Theros Beyond Death previews are rolling in, and so far I’m really liking the feel of the set. There are a few cards that look potentially busted, but there are many others that are going to be difficult to evaluate until we see them in action. My spotlight card for this week will be one that looks completely ridiculous, yet still might take some real elbow grease to figure out completely. If you’ve seen the new cards this week, you probably already know what card I’m going to spend today talking about.
Ox of Agonas is a powerful card that features the new graveyard mechanic: escape. Much like the Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis, Ox of Agonas can keep coming back from the graveyard even if your opponent kills it. If your graveyard is full of cards, Ox of Agonas is the perfect way to refuel when both players are low on resources. In fact, refueling when you’re low on resources is exactly what Ox of Agonas is meant to do, no matter where it’s sitting. Before we get any further, there’s one very easy comparison that I want to showcase.
Bedlam Reveler is very often misunderstood. I think only a handful of decks in Magic’s history use it to its fullest potential. If you draw a bunch of cards, Bedlam Reveler is harder to leverage because you’re not getting a perfect draw three. If your deck is full of discard spells like Thoughtseize or Duress, your refuel will be with cards that are less than ideal. The easiest way to mitigate both of these downsides is to fill your deck with versatile burn spells and/or stuff like Faithless Looting so you can turn those extra three cards into something more useful.
Like Bedlam Reveler, it would be ideal for us to be empty-handed when it comes time to cast Ox of Agonas or use the escape ability. Getting the perfect draw-three after using all of your spells just feels so damn good, so I can only imagine how good it must feel to get multiple uses out of it via the escape mechanic. In most scenarios where you’re casting it from hand, Bedlam Reveler will usually be the ideal candidate because you get to reduce the cost significantly. However, I don’t know that I’ve seen a better graveyard-centric payoff in a long time, and I actually think Ox of Agonas is going to be better than Conflagrate.
The dredge mechanic exists to be broken. Cards that say both “discard” and “draw” on them are usually pretty scary because they work so well with dredge. Even cards like Haggle or Insolent Neonate are potentially viable because of the dredge mechanic, giving you a way to put one of those graveyard-related cards where they belong. Without powerful cards that are useful in the grave, those effects wouldn’t be very good, but what if one card could do both things? Seems like it would be pretty nutty with the dredge mechanic, eh?
A long time ago, various Dredge decks were centered around the combination of Cephalid Sage and Dread Return. And while everyone can agree that Dread Return was the more powerful card in this combination, bringing back a creature to effectively draw the rest of your deck was a big deal for Dredge decks. Most of that strength came off the back of free effects like Narcomoeba and Cabal Therapy, but having one card effectively mill the rest of your deck is a huge deal. If your opponent is at twelve life, they’re dead to Creeping Chill. If you’re playing against a fair opponent, you get to refill your battlefield with Prized Amalgam, Bloodghast, and Narcomoeba.
The Modern versions of Dredge have been based around red for the past few years thanks to Faithless Looting and Conflagrate. But with Faithless Looting getting banned, it’s been difficult to figure out what to replace it with. Let’s be clear: Ox of Agonas is not Faithless Looting. It’s not even close. But it does give you a huge payoff for playing stuff like Haggle and Insolent Neonate.
When you have a payoff like Ox of Agonas, all of your enablers get better, even if they don’t seem so good to start. Just think about how mediocre we used to think Shriekhorn used to be. Now it’s one of the better graveyard enablers for the early-game. A rising tide lifts all boats, and having a payoff like Ox of Agonas will make all of those enabler cards significantly better than they were before.
It’s pretty obvious to me that Ox of Agonas is going to reshape how people build Dredge in Modern, but it’ll take a few weeks to really hammer out the details. Here’s where I want to start.
- 4 Golgari Thug
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 3 Ox of Agonas
This build of Dredge eschews Life from the Loam and Conflagrate in favor of Ox of Agonas. We aren’t trying to win a longer game. We’re trying to put them at dead or virtually dead the moment we use escape on Ox of Agonas. Creeping Chill gives us some enormous burst damage as we mill through our entire deck. In fact, if you’re played with or against Dredge before, you know how outrageous a single Cathartic Reunion can be. And while Ox of Agonas isn’t quite as potent as Cathartic Reunion is at being an enabler, it’s certainly as powerful or potentially more powerful once you get the escape up and running.
To be frank, exiling eight cards for the escape on Ox of Agonas is a real cost, but it’s certainly much easier when you get to mill your entire deck via dredge. And while Ox of Agonas probably won’t be as disgusting as Dread Return into Cephalid Sage (seeing as it actually costs some mana), I honestly think it’s going to feel incredible the first time you get to do it. How often as a Dredge player are you stuck with two or three cards in hand that you’d love to put into the graveyard? With Ox of Agonas, it’s so easy to put them where they belong. And on top of that, you get three opportunities to dredge, giving you the potential to put up to fifteen more cards into the graveyard.
