Aphemia, the Cacophony is my favorite card in Theros Beyond Death. It just lands in a perfect spot of solidly playable but not game-warping, a definite challenge you need to build around but not hyper-linear, and is even a legendary creature that works fine in multiples since the extras can be legend-ruled to turn into Zombies.
Aphemia isn’t game-warping, but it’s just a two-drop. You don’t need it to do that much. If it makes a single Zombie token that’s great, and if that happens the turn you cast it, that is imminently game-stabilizing. If it makes multiple Zombie tokens, that’s a route to winning an attrition game.
I can’t imagine building a Standard Aphemia deck without Tymaret Calls the Dead. It’s an enchantment that readily dies and self-mills to fuel Aphemia, and there’s the cute Zombie tribal synergy upside. Ross Merriam went deep on this card last week, but expect these decks to be a ton of enchantments and creatures so that you never miss on either core card.
Good thing there was an entire mechanic of “creatures in the graveyard, spells on the stack” in Throne of Eldraine.
With the obvious cards you will see in all these decks out of the way, let’s get to building some lists.
The first card that caught my eye under the obvious search of all enchantments in Theros Beyond Death Standard is Divine Visitation. The default shell for Aphemia starts with multiple token makers and Aphemia makes a token the turn you cast Divine Visitation, which is really the big hurdle with that enchantment.
Orzhov has a ton of great Aphemia enablers that have use beyond self-mill. There’s a lot of convenient overlap between all of these as well. The final phase for both The Birth of Meletis and Tymaret Calls the Dead isn’t super-important, making them great Doom Foretold sacrifices. The Birth of Meletis is a token-maker for Divine Visitation and helps your deck cast the five-drop on time without trimming on spell slots for lands. Oath of Kaya plus Doom Foretold is a known setup from Dance of the Manse decks, but multiples of Oath of Kaya form their own way to dump enchantments, similarly to multiples of Aphemia.
- 4 Banishing Light
- 4 Divine Visitation
- 4 Oath of Kaya
- 4 Doom Foretold
- 4 Tymaret Calls the Dead
- 4 The Birth of Meletis
It’s really absurd how well Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis ties everything together here. It’s a self-mill payoff, it’s a permanent you can use then sacrifice to Doom Foretold, it’s tokens for Divine Visitation. Woe Strider would be similarly nice, but escape cards have diminishing returns and one of these two cards is the flashy planeswalker face of a set and the other is a random rare. You do the math on which to start with.
Treacherous Blessing is not a card appearing in any of these decks today, and it seems best to address that upfront in the Doom Foretold list. Spending a card to remove your own Treacherous Blessing is not good, a clunky way to build a Thirst for Meaning. This includes burning a Teferi, Time Raveler bounce, since the target disappearing fizzles the card draw. That just leaves inherent sacrifices, and those are all expensive and overkill. Do you need a card that is only really good once you have resolved Doom Foretold or Vraska, Golgari Queen or Korvold, Fae-Cursed King? Can you even really play enough of those cards in the same deck to make a sacrifice reliable? Is that even worth it to build a draw-three? Maybe something from a future reveal or set ties it together, but for now Treacherous Blessing isn’t there.
Banishing Light is a massive upgrade to Prison Realm given the current texture of Standard. You need answers to Fires of Invention and Witch’s Oven. Conclave Tribunal is legal, but if you aren’t casting multiple one-mana creatures the turn you cast it, Tribunal is a noticeable downgrade from the three-mana equivalents.
Overall, this Orzhov deck feels great. You might want a couple more cheap removal spells or sweeper access in the maindeck, but the core is a bunch of powerful synergies and clearly good cards.
There is also a heavier white version of this deck that eschews Doom Foretold for a more aggressive stance and Heliod, Sun-Crowned.
- 3 Bishop of Wings
- 3 Daxos, Blessed by the Sun
- 2 Woe Strider
- 3 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
- 3 Aphemia, the Cacophony
I think part of the appeal here is supposed to be the three-card infinite combo. The actual Angel options for Bishop of Wings aren’t great, but if you have Divine Visitation, the Spirit token it makes when an Angel dies turns back into an Angel. Add Woe Strider as a sacrifice outlet and you have infinite scry and infinite Bishop of Wings lifegain triggers. If you scry into a Heliod, that’s infinite power. Woe Strider even comes with the Goat token to jump-start the whole chain.
Good work there lil’ Goat fella.
Why do none of the prior decks feature Erebos, Bleak-Hearted? The triggered ability draws cards off tokens dying, so the Midnight Reaper nontoken problem isn’t it.
The real issue is the black cards demand a bigger commitment to devotion. Erebos, Bleak-Hearted is not a good card unless it turns into a creature, and there aren’t multiple reasonable double-black two-drops. Yarok’s Fenlurker ain’t cutting it. Erebos isn’t even a great machine-gun-style removal option since -2/-1 doesn’t kill significant bodies.
