Today I’m going to talk a little about the Theros prerelease—the promo cards, the colors and how you should play. I’m going to do this through bullet points, so if you are in a hurry you can just read whatever is highlighted, but the explanation is below.
• The Path you choose is not so important. For the previous sets, my analysis was mainly based on which guild you should choose. I don’t think that’s as important with Theros, because you can basically pair a color with any other color.
In Gatecrash, for example, if you chose Boros, you’d get a [card]Foundry Champion[/card] and a pack full of red/white cards. If you then opened [card]Zegana, Prime Speaker[/card], or a lot of good Simic cards, you’d have a really hard time playing it with the stuff you got for choosing Boros—they were just not compatible.
Now if I play Theros and choose red, I’ll get the red promo and some red cards, and if I happen to open excellent blue, I’ll just go red/blue. As such, there is less pressure on opening cards that match your choice, which I think is a good thing.
We also have no idea what a “seeded booster” is. Sure, it’s skewed toward the color you’ve chosen, but how? How many cards of that color does it have? How about allied colors? Enemy colors? We don’t know that yet. What we do know is that there are cards of other colors, and that the only mythic you can open is the God.
• You will not lose as many games to mana flooding as you often do. Between scry, monstrosity, and bestow, playing 18 lands is almost mandatory. You have so much to do with your mana and scry to filter it later on that you can afford losing fewer games due to not having enough lands. I would say that some decks might even want 19 lands, though that is probably excessive. Few decks would want 17.
For the same reason, I’m more inclined to keep a hand with more lands than with few. If you keep a 5-lander, then you’re guaranteed to have things to do with your mana even if you flood out a bit, but if you keep a 2-lander you might be facing a bunch of 8/8s by the time you recover.
• Try to wait for bestow if you can, but don’t get locked into it. Bestow creatures are powerful because they have two modes; they let you play an early game card still have good enough late game, and they also let you play late game cards that provide some defense if you need a quick blocker. I would imagine that Sealed is slow enough that, most of the time, you get more mileage out of waiting two or three turns to then play your bestow card as an enchantment than you do running it on turns three-four, but you need to be careful not to put all your eggs in one basket. If you’re being overrun, then it doesn’t matter if your guy is now a 6/6, he can still only block one creature, and if he gets bounced or killed, then the 2/2 you get will probably not be enough to hold off.
As a general rule, I think the 2/2 bestow cards are less likely to make an impact in play, so you should hold them longer, whereas the 3/3 cards are strong enough that you might just run them out there sooner.
• Most decks—even the aggressive ones—will have some innate late game capability, due to monstrosity and bestow. This makes me think that you should either aim to kill them very quickly, or to go way over the top. There’s no middle ground. Your Sealed should be a fast deck—heroic, fliers, pumps—or a much slower deck.
If you decide to go midrange, then you will just be outclassed by other people’s monstrous cards, and you still run the risk of losing the middle-late game to an aggro deck because of monstrosity and bestow. You must either be quick enough that they can’t get their powerful cards in play, or powerful enough to overcome them.
• The removal in the set is very lackluster. This is what we have at common and uncommon:
Vanquish the Foul[/draft]
[draft]Sea God’s Revenge
Sip of Hemlock
Lash of the Whip
Rage of Purphoros[/draft]
[draft]Time to Feed
Fade Into Antiquity
Removal is not only expensive but very conditional. Some of it is great at killing small guys, and some of it kills big guys, but there is simply nothing like a [card]Doom Blade[/card]. After [card]Lightning Strike[/card], the quality drops enormously. At the same time, it’s very important to be able to kill certain creatures, because they will be enchanted, monstrous, or have heroic bonuses. This translates into a couple points:
• You should inflate the value of every removal spell when considering them for your deck. Cards like [card]Divine Verdict[/card] and [card]Voyage’s End[/card] are certainly not exciting, and [card]Vanquish the Foul[/card] is almost unplayable in the abstract, but in this Sealed format I think you have to just play all of them and be very happy about it. There will be too many big creatures and you can’t run the risk of not being able to kill one. If you need to play two Vanquish the Fouls, so be it. I would strongly lean toward a color that has more removal spells, even if those removal spells are bad.
• You should hold onto your removal spells until you absolutely need to use them. M14 was full of quality removal, to the point where you could just remove a bear to avoid taking 4 damage if you were so inclined. Do not do that in Theros. There will be many creatures worth killing and you need to make sure you have removal left to kill them. If you have to take 8 damage from a 2/2 to make sure you have a removal spell for their monstrous thing, it’s probably worth it. This is even more true when everyone gets a free Sealed bomb of their choice because of the seeded pack.
• Enchantment removal is maindeckable. With bestow, everyone is going to have enchantments. Not only that, but the bestow creatures are enchantments even if you play them as creatures, and some of the best rares are the Gods and their weapons. If you lack removal, feel free to maindeck one of the enchantment removal spells. [card]Annul[/card] is also a maindeckable card for the same reason.
