The gods of Theros, their legendary weapons, the greatest of the world’s heroes, and its foulest monsters have come to the call your Commander deck. No goat sacrifice required.
I’ll remind you that this is a review for Commander only. There are cards that from our command zone eye we won’t look at twice which we’d draft in a heartbeat. I’m going to do a modified version of how I rate the cards. Instead of making you sort through two different lists of cards you’re not likely to see, I’m going to combine “Probably Won’t Get Played” and “Might Get Played” into one. Then we can hurry into the cards we can’t wait to get our hands on with “Probably Will Get Played” and “Definitely Will Get Played.”
No set, not even Innistrad, has dripped with as much flavor as Theros. Fortunately, it’s not all just flavor. There are bunches of cool cards to go with it. We’ll get to them shortly, but first I’d like to talk about the themes and mechanics that we see in the set.
Bestow: Good on flavor, iffy on implementation for Commander. I can see bestow cards being really good in Limited, but for the most part (there are definitely exceptions), we won’t see them played. I like the resilience of the cards. It almost always seems worth casting them for their bestow cost so that you can get the benefit until the enchanted creature gets killed and then have a creature. Nice sweeper-proofing, like with Bear Umbra and friends. Folks will have to learn a few rules that are unique to bestow cards, but I think they’re up to it.
Bounce: There are some bounce cards in the set, and I think it’s a good reminder that in the world where everyone can have Avacyn, Angel of Hope, bounce and tuck are strong. Exile is even stronger, and when Gods are around, Silverchase Fox is suddenly a rock star. And I don’t mean Jacoby Shaddix; I mean Roger Freaking Daltrey.
Devotion: If there’s a format where devotion will get out of hand, especially when something is equal to your devotion to a color, Commander is it. I love it thematically and am pretty sure there are cards that will be absurd.
Gods: The idea around which the set is framed, each of them is going to get played. Love them.
Heroic: Another mechanic where the flavor team has done its work, heroic looks kind of hit and miss in the set, even more so for us.
Monstrosity: More hit and less miss than heroic. I like that if the permanent stops being a creature (like with Soul Sculptor), it will still be monstrous. Note that monstrous isn’t an ability the creature has, so Soul Sculptor or Sudden Spoiling won’t take it away.
Ordeals: Awesome flavor, solid abilities. Seems pretty cool that the creature has to go through trials—meaning battle—to get cooler. I like that any time you sacrifice the Ordeal you get the affect. The native ability to sacrifice it only triggers on attacking, so if you want to pile a bunch of counters on it and keep it home for a while, go ahead.
Scry: Scry has returned, and I think players (at least the ones I’ve heard talking) are seriously undervaluing the mechanic. Having it on the dual lands is quite something (although in their particular case, they feel more like uncommons than rares). I’m a fan.
This set review is brought to you by my “Best of Rush” playlist:
“The Spirit of Radio”
“Show Don’t Tell”
“Red Sector A”
“New World Man”
“Closer to the Heart”
Probably Won’t & Might Get Played
This category is for cards that you’re simply unlikely to see in the format. It could be because they’re good only in Draft or are simply outclassed by other stuff and don’t have any thematic or tribal tie-ins. Cards on this list might have a narrow use, like fitting into a tribal theme, or have some corner case interaction that might cause someone to try them out.
