Welcome to the first part of my financial set review for Theros Beyond Death!
As always, my goal when writing a set review like this is to be as comprehensive as possible. After all, Oko, Thief of Crowns pre-ordered for $20 while Arclight Phoenix was readily available for $5 when it was first announced. There are plenty of bargains to be had while a set is being previewed — you just have to be thorough in seeking them out.
Looking back at Throne of Eldrane, I’m surprised at how well the set is holding value. Brazen Borrower; Embercleave; Oko; Questing Beast; Rankle, Master of Pranks; The Great Henge; The Royal Scions; and Fabled Passage are all worth at least $10, with several more cards holding steady in the $5-$9 range. This is true despite the fact that Standard had a pretty miserable autumn from an attendance and morale perspective. This speaks to Throne of Eldraine’s power level, as well as the changing landscape of Magic finance. With Commander and Pioneer front and center, there’s more demand than ever for freshly printed cards.
With that in mind, let’s get to Theros Beyond Death. The set’s full contents haven’t been revealed yet, but so far it appears as if the overall power level is a touch below Throne of Eldrane. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a whole bunch of exciting future format staples, though, and I’m actually quite surprised at how cheap the pre-order prices are right now. There isn’t a single card pre-ordering for more than $20 right now, which usually doesn’t happen outside of Core Sets. There are also quite a few rares in the $1-$3 range that could end up becoming future format staples. I really do believe that we’re going to look back on Theros Beyond Death and wish we’d pre-ordered more cards when they were cheap.
At any rate, let’s get to the cards. I’d like to begin with one of the best cards in the set:
Heliod, Sun-Crowned – $19.99
Let’s start with the obvious. In Modern, Heliod, Sun-Crowned goes infinite with Walking Ballista and Spike Feeder, both of which have spiked a little over the past few days. Spike Feeder is an uncommon, so it’s still pretty cheap, but Walking Ballista already saw a ton of play in both Modern and Pioneer. The card is now sold out at $30 and appears to still be on the rise. If that combo is legit in either Modern or Pioneer, and I think it will be, we won’t see Walking Ballista under that mark again for a while.
As for Heliod itself, I also suspect that the card has a pretty high floor. If the Heliod/Ballista combo ends up in a top Pioneer deck, that should be enough to keep it at $20 regardless of its playability in Standard or Modern. Granted, that combo might be good enough to get itself banned like Felidar Guardian did, but we should have enough advance notice on that banning to see it coming and get out in time now that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has begun to ease off their hammer a little bit. If Heliod ends up being a Modern all-star as well, $20 could even be its floor.
And then there’s Standard, where Heliod might also see significant play. The fact that you can drop Heliod, Sun-Crowned on Turn 3 is a pretty big deal, and the lifelink should be a pretty solid way for Mono-White Aggro decks to pivot into the mid-game. Cards like Archangel of Thune have been playable before, and I’m also reminded of Thassa, God of the Sea from the original Theros Standard, which was a three-drop stalwart. Heliod will be an indestructible 5/5 for 2W in a lot of decks regardless of the card’s other text, and that’s a pretty solid body.
So yeah. For Heliod to become a total bust, it would have to fail on multiple levels — as a combo card in Modern, as a combo card in Pioneer, and as an aggro card in Standard. That makes Heliod one of the safer $20 buys in the set. Feel free to snag these if you want them.
Klothys, God of Destiny – $19.99
Klothys, God of Destiny is a really interesting card to consider in relation to the far more versatile Heliod, Sun-Crowed. Both cards cost the same amount of money right now but we’ve already talked about several different plausible paths toward playability for Heliod. The same cannot be said for Klothys.
There’s a chance that Klothys could show up from time to time in Modern or Pioneer thanks to its anti-graveyard ability, but creatures like Klothys rarely make an impact beyond Standard and Commander. I’ve definitely heard some people calling Klothys “the indestructible Deathrite Shaman,” but come on. Deathrite Shaman was good because of its one-mana CMC. That point of comparison is irrelevant, especially when it comes to eternal play.
