By Jason Parker
January 17, 2020
With a new set for MTGA, that means it’s time to look at drafts and limited for Theros! Next week, I’ll be looking more at constructed decks. Today though, the focus is on the set as a whole. There are new mechanics to explore, new cards to shake up the meta, and power cards for drafting.
Now personally, drafting is what I do the least in MTG. I feel more comfortable having a deck I put together, instead of relying on cracking packs and hoping I can pick up something good. That’s just me, though. With Theros: Beyond Death will likely mean plenty of awesome drafts. This set is amazing.
Limited is a style of play that only uses one expansion, so that’s the most common way to draft in MTG Arena. So today, I’m going to also look at what my favorite cards are for potential power in Theros: Beyond Death.
With a new set comes new and old mechanics! This set has a mighty new mechanic and several fun ones from the original Theros block. That ultimately makes all of these systems, save Sagas, new to MTG Arena.
The style of play for color combinations are all unique, but the actual mechanics are not. So, let’s focus on these first.
Sagas came back in a pretty huge way. Sagas are a style of enchantment that grow in power over the turns. When a Saga comes into play, it receives a Lore counter, and each of your additional turns it will receive another. When it hits its final power, you sacrifice the Saga, receive that ability or power, and then it goes to the graveyard. Ten Sagas came with Theros: Beyond Death, 2 per color.
Each has its own lore aspects, and each color has an Uncommon Saga. Blue has a Mythic Rare (Kiora Bests the Sea), and the other colors have a Rare as an addition. As a note, Kiora Bests the Sea may be one of the best cards in this whole set. It gives you an 8/8 Kraken, taps all an opponent’s nonland permanents, and then steals a permanent your opponent controls (and untaps it).
Devotion was new in the original Theros block, but it’s back. Devotion is best-used in aggressive ways on top of that. It’s a powerful mechanic, built around devotion to a color. For each non-land permanent, you control, count up its color symbols in the casting cost. That total number is your devotion. This goes for all the colors in play that you control.
The Gods all have a devotion requirement to become a creature; otherwise, they’re an enchantment and can be dealt with as such. There are creatures that adjust their power and toughness built on your total devotion to a color or colors as well. If I had to pick a favorite devotion card, it’s easily Gary. The Gray Merchant of Asphodel deals damage and gives you life based on your devotion to black. It’s a part of a terrifying combo, that, in the right setting can give you a one-turn KO.
There are 13 cards in this set with Constellation, and that’s before the rest of the block comes out. That’s a pretty significant number, especially when you consider they’re only in White, Blue, and Green. One of the most significant parts of this expansion are Enchantments. Well, you might ask “How many cards in this expansion are enchantments? It can’t be that many!”
And I’d say “You’re wrong!” as I tend to do! 95 cards in this expansion are Enchantments or Enchantment Creatures. So what’s so great about Constellations? Cards with Constellation offer a buff or useful effect whenever an enchantment comes into play under your control. I imagine the other colors will see Constellation effects in the coming parts of this block.
There are some really fascinating abilities too, like the Protean Thaumaturge. Whenever an enchantment comes into play, you can have the Protean Thaumaturge become a copy of another target creature. It doesn’t specify whether or not it’s your creature, so there are a lot of fun possibilities with that particular Constellation card.
22 cards in this set have Escape! Technically, they all can, if you’re running Underworld Breach. Underworld Breach gives all cards in your graveyard for that turn Escape. It also overrides their previous Escape cost, if it had one. Escape is a. . . interesting mechanic, I’ll say. It is based on having cards in the graveyard. As long as you have the mana and the cards to exile, cards with Escape can come back.
There is a whole wealth of creatures that their strength improves when they escape. Polukranos, Unchained, and the two new Titans are just a few of the examples. In fact, Titans are sacrificed when they come into play unless you used Escape. Now, those Titans still get to activate their abilities before they disappear into the grave. You can only use Escape costs when you could play a Sorcery. The way to stop this effect is pretty simple: Exile your opponent’s graveyard! There are plenty of options for that, especially in Blue and Black.
