Finally! Some Semi-Tuned Theros Decks

In this week’s article, Pro Tour Gatecrash Top 8 competitor Gerry Thompson has some Theros Standard decklists for you that he thinks have potential in the new format.

First off, I’d like to thank everyone who participated in my comments section last week. It was great to hear from everyone, and I appreciate you sharing your technology with me! Hopefully I was able to help you, even if it was only a little bit.

I’ve been brewing hard (with your help), and I’ve got at least one list I know will be a contender (along with a couple that might not be, heh).

B/W/R Midrange

This deck is one that I think a lot of people will turn to at the beginning of the format, so in that regard it’s kind of obvious. Regardless, this is the deck that I’m most looking forward to playing come Theros.

Look, it’s Jund! While the decks don’t share the same colors, a clear comparison can be made. Both function off large, difficult-to-kill creatures, often ones that provide some value even if they are killed. While the deck has access to several removal spells, the creatures often function as removal as well.

For example, Boros Reckoner might not kill all of their creatures, but attacking into one is often a losing proposition. The virtual card advantage that something like Boros Reckoner provides is something that decks like Jund desperately need, as killing every single creature your opponent plays is a tall order.

Desecration Demon plays a similar role to Boros Reckoner, but occasionally that can backfire. If you’re super far behind, Desecration Demon isn’t going to stabilize you. However, combined with all your removal and especially Anger of the Gods, Desecration Demon will be doing most of the heavy lifting.

I’d say that on average Desecration Demon will be actively good, whereas a small portion of the time it will be blank cardboard. One thing that you should remember is that most cards, like Lingering Souls, Doomed Traveler, and Thragtusk, will no longer be in the format to harass Desecration Demon. This time, when things get sacrificed, that’s a creature you no longer have to worry about killing (unless it’s a Voice of Resurgence).

The removal, as straightforward as it might be, is actually quite versatile. Even against decks that have very few creatures, cards like Dreadbore and Warleader’s Helix can be used to take out planeswalkers. Chained to the Rocks and Anger of the Gods might not do a whole lot against them, but at least not all of your cards are dead.

For control, you’re looking to bait out their answers until you can resolve Obzedat, Ghost Council or Rakdos’s Return. Post-board, cards like Underworld Connections and Thoughtseize should put you over the top. For any strange permanents that are giving you a hard time, you have Wear // Tear (or maybe Glare of Heresy).

The mana base has fifteen white sources, sixteen black sources (plus two from Rakdos Keyrune), and fourteen red sources (plus two from Rakdos Keyrune). That’s not bad, and ideally I’ll be able to do better. Another Guildgate (or Temple) wouldn’t be the worst idea, but we’ve got six enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands already, so adding more is asking for trouble.

However, the deck does have an additional land, which allows you to mitigate the effect of having too many ETB tapped lands. Say your hand is a pair of Guildgates, a Swamp, and a Mountain, and you want to curve out two-drop, three-drop, four-drop but can’t because of that hand. By playing extra lands, you’re putting some extra stock into having your colors on time, but you also might have an extra land in that hand, allowing you to play your Guildgate on turn 5 if necessary.

Using those types of tactics in any normal deck might cause you to get flooded from time to time, especially if you were playing something like Rakdos Keyrune. Trust me when I say this: Read the Bones is the truth.

It allows you to dig for lands or spells, whichever you need, and is very close to a tutor for whichever type you need. In the late game, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could turn a game you’re behind into one you’re suddenly ahead thanks to Read the Bones finding two spells.

One important aspect of Read the Bones is that it should primarily be used to dig for action. Sometimes you’re going to need lands, and Read the Bones will be there to dig you out. But if you’re stuck on lands and behind on board, do you really want to have to cast Read the Bones to dig for more lands? That might put you even further behind. Instead, I’d prefer to make my first few land drops naturally and cast Read the Bones searching for business spells once you’ve stabilized.

Of course, such things come at a cost. In this case, the cost is two life. Overall, that’s not a horrible drawback, but it adds up over time, especially if you were to play Thoughtseize as well. However, Warleader’s Helix and Whip of Erebos make up a lot of lost life, and Obzedat, Ghost Council is no slouch either.

Thoughtseize maindeck is a defensible choice. After all, there are plenty of scary permanents out there and even some scary spells, neither of which B/R/W is great at handling on its own. That said, Reid Duke explained why Thoughtseize might not be so great in the maindeck of midrange decks such as this one in his article here. If you haven’t read it yet, I cannot stress enough how important it is that you do.

Overall, I like my list a lot, but a lot of that has to do with me feeling like I’m prepared for whatever my opponents can throw at me. By the time the first week of Theros Standard rolls around, who’s to say that the perceived format won’t have already changed?

