I’ve decided I hate creatures.
More specifically, I’ve realized that each and every set release, the least interesting parts of the spoiler for me are the creatures, and I’m instead drawn to all the new and exciting ways to kill them than I am in their shiny new abilities. This is kind of an issue. With the majority of interaction in modern Magic revolving around the red zone, rather than the stack, a poor Johnny has little to work with when it comes to ignoring the board and killing the opponent directly.
Theros has me befuddled, because it seems to simultaneously be more about board presence and less about creatures than any set in recent memory. I’m struggling to make heads or tails of the set, and it has me concerned as the prerelease approaches.
The God cards in Theros epitomize my confusion, as they’re all essentially unkillable callbacks to sweet old enchantments, but at the same time are [card]Hidden Gibbons[/card].
[card]Thassa, God of the Sea[/card], while being the cheapest mana cost of the group has no immediate impact on the board, which is probably fine since you’re looking to land her asap. The static ability of [card]Darksteel Pendant[/card]-ing on your upkeep is reasonable, and though I can’t imagine too many decks are going to be interested in her activated ability, it does allow your blue deck to get aggressive when you want it to—which is good, because blue decks are known for their aggressive strategies and high permanent counts. They probably could have pushed the envelope with her a bit more, perhaps an activated ability that’s more in line with the things you’d want to be doing in a non-Merfolk blue deck—even if she is the Goddess of the Sea. Something tells me that if she had the third dent in her bident, we’d be seeing a little more oomf.
I’ve heard people mention that they think [card]Heliod, God of the Sun[/card] is the weakest of the Gods, but I can’t really understand why. Have they never played with [card]Mobilization[/card]? Heliod seems like the most straightforward, perhaps, but definitely not the weakest of the bunch. I would imagine there will be UW control decks now viable because they just want to use Heliod as a win condition, never actually planning to make him a creature at any point. An indestructible token generator that makes 1 power for 2 mana (but you have to use it twice) is not the flashiest win condition ever, but it’s about as good a rate as you’d get these days for a control deck, and it gives you an inevitability that isn’t trumped by many things in the format right now. He seems sweet to me, and as far as the GodWalkers go, I’m more interested in toying around with Heliod than any of the others.
[card]Erebos, God of the Dead[/card] is easily the coolest of the Gods, but is probably not the best by a wide margin. I didn’t discuss him in last week’s article about mono-black control because I think there’s a good chance that most decks interested in paying life for cards would prefer to play [card]Underworld Connections[/card] or [card]Read the Bones[/card] instead, but the idea of an immortal 5/7 [card]Greed[/card] is alluring.
Plus, I was playing Shandalar this week, and I was in the Black Castle where the opponents all start with a Greed in play, and it reminded me of how sick that card was. Even a fixed [card]Necropotence[/card] is pretty good, and though I think there’s a wide line between Erebos and Greed, you’re still drawing a bunch of cards over the course of a few turns. The biggest hurdle I see with Erebos is simply the speed of the format. With the number of 2-power creatures for one mana, the pace of Standard could be blistering, and I don’t know that you’ll be capable of trading two mana and 2 life for a card in most decks.
[card]Purphoros, God of the Forge[/card] is the God most people are calling the best of the bunch, and for good reason. With the largest direct impact on the board, and a hole in the red deck where [card]Hellrider[/card] used to be, Purpleose slides into a niche like he was built specifically for it.
The power of the card is apparent right in the text box, so I don’t have a lot to offer on this guy. I’m confident that I’m going to do a lot of dying to Pupperoni here over the course of the next year, and I can’t say I’m all that excited about it.
My vote for least interesting of the bunch goes to [card]Nylea, God of the Hunt[/card]. She’s pretty much just your run-of-the-mill, generic green doofus, with a bunch of abilities that are as Timmy as they get. In fact, we’re so used to seeing big, plodding green fatties with static abilities that I’m not even impressed that she’s indestructible. If the two abilities had been reversed, and she had a static double anthem, with the ability to grant trample, we’d be singing a different tune. And she’d have a chance of seeing Constructed play. As it is, I can’t imagine a situation where I’d want to play this over any of the other green fat that they fill the rare slot with these days.