The way I look at Drafting, the best aggressive decks win out. Control is neat in all formats, but it’s so hard to build a great Control deck in this mode. Now, there are great control cards in the MTG Arena Theros draft scene: usually creature removal. Spot removal is strong. If you can stop a player from build up their army, you can just blitz them with your own.
It’s also important to note that it’s not always Rares/Mythic Rares that are the best in Draft. Sure, there are tons of great ones. But common/uncommons can rule the roost with the right deck. No two draft decks are likely to look the same, after all. It will be even more competitive when MTG Arena finally puts in 8-player human drafts. Right now, you draft cards against NPCs.
White is all about gaining life; that’s never going to change. White has a ton of ways to gain life on the cheap, and so you won’t run out of ways to do that here. Now, in Draft, you don’t have to worry about Ajani’s Pridemate. There’s a combo in regular MTGA where you can use Heliod and Daxos to gain absolutely ridiculous amounts of +1/+1 tokens for your Pridemates for doing just about nothing. When combined with Ajani, Strength of the Pride, it can spell doom. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss.
What are, in my estimation, some of the best White cards to draft? Well, I’m glad you asked! White is great alone, but I think it’s just as good paired with Red or Blue, for a number of fun synergies.
Daxos, Blessed by the Sun (Uncommon): For a 2-drop (2 white), Daxos has some serious upside. He’s a 2/*, where * is the number of devotion to White. The more you put into play, the harder he is to kill. But on top of that, whenever a creature you control enters the battlefield or dies, you gain 1 life. If by some miracle, you can also get Heliod, you can do some serious damage. Heliod gives +1/+1 tokens to creatures or enchantments you control when you gain life. If that’s not enough, he can also give lifelink. You don’t need Heliod to make Daxos a beast, but he’s in general, a strong pick.
Dreadful Apathy (Common): Pacifism is a staple of Mono-White decks. Pacifism cards prevent a creature from attacking or blocking. They still get to use their special effects and abilities though. This one, in particular, is a banger. For 3 mana (1 white) you can lock down a creature so it can’t attack or block. But Dreadful Apathy goes a step further. For 3 mana (1 white), you can exile the afflicted creature. Dreadful Apathy is a god-killer. For indestructible creatures, you have to either reduce it to a */0, or exile it. That’s where Dreadful Apathy really stands out.
Revoke Existence (Common): Revoke Existence is a great sideboard card in normal matches. It exiles an enchantment or artifact for 2 mana (1-white). However, consider how many enchantments are in this set. Revoke Existence can exile those Enchantment Creatures! That’s right, for 2 mana, you can bop a god out of existence. They’re all Legendary Enchantment Creatures. Revoke Existence has #value.
Reverent Hoplite (Uncommon): 5 mana may seem like a lot, but when you have board advantage, this card really stands tall. Reverent Hoplite is a ½ for 4 (1 white) that grants you X amount of 1/1 Human Soldier tokens, based on your Devotion to white. So this one only has real value if you’re in the lead. But it’s still a very fun card, especially if you can give them lifelink or indestructible.
Black is in a very good place right now. It’s best paired with, in my opinion, green. Combine that board control of black with the mighty creatures of green, and you have a real force of nature. If you’ll pardon the pun.
There are multi-colored cards for that color pair of course, but you don’t really need them to be a threat in casual games. Black Devotion is super strong right now, and could still, in theory, be strong in the MTG Arena Theros draft. I think you’re better off pairing it with blue, green or red though.
Mire’s Grasp/Mogis’ Grasp (Common): For its casting cost, Mire’s Grasp is the best black common in this expansion. For 2 mana (1 black), the enchanted creature receives -3/-3. That not only weakens a creature, it can also give you black devotion. As long as the creature stays on the board it does, anyway. Don’t be afraid to use this to flat kill a creature either.
