Catching Up To Theros Beyond Death Standard For SCG Richmond

Patrick Chapin reviews the state of Standard ahead of SCG Richmond. Does “The Innovator” see any format-breaking tech?

Gadwick, the Wizened, illustrated by Colin Boyer

Theros Beyond Death makes its major tournament debut this weekend, with both a Team Constructed Open and an SCG Classic in Richmond. In preparation for that, I’d like to take a look at the best new strategies to come out of Theros Beyond Death so far, based on early Magic Online (MTGO) results. The new set has wasted no time having a major impact, so let’s just dive in!

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is one of the new cards that jumps out at me the most. Even if we set aside the escape ability, we’re still talking about a three-cost Explore / Growth Spiral that also gains three life.

Of course, the escape ability is worth a great deal more than zero. Uro is an extremely powerful threat that comes online quickly, generating tons of advantages on the way in and even more if ever allowed to attack. This card just seems unbelievable. The question is, how best to take advantage of it?

Chayajom’s Sultai Ramp list starts with a relatively standard Simic Ramp base and then adds a black splash to support Casualties of War, which may not be industry standard, but is hardly unexpected. Perhaps a little less common is the heavy use of Thought Erasure maindeck, but again, it’s nothing too out of the ordinary. Surveil is even a bit of a combo with escape, giving you a little extra fuel for getting stuff back.

Thought Erasure

The discard is so valuable in this style of tap-out ramp, Chayajom even goes on to run a full playset of Agonizing Remorse in the sideboard, with only a light touch of permission. The more exotic black card to show up in Chayajom’s list, however, is the giant new four-drop, Polukranos, Unchained.

Polukranos, Unchained

Polukranos is back, and this time it starts off as a 6/6. As if that wasn’t enough, it can relatively easily arrange fights for added flexibility. Combat and burn may wear down Polukranos’s stats; but with that escape ability, it’ll be back, and when it returns, it’s generally at least a 12/12…

Errr, what?!

That is a ton of escape, but maybe you can really just play this much and it’s awesome. Maybe Polukrakos is really just that strong of a threat? I definitely think it’s currently underplayed, and I kind of just want to try it in all sorts of Golgari decks. This could be a Casualties of War deck, but I could also imagine a mostly green Questing Beast sort of Monsters deck, or something built around Edgewall Innkeeper.

Edgewall Innkeeper

There’s a lot of competition for four-drops but maybe we can update Golgari Adventures somewhat along the lines of another of Chayajom’s winning decks, Gruul Adventures:

This list updates Gruul Adventures with an even lighter Adventure theme, instead making Embercleave the deck’s central focus. Potentially stacking beautifully with Embercleave, while also enhancing the reliability of Lovestruck Beast, is a card we talked about at length last week.

The First Iroan Games

The First Iroan Games is excellent. It’s a lot of material spread out very efficiently and in quite useful ways. It’s also capable of generating enough advantages, we’re no longer so hard-pressed to play as many Adventure creatures as possible, just hoping to get lucky and spike an Innkeeper.

This isn’t the only extremely strong three-drop enchantment Gruul picks up with Theros Beyond Death, however:

Klothys, God of Destiny

Last week’s main topic, Klothys, God of Destiny, has wasted no time putting up results, and I suspect this is only the beginning. It’s relatively easy to just keep draining your opponent for two a turn, which is just such an amazing deal compared to what three-drops usually do (given how difficult it is to remove). Everything else it brings to the table is just gravy.

Mystic Repeal

Despite how blue Mystic cards and Repeal cards are, Mystic Repeal is the newest cheap green sideboard card. It may not have the flexibility of hitting artifacts, but with its ability to tuck enchantments to the bottom of someone’s library, it does have the ability to deal with enchantments with escape, cards that interact with enchantments in the graveyard, and indestructible Gods, such as Thassa, Deep-Dwelling.

Thassa, Deep-Dwelling

Thassa has already started making waves in Theros Beyond Death Standard, with players looking to find a way to leverage her to fuel some kind of crazy Thassa’s Oracle deck. For instance:

The big thing here is using Nyx Lotus to fuel huge Gadwicks, though using Thassa to blink creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities isn’t too bad, either.

Nyx Lotus Gadwick, the Wizened

You don’t have to blink Agent of Treachery very many times before you’re really getting somewhere, you know?

Agent of Treachery

This isn’t even scratching the surface of what’s possible with Mono-Blue Devotion, as I’m actually more interested in something a bit more creature-heavy with Threnody Singer and Spectral Sailor. As for Agent of Treachery, I wouldn’t hate trying one in a Simic Ramp deck with Finale of Devastation.

Finale of Devastation

Finale of Devastation already has value as additional copies of Risen Reef and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, with the late-game potential of finding End-Raze Forerunners. Now, with the addition of Theros Beyond Death, we can use it to find a one-of copy of Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, giving us a durable card advantage engine capable of overpowering removal-based decks. One copy of Thassa and one copy of Agent of Treachery aren’t super-likely to assemble the wombo-combo, but I just think Agent of Treachery could be an invaluable tutor target in the first place, as well as a fine draw randomly.