If you can’t see the proof of my opening statements in my assessment of these guys, you aren’t getting my point. It’s no coincidence that the guys I’m most interested in out of the God cycle are the ones that act a lot less like creatures, and a lot more like spells.
So if the creatures (regardless of how good they are) don’t interest me, there has to be something in the set that does—because I’m still pretty excited about Theros overall. And the set has plenty to offer to someone like me, even if we have to be a little more reserved in our excitement to find it.
The latest Elspeth has me interested, but I’m not over the moon. I’m viewing her as a 6-mana wrath with an upside, but she isn’t even really that. Her plus ability is WAY better than the [card elspeth, knight-errant]first Elspeth’s[/card] token-making ability, but you’re playing her two turns behind EKE, which is a big difference for certain.
It is literally the same ability as [card]Elspeth Tirel[/card]’s minus ability, where you’re paying one mana for the reverse impact to the ‘walker—which is well worth the cost to continue to churn out hordes of tokens each turn. When it comes to Armies-in-a-Can, ESC is one of the best we’ve seen to date, and she protects herself better than any other ‘walker I can think of, either taking out all the big threats on the table or gumming up the ground with chump blockers.
What I don’t like about her, specifically in this set, is that her -3 has no impact on the cards you’re really going to want to kill—the Gods. I get the flavor of planeswalkers not being capable of killing a God, but let’s be honest—when it comes to actual gameplay, you’re going to be frustrated that your 6-mana investment into a mythic rare can’t solve the three-mana 5/5 your opponent played on turn 3.
That’s not a feel-good interaction, and it’s the biggest reservation I have with ESC.
Of course, if that’s the only issue I have with her, she’s still pretty busted.
I really like the dynamic of this card. You’re rewarded for playing it in a deck that has a bunch of creatures, because it’s an anthem, and then rewarded again for forcing the opponent into a race, as the activated ability doesn’t work as well when you’re blocking. It seems like a fantastic way to stonewall a midrange mirror. Unfortunately, it’s also a great way to discourage your opponent from attacking, which subsequently makes it more difficult for you to attack, as well. I like how well it works in conjunction with Heliod himself (surprise), because your dudes become 3/2s, and you can send them in with impunity, knowing you can either reload when they die or punish the opponent for the swing-back. While this card isn’t really my style, I think it’s great overall.
I just wonder how we got from 2 mana for this effect at instant speed with cycling ([card]Radiant’s Judgment[/card]) to 6 mana for a sorcery that doesn’t quite draw a card. I mean, for half that cost we had [card]Retribution of the Meek[/card], that killed ALL 4+ power creatures, with no regeneration even. It seems SO overcosted that I just can’t get my head around it.
Bacon Wave is particularly interesting to me in a format where [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card] is legal (which I guess is all of them right now, but you get the idea). While a two-card Wrath of Hog isn’t particularly impressive persay, it is a reasonable answer to all of the Gods for 3 mana, as well as a totally serviceable sweeper for decks that aren’t playing white. I think this card, in conjunction with [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card] and [card]Opportunity[/card], open up the options for control decks beyond the UWx decks we’re used to seeing. They still may be the best of the bunch, but you aren’t restricted to only those colors, nor are you punished greatly for diverging.
In the vein of “Why does this card cost so much now,” we have [card]Grasp of Darkness[/card] for a mere three more mana. Is the going rate of exchange between colorless and colored mana a 4:1 ratio? I was under the impression it was more like 2:1, at least based on the [card]Reaper King[/card] principle.
