The Gods Of Boros

Continuing his exploration of new cards, Patrick Chapin brews up some Standard decks with two of Theros’ Gods, Purphoros, God of the Forge and Heliod, God of the Sun, today.

Quotes about the red god, Purphoros:

“The best mythic spoiled in the set so far.”

“Purphoros seems too sick to make none of these lists.”

“Has applications in Modern and potentially in Legacy as well.”

It seems pretty clear that the general consensus is that Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] is in the running for best card in the set.

Well, that settles it then, right?

Not so fast . . .

The gods of Theros are very complicated and frankly fairly confusing cards to evaluate. They both have a lot going on and multiple new elements. It’s not like Magic has just been about activated abilities on noncreature permanents lately.

Of course, Purphoros is technically a creature and does wake up often, but in spirit the card is like an enchantment with three abilities, one of which is turning into a 6/5 indestructible creature. However, since that is the one ability you have to wait on, let’s start from the perspective of the card as an enchantment.

How much is an enchantment worth that lets you deal two damage to your opponent each time you summon a creature? One way to look at that ability is like it makes each of your creatures draw you around two-thirds of a card (assuming you are potentially in the market for Lava Spike).

Another way to look at it is to imagine you will play an average of one creature a turn. Sure, there is a good chance you get an initial burst that is higher, but over a longer game you will actually likely average less than one a turn. Overall, it’s a reasonable estimate to say that without added effort you are likely to play around one creature a turn. That makes this enchantment a two-power unblockable and indestructible creature (that can’t block). I would definitely at least consider playing such a creature for three mana. At two mana, the card would be outrageous.

Ok, so we have a solid card at three mana. What about the firebreathing ability?

Ghitu War Cry hasn’t been legal for a long time, and when it was it was hardly a dominant force in Constructed. How does firebreathing to whomever you want compare to 2R +1/+0 to your team? Colored mana requirements aside, you need to have three creatures to break even on damage output, though it is worth noting that you don’t always want the damage evenly spread out. Overall, this ability is definitely a fair bit worse than Ghitu War Cry, even if its upside is better.

If I had the option to play with an enchantment that cost R and was a cantrip that gave me “2R: Creatures you control get +1/+0 until end of turn,” I would probably want to play with it. The same card would be a lot less appealing at 1R, though I would still consider it. Why am I talking about it being a cantrip? Because this ability is literally just tacked onto the previous card we discussed that dealt two damage per creature you played.

So would I play an enchantment that costs four and does both? I would at least consider it, although frankly I would guess we find better options, if only because there are some pretty sweet four-drops these days. At three, I would certainly find homes for it.

Obviously, the joke with Purphoros is that you don’t need to settle for just those two abilities. Once you have five red mana symbols worth of permanents, he awakens to be a 6/5 indestructible (super-firebreathing) creature.

How good is that? Well, five mana for a 6/5 indestructible creature would be absolutely amazing. Six mana for the same would still be worth considering. We aren’t just getting it for four mana here. After all, we are not losing the other two abilities.

So if I would play the card for three mana without the ability to awaken Purphoros, would I really be willing to pay one mana for the chance?

God, yes.

How often do you need him to be awake to justify the cost? Well, I would say if you ever have him as a creature for even one attack, you are already very ahead. How impossible of a dream is this? Not very, particularly when we have cards like Boros Reckoner that basically do the job for us. Even without a triple, both of his abilities make you want to play a ton of creatures, increasing the odds that you can get up to the needed threshold of five. Remember, Purphoros counts himself, so you only need four more.

One of the best parts of the God of the Forge is how much he does exactly what you want. If you are playing a deck full of creatures, you can be pretty vulnerable to sweepers. Purphoros doesn’t just dodge them when he’s not a creature. Being indestructible ensures that even if Supreme Verdict puts him back to sleep temporarily, it doesn’t get rid of the extra two damage each of your creatures to come will deal, nor the firebreathing they will all share.