Klothys, God of Destiny should prove a lot more powerful in Standard. It may not be a one-drop like Deathrite Shaman, but casting a ramp card on Turn 3 (or Turn 2 with a little help) is a lot more viable in Standard than in Modern or Pioneer. The fact that Klothys can help neuter opposing escape cards is a pretty nice feature as well, and that particular ability may single-handedly swing Klothys from fringe-playable to format staple depending on how escape-heavy the format becomes.
I’m still concerned, though. As we learned last time we went to Theros, it’s a lot harder to generate seven devotion to two colors than it is to generate five devotion to one. As Ari Lax wrote about last week, that’s the biggest reason why the multicolored Gods from Born of the Gods were such a big disappointment. This is especially frustrating for Klothys because of its color identity — Gruul tends toward the aggressive side of things, and the card simply looks a step too slow for aggro.
I’m not saying that Klothys won’t see play in Standard — the power level is certainly there — but at $20, Heliod is a much better bet to pay off. Klothys’s only real shot at playability is probably some sort of green-based midrange or ramp deck, and there’s actually a three-drop God I like more for that slot that we’ll get to a little later. I’m going to pass on this one at its current price.
Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded – $11.99
My gut reaction is that Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded isn’t good enough for competitive play. After all, it’s a five-mana God that demands devotion to red as well as a lot of big creatures to sneak onto the battlefield That seems like a great way to end up with a deck that can’t really do anything until you draw Purphoros, at which point it might be too late.
That said, Sneak Attack is powerful — even if you’re limited to sneaking in red creatures. And we all know that WotC’s biggest mistakes often occur when they give players a way to cheat on mana costs. Someone always finds a way to break cards like this, and if you told me that Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded would quickly find a home in both Standard and Pioneer…well, I can definitely see that happening. Cavalier of Flame; Ilharg, the Raze-Boar; Drakuseth, Maw of Flames; and Immortal Phoenix all seem like they could become part of this deck.
Ultimately, Purphoros has a ton of upside but also the greatest bust potential of all the monocolored Gods in Theros Beyond Death. Feel free to buy in if you think that this card is going to become a future format staple, but that’s not the kind of risk I like to take. The chances that this card is simply too expensive and narrow to find a home are a tad too high for me.
Polukranos, Unchained – $9.99
Polukranos, Unchained will end up being an excellent Standard card if the format ends up being the sort of midrange grind-fest that we saw last time we were on Theros. You can realistically hope to trade off your Polukranos for a couple of creatures the first time around, and it’s probably going to dominate the game if you can cast it again for its escape cost. That’s pretty great for a four-drop.
Will that be enough in the Theros Beyond Death metagame? I don’t know. The power level is definitely there, but I don’t think it’ll do much against the Cat Oven combo or Fires of Invention. It’s possible that the sheer value of being able to pick off a few utility creatures while being able to dominate the late-game will be enough to allow Polukranos to shine regardless, but the fact that it doesn’t line up well against some of the strategies that are currently dominating the format worries me a bit. It’s a reasonable gamble at $10 if you want to build yourself a grindy Golgari-based deck, but it seems more likely than not that this one will be a fringe-playable card that may or may not get a chance to shine.
Erebos, Bleak-Hearted – $9.99
Erebos, Bleak-Hearted will see competitive play. The original Erebos, God of the Dead was quite solid back in its day, and Erebos, Bleak-Hearted looks to be just as powerful. It may not be quite as good at passive card draw, but it’s quite a bit better as a sacrifice enabler — something that Standard’s current crop of black decks can take advantage of.
I might be a tad lower on Erebos if Gray Merchant of Asphodel weren’t also in Theros Beyond Death, but pairing both of those cards with things like Deathless Knight and Ayara, First of Locthwain (which can gain your life back for more Erebos activations) seems like the start of a very powerful deck. Erebos will end up in the $4-$5 range if I’m wrong, of course, but this is a pretty safe buy at $10. It’ll be a solid $10 card going forward if Mono-Black is playable at all in Standard, and it’ll be a $20+ card if Mono-Black ends up at the very top of the metagame. Snag these if you need them, and don’t forget to pick up all the enablers as well.
