Theros Beyond Death Brawl Review

Hello everyone! Welcome to the first article for The Brawl Project in 2020 and welcome to the first ever preview season edition of this column! Today we’re going to be looking at all of the mythic rares revealed for Theros Beyond Death and how well they will fit in our current Brawl format, as well as what some of their best applications might be (spoiler alert: I’m excited to play with all of them).

Before we get started, just a quick reminder that ArenaBrawl.net lets you find Brawl opponents 24/7 for free. Brawl is awesome, but the fact that we don’t have a permanent Brawl queue on MTG Arena is not. So, until we get a permanent version of the Brawlidays (which hopefully won’t cost 10K gold to enter), Harjit and Andrew have put together a website where everybody can enjoy Brawl, any time, for free.

On to the previews!

Heliod, Sun-Crowned

Heliod, Sun-Crowned - Showcase

I am thrilled for Heliod, Sun-Crowned, as we have some support for “triggers when gains life” but not quite enough to make a deck out of it. Furthermore, most of the pieces for that type of synergy are creatures and thus weak to sweepers, which Heliod is not. Some notable cards for the strategy include Linden, the Steadfast Queen (which triggers for each attacker!), Ajani, Strength of the Pride, and Dawn of Hope, which are all powerful but haven’t made a big splash yet in Brawl. Angel of Vitality and Twinblade Paladin are another couple of cards that support the life gain theme, but the cards just aren’t there to make it all work. I could see Heliod making it as a commander as a difficult-to-remove permanent, animated by cards like Divine Visitation that also survive sweepers, paired with cards like Single Combat or Realm-Cloaked Giant to clear the way for big swings.

It’s also good to see that they’re pushing Heliod by making him the cheapest of the mono-color Gods, as white really needs the help. We still have a long way to go to catch up to green, but it’s a start.

Thassa, Deep-Dwelling

Thassa, Deep-Dwelling

People love their blink effects, and Thassa, Deep-Dwelling is content to sit around, blinking a creature every turn for free, and then maybe attacking once the game goes very late. It helps that blue has two of the most powerful “enters the battlefield” triggers on creatures right now in Agent of Treachery and Scholar of the Ages. Other creatures that will often find themselves as targets for Thassa’s ability include Meteor Golem, Dream Eater, and Fblthp, the Lost. However, the abundance of these effects in mono-blue is not that great, and I suspect Thassa will find more play in a supporting role for other commanders such as Chulane, Teller of Tales or Yarok, the Desecrated. Adding the extra colors gives Thassa access to creatures such as Burglar Rat, Cavalier of Night, Cavalier of Thorns, Risen Reef, and Golgari Findbroker.

Erebos, Bleak-Hearted

Erebos, Bleak-Hearted - Showcase

At first look, Erebos, Bleak-Hearted doesn’t seem that different from God-Eternal Bontu, though I’ve definitely learned first-hand about the limitations of not being indestructible and sacrificing a bunch of permanents willingly. That’s not to mention that Erebos costs 1 less, which usually does a lot for a card’s playability.

Need I say it? This card is insane with the CatOven combo, but that happens a lot less often in Brawl where you can only play one copy of each card. That said, there is a ton of fodder in black for Erebos (Burglar Rat, Yarok’s Fenlurker, Orzhov Enforcer, Dreadhorde Invasion, Sanitarium Skeleton), and a ton of ways to sacrifice said fodder (Bone Splinters, Spark Harvest, Plaguecrafter). Finally, Ayara, First of Locthwain looks to be perfectly suited to Erebos, providing devotion, life gain, and a way to sacrifice creatures.

The big limiting factor here if you’re looking to make Erebos your commander is life total—between Cauldron of Eternity, Midnight Reaper, Command the Dreadhorde, and this, there are tons of ways of doing powerful effects but only so much life to go around. Murderous Rider and Cavalier of Night both have lifelink, Witch’s Oven provides a steady source of Food (that you have to pay mana for), but outside of that there aren’t easy repeatable effects to gain life. We’ll see if we get something good to enable this in Theros Beyond Death, but if not this strategy might just be a little too risky.

Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded

Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded

I know what you’re thinking, and no, this isn’t Sneak Attack. I’ve been having a lot of fun with my Ilharg, the Raze-Boar deck, and honestly I feel that Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded compares unfavorably to Ilharg. Unless you’re putting together a lethal attack the turn that you activate Purphoros, you’re paying a lot of mana to make a temporary impact on the battlefield which is sacrificed instead of returned to your hand. The one big advantage you get is that you pick up attack triggers, so Drakuseth, Maw of Flames works well with Purphoros but not Ilharg. I would also like to point out that you could be walking into the absolute biggest blowout of the century if you activate Purphoros twice, then it gets removed pre-combat (Unsummon works!). Your creatures lose haste and then die at the end of the turn. Try not to let that happen!

Some cards that don’t care so much about dying that you can put in with Purphoros include Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion, Cavalier of Flame, and Dragon Mage. There’s also a new, “why isn’t this card in booster packs” card Terror of Mount Velus, which can help assemble a lethal attack in one turn with Purphuros. I’ll definitely be trying it out, but I expect to favor Ilharg with Crashing Drawbridge.

Nylea, Keen-Eyed

Nylea, Keen-Eyed - Showcase

Nylea, Keen-Eyed is… fine? But not anywhere close to the power of green cards it will compete against during its time in Brawl. Green has big creatures already, absurd ways to ramp in Circuitous Route, Cavalier of Thorns, and Nissa, Who Shakes the World, and even an enchantment that sticks around and draws cards in Guardian Project. Nylea’s activation is only roughly 50% to draw a card in even the most creature-saturated decks, and it is going to feel really bad when it misses. Furthermore, there aren’t many specific strategies Nylea supports to go deep with. I don’t see this card being a superstar, but it can slot into just about any green deck and be… fine?

Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis

Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis

I’ve thought more and more of my initial evaluation of Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis, and I just think that I’m evaluating her on an outdated curve. Brawl is all about tempo and development and big swingy effects that paying 4 mana for two Soldiers and 3 loyalty just doesn’t cut it in this day and age. More often than not there aren’t shortages of “things to do” with mana, which is where the recursion on Elspeth’s escape shines. She is very good with Divine Visitation, but white needs more Divine Visitation effects that are very powerful, and not more effects that make one of their best cards even better.

Ox of Agonas

Ox of Agonas

Ox of Agonas is a perplexing one. It’s behind the curve at face value—5 mana for a 4/2 with no abilities that help in on the battlefield is not a great rate—but it’s not outrageous to think of spots where it is one of nine cards in your graveyard and its escape cost is a steal. Red also has a few ways of enabling these situations. Cavalier of Flame, Thrill of Possibility, Glint-Horn Buccaneer, Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion, and Dragon Mage are all ways to stock up the graveyard and enable to Ox’s escape. My guess is the best application of this card is atop the curve of an aggressively slanted deck that empty its hand out quickly, then doesn’t have to worry about having about discarding its hand when the Ox enters the battlefield. I think this card is probably busted, but I’m also very unsure. I can’t wait to try it out and see exactly how well it works.

One more note—all this consideration of the escape mechanic has made me realize that ways to cast creatures from graveyards is very exciting with Experimental Frenzy and Fires of Invention.

Athreos, Shroud-Veiled

Athreos, Shroud-Veiled - Buy-a-Box Promo

This is pretty a pretty exciting one! Athreos, Shroud-Veiled won’t let you steal other commanders (unless your opponents choose to let you), but it’s not hard to conceive of a deck that plays tons of instant speed removal, waits until the end step to get the coin counter, then immediately fire off a Murder variant to steal the creature you targeted with the coin. At 6 mana this is definitely expensive to get going, and I don’t expect hitting the 7 loyalty to turn Athreos into a creature to be easy, but the dream is easy to imagine and boy is it alluring. Just off the top of my head, some cards that will pair well with this include Mortify, Price of Fame, Murderous Rider, Eat to Extinction, Despark, and Final Payment.

I don’t expect Athreos to be at the leading edge of cutthroat competition, but it should amount to some good fun.

Ashiok, Nightmare Muse

Ashiok, Nightmare Muse

I suspect that Ashiok, Nightmare Muse is not going to be great when played normally. Ashiok’s -3 ability on an expensive permanent is fine, sure, but is mostly the same as Teferi, Time Raveler’s ability except it costs 2 more mana. The plus side for this is that it can hit planeswalkers which, while useful, wasn’t something Teferi felt was lacking most of the time. The planeswalker already got at least one shot at a loyalty ability and will get another when it gets played again, so bouncing it isn’t the biggest deal. Ashiok does get to churn out 2/3s with their +1, but that compares unfavorably to the +1 abilities from some other five-mana planeswalkers like Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God or Ral, Izzet Viceroy. It feels like the ultimate of Ashiok is going to be hard to build toward, and the other abilities require too much of an investment to be worth it.