Now, where things get really nasty is when you sandbag enough creatures to reawaken Purphoros, who will have effective haste. Follow a Verdict with an Ash Zealot and a Chandra’s Phoenix and that’s fourteen (!) damage, right there (two God of the Forge triggers, four power of haste, and Purphoros himself for six).

Ok, I guess the popular opinion about Purphoros is actually spot on. This card is nice. I’m not ready to call it the best card in the set, but if it’s not, it’s certainly one of the best.

Count me as a believer in the God of the Forge.

The card is awesome? Great, but where does he belong? One obvious place to put him is in a mono-red swarm deck. Using almost all creatures ensures we will get lots of triggers, get a lot of value out of the AOE pump, and have lots of red mana symbols in play.

This list uses a much higher than normal creature count, in effect basically eschewing burn at all in order to maximize the amount of creatures we get to play.

Rakdos Cackler is the only “good” one-drop red has these days, which leaves us questing for the “least-bad” support creatures to put alongside it. Foundry Street Denizen gets extra mileage out of having 36 creatures in your 60. Legion Loyalist doesn’t hit that hard, but it actually has a lot to offer utility-wise. Making tokens unable to block (and as a surprise) is great against Voice of Resurgence and Advent of the Wurm. The first strike ability just helps punch through damage, making your creatures hard to block. The trample ability combines awesomely with both Purphoros’ AOE pump and with Purphoros himself, as chump blocking is usually the best answer people have against a 6/5 indestructible creature.

Ash Zealot and Burning Tree Emissary are the most appealing two-drops since they count double for waking up daddy. Sadly, they don’t work well together, but at least Ash Zealot is a nice follow-up the turn after you play Burning-Tree Emissary (and hopefully another two-drop). I generally like Firefist Striker more than Gore-House Chainwalker, as I imagine a fair number of 4/4 and larger creatures trying to block our assault.

Boros Reckoner is the obvious three-drop of choice, as it gets you 75% of the way there on its own plus is just one of the most powerful cheap red creatures in the format. It also serves as some much needed reach, although no matter how you slice it we are going to really miss that burn when our opponents lock up the board.

The pseudo-transformational sideboard plan is speculative but could be a nice way to switch gears when you need to go bigger. Other good sideboard options include Act of Treason; Skullcrack; Electrickery; Flames of the Firebrand; and Chandra, Pyromaster.

There is no reason why a Purphoros deck has to be all-in though. He fits nicely into a regular Red Deck Wins style of deck.

Which is better, Foundry Street Denizen or Legion Loyalist? By testing both, we’ll gain more information, but if I were to guess, my money would be on Legion Loyalist. He just works so well with Purphoros (and adding insult to injury, the Denizen doesn’t even get a trigger from Purphoros unless you have the devotion as soon as it hits play).

It really doesn’t take a lot of spells to make Young Pyromancer worth it. Obviously, it gets better the more burn you play, but if you play too much, you risk taking too much steam out of Purphoros. It is a bit different of a direction, but we might consider token-making spells like Molten Birth and Goblin Rally to key off of both and get extra mileage out of pumps (perhaps helping justify Dynacharge). A Goblin Rally the turn after the God of the Forge is eight damage!

The mix of burn is partially hedge but also partially to diversify the ways we have to interact with creatures. Magma Jet has a better rate than Lightning Strike, but when your opponent plays a Fleecemane Lion on turn 2, you are going to be happy you have a mix of burn spells including a bunch big enough to actually do the job.

Why only three copies of Purphoros? It is easy to get swept away in new splashy card fever, but he is still a legendary 4CC enchantment. Unlike planeswalkers, which get attacked a lot, the gods are actually going to stay in a play a lot more often. Plus, legends don’t even legend rule each other anymore, so there is more reason than ever to err on the side of fewer copies. In general, I would guess the default number of Purphoros in a deck is closer to three, and it probably isn’t crazy to play only two. The first list uses four, as it is literally an all-in God of the Forge deck, but I would guess that is more the exception than the rule.