Thankfully, B/R/W has tools very similar to the ones that Jund has, and Jund was almost always able to adapt in order to stay on top. The same is true of B/R/W, so the next time you want to ask, “Can this deck beat Blood Baron of Vizkopa?” or something similar, think about how you could fix that problem. Oftentimes, there’s a clever answer already in place, and you’d be better off tuning your deck rather than switching decks out of the fear of a single card.

Problems are almost always fixable, but first you have to identify them as problems that actually exist. Here’s an example. You decide that you’re going to play Turbo Fog that can only win with Maze’s End. Should you sideboard an Elixir of Immortality in case someone manages to destroy both copies of one of your Guildgates?

In the real world, that’s probably not going to happen. Even something like Ember Swallower isn’t likely to KO you, yet I see people sideboarding with fear all the time. Don’t do it! It’s not worth sideboarding for something you aren’t likely to face. Once that card or strategy becomes popular, then you can consider adapting.

U/W Control

I’ll be the first to admit my U/W/R Control deck was unpolished. As you probably saw earlier this week, I even got demolished by Brad’s White Weenie deck, although amusingly I punted at least one game, if not two.

The red might not be worth it. I still have hope for Steam Augury, but I’ll cover that later in the article. Warleader’s Helix, Boros Reckoner, and the other various red spells, including Anger of the Gods, are all great, but U/W is clunky enough as it is. We need to step back a bit and try to find something that is smooth and flows well.

I’d like to attribute the design of the above list to a deck my former roommate used to defeat me in the Top 4 of a PTQ:

I don’t believe in porting decks from other formats. “Could this Legacy Elves deck work in Modern? We could replace the Glimpse of Natures with Beck // Calls and replace the Natural Orders with . . . um . . . Garruk, Caller of Beasts?”

That’s not how building decks works. If a deck is good in a certain format, it’s probably because of context. At the moment, Elves is good in Legacy because it’s grindy, it has multiple game plans, and no one wants to prepare for a deck they don’t think is any good. On top of that, most of the blue-based decks are removal-light, and you can go an entire tournament dodging the faster combo decks. If your name is Reid Duke or Ross Merriam, you might win anyway.

For Elves to work in Modern, you’d need the texture of the format to be similar to Legacy, which it isn’t. If Elves were a good deck in Modern based on its own merits, you’d probably find out. Instead of trying to straight port decks, you should be looking for different areas to exploit.

If you were used to playing Delver and tried to make Delver work the entirety of last season (and your name isn’t Joseph Pinkley), you probably weren’t having fun. Your options were play Delver and get smashed or play a deck you don’t know how to play and get smashed.

If you’re like me and can play one or two archetypes reasonable well but often make poor decisions with the other archetypes, it can be very frustrating if your favorite archetype isn’t viable. You might struggle with some poor results initially and eventually grow as a player, but we all want that instant gratification.

Why, then, am I trying to port Super Friends from three years ago?

Well, I’m not. Duh.

As you may know, I’m not very familiar with tapout control. I’ve tried it a few times, but it must be an acquired taste. It’s not smooth, I rarely have as many options as I’d like, and the spells are all very expensive. Instead of trying to port the deck, I’m trying to find a baseline to build off of because I’m pretty sure that if I built it from scratch, I’d do it wrong (like I did with my initial U/W/R Control decklist).

I know that U/W Control in Theros Standard will at least be loosely tapout style. Jace, Architect of Thought; Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; Aetherling; and Detention Sphere are all cards that you probably have to play somewhere in your 75. There are no great options for drawing a card or two if you opponent doesn’t walk into your Syncopate. Instead, your mana goes unused, and you risk missing land drops.

Because of that, you’ll have to be more proactive, and it just so happens that the proactive cards are quite powerful and also very good against the expected metagame. It’s not as simple as just dropping bombs on your opponent until they eventually succumb. You still need some card draw to gain card advantage and also to hit your land drops.

Enter Divination.

In a world where a draw-go deck is viable, Divination is close to unplayable despite being cheaper than Think Twice on the whole. With only four counterspells—and those only as a concession to cards like Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]—tapping out isn’t a big deal. That said, if we didn’t need a tool like Divination, I wouldn’t play it, but that’s not the case. Divination isn’t flashy or special by any means, but for its cost it’s the best we’ve got in blue and white.

Normally, I’d be all for using Quicken as a cheap way to draw a card and hit my land drops while playing fewer lands overall. In Flash, cards like Thought Scour were great because they could fill any spot on the curve, but that’s because Flash often had missing spots on the curve. A deck that is more of a tapout style is likely going to be using its mana each turn to cast bigger spells instead of the cheap ones that Flash had.

