Monstrosity

Monstrosity is an activated ability that can only be activated once on a particular creature which adds the indicated number of +1/+1 counters to the creature in question (and sometimes provides additional effects, although never at Common). Upon resolution, the creature is now considered to be monstrous, although currently this has no effect other than preventing the monstrosity ability from being activated again. This effect can be activated at any time, and can only be countered by killing the creature in question in response or by abilities that counter activated abilities (none of which exist in Standard Pauper). It probably goes without saying, but if the creature leaves play for any reason and later returns to the battlefield, it is no longer monstrous.

Monstrosity is the least represented mechanic, appearing only on one Red and one Green card. Thus, here again, this mechanic won't really make much of an impact on the format.

E. Scry

Finally, Scry is the returning mechanic for Theros. Scry is always accompanied by a number, which indicates that when the spell resolves, the player gets to look at this number of cards from the top of his or her library, and then place those cards either on the top or the bottom of his or her library in any order. Scry can either be the first or a subsequent effect of a card, and thus any effects must be resolved in the order they are indicated on the card.

Scry will see quite a bit of play in Standard Pauper, thanks to appearing on thirteen different cards among every color but Green. While the mechanic itself is probably not worth a card, the incremental value it adds to other cards is quite good. While not all of these will see play, many will.

So now, armed with that understanding of these mechanics and their impact in Standard Pauper, let's take a look at the individual representative cards.

III. Theros Mechanic Commons

But before we get to that, a few words about methodology. Rather than assigning a particular letter grade, I will instead simply note each card as a "hit" or a "myth" and discuss why I believe this card will or will not be relevant. After all, unlike in Limited, you will rarely if ever have an instance where you have to actually prioritize one card over another in any meaningful way, and thus a letter grade is probably not that helpful in actual practice. Let me also give credit where credit is due to ChannelFireball, who inspired the "hit or myth" categories as well as my feeble attempts at humor.

1. Akroan Crusader does not appear to be the type of card that sees play in Standard Pauper. 1/1s for 1 are as bad in this format as they typically are in Limited, and so it would take an excellent Heroic effect to make this soldier playable. Unfortunately, such is not the case. While the ability to generate an unlimited number of 1/1s with Haste seems pretty good, it would be quite unusual to be able to generate more than one or two activations off of this. A sub-par creature with a sub-par effect doesn't add up to anything but a sub-par package.

Verdict: Myth. I simply can't crusade for the playability of this card.

2. Aqueos Form certainly catches your eye. It's a one mana Tricks of the Trade that doesn't pump toughness, but instead turn the enchanted creature into a pseudo-"Looter" that lets you keep or discard your top card instead of drawing and then discarding the worst card from your hand. Looter il-Kor was the real deal, but is having to build one yourself really worth the additional card? Perhaps in conjunction with Hexproof or Heroic this might be worth considering, but it seems pretty fringe to me.

Verdict: Myth. Maybe I'm all wet, but I don't think this makes the cut.

3. Baleful Eidolon and Hopeful Eidolon are essential two sides of the same Enchantment-Creature coin. Both are 1/1s with a decent ability that can instead be cast as an Aura for an additional 1. Typhoid Rats essentially was unplayable in Standard Pauper, and Vault Skirge without Flying probably also would not have been good enough. And as Enchantments, the effects seem pretty weak for the cost. Therefore I doubt these will see much play.

Verdict: Myth. I hoped these were good. Too bad they're not.

4. Battlewise Valor is one in a long line of 11 Instants that pump a target creature and give some other incremental effect, like Mighty Leap or the more recent Moment of Heroism. While decent in Limited, these have not seen much play in Standard Pauper, which typically has access to much better combat tricks in White. Of course, the Heroic mechanic certainly encourages cards such as these, and the Scry is certainly a welcome benefit. In this case, the overlap with Gods Willing probably means that Battlewise Valor will always come up second.

Verdict: Myth. A wise and valiant mage brings better tools to the battle.

5. Cavern Lampad, Leafcrown Dryad, Nimbus Naiad, Observant Alseid, and Spearpoint Oread:

The Common cycle of "Nymph" Enchantment-Creatures are similar enough to review as a cycle, rather than individually. They are each 2/2s for 3, with the exception of the Cavern Lampad for 11 and Leafcrown Dyrad for 11. They each have a keyword ability tied to their respective color, and their Bestow cost is an additional 1 (except for the pesky Spearpoint Oread, which costs an additional mana for some reason). For all five cards, neither the Enchantment side nor the Creature side would be good enough on its own. The creatures are slightly lacking, and the enchantments are simply too expensive. However, when you factor in the flexibility of being able to cast them in either mode, their value goes up significantly. Given that both Nimbus Naiad and Cavern Lampad include Evasion, I predict those will see the most play.

