I had the unique opportunity to play with the Theros Beyond Death cards in advance of their normal release. For a special event called the Team Series Finals, my teammates and I were given two formal practice days, before a heated competition against some of the very best players in the world. While it wasn’t enough to solve the format, it was enough for a good taste, and to develop some initial impressions. Here’s what we learned!
The Top Five Archetypes in THB
For our second time visiting Theros, it appears as though all ten color combinations will be perfectly viable. While each color and archetype has built-in synergies that you can tap into, you can also simply build a “normal” deck with emphasis on your creature curve and good removal. With the devotion mechanic, it’s possible to build mono-color or nearly-mono-color decks when the packs break your way. Splashing is also possible with reasonable fixing like Traveler’s Amulet and Altar of the Pantheon, although many-colored decks are probably most advisable when based in green.
That said, I’d like to highlight a few archetypes that I found to be particularly strong, and that I’ll be looking for in my first couple of Theros Beyond Death Drafts.
5. G/B Escape
Wow, big surprise that the first color combination Reid wants to talk about is Golgari! It’s true that these are colors I gravitate toward in most formats, but it’s also the case that they’re particularly appealing in THB.
Black strikes me as the best and deepest color, highlighted by three great removal spells at common (four if you count Mogis’s Favor), with all but one or two of the commons being solid, maindeckable cards. Green is nearly as deep—you have a color pair with tons of quality creatures to choose from, complemented by a little bit of removal and card advantage. As a bonus, green facilitates splashes in case you get a nice off-color rare, or wind up a little short on playables. There’s basically no fail-case when you draft Golgari!
Aside from being “safe,” what’s the upside of the G/B color pair? The primary theme is escape. So self-mill cards like Relentless Pursuit, Venomous Hierophant, and The Binding of the Titans can provide card advantage and dig you to your best threats. Your threats are resilient, and you won’t often be shut down by a couple of removal spells or a late-game mana flood.
4. W/G Auras
Another theme of green is constellation, which it shares with blue and white. Specifically, W/G is a great pairing to utilize Auras, with an aggressive suite of creatures tied together by Heliod’s Pilgrim and Siona, Captain of the Pyleas. Warbriar Blessing and Dreadful Apathy take out opposing creatures; Setessan Training cantrips; and Indomitable Will is a combat trick. This gives you a great toolbox of auras for most situations that might come up.
3. R/G Ferocious
The fact that G/B, W/G, and R/G all make my top 5 list is a testament to the depth and flexibility of the color green. The Gruul Ferocious archetype is about card quality and single threats that win games when they go unanswered.
The bread and butter start of turn-2 Ilysian Caryatid into turn-3 four-power 4-drop leads to a lot of easy wins. Keep an eye out for Furious Rise, which is a card advantage powerhouse for an archetype that often struggles in that department. It’ll be an especially important tool in Sealed Deck to help you overcome stalled boards.
2. U/B Control
I don’t find blue to be quite as deep as green, but I like the card quality and the play patterns just as much. Even more so than other formats, blue in THB is adept at passing the turn with mana open, giving you options for permission spells, removal, card draw, or flash creatures and making things as difficult as possible on the opponent.
Note that the escape mechanic presents a unique challenge for control decks, since you can’t afford to simply trade off multiple times against an Underworld Rage-Hound. Instead, you can utilize enchantment-based and exile-based removal such as Ichthyomorphosis and Final Death. Even better, you should emphasize early creatures that can block but not trade with the escape creatures. 4 and 5 toughness are key numbers in this format, and Riptide Turtle is quickly becoming a pet card of mine.
1. R/B Escape
Just like the G/B Escape archetype, the Rakdos color combination is outrageously deep in playables while having great removal spells and built-in card advantage. To this point, I’ve never seen a R/B Draft deck turn out badly in Theros Beyond Death.
Part of the appeal is the flexibility. You can do everything from hyper-aggressive decks with Infuriate and Impending Doom to controlling decks with Funeral Rites and Blight-Breath Catoblepas. You can build around the escape mechanic with Venomous Hierophant to fuel you. Or you can dip into the sacrifice sub-theme by pairing Soulreaper and Slaughter-Priest of Mogis with Discordant Piper and Careless Celebrant.
The Top Commons in THB
So there’s a sneak peak of what some of the Theros Beyond Death Limited archetypes might look like. Once you sink your teeth in, your color preferences probably won’t be an exact match for mine, but hopefully this will give you a good starting place.
Meanwhile, what about actually drafting them? How do you get into these archetypes, and what cards should you consider first-picks or signals? Below will be my top three commons for each color.
Note that this is my ranking for pack-one pick-one, and you should deviate from them later in the Draft based on your specific archetype and what your deck is missing.
#3 Revoke Existence
Revoke Existence is great in Theros Beyond Death, with nearly half of the good creatures incidentally being enchantments. It’s not quite like a Doom Blade or a Lightning Bolt where you’ll play as many as you can get. Your first piece of enchantment removal should be a high pick, however, and should always make your maindeck. I’ll usually maindeck two, and might even play three if I got them, although by that point I’m no longer prioritizing them in the Draft.
Note that Revoke Existence is less important in W/G where you also have access to Return to Nature and Mystic Repeal. I could see rating Heliod’s Pilgrim, Karametra’s Blessing, and the 2-drop creatures equal to Revoke Existence depending on the circumstances.
