How To Draft B/W In Theros

In his first article for StarCityGames.com, Pro Tour Honolulu Top 8 competitor Tom Ross teaches you how to draft his favorite archetype in Theros.

How did I come to like B/W so much that I’d force it? Well, I fancied myself as the guy that put in the most Limited events going into Grand Prix Oklahoma City. With something around 50 events between Sealed and Booster Draft, I had a chance to explore the archetypes and came to the conclusion that black was where I wanted to be. I expected that with Theros being new that most players would stay open and go with the flow. This was a prime opportunity to force my favorite deck.

So that’s what I did for the first draft of day 2. Afterward, the only adjective that could appropriately describe the finished product was "perfect," and I used that one-word explanation whenever anyone asked how my deck turned out. It had all the tools to overcome any situation, and I couldn’t ask for more. It didn’t have any standout bombs, nor was it the best deck I’d ever drafted, but it was perfect. It was the most confident I’d ever left a drafting table.

Why perfect? It had all the right numbers of all the spells that I wanted. As per the design I had in my head, it had it all. The strength really comes from the deck as a whole and not simply the sum of its parts. I’d like to break down the numbers a bit for everyone and explain in detail the importance of each card slot.


Gray Merchant of Asphodel – The deck’s namesake card. It’s clear that the card is a super-high pick and that you’d play a near unlimited number of them. What makes the card so good is that it will always be good on its own, comes with a body, can close games out, and will get you out of tight low life spots.

Disciple of Phenax – A key four-drop that will hopefully trigger for three. If you have an Insatiable Harpy or another four, you likely want to try to play this on turn 6 to see their whole hand. These have been going pretty late in drafts, but you do want one or two of them in your deck. I once drafted a mono-black deck splashing red for Titan of Eternal Fire that had seven of these to see exactly how many are too many. Four is about the max you want without leaving yourself too vulnerable to topdecks.

Baleful Eidolon – You best two-drop. Much like Sedge Scorpion, this will trade up at most any point in the game. A timely bestow on a threatening creature can actually make it feel like Shriekmaw.

Sip of Hemlock – A necessary evil. The good news is that its cost comes at about the same time that you know what creature you want to kill. Oftentimes it will be a Nessian Asp holding you off or an opposing awesome uncommon like Keepsake Gorgon that you want to kill before it goes monstrous. You want one or two in your deck.

Read the Bones – A lot of your cards go one-for-one with the opponent, and there isn’t much in terms of real card advantage in B/W. Fortunately, you’re also in the color combination with most of the life gain, softening the sting of the loss of two life. You want one or two in your deck and will need to pick them early since the effect isn’t easily replaceable.

Viper’s Kiss – My favorite removal spell and pick for most underrated common in the set. I always start one and haven’t been unhappy starting two. It’s awesome at essentially killing Voyaging Satyr, Opaline Unicorn, and Karametra’s Acolyte. At GP Oklahoma City, I got passed this card fourteenth pick and burst out laughing at the table. B/W can be on the slow side and needs cheap removal to catch up on tempo when Sip of Hemlock and Lash of the Whip are powerful but too expensive.

Pharika’s Cure – A solid two-drop, second only to Baleful Eidolon. One of the big reasons we want a twelve-Swamp mana base. The life gain is welcome too, as we often curve into Read the Bones or end up taking a hit from a creature or two before getting to Sip of Hemlock mana.

Lash of the Whip – The black removal spell that I like the least. I prefer Viper’s Kiss over this by a lot. Your deck will be heavy on five-drops with Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Sentry of the Underworld, Keepsake Gorgon and various bestow opportunities. It’s almost always going to trade for something that costs less than five mana, and the best-case scenario is getting a something that costs equal mana.

Divine Verdict – Much better than Neck Snap used to be. All of the removal in Theros comes with some amount of opportunity cost, but the window of opportunity for this one is nearly always open. There aren’t many creatures with activated abilities that hide outside of combat, so this will most always hit their best guy. It’s nice to have an instant-speed solution to a monstrosity creature—just don’t try to target a Stormbreath Dragon with one of these.