Purphoros really encourages us to play a ton of creatures, as mentioned above. You know who else wants the same thing?

Usually, a drawback to combining this type of card with Domri is the diluting of your creature count. However, Purphoros is a bit different. Even though he will generally not be a creature when you play him, he is always a creature on top of your deck. This is more than just another hit for Domri; it also means that Domri can help you find your Purphoros (a real threat to be sure). The icing on the cake is that Domri Rade counts towards your devotion to red in order to awaken Purphoros, not to mention providing much-needed removal in a deck that is mostly creatures.

This list goes a bit bigger than the previous two, taking advantage of the best R/G cards in the format (and moving away from red’s weakness at the one spot). It is not out of the question to actually adopt even more green. Elvish Mystic would actually be absolutely fantastic if the mana can support it. That it doesn’t contribute to your devotion to red is much less relevant than getting the God of the Forge into play a turn earlier. Besides, the Mystic still triggers Purphoros for two damage and benefits from the firebreathing (not to mention fueling it).

The only reason I have not included more Elvish Mystics in this list is the tension between Boros Reckoner and Elvish Mystic. We don’t mind using Temple of Abandon, as we are often wasting our first turn, but not getting to play an Elvish Mystic until turn 2 is a very different quality of play than the turn 1 Mystic. That said, I’d like to think the right way to build this deck is to move towards four Mystics or back to zero. The second Mystic does have greatly diminishing returns in a deck like this, so there is an argument for just two (or three), but the power is so good and the mana so hard, I would guess we want to go to one extreme or the other.

Temple Garden in Gruul is a piece of technology from Block that helps support Boros Reckoner despite wanting a fair bit of green mana. It doesn’t help Ash Zealot, helping lead to the Zealot getting cut, but at least it helps Burning-Tree Emissary. Ten untapped sources of green is shy of where I’d want to be to support Mystics, but maybe we can get away with trimming another Mountain for a Forest or perhaps we can add a 25th land.

Why Scavenging Ooze? That’s not devoted to red!

Yeah, well Scavenging Ooze is just an absurd Magic card. One of the best ways to fight opposing Scavenging Oozes is to use your own. It’s also nice to have more good plays for those Burning-Tree Emissary turns.

Get used to seeing Mizzium Mortars as the only dedicated removal spell in a lot of decks. When you are going down the path of being mostly creatures, having a spell like Mizzium Mortars adds multiple powerful dimensions. That it is cheap and does a lot of damage helps clear big bodies out of the way, like Loxodon Smiter, which would normally be problematic for a red deck. That it can turn into a one-sided sweeper is particularly good when we aren’t wasting slots playing with other removal spells (leading to board states where opponents have more creatures to sweep).

Stormbreath Dragon is excellent, although my guess is that people would not like it so much if not for Thundermaw Hellkite shaping what kinds of cards people think are supposed to be good. That it can’t be hit by Azorius Charm, Detention Sphere, or Chained to the Rocks is pretty filthy, and the ability to go monstrous late gives you something to do with our slightly above-average land count and mana creatures. Finally, it does contribute two red symbols, so every time your opponent passes while you have a Burning-Tree Emissary and Purphoros, they might be facing twelve damage next turn!

Another possible direction to take Purphoros is to pair him with the white god, Heliod:

Generally, putting two gods in the same room is a going to lead to fights. With the primary exception of Boros Reckoner and Aurelia, the Warleader, most cards involve a certain amount of competition for your devotion.

One possible solution is to play with all gold cards, like Sunhome Guildmage, Wojek Halberdiers, Anax and Cymede, and Truefire Paladin. The problem with this route is that you need four creatures to trigger either god outside of Boros Reckoner. I’d rather play more doubles, like Precinct Captain, Ash Zealot, Banisher Priest, and Stormbreath Dragon. Sure, they only contribute towards one god, but at least you only need two of them to wake their god up.

Precinct Captain is one of my favorite two-drops in the new format. It has been around (and has been good), but I think it may be particularly well positioned given the push towards decks light on removal.

