Brewing Ambrosia

Theros is fully spoiled, so it’s time to brew! Carsten takes a look at the new set to see if he can find any hidden gems for Eternal formats.

Well, Theros is fully spoiled, and it’s time to brew. While I think the set’s flavor is excellent and like the way the cards are designed in principle, the number of cards with even a chance to show up in Legacy is quite low. It seems Wizards has pulled the emergency brake on card power level lately, something I can’t say I’m particularly sad about.

Sure, that means fewer cards that affect my favorite format, but at the same time, at least it means there aren’t any Delver of Secrets, Geist of Saint Trafts, or Griselbrands to deal with either. The format is in a pretty sweet spot at the moment anyway, with oodles of different decks winning tournaments and extremely greedy four-color Deathrite Shaman mana bases finally being punished by evil old Blood Moon.

Even though I doubt many cards from Theros will prove immensely important to Legacy, there are a couple that might see play and a couple of others that are either cool, unique, or straight-up good enough to be worth talking about. Seeing how one of my favorite things to do is explore the potential of new cards, I won’t deprive myself—or you, my dear readers—of that pleasure just because nothing jumps out as great at first sight.

Instead, we’ll be looking at the gems that are there and seeing if we can make them do work for us. As the pickings are relatively scarce, though, there won’t be as many decklists as my brewing articles usually contain, though hopefully you find some consolation in my comments on the cards I believe could see play (or are just plain interesting).

Alright, let’s get the ambrosia flowing!

Learning One’s Lesson

If you’ve read some of my other articles, you’re probably aware that there are few things I enjoy as much in a game of Magic as drawing cards. Necropotence is one of my favorite cards, and even the lowly Thoughtcast has made me at least consider playing a Mox Opal / artifact land mana base in my control decks. Theros has yet another sweet draw two for one mana that I likely won’t ever get to play with:

They had to make it depend on playing lots of cheap creatures, didn’t they? Fundamentally, this card is really sweet. Yes, you need a bunch of cheap creatures early, preferably ones with evasion, yet if it works as you want it to, Warriors’ Lesson is a spell I’d consider broken, so being able to use it should be worth some effort.

The first deck that came to my mind upon seeing the card was actually the Naya Blitz port I wrote about here to serve as that deck’s Thoughtcast. The couple of preliminary testing games I did with the card made it feel awkward there, though, so I turned my sights towards something else: Affinity itself. Take a look:

Now, I’m no Affinity expert and have only run the list through a couple of games, so there certainly are a number of things that should change with further playtesting, but the basic concept is quite intriguing: all cheap spells all the time and eight draw two for ones. In the couple of games I played with the deck, it was reasonably consistent and managed to connect a Warriors’ Lesson for full value reasonably often, even against Jund.

While I could easily see this proving too unreliable or simply not powerful enough for Legacy in the end—this deck’s sideboard would need a lot of combo hate for starters—Modern Affinity at the very least should be able to make use of green’s Thoughtcast

That Song

From a creature deck’s tool to something no self-respecting creature deck is likely going to want to touch:

In Legacy, this card might as well read "counter everything important Show and Tell does"—not that I’m complaining. Some flexible, easy to use tools to hold the massive monster menace in check are very welcome. While the card is incredible in that particular matchup, it is a little risky against other decks—though I’d still always bring it in against Storm, Cabal Therapy be damned—and needs a particular home to really do as much as we’d like it to do.

The thing is that a 2/2 flyer is actually serious business in Legacy. While you’re unlikely to die to the little birdie, it sure does a number blocking Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration and Nimble Mongooses without threshold, meaning this cheap hard counter is terrible in Delver decks. Even most of the midrangey Deathrite Shaman decks would prefer not to trade their Shardless Agents and planeswalker loyalty for something produced by their own card.

The true homes for Swan Song will likely be combo decks themselves since they can usually ignore the ex-ugly duckling, especially Show and Tell decks planning to use it for the mirror and Miracles. For Miracles, the token can be annoying but should often be swept up like spare change by a Terminus that is sure to follow anyway. Having a cheap counter that will retain its value in the late game much better than Spell Pierce or even Flusterstorm while hitting everything necessary in Show and Tell decks is quite the significant development for Miracles.

There’s a different format where I expect Swan Song to have a much larger impact though: Vintage. This card feels absolutely tailor-made to be played alongside Oath of Druids. It punches through your namesake enchantment and makes sure you get to use it at least once to boot—and once should be enough given the quality of creatures Wizards has printed these last couple of years. Sadly, I’m not exactly up to date on the Vintage metagame anymore, but I can’t imagine something like this could actually be truly bad:

Maybe that’s something I’ll get to run at the next BOM in November!

