MTG Theros Beyond Death Mechanics Explained: Saga, Enchantments, More

by in Magic: The Gathering Arena | Feb, 25th 2020

It is an important time for Magic: The Gathering as the Theros Beyond Death expansion is out now. Players can check out the very first card set of the new year and decade, making this one to remember. It released digitally and physically on January 24.

MTG Theros Beyond Death Old and Expanded Mechanics

MTG Theros Beyond Death is a hyped expansion and a curious one, after the excellent Throne of Eldraine last year. The card set was so amazing (and a little broken at times). It made players in the community wonder if the next one could even match its greatness.

Thankfully, Theros Beyond Death is out now and we can confirm that it, too, is a solid expansion. While not nearly as groundbreaking or broken as Throne of Eldraine, the standardized good card set moves the game forward in several ways.

There is a total of 254 cards in this set, which isn’t the biggest but not super small either. The set contains five basic lands, 101 common cards, 80 uncommons, 53 races and 15 mythic rares. While not exceptionally large, Theros Beyond Death is rather streamlined.

It knows what it is here to do. It does it well without filling the set with too many cards or filler ones that have no real purpose to them. Though it doesn’t bring too many new mechanics to the beloved card game, it does bring back some fan favorites and improve upon them.

Saga cards are back in MTG, offering the story-driven experience that players like. Enchantments got expanded upon in some interesting ways. There are also a few new planeswalkers and mechanics in the form of the escape and devotion keywords.

We are going to go over these so that the newest and most lapsed players can jump right in with Theros Beyond Death. Let’s get started.

What Are MTG Saga Cards?

Kicking off the list is what we believe to be the most important addition to the latest MTG card set in the form of the Saga cards. We haven’t seen these types of cards for quite a long time. They make a triumphant return in MTG Theros Beyond Death.

For those who have never seen or played with these before, Saga cards are uniquely created to tell a story of sorts. Mostly themed around Greek mythology, you are likely to find cards reminiscent of classic tales like The Odyssey.

Saga cards tell you a story over several turns. In doing so, they shape the battlefield in interesting ways. Each Saga card typically has three to four phases to it, taking place over three to four turns. The first phase activates on the turn that you play the card.

It begins the tale of whatever story is presented. For example, doing something interesting for you or your enemy. On the next turn, the story continues with the second part, and so on. It continues until the final part gets completed and the Saga card is sent to the graveyard.

Though they take time to get going, the payoff is typically rather wonderful for these new cards in Theros Beyond Death. They are some of the best ones in the entire expansion. As such, players should get used to how they work.

Best Examples of MTG Saga Cards

Here are a couple of examples of some of the best Saga cards in MTG Theros Beyond Death. The first is what we believe to be one of the top cards period: Elspeth Conquers Death. The white enchantment card costs five mana to summon, two of which must be white.

In our opinion, this card is better than the planeswalker it is based on. On the first turn played, you can exile a target permanent that your opponent controls with a converted mana cost of three or greater. This allows you to eliminate an annoying foe from the start.

Then on the second turn, you can make it more difficult for your opponent. The noncreature spells that your opponent casts cost two more mana to cast until your next turn. This can be damaging for a turn for those decks that rely on spell cards.

On the third and final turn, you can return a target creature or planeswalker card from your graveyard to the battlefield. You can also put a plus one/plus one counter on it or an extra loyalty counter. This is great for bringing back new planeswalker Elspeth for another round.

Another great example of these types of enchantment cards is Kiora Bests the Sea God. A blue enchantment card, if you couldn’t tell by the name, costs a whopping seven mana to summon (two of which must be blue mana). Like Elspeth Conquers Death, it has three turns to its story.

On turn one when you first play this card, it summons an eight/eight blue kraken creature token with hexproof. Considering that you spent seven mana on this, the eight/eight Kraken creature token pretty much makes up that entire mana cost on the first turn.

On the second turn it is on the field. You can tap all nonland permanents your opponent controls. They will not untap until the controller’s next untap step, leaving them a bit defenseless for a turn. And lastly, the third turn is quite the finisher.

You can gain control of a target permanent your opponent controls and untap it. Whatever you want, you can just take it and use it against them. This could be a bothersome enemy and so on.