Chained to the Rocks is a really efficient removal spell, but it’s also a way to build up your devotion to Heliod. Seven dedicated removal spells is really not that much. Just look at Jund decks from the previous format! Besides, other than the occasional Aetherling player, most of our opponents are going to have plenty of good targets, right?

I really look forward to the surprise Aurelia turns that lead to waking both Purphoros and Heliod. Have a Boros Reckoner in play? As a rule, 34 damage out of nowhere is generally going to be enough to strip your opponent of any chance of winning. She also just makes a great team with Stormbreath Dragon.

As for Heliod and Purphoros, side by side that is a lot of mana to invest into permanents that don’t always affect the board. Besides, both want all of your mana every turn, so you are basically locked into not activating one of them. That said, at least their abilities work together quite well. Every time you make a cleric, you’re getting an extra two damage to your opponent’s face. Eventually, when you want to swarm your opponent, you can get a lot of value out of the AOE pump, if only because of how many tokens you made.

How good is Heliod on his own?

Well, unlike Purphoros, the stronger of the two base abilities is the activated one. Mobilization saw only very fringe play at 2W; however its tokens were 1/1, not 2/1. My guess is that if it did (and was indestructible), it would find plenty of homes at three mana. Again, we are asked if we will spend an extra mana for the chance to awaken the god.

While a 5/6 indestructible is definitely worse than a 6/5 indestructible, it is still very good, and getting even a single turn of creature-ness puts you pretty far ahead. An added benefit of Heliod is how much easier he is to awaken than Purphoros thanks to plenty of great double-white spells and miscellaneous white permanents adding up, like Chained to the Rocks; Blind Obedience; and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.

While Heliod doesn’t give us as much stuff that we actually want as Purphoros, he does give it to us at a good rate. There aren’t quite as many natural homes for Heliod; however, there isn’t actually that much competition among white four-drops.

Of course, the majority of Heliod decks are going to actually be quite a bit more monotheistic. One possibility is to try to build a mono-white “good stuff” deck featuring cards like Precinct Captain; Boros Reckoner; Banisher Priest; Blind Obedience; Gideon, Champion of Justice; Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; Archangel of Thune; Martial Law; and so on.

This deck really needs another good two-drop though. There are plenty of mediocre options, but it sure would be nice to get something like Voice of Resurgence or Fleecemane Lion. Can we splash green? It’s not sure that we lose our Mutavaults (and possibly Encroaching Wastes); it’s that there is no G/W scry land yet. This is particularly challenging if we want to support Boros Reckoner. What does such a mana base even look like? Maybe something like:

4 Temple Garden
4 Selesnya Guildgate
4 Stomping Ground
11 Plains
1 Forest

Once we open the door to green, there are a lot of great options at every spot on the curve, but this does put pressure Heliod to justify his use of the four spot in a world with Trostani, Advent of the Wurm, Polukranos, and the like.

Another possibility is to put him in a U/W deck featuring lots of white permanents and a little blue for Sphinx’s Revelation; Supreme Verdict; Azorius Charm; Detention Sphere; maybe Jace, Architect of Thought; and a small amount of permission. Such a deck might make great use of Heliod as a token-maker if nothing else.

Evaluating the gods of Theros is tricky business, as they are definitely a very different sort of card than what has been good lately. The thing is that they are also very clearly jam-packed with power. This isn’t a cycle of Titans or anything, but they all at least need to be seriously considered and their success is really going to be a question of which ones have the right supporting cast.

It’s going to be interesting to see the ways the format adjusts to account for just how powerful the gods are and how much indestructible removes among the most obvious forms of counterplay. Angelic Edict is surely too expensive, but Glare of Heresy, Merciless Eviction, and Selesnya Charm all gain utility.

I’m out for today but will be back Wednesday with more Theros brewing. What card or cards do you want to see? Let me know, and I’ll see you then!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

Next Level Deckbuilding