Verdict: Hit. The allure of these nymphs is undeniable.

7. Disciple of Phenax is somewhat difficult to assess. Coercion style effects have typically not seen much play in the format, although both Duress and Distress were popular Sideboard options at one point. Given that these types of effects generally cost around 2-3 mana, getting a 1/3 for an additional 11 isn't terrible. Furthermore, since this already has 11 in its casting cost, assuming your opponent still has cards in hand, the effect is probably going to hit something relevant. Put all these pieces together, and you certainly have a card worth considering.

Verdict: Too close to call. Not phenomenal, so it's probably just a Sideboard card or restricted to Mono-Black.

8. Gods Willing was one of the earliest cards spoiled for Theros, and one that seemed to promise great things to come for this set. Stave Off was already good enough to play in many a White Weenie build, and the bonus of Scry 1, makes this one of the best combat tricks for the format. Color protection allows one to sidestep removal, make a creature unblockable, or survive an otherwise lethal combat. About the only thing it can't do is boost Power for a surprise Alpha-strike. Such a cheap and effective trick definitely deserves a slot in most White decks.

Verdict: Hit. God willing, I expect to play this quite a bit.

9. Corrupt returns attached to a relevant 2/4 body in the awkwardly named Gray Merchant of Asphodel. While your devotion to a color is almost never going to be as high as the total number of Swamps in play in a mono-Black deck, it makes up for this shortcoming by allowing you to splash for other colors freely without worrying about undermining the effect. Granted, 111 is a lot to pay, but at the top of a creature-heavy Black deck, this could easily make the difference between winning and losing. Such a  powerful effect shouldn't be overlooked.

Verdict: Hit. If you have several Black permanents, you'd have to be gray-headed to not to buy this.

10. Ill-Tempered Cyclops honestly seems like the best representation of Monstrosity at Common. It's essentially a Hill Giant with Trample with the ability to transform into a sizable 6/6 Trample later in the game. While few RDW-style decks will want the game to go long enough to ever activate Monstrosity, this seems like it would slot in well for a more controlling build with access to Red mana. Given that large beaters in Standard Pauper typically don't have access to Trample, this certainly has the potential to be a powerful card in the right matchup.

Verdict: Hit. When this grows monstrous, it should make for many a grumpy player.

11. Lost in a Labyrinth is a long name for a lackluster card. Sensory Deprivation saw zero play in the format as far as I am aware, and its Instant speed cousin is clearly worse in most situations. Downsize is also superior to this card in almost every way, and it too has never seen play in Standard Pauper. But is Scry 1 enough to save this card? As helpful as Scry can be in smoothing your draws, even a card with casting cost 1 that read "Scry 1" fails to provide enough value to be worth a card slot in your deck.

Verdict: Myth. Get lost!

12. Nessian Asp is the other Monstrosity at Common. The easiest way to evaluate this card is to compare it to the formidable Sentinel Spider. For the same converted mana cost, you get an additional point of Toughness, but lose Vigilance. Then, should the game go long enough for you to cobble together 11, you essentially get to double its Power and Toughness, creating the largest Common ever. Of course, no matter how big it gets, its lack of evasion means it will still simply be a big dumb beater. Still, I expect this will still get the job done.

Verdict: Hit. Watch out for one too many hits with the snake.

13. Incidental lifegain is surprisingly good in Standard Pauper, giving you the time to play the long-game against an opponent and get value out of your better quality cards. Nylea's Disciple is a great example of this type of effect. While a 3/3 for 111 is nothing special, even if it's your only Green permanent, you gain an additional 2 Life. While probably not quite as good as Saruli Gatekeepers when it comes to Lifegain, it's very similar to Centaur Healer, which is a cornerstone in the aforementioned Selesnya archetype. Seems solid enough to me.

Verdict: Hit. Not amazing, but a reliably solid and disciplined choice.