Nylea, Keen-Eyed – $7.99
I’m surprised that people aren’t more excited for Nylea, Keen-Eyed. It might not enable a whole new strategy like Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded, but green has been the most powerful color in Standard for a while now and it’s also chock-a-block with ways to get your devotion up to five. Indestructible is good, mana reduction is good, and card draw is good. The only real knock against Nylea is that green has a lot of powerful four-drops right now, and they might crowd it out of the format.
I just can’t bet against Nylea, though. First, it actually plays quite well alongside the other green four-drops like Questing Beast and Vivien, Arkbow Ranger. Second, I can see Nylea ending up revitalizing Mono-Green (or Gruul) Aggro alongside powerful creatures like Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig. I could also imagine it seeing play in a deck like Simic Ramp, which could up its creature count slightly and use Nylea to put the game out of range. This is an $8 mythic with realistic $12-$15 upside and the potential for $20-$25. If you’re a green mage, you’ll want to snag a few early on.
Ox of Agonas – $7.99
Ox of Agonas reminds me of Bedlam Reveler, a card that sees quite a bit of play in Modern and fringe play in Legacy. It’s not going to see play in a lot of the same decks, though — Bedlam Reveler can be cast from your hand for RR quite easily in a deck full of cheap cantrips, while Ox of Agonas can only be cast for RR from your graveyard. That said, I like the comparison because it shows the power of the Ox’s card draw clause. This is the sort of effect that’s worth jumping through hoops for.
Modern Dredge generally runs red for Conflagrate along with a bunch of Cathartic Reunions, so I think they’ll find room for Ox of Agonas, too. That should keep its price floor in the $5 range, but there’s room for more growth if Dredge starts to perform well again. $8 is a great gamble for this kind of eternal upside, especially at mythic rare, and I’d definitely look into buying these now if you play a decent amount of Modern.
As for Standard, Ox of Agonas seems pretty strongly tied to Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded. If that card ends up becoming a flagship mythic, then Ox of Agonas will probably be right alongside it as a key piece of the strategy. That could cause this card to end up in the $15-$18 range for a while. Otherwise, it might meander around in the $5 range for a while barring a Modern breakout. Regardless, the upside more than outweighs the downside at current retail. I’m in.
Idyllic Tutor – $9.99
Idyllic Tutor is one of WotC’s highest-profile reprints in a while. The card was worth almost $40 before this reprint was announced, with almost all of that demand coming from Commander players. You can pick it up for $10 now, but that price won’t stick unless Idyllic Tutor finds a home in Standard. This tutor was expensive primarily due to low supply, not overwhelming demand. After all, it was printed just once, all the way back in Morningtide. If Idyllic Tutor had shown up in a set or two since 2008, it would have been $5-$8, not $40. That’s where I expect it’ll end up once Theros Beyond Death rotates out of Standard in a couple of years.
That said, there’s a chance that Idyllic Tutor will end up becoming a key piece of Jeskai Fires or even a new brand of Wilderness Reclamation deck. That possibility hangs on how fast the new format gets. If aggro gets good and those decks can’t really take off Turn 3 to tutor, expect Idyllic Tutor to end up dropping toward $5 sooner rather than later. If the format remains slow enough, however, I can certainly imagine Idyllic Tutor as a multi-deck staple, especially considering how many good enchantments there are in the format now. $10 is a pretty solid gamble since you’re backstopped by casual demand, but don’t get fooled into thinking that Commander demand will ever push this one back toward the $40 range.
Nyx Lotus – $9.99
I don’t think that Nyx Lotus will do all that much in any competitive constructed format. The fact that Nyx Lotus enters the battlefield tapped is a massive drawback, making it a lot worse than cards like Fires of Invention, Wilderness Reclamation, or even Gilded Lotus, which has never seen much Standard play.
That said, Commander demand should keep Nyx Lotus relatively expensive. It’s not as versatile as some of the other mana rocks, but it’s pretty close to a must-play in most monocolored Commander decks. $10 seems like a solid long-term target for this card, and I’d look to buy in once the price dips a bit as Theros Beyond Death reaches market saturation in a couple of months. In the meantime, I’m staying away.
