By Jason Parker
January 14, 2020
As some of you might know by now, I’m going to be running a livestream on Wednesday, January 15th. It will be over on Bottom Tier and will be a preview event for MTG Arena’s upcoming expansion, Theros Beyond Death. I’ll be playing for several hours and testing a variety of decks.
I’ll probably do some drafting if it’s available. I’m bad at drafts, but I want to give it a shot either way. I’m also going to have several decks crafted and ready to go! I’ve been doing some nosing around the internet for Theros Beyond Death decks that interest me. I’ve been doing some experimenting and considering some ways to take these and make some stuff I’m going to enjoy playing.
Some of them may not be fun for me, but I want to talk about a few interesting deck archetypes I will be playing in the event and maybe into the upcoming season. Some of these are wild, some of these are predictable and boring. But I do want to show off some of the things you can expect in MTG Arena’s upcoming expansion: Theros Beyond Death.
A classic Legacy deck is coming to Standard in a wild, annoying new way! That’s right; Sneak Attack is on the way to the Standard meta. Fun fact: That’s one of the two decks I ran in Legacy myself. One was Sneak Attack, and the other was RUG Hypergenesis (Sneak and Show).
Now, the actual Sneak Attack card isn’t in the game right now. But there are ways around it! You have Purphoros and Ilharg, the Raze Boar to make sure you get giant, annoying creatures into the deck to play them. The idea is to have a few ways to get mana ramped up and blast someone to bits before they know what hit them.
Do you know the best part of this deck? It’s incredibly flexible! You can put whatever giant creatures you want in the deck, if you have ways to put them into play. As another mana option, I opted to go for Fires of Invention. Not because it’s an “awesome ramp card,” but because it lets you cast without mana.
That lets you drop those beastly creatures for no mana, and still have some mana open for Purphoros’ special ability. For 3 mana (1 red), you can put a creature into play, and give it haste until end of turn. You sacrifice it at the end of the turn. So you tap 3, sneak attack someone into play, and beat them down.
I’m trying to find a way to slap Fling into this deck. You tap 3, put a 7/7 into play, and then tap another 2, and Fling them into your opponent for 7 damage after you attack with them. It could be a one-turn-kill, so to speak, if you play your cards right. But that’s not as reliable as merely battering people over and over.
It’s even better when you have Ilharg, the Raze Boar in play. That’s when you keep a Purphoros in hand, instead of playing him. So, here’s the deal, in nice, easy steps:
I wasn’t going to include Embercleave, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. I won’t put a 4-of in, but I want to put 1 or 2, just in case, you know. There are lots of ways to win with this deck, but that is personally my favorite. Ilharg lets you play the big creature, while still having mana open for an Embercleave or other options.
Runaway Steam-Kin: This card makes me angry just looking at it. It’s so strong, but I hate it so much. It’s a 2-drop that gains a +1/+1 counter every time you cast a red spell. You can remove 4 of them to gain 4 red mana until end of turn. I’ve seen more than one red deck use this to create violent loops where bigger and bigger creatures just start showing up. It’s a great card, and if nothing else, it is something for your opponents to aim at to distract them.
Purphoros, the Bronze Blooded: If your devotion to red is less than 5, it’s just an indestructible enchantment. But you can tap 3, as I said above, to sneak attack a creature into play. This is amazing when you need that early game 7 or 8 damage. I’ve also thought about putting Phoenixes into this deck. That way I can sneak attack them into play and keep bringing them back when I cast spells on my turn. I don’t know if it’s going to work, but it’s just some food for thought.
Merchant of the Vale: Throne of Eldraine brought some pretty fun cards to life. One of them is Merchant of the Vale. It works well with Thrill of Possibility to help you delve through your deck. Merchant of the Vale is one of the “draw a card/discard a card” cards. Pitch something, get something good! Maybe! It’s a way to get lands, or simply the right card in hand for a situation. Thrill of Possibility helps too, with “discard a card, draw 2 cards.”
4 Ilharg, the Raze-Boar
4 Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded
4 Runaway Steam-Kin
4 Thrill of Possibility
4 Merchant of the Vale
3 Cavalier of Flame
2 Fires of Invention
2 Drakuseth, Maw of Flames
1 Dragon Mage
1 Rakdos, the Showstopper
1 Storm’s Wrath
2 Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion
4 Irencrag Feat
This is an incredibly easy Theros Beyond Death deck to put together and use. It’s flexible too, so if you don’t have or want to use those creatures (the bigger ones), you can swap to whatever you need at the time. I’m not really sold on Rakdos, the Showstopper, though. It’s neat, but it could very much backfire on me, and I don’t want that.
