Theros Set Review, Part 1

Chas looks at the spoiled rares of Theros and tries to ask the right questions about how likely they are to become players in Standard, starting with white, blue, black, and red.

People think that good speculators know all the answers.

The truth is that the answers are impossible to know. All outcomes are probabilistic in one way or another. I’m pretty sure—more than 99.9% sure, actually—that Thoughtseize will be a Standard staple for the next two years. I can’t be positive, though. What if Wizards prints a tier 1 staple that makes Thoughtseizing someone incredibly bad? What if black is completely unplayable because we end up with a two-deck metagame like we did in the Affinity era? Neither outcome is particularly likely, but they aren’t without precedent in the history of competitive Magic.

So what does matter? The questions! Card evaluation is all about asking the right questions—that’s how you minimize risk and figure out what kind of chance each card has of succeeding. Consider a few of the questions we had going into the release of Dragon’s Maze:

Deadbridge Chant had some Prerelease helium, and the card was soaring into the $8-$10 range right around the time the set reviews came out. If you were a believer in Deadbridge Chant, though, you had to ask yourself the following questions about the card’s viability:

  • Will a deck need to be crafted to support this card, or is it playable in a current winning deck?
  • Will the deck that wants this card be okay supporting a six-drop in Golgari colors?
  • Will the deck be okay running a card that doesn’t affect the board when it enters the battlefield?
  • Is the card good enough to overcome the fact that there is a randomization clause on it?

Compare that to the questions you had to ask yourself about the possible success of Voice of Resurgence:

  • Can G/W decks support a moderately hard-to-cast two-drop?
  • Is this card good even when opponents don’t play instants on your turn?
  • Do enough decks want to play instants to make this more than a sideboard option?

It’s easy to dismiss the Voice of Resurgence questions and laugh at anyone who thought that Deadbridge Chant could be a Standard staple in hindsight, but all of these questions were perfectly valid on release day. As you can see just by looking at the questions—no predictions necessary—Voice of Resurgence was far more likely to see lots of play than Deadbridge Chant was. The trick, of course, was that Voice of Resurgence was a $20 card while Deadbridge Chant started at $4. Much of that risk was already priced into the cost of each card.

Some future staples are going to be hard to peg beforehand because they are good in some new, unique way. Missing out on these cards is fine—you’re not going to get a 100% hit rate no matter what, and the best thing to do on these long shots is to wait and see if they light the world afire. Let’s look at a card like Hellrider, though, which preordered for just fifty cents:

Here are the questions I had about this card before Dark Ascension came out:

  • Will there be a red deck that will want to attack with a lot of creatures?
  • Is this card better than other aggressive red cards at the same point on the curve? (e.g. Koth of the Hammer)?
  • Is this card decent when it is your only creature?

These questions represented fairly easy bars to clear. The card was clearly good on its own, and there is always going to be a red deck that wants something like this. The only issue was competition at the four-drop slot, and it turned out that Hellrider ended up being one of the best of all time. It wasn’t clear at the start that this card had the upside of peaking at $10, but it clearly had a low floor and was very likely to become a staple of some sort.

This week, we’re going to look at the spoiled rares of Theros and try to ask the right questions about how likely they are to become players in the new Standard. We will likely end up dismissing some long shot cards that will become players in the end, but my hope is that we can identify the spells that have the best shot right now at seeing play.

Today, we’ll talk about white, blue, black, and red cards.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about green cards as well as gold, artifact, and land cards. We’ll also cover updates to my spec portfolio.

Next week, we’ll tackle the unspoiled rares and all of the mythics.


Chained to the Rocks – $3.99

  • Will it be easy enough to play this in a deck with ample Mountains?
  • Will enchantment removal become too prevalent for this to become hard removal?

I love this card: awesome flavor and super playable. It’s great in Boros decks and okay in U/W/R Control, and with Sacred Foundry in the format, I suspect this won’t be all that hard to get online. There isn’t much land destruction in the format either, so this is going to be hard removal unless people start running a whole bunch of disenchants. I suspect this will end up being a very solid staple. 

Fearless Prediction: Tier 1 Standard staple. Price between $3 and $5.

Soldier of the Pantheon – $3.99

  • How relevant will the life gain and protection abilities end up being?
  • Will an aggressive white or Boros deck want a 2/1 for one that cannot grow on its own?

This card kind of reminds me of a hybrid between Dryad Militant and Cartel Aristocrat. The Militant, remember, was one of the most hyped cards in Return to Ravnica. It’s seen a decent amount of play, but it certainly didn’t break the format wide open. 2/1s for W used to be special and above curve, but that isn’t really true anymore. This one will only be as good as its abilities are.