I was torn though because Mogis’ Grasp does something similar. Mogis’ Grasp is a 1-drop (1 black) that grants +2/-1 to a creature. It can still kill a 1/1, or you can use it on one of your creatures to buff them. But that’s not what makes it so fun. Mogis’ Grasp has Escape (3 mana – 1 black + exile two cards from your graveyard). I wasn’t sure which to pick, so I chose both! Don’t judge me.
Underworld Dreams (Uncommon): Underworld Dreams is a long-time favorite of mine. One of my first decks was built around this card. It’s a 3-cost (3 black), so it’s probably only going to be in mostly black decks. The positive side, that’s 3 devotion that punishes your opponents every time they draw a card. There is a ton of card draw in this set too. With Underworld Dreams, if you control the board, you control the game. If you can get enough creatures on the board to defend, you can simply wait someone out until they draw themself to death.
Elspeth’s Nightmare (Uncommon): The first saga I picked for Theros draft! Elspeth’s Nightmare is a black Saga for 3 (1 black), with incredible power in all aspects of MTG Arena. It’s a 3-part Saga. The first part destroys an opponent’s creature with 2 or less power. The second part lets you look at your opponent’s hand. You choose a noncreature, nonland card and they discard it. The final part is anti-escape: Exile target opponent’s graveyard. That means they can’t escape their Polukranos, or whatever giant dorks they have.
Nightmare Shepherd (Rare): Nightmare Shepherd is frankly one of my favorite cards in this entire set. It’s a 4/4 flyer for 4 (2 black), with an insanely strong passive ability. Whenever a nontoken creature you control dies, you can opt to exile it instead.
If you do, it returns into play as a 1/1 token, that has its abilities and creature typing, except it’s also a Nightmare. If you can manage a mono-black devo draft, you can Gray Merchant, sac it somehow, and get it back for one more lifegain/damage. Plus it’s a 4/4 flyer, so it’s already great on its own. You can do a lot with that ability since it doesn’t require it to be a black creature. I can see you making a white/black draft with Nightmare Shepherd for some absolutely mean combos.
Thirst for Meaning (Common): Thirst for Meaning is another “favorite cards in the block) for me. An instant that can potentially be a better Divination? Divination is a 2-card draw for 3 mana (1 blue). Thirst for meaning has the same cost, but lets you draw 3 cards. But, you have to discard two cards, unless you discard an enchantment.
So keep one on hand, and save yourself a card. This is better if it’s an enchantment with escape. That could be great when paired with black for card retrieval too. Card draw is so strong in any format, and since it’s an instant, you don’t have to burn the mana on your turn. It’s just a solid card draw.
Whirlwind Denial (Uncommon): Oh. My. Lanta. Whirlwind Denial is basically AOE counter. For each spell and ability your opponent’s control, counter it unless its controller pays 4 (colorless) mana per ability or spell. This is especially useful when there are lots of cards on the stack. If you run out of hope, pop this and it will counter everything your foe is using. I can only imagine that this can also be used to stop planeswalker abilities. So, your opponent goes for their ultimate on a planeswalker and is tapped out? Put the kibosh on it!
Witness of Tomorrows (Common): Out of the mono-colored creatures in Blue, only one of them really stands out as “worth it” to me. But not in the MTG Arena Theros draft. There aren’t enough Krakens, Octopuses, et cetera for Serpent of Yawning Depths to really be a ground-breaker. So Witness of Tomorrows it is! They’re expensive, at a 5-drop (1 blue). But it’s a ¾ flyer, that can let you scry 1 for 4 mana (1 blue). That Scry is why I picked it, besides being a solid flyer. It’s not an amazing card, but it can be a pretty good mid-game threat.
Sweet Oblivion (Uncommon): Sweet Oblivion is what I’d call an “honorable mention”. It’s very hard to do things like Mill in draft, but Sweet Oblivion can make that happen. Combine this with Thassa’s Oracle, and you can self-mill in the Theros Draft. Sweet Oblivion is a 2-drop that has a player put the top four of their cards in the graveyard. It’s a self mill with ESCAPE. For 4 mana and exiling 4 other cards, you can cast it again. Mill down your deck, pop Thassa’s Oracle, and win the game.