But it’s not a hard deck to use. Cavalier of Flame is especially good to get on the board. You can use it to buff your creatures and give them haste. With the right mana ramp, you can do unruly things with him, then use Ilharg, the Raze Boar to bring yet another jerk to life. RDW will always be a staple, and here’s just another fun new way to use it.
What will put a stop to this deck? There are a few ways. Control certainly can. Heavy enchantments can slow them down too. It also needs some trample will be in order. This deck won’t do much good if it can’t trample past chump blockers, or if it only gets those early game mana ramps and nothing else. Otherwise, it’s weak. This deck relies on getting that tempo going pretty darn fast.
You may be asking “Blueish Devotion?” and I’d say “Shush, I’m explaining!” One of the best cards in Blue, in my opinion, is Thassa’s Oracle. I love the idea of mono-blue devotion, and self-mill and Thassa’s Oracle could make it much better.
Thassa’s Oracle can let me win without having to do much beyond ramp up mana and wait. One of the cards I really want to put in here is Midnight Clock though. The more I can mill myself by drawing cards, the better off I’ll feel. But this deck ramps mana in a fast, efficient way. You have two fun options, both of which are sure to make your opponent boil with literal anger. Few things make me happier than my opponent giving up when they have no more options. This will do it.
Another favored card of mine is Mass Manipulation. It’s fun, but man, is it hard to use sometimes! It’s incredibly expensive, so you must ramp for this and hope your opponent can’t counter it. If they can’t counter, you can just steal their important cards and use them to win. That’s only one way to win though.
The actual, reliable win-con is Thassa’s Oracle. When Thassa’s Oracle comes into play, you look at the top X cards of your library, where X is equal to your devotion to blue. You put one of them in your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library. But that’s not what makes it so great. If X is greater than or equal to the number of cards left in your deck, you win the game. So, you hold one, build an army of Cavaliers and Agents of Treachery. That’s why I want to put Midnight Clock in this deck. That would help you bring the card count down much faster.
Gadwick, the Wizened helps with that too. Once you have a ton of mana to spend, you can draw what you need. This deck needs a way not to have a maximum hand size, to make this fun, in my estimation. This one’s still very much a work in progress. I hope to have an article next week with an improved version.
Thassa’s Oracle: The longer the game goes on, the easier this is to win with. You want to load your board down with as much devotion as you possibly can. The best part about Thassa’s Oracle is that it’s not a legendary! That means you can have four on the board. If you decide to run clones you can make it even higher. You can also steal your opponent’s blue creatures/enchantments with Agent of Treachery to make certain you have enough devotion. When you play Thassa’s Oracle, you can look at more cards than are in your deck. If you do, you win! It can also be an anti-mill deck answer.
Nyx Lotus: Here you go, here’s the mana ramp you need. If Uro and Growth Spiral aren’t enough, Nyx Lotus is here to help. It lets you tap for X amount of mana, where X is equal to the number of the devotion you have of that color. So, for blue, this is an easy way to Mass Manipulation to start your thieving ways. This is a “blueish” deck. You run two cards (three if you count sideboard) that have green splashed in. Everything else is blue.
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath: Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is new, but it’s a fun one. This is one of your answers for life gain, card draw, and playing lands. Whenever Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath comes into play and/or attacks, you can draw a card, gain 3 life, and play an additional land. The downside? You must sacrifice it when it enters the battlefield unless it escapes. Its escape cost is steep, but it’s worth it. It’s 2 green, 2 blue, and exile five cards from your graveyard. And worst case, it’s strong enough to attack and defend in equal measures.
4 Growth Spiral
4 Thassa’s Oracle
4 Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
3 Gadwick, the Wizened
4 Brazen Borrower
3 Nyx Lotus
4 Cavalier of Gales
4 Mass Manipulation
4 Agent of Treachery
4 Castle Vantress
2 Labyrinth of Skophos
4 Fabled Passage
4 Breeding Pool
4 Temple of Mystery
4 Mystical Dispute
4 Aether Gust
3 Midnight Clock
4 Stern Dismissal
This one is slower and a bit riskier, but for me, that’s my kind of deck. I enjoy the style of mana ramp and surprise decks. This is one that I’m still working on, though. I might replace Brazen Borrower with Fae of Wishes. That way I can pull a card from the sideboard as I need it. It’s a similar cost, so it might balance itself out. This deck will surely infuriate people and cause them to quit. I probably won’t use it as much in the Early Access event for exactly that reason. I don’t want people to surrender, and that includes myself.