This is the best [card]Divination[/card] we’ve had in a while. It’s like a slightly hazy [card]Foresee[/card], without the perfect artwork/flavor, but at a little less mana. I imagine that most non-blue decks that can access this card will consider running it, and eventually cut it right near the end of deckbuilding. Which is a shame, because it’s a powerful effect and fantastic deck selection at a rate we haven’t seen much of recently. Sure, we had [card]Sign in Blood[/card], but if we’re using the 2:1 mana exchange rate, we actually get to scry 2 for free!
Much like the [card]Spear of Helios[/card], the Whip is possibly better than the God that wields it. As far as combo applications in the set, they begin and end with the Whip, giving us a realistic replacement for [card]Unburial Rites[/card] as it rotates. While not exactly on the same level as Rites, the Whip rewards you for a different kind of reanimation. It’s the difference between [card]Reanimate[/card] and [card]Shallow Grave[/card]. Some would say that the cheaper, permanent effect is better (and often they’d be right), but there are definite applications for the other that work where the permanent effect does not.
The most obvious Whipplications are with creatures that already exile themselves, like [card obzedat, ghost council]Obzedat[/card] and [card]Aetherling[/card]. I think it’s probably fine to consider these the upper echelon of creatures you can Whip into play, but there are certainly other options of note:[draft]Borborygmos Enraged
Lord of the Void
Rakdos, Lord of Riots
Sire of Insanity
Sphinx of the Chimes
Some of these options are more appealing than others, of course. A few of them have enters-the-battlefield effects that reward you for cheating them into play. Some of them have interesting impacts when given haste. Some of them find their way into the graveyard with ease, making it less work to get them where you want. Some of them enable other more powerful cards, and punch for damage in the meantime.
While the Reanimator deck as we know it is probably gone (at least in the short term), there are definitely a plethora of options to change the dynamics of the deck and focus on a new, combo-oriented style of Reanimator.
It’s close, but I think Anger wins for the title of “Card Adam is Most Excited About from Theros.” I don’t really like losing to little dudes, and I don’t always want to play wrath—or sometimes, turn four is just too slow. Having a new [card]Slagstorm[/card] is going to significantly change the dynamics of the format, and push the hyper-aggressive decks into a more resilient direction. The last time we had a 3-mana sweeper, the format was tainted by the presence of [card valakut, the molten pinnacle]Valakut[/card], but now without it and [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] in the format, we may be able to avoid falling into the, “I don’t need to do anything but play lands and kill your guys to win” trap. Much like I discussed with [card curse of the swine]Hamnation[/card] above, opening the removal suite to non-white spells allows for new combinations in control, creating a viable UR or URx shell.
If there’s a Reanimator deck that’s viable after the rotation of [card]Mulch[/card] and [card]Unburial Rites[/card], this will likely be a part of it. It isn’t quite [card]Grisly Salvage[/card], but it does allow you to find the Whip with your dig spell, which is something Salvage can’t do.
This is the second best [card]Divination[/card] in the set. I really like this card, and having it at one mana makes me feel like it may see play, unlike similar variants on the theme that have come before.
There are a number of cards I’ve left off this list, most of which have seen a significant amount of discussion across a number of sites and articles. I don’t have a lot to add to the discussion of [card]Steam Augury[/card] that hasn’t already been covered in depth by players like Chapin who basically wrote a dissertation on the card. These are merely the spells that strike my interest that have either flown under the radar screen, struck me as odd, or have me salivating in anticipation of brews. I’m looking forward to a fresh Standard as we go out with the old and busted and in with the new hotness, and can’t believe we’ve finally arrived at the Greek mythology set. It’s taken way, way too long.
Good luck at your prerelease!
PS – If you follow me on Twitter, you’re likely aware that I have a passion for music. It’s the common thread that connects me with my non-Magic circle of friends, and a huge part of my life. To that end, I’ve recently started a music blog where some of those muggle friends and I will be posting reviews and suggestions, at NightmaresandSoundscapes.wordpress.com. If you’re interested in what I’m listening to, check it out and add it to your RSS feed!