Theros Modern Set Review

Ari goes through Theros and talks about the cards that might have an impact on the Modern format. Check it out and let him know if you agree or disagree in the comments!

For Modern being a so-called Eternal format, new sets have been very high impact. Looking just at the last few large sets, Innistrad and Return to Ravnica each supplied twenty or more non-reprints that have seen play in Modern. Avacyn Restored supplied ten cards (not counting that one time Conley played Alchemist’s Apprentice). Gatecrash supplied just seven, but more than half of those combined to make R/G Aggro a legitimate contender.

Despite the fairly large scale down in the power level of Theros, I expect similar numbers. Seriously, ten out of Avacyn Restored.


This ability is not worded to work with Ground Rift, which would provide the Nivmagus Elemental deck with some additional options.

This ability also doesn’t work with cards like Seeds of Strength. It only triggers once per creature per spell.

With any of the pump guys, you have to ask yourself why you aren’t just Auras or Infect. There may be enough protective Auras to make that shell arguable against the Auras deck and enough Meliras to make anything arguable against Infect, but that’s what you’re up against. Just putting it out there.

As for the more unique effects, I will address those I’m interested in on a case-by-case basis.

The Gods

Shadowmoor and Eventide are quite kind to the devotion mechanic, as are some of the old planeswalkers.

Modern as a format is not. Things don’t really remain in play for very long. Games either end extremely fast or decks are full of removal. Even if you hit five devotion, Path to Exile ignores indestructibility. As I said last week: "If your spell costs four or more in this format, it better win the game." Thassa costs less but is quite low impact.

Only Erebos seems remotely playable, and that’s because the life gain clause is a fairly unique effect and is finally tacked onto another effect that provides real value (see: Everlasting Torment not being Sulfuric Vortex). He is at best a very niche sideboard card against Martyr of Sands decks out of something like Jund, which is a very narrow role to play.

Chained to the Rocks

As a one-mana kill spell that hits Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant, this has potential. Unlike Standard, you are basically guaranteed to have a Mountain for this card with the fetch-dual mana bases of the format.

Unfortunately, this is not a good permanent solution to these problem creatures. Against aggressive decks and Birthing Pod decks, it probably takes out a guy forever, but Jund is a different story.

You definitely don’t want this in something like U/W/R, where you are suddenly giving them targets for Abrupt Decay and Maelstrom Pulse. Against pure B/G variants, you better have a basic Mountain for this card or will find yourself getting two-for-oned by Tectonic Edge and Fulminator Mage.

Where I expect this card will shine is in Tribal Zoo or the Boros deck that Craig Wescoe played in Detroit. Being able to take down a mana guy because your kill spell isn’t Path to Exile is enough of a plus to make that exchange, and both of these decks are already full of Abrupt Decay targets and can operate under the threshold of Tectonic Edge.

Kibler Naya could also play a basic Mountain and want this over Path to Exile, but that deck starts reaching the point where you are looking for absolutely permanent answers to their guys and want to interact with man lands at instant speed.

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

I was originally 100% dismissive of this card; then I remembered that Sun Titan and Sacred Mesa are both cards I’ve seen played in legitimate U/W Control lists.

Let’s check off the list of bare minimum requirements for planeswalkers in Modern:

– The planeswalker has to end its first turn in play with 4+ loyalty or use its minus ability to generate over a card’s worth of value immediately (a card + mana counts; see Liliana versus Jace Beleren). Otherwise, you get Lightning Bolted and feel dumb. Elspeth immediately goes to five counters, so check.

– If the planeswalker costs four or more, it has to end its first turn in play with 5+ loyalty, or you have to be happy if your opponent to taps out and attacks it with Celestial Colonnade (Garruk Wildspeaker in Amulet Combo). Elspeth passes the first test, taking two turns of them tapping out plus generating six Soldiers in the meantime.

Ok, so we’ve passed that. What about the abilities?

Well, three Soldiers actually puts you ahead of a Tarmogoyf each turn compared to Elspeth, Knight-Errant just treading water. Similar to Gideon Jura, you can also use the -3 ability to kill Tarmogoyfs. Unlike Gideon Jura, you can beat someone with this Elspeth and not care about Path to Exile.

The niche for Elspeth in Modern is very small: a one- or two-of in certain U/W-based control decks. That said, I would not be shocked to find this card showing up in those slots moving forward.

Gift of Immortality

When this card was first spoiled, the buzz was mostly "I’m so glad Geist of Saint Traft is not in the same Standard as this card."

Well, they are in Modern together. And it’s just not good.