Honestly, I think this is going to end up being a decent but unspectacular card. The decks that want it will run it and sometimes it will be backbreaking, but most of the time it’s going to be an Elite Vanguard. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

Fearless Prediction: Tier 2 Standard staple. Price between $2 and $5.

Spear of Heliod – $2.99

  • Will there be a white-based weenie or token deck that will want a Glorious Anthem effect?
  • Is the second ability reason enough to play the card, or is it just upside?
  • Is this card good enough to see play in a Boros-based creature deck?

Lingering Souls is rotating, but in recent years Wizards has consistently supported moderate token strategies in competitive environments. The last few anthems we’ve had have been for subsets of creatures—either white ones only or tokens—and both have seen moderate amounts of play. The second ability on the Spear isn’t worth a card by itself—this likely won’t be tech in control decks—but it still represents a ton of upside over every other anthem ever printed.

Fearless Prediction: Tier 2 Standard staple. Price between $2 and $4.

Fabled Hero – $1.99

  • Will there be a cheap, effective, tier 1 way to activate heroic?

It seems like there’s always a guy like this around, doesn’t it? Usually it has protection from black or something, but heroic is likely to be quite a bit better. If Auras are even a little good, this is going to be one of the best guys to play with them. Cheap double strikers also have an excellent pedigree of success and being worth a decent amount.

Fearless Prediction: Tier 2 Standard staple. Price between $3 and $5.

Gift of Immortality – $1.99

  • Will this card be useful outside of a dedicated combo? (Whip of Erebos? A heroic creature?)
  • Will there be a reasonable sac outlet or other way to make this combo competitive?

This is one of the sweetest cards in the set. I can’t wait to try to brew with it, and its home seems to be in some sort of Orzhov-based shell with Ashen Rider and Agent of the Fates. I don’t know if that deck will be any good—I suspect it won’t be—but I’m personally kind of excited about trying it out. My gut reaction is that this card will end up being a fringe player at best, and more likely than not it won’t see enough play to rise above the $0.50 mark until a year or two from now.

Fearless Prediction: Standard fringe player. Bulk to $1.

Celestial Archon – $0.99

  • Did every other white finisher fall off the map?
  • Is there some new absurd way to lower the cost of creatures with bestow?
  • Are you playing a Limited event?

Serra Angels aren’t good enough for Constructed anymore. Even though you get two for the price of one here, you have to pay seven for the privilege. Pass.

Fearless Prediction: Future bulk rare.

Hundred-Handed One – $0.99

I’m pretty sure there was a time when a 3/5 with upside for 2WW was a bargain and a half, but that time is long over.

Fearless Prediction: Future bulk rare.


Swan Song – $5.99

  • Is this card’s drawback in Standard as negligible as people seem to think it will be?
  • Will Eternal demand prop up the price?
  • Will Standard develop a viable combo deck?

This card costs $6 straight off the bat because people know it is playable in formats back as far as Vintage. I don’t question that—people are going to turn spells into Birds in Modern and Legacy without a doubt. With the size of current print runs being what they are, though, Eternal playability doesn’t matter much when it comes to the value of a non-mythic rare in a new set. Unless combo returns to Standard, this card is going to fall way off in price. Expect to see every financial expert in the game talk about this as a great long-term sleeper over the next few years—including me.

Fearless Prediction: Standard fringe player. $1-$2.

Prognostic Sphinx – $1.99

  • Will blue decks want to run this guy over Aetherling?
  • Is “scry 3” a lot better than we think it is?

Scry is hard to rate properly. Scry 3 is worth somewhere between one and two cards, but in some cases drawing a random card is still a lot better. Doing that every turn off a hexproof creature is pretty powerful, but it still seems a ton worse than Aetherling to me and I can’t see a deck choosing this guy over that one.

Fearless Prediction: Future bulk rare.

Curse of the Swine – $2.99

  • How much worse is a 2/2 pig going to end up being than the average creature?
  • Will a blue deck exist that would rather deal with creatures this way instead of simply casting a board sweeper?
  • Does this card do anything against the resilient aggro decks?

This is one of the hardest cards in the set to evaluate. There haven’t been many spells like this historically, so it’s hard to say how well this will perform. Most current blue decks will choose Supreme Verdict over this every time, and at least that card has value against aggressive decks—this is a sideboard card at best since turning 2/2 s into different 2/2s is a waste of a card. This is a design home run, but I think it’ll be a Standard flop.