Oh, Red. When will you ever cease to be powerful? Let me tell you, it’s not going to be this set, that’s for certain. It has a ridiculous amount of powerful creatures, strong enchantments, and a plethora of direct damage options for creatures and planeswalkers. Some fan-favorites also made comebacks with timely reprints.
Both Thrill of Possibility and Infuriate both got reprints, so they receive honorable mentions. Infuriate gives +3/+2 until end of turn for 1 red mana, and Thrill of Possibility is a discard and draw engine for 2 mana (1 red). But what’s new and terrifying?
Underworld Fires (Uncommon): Sweet, sweet area-of-effect damage. For 2 mana (1 red), you can grind those pesky white and black decks to a halt. It deals 1 damage to each creature and each planeswalker. It hurts you too, but it’s a fantastic answer when you don’t have anything useful on the board yet.
On top of that, if a creature would die this way, exile it instead. So it can stop escape options very quickly. If you pop other damage afterward, that’s a great way to make sure something gets exiled. For 2 mana, there’s a lot of value in this Sorcery. All I could ask for is wish it would be at Instant speed.
Final Flare (Common): FINAL… FLAAAAAAAASH! It had to be said, and I’m not sorry about it. So, Final Flare is a little expensive for a red instant. While it’s only 3 mana (1 red), it also requires you to sacrifice an enchantment or creature. Here’s something to consider: You have a creature that’s about to die, but you don’t want it to die in combat.
During the blocking phase, before the damage, tap 3 and drop Final Flare. Sacrifice that Underworld Rage-Hound next. Final Flare deals 5 damage to a target creature. I’d also use it on enchantments that need a new target. Should you also have a Storm Herald around and need the enchantments for one more turn, you can bring them back temporarily at least.
Wrap in Flames (Common): One of the downsides to lots of red creatures, is they have plenty of strength and almost no life. If you have a ton of mana for example, you can combine this with Purphoros’ Intervention to make a huge Elemental. Wrap in Flames deals 1 damage to up to 3 target creatures. Those creatures can’t block this turn. Wrap in Flames is the card to use when you know you can swing lethal, but those pesky creatures are in the way. Bop them, use Purphoros’ Intervention to make an Elemental creature. It can also force your opponent to block with a key creature or lose.
Blood Aspirant (Uncommon): Speaking of “needing unblockable damage”, enter Blood Aspirant! This is a 2-drop (1 red), and a Satyr Berserker. It comes in as a 1/1, but it will grow if they let him. Whenever you sacrifice a permanent (for any reason), it gains +1/+1.
You can also tap 2 (1 red), tap Blood Aspirant, and sacrifice an enchantment or creature. You then deal 1 damage to a target creature. That creature can’t block this turn. In non-draft builds, this is going to be a monster, especially in Jund Sacrifice. But in draft, it can make a strong start a lethal one.
Green is arguably the strongest color right now. Even in the Theros draft setting, it’s hella strong. Mana ramp, big creatures, and much more await the Green-mana connoisseur. You can mana ramp, and make your enchantments/creatures uncounterable. Want that awesome Nissa power to turn lands into creatures, but you’re drafting? That’s no longer an issue.
You can do so much with Green, so let’s get started.
Illysian Caratid (Common): One of the best parts of playing green is being able to mana ramp. Illysian Caratid is a 2-drop (1 green), that can be tapped for 1 mana of any color. That’s good on its own, but if you have a 4-power creature or higher, it’s 2 mana of any color! Do you know how easy it is to get a 4 power creature in Green? Loathesome Chimera is a 4/1 for 3, as an example. Or you can use the next card to have a more reliable source of strength.
