Some of you might remember my penchant for forcing heroic in triple-Theros. Over the course of that season, my draft decks were almost entirely base red with a sligh-like curve and a multitude of pump spells, with the idea of winning as early as turn four.
Normally, I prefer being a more adaptive drafter, following signals and falling into whatever is open. Usually, I pick a few strong cards of an initial color and pair it with whatever is tabling.
When an archetype is consistently force-able, it’s because either its colors are deep or its cards are unplayable in other archetypes of the same color. With heroic, you can share a color with two drafters to the right of you and still end up with a 3-0 deck.
I’m reminded of the Dampen Thought deck back in Kamigawa. Dampen Thought is an uncommon, so you couldn’t always force it, but no one else wanted the cards you needed, and since they went later you ended up with a more powerful deck. Like heroic, Dampen Thought was also more than the sum of its parts—a deck based on synergy. While one deck tries to slow the game down and the other tries to end it as soon as possible, they’re both engine-based archetypes, which has its own strengths and weaknesses.
For me, focusing on a specific archetype simplified my decisions. Instead of having to figure out what color was open and navigating the usual maze, I only had to look at the playable heroic cards, leading to fewer mistakes while drafting. Because I was playing the same thing over and over, I figured out my matchups and relevant sideboard options quicker than usual, which led to a more profitable season.
That all changed when Born of the Gods came out. I floundered. I kept Top 8’ing PTQs, as the Sealed format hadn’t changed much, but I no longer felt confident in draft. I couldn’t force heroic anymore. The threats that you needed to make the archetype work weren’t available until pack two, so you never knew what flavor of heroic was open until you’d already wasted a pack. My strategy, so consistent, turned into a wild gamble.
Fortunately, Journey changed everything.
One of the reasons I fell in love with the red heroic strategy in the first place was because Akroan Crusader + an enchantment pump on turn two led to a sort of build-your-own Wild Nacatl. Heck, in Limited, Nacatl didn’t even attack for 3 on turn two.
If anything, Satyr Hoplite is much better than Crusader. Functionally, it’s closer to Favored Hoplite, but at the common slot so you can get it more consistently. It’s weak to Spark Jolt, but with one less pack of Theros that weakness matters a bit less than it used to.
The main reason that Hoplite is better than Crusader is because larger creatures naturally brick multiple smaller creatures. It’s just a fact of Magic. As the game goes on, Crusader’s 1/1s matter less and less while Satyr will continue to grow larger and larger, attacking through bigger creatures. It fits the whole “assemble voltron” feel of Theros Limited much better than Crusader does.
Akroan Line Breaker
Every time I’ve seen this guy on the other side of the table, I’ve panicked.
“If he has anything at all, I’m just dead here.”
Line Breaker spits out enough damage that it should produce a reasonable number of turn five kills, and I’d happily pick it over just about anything.
I only want 2-3 cards in the 4-drop slot, and this guy has to compete with the Emissarys, Ill-Tempered Cyclops, and Akroan Mastiff. That said, Boar is great at ignoring whatever the opponent is doing, and it’s a fine target for late-game firebreathing enchantments.
Rouse the Mob
I’ve first picked this card and been happy with it. Sure the pack was weak, but there were a few technically stronger cards in the pack. It’s a matter of staking my claim early. In a weak pack, cards are way less likely to table, and I’m more inclined to take what I need.
In the context of this deck, Rouse the Mob is a better version of Titan’s Strength. It’s worse on turn two, but it should push through more damage on average.
I do like Trailrazer’s design. In a way, it pushes the tempo-heavy nature of the format by giving us another heroic one drop in the common slot, increasing the chance that we’ll have the necessary 2-3 heroic threats after pack one. On the other hand, it also gives us another one mana 0/4, which in theory should also help slow things down.
In a dedicated heroic deck, Trailbrazer is a legitimate threat. Heck, Yoked Ox was playable if you had enough Ordeals.
An efficient, permanent aura is exactly what we’re looking for, and the ability is super relevant in this format.
Flamespeaker’s Will functions similarly for the most part, though with an irrelevant ability it’s bottom of the barrel.
While it looks powerful, and will lead to blowouts out of some decks, it’s too high up on the curve for what we’re looking for. We want to have the game locked up by the time we could hit the Strive cost.
This is a hard card to evaluate since I haven’t seen it cast yet, but in general temporary evasion isn’t worth a card. If our creatures are small, jumping two of them isn’t going to do enough, and if our creatures are big then we shouldn’t need to jump them in the first place.
If we were expecting a creature stall, it’d be a sweet way to jump our team for the win, but we should never really reach that point.
When we’re building a tight, sligh-like aggressive curve, a three drop has to have a ton of potential upside to be worth running. That said, Riptide Chimera has that potential. For a flyer, it’s stats are up there, and Theros block has a slew of cantripping auras at the common slot.
While not a heroic threat, I like this guy in the fast aggro shell. He only needs one or two permanent pump spells to start getting ridiculous.