I’m convinced that like Jund before it and B/R/W now, U/W Control needs a roadblock to give you virtual card advantage. Boros Reckoner was the obvious answer but is difficult to play with eight Islands (although it might still be doable in straight U/W—get in there, Steam Vents!), and Omenspeaker is no Augur of Bolas, so that leaves us with Precinct Captain.

Precinct Captain is hard to cast and can get outclassed rather quickly but still ends up being awesome a vast majority of the time. Sometimes they don’t have their bigger creatures or the trick, and sometimes all you needed was to buy a turn that you got when they used their trick. Other times you’ll have removal for their larger creatures and cast Jace, Architect of Thought, and then it’s all over.

Post-sideboard, can your opponents risk taking out most if not all of their removal? Probably not, as the Captain can get out of hand almost immediately. Either way, it’s a win for you.

So, Aetherling or no? As always, it depends. Aetherling does little outside of attack them. If there comes a point where you can cast Aetherling and not immediately die, you are probably doing alright. At that point, Aetherling could have been a more versatile threat, like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, and you’d probably be able to win regardless.

There are some games Aetherling can win you that no other card can, such as in a mirror match where they have infinite removal, but most of the time that’s not the case. With careful planning and patience, I’m confident in my ability to outlast any seven-card hand my opponent can muster assuming my deck is built correctly.

I don’t have a sideboard fleshed out yet, although I do know that I want some number of Negates and Glare of Heresys. Both of those cards have performed admirably thus far.

U/R Control

Easily the most important lesson from my article last week was a nugget of wisdom from Jim Storrie in the comments section. He wrote:

“I feel like I’ve been parroting this line online a lot, but I think that since your opponent will not give you the answer you’re seeking and since the opportunity to bluff into a four pile isn’t really THAT common, inverse Fact or Fiction rewards the inverse of a Fact or Fiction using deck. That is to say that that rather than rewarding you for having a diverse suite of answers to dig through, it rewards you for having a homogeneous deck by effectively blanking the punisher drawback. 

If your piles are all burn, Phoenixes, and haste Dragons, your opponent can’t really screw you, and then Augury is just Inspiration with upside. Not exciting, but good.”

His logic is very truthful and might be the key to making Steam Augury more than just an Inspiration.

Check out this Jake Van Lunen brew:

This is a very basic list of my own design (compared to JVL’s, which has a little more spice), but it’s only there to display how far you can take Steam Augury. JVL designed his deck with the intent of almost always revealing a counterspell with Steam Augury, making his opponents never have any good decisions.

JVL’s deck is a perfect example of Jim’s lesson from above, although it could theoretically run out of threats. Jim’s example of revealing burn spells and Dragons with Steam Augury might be a better fit, but this option certainly looks appealing as well.

Unfortunately, JVL decided to shelve this deck after he got beat up by some Voice of Resurgences, which is understandable. Things can be done to get around Voice of Resurgence, like Ratchet Bomb, Domestication, or playing more Shocks (which is what I ended up doing). I don’t think Voice is the end of the world by itself, but the remainder of a G/W deck is likely difficult to beat as well.

Going forward, this is something that I’m going to keep my eye on. The counterspells aren’t great, but there are enough of them that it makes me think that certain metagames could easily be exploited, such as the one that U/W Flash preyed upon early last season.

If you’re looking for other potential control decklists, I highly suggest checking out Patrick Chapin article earlier this week if you haven’t already.

W/G Aggro

I just have one more list before I go. It’s deceptively simple but looks very powerful and was surprisingly posted by several readers. Thanks again, guys!

Before you ask, yes, I would actually consider playing a deck like this. I think what sets it apart from other W/G decks is that it’s base white, not base green. Cards like Experiment One and Elvish Mystic are good, but ultimately you’re playing white to take advantage of either the double-white cards or things like Brave the Elements, so why not be base white instead of having a bunch of mana issues?

Being base white allows us to play rock-solid one-drops like Soldier of the Pantheon and cards out of the sideboard such as the much-maligned Gideon, Champion of Justice and Banisher Priest, not to mention Brave the Elements. Advent the Wurm might be an ambitious “splash,” but it’s obviously quite good, especially against cards that can be problematic like Supreme Verdict.

Brave the Elements allows us to protect a Fleecemane Lion the turn it goes monstrous (if the game goes long enough), save all of our guys from Anger of the Gods, and protect our creature that we want to suit up with some Unflinching Courage.


As of this writing, tomorrow is the day when I’ll battle Brad Nelson with B/R/W Midrange, which will hopefully allow me to tune the deck further. Regardless, my main goal is to play better than I did in our last video because that was an embarrassment.

That’s it for me this week!


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