The Royal Assassin

Another card that caught my eye is Tymaret, the Murder King. Now, I’m not sure this card is actually good enough, but when I was experimenting with Gravecrawler / Bloodghast decks to see if there was a way to break Dark Prophecy, two things I wanted were an Entombable Zombie (to get Gravecrawler going) and some kind of sacrifice outlet that would work from the yard (Entomb once again). Tymaret delivers on both counts at the same time, which makes him interesting enough although his actual power level seems low for Legacy. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Now, the list is obviously nothing groundbreaking. It remains very close to Sam Black original Legacy Zombies deck, but the appearance of the Murder King might make the whole Entomb engine finally work out, which is a big draw for me. Yes, Tymaret is only a one-of, but that’s the nature of specialized tutor targets.

Entomb, if it proves efficient enough, does everything here, from turning into Bloodghast on turn 1 to getting removal for that annoying Deathrite Shaman and digging up a sacrifice outlet to start going off with Blood Artist. It can even work as a ridiculous blowout by finding Bridge from Below when a couple of creatures happen to die at the same time. Just the thought of Goblin Bombarding things with Gravecrawler when there’s a Bridge in the yard warms my heart.

The Irregulars

Well, that’s actually all the decklists I have for you for today, but there are a few of cards I’d at least like to comment on. Roughly in spoiler order:

Chained to the Rocks: While incredibly flavorful, this card is sadly unplayable because of Wasteland. Otherwise, it’d be an incredible upgrade to even Swords to Plowshares in U/W/R Delver.

Fabled Hero: Sadly, almost anything Constructed playable that would target this guy is going to be a removal spell; otherwise, it could be quite impressive. I’ve speculated on a deck with all kinds of heroes (the obvious name for creatures with heroic, I’m sure) that uses multi-target pump spells like Bounty of the Hunt to gain maximum value, but I doubt we’ll get to see that work out.

In fact, the whole heroic mechanic seems kind of doomed to fail in Eternal formats, including Modern, because if you’re planning on targeting your guys for the win, you’re going to be using pump spells and/or Auras. As it happens, once you go for something risky like that, you’re almost assuredly better off playing either Auras or Infect.

Gift of Immortality: While I’ve been sharing local Goblin lover Max Galensa’s smiling vision of putting this on Goblin Ringleader with a Skirk Prospector in play [Editor’s Note: Sweet God…], reality sadly rains on that parade. If you’re ready to play weird conditional cards like Gift of Immortality, you should be going for something that actually wins you the game, not just value. And trust me—there are better ways to instantly kill your opponent than anything Gift of Immortality is likely to ever deliver.

Curse of the Swine: Though wildly unplayable in Legacy and, I suspect, any other Constructed format, this is another beautifully designed card from a flavor perspective. Downgrading your opponent’s team at sorcery speed doesn’t seem all that great, and as long as you aren’t targeting Spirit tokens, this isn’t likely to help your guys much either. Can’t help but love it anyway though.

Thassa, God of the Sea: This is another card I could see taking a slot or two in U/W Miracles. Basically, you get a three-mana enchantment that sculpts your draws while making Sensei’s Divining Top insane, which is actually pretty reasonable if a little expensive.

For Thassa to take on creature form, you pretty much need Counterbalance and Jace to sit next to it—or maybe a Vendilion Clique / Venser, Shaper Savant—and that is pretty much never going to happen before you’ve already locked up the game. It does mean, however, that your library manipulation effect will end the game quickly once you’ve reached lockdown, which is a sweet bonus function to have—round time is still a big enemy for the deck. Are we going to see versions of Miracles even more aggressive than my three Entreat the Angels build now?

Agent of Fates: If only this triggered when any player targets it . . .

Erebos, God of the Dead: I misunderstood the effect of this when I first read it, thinking you could shut off an opponent’s Punishing Fire recursion by playing this, and got excited. Then I realized what it really does and also realized that nobody’s been playing Greed for a reason.

Hero’s Downfall: This might actually become a playable (sideboard) card if planeswalkers on the level of Jace, the Mind Sculptor or at least Liliana of the Veil are forthcoming.

Read the Bones: This card is pretty incredible to be honest, and I’m surprised it made it to print with rumors about Compulsive Research being too good coming out of Renton at some point. I still don’t think it’s good enough for Legacy, but it’s the kind of card I’d love to get to play with.

