Processing Theros From Kibler’s Principles

Inspired by Brian Kibler’s article last week, Sam finds the holes that will be left in Standard by rotation and attempts to fill them with cards that might end up well positioned.

Last week Brian Kibler wrote an excellent article about how we should look at sets rotating, the gist of which is that one should remember that Magic is a game about interaction and that just because a deck that was well positioned before is still around doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it will still be positioned well after the radical metagame shift that happens with rotation.

I thought all of his analysis was spot on but felt like he only covered the first half of the equation. We know what we’re losing, but the question is what that means for the cards we have left.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of new cards during a spoiler season, but it’s important to remember the old cards that have been around that may have been oppressed by other cards that had been around or cards that just didn’t fit well in the old metagame. In the spirit of the article he quoted, I’m going to look at some cards that have already been around but might find some new life with Theros.

Without Farseek and with fewer mana elves, aggressive and midrange deck will probably have to play a lower curve than we’re used to, which also necessarily means the curve will be less spread out. This is excellent news for Ratchet Bomb, which is definitely a card that saw play its last time in Standard but hasn’t done much work this time around.

The good news doesn’t stop there for Ratchet Bomb. With undying, Thragtusk, and flashback rotating out, cards that die are much more likely to stay dead, so Ratchet Bomb won’t be answering parts of cards but rather whole cards (this makes removal in general better, of course). Also, devotion as a mechanic, and the Gods in particular, push people to try to fill their boards with permanents more than they might otherwise, which is also excellent for Ratchet Bomb.

The final point in Ratchet Bomb’s favor is the legendary enchantment artifact cycle and other strong enchantments (see: Chained to the Rocks) that will make it important to be able to answer noncreature permanents, something that one doesn’t always have to worry about in Standard. Any time destroying enchantments is particularly important, artifacts that can do that become key players in the metagame, particularly for red and black decks that otherwise can’t answer enchantments.

At the moment, it looks like some principles from M14 Limited may carry over into Standard. Fewer creatures with "enters the battlefield" (has anyone wondered when that phrase is going to get a keyword?) triggers seem to have been printed since Avacyn Restored, likely to minimize the ridiculousness of Restoration Angel, but now that it’s gone, we’re left with a world with relatively few and relatively weak enters-the-battlefield triggers and much less incentive to try to play as many of them as possible.

Without Thragtusk, Acidic Slime, undying, Snapcaster Mage, Augur of Bolas, and even cards like Doomed Traveler, most creatures just get you a creature, and then if they’re killed, they’re gone (as compared to before when creatures often gave you a creature and a spell or a creature and another creature and some spells [Lingering Souls] gave you a creature and another creature and then two more creatures).

Of course, what that means is that now is a great time for removal and card draw, as we saw in M14. Divination is my pick for the card draw spell that will benefit the most from this change because it’s the natural replacement for Think Twice; when you can just kill a creature without getting penalized by its spell effect, it’s less important to be able to counter creatures, so tapping out for Divination might not be too bad.

The biggest problem with this plan is the indestructibility of the Gods. Since there’s no Erase in the format, actually removing them from play will be difficult. The best options are Selesnya Charm (if you can let them wake up), Detention Sphere, and Cyclonic Rift, but there are certainly others. Sometimes you won’t care about a God if you can control all the other permanents, but other times just the enchantment version might be a problem.

Another way to find old hidden gems is to look at spots on the curve that are opening up because the previous best cards are rotating out.

For example, if an aggressive white deck is going to exist, it’s going to need to find replacements for Champion of the Parish and Doomed Traveler. Dryad Militant is an obvious option, and it’s more appealing to play now that it doesn’t matter that it isn’t a Human. On the other hand, it’s much less appealing now that there’s no flashback for it to prey on.

Other obvious options are Judge’s Familiar and Boros Elite. Boros Elite seems like it suffers a lot from the loss of Champion of the Parish, whereas Judge’s Familiar becomes a much more tempting option, particularly considering the success it had at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze. Soldier of the Pantheon, which was spoiled while I was writing this, seems like a good default one-drop. It definitely beats Dryad Militant in a fight—and Burning-Tree Emissary and Voice of Resurgence.

Moving up the curve in white, Precinct Captain is a going to be a huge winner from rotation. Consider the following points:

1. It was pretty good in Block Constructed.

2. There’s much less competition at two mana without Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Knight of Glory, Nearheath Pilgrim, etc.

3. WW is now likely to be an advantage over 1W because of devotion.

4. If people have to play lower curves, it’s more likely that there will be other small creatures, and first strike matches up well against them. See specifically Burning-Tree Emissary, which is well positioned to see a rise in play, particularly given how awesome it is at devotion.

Next, it’s important to hedge against coming up with a single early vision of a possible future and building everything around that premise if things won’t necessarily play out that way. For example, I predicted fewer enters-the-battlefield creatures and then extrapolated from the implications of that world, but what happens if everyone goes one level further and builds around the fewer enters-the-battlefield creatures that exist? What would that world look like?

