“You had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.”
One of the biggest changes in the format to come is the unbalancing of dual lands. With M13 and Innistrad, we had a second full cycle of tier 1 dual lands, as well as helpful fixers like Evolving Wilds, Cavern of Souls, Farseek, and Avacyn’s Pilgrim.
Theros will only have five dual lands!
How do I know Theros will only have five dual lands? Look at the card numbers of the cards already spoiled.
- Witch’s Eye is an artifact with card number #222.
- Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is a land with card number #223.
- Plains has card number #231.
That leaves us with just six lands in Theros that have not yet been spoiled. The most probable scenario is that it is a cycle of five dual lands and then one colorless or five-color land. The more likely scenario is that the five lands are allied pairs (W/U, U/B, B/R, R/G, G/W) and a cycle of five dual lands will appear in the next set. It is definitely not out of the question for the enemy cycle to appear first in Theros, but I would note that six out of the seven gold cards spoiled so far are all allied colors. That certainly implies a higher likelihood of allied duals in the first set of the block.
How do I know there are five more dual lands coming? Here are Wizards R&D member Sam Stoddard words on why M14 does not have five dual lands (like M13 did):
“Keeping only one set (of dual lands) in the core set instead of both would’ve caused an inequity in the mana fixing and led us to printing only one set of duals in Theros, making Block worse and forcing us to continue an inequity somewhere else.” –Sam Stoddard, July 5, 2013
Innistrad block’s mana fixing was a bit underwhelming, and Wizards has wanted to take steps to improve Block as a format. This quote makes it clear that one of those steps is having a dual land for all ten pairs, at least for Theros.
Why would the second set have the other five instead of the third set? To reduce the amount of time there is an unbalance in Standard is my assumption.
Why have the lands in different sets anyway? Two big reasons:
- This will have a dramatic impact on Standard. Color pairs that have to use Guildgates instead of stronger dual lands will be at a disadvantage temporarily. Standard gets played so much that WotC is surely interested in looking for ways to help make sure the Standard experience today is different from the Standard experience six months from now. When that second set of dual lands comes out, there are not only all of the decks made possible by them but all of the changes to the metagame that go along with these new decks making some existing decks win more and others win less.
- Dual lands sell cards. Assuming the dual lands are rare, this is at least partially a practical component. You could put all ten in Theros, but big sets tend to sell the best anyway.
We should inform our card evaluations and deckbuilding ideas with these changes to relative mana stability. For instance, one new card from Theros that I am particularly interested in is Chained to the Rocks:
Card power level aside, I absolutely love the flavor here. It’s not just that you are literally chaining a creature to the rocks (your Mountain); it is also evocative of the story of Prometheus, which helps increase the Greek mythology feel of the set.
On the surface it may look like a Pacifism variant, but it is actually more of a Path to Exile / Swords to Plowshares. What are the differences between it and Pacifism, a card that is mostly a fringe player?
- Chained to the Rocks costs one instead of two. A single mana is the difference between Grizzly Bears and Isamaru, between Cancel and Counterspell.
- Chained to the Rocks prevents the creature from using activated abilities (like Elvish Mystic or Polukranos, World Eater), continuous abilities (like Predator Sliver or Voice of Resurgence), or triggered abilities (such Voice of Resurgence when a sweeper is played).
- Pacifism is easier to get out of. There are more good ways to bounce, blink, or give protection to a creature than there are ways to destroy a Mountain.
Chained to the Rocks is a one-cost removal spell that exiles and is hard to undo, but it has three main costs/risks of its own. They are not that big a deal, but they are still factors:
- Chained to the Rocks is a sorcery. This is the same as Pacifism, of course, but we may find ourselves choosing between Chained to the Rocks and Shock and in such a spot the sorcery-speed nature matters.
- Chained to the Rocks requires you to play both white and red. Given the decrease in fixers coming up, this is surely the biggest cost to using the card and the only reason the card is not a four-of in countless decks.
- Chained to the Rocks can be undone by enchantment removal. Again, this is the same as Pacifism, but if we are comparing it to Doom Blade and Dreadbore, this is relevant, particularly since Theros is an enchantment block and the amount of enchantment removal people play is going to skyrocket.
So what kind of decks can utilize Chained to the Rocks?
The first deck that comes to mind for me is Boros aggro. There are a lot of different possible ways to build Boros, but I think the most important question you have to face is how you are going to make your mana work? Boros getting no help in the mana department in Theros means we may want to consider being either heavy red splash white or heavy white splash red.
