Today I’m going to talk a bit about things that occurred to me during the Theros prerelease—some key concepts that I think are worth mentioning so people don’t repeat the same mistakes, and some cards that underperformed or overperformed based on my expectations.
You are not in a rush to pump your heroic creatures.
Throughout the tournament, I saw many people pump their heroic guys as early as they had the chance to. It makes sense, kind of. If you pump them early, you get to use the benefit for longer. The problem is that this turns your tricks into auras, and auras are bad, while tricks are good. You would not play an aura that cost B, gave your guy +1/+1 and 2 extra damage this turn, so don’t go around casting that the first opportunity you have. Most of the time, heroic should be a bonus, not the reason you are playing your spells (though there are exceptions of course). Next time you think about targeting your guy with a combat trick, consider whether that trick is not more valuable if you use it to win a fight by surprise in a future turn, and chances are that it will be.
You can use removal spells on your own guys to trigger heroic.
Sometimes all you need is to trigger that [card]Tormented Hero[/card], and there are more ways to do that than by pumping him—you can just kill him. You can even kill him twice, one in response to the other, getting both triggers if you so desire. I saw many people at the prerelease who had the opportunity to target their own heroic guys with removal spells for big blowouts but failed to do so. Any removal spell works, especially in the case of guys like [card]Tormented Hero[/card], but [card]Pharika’s Curse[/card] and [card]Last Breath[/card] are the best, since they usually won’t kill your guy in the process. Last Breath is especially cool because, if the guy you target grows in power because of heroic, then the Last Breath will be countered on resolution and you won’t lose your creature.
Don’t activate monstrosity just because you can.
Here, again, the key word is patience. In fact, if I had to choose a word to describe how to succeed in this format, it would be patience. Over the course of the tournament, I saw many occasions in which a player didn’t have to activate monstrosity, but chose to and then got blown up by instant speed removal. There was a game, for example, in which I was constrained on mana and my opponent had [card]Keepsake Gorgon[/card]—as soon as he hit seven mana, he immediately used monstrosity, so I could bounce it and on my turn play a six-drop. If he just passes the turn, either I bounce it anyway and lose a creature, or I just can’t play my six-drop.
On another occasion, my opponent drew his eighth land and immediately used monstrosity on [card]Shipbreaker Kraken[/card], and the same thing happened—it got bounced. Had he waited to do it on my turn, then he would have had a 6/6 in play for one extra turn and that would have made all the difference. I think we get too focused on what our game plan is, and we forget that our opponent is playing too. Your opponent is not just a brick wall, he is going to have responses to what you do, so you should try to minimize the damage in case he has something as common as a bounce spell.
Try to play your scry spells later in the game.
Scry is a mechanic that gets much better the later in the game it is, because you know what you need (and it’s generally not lands). When you play a scry spell on turn three and you see your fifth land there, what do you do? You actually have no idea how important that fifth land is to you, it’s too early to judge that—maybe the top five cards of your deck is all lands, but maybe there are no lands. If you already have six lands, though, then you know that you don’t need a seventh, and you effectively draw a card.
For this reason, you should hold your scry cards for as long as you can afford to. I see people rushing to play them because they want perfect curves and they want to apply pressure in the early game, but that’s not very likely to work. I watched a game in which a player had two [card]Lightning Strike[/card]s and a [card]Voyage’s End[/card] in hand, and his opponent played a 3/2 creature. At the end of the turn, the guy pondered which of the two spells he was going to use to get rid of it, and he chose the bounce spell—he wanted to scry 1. Why did he so desperately want to scry 1? Because he had no play for the following turn. They say “nature abhors a vacuum,” and I think so do Magic players—we have to feel like we’re doing something, we can’t waste our turns doing nothing. So, when we see that nothing is going to happen, we try to make it happen—but that is generally worse than just waiting. If I have two cards that cost exactly the same and do exactly the same, but one has scry 1, unless I’m looking for something specific (a land or a particular spell) then I’m always going to cast the one without scry in the early game, because scry is more valuable late.
Read the FAQ.
As a general rule, I always read the FAQ/Release Notes for every set before the prerelease and so should you. With Theros this is especially important, since some of the mechanics are actually quite complicated, and you don’t want to have to find out that you can’t [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] their bestow aura in the middle of the game. Of course, reading the FAQ won’t always prevent you from making mistakes—I still misunderstood one aspect of bestow despite reading that particular entrance twice and being generally knowledgeable about Magic rules—but it is definitely going to be helpful.
Even if you think you have nothing to learn from the FAQ, you should probably read it—you might be surprised. Don’t believe me? Well, take, for example, [card]Daxos of Meletis[/card]. Did you know that you actually cannot play lands from it? Well, you can’t. I originally assumed you could, since that is how [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] works, but the two wordings are different. [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] lets you play their cards, whereas Daxos lets you cast them, and you don’t cast lands. Most people don’t notice the difference, because it’s not something you’re actually looking for when you read the card, so most people have no idea that what they’re doing (or what their opponents are doing) is actually not legal. I think that, if I hadn’t read the FAQ, I wouldn’t know up to this day that you aren’t able to steal lands with it—I might have been building Constructed decks with this guy right now under the assumption that you could do that. So, read the FAQ!