Battlewise Valor, Cavalry Pegasus, Celestial Archon, Chained To The Rocks, Chosen By Heliod, Dauntless Onslaught, Decorated Griffin, Divine Verdict, Ephara’s Warden, Fabled Hero, Favored Hoplite, Gods Willing, Hopeful Eidolon, Lagonna-Band Elder, Leonin Snarecaster, Setessan Battle Priest, Setessan Griffin, Silent Artisan, Vanquish the Foul, Wingsteed Rider, Yoked Ox
Benthic Giant, Coastline Chimera, Crackling Triton, Fate Foretold, Gainsay, Horizon Scholar, Lost in a Labyrinth, Nimbus Naiad, Prescient Chimera, Prognostic Sphinx, Sealock Monster, Stymied Hopes, Triton Shorethief, Triton Fortune Hunter, Vaporkin, Wavecrash Triton
Asphodel Wanderer, Baleful Eidolon, Blood-Toll Harpy, Boon of Erebos, Cavern Lampad, Cutthroat Maneuver, Disciple of Phenax, Felhide Minotaur, Fleshmad Steed, Insatiable Harpy, Keepsake Gorgon, Lash Of The Whip, Loathsome Catoblepas, March Of The Returned, Ordeal of Erebos, Pharika’s Cure,; Returned Centaur, Returned Phalanx, Scourgemark, Sip of Hemlock, Tormented Hero, Viper’s Kiss
Akroan Crusader, Anger Of The Gods, Arena Athlete, Borderland Minotaur, Boulderfall, Coordinated Assault, Deathbellow Raider, Demolish, Dragon Mantle, Firedrinker Satyr, Flamespeaker Adept, Ill-Tempered Cyclops, Labyrinth Champion, Lightning Strike, Magma Jet, Messenger’s Speed, Minotaur Skullcleaver, Peak Eruption, Priest of Iroas, Purphoros’s Emissary, Rage of Purphoros, Satyr Rambler, Spark Jolt, Spearpoint Oread, Stoneshock Giant, Titan of Eternal Fire, Titan’s Strength, Two-Headed Cerberus, Wild Celebrants
Agent of Horizons; Anthousa, Setessan Hero; Artisan’s Sorrow; Boon Satyr; Centaur Battlemaster; Feral Invocation; Hunt the Hunter; Leafcrown Dryad; Nessian Asp; Nessian Courser; Nylea’s Disciple; Nylea’s Emissary; Nylea’s Presence; Pheres-Band Centaurs; Satyr Hedonist; Satyr Piper; Savage Surge; Sedge Scorpion; Staunch-Hearted Warrior; Sylvan Caryatid; Vulpine Goliath
Battlewise Hoplite, Chronicler of Heroes, Destructive Revelry, Fleecemane Lion, Sentry of the Underworld
Anvilwrought Raptor, Bronze Sable, Flamecast Wheel, Fleetfeather Sandals, Guardians of Meletis, Opaline Unicorn, Prowler’s Helm, Witches’ Eye
Probably Will Get Played
Cards in this category have a strong chance of getting played with some regularity. While good, they might be narrow or limited in scope. They won’t have the broad appeal of the best cards in the set. They’re the kind of cards that get replaced down the road when something more interesting comes along.
Evangel of Heliod: It will get strong consideration in mono-white decks and maybe a little in white-based token decks.
Heliod’s Emissary: I’ve seen a few tap-the-creatures-down decks, and Heliod’s Emissary might earn a home in them.
Last Breath: Again, it’s the exile that’s the operative point here. There are plenty of low power, really useful creatures that keep coming back and doing bad things. Like Eternal Witness.
Observant Alseid: The mana cost will at least make some people think about it.
Ordeal of Heliod: Remember that the counters stay even when the Ordeal goes away.
Phalanx Leader: Here’s a heroic ability I can get behind since it does something that’s permanent for the rest of your army.
Scholar of Athreos: Talk around the dinner table with the Monday Night Gamers (which is supposed to avoid Magic) has been there’s a B/W Clerics deck out there. The Scholar has a slot reserved in case that’s true. There may well be enough Clerics to now build something wheeling around Rotlung Reanimator.
Traveling Philosopher: This card actually won’t get played, but I mention it so that I can mention Mel Brooks.
Annul: I’m putting Annul here despite the fact that I don’t see it played that much in a format where artifacts and enchantments rule. Perhaps my mentioning it will bring some much-needed focus to a neglected gem. Annul needs your help, so call now.
Aqueous Form: Someone will give it a whirl because of the neat combination of abilities.
Breaching Hippocamp: Someone’s going to try to break anything that has flash and untaps creatures. Seems pretty solid for combos, not to mention the gotcha moments.
Dissolve: A straight upgrade for anyone playing Cancel.
Griptide: I continue to sing to you the gospel of bounce and tuck.
Master of Waves: All those Elemental tokens will look good with some kind of headgear—like Skullclamp.
Omenspeaker: Sea Gate Oracle already sees play, and this is a nice companion. Being a Wizard won’t hurt it at all.
Ordeal of Thassa: Maybe in the Edric decks or something wonky like my Phelddagrif. It’s the color of Read the Runes and Perilous Research, so it has a reasonable chance of making an appearance.
Sea God’s Revenge: Being a sorcery and the cost will keep it from the big boy list, although I think for the combination of abilities the cost isn’t that bad.
Swan Song: Slightly better than Annul, the Bird token is a non-factor.
Thassa’s Bounty: There might be some room—again, despite the high cost and sorcery nature—for Lazav and Mimeoplasm decks.
Thassa’s Emissary: For drawing cards, people will try nearly anything. Imagine this on Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind.
Triton Tactics: This set’s winner of the Leon Uris TL;DR Award, the single mana cost of this and lockdown capabilities will get someone to give it a whirl.
Voyage’s End: Bounce and scry. Bounce and scry. Moose and squirrel.
Agent Of The Fates: Sacrifice-as-creature-removal will continue to get chances.