First, here is a Boros attempt:
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 4 Boros Elite
- 2 Sunhome Guildmage
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 3 Banisher Priest
- 2 Imposing Sovereign
- 1 Heliod, God of the Sun
The mana curve here is a bit dubious, as it sure would be nice to have a few cheaper threats. This build uses all white one-drops so we can curve into Precinct Captain. There are tons of good options for three-drops (with Frontline Medic immediately springing to mind), but we really want to go one into two into three.
Heliod is a bit speculative, but he at least looks decent and could be amazing. It is hard to really evaluate these new cards, as they are so different from what we’re used to, but in a lot of metagames Heliod would be absolutely dominant. The fact that it is also indestructible (giving it protection from the wave of enchantment removal that is sure to come) is great. I just want to be able to make a 2/1 token every turn!
Of course, we may also conclude that Gideon, Champion of Justice or Chandra, Pyromaster are what we actually want at the four spot. Both have nice applications, though my guess would be that Chandra is more of what we are looking for. Burning Earth is also an option, but my guess is that the number of people you don’t want Burning Earth against is going to go up. It’s still a good sideboard card, but it will be much less maindeckable than it used to be.
Chained to the Rocks here provides a nice contrast from the sort of tricks Magma Jet and Boros Charm provide. Magma Jet is a fantastic answer to small creatures (and sure to be a format staple all over the place), and Boros Charm gives us some actual reach, as well as ways to win big creature combat. I’m not sold on Brave the Elements, but costing just one mana is pretty sweet, plus it makes your guys unblockable in a way Boros Charm does not.
Boros Guildgate looks pretty bad, but so does our mana. It doesn’t even count as a Mountain, so it can’t help us cast Chained to the Rocks effectively. Remember, you only need one Mountain to Chain as many folks to as you like, but you still need one.
Keening Apparition should serve as a reminder that enchantment kill is going to be the next big thing. Amusingly, Wear // Tear could also be surprisingly good since so many of enchantments are also artifacts. It might not actually be that hard to set up a scenario where you are consistently able to disenchant two enchantments with it.
Precinct Captain doesn’t really play nice with Rakdos Cackler, but we can also go the other way and build Boros as a red deck that splashes white.
The red build has nicer two-drops but really struggles with one-drops. Here I’m not even playing the usual minimum eight, as the one-power guys all look so bad for this kind of a deck. I guess Legion Loyalist might be the one, but that is kind of a bummer.
One advantage of the red list is the use of so many more Mountains (and getting to make Boros Guildgate a lot less bad). I’m still not in love with mana like this, but it looks better than the white build for consistency.
Chained to the Rocks might actually just be so good that it is crazy to not play four. I don’t usually love creature kill that doesn’t also go to the face or destroy land (in a nearly mono-red deck), but if it’s good enough, everything is on the table.
As mentioned earlier, there are actually a lot of different ways you can approach Boros in the new format. One possibility is to go all-in on battalion.
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Boros Elite
- 3 Frontline Medic
- 4 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Firefist Striker
- 4 Wojek Halberdiers
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 2 Tajic, Blade of the Legion
- 1 Ogre Battledriver
By using no double-color two-drops, we are able to actually split the mana base down the middle. The downside, of course, is that we are only 84% to have white mana in our opening hand and 84% to have red. Chances of having both? Somewhere close to two-thirds of the time. Obviously, a lot of those hands we’re going to have to mulligan anyway, and sometimes we’ll draw the land we need on turn 2. But this is a pretty sketchy way to build a mana base. If five of the color pairs get two good dual lands, that puts a lot of pressure on Boros to justify itself with just one.
Another possible route we can explore is to build around new Theros mechanic heroic. Heroic is a much more restrictive mechanic than most, as it asks you to do something you don’t normally want to do (target your own guys). Exploiting it is most likely finding things you want to do that happen to trigger it.
- 4 Boros Elite
- 4 Foundry Street Denizen
- 2 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Young Pyromancer
- 4 Anax and Cymede
- 4 Akroan Crusader
- 4 Phalanx Leader
- 10 Plains
- 8 Mountain
- 4 Sacred Foundry
This build tries to play a token-esque game, with lots of ways to pump the army you construct. While overload and heroic aren’t the best of friends, having versatile cards like Dynacharge and Weapon Surge may end up being worth it. And let’s not forget that Martial Glory can actually trigger two heroes!
Why are the Chained to the Rocks in the sideboard? This deck needs a critical mass of tokens and pumps, and any card that doesn’t fit one of these two criteria is held to a much higher standard than normal. Of course, if we knew there were going to be a lot of big creatures we need to remove, it is very easy to imagine moving some or all of them to the maindeck.