 Fearless Prediction: Future bulk rare.

Artisan of Forms – $1.99

  • Will blue get a cheap and effective devotion enabler?

There’s really only one question here because if the answer is “yes” then this turns into one of the best cards in the set. Phantasmal Image was a hugely powerful card, and getting to clone something for just two mana has proven very valuable in the past.

The problem here is that this card does literally nothing if you can’t activate heroic. Fabled Hero? That dude is going to be a 2/2 with double strike no matter what, which is pretty good. Artisan of Forms does nothing if you can’t make it work, and that’s a problem that I think will be fatal outside of casual decks.

Fearless Prediction: Future bulk rare.

Bident of Thassa – $1.50

  • Will the fact that this is the release foil hurt the price?
  • Will heavy blue aggressive decks exist?
  • If so, will they be okay playing a four-drop that doesn’t guarantee drawing any cards?
  • Will midrange Bant-style decks want this as a seven-mana repeatable Opportunity of sorts?

The questions here are much more speculative. Obviously this card is sweet if you drop it, swing in, get some cards, then force your opponent’s board to attack (which doesn’t kill you, naturally) and gives you the chance to draw even more cards on the backswing. That’s a lot of “ifs” though, and in real world play I don’t think this has much chance of working out.

Fearless Prediction: Future bulk rare.

Shipbreaker Kraken – $0.49

  • Are you playing a sea creature-themed Commander deck?
  • Are you playing against a Lovecraftian god and want to beat them at their own game?
  • Do you already have this in play, eight mana open, and a lethal attack if only your opponent’s four creatures could somehow become tapped?

I am excited to get one of these for my Lorthos deck, where he can act as Lorthos’ protege. This is not a Constructed Magic card.

Fearless Prediction: Future bulk rare.


Thoughtseize – $29.99

  • Will something drastic shake up the game and somehow devalue this spell?

There isn’t much preventing Thoughtseize from remaining a tier 1 Standard staple from September 2013 through September 2015. Just like Snapcaster Mage, you’re going to want a set of these soon if you play any black at all. The only issue is when the price will drop from $30 to $20 or $25. Snapcaster Mage stayed around $30 through the holidays, but that card wasn’t a reprint. I think we’ll see $20 this calendar year for sure, but maybe not until the spring. People know the value of this card and will be reluctant to trade it.

Fearless Prediction: Tier 1 Standard staple. Price between $20 and $30. Could spike to $35-$40 in spring 2015.

Hero’s Downfall – $4.99

  • Will a three-mana removal spell see play?
  • Will planeswalkers be good enough to warrant running this over something like Doom Blade?
  • Will the fact that it is instant speed elevate it significantly over Dreadbore et al?

Hero’s Downfall is an interesting hybrid of Detention Sphere and Dreadbore from the last block. It has the text of the latter card, but like the former it’s a three-mana removal spell that is expected to see some level of Standard play. Based on Dreadbore’s failure to be an impact removal spell, I don’t have high hopes for Hero’s Downfall, though the upgrade from sorcery to instant is actually kind of huge. Instant speed removal is MASSIVELY better than sorcery speed removal—it’s like night and day.

Fearless Prediction: Detention Sphere is $3. Dreadbore is $3. This will also be $3.

Agent of the Fates – $3.99

  • Will there be a cheap, REPEATABLE way to activate heroic?
  • Will there be an Aura in black that you’ll want to play?
  • Is this card a good enough engine to build around in Standard?
  • Does it provide enough advantage to work as a value creature in a midrange deck?

A 3/2 with deathtouch isn’t good enough on its own, but it isn’t terrible. I can see people trying it out in a black-based midrange deck, liking the fact that killing it with a removal spell causes your opponent to edict themself. If this creature had first strike I’d buy it, but most of the time it’s just going to trade for an opposing thing and die.

I don’t think it’ll be viable as an engine card, so best case you’re suiting it up with an Aura, using the targeting clause on the card to negate the card disadvantage of said aura, and then daring them to edict themselves again with a removal spell. That’s pretty sweet in midrange rumbles and I see why people are stoked about this card, but a lot has to go right for this guy to work out.

Fearless Prediction: Standard fringe player. $1-$2.

Whip of Erebos – $3.99

  • Will lifelink be enough to hold off your opponent until you can start abusing the second ability?
  • Is this good enough as a late-game value card, or will people have to build around it?

I’m pretty well convinced that the answer to both questions is yes, so I’m very high on the Whip. People are going to build around this card for certain, but I think it will still be quite good as a value card in midrange decks as well. Lifelink is better than you think and is the perfect tack-on ability for this card. It will keep you alive until the card advantage from the Whip becomes overwhelming.