If I’m going Mono-Black Devotion, I’m going hard on Mono-Black Devotion.
- 4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 2 Gutterbones
- 2 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 4 Murderous Rider
- 3 Ayara, First of Locthwain
- 4 Cauldron Familiar
- 3 Erebos, Bleak-Hearted
- 3 Aphemia, the Cacophony
- 3 Tymaret, Chosen from Death
I know I’ve had some critical things to say about Gray Merchant of Asphodel, but this is the exact kind of deck it is good in. You can reliably make it a six- to ten-point burn spell and have the other reach to add up to that being lethal.
This is also why I’ve eschewed the Priest of Forgotten Gods part of the existing Mono-Black Sacrifice deck. You want to keep your permanents on the battlefield for devotion these days, not sacrifice stuff for profit.
Bolas’s Citadel is the one card Paulo had paired with Gray Merchant last week that I’m not including. I’m just not sold on starting a six-drop that only has a history of being a midrange mirror breaker in Standard. If the metagame starts leveling out that way I’m fine being wrong, but I don’t think the baseline effect is reliably game-ending when you don’t find a Gray Merchant of Asphodel.
The Other Colors
There weren’t quite the payoffs in the other colors for a full Standard deck, but there are some snippets that are a short a preview or maybe just a single card I missed.
Green was the closest to a functional deck with Glowspore Shaman and The Binding of the Titans as strong graveyard enablers and Polukranos, Unchained as the payoff, but it splices less cleanly into the other existing Golgari cards the way the Orzhov cards all tied together. The entire Guilds of Ravnica undergrowth mechanic is just nonfunctional with escape, and the best Food or Adventure have to offer is Trail of Crumbs as another enchantment to flip or Order of Midnight getting fresh targets. Setessan Champion makes me think there’s a Theros Beyond Death heavy constellation-escape hybrid deck here, but it’s short a good enchantment or two.
Aphemia is another graveyard payoff for the weird Dredge-esque decks based around Drowned Secrets. The old versions of this deck were based around Arclight Phoenix with some Creeping Chill to close the gap, but I think the end shell for this largely depends on exactly what escape cards and cheap spells can come together.
Red had the least to offer, but Underworld Breach is almost insane enough to make me take a look. There are also some somewhat interesting pump spells between The Triumph of Anax and Escape Velocity, but the only Rakdos creature that inspires me to pump things is Dreadhorde Arcanist and that’s way too many non-overlapping card types to card about. You could Embercleave with the pump spells, but that’s just worse than the existing Rakdos Knights deck.
Strength from the Fallen
I had mentioned Strength from the Fallen in Pioneer last week as a card likely to gain from a set of enchantment creatures and self-mill synergies, and in those seven days the deck has gotten quite a few goodies. I’m unsure it’s actually better than the Prized Amalgam self-mill lists currently floating around the format, but it’s doing something that isn’t immediately and obviously worse.
- 4 Nighthowler
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Gnarled Scarhide
- 3 Brain Maggot
- 2 Stitcher's Supplier
- 4 Aphemia, the Cacophony
- 4 Commune with the Gods
- 4 Strength from the Fallen
- 3 Kruphix's Insight
- 4 The Binding of the Titans
- 4 Tymaret Calls the Dead
Space is extremely tight in this deck and your effects extremely precise, as evidenced by the deck playing fewer than four Stitcher’s Supplier. You need enchantments, but also creatures, yet also need to hit lands. I originally wanted the deck to play Gilded Goose as another flyer to carry a Strength from the Fallen pump but it just doesn’t do enough.
There are a few cards that are still in the deck just because of the card type “enchantment” that I’m hoping to trim. Nighthowler was one of the best cards in the Standard self-mill decks of the Theros era, but I just don’t want to reliably hit four mana to bestow it. Gnarled Scarhide isn’t good; it’s just efficient. The Binding of the Titans seems like what you want at first, but mills relatively few cards and is slow to recur only your second-best cards. It’s just the enchantment-only equivalent of Stitcher’s Supplier, a card I’m already trimming.
There might be a more enchantment-focused, self-mill light list that starts Setessan Champion, but for now I would just assume it’s the best alternate sideboard threat. You don’t dilute your primary plan too much by adding it, and it ignores opposing Leyline of the Voids. I would be similarly precise with your other sideboard cards: stuff like Lovestruck Beast against aggro, Reclamation Sage to handle hate cards.
Regardless, Aphemia, the Cacophony is insane in this deck. You reliably make a Zombie every turn with it. Honestly, it might even be a better reason to play this strategy than Strength from the Fallen.
And that’s what interests me the most about Aphemia. The card is powerful at low investment, really powerful at high investment, and takes you down a ton of trails that lead to all sorts of other great interactions.
Not a bad spot for a favorite card in Theros Beyond Death.