• The color hosers are very good, but not maindeckable. The red one is the worst, but the other four are excellent if you happen to be playing against that certain color. Make sure you don’t forget to bring them in, because they might end up being the best card in your deck. Even then, they’re not good enough to maindeck when you don’t know what you’re facing.
• Devotion is not very important. Barring the five Gods, there is no card that rewards you enough for devotion that it’s worth making a suboptimal choice. You should not play a card you wouldn’t originally just because you have devotion cards that “combo” with it.
• Don’t play too many enchantments. If you have some heroic cards, you might be tempted to play all your enchantments and tricks, but don’t forget that you still need creatures and sometimes creatures die. You don’t want to be the guy with four combat tricks in your hand and nothing to cast them on. I would say that, as a general rule, the minimum I want is a 4:1 ratio of creatures and cards that need creatures—that is, I don’t want to play four enchantments/pump spells in a deck with less than 16 creatures (and here you can count bestow cards as creatures). I will be making an exception if I have a ton of heroic, but if I have 4-5 enchantments/tricks in my deck, then I can’t imagine having room for more than one or two other spells.
• Think before you scry. Scry is a very powerful mechanic—in the early game, scrying into a land could save you, and in the late game scrying away a land is basically the same as drawing a card. It is, however, reasonably complicated to use fully. In my experience, there are two camps:
1) People that tend to put the cards on the bottom too much. The reason for this is, I think, that when you keep the card on top, then you feel like you’ve wasted your scry. After all, it hasn’t done anything. If you put it on the bottom, then it’s doing something and it feels like you get more out of your cards. People also tend to overestimate the contents of their deck. They get enamored of their bombs and assume that their deck is “full of bombs,” so they scry down anything that is not one of those. I imagine most people are in this category.
2) People who settle for too little. Sometimes, you can’t work with average. You can’t even work with above average, you need the very best. In those situations, just put whatever else is on the bottom. There are two situations where you should generally not settle for anything other than the best—when you’re way behind and when you’re way ahead. When you’re way behind, then drawing average cards is not going to get you back in the game, so they don’t help. When you’re way ahead, you’re only going to lose if something disastrous happens, so you need to make sure you can win even if it does. A 3/3 is usually not going to help against their sequence of bomb rares, so, even if it’s an above-average creature for your deck, you’re better off without it.
The key is finding the balance of when you need something specific and when you just need for the card to not be a blank. The only way to do that is to evaluate the game state. If you need something, then don’t be afraid to dig for it, but don’t go around ditching every card just because you’ve got better stuff in your deck. A good general rule is “would I choose to discard this card to draw an extra card?” and if the answer is “no.” you should keep it. This is of course exactly what you are doing when you choose to scry, but we’re used to making the loot decision a lot more than we’re used to scrying.
Now, onto the colors:
White seems to be the most aggressive color in Theros—you have a decent number of 2-drops and aggressive heroic cards. If you have decent ways to trigger heroic, then you will probably be able to compete in the late game, but if you don’t then you will have to try for a quick win otherwise your cards will just fall off in power.
Though white is aggressive in general, it also has defensive cards, such as 0/4s for W and 1/4s for 2W. This makes me think you can pair white with any color and any strategy and it will generally have something to offer.
Some noteworthy cards:
[card]Leonin Snarecaster[/card]: This card seems better than usual to me, because it gets rid of a bestow creature. I can imagine a scenario in which your opponent plays a 3-drop, then enchants it with a bestow card with the certainty that he will have a blocker even if his original guy is dealt with, but then Leonin Snarecaster stops that completely.
[card]Divine Verdict[/card]: One of the best removal spells in the format—better if used defensively but it’s also fine aggressively.
The white promo, [card]Celestial Archon[/card], is the best of the bunch. Its body is big enough that if you are in trouble it will stop attackers cold on turn five, but the rewards for waiting are immense as you create a game-winning monster and then, if that is dealt with, you suddenly have another one. If I were to grade it in relation to the other promos, it’d be a 10 (very arbitrary, but just so I can give you an idea on the order I would rank them and by how much I think each is better than the other).
Blue seems to be in the business of fliers, as it usually is, which is great in a set with many enchantments. The bounce spells are better than usual due to monstrosity and the abundance of enchantments, and you also get some good cheap heroic enablers if you want to go UW. Blue aggro decks should be tempo-based, playing some cheap creatures and then getting rid of big blockers with bounces/tapping for enough time to kill them.
Cards of note:
[card]Voyage’s End[/card] and [card]Griptide[/card]: Again, bounce spells are better than usual.