Fearless Prediction: Tier 1 Standard staple. Price between $4 and $6 with possible spikes to $8.

Nighthowler – $1.49

  • Is Bonehoard any better now than it was a couple of years ago?

Bonehoard was a favorite sleeper of mine that never really panned out, so in full disclosure I feel a little burned by this ability already. It’s interesting how close these two cards are in implementation, though in some ways they act as mirror images of each other. Bonehoard starts as a Mortivore, but when it dies you can make it into a cheap piece of equipment. Nighthowler starts off boosting a creature and becomes a Mortivore when that creature dies. Of the two, I think Bonehoard is more powerful. That card bounced between $0.50 and $2 while it was in Standard.

Fearless Prediction: Future bulk rare.

Abhorrent Overlord – $0.49

  • Will there be a Mono-Black Control deck?
  • If so, will it want to run this seven-mana finisher?
  • Will there be an easy, repeatable way to abuse this card’s enter the battlefield ability?
  • If so, can that deck ramp up to a reasonable amount of devotion?

This is one of the 50 cent rares that I like the best. I don’t think it’s likely that this will ever be more than a bulk card, but it certainly has a shot due to how powerful it is under the right circumstances. With enough devotion to black, this guy can make a TON of tokens. Don’t sleep on that power level. Because of that, I can easily see it becoming a $1-$2 card over time.

Fearless Prediction: Future bulk rare.


Hammer of Purphoros – $2.99

  • Will red decks want a three-mana finisher that sometimes takes some time to get online?
  • How does this stack up to the other noncreature red options?
  • How many creatures in the aggressive red decks will already have haste?

This is an amazing card in a vacuum. It’s as good in red as the whip is in black. Red decks only have so much room for cards that aren’t aggressive little dorks or burn spells, though, and we currently have Burning Earth and Chandra, Pyromaster that fill somewhat similar roles. I think there will be room for this to shine too, though.  

Fearless Prediction: Tier 1 Standard staple. Price between $3 and $5.

Anger of the Gods – $2.99

  • Will there be a deck that can reliably cast a 1RR spell that will want a board sweeper?

There isn’t much to say about this card—it compares favorably to Slagstorm and tons of other Pyroclasm variants throughout time. The three-mana ones tend to see play, and this card will have its day over the next few years.

Fearless Prediction: Tier 2 Standard staple. Price between $2 and $5.

Firedrinker Satyr – $1.99

  • Will the fact that this is never a dead attacker be enough to make up for the life loss and mana cost?
  • Will red be hurting enough for one-drops to want this guy?

Firedrinker Satyr may not look like much, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Red is always going to want one-drops, so if this ends up being one of the best two or three of them it will see a lot of play even if it is kind of mediocre. Rakdos Cackler is better, but this guy does have one advantage—he can attack with impunity at nearly any point of the game. As long as you have mana open, you can threaten to trade for a much better card as long as you’re okay taking the life loss hit. That’s fairly valuable in an aggressive deck. Combine that with the low floor on this card and it seems pretty strong to me.  

Fearless Prediction: Tier 2 Standard staple. Price between $2 and $5.

Rageblood Shaman – $0.99

  • Will there be a bunch of great Minotaurs in this block? Enough for a good Constructed deck?

No? I didn’t think so.

Fearless Prediction: Future bulk rare.

Titan of Eternal Fire – $0.49

  • Will there be good Human tribal decks that need a finisher?
  •  If so, is this the finisher of choice?

There might be Human tribal decks post-rotation, though they lose a lot with Innistrad’s rotation. Even so, I don’t think they’re going to want to play a six-drop creature that isn’t very good on its own.

Fearless Prediction: Future bulk rare.

Ember Swallower – $0.49

  • How bad will the promotional version of this hurt the price?
  • Is a 4/5 for 2RR good enough on its own?
  • Is the card’s ability good enough for this to be part of the endgame of a ramp deck?

Unlike most of the other promo cards, I wouldn’t dismiss this guy completely out of hand. A 4/5 body for four mana is perfectly respectable—you wouldn’t run him in Constructed just for that, but he’s no chump. If you can ramp fast enough, the monstrosity on this card gives you a quick finisher while choking your opponent’s resources at the same time. A deck will have to be built around this—you can’t just jam it and go—but the power potential here is quite large.

Fearless Prediction: Standard fringe player with upside. Price between $1 and $2.

That’s all for now! Tune in on Wednesday for a double-sized week.

– Chas Andres