Modern has gone through some serious changes over the last year, including the banning of one of the most degenerate cards that this style of deck could ever want:
Faithless Looting was the primary reason to play graveyard-based decks. Not only did it help sculpt your early draws, it also gave you something to do later in the game when you ran out of action. The flashback mechanic is very good in this style of deck because all of your spells with that ability have a second life once they hit the graveyard. The flashback on Faithless Looting was always one of the major draws to playing it in these style of decks, as that same effect for three mana was still very much worth it!
Ultimately, it was deemed too good for Modern, and as a result is no longer with us. There are other formats where Faithless Looting is still legal, and I can only imagine how completely absurd Ox of Agonas is going to be when you combine it with the “good” graveyard enablers of Magic’s past, and one of the most degenerate mana generator/discard outlets ever printed.
Building Dredge in Legacy means we get to do some busted stuff, but that format is pretty degenerate already. The real question is this: “Does Ox of Agonas make the deck significantly more consistent or powerful?” I think it will, and I’d like to give it a try at some point in the near future.
With the London mulligan in effect, I want to try to be as degenerate in the first game as possible. We aren’t set up to kill immediately when resolving the escape ability on Ox of Agonas, but that isn’t necessary when we get to rip their entire hand apart with Cabal Therapy. The amount of power we leave behind is outrageous thanks to Bridge from Below, so any deck playing fair is going to have a really tough time beating us once we get the engine going.
After sideboard, things get a little bit more difficult, but that’s always the case with decks that rely entirely on the graveyard to function. Here are some cards I’d like to try out, even though they didn’t end up making the initial cut:
I love the idea of Unmask in a deck like this, giving you more discard outlets if you want to target yourself or a great way to disrupt the opponent if they’re a faster combo deck. Since most of our spells are black, you shouldn’t have much trouble keeping this turned on, but the card disadvantage when you’re using the London mulligan aggressively can really take a toll.
I love Creeping Chill so much that I’d like to try to find a way to get it into the Legacy version, but I’m not so certain it’s necessary, hence it’s exclusion.
Cards like Breakthrough are powerful, but I’d much rather have the consistency of Careful Study. Ox of Agonas is our Breakthrough. It lets us churn through our entire deck once we get it into the graveyard. The upside is that we don’t have to draw it in order for it to be great.
I’ve seen variants that use both of these creatures, but they’re a bit slower than what we’re looking for in Legacy. Thanks to Lion’s Eye Diamond, we can do some seriously broken stuff, so I’m unsure that either is a worthwhile inclusion. I’m very curious to see if either will make the cut in the “final form” of Dredge once we get things sorted out.
But what about Ox of Agonas in a format without the dredge mechanic? It’s strange to think about, but is this card even playable without the ability to continually put cards into your graveyard? Dredge just seems so perfect to pair with Ox of Agonas that it is starting to cloud my judgment of it in other formats.
After much thinking, I suspect it could have an impact on Pioneer in the right deck. But it suffers from some of the same problems as Bedlam Reveler, and I don’t know that it’s better than playing Treasure Cruise.
I love that it comes back from the graveyard as the game progresses. I love that you can pitch it to Lightning Axe or Izzet Charm in the early turns and bring it back later. And that’s something you can’t do with Treasure Cruise and be happy about it. So that’s the trick, then: loot it away in the early turns, empty your hand, and then bring it back via escape when you’ve run out of resources. Seems like it could be a slam dunk in the right shell.
I’ve had some wonderful brews revolving around The Royal Scions in Pioneer so far. The ultimate is surprisingly easy to achieve, if only because the rest of your deck is chock-full of removal to get you over the finish line! The only thing I really found lacking was a top-end threat that functioned at a high level of synergy with the rest of the strategy. Ox of Agonas is exactly that threat.
Lightning Axe is one of the better enablers in Pioneer, allowing you to interact with most creatures while putting something into the graveyard for later. Alongside Fiery Temper, Ox of Agonas gives you another potent card to pair with the discard effect, allowing you to unlock its full potential quite early.
What I like most about this deck is that you can actually just hard-cast Ox of Agonas without much trouble. Your removal pushes you toward the later turns, and you aren’t gumming up the discard/draw effect by playing a bunch of stuff like Opt or Crash Through. In many ways, this is just a midrange deck revolving around The Royal Scions, but you can go ballistic in the late-game with an Ox of Agonas or two.
As we get closer to the release of Theros Beyond Death, I’ll be looking for a bunch of brews from you fine folk revolving around this card. I really hope this is the next iteration of Bedlam Reveler, as I love that type of effect in older formats. Filling your graveyard with stuff isn’t all that difficult if you put in a little effort. It’s a bit harder in Pioneer since we don’t have fetchlands to help push us over the finish line, but I’m okay with that if I still get to cast Dig Through Time every now and then.
I’ll be joining Ryan Overturf in the booth this weekend at SCG Columbus, and I’m sure we’ll be diving into these preview cards pretty hard, so make sure to tune in to hear all my thoughts, as well as some great Team Modern action!