This card only comes into play if you untap with Geist of Saint Traft. If you do that, there are a number of cards that answer each way your Geist dies that also do other things. Liliana of the Veil? Snapcaster Mage. Supreme Verdict? Boros Charm. Pyroclasm? Spell Snare or Boros Charm again.

Also, if you untap with Geist of Saint Traft, you should win. The problem with Geist decks is never "how do I make my Geist win the game" but instead "if I don’t play Geist, how do I win?" This card is exceptionally bad in the latter case.

Good news: Torpor Orb, Gift of Immortality, Wormfang Manta, and a sacrifice outlet is a cool new way to take infinite turns in Commander.

Soldier of the Pantheon

Question: how good is protection from multicolored?

Well, this card dodges 2/4 things that punish x/1s. It can’t be Electrolyzed, and it can’t be Izzet Staticastered. Orzhov Pontiff, despite being gold, still takes out the Soldier, and Spirit tokens are still just white most of the time (Beckon Apparition saw some play in W/B Tokens). On the list of other things that just do one, it can attack through Olivia Voldaren if that still matters when they untap with her in play.

In combat, Soldier fails to stand up against the two biggest threats: Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze. It can attack into Pod’s Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence but runs right into Restoration Angel or even just Wall of Roots. It attacks through a Celestial Colonnade but trades with Snapcaster Mage.

It can’t be Lightning Helixed, Abrupt Decayed, Maelstrom Pulsed, or Detention Sphered, but it dies to Lightning Bolt and Pyroclasm.

The short version is that in decks looking for a Savannah Lions it is pretty solid, but it isn’t a game-changing threat in the format. Craig Wescoe played Dryad Militant last weekend in Detroit in a Boros list, and there is definitely a debate to be had over whether the hate bear ability is better than the more resilient body.

Spear of Heliod

The tap ability on this card is pretty sweet, but the decks that want a Glorious Anthem rarely have issues with opposing creatures. Having a two-mana anthem is likely more important when your main concern is racing combo decks.

Breaching Hippocamp

Yet another guy to Twin with. Most lists are wavering between seven and eight of this half of the combo, so I highly doubt a guy that costs one more is going to make them consider nine or more. It also doesn’t untap Pod, so whammies all around.


Probably a worse Negate. Counters Deceiver Exarch and Snapcaster Mage; does not counter Living End, Restore Balance, Scapeshift, or any real Storm card except Goblin Electromancer.

Master of Waves

This card is interesting for a couple reasons.

First of all, it’s really hard to kill. Your main concern is having the Master die to a removal spell, and it dodges Abrupt Decay, Electrolyze, and Lightning Bolt. They basically have to have Maelstrom Pulse, Dismember, or Path to Exile for it.

Second, it fits fairly well into the existing Merfolk shell. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s a lot of power for the mana cost with the eight UU two-drop lords and works very well with Phantasmal Image.

If this card sees absolutely zero play, I wouldn’t be surprised, but it’s worth more than just a straight-up dismissal.

Swan Song

Splinter Twin just received a reasonable upgrade. Previously, you had to choose between countering Jund’s early discard with Spell Pierce and countering a late removal spell with mana up via Dispel. Now you get both, plus the ability to nab random garbage like Ghostly Prison and Suppression Field. It doesn’t stop Torpor Orb; Birthing Pod; Linvala, Keeper of Silence; Spellskite; or Liliana of the Veil, but that’s what Boomerang is for.

As an anti-combo card out of fair decks, it’s ok. It does handle Storm (Pyromancer Ascension and rituals), Scapeshift, Cascade, and a decent amount of Splinter Twin well. I wouldn’t expect to see it as more than a one- or two-of sideboard card there, if that. The loss of Negate’s power against Karn Liberated and other Tron spells leaves a lot to be desired out of fair decks that have issues with that matchup.

Triton Fortune Hunter

It’s hard not to be drawn by an ability of the form "whenever you cast X type of spell, draw a card." See Glimpse of Nature and Argothian Enchantress.

In order for Triton Fortune Hunter to be good, you need to be doing things with it other than Auras. Kor Spiritdancer has a bit of a monopoly on those, and multiple three-cost Enchantresses already exist. I know Mutagenic Growth is a start and suppose Gut Shot could be a thing, but where to go from there is anyone’s guess.

Voyage’s End

So close. I’ve been looking for a Boomerang variant that can provide some value in Splinter Twin. Sometimes you have issues with drawing too many answers and not enough action, and something that can provide filtering or stop their hate would be great. Unfortunately, this card doesn’t stop Torpor Orb; otherwise, I would be all over it.