Erebos’s Emissary: First things first. I don’t much care for s-apostrophe-s. That said, a nice discard-to-be-reanimated-later outlet is the kind of thing I can see folks trying.
Hero’s Downfall: Lots of folks are indifferent to many planeswalkers because they think they can just battle them away. They’re generally so good that you really need to pack something else for them in case you can’t attack. This is nicely flexible.
Mogis’s Marauder: You probably need it only once.
Read the Bones: Okay, it’s no Sign in Blood, as you can’t kill someone with it, but scrying and drawing seems like something you want to do.
Thoughtseize: I’m not actually sure that it belongs here, but it’s such a powerful and popular card in other formats it seems criminal to not mention it.
Ember Swallower: We don’t see much Wildfire (I’m going to have to think about why that is; Wildfire seems like land destruction that’s reasonable), but this is a creature that does almost as much.
Ordeal of Purphoros: The weakest for this format of the Ordeals. Don’t forget though that All Is Dust makes you sacrifice stuff.
Rageblood Shaman: Dig out your Didgeridoo! It’s happening!
Arbor Colossus: Green is the only color to make it work, but it works.
Commune with the Gods: I think this seems better on the surface than it actually is. Unless you’re well set up for it, whiffs could definitely happen.
Defend the Hearth: In the format where people are known to swing for a hundred, some Fog effects are a good idea.
Fade Into Antiquity: Being a sorcery puts it here instead of the definitely played list. Maybe if it had split second . . .
Nemesis of Mortals: This is going to be one of those cards that gets tried out a little and then gets scrapped later on. Yes, it’s possible that you can have a 10/10 for GGGG. It just seems unlikely.
Ordeal of Nylea: Another attractive distracter. By the time you’ve attacked enough to sacrifice it, your mana situation should be pretty good anyway. I suppose there’s a scenario where you have Claws of Gix out early, but that feels like too many gyrations to make it work.
Reverent Hunter: Probably goes in the “counters matter” deck because it can be rather large.
Shredding Winds: I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just play Plummet instead . . . unless you were playing with Vigor and targeted your own creature? Green cards that kill creatures are at a premium, so you might find yourself wanting to run this.
Time to Feed: I want this card to be better than it actually is.
Voyaging Satyr: Anything that untaps lands tells me that a combo is not far behind. Obviously spicy with Cabal Coffers or Gaea’s Cradle.
Warriors’ Lesson: Anything that lets green draw cards is worth a look.
Akroan Hoplite: This might find a home in the Boros decks that like to get into the red zone early and often. The art reminds me of some kind of Michael Jackson video.
Anax and Cymede: Trample is one of the things that Boros is weak on, so I can see this finding a home in the same decks that Akroan Hoplite goes into.
Horizon Chimera: Simic knows how to cast creatures and draw cards. A 3/2 flier for four isn’t bad anyway, but with flash and the neat ability, this one’s pretty likely to find a home.
Kragma Warcaller: What’s it calling from? The Didgeridoo!
Psychic Intrusion: Another one that folks will try out then ditch once they’ve blanked once too often.
Shipwreck Singer: At the very least, it’s a way to keep the one-toughness creatures off your back. Sometimes, you just want a creature to attack, whether it’s to get it out of the way for a counterattack or to hope it points at someone else. Sirens are cool. Too bad Ruhan can’t play them.
Spellheart Chimera: Maybe this can find a spot in Melek or other Izzet decks. The right deck can probably make the power jump up, but I wouldn’t build a deck around it.
Triad of Fates: Neat flavor and clever design, but ultimately a little too clunky to be one of the set’s great cards. I look forward to seeing what chicanery people dream up with this and Oblivion Stone.
Tymaret, the Murder King: Is this the Rakdos commander you’ve been looking for? I wouldn’t build a Zombie tribal deck around him because that would exclude all the fun blue ones, but he certainly has a home in any Zombie deck.
Burnished Hart: More likely helpful in decks like Grixis, Boros, and Izzet that don’t have other good ways of ramping than in anything with green. It’s nice to see something that helps nongreen catch up a little.
Pyxis of Pandemonium: Someone is going to try this plus Gather Specimens. It will work one time in a hundred, but when it does it’ll be a story for the ages.
Traveler’s Amulet: For one more mana, I prefer Wayfarer’s Bauble, but I suppose it’s just a half price/half effect Armillary Sphere.
Definitely Will Get Played
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion: All three abilities are pretty spicy, but it’s the middle one that is going to do a great deal of the heavy lifting. The Elspeth + token decks are getting pretty excited about having another arrow in their quiver.