Hopeful Eidolon – My pick for white’s best common. Much of Theros Limited is about assembling a Voltron-style creature that owns the board. Other times you’re racing their evasion with you ground creatures or vice versa. Weaker than Unflinching Courage effects of the past, Hopeful Eidolon still gets the job done by creating a great "can’t possibly lose" buffer that makes you feel warm inside. I’m such a big fan I nearly added a copy to my Naya deck for Pro Tour Theros.

Scholar of Atheros – Your win condition a surprisingly high amount of the time, which is a pretty strong statement for something that consistently wheels in drafts. The 1/4 body is exactly what you want in conjunction with Viper’s Kiss since suddenly their Nessian Asp is solved. Scholar also stares down the three-drops in the format up to and including Nessian Courser. When playing B/W, you want to leave mana up for numerous things (Ray of Dissolution, Pharika’s Cure, Divine Verdict, Sentry of the Underworld / Asphodel Wanderer regeneration), but if you don’t need to use your mana on those actions, you get a Scholar activation.

Ray of Dissolution – A card you want one copy of in your maindeck and another one or two in your sideboard. Mainly used to kill bestow mid-combat and to remove the problematic God weapons.

Observant Alseid – Another solid bestow creature that’s good and on curve. Anvilwrought Raptor, Heliod’s Emissary, Erebos’s Emissary, and Insatiable Harpy are the prime targets, but really anything will work. Playing this on turn 3 and then bestowing a Hopeful Eidolon onto it can be a play depending on what else is going on.


Keepsake Gorgon – My pick for best uncommon in the set. It fills every role for you perfectly, being something really hard to attack through or kill given its five toughness. The double black in its casting cost is very welcome for devotion, and its monstrosity is the absolute removal that you want without having to dedicate a slot to Sip of Hemlock. This is the only uncommon and pretty much one of the only cards period that I’d take over Gray Merchant of Asphodel. I’ll play as many as I can get.

Insatiable Harpy – A makeshift Baneslayer Angel, this card is a monster when bestowed with anything. Necessary to pick highly because you need the flyers and the double black for devotion purposes.

Tormented Hero – Better than Fleshmad Steed and any of the white two-drops. Not much of a heroic target, so play him hoping to trade early.

Anvilwrought Raptor – A four-drop much like Insatiable Harpy that is one of the best bestow targets you can ask for that also blocks intimidate.

Heliod’s Emissary and Erebos’s Emissary – Similar in function, they’re great four-drops that can bestow onto any creature in your deck to turn it into a powerhouse. The tapping from Heliod’s Emissary doesn’t come up much, but when it does it really swings the game. Erebos’s Emissary is great to play on turn 4 since it’s really hard for them to attack into or block not knowing how many creatures you have.

Mogis’s Marauder – Although the deck is pretty controlling, the overall effect of Mogis’s Marauder is powerful enough to make this a high pick. The extra points never really hurt, but your primary path to winning will be having an unmatched creature or board state. That said, it’s a good out to an opposing planeswalker that you need to kill as soon as possible (all your effects make your opponent lose life as opposed to dealing damage).

Ordeal of Heliod and Ordeal of Erebos – Dependent on the number of one-drops you get. I’m a fan of putting an Ordeal onto a Yoked Ox, but the mana can’t really support the 0/4 (and it’s pretty bad), so you’re down to Tormented Hero and Asphodel Wanderer. Hopefully you won’t be playing either of those cards, thus you won’t be playing with the Ordeals either.

Glare of Heresy and Dark Betrayal – I take both of these highly because I expect to get 22 cards that work well enough and it’s nice to have powerful sideboard options.

Often towards the end of the draft, you’re picking cards that just replace other cards (like Baleful Eidolon over Fleshmad Steed). When you can sideboard in cheap removal, your deck has a lot more freedom to go bigger by waiting to use bestow as opposed to casting your bestow creatures.


Abhorrent Overlord – The number-one reason to go mono-black or close to it. Oftentimes you don’t need to make a great card even better, but in this case it doesn’t hurt. You want your bomb to be as powerful as possible since you may have to play bad black cards to finish your deck.

Agent of the Fates – A double-black three-drop curves perfectly into what you want to be doing, as Hopeful Eidolon or Disciple of Phenax on the following turn is a great start to the game. Scourgemark, Chosen by Heliod, and Boon of Erebos all go up in playability once you have this guy.