[card]Vaporkin[/card]: This might be the best common 2-drop in the format. It trades with most other cheap fliers (and there aren’t many of those) and it is very good with all the enchantments, especially the Ordeals. Turn two Vaporkin, turn three [card]Ordeal of Thassa[/card] is a pretty solid start that not many decks are equipped to deal with.
[card]Triton Tactics[/card]: This is probably the best heroic enabler in the set. It’s cheap, hits two guys, and the benefits are significant—it’ll usually at least save your guy and tap theirs. It also untaps both your creatures, so you can sneak in some surprise blockers. I’m surprised this does so much for so little.
The blue promo, [card]Shipbreaker Kraken[/card], is the most powerful but the most expensive. It will realistically beat any board if you can untap with it and eight mana, and a 6/6 body for 6 goes a long way to making sure that you do reach that threshold. In a format with monstrosity and bestow, being able to get rid of any number of creatures (well, ok, just four) no matter how big they are is very valuable, and I think this card is better than it seems at first glance. If I were to grade it in relation to the other promos, it’d be a 7.
Black has the most removal in the set, though some of it is very conditional. Other than that, it doesn’t have much—all the creatures are somewhat underpowered if compared to similar creatures in other colors.
Cards of note:
[card]Pharika’s Cure[/card]: Though it doesn’t deal with monstrosity, it is cheap enough that you can usually foil heroic with it. Even if you’re just getting a bestow card, it’s a huge tempo swing.
[card]Viper’s Kiss[/card]: This won’t kill many things, but it will stop them from using monstrosity. I’d always play this card, especially when 2/5 of the opponents have access to a monstrous rare guaranteed.
[card]Insatiable Harpy[/card]: This card is better than it would normally be, since both flying and lifelink play awesomely with enchantments.
The black promo, [card]Abhorrent Overlord[/card], is very good. If you have BB worth of a board when you play it, then it should give you enough to make a powerful impact. If you can trigger it for six or more (which should not be hard on turn seven), then it wins the game singlehandedly. It’s not the best when you’re trading creatures, but it is the king of races and stalled boards. If I were to grade it in relation to the other promos, it’d be an 8.5.
Red seems fine, if not spectacular. it had enough early plays and tricks that you can play a quick deck if you have support for it, but it also has some removal and big monsters if you want to be slower.
Cards of note:
[card]Lightning Strike[/card]: The best common, a [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card] on steroids that is easier to cast.
[card]Arena Athlete[/card]: More powerful than it would normally be for the same reasons that apply to [card]Leonin Snarecaster[/card]. Potentially dangerous, since you can trigger him multiple times in a turn, and that’s conventionally going to be the turn in which all your guys are pumped.
[card]Coordinated Assault[/card]: A great heroic enabler. Watch out for this one when you double-block monstrous guys.
The red promo, Ember Swallower, is powerful but not consistent. 4/5 for 4 is a good body and the ability to grow is certainly great, so it’s always going to be one of the best cards in your deck, but it won’t do as much as the other promos when you’re in a losing spot. If you’re ahead, though, it’s going to put the nail in the coffin like no other card—it’ll make sure that they can never monstrous their guys to compete with your 7/8. If I were to grade it in relation to the other promos, it’d be a 5.5.
Green offers some solid bodies, as it always does, and some of the best rewards for heroic, though it doesn’t itself have the best heroic enablers. It offers some mana acceleration at both common and uncommon, which goes very well with some of the expensive monstrous cards from the other colors.
Cards of note:
[card]Nessian Courser[/card]: 3/3s for 3 are always good, but 3/3 is especially ahead of the curve in this format.
[card]Nessian Asp[/card]: Stops any creature cold on turn 5, often even if they have an enchantment on them, and provides a late-game mana sink. Seems like it’s going to be the king of the board any time you play it, which should give you time to monstrify it away.
[card]Sedge Scorpion[/card]: In a format of monsters and enchantments, making sure you can block and kill any creature is very good.
[draft]Anthousa, Setessan Hero[/draft]
The green promo, [card]Anthousa, Setessan Hero[/card], is the worst of the bunch. It’s certainly not bad, but I don’t think it’s as good as the other ones, as it doesn’t have immediate impact and, if you get to use the ability, it’s not even that good. Three extra blockers could be a life saver and three extra attackers could just kill them, but you need three untapped lands to do that, and in the late game three 2/2s aren’t even that good. If I were to grade it in relation to the other promos, it’d be a 4.
The colors seem relatively balanced, and all of them can be played aggressively or defensively, which makes me think all the color combinations are viable. I honestly can’t tell you which color is going to be the best—that depends too much on what you open since they, again, do seem very balanced. I chose blue for my prerelease because I don’t like losing to bombs, and having Lorthos Junior is going to make sure I have at least an answer in my pool, and I also want to play with counterspells and bounce, but you can realistically go in any direction.
I hope this was helpful, and good luck with your prerelease!