Gift of Immortality: What makes this most attractive to me is the cost. It’s not so prohibitive that you won’t want to cast it again and again.
Glare of Heresy: Even as a sorcery and a one-for-one, as I’ve mentioned multiple times, exile is arguably the strongest mechanic in the format.
Heliod, God of the Sun: I confess to being a flavor slave. Heliod will lead my mono-white deck, and it will likely be full of Clerics. Vigilance is powerful in all multiplayer formats since you can be both aggressive and defensive at the same time. Since it’s a God, you have to play True Conviction with it.
Hundred-Handed One: I can’t wait for the day someone has this, it’s monstrous, and they still can’t block all the incomings.
Spear of Heliod: You’d pay 1WW just for the Glorious Anthem effect. Tack onto that a giant rattlesnake and you have chicken dinner.
Artisan of Forms: People will copy your stuff. Be prepared.
Bident of Thassa: It would get played—and not just by the Edric decks—for the first ability alone, which seems to already be a thread common to the Gods’ weapons. The second ability setting up an Aetherize is just sweet.
Curse of the Swine: Already with the best nickname of the set, “Makin’ Bacon,” the trick will be—just like when you have bacon in your fridge—how long you can hold out before having it.
Meletis Charlatan: We’ve already talked about people liking to copy stuff. They’ll happily copy their own stuff and occasionally even let you copy something of your own. A fine political tool.
Mnemonic Wall: It’s getting played already. No chance people stop.
Shipbreaker Kraken: Oh yeah. It will be unleashed!
Thassa, God Of The Sea: At three mana, you start scrying right away. Later, you have Rogue’s Passage in multiples available to you. You’d play this even if it couldn’t eventually become a 5/5 beater than can help itself to a commander-damage kill. Super seriously good.
Abhorrent Overlord: Anything that enters the battlefield and makes lots helpers will get played. It’s a Demon, so Kaalia decks have another weapon. Why, back in my day, Demons were bad for you.
Dark Betrayal: Speaking of back in my day, one-mana black spells couldn’t kill black creatures.
Erebos, God of the Dead: I hoped that the black God would do some reanimating, but it wasn’t to be. Keeping your opponents from gaining life is strong. What’s the Trostani deck going to do? It might be the weakest of the Gods, but it’s still a top-level card.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel: Sweet, sweet Zombie-rific Exsanguinate.
Hythonia the Cruel: Hythonia is legendary, so there’s a chance she (it?) might be leading her own pack. The siren’s call of repeatable sweeping might be too enchanting to ignore.
Nighthowler: This is the bestow card that simply has me over the moon. The costs, both casting and bestow, are absurdly low for what it does. I’m not the Amazing Kreskin when I tell you that this card will murder people.
Rescue from the Underworld: I hereby declare Rescue from the Underworld the greatest flavor card ever. I turn into a twelve-year-old at a Bieber concert every time I think of this card. Even better is that it will return the sacrificed card from whichever zone it went to—specifically relevant to the command zone. Super insane. The only thing keeping it mildly in check is the fact that it gets exiled.
Whip of Erebos: Like its wielder, this is probably the weakest of the legendary enchantment artifacts, but it will still definitely get included in decks. If Sedris gets played, so will this.
Fanatic of Mogis: Great googly-moogly! To each opponent. The “red doesn’t get good cards” crowd might be a little quieter now.
Hammer of Purphoros: Okay, this is the weakest of the Gods’ weapons. Nonetheless, you’ll still see it. Haste, especially when a commander is involved, is that good.
Portent of Betrayal: Borrow your awesome guy? Scry? Sign me up!
Purphoros, God Of The Forge: This is the card that I am 1) looking forward to playing and 2) most scared of. Like Fanatic of Mogis, it’s each opponent, so there are mass kills just waiting to happen. Being hexproof doesn’t even help since it’s not targeted. The saving grace might be that . . . no, there isn’t one. This one will burn many faces.
Stormbreath Dragon: Red might not be getting the greatest number of playables in this set, but the ones it’s getting are insane. Finally, here’s a non-spell way to kill Greedy Card Draw Guy.
Bow of Nylea: I like this one a great deal because of the flexibility. It helps out in many different situations and in the worst-case scenario helps you refill your library. That last ability isn’t just a mana sink though. It’ll help you keep your stuff from getting reanimated by other people’s Sepulchral Primordial.
Karametra’s Acolyte: Yes, this will get as insane as it seems it might. Last week, fellow Pro Tour Coverage Teamer Brian David-Marshall picked this as his top green card for the format, and I’m pretty sure he’s right. And you, Rashad Miller! Nothing to see here! In other news, kill Rashad first.