Some relevant cards to consider:

Two Mana

Deputy of Acquittals
Gatecreeper Vine
Voice of Resurgence * (not technically an ETB trigger, but plays out strategically similarly)

Three Mana

Lifebane Zombie
Sin Collector

Four Mana


Five Mana

Obzedat, Ghost Council
Lavinia of the Tenth
Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
Shadowborn Demon

Six Mana

Prime Speaker Zegana

Seven Mana

Angel of Serenity

Eight Mana

Ashen Rider

That’s not a long or powerful list, but there are a few options, particularly for B/W. For the most part, I don’t think one could really build a deck around these cards, but it might be worth noting that these cards might each be a little more likely to see play than they would be otherwise due to the relative scarcity of this kind of effect.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t even mention Auramancer, but I figure there’s a chance there ends up being enough enchantments and enchantment removal. It doesn’t seem likely though. Still, once you’re mentioning Archaeomancer, the bar isn’t too high.

Basically, I think this list points to Lifebane Zombie and Sin Collector as cards that attack from a relatively unique angle and therefore might see even more play than they’ve already seen, and Shadowborn Demon, Prime Speaker Zegana, and Angel of Serenity—especially Angel of Serenity—offer a relatively unique kind of top-end threat that people are reasonably likely to be looking for.

Alternatively, what if, as I discussed, card draw and removal ends up being an effective enough strategy to put real pressure on the aggressive decks? At that point, the world focuses around control decks. Given Esper Control in Return to Ravnica Block Constructed, that doesn’t seem terribly unlikely. Obviously, this leads to a world where Aetherling and noncreature threats like Gods and planeswalkers are important, and these will mostly exist as an arms race among control decks.

At the same time, Theros offers a few cards that really punish these attrition strategies outside of the Gods, notably Whip of Erebos and Underworld Cerberus. These cards both play fairly well and maybe would like to exist alongside Tymaret, the Murder King.

This could incorporate another card I have a good feeling about:

Bogbrew Witch looked like a joke when I first saw it, designed purely for flavor, but it was supported enough that it could work in Limited. For some reason, I put it in some Constructed decks, and I was impressed by how it played.

If Bogbrew Witch can exist in a format with Olivia Voldaren without getting absolutely laughed out of the room, it might be a reasonable replacement now. Obviously, it’s not great against control, but once you’re building the core of the deck around cards that are, that might not matter.

Bogbrew Witch and Festering Newt play excellently with Tymaret, the Murder King and Shadowborn Demon. Lifebane Zombie and Thoughtseize fill out the curve, and we have a pretty solid shell for a potential B/R attrition deck. People like decklists, so I might as well flesh it out:

This deck is extremely rough. It probably wants to either move more aggressive with Rakdos Cackler or more controlling without Spike Jester, but I like Spike Jester with Whip of Erebos, Underworld Cerberus, and Shadowborn Demon because it’s likely to trade, while Rakdos Cackler runs a serious risk of just getting outclassed without actually going to the graveyard.

So this is the route that tries to beat control through discard and recursion, winning an attrition battle, but another option is to go the old-school aggro-control route and try to get under them with cheap creatures and tempo plays/counterspells.

Specifically, the format looks like it might support a "fish" deck for the first time in a long time (assuming you don’t count Delver because that was more of a spell deck than a creature deck).

This sideboard doesn’t feel great, but something might come along to help it out. I also assume we’ll be able to upgrade at least one of those creatures once Theros is fully spoiled.

The biggest problem with this strategy is that Supreme Verdict is uncounterable, but Thassa and her Bident help a lot with mitigating just how horrible that is for you.

Another approach to dealing with the effectiveness of removal is to just get the opponent dead. Removal doesn’t match up well against burn spells, and Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] can provide a lot of inevitability against someone who’s just planning to kill your guys. Interestingly, this would pair quite well in theory with Erebos, God of the Dead as a sideboard card against control, but I don’t know if the mana for R/B is good enough to justify splashing a God you’d never turn on.

This is a very different take from the Purphoros decks [author name="Patrick Chapin"]Patrick Chapin[/author] wrote about, and that’s because this comes from the origin of being built as a burn deck, which would incidentally want Purphoros, while he was building a deck specifically to maximize Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]. Here, I’m less attached to devotion, so I get to play Mutavault, and I don’t want to play cards like Boros Reckoner that can be slow and give my opponent a chance to deal with them or just ignore my 3/3. This deck is full of haste, flying, and burn. I’ve gone a little extreme in cutting Burning-Tree Emissary. Between its poor interaction with Mutavault and Ash Zealot and the fact that it’s a bad draw after turn 2, I decided to pass, but that could be very wrong.

I suppose what I’ve offered is the premise that control seems well positioned against the card pool that exists in future Standard with Theros as we see it now outside of an established metagame and then a handful of decks that might be well positioned against control assuming control is the first level people go to in this format.

And with that, I have to leave you. I’ve slept for about two hours in the last 36 hours, during which I accidentally threw away my passport and missed a flight back to the US from Istanbul but managed to recover it and then witnessed a protest/riot in Istanbul with tear gas and busses of armored riot police as a result. Now I need to take a short nap so that I can wake up at 2:45 AM to head to the airport to try to get home again. [Editor’s Note: Be safe out there buddy.]

Thanks for reading,


@samuelhblack on Twitter