Regardless of whether Agent of Treachery is worth a slot in the 75, Thassa does good work and we actually see a second copy in the sideboard for especially grindy matchups. Once you start blinking Risen Reef or Cavalier of Thorns, it doesn’t take long to completely take over. If you want to go even harder on Elementals, there’s no reason you can’t splash red for Omnath, Locus of the Roil.

Omnath, Locus of the Roil

Temur Elementals decks have already enjoyed a fair bit of success and JakeHelms showcases an update to the archetype that incorporates three copies of Thassa, Deep-Dwelling for some super-duper combos:

These decks were already interested in Neoform in order to chain Elementals together. Between the Neoforms and the Thassas, a really interesting alternative sub-theme starts to emerge.


What’s the link? You see, Neoform lets you sacrifice creatures and Thassa lets you blink them… and then have them return under your control!

Claim the Firstborn The Akroan War

Claim the Firstborn and The Akroan War are both used as temporary steal effects that can be made into much more. Neoform’s drawback is turned into upside when you sacrifice your opponent’s creature, and Thassa’s blink makes any temporary theft permanent.

This is hardly the only Claim the Firstborn / The Akroan War strategy to show up this week, however. Not surprisingly, the Cat came back, the very next format…

Cauldron Familiar Witch's Oven

Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven have been a defining combination since they were printed, but it’s not even The Akroan War that headlines the newest breed of Rakdos Sacrifice decks.

Woe Strider

Woe Strider is an absolutely amazing new three-drop that not only gives you an extra token to sacrifice but is also a zero-cost sacrifice outlet, letting you threaten all sorts of things at instant speed regardless of your current mana. The selection is useful, of course, and the card works fantastically with Midnight Reaper and Mayhem Devil. As if all this wasn’t enough, it doesn’t take much to come back, and when it does, it’s an even bigger threat than the first time around.

Make no mistake about it: Woe Strider is the real deal.

While there’s a lot to like about the above list, I think it’s missing a really exciting new four-drop from Theros Beyond Death that combines with a lot of other on-plan cards.

Nightmare Shepherd

Nightmare Shepherd isn’t your average 4/4 flyer for four with upside. When you have a zero-mana sacrifice outlet like Woe Strider, you can actually get double sacrifice triggers from each of your creatures (or at least the nontoken ones). This can add up to a ton of Mayhem Devil damage, sure, but you can actually go further and play enters- or leaves-the-battlefield triggers worth copying. In addition to Woe Strider, Careless Celebrant and Rix Maadi Reveler both come ready to party.

Careless Celebrant Rix Maadi Reveler

Careless Celebrant looks excellent to me, as long as you have ways to sacrifice it for value. The two damage might not be able to go to the face, but it’s quite efficient for fighting cheap, fast threats; and the ability to hit planeswalkers is a nice bonus.

Here’s an example of Nightmare Shepherd in action inside a Rakdos Sacrifice deck:

Definitely interesting to see a proof of concept of how some of the newest devotion cards can really be put to good purpose in non-Devotion decks.

Drag to the Underworld

It only takes two black mana symbols to max out Drag to the Underworld, and then you’ve got yourself a really good deal on some hard creature kill. Still, such minor devotion means missing out on marvels such as Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Talk about a card that’s fantastic to make a 1/1 copy of thanks to Nightmare Shepherd

Personally, I think the Gray Merchant of Asphodel / Nightmare Shepherd / Woe Strider interaction is so strong, I really want to start with a base of four of each and go from there. That said, Ayara, First of Locthwain is no slouch in such a strategy either.

Ayara, First of Locthwain

Plenty of devotion, on-plan draining, and another zero-cost sacrifice outlet, albeit only once a turn. Ayara looks great here.

Yarok's Fenlurker

Another ability well worth copying (since the 1/1 the Shepherd makes also makes them exile a card from their hand), Yarok’s Fenlurker is a fine early-game play, makes for a passable threat if you’ve got nothing else cooking, and adds a lot of devotion to the battlefield.

Tymaret, Chosen from Death

Speaking of devotion to black, Tymaret is a fantastic blocker, a nice source of extra life, meaningful graveyard interaction, and just an all-around solid two-drop. You love to see it.

Erebos's Intervention

Erebos’s Intervention is a cute sideboard option for combating especially escape-centric lists, as well as giving us a serviceable additional form of removal (even if it’s a little slow and clunky). I’m not the biggest fan, but the card seems fine.

Dread Presence

Definitely the most speculative part of the above list, Dread Presence is an additional cog in the drain-’em-out machine while also giving us a must-kill threat that can either stabilize the battlefield or generate serious card advantage. I would really enjoy if Dread Presence was right to play (especially this many!), but I am suspicious, as we can only really afford so many five-drops (and in many ways, Dread Presence sort of is one).

Bolas's Citadel

Bolas’s Citadel was already an attractive plan for going really big, and Gray Merchant of Asphodel is just such a perfect way to give us extra life to fuel this thing, not to mention getting people down to ten, opening the door for Bolas’s Citadel to just finish them outright.