All that said, can you imagine pairing Ashiok and The Elderspell on the same turn and using the ultimate immediately? That sounds amazing! Lead off a game with Ashiok, Dream Render to put tons of card in exile, then pick and choose the best three of the bunch. I’ll definitely be trying this!

Polukranos, Unchained

Polukranos, Unchained

Dredge is (admittedly a mistake of a mechanic but) one of the most fun ways to play Magic, and any card that looks like it can point me toward a Golgari deck that puts tons of cards in its graveyard then start deploying those to the battlefield has my attention. Right now we really don’t have great enablers for this type of strategy (there’s Glowspore Shaman, Cavalier of Thorns, and uhhhhhhh yep that’s about it) but Polukranos, Unchained joins the ranks of Izoni, Thousand-Eyed and Molderhulk as really cool cards that never got to shine because they never had the proper support. Hopefully when we see the full Theros Beyond Death card image gallery we will have the tools to build a sweet deck.

The idea of Polukranos as a commander isn’t the most inspiring—it probably isn’t bad but it’s also not very exciting. I expect the Zombie Hydra to make its way into decks looking for that big recursive threat, maybe with Vraska, Golgari Queen or Garruk, Cursed Huntsman at the helm.

Klothys, God of Destiny

Klothys, God of Destiny

A big part of Klothys, God of Destiny’s power is going to come from how easy it is to ramp consistently with it. Having a commander that consistently enables plays like a turn 5 Cavalier of Thorns or Nissa, Who Shakes the World is very powerful, but traditionally finding lands in graveyards on a consistent basis is difficult outside of formats with fetchlands. We have Evolving Wilds and Fabled Passage, but without a fair amount of help I don’t expect Klothys to be making mana more than half the time.

Of course, Klothys could just be very powerful in a world that doesn’t care about its ramp anyway. If you have a curve that goes turn-two Ember Hauler, turn-three Klothys, turn-four Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, you get to attack for ten damage while the Ember Hauler and Kothys both threaten to do another four damage each without attacking. I think that’s more a testament to how strong Torbran is than anything, but with an aggressive slant and the passive gravehate/Sulfuric Vortex aspect of Klothys’ ability, a deck that can keep sending Klothys in the red zone can knock down a life total quickly.

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

I don’t know if there is more than just one camp with regards to this card, but for the record I’m definitely in the camp of “Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is a busted card.” I… am honestly kind of lost for words with this one. You get to draw a card every time you resolve it. You get to draw a card every time you attack with it. It’s no secret that I think Golos, Tireless Pilgrim should be banned from Brawl because it ramps a player then threatens to take over a game if they get to untap, and this feels very similar. I would normally say cards with recursion shouldn’t be commanders because the recursion from the command zone is wasted, but if I’m playing an Uro deck I probably just want to play this on turn three every game to hit 5 mana faster.

It gains life, too?!?!? Every turn!

sigh…

Okay, well I may as well share what I expect to be the best application of this card in Brawl, even if I don’t love it. Uro’s your commander. You play Uro on turn three, then, you go *deep breath* counterspell counterspell counterspell counterspell counterspell counterspell counterspell counterspell *normal breathing* until you can cast Uro from the graveyard, draw an additional card each turn and gain life to pull away with the game. The ideal Uro deck has something like 20 counterspells, 29 lands, 9 removal spells, and one Jace, Wielder of Mysteries to win the game when you run out of cards.

At least it does something about the Golos, Tireless Pilgrim problem.

Kiora Bests the Sea God

Kiora Bests the Sea God

Finally we get to the last revealed mythic rare at the time of this writing, and it’s an interesting saga. I expect that Kiora Bests the Sea God is pretty similar to Agent of Treachery, one of the top blue cards in the format, though your opponent can still use their problematic permanent for a turn, and two if it’s a planeswalker. For your troubles you get an 8/8 hexproof token, which is an ability that tends to be pretty annoying for opponents. There doesn’t seem to be any big synergies to work with here, just some good old fashioned value attached to a seven-mana spell.

I think Agent of Treachery is better, but not by a ton, and you only get one copy. I look forward to playing with this one and finding out!

Next week we’ll be taking a look at the non-mythics that I’m excited to play with from Theros Beyond Death! Got any favorites? Let me know (again, via Twitter) and I can be sure to include them as part of my article next week. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

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