The dream would be to find a Rancor or buyback-type card to let us trigger our heroes repeatedly. So far, there is not a super easy and good way to do this, but it is worth watching for. We don’t need Auras to be eternal (like Rancor) to be worth considering however. Madcap Skills is a fine card that could be worth adding to the mix just to up our count.
I haven’t seen any good, cheap cantrips, but we’d love something like a one-cost instant that gives target creature +1/+0 until end of turn and draws a card or one that gives +0/+1 until end of turn and draws a card. Getting lots of triggers without playing lots of bad cards will be challenging but potentially profitable.
The biggest problem with the heroic approach is, of course, the mana once again. With just four dual lands, trying to curve Akroan Crusader into Phalanx Captain is extraordinarily ambitious. Maybe that mystery sixth land is some kind of a five-color fixer that comes into play untapped (like City of Brass or Ancient Ziggurat). If so, we are in far better shape, but if not, we may need to cut either the red one-drops or the double-white two-drop. I guess it’s possible that Akroan Crusader is just so good that you are ok with playing it on turn 3 a lot, but there’s little chance Foundry Street Denizen is in the same boat. It’s not even clear that it is better than Rakdos Cackler.
What if we cut the Denizen and try to make the mana better?
- 2 Dryad Militant
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 4 Boros Elite
- 1 Boros Reckoner
- 3 Young Pyromancer
- 4 Anax and Cymede
- 4 Akroan Crusader
- 4 Phalanx Leader
By slowing the deck down a bit and moving towards Precinct Captain, we can actually play a lot more reliable of a mana base (though admittedly still a mediocre one). This build is going to miss its one-drop much more often, but maybe that’s ok?
It is early in spoiler season, and there are still a lot of major unanswered questions. What will the Theros dual lands look like? What is that mystery seventh land (Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx being the sixth)? Will there be as many gold cards in the enemy pairs as the allied ones? How big of payoffs for devotion are out there?
Of course, Boros isn’t the only way out there to play Chained to the Rocks. Some kind of U/W/R deck immediately springs to mind, but all of the three-color concepts feel like they need to be informed as to what the Theros dual lands look like. Once we know that, we can build U/W/R, B/R/W, and W/R/G decks.
My guess is that Naya is pretty good and makes great use of Chained to the Rocks as a good tempo play. Gaining two dual lands would be excellent (particularly if they produce mana on turn 1), and Naya was already fairly close in Block.
Naya Aggro by Patrick Chapin
4 Experiment One
4 Dryad Militant
2 Elvish Mystic
4 Voice of Resurgence
4 Scavenging Ooze
4 Loxodon Smiter
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Chained to the Rocks
4 Boros Charm
4 Temple Garden
4 Stomping Ground
4 Sacred Foundry
4 new R/G dual land
4 new G/W dual land
As for B/W/R and U/W/R, both color combinations will only gain one dual (assuming Theros is allied-centric), but both are color combinations that people want to build around anyway. B/W/R was a very solid Block deck and would love a Plow effect. U/W/R wasn’t played in Block, mostly because Esper was basically better all the way around. If there are sufficient reasons to play red, it has obviously been very popular in Standard in recent months.
My verdict on Chained to the Rocks? The card is fantastic and will be a very popular format staple, at least as long as Sacred Foundry is legal. The biggest limiting factors will be the color requirements and if enchantment removal becomes super popular (which it might). Even then, it is still a quality card, but like Path to Exile, there will eventually be a backlash once the format adjusts to just how good it is.
I’d like to leave you with a shell that seems like it would be fun to explore (even if it isn’t Boros). Pyxis of Pandemonium in a G/W midrange deck, most likely Archangel of Thune centric.
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 2 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
- 1 Angel of Serenity
- 2 Experiment One
- 3 Gyre Sage
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Archangel of Thune
- 4 Banisher Priest
- 3 Polukranos, World Eater
This list is pretty speculative, but the idea is mostly just using Pyxis of Pandemonium in a deck full of permanents. Are we supposed to be even more all-in? We could play more Pyxises, more Angel of Serenitys, and maybe even more fatties period, such as Armada Wurm. It is a little slow, but it sure is a powerful endgame.
The other direction I want to look at with Pyxis of Pandemonium is in a full-on combo deck, perhaps with Unexpected Results. We are starting to get to a pretty reasonable amount of ways to cheat costs, so if we throw in some looting we could actually get away with a fairly high number of very high-cost power spells.
Ok, I’m out for today, but now that spoiler season is in full swing, I’m going to be brewing non-stop all week. What card or cards should we look at next? Which new card is just the sweetest?
See you Monday!