Now, some cards that I feel overperformed or underperformed based on my initial evaluation:
Originally, I thought [card]Annul[/card] was going to be pretty good. The set has a lot of powerful enchantments and artifacts, and countering them for only one mana seemed like a good deal. Though Annul is certainly still a playable card, I no longer think it’s very good—I will play it in the main deck, but I won’t get super excited by it. The main issue is that counterspells are already conditional cards, and adding an extra condition to it makes it so that a lot of the time you just can’t cast it. A card like [card]Naturalize[/card] is different—for it to be good, they have to have drawn their artifacts/enchantments at some point, and Naturalize effects are good in the main deck in this format.
With Annul, on the other hand, drawing their specific cards isn’t enough—they have to draw them and cast them while you have Annul, blue mana, and a willingness to cast it. And then you get a 1-for-1. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s worth it, because the average card that you counter is less impactful than I would like it to be. It’s different, for example, from [card]Dispel[/card] in Return to Ravnica—countering a [card]Chorus of Might[/card], an [card]Explosive Impact[/card], or a [card]Rootborn Defenses[/card] was the difference between winning and losing. It had few targets, sure, but those targets were so important that they were worth the wait. In Theros, you have many targets, but “getting” their [card]Ordeal of Thassa[/card] is not going to take you very far.
[card]Spark Jolt[/card]: Underperformed
The problem [card]Spark Jolt[/card] has is similar to the one Annul has—not many targets and the targets you get are not worth the wasted card when you don’t happen to find one. Sure, it has scry, so it gives you some “value,” but you want this card in the early game and in the early game scry is not that good. One could argue that having scry 1 makes it useful later on, when 1 damage isn’t, and that is certainly true, but I don’t think it’s useful enough. I think the only common I want to kill with it is [card]Vaporkin[/card] and if they don’t have that then I would rather just not have it in my deck.
As I was building my Sealed deck, I considered cutting [card]Omenspeaker[/card] from it. It’s not a very impactful card and I didn’t feel like I needed it. That would have been a very bad mistake, because the card was actually very good. Being a 1/3 it stops most early rushes, and the ability makes it useful later, when a 1/3 guy for 2 would have been horrible. It’s sort of like a Spark Jolt, except it does a much better job of killing early guys and it’s over twice as good in the late game. Due to monstrosity and bestow, sometimes all you need is a blocker for their big guy and this provides it, whereas Spark Jolt would not.
[card]Voyage’s End[/card]: Overperformed
I knew this card was going to be good when I went in to the prerelease, but I had no idea how good. I had two of them and I always wanted to draw both in the middle-late game. Since things cost so much, Voyage’s End offers a huge tempo swing while often breaking parity in cards, because you either scry a land to the bottom or you get rid of an enchantment. It’s also very important that Voyage’s End (and [card]Griptide[/card]) gives you security—you know you can execute your game plan, because a big monstrous or bestow guy is not going to come and ruin your day, and that is very important.
[draft]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/draft]
[card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card]: Overperformed
I always thought this card was good, but it’s even better than I imagined. It’s not hard to get three or four “devotions” in play and by that point this guy drains for a fourth of their starting life total or more. When you have multiples they get just silly, often killing your opponent out of nowhere from 12 life or so. I still maintain that it is not worth playing a worse card just to power devotion (i.e. I’ll play a 3/4 for 3B over a 3/3 for 2BB), but I am now picking those guys earlier than I otherwise would.
[draft]ordeal of thassa
ordeal of purphoros
ordeal of nylea
ordeal of erebos
ordeal of heliod[/draft]
I saw a lot of those in play, against me and against other people, and they were just never impressive. Sure, if they work the payoff is sweet, but, as far as enchant creatures go, they’re just below the level we’re used to. Take a card like [card]Mark of the Vampire[/card]—if it survives for a couple turns, it’s a huge swing. With an Ordeal, if you get one attack in, it’s a whole one extra damage—sometimes not even enough to enable you to attack past their blocker. And God forbid you need to defend with it. That, coupled with the fact that everyone is going to play all their bounce in this format, and even some maindeck enchantment removal, makes me think those generally won’t be good (though there are exceptions, of course—in some very fast heroic decks they could be great).
[card]Satyr Piper[/card]: Underperformed
I started this guy in my maindeck, but I quickly removed him. He’s going to be awesome some games (when you have a guy that is just bigger than theirs and can eat them one by one, for example), but overall he is just too expensive and too conditional for me. I wouldn’t say he is horrible, but I was not happy with him and I would not be happy to maindeck him in most decks.
[card]Akroan Crusader[/card]: Underperformed
Ok, Underperformed is a lie—it performed at exactly expectation, meaning that it is indeed as bad as I thought it would be. The reason I include him here is that I saw multiple people playing with him, and even playing certain targeted spells because they had him. This guy is just not good—he’s very small and the tokens are not enough of an upside to enchant him. Unless you are severely lacking for targets, I’d stay away.
Well, that’s about what I have for today. I hope you can make use of these tips for your release event this weekend!
See you soon,