When the Gray Merchant of Asphodel came out, I was getting out of MTG again, at least in the physical form. I was playing more MTG Online. This was several years before MTG Arena came to be. I never thought I’d see this cool little guy again, but Gary’s Back!
He was a staple of mono-black devotion. The idea is that you flood the board with reasonable-cost devotion costs until you can start winning with Gray Merchant. This version of the deck uses Bolas’ Citadel to get them out faster. That means you will be paying with your life to get stuff in play faster. That’s okay because the Gray Merchant of Asphodel is here to make sure that no matter how much life you pay in, you’ll come out on top.
Likely, you won’t be using the Citadel’s “Sacrifice 10 permanents” ability, unless you need to secure the win that way. But it’s not a necessity. Likely, Gary will do it on their own.
This is a deck that has a lot of answers to problems. Need to make your opponent sacrifice? Priest of Forgotten Gods. Need a steady stream of life for that Bolas’ Citadel? Witch’s Oven and Cauldron Familiar. Ideally, you want to get a Bolas’ Citadel and Ayara, First of Locthwain, on the table. That way, if you have the Oven/Familiar combo in play, you have plenty of steady life to nickel and dime your opponent while you wait on the Gray Merchant.
He’s your real meal ticket. Sure, you can whittle your opponent’s down easy enough, but he’s your big money maker. The more devotion you have, the more life your opponent loses, and the more you gain. That just lets you play more stuff with the Citadel if you need to. That’s why I love the concept of this deck so much. It’s never over until the last card is played.
I’d also like to build a white/black version of this, to make it even more Aristocratic than ever before. More lifegain would be possible. I’d probably have to focus on having multi-colored cards so I can still stack black devotion. There’s a lot of options, and while Gray Merchant’s your big winner, it’s not your only option.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel: Surprised that this card is here? I doubt it. He’s a 2-drop for 5, and 2 of that must be black mana. On top of that, the Gray Merchant’s not legendary. You can play one, get just enough life to stay in the game, and get another one out a turn or two later to seal the deal. So, you get at least 2 life out of it, but the likelihood is that you’ll gain far more than that. If you already have the Citadel in play, that’s 5-life minimum. The longer the game goes on, the blacker permanents in play, the greater the odds you have of winning. Even if they have a Tiabalt in play to prevent you from gaining life, they’ll still lose it.
Citadel of Bolas: Citadel of Bolas is a card I mostly ran in Green/Black decks, thanks to the life gain and card draw I had in the deck already. But Mono-Black Citadel is going to be wild. With this 6-drop (3 black), you can look at the top card of your deck at any time. From there, you can choose to cast it by paying your life total, instead of tapping mana. Build up 10 black permanents, use Gray Merchant, and sac those permanents to make your opponent lose 10 life. Often, that’s going to be the ball game.
Nightmare Shepherd: This is one of my favorite cards of the entire expansion. If Nightmare Shepherd is in play, it’s a threat. It’s not a legendary either, so it also stacks. Here’s what makes this card such a threat with this deck. When a non-token creature dies, you create a 1/1 token that is a copy of it, that’s also a Nightmare. So, you play Gray Merchant, get the lifegain, use one of your sacrifice engines, and double-up! You can, in theory, use that to blast an opponent to pieces with a nice, easy combo with Nightmare Shepherd.
3 Murderous Rider (ELD) 97
4 Priest of Forgotten Gods (RNA) 83
3 Bolas’s Citadel (WAR) 79
20 Swamp (ELD) 258
3 Ayara, First of Locthwain (ELD) 75
4 Cauldron Familiar (ELD) 81
4 Castle Locthwain (ELD) 241
3 Lazotep Reaver (WAR) 96
4 Witch’s Oven (ELD) 237
Of the Theros Beyond Death decks, this may be the one I will be most successful with. That’s my theory anyway. I have yet to build a “Fires” deck for Theros Beyond Death. That’s something still very much in the works for me, other than slapping it into the Mono-Red Deck. It has plenty of ways to win, where your opponent doesn’t get a lot of say-so in the matter. However, it can lose very hard to heavy control and board wipe. This is a deck that very much relies on keeping a board full of black permanents. Failing to do so will mean you have to hope you can whittle them down with Oven+Cauldron Familiar.