Thoughtseize: The power level of this one is obvious; I just wanted to say thank you for reprinting this since I still haven’t gotten around to getting a playset. Love this reprint—keep ’em coming!

Anger of the Gods: While Slagstorm should utterly invalidate this on first estimation, it might be interesting for Modern for the same reason people play Hallowed Burial over Wrath of God: to beat up on annoying little value creatures like Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence.

Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]: Young Pyromancer, Lingering Souls, and the god of ironworking seem like a match made in heaven. I haven’t really gotten around to trying to make it work yet, though the potential of efficient token makers and Purphoros is pretty intimidating. Four mana also buys a Sneak Attack, though, so I have my reservations.

More nonblue library manipulation is excellent. This would actually work quite well in Enchantress (it hits both the Enchantresses and the enchantments) if there weren’t better options to find Argothian Enchantress in Living Wish and Green Sun’s Zenith. Maybe Replenish could be a thing?

Sylvan Caryatid: While I don’t like the idea of actual utility creatures with hexproof—still the worst mechanic made from a design and interactive standpoint since they made storm (which at least is awesome)—this card is really interesting. Multicolor mana ramp and a way to block all those annoying Dark Confidants and Shardless Agents is a neat combination, and if it weren’t for Deathrite Shaman, I wouldn’t be surprised to actually see this card in play once in a while.

Akroan Hoplite: While this may look a little like a Goblin Piledriver if you squint at it, don’t be fooled. It is not.

Ashen Rider: Hey, Angel of Despair upgrade!

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver: I really like this guy for some reason even though I don’t think he’ll do much work in serious Eternal play. Mill done the right way for sure.

Destructive Revelry: This might make the cut in aggressive sideboards in place of Ancient Grudge. A more flexible Smash to Smithereens is nothing to sneeze at.

Reaper of the Wilds: Hey look, a green Morphling. In larger formats, Thrun, the Last Troll is significantly better than this sadly, but I’m excited to see an actual B/G Control deck come together in Standard.

Steam Augury: I love this card. Fact or Fiction is one of the sweetest card draw spells of all time, and this will play reasonably similarly. While the onus of making the correct piles is all on you this time, making it impossible to hit your one outer of off it, it will still average you two and a half cards at instant speed.

Sure, even Fact of Fiction isn’t worth it in Legacy now, but I feel like Steam Augury should be quite good in Modern U/W/R. In fact, these kinds of cards are fun enough to play with that I’m pretty sure I’m going to borrow a Standard deck and play a couple of tournaments while Steam Augury is legal.

Xenagos, the Reveler: I’m unimpressed with this guy. Yes, he’s a great token generator, but that alone simply isn’t enough in my opinion and his plus ability is usually going to be just a waste of time (in Eternal formats). If you have a board full of creatures, shouldn’t you be killing you opponent instead of messing around making a couple of extra mana?

Colossus of Akros: Now that’s how you make a fatty. Huge investment for a usually winning reward (which is fine at eighteen mana), but with a nice safety catch to make sure this doesn’t get Tinkered or Show and Telled out instead of used fairly. I’m really happy to see that Wizards seems to have learned its lesson concerning Griselbrands and Emrakuls—but seeing as I just said that, likely as not this is just a lull before the storm and soon enough I’ll be bemoaning another Omniscience esque card nobody really enjoys to see in play.

Temple of X: I really love the design behind the scry lands; getting value out of your tap lands is sweet. Sadly, these won’t do it in Legacy where mana is at a premium, though if they had land types I’d probably jam one or two in every deck—which is probably why they don’t have them.

Descending From Mount Olympus

In spite of the set’s low power level, I’m quite happy with how Theros has turned out. The cards have awesome flavor, all the unfun things that have been pushed in the last couple of years have been toned down, and there’s even a new and . . . um . . . deproved Fact or Fiction to make watching coverage exciting. Even Vintage gets a sweet new playable, something that doesn’t happen every day.

New sets and Eternal seem to have moved back towards the pace I got used to over the years—once in a while you find a really good card among the new printings, but most of the time you just look for slight upgrades to your utility cards and are content with those. With how hectic change has been ever since Innistrad, I think we can all do with the breather.

That’s it from me for this week. Tell me about any sweet things from Theros I missed in the comments, and generally feel free to let me know what you think.

Until next time, praise the gods!

Carsten Kotter