Mistcutter Hydra: Can’t be countered? Check. Can’t be Treacheryed? Check check. A real thumb in the eye to the blue mage in the color that can best make it immense.
Nylea, God Of The Hunt: Okay, she’s not Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. Your creatures having trample is way better than it seems on the surface, and it’s not like this can just get nuked by Disenchant. I like that she’s quite strong but not overpowered.
Polukranos, World Eater: It’s not really so much world eater as creature eater but strong nonetheless. You have to be a little careful with it because the other creatures deal their whole power to it. Another in the now a long line of flavorful and playable cards in this set.
Ashen Rider: Yes! Upgraded Angel of Despair! Not that Angel gets replaced—Ashen Rider just joins the team.
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver: Weaving nightmares is right. Dropping this early can get its ultimate going in short order. I think every time someone puts this on the table, you’re going to get that sinking feeling in your stomach.
Daxos of Meletis: This could be that Voltron commander you’ve been looking for. Once he gets equipped up, he can be a real terror.
Medomai the Ageless: The insane minds at the shop have already figured out some convoluted way to take infinite turns. I stopped paying attention about four steps in, which I think was an actual goat sacrifice. Still, anything that nets you an extra turn is going to get run out there. Perhaps the fairest extra-turn card ever, although I suppose Final Fortune might have something to say about that.
Pharika’s Mender: People will blow up your Greater Good. Now you can make them stop. Well, you can’t actually make them stop, but you get the picture.
Polis Crusher: Narrow in scope and appeal, the reasonably low mana and monstrosity costs make Polis Crusher kind of attractive.
Prophet of Kruphix: Just what Simic needs. Like Seedborn Muse, it effectively gives its controller a turn during everyone else’s turn. I’d play this card for the cost with either ability. Giving it both makes it one of the best cards in the set. I predict many hijinks.
Reaper Of The Wilds: For this format, I don’t think the abilities you have to pay mana for matter all that much. I think the scry ability matters a great deal. When there’s a board wipe, you basically get a mini Demonic Tutor.
Steam Augury: Reverse Fact or Fiction will certainly get played. This card will be worth it just for watching some of the mind games that go on, even more than with FoF.
Underworld Cerberus: The creature version of Ground Seal will hold in check many recursion tricks. I know I won’t be happy to see it if I’m playing Karador or Kresh. It doesn’t help against Living Death unless you have a sacrifice outlet, in which case you could sacrifice it with Living Death on the stack, putting all the creatures back into hands before it resolves. Still, it’s a 6/6 for five that’s hard to chump block. It can go to work on life totals faster than a pair of pliers and a blowtorch.
Xenagos, the Reveler: Party Time Planeswalker isn’t going to get used for his middle ability much except in the case of emergencies. He’s going to spend all his time being Gaea’s Cradle or mini Genesis Wave for seven. It’s one of those cards that people won’t care much about the first time they see it. The second time, they’ll kill it on sight.
Akroan Horse: You knew it had to be in this set. You couldn’t have asked for a better design from a flavor standpoint. It’ll take a long time to kill someone with this plus Rakdos Charm, but it might make you some friends.
Colossus of Akros: In what other format could you have indestructible 20/20s running around? Timmy is very happy right now.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx: Every color having access to something like Cabal Coffers is pretty good. I doubt that it’s ever quite that abusable, but it’ll definitely be a heavily played card from this set.
Temple of Abandon, Temple of Deceit, Temple of Mystery, Temple of Silence, Temple of Triumph: As I mentioned at the top, I see these as currently undervalued (from a play standpoint). I think they’re significant upgrades to the Zendikar life-gain duals.
Overall, the density of extremely good cards in this set seems a little lower than in the last few sets, and the gap between the best cards and the also-rans is wider. I’m fond of fact that as a whole the set another lateral power-level move. Our friends in R&D aren’t engaging in an arms race with themselves, which would probably be to our detriment. It’s clear to me that sets which strongly integrate flavor with interesting mechanics and cards you just want to play is a great formula for success.
There are a few cards that are super strong, but I’ll point out there haven’t been any calls to pre-ban anything. There are a few that stand a good chance of being game-ending cards, but we want a few of those in our sets, especially if we have to do other cool stuff to make that happen.
My Top 5:
Rescue from the Underworld
Prophet of Kruphix
Curse of the Swine
I’m looking forward to playing them and more as soon as I get copies.
Next week, we’ll talk about how I’m going to integrate Theros cards into the 23 decks I have, and I’ll specifically find a home for each of the “Definitely Will Get Played” cards. Hope you had a great Prerelease and cracked all the cards you wanted.
Embracing the Chaos,
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