Read the Bones

I played Compulsive Research in my latest video. Read the Bones is approximately a black version of that card. I don’t think Living End wants it, but in comparing Restore Balance notes pre-Grand Prix Detroit, John Cuvelier mentioned an all one-drop suspend guy list that is Jund instead of four colors. That deck could possibly be in the market for one or two copies of Read the Bones, especially for when Demonic Dread just doesn’t cut it.

Whip of Erebos

One, the best guy to target with this already has lifelink. Two, the best deck for this ability only needs to use it once. If anything, this is going to be a Recurring Nightmare grindy card, not a Goryo’s Vengeance, and even then it’s really expensive for what it does.

Tormented Hero

Dies to Electrolyze in horrible ways. Probably the second-worst two-power black one-drop in the format (sorry Oona’s Gatewarden).

Anger of the Gods

The double red in the cost really hurts, but there are quite a few guys in this format that you would rather exile than leave in play. The question is if the cost increase from two to three compared to Pyroclasm makes up for this even in decks that can pay the cost compared to Firespout. For example, Primeval Titan variants of Scapeshift might want to play this card, but in those decks being able to play the cheaper spell and slot in a ramp spell on the same turn is much more relevant than making Kitchen Finks worse.

The place this might have is in the Jund sideboard slot occasionally occupied by Jund Charm. Instant speed is nice against Inkmoth Nexus, but the upgrade against Birthing Pod is bigger if you can just bring in Ancient Grudge against Affinity opponents.

Firedrinker Satyr

For applications in the existing two-color aggro decks, see the note on Tormented Hero. Gruul can stock up on one-drops that can’t be Electrolyzed, as can Boros. If you wanted to make a mono-red version of these guy-heavy decks, Satyr might be in business, but I just don’t see the incentive for such a deck to exist when the two-color mana is so good.

Stormbreath Dragon

The monstrous ability is a bit ambitious, so it’s protection from Path to Exile and Restoration Angel double blocks versus the extra power on Thundermaw Hellkite. In my mind, that seems fairly close. Both cards dodge Lingering Souls, so the trigger is only relevant if you are afraid of Spirits racing back, and both cards dodge Colonnade, so the extra toughness doesn’t count for much. I am not a Jund or U/W/R master by any means, so I will not make a definite statement either way, but Stormbreath Dragon is way more reasonable than it would seem at first.

Commune with the Gods

There are now eight Grisly Salvages in the format. I don’t know if this is good for a Dredge deck or even comes close to mattering, but it’s a thing.

Nemesis of Mortals

Other people seem to like this card. I’m inclined to say this card does approximately nothing. Boneyard Wurm is on the same scale and always costs two to play. A poor Dredge incentive that does nothing to enable the deck.

Polukranos, World Eater

This guy stands up to Tarmogoyf, especially after a monstrous activation. It also does cool things like eating mana guys, Lingering Souls tokens, Huntmaster of the Fells, and random Affinity guys. Definitely competing with Olivia for doing approximately the same thing, but Polukranos doesn’t die to Lightning Bolt on the turn it hits play and is mono-green for the non-red lists of "Jund."

Satyr Hedonist

Rituals are cool, but this guy is basically a Pentad Prism that dies to Lightning Bolt. I’m trying really hard to imagine a scenario where it being a creature is actually better.

Sylvan Caryatid

In the no-Chord Kiki Pod lists, this is likely a better Wall of Roots. Making all of your colors seems better than randomly blocking Goyfs (when you board it out there anyway). The only thing that might swing this the other way is that Wall of Roots costs one due to being able to activate it the turn it enters play.

Warriors’ Lesson

[author name="Carsten Kotter"]Carsten Kotter[/author] talked about this card in Legacy Affinity this past week, referencing it as more Thoughtcasts. Considering I’m not even sure you want the first Thoughtcast in Modern, let alone the fifth, that’s not going to cut it.

It’s possible something like Gruul wants to try this card. The Gruul lists that exist are very goldfish based, but that is not necessarily a requirement of the archetype. If you build for this card, you will want to shave things like Vexing Devil for incentives to have more creatures in play.

Anax and Cymede

This can output more than one damage per spell, which makes it somewhat interesting. The shell I’m imagining involves Young Pyromancer, lots of Phyrexian mana spells, and likely can’t beat a Pyroclasm or Lightning Bolt.

Ashen Rider

I have cast Gifts Ungiven for Angel of Despair and Unburial Rites before. This is just better in that spot, especially if you are going for a value guy against Jund or a similar deck. Probably not a maindeck card, but considerable as a sideboard option.

