When Throne of Eldraine was released, I was shocked by the power level to the point I made a list of all the most clearly broken cards in the set.
Honestly, that list aged extremely well, only missing that Gilded Goose was Tree of Tales incarnate. Or aged horribly, because these cards are defining every Constructed format.
Then Wizards of the Coast (WotC) said sets would remain in that range of power level. The top-end of the power level, but still in range of what they consider fine. I was so stunned I literally still haven’t figured out how to formulate a response.
Then the Theros Beyond Death previews started rolling, and I realized they were right. So here we are again, counting down the most broken cards in Theros Beyond Death.
10. Deathbellow War Cry
Tooth and Nail is not a fair card. Scapeshift is also not a fair card. Winning the game by casting a single sorcery just is never fair.
Weirdo Minotaur Scapeshift / Tooth and Nail is a weird but unfair card. I don’t really know what anyone is doing with Deathbellow War Cry that isn’t a one-shot kill, even casual players, but maybe that’s cool at eight mana?
Maybe Minotaurs are inherently cool? I might need someone more hip to explain this to me.
All of the kills with Deathbellow War Cry revolve around finding Kragma Warcaller. From there, choose your mix of random Minotaurs; you only need them to deal another ten damage since Kragma Warcaller covers the haste.
The main reason I think this Minotaur kill is remotely close to reasonable is that Deathbellow War Cry is one set removed from Irencrag Feat. Ritual effects that net three mana are absurdly rare, and Irencrag Feat makes a lot of otherwise impossible nonsense possible. So maybe we can chalk this one up to Throne of Eldraine, but a one-card kill is a one-card kill.
Plus, there are definitely bonus nonsense points to be gained for being a card you can’t open in Draft Boosters. If you want to play Deathbellow War Cry Combo, you’d better plan way ahead to find the cards.
9. Thassa’s Oracle
Thassa’s Oracle winning the game with an empty library isn’t a new effect. Laboratory Maniac is a decade old and people have found many ways to empty their library and win with it. We got Jace, Wielder of Mysteries last year as a kill that doesn’t need a cantrip of assistance.
But just being cheaper is a huge upgrade.
Modern Ad Nauseam isn’t a good deck or even broken one, but it often has issues with Simian Spirit Guide count with Laboratory Maniac kills. That just won’t ever happen to it again with a two-mana kill condition. Same with Neoform, an actually broken deck.
And Thassa’s Oracle is more of a card than any of the similar options. A two-mana 1/3 that fixes draws is a fine way to bridge to a combo kill. And to use a Sam Pardee quote, unlike Augur of Bolas, you always get to keep one of the cards if you want and not just put them all on the bottom!
You might even convince me to play Doomsday with this card. Not because it actually makes more kills possible, but because it makes them easier.
8. Wolfwillow Haven
This is just a bad Wild Growth, right?
Wild Growth is broken by 2019 standards. Not because other cards got worse, but because the other cards you can use that mana on got so much better.
One of the most important parts of ramp decks is figuring out your ramp-influenced mana curve. The dream is double-ramping off three mana to jump up to six mana the next turn. Hopefully this happens on Turn 3 with a one-drop ramp spell to start.
Wolfwillow Haven is the “one-drop” ramp spell for that double ramp turn. By casting it on an untapped land, you get a one-mana rebate to spend on your next ramp spell.
While Modern has cards like this with Fertile Ground, there just isn’t one for Pioneer. There isn’t even a Farseek in Pioneer. Wolfwillow Haven is “broken” in a similar way that Llanowar Elves is “broken.”
There’s also some text about making a Wolf. That’s not part of the broken stuff, but it’s nice to have.
7. Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Brad Nelson questioned the brokeness of Dryad of the Ilysian Grove last week, but it seems obvious to me. He just wasn’t making the right comparison.
This card isn’t Courser of Kruphix, it’s Arcum’s Astrolabe with a splash of Exploration. Perfect mana while playing a fine at-rate creature is a huge game-changer. The Niv-Mizzet Reborn synergies interest me. The no-Mountain Scapeshift kill synergies interest me. People regularly played Prismatic Omen with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and it didn’t even attack, block, or ramp you!
Or more accurately, Sam Black has already been playing with Wayward Swordtooth in Pioneer, and that card has downsides instead of upsides.
6. Storm Herald
I did the Gatherer search. There is exactly one Aura you want to recur with Storm Herald: Eldrazi Conscription. That probably wins the game if you trigger annihilator on Turn 3. There might be some weird Splinter Twin setup I missed in Legacy, or some secondary Arcanum Wings Aura Swap shenanigans you can pull, but it likely all ends in +10/+10 and trample.
Really, Storm Herald is a future-looking broken card. At some point Replenish for Auras is going to be enough to reliably win the game. Even right now I think the Eldrazi Conscription setup is solid as a secondary route for a Hollow One-style deck that is likely lacking a Faithless Looting replacement.