Still, this is hardly the only way to trade life for cards. Roquefort has a bit of a wild take on black devotion with one such alternative:

Look, I love Treacherous Blessing as much as the next guy, but isn’t this a little aggressive?

Treacherous Blessing

Drawing three cards for three mana is a great deal, but with almost no way to get it off the table, we’re really kind of setting ourselves up for a long-term liability, right?

Blast Zone

Yeah, we could Blast Zone it away; but let’s be serious.

Eat to Extinction

Yeah, really serious. 

All jokes aside, Eat to Extinction is actually a fine option if you need/want more Murderous Riders and already have four of them. Besides, it exiles, giving it many of the same advantages as the aforementioned Mystic Repeal.

As for Treacherous Blessing, can we at least get some combos up in this piece?

Alseid of Life's Bounty

Alseid of Life’s Bounty is a whole lot more than just another 1/1 lifelinker for one. The sacrifice mode is awesome for protecting key threats (like Nightmare Shepherd) and can even be used to “protect” your Treacherous Blessing

Final Payment Cavalier of Dawn

Final Payment and Cavalier of Dawn are also solid cards in their own right than can be made to work with Treacherous Blessing in pretty satisfying ways. Toxicmahogany’s 5-0 league list is a great example of this approach in action:

This list is leaning heavily on the enchantment synergies, with All That Glitters, Archon of Sun’s Grace, Starfield Mystic, Hateful Eidolon, and Aphemia, the Cacophony all paying us extra for being enchantment-based. And with so many enchantment payoffs, it’s not surprising to see the removal spells focused on enchantments that tend to go to the graveyard when cast.

Mire's Grasp Dead Weight

Similarly, Tymaret Calls the Dead is a solid way to get multiple threats while also triggering all of our enchantment synergies and filling our graveyard a little (which is especially nice with Aphemia).

Tymaret Calls the Dead

While we’re milling cards, we can also be on the lookout for Sentinel’s Eyes, which is not only extra stats as we see fit but also a reusable source of enchantments for all of our synergies, especially Hateful Eidolon.

Sentinel's Eyes

Just be careful about trying to play Sentinel’s Eyes at the same time as Kunoros, Hound of Athreos!

Kunoros, Hound of Athreos

Kunoros is an interesting sideboard option that can really dominate the battlefield against fast aggro decks or do double duty as a form of disruption for Uro decks.

Elspeth Conquers Death

Elspeth Conquers Death is the new The Eldest Reborn, and while not quite as powerful, I expect we’ll be seeing a lot of it over the next couple of years, thanks to the extra-juiced first chapter.

Kevslinger’s Azorius Control deck is another example of a potential application for Elspeth Conquers Death:

Like the previous Orzhov Constellation deck, this build capitalizes on enchantments, as well. Instead of a wide-range of synergies, however, it mostly just wants to use enough to take advantage of Thirst for Meaning.

Thirst for Meaning

Thirst for Meaning is quite similar to previous all-star Thirst for Knowledge, and definitely worth building around. Getting such a powerful card drawer for three instead of four is worth making some sacrifices.

The Birth of Meletis Omen of the Sea Banishing Light

The Birth of Meletis and Omen of the Sea are both discussed at length here, as are Shatter the Sky; Dream Trawler; Labyrinth of Skophos; Thassa’s Intervention; Heliod’s Intervention; Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis; and just about every other new white or blue control card. Instead, let’s take a look at a less heavily discussed planeswalker, Ashiok, Nightmare Muse.

Ashiok, Nightmare Muse

They are a somewhat straightforward package that packs more into the token-making ability than most token-centric planeswalkers, and the bounce/discard ability is solid. Most importantly, perhaps, they’re multicolored, making them an interesting new option for Hero of Precinct One decks!

Along with the (now) ever-popular Dream Trawler, Atris-Oracle of Half-Truths gives us yet another enticing gold creature that can generate some solid card advantage, while also pressuring opponents. 

Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths

I’m not sure it’s actually even better than Elite Guardmage, but it’s at least worth the look (and at least in the ballpark).

Leyline of the Void

Has it really come to this? I guess it does really mess up escape…

As for Elspeth, she may be a role-player in control sideboards, but she’s also seeing play in fast aggro decks, such as the white aggro deck piloted by ElYallo:

Normally, twenty lands would make it tough to play so many fours, but Heraldic Banner definitely helps.

Heraldic Banner

While I’m not sure I’m sold on it, there is one new creature here worth talking about.

Eidolon of Obstruction

Eidolon of Obstruction is definitely a source of exactly that. If you cast it on Turn 2, you’re going to really mess up anyone overly reliant on planeswalkers. One extra mana may not seem like much, but one a turn kind of makes this a Kataki for planeswalkers that happens to mess them up the turn they’re cast, too. The biggest problem I have with it is how many planeswalkers can actually kill it, neutralize it, or outclass it.

We’ve only barely scratched the surface, but make no mistake about it: Theros Beyond Death is high-impact and a deep well for brewing.