Awesome, now white has a bit of competition for playable evasive herioc threats. It’s a bit of a stretch, but there’s a chance that putting people that want decently-costed fliers into blue might leave white more open in the later packs, and Akroan Skyguard and Wingsteed Rider might go a little later despite still being excellent cards.
Aspect of Gorgon
+1/+3 and deathtouch is basically evasion, as nothing is going to want to block the creature this enchants.
I wouldn’t pick this over a key threat, but I do think it’s better than, say, Feral Invocation.
This card is sweet. In Theros, the black heroic decks got a lot of cool support cards like Boon of Erebos and Scourgemark, but without a common heroic threat the times to go black were rare. Now, we can commit to black early and know the support cards will be there down the road.
The disruptive side of its ability is only going to matter when you’re in a race against another heroic deck, and a single 1/1 counter isn’t likely to matter there, but it’s not pointless either.
Like Aerial Formation, this card works best when you have a pile of mana and some naturally large creatures, more of a tool for fighting fast aggro.
The temporary buff isn’t enough to reliably push our creatures through in combat, so we don’t want it.
I love cards that do different things, as it gives the better player more options and the worse player more room to make mistakes.
Being a reasonably costed removal/pump spell, I expect this to be a great addition to any deck, though it’s a lousy heroic enabler since none of those creatures are enchantments.
This one even has heroic in the title!
It’s a little clunky for what we want to be doing, but it’s useful in combat and gives us something to do if we hit too many land drops. Overall I like it.
This guy is legitimately good in almost every archetype. It’s way better than a vanilla Grizzly Bears, as it can be that but also a pump for a one-drop or evasive dude while leaving value behind.
This card is fine. There are enough abilities to be relevant, and it should be striven on turn four a reasonable amount of the time, but because it’s a sorcery it’s competing with the Auras, the permanent buffs, more so than the combat tricks.
Born of the Gods Quick Hits
Back when Theros first came out I wrote a quick and dirty guide to drafting heroic, which I titled “breaking Theros Draft.” I stand by that title, as I truly believe it’s the most busted thing you can be doing in this format, and so long as you’re not competing with more than one person you can almost always get a reasonable deck since you’re not fighting people for cards. The conditions that make heroic rush a bad strategy are rarer than the conditions that let you cruise through all that stands in your way.
I never followed up with a Born of the Gods heroic primer because the archetype wasn’t force-able for a while. Now, we’re mostly familiar with the cards so a full analysis of the set doesn’t make sense, but I do want to touch on a few things.
Underpowered, 25th cards:
Overall, Born of the Gods has some powerful threats and enablers. Unfortunately, with the exception of Thunderous Might, none of our important cards are likely to go late at all.
Setessan Oathsworn is a fine common threat, though green in general is a little clunky for what we want to be doing. Mischief and Mayhem is still worth mentioning because that card tends to steal games.
Fortunately, the other two sets are deep enough that we can miss a few picks here and still end up fine.
Not that there aren’t weaknesses to this strategy. If the opponent can last until the midgame while preventing you from assembling voltron along the way, they can win by playing larger threats that stymie your aggression while also pressuring you so that you don’t have time to draw reach. Cheap removal into cards like Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Nylea’s Disciple, or Scholar of Athreos are the hardest draws to beat because those creatures are doing more than gumming up the ground—they’re also stabilizing the life total, effectively 2-for-1’ing you similar to cards like Kitchen Finks and Timely Reinforcements against aggro decks of old.
But it’s not like you’re cold to removal. Just this last weekend I got 5-for-1’d with a Scouring Sands, but the threats had already put in some damage and I was able to close out the game a few turns later thanks to a topdecked flyer.
You beat larger creatures by swarming, assembling voltron, or deploying some evasive threats.
Ideally, we’d have a list of only cheap heroic threats and enablers, but we’d need some awfully strange packs for that and for the most part filler is inevitable.
My general formula goes something like:
3-5 heroic threats.
6-10 filler threats, preferably hasty or evasive, hitting around 12 creatures total.
6-12 enablers, with Auras preferred to tricks because they lead to more busted starts.
2-7 filler spells made up of removal, bounce, and/or reach.
15-16 lands, with extreme cases ranging to 14 or 17.
Here’s an example:
Normally, I’m closer to 10-12 threats and cards like Loyal Pegasus and Sightless Brawler aren’t options for filler, but this list is a little high at 14. Plus, two of the 14 spit out more guys, reducing the chance that a Pegasus gets stranded by opposing removal.
At four mana, Akroan Mastiff costs a lot for a 15-land deck, but the ability to end of turn activate, untap, and activate again to hit two blockers shouldn’t be underestimated. Again, we have two ways of producing tokens, and forcing guys through is more important than usual.
Here’s another example:
This list could also get away with 15 land, but double firebreathing Auras combined with all that evasion means that I don’t mind an extra red source or two.
Two forms of repeated scry means that we’re less likely to flood than usual, too.
I also like that Riptide Chimera is in the first pack, allowing maximum time to build around him.