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

The mill deck does exist, but I don’t think this offers enough mill per card to be played there. For example, the deck currently doesn’t play Mind Sculpt, and Ashiok has to be in play for four activations to catch up to that card.

Destructive Revelry

Relevant enchantments relative to Smash to Smithereens: Ghostly Prison, Pyromancer Ascension, Chained to the Rocks, Honor of the Pure / Intangible Virtue, every card in Auras, Leyline of Sanctity. Likely just an upgrade to Smash to Smithereens in every deck that can pay the cost since it’s hard to imagine a deck that cares about the damage relative to Nature’s Claim but doesn’t care about Daybreak Coronet.

Fleecemane Lion

Three sets ago Naya was playing maindeck Qasali Pridemage because there just weren’t enough good two-drops in the format. Now this guy is probably not good enough to make the cut. Dies to Lightning Bolt, unlike Voice of Resurgence, and just isn’t Scavenging Ooze.

Spellheart Chimera

This is competing with Vendilion Clique for the role of "three-drop threat in U/R/x that hits hard and still dies to Lightning Bolt." In this battle, it’s a question of if flash and buffing Spellstutter Sprite are better special abilities than "doesn’t die to Electrolyze." This is all a fairly moot point until Jund dies down again because decks with removal are basically unbeatable for all these tempo variants, but this guy could round out Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer as a legitimate two-color threat base.

Steam Augury

It is to be determined if this actually does more as an instant card draw spell in U/W/R than Think Twice. I could easily see one to two of this card to bridge the gap into Sphinx’s Revelation if it turns out being decent.

Tymaret, the Murder King

There are some pretty cool shenanigans to be had here with Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger, but it’s been a long time since I played with those cards in this format. Scavenging Ooze and Deathrite Shaman will likely ruin all of your fun.

Xenagos, the Reveler

In order for this guy to be Modern playable, you have to start with the +1 ability. If I cast this guy, I’m going to be looking for ways to use the mana. This likely means Craterhoof Behemoths.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

I would not focus on the pure devotion aspect of this land. That turns it into the following: if you have two specific permanents in play or a ton of other permanents, this land makes one or two extra mana. Note: this land sucks at actually casting those permanents in the first place.

Instead, think of it as the world’s worst Gaea’s Cradle. It’s not actually what Elves needs to be good, but it’s another piece of the puzzle for the day you start dying on turn 3 to Heritage Druid. It also works with other colors, but that involves finding a mana sink that scales well when you don’t have Nykthos in play. I’ve come up with Scavenging Ooze so far, but that doesn’t really count.


That’s . . . a lot of role players. Swan Song, Destructive Revelry, and Chained to the Rocks are the only easy hits, and all of them are niche answers. Behind those three, Polukranos, Spellheart Chimera, and Steam Augury are the cards I would list as having breakout potential. Of course, that isn’t saying much. If I had written a review of Return to Ravnica, odds are I wouldn’t have pegged Ethereal Armor as the lynchpin of a new archetype.

Even with that disclaimer, I expect this set to be more of an Avacyn Restored for the format. There are a lot of parallels: low on cheap utility spells (besides the reprinted Thoughtseize), major set mechanics not appropriately aligned with the format (costly, grindy advantage versus efficient power), and a general power level step back. Return to Ravnica was such a hit because the multicolored mechanic is about undercosted, overpowered cards with a negligible drawback in a fetch-dual world. Innistrad had so many winners because of some specific low cost, high power mythics and the strength of using the graveyard as a resource.

As long as we keep getting some Thoughtseizes back every so often to keep the format in a reasonable and playable range, I can’t complain.

Bonus: Monstrous Momir

Very rarely does a single set actually change Momir Basic. Rise of the Eldrazi brought the concept of higher numbers than nine actually being reasonable, Tenth Edition brought the concept of risky eight-drops with Denizen of the Deep, and that’s honestly about all I can think of.

Theros doesn’t change the format on those levels, but it presents a mechanic that provides a decent amount of choice in monstrous.

Or at least pretends to present a choice. The vast majority of the time, activating monstrous is an awesome proposition. The only ones I’m skeptical of are Sealock Monster, Ill-Tempered Cyclops, and Nemesis of Mortals, aka the ones that just make a bigger ground guy but are probably still fine. Even with Colossus of Akros, you are probably better off skipping your next drop and then making a 20/20 trampler than doing anything else.

Just another reason monstrous is my favorite mechanic in a long time.