Triad of Fates – Great if you get it going. This is the deck with a bunch of enters-the-battlefield effects to reuse like Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Disciple of Phenax.

Erebos, God of the Dead – This is here because it’s an "obvious bomb," but in reality it’s only just ok and only just ok in this particular deck. Having your opponent not be able to gain life is largely irrelevant outside of making Last Breath a little better, but in most cases you’re investing 4BB and two life before he replaces himself.

Elspeth Sun’s Champion and Celestial Archon – These are really the only reasons that I’d play a double-white card in my deck. Celestial Archon is actually a bit overrated, and I’ve taken a second Gray Merchant of Asphodel over it without regret. That said, both are obviously good cards that you should take highly.

Whip of Erebos – A card you can shape your deck around, it ensures that you’ll be dying less than before. Once you have the Whip, you don’t need Hopeful Eidolon or Insatiable Harpy as much anymore. It’s probably fine at this point to play a Returned Centaur in your deck too.


These are the cards you will get for free during the draft and will fill in the holes of your deck. Usually wherever on your curve that you happen to be low on you will play these cards to compensate.

Fleshmad Steed – The deck needs to not fall too far behind, and if you don’t get those Baleful Eidolons and Pharika’s Cures, you might need to play this.

Asphodel Wanderer – Not as bad as it looks. It’s a fine creature to play a two-drop enchantment onto like Scourgemark or an Ordeal, and it’s a permanent that will block a bit while adding to devotion.

Blood-Toll Harpy – The deck wants some number of flyers. Insatiable Harpy and Sentry of the Underworld are the best, but sometimes you need another since you want about four flyers total. The life loss is typically more hurtful to you than to them.

Felhide Minotaur – You’ll probably get them for free if there isn’t a dedicated Minotaur drafter at your table. Outclassed easily by Scholar of Atheros, so don’t expect to need him.

Scourgemark – As filler as you can get, this is a cantrip that adds to devotion and makes your bad creatures into real creatures. A 2/1 Asphodel Wanderer is considerable more threatening than a 1/1, and a 3/2 Insatiable Harpy goes further for winning the race than a 2/2.

Cavern Lampad – The body is just too weak to prioritize it. It’s ok to have one if you’re low on four- or six-drops or need some form of evasion. Just remember that if you bestow onto a white creature, the white creature has intimidate and may be blocked by artifact and white creatures, not black.

Returned Centaur – I really like this guy. The 2/4 body holds down a lot, and the mill ability is great to use on an opponent after they’ve scryed something to the top. If they have a lot of removal and the game seems to be pretty attrition-based, it can work with . . .

March of the Returned – Good for recurring your strong cards like Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Keepsake Gorgon. I wouldn’t start it, but if you have to play a Returned Centaur, its playability goes up.

Battlewise Valor, Cutthroat Maneuver, Dauntless Onslaught – Fine combat tricks that are a bit weaker in this deck due to the general lack of heroic creatures. I’d stay away from them if possible. Cutthroat Maneuver in particularly is weak because you already have enough incremental life gain and it’s rather likely that one of the creatures you’ll be targeting already has lifelink.


Phalanx Leader and Wingsteed Rider – The WW casting costs are something you really need to avoid. Sometimes Read the Bones can pull together the second Plains, but you don’t really want to focus on bestowing them and won’t be playing many instants or normal Auras to enable them.

Gift of Immortality – The cuteness with Gray Merchant of Asphodel is just an illusion.

Splashing blue for things like Griptide, Shipwreck Singer, Voyage’s End, and Mnemonic Wall –  If you get some Returned Phalanxes, you may want to pick these up, but don’t play them alongside white cards too since the mana base typically can’t handle it. Instead, draft with a possible better second color in mind that you sideboard into. Often I start off B/W, and the determining factor of which direction to go is close and then changes after sideboarding because I picked up some Glare of Heresys and extra Ray of Dissolutions.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need bombs to excel at Theros Limited. If your deck is synergistic and has the proper answers to threats, you will succeed more often than not.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, and I have a lot more to say about Theros Limited, including how to draft red, green, and blue alongside a heavy black focus. I hope you guys enjoyed this look at my favorite archetype and that this insight is beneficial.

What’s your favorite color combination in Theros Limited?

Is there a certain one you’d like to see me address next?

Tom Ross