14. Sea Gate Oracle is reborn into Theros as Omenspeaker. Sea Gate Oracle was quite good back in Standard Pauper, so that comparison bodes well for this card. The Omenspeaker is 1 mana cheaper, but doesn't actually draw you a card right away. On the other hand, you can actually keep both cards if you desire, which certainly is a bonus. Still, there's a big difference between smoothing out your next draw and actually drawing a card, so I doubt this card will be quite as format defining as Sea Gate Oracle. Nonetheless, it certainly makes the cut.

Verdict: Hit. This card is certainly a good omen of things to come.

15. Portent of Betrayal is a good exercise in card design. Obviously this is Act of Treason with Scry 1 tacked on at the end, and as a result raising its casting cost by a point. Act of Treason didn't see much play of late, although Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers certainly made an impact in certain Flickergate builds. Unless you are playing a sacrifice archetype, Act of Treason is typically useful only in aggressive Red decks that use it to finish off an opponent. And in that situation, the Scry is pretty lackluster, since the game should already be over.

Verdict: Myth. It's no betrayal to leave this in your virtual binder.

16. Prescient Chimera is one in a long line of 111 of 3 Power fliers with a relevant ability. Of late, most such abilities either activate when the card enters the battlefield or when it dies. This ability, however, is a bit harder to evaluate. While it's repeatable, the value of Scry 1 is certainly less than drawing a card. In a control archetype with lots of Instants and Sorceries, you should get multiple activations out of this. The extra point of toughness is also nice, protecting it from the most common burn spells in the format. Overall this should make the cut.

Verdict: Hit. While I can't predict exactly how good this will be, it should be strong in the right type of deck.

17. Flame Slash this is not. Rage of Purphoros is simply not the type of burn spell that will see play in Standard Pauper. While in Limited these expensive removal spells are a necessary evil when crafting a slower environment, the fact that you typically will pay more to remove the creature than your opponent spent to cast it makes this a big tempo hit. The tacked-on Scry is not even close in making up for that cost. While Red damage spells that hit for more than 3 certainly have an important role to play in the format, this isn't the burn spell you're looking for.

Verdict: Myth. Despite all your rage, you're still just too expensive.

18. What would the offspring of Sign in Blood and Foresee look like? Something like Read the Bones. While Scry 2 isn't Scry 4, this is almost as good, even if you have to pay 2 life along the way. The fact that you can potentially see as many as four cards for the cost of 11 is very good. It's extraordinary that an effect like this can exist in Black, and I would not be surprised at all to see a Blue/Black or MonoBlack control archetype develop around this card. I don't think it's too far-fetched that this may be the pick Common of the set for Standard Pauper.

Verdict: Hit. By my read, them bones are good!

19. Setessan Battle Priest is easily the worst of the Heroic creatures. In White, a 1/3 for 11 is almost never what you want. The incidental lifegain isn't nearly enough to make this worth targeting with any of your spells. Her low Power means she isn't a good attacker, and the 3 Toughness isn't really enough to make this card strong on offense either. At the end of the day, the quality of creatures that White has access to is simply so much higher than what this battle priest can offer that there really isn't any compelling reason to include this in your deck.

Verdict: Myth. I don't expect anyone will fight me on this one.

20. How good Spark Jolt will end up being will largely be determined by the number of relevant 1/1s in the new format. While there certainly are plenty of potential targets, it remains to be seen just how aggressive Standard Pauper will be after rotation. Geistflame provided similar value to this card, but it did not see much play, and neither did Forge Devil. So my initial assessment is that Spark Jolt probably won't have much of a presence. Again, while Scry provides some great value, it's still not strong enough to push a marginal card to playable.

Verdict: Myth. I think it's better to let this spark die.

21. Even with its long-winded name, Staunch-Hearted Warrior is probably our first playable Heroic card at Common. While a 2/2 for 11 is pretty miserable, particularly in Green, the effect provided by Heroic seems like a strong enough incentive to be worth building around. This seems like an ideal target for Leafcrown Dryad, resulting in a 6/6 with Reach for a total of 8 mana paid over the course of multiple turns. While this is still not amazing, the rewards of targeting this creature is high enough that I think this will make its presence felt in the format.

Verdict: Hit. In my heart, I staunchly believe this should see play.

22. Stymied Hopes seems like the red-headed stepchild of Condescend, where X is always equal to one and you Scry for one less. Alternatively, it's a Force Spike where an additional mana gets you Scry 1. This is clearly inferior to Mana Leak, which like Counterspell seems to have become too good to print, especially at Common. Like Mana Leak, the value of this card will decrease dramatically the longer a game goes, making it best in an aggressive or tempo-based Blue deck. While not amazing, I think this will be just good enough to be playable.