But that slightly missing support doesn’t make the card not broken.
5. The Titans
I’m cheating and doubling up here because both Titans are broken in the same way.
Graveyard recursive card advantage on large bodies? Close to broken. 6/6 size on small costs? People made Phyrexian Dreadnaught work; they can Hushbringer to make this work. They trigger various high-power creature abilities at low cost, like a Witch’s Oven bonus, and just generally break the baked-in limits on a lot of other text boxes.
Contrary to the early hype, I think Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger might be the more broken of the two. Simply being a faster clock and a cheaper “spell” on first cast makes the exploits much easier and more punishing. If you are playing fair, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is a more natural fit with Nissa, Who Shakes the World, but talking about fair decks isn’t what today’s article is about.
4. Heliod, Sun-Crowned
I had a reasonable amount of success with Archangel of Thune back in the Melira Company days, and there are always more combos than you would expect with that effect. Heliod, Sun-Crowned is the same effect as Archangel of Thune, but for three mana.
The Walking Ballista combo in Pioneer and the Spike Feeder combo in Modern are what everyone has hyped, but Heliod even functions as the Melira, Sylvok Outcast part of the Kitchen Finks / sacrifice outlet combo. Kitchen Finks also satisfies the oddly awkward white devotion requirement for Heliod to attack, and this fair-mode synergy is reason to actually consider this combo over Devoted Druid / Vizier of Remedies.
It is yet to be seen if Modern becomes remotely friendly to creature combo in a post-Oko era, but options for your base that are a little less vulnerable to answers can’t hurt its odds.
3. Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded
I was shocked when I saw PVDDR rank Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded as the worst monocolored God last week. I can see Thassa, Deep-Dwelling or Heliod, Sun-Crowned ending up as the best when the dust settles, but my current ranking has Purphoros as the best.
Sneak Attack just isn’t a fair effect. Sure, actual Sneak Attack costs five total mana to snap down an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn where Purphoros costs eight for the first effect and can’t cheat in Eldrazi, but if you’re putting in something that costs eight or so, it’s best to think of Purphoros as upfront investment to ramp into a haste threat, much like a Circuitous Route if Circuitous Route also could be a 7/6.
And you can also just Irencrag Feat into Purphoros for quick kills, and oh look there’s a Throne of Eldraine card causing problems yet again.
Alternatively, think of Purphoros as Fires of Invention that is also the Cavalier of Flame to haste in any giant monster. And also turns into a giant monster itself when you haste in threats.
Oddly, you sometimes don’t want to have Purphoros become a creature in these spots, since it is granting the relevant haste and being a creature exposes it to exile removal like Eat to Extinction that would leave your haste threats unable to attack.
While the obvious Standard pairing is Drakuseth, Maw of Flames, there is a weird alternately distributed card that might be better. Terror of Mount Velus granting double strike to itself is similar solo damage to Drakuseth, but it makes any second threat instantly lethal, and multiples can attack together, unlike the second Drakuseth.
2. Ox of Agonas
Ox of Agonas has been hyped a lot in Modern Dredge as something between a Dread Return and a Faithless Looting flashback. That’s fine, the card is obviously good to utilize, but it also is just another graveyard-only active card. You will play it, it will improve your deck, but it isn’t Faithless Looting.
But has no one realized this is just a Treasure Cruise with shifted numbers?
Ox takes eight cards to recast, not seven, but the raw delve numbers were never the issue. Who cares, it draws three cards for two mana. Then those three cards fuel the graveyard for the next recast, or draw another Ox you can just pay mana for, and this all sounds like a locked-in grind-out end-game for a spell-velocity-oriented Izzet, Rakdos, or Grixis deck.
1. Underworld Breach
Not every broken card is necessarily a problem. A lot of broken cards have played fun and interesting roles in formats, like Hollow One. Doing powerful stuff is fun if it lands in the right range of reliable but not constant, powerful but not unbeatable.
We were so close to getting out of Theros Beyond Death with just “reasonable” broken cards.
Underworld Breach is literally a story right out of Urza’s Saga block. They took an old broken card, tried to fix it, and just made a new problem with the fix. Necropotence and Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Timetwister and Time Spiral. And Underworld Breach not exiling cards like Yawgmoth’s Will due to the “cost” of escape, and being an enchantment for who knows why, means any way to self-mill for three cards for zero mana at the “cost” of casting a spell is infinite.
Grinding Station. Brain Freeze. Whatever. Instead of Yawgmoth’s Will, we have graveyard Splinter Twin.
Have fun dying to it. I hope it doesn’t stick around too long.
But aside from this exception, Theros Beyond Death isn’t Throne of Eldraine. It pushes the boundaries in interesting ways.
Less raw broken, more excitingly breakable. That’s the goal, right?