#2 Daybreak Chimera
A powerful flying creature that’s good in multiples and has little downside. This is one of the appeals of drafting a heavy-white deck. The dream start of turn-2 Daxos, Blessed by the Sun into turn-3 Daybreak Chimera will win a lot of games.
#1 Dreadful Apathy
A clean removal spell that circumvents escape and triggers constellation. You can search for it with Heliod’s Pilgrim, and you can turn your Flicker of Fates into Final Deaths by flickering Dreadful Apathy with its ability on the stack. This is one of the best commons in Theros, bar none.
#3 Stern Dismissal
I almost never like bounce spells in Limited, but even I’m a believer in Stern Dismissal. In a format heavily centered on Auras, a 1-mana bounce spell can be a huge blowout. In particular, Warbriar Blessing and Iroas’s Blessing are “removal spell Auras” that often need to be played precombat, into your open mana. Stern Dismissal is a perfect answer.
When traditional removal spells are only temporary answers against escape creatures, sometimes the raw efficiency of Stern Dismissal will be exactly what you need.
I always play my first copy, and would play two in an aggressive deck that was short on other removal.
#2 Deny the Divine
Blue is excellent at passing with mana open, which makes it a cinch to line up Deny the Divine against your opponents’ best threats. It hits non-creature enchantments, and exiles to stop escape. Note that using the escape ability involves casting the card, so Deny the Divine can absolutely counter something being played out of the graveyard.
#1 Thirst for Meaning
They don’t make’em like this anymore. Thirst for Meaning is cheap, digs deep, and can even provide card advantage without too much trouble. On top of all of that, it’s an instant and plays perfectly with the main strategy of the color blue. This is the card that makes your control decks tick.
#3 Blight-Breath Catoblepas
6 mana is a little pricey, but Ravenous Chupacabra is a bargain at any price. Black has other good removal, which helps you slow down the game long enough for Catoblepas to enter the fray.
In a low-curve, aggressive deck, you might prefer Underworld Charger as #3 instead.
#2 Final Death
Similarly, Final Death isn’t exactly “efficient,” but in a format with escape and Auras, an unconditional exile is as good as gold. At single black, you can sometimes even splash this into your green decks.
#1 Mire’s Grasp
If efficiency is what you want, Mire’s Grasp will be for you. I think I’d rather have one each of Grasp and Final Death rather than two copies of either one. However, I ranked Mire’s Grasp higher because of its combos with constellation, Heliod’s Pilgrim, and Hateful Eidolon.
#3 Iroas’s Blessing
It’s a bad feeling when your opponent curves out into Iroas’s Blessing. They kill your blocker while boosting their own creature, and they might even have constellation triggers or Auras-matter cards to pair with it.
The upside of this card is an extremely punishing removal spell. The only reason I haven’t ranked it even higher is the fail case of not sticking a creature when you need it, or your opponent being ready with the Stern Dismissal blowout.
#2 Omen of the Forge
Omen of the Forge is a clean, no-risk removal spell, and similarly comes with the constellation upside. Later on, you can cash it in to scry, or use it for one of the many sacrifice abilities in red. However, it’s not quite as punishing as Iroas’s Blessing, and since it can’t kill the biggest creatures, you don’t really need to draft four or five copies.
#1 Underworld Rage-Hound
It’s strange to rank a creature over removal spells, but Underworld Rage-Hound is exactly what your aggressive decks want, and I believe that you should be putting a premium on them during the Draft. It’s a hard-hitting 2-drop creature that your opponent is really pressured to trade with, but then it comes back even bigger at an affordable cost!
Note that while it must attack each turn if able, Underworld Rage-Hound can block, which often means that your opponent is forced to pump the breaks on any turn you cast it or escape it.
#3 Ilysian Caryatid
I love this card, and with my affinity for drafting R/G and B/G “monsters” decks, I might personally take it even higher than #3. However, while it’s always solid, Ilysian Caryatid isn’t essential to the low-curve aggro decks like W/G Auras. It’s at its best when you have lots of cards that cost 4 and 5 mana, and lots of creatures with 4 power to help enable the Sol Ring effect. On top of everything, this also fixes your colors and facilitates splashes!
#2 Voracious Typhon
What’s not to like? An efficiently costed monster that fits perfectly in both R/G Ferocious and B/G Escape. Voracious Typhon is a premium creature in any deck.
In one of my first Sealeds on MTG Arena, I opened four Voracious Typhon and steamrolled to a 7-1 record, despite not having any flashy rares. I hope to have that experience as often as I can in THB Limited!
#1 Warbriar Blessing
Much like Dreadful Apathy, Warbriar Blessing is an efficient removal spell that meshes perfectly with all of the enchantment and Aura synergies in the format. It’s not merely a Prey Upon either, since the +0/+2 makes it hard to lose the fight, and hard for the opponent to block your creature later on.
This card is amazing, but note that it loses value when your creature base is weaker. Having multiple Warbriar Blessings with too few cheap creatures can get you into trouble. Instead, it’s at its absolute best in aggressive W/G Auras decks.
I hope that’s given you a rough picture of what Theros Beyond Death Limited has to offer. Now you can get out there with a head start, before you develop your own color preferences and pick orders.