Verdict: Hit. Any hope of not running afoul of this card have been stymied.

23. What do you get when Giant Growth goes Red? Titan's Strength. Problem is, it doesn't pump Toughness anymore, making this trick much less useful than its Green counterpart. In Standard Pauper, single target pump effects are rarely played, and typically they do double-duty as protection against removal. On the other hand, Titan's Strength does enable Heroic, and as such may have a role to play in a Boros or Gruul aggressive archetype. Still, it seems like a pretty marginal effect given that Heroic is not going to make a big impact in Standard Pauper.

Verdict: Myth. My convictions aren't strong enough to call this playable.

24. Voyage's End was also spoiled early, and like other Scry cards it's an elegant example of card design at Common. Take Unsummon, add Scry, and raise the converted mana cost by one - and viola, you have a surprisingly good card. Vapor Snag and Silent Departure both had an important role to play during their time, and this card seems a likely candidate to take their place post rotation. The difference between 1 and 2 mana cost shouldn't be overlooked, but that shouldn't be enough to keep this card on the sidelines.

Verdict: Hit. But glad I didn't have to save it 'til the end.

25. Wavecrash Titan is one of the strongest cards for Standard Pauper in Theros. A 1/4 for 11 is a staple for Blue, providing a solid defensive card to hold down the ground. While clearly not good on offense, the fact that targeting this Heroic creature results in a free Inaction Injunction (minus the extra card) should be a strong enough incentive to make this card playable. This seems like an easy inclusion for a Blue control archetype, and might even be good enough as a role player in other Blue-based strategies as well. Definitely worthy of consideration.

Verdict: Hit. I predict this will certainly make a splash.

26. However, the best Heroic card at Common is clearly Wingsteed Rider. A 2/2 Flyer for 11 is already perfectly serviceable (albeit weaker than Sunspire Griffin and its ilk). Dodge a removal spell with Gods Willing, or drop an Aura like Divine Favor or even Observant Alseid, and you have a beater that could quickly dominate the game. This will clearly slot right into whatever White Weenie build comes together post-rotation, and should be one of the more potent creatures on the virtual battlefield. While not the best Common in the set, it should still see a ton of play.

Verdict: Hit. On its wings, I predict many a player will ride to victory.

IV. Conclusion

Whew! It's amazing how much space this article already occupies, and I've only covered about a third of the Commons! But that's it for the Theros Mechanic Commons. Next week, I'll be back with Part Two of this review.

In the mean time, let me remind you that you can always check out all of my previous articles here on PureMTGO by clicking here. I also publish over on my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and encourage you to keep up with all my projects there. You can get a sneak peek at my matches from this event before they go live here at PureMTGO.com over on YouTube.com. Simply search for "gwyned42," select one of my videocasts, and click the Subscribe button. Finally, you can keep up with everything I'm doing for this event on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow.

And, keep an eye out later this week for the next edition of my weekly update for the Hipsters of the Coast Standard Pauper event. Until then...

6 Comments

As always, your articles are by Procrastination at Thu, 09/26/2013 - 12:02
Procrastination's picture
5

As always, your articles are full of strong analysis for the format. I should really find the time to play in one of the pre's this season.

Fyi, you need a quick fix in the devotion section for hybrid mana. According to the provided link it should be two mana not zero.

Weird. I read and reread the by gwyned at Thu, 09/26/2013 - 13:07
gwyned's picture

Weird. I read and reread the Mechanics article I read, and I would have sworn it said they *didn't* count. Apparently I can't read. So yes - apparently the very opposite of what I said is true. Whoops.

Hm, by Elbinac at Fri, 09/27/2013 - 03:55
Elbinac's picture

Unfamiliar with exactly how Heroic works, so forgive the silly question...
Akroan Crusader and Ground Rift is a non-bo then aye?

Would be a shame for Goblin Storm to be banned just to come back in a new form shortly after.

Yes, heroic does not work by Tom the Scud at Fri, 09/27/2013 - 08:38
Tom the Scud's picture

Yes, heroic does not work with storm or replicate.

I really love the formatting by Doctor Anime at Wed, 10/02/2013 - 13:40
Doctor Anime's picture
5

I really love the formatting of this article. It looks very sleek and professional. Would you mind if I used it for my future card analysis articles?

Go for it! by gwyned at Wed, 10/02/2013 - 14:11
gwyned's picture

Go for it!