How Enchantments Cards Have Changed

A few expansions upon the normal enchantment cards in Theros Beyond Death puts an insane focus on them that we didn’t expect. The Saga cards are the first example of this for MTG. They allow for a more story-driven, waiting game kind of card that shakes up the entire battlefield.

Then there are the normal enchantment cards that have been changed and formed into sets. The Omen set of cards offer one card for each of the mana color types in the game. These cards follow a general guideline of rules with minor changes between them to match their color.

Then there are the enchantment creature cards that have a bit of focus that we didn’t expect either to the point that there are some legendary ones. These legendary enchantment creature cards are powerful, shaping matches and offering unique strategies.

Best Example of Improved Enchantment Cards

The best example of the new and improved enchantment cards come from a couple of different cards. The most important of these is, arguably, the best Omen card in the new expansion: Omen of the Sea. The Omen enchantment card dedicated to the blue color is a must-have card.

Many blue decks use Omen of the Sea in their deck for Standard matches even though this group of cards are meant for the Limited match format. Omen of the Sea is a blue enchantment card that costs two mana to use, one of which must be blue.

It has the flash keyword right from the start so that you can play this anytime you would be able to play an instant spell card for easy access. When Omen of the Sea enters the battlefield, you can scry for two and then draw a card.

It allows you to look at the top two cards of your deck and put them back in your deck in whichever order you like. This allows you to shape which card you draw next.

Omen of the Sea also allows the player to spend three mana (one blue, of course) to sacrifice Omen of the Sea and scry for two again later. Being able to choose what card you draw instantly is a solid move that can start blue deck players on the right foot.

New Planeswalkers

As always, there are new planeswalkers in MTG Theros Beyond Death. The game just wouldn’t be complete without them. Like Throne of Eldraine, there are only three new planeswalkers to choose from in this set. The featured one is Elspeth, a returning hero from past expansions.

Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis is a white legendary planeswalker that costs four mana to summon, two of which must be white mana. She arrives on the field with five loyalty points offered to her. Her first ability costs one point and lets up to two creatures you control gain plus two/plus one until the end of the turn.

Her second ability costs two points and creates two one/one white human soldier creature tokens. Lastly, the ultimate ability that she has costs three points and gives you five life back. Not the most useful planeswalker ever but a good enough one, at least.

The other returning planeswalker is Ashiok, Nightmare Muse. A blue and black hybrid legendary planeswalker, Ashiok costs five mana to summon, one of which must be blue and another must be black. Like Elspeth, she starts with five loyalty points.

The difference is she can gain some points with her first ability. The plus one ability lets you create a two/three blue and black nightmare creature token. It has the ability that every time it attacks or blocks, the opponent must exile the top two cards of their deck.

The minus three ability that she has lets you return a target nonland permanent to its owner’s hand and then make that player exile one card from their hand. Her ultimate ability costs seven points and lets you cast up to three face-up cards your opponents have in exile without paying any mana costs.

Lastly, there is the brand new planeswalker: Calix, Destiny’s Hand. An interesting hybrid between green and white, Calix costs four mana to summon (one green, one white). He starts with four loyalty points with the first ability giving one point.

It allows you to look at the top four cards of your deck, reveal an enchantment card from among them and put it in your hand. The rest of the cards then go on the bottom of the deck in random order. The second ability costs three points. It lets you exile a target creature or enchantment until a target enchantment you control leaves the field.

Lastly, the minus seven ultimate ability lets you return all enchantment cards from your graveyard back to the battlefield.

New Mechanics: Escape and Devotion

Of course, any good expansion like MTG Theros Beyond Death wouldn’t be complete without some new mechanics for players to figure out and use. The first of the two new keywords is escape. As the name states, it allows your card to escape from a certain place.

In this case, it is all about bringing back a card from the dead. You are typically able to have the card escape the graveyard by paying a certain number of mana and exiling other cards from the graveyard. In the case of Uro, it is two green and two blue mana plus exiling five cards from the graveyard to bring it back.

The other new keyword is devotion. Unlike escape, this new keyword is much more variable in nature and purpose. What it boils down to, though, is how devoted you are to a certain color. The game counts how many of the mana costs of the cards you have on the field are designated for a color.

Then that number determines certain things like making the card more powerful. It restricts you from doing various things and making cards like Erebus, not a creature if you have a devotion of less than five to black. These two intriguing new keywords are worth remembering since they change the game fundamentally.


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