Hydra’s Growth (Uncommon): Hydra’s Growth is stronger the more +1/+1 counters you have on the target. You can use it on a creature without them and it will still be valuable. Why? This 3-drop enchantment gives a creature a +1/+1 token. Each of your upkeeps, you double the number of +1/+1 tokens on that creature. I’d like to see this used in a White/Green deck. Bounce this enchantment back off, to give it a new target if the game is prolonged.
The longer this goes on, the better it is. If you can give the creature Trample (Hello, Shadowspear!) and/or Lifelink (Shadowspear again, hello!), you can absolutely batter someone with a single creature. Give this to an Ironscale Hydra and cackle as it’s no longer able to be defeated in battle. That Hydra is a 5/5 that receives a +1/+1 counter when it would be dealt damage. The damage gets prevented on top of that! Can you even imagine what kind of silly damage that would do?
Renata, Called to the Hunt (Uncommon): I tell you, these Uncommon Legendary Enchantment creatures are vile. Renata, Called to the Hunt is definitely up there. She’s a 4-drop 0/3 (2 green), whose power is based on your devotion to green. The odds of this being your only creature on the board (or permanent) is very unlikely. Each other creature you control receives an additional +1/+1 counter on it when it enters the battlefield. Hello, Hydra’s Growth!
Klothys’s Design (Uncommon): Are you, or someone you know tired of not having creatures strong enough to win fights? Do you have a ton of green permanents in play, with creatures that have trample? Looking to absolutely clobber a frontline with a host of really big, beefy creatures, but yours aren’t quite beefy enough? Klothys’s Design is the card for you!
For 6 mana (1 green), your creatures gain +X/+X until end of turn. X is equal to the devotion you have to green. The more you have, the more frustrating this will be. It’s not granting trample, so you’re on your own, there. But I love the card as a potential game-winner.
Most of the multi-colored cards of value are Rare or Mythic Rare. That means it’s going to be pretty darn hard to get them in a draft. So I’m going to focus on the multi-colored and colorless cards that are not quite so hard-to-get.
Slaughter Priest of Mogis (Uncommon, Red/Black): Oh, Slaughter-Priest. Here’s a fun one for non-draft settings too. A 2/2 for 2 (1 black 1 red), it gains +2/+0 until end of turn whenever you sacrifice a permanent.
On top of that, you can tap 2 colorless and sacrifice a creature or enchantment. If you do, Slaughter-Priest of Mogis gains First Strike until end of turn. Now all he needs is, say it with me, TRAMPLE! It’s incredibly easy to get a sacrifice engine outside of limited, but even in draft it’s not as hard as you might think.
Siona, Captain of the Pyleas (Uncommon, White/Green): Just what white/green needs, more “here, let’s make a bunch of jerk soldier tokens” engines. So that’s what Siona, Captain of the Pyleas does! When she comes into play, you look at the top 7 cards of your deck and put an Aura card from among them into your hand. The rest go on the bottom of your library. Whenever an Aura becomes attached to a creature you control, you create a 1/1 human soldier token that is w hite. With Flicker of Fate, you can do some truly unreasonable things here. Outside of the MTG Arena Theros draft, all you need is Divine Visitation to turn those 1/1s into 4/4s. Lambs into Lions, so to speak.
Shadowspear (Mythic Rare, Colorless): Now, I know I said I wanted to focus on non Rare/Mythic Rares. But Shadowspear is far, far, far too good to ignore. It’s a 1-drop artifact that only takes 2 colorless mana to equip. Equipping it gives the creature +1/+1, Trample and Lifelink. Is that not good enough? Need a little more spice in your sauce?
You can tap 2 colorless to remove your opponent’s Indestructibility and Hexproof until end of turn. Yeah, it kills gods, it kills everything. So slap that bad boy on any creature you care about. Something that can’t be blocked or something with First Strike immediately spring to mind. It’s cheap and colorless, so it honestly can go into any deck you see fit.
What about you? What are your favorite cards in the MTG Arena Theros draft? We’d love to know!