Underworld Breach – $6.99
Underworld Breach might be the most powerful card in Theros Beyond Death. Exiling three cards from your ‘yard for each one you cast is a real drawback, of course, but that’s the only thing holding this card back from being an upgrade(!) on Yawgmoth’s Will. Not only is Underworld Breach easier to cast, it doesn’t require you to exile the cards you cast with it. In eternal formats, you can cast the same Ritual or storm card over and over again.
I have no idea what impact Underworld Breach will make in Standard, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t show up somewhere. It just isn’t that hard to generate value with this thing, and it might provide a deck like Burn with the reach it needs to finish off an otherwise unwinnable game. It gets more powerful the further back you go, and it might even end up being restricted in Vintage and banned in Legacy before long. It’s hard for me to recommend expensive Legacy staples these days, but if anything’s going to cause Lion’s Eye Diamond to spike this year, it’s Underworld Breach.
Underworld Breach isn’t as straightforward a card as Heliod, Sun-Crowned or Nylea, Keen-Eyed, where I can more or less predict the sort of decks they’ll end up in. I don’t know what Underworld Breach will do. But when in doubt, I like to bet on cards that appear to be very powerful across multiple formats. If R&D misjudged this one like they did with Oko and Once Upon a Time, Underworld Breach could easily end up being a $15+ card that’s the subject of ban rumors all through the spring.
Storm’s Wrath – $3.99
Storm’s Wrath is one of the best sweepers that red has ever had, and it will see play in both Standard and Pioneer. It is almost certainly going to end up being one of the most impactful cards in the set, empowering red-based control strategies at the expense of planeswalkers and cards like Questing Beast. If Storm’s Wrath sees as much play as I suspect it will, Questing Beast might end up being one of Standard’s biggest financial fallers over the coming weeks.
Regardless, $3.99 is a fine price for this card. Sweepers tend to top out in the $8 range, so there’s not a ton of money to be made, but I still suggest you pick up a set of these for $4 each now so you don’t have to worry about it later on. The card is going to be good for years, and its current price tag is totally reasonable.
Nadir Kraken – $2.99
Nadir Kraken is fantastic. Worst case, it’s a three-drop that demands an answer since you can use a mana to grow its size and make a token every turn if you’ve got a single mana lying around. Best case, you can pair it with a little card draw to make yourself an army. It’s pesky and powerful and will absolutely see play in Standard, possibly in a deck like Jeskai Fires that has mana lying around anyway.
1UU is a tough casting cost, but Nadir Kraken is the kind of card that might end up being a key piece in multiple tier one decks. There’s $15-$20 upside here, and I suspect it’ll at least end up in the $5-$6 range once or twice during its run in Standard. Get a set ASAP.
Setessan Champion – $2.99
I’m giving Setessan Champion an incomplete until I see the rest of Theros Beyond Death. This card is either going to enable an entire archetype in Standard, or it’ll be totally unplayable. There’s really no in-between.
The good news is that Setessan Champion has a long-term floor in the $2-$3 range due to casual demand, so you can buy in pretty safely right now if you want to test out the deck. Best case, this is a $6-$7 card. Worst case, it drops down to $1 for a while before eventually rebounding. That doesn’t make it a great spec, but you won’t lose much either way.
If you do end up snagging a set of these, don’t forget to grab some Starfield Mystics as well. That Core Set 2020 rare will almost certainly end up being part of whatever Setessan Champion deck develops, and it’s got a little more short-term financial upside since nobody is opening Core Set 2020 anymore. It’s a pretty solid buy at just $1.99.
Woe Strider – $2.99
Free sacrifice outlets are almost always playable, and I don’t think Woe Strider will prove the exception. Three mana is a lot, and its body is somewhat fragile, but people will try to brew Rakdos Sacrifice around it regardless. I don’t see this one dropping below $1.50 or jumping above $6-$7 since its appeal is pretty narrow, but it’s a fine buy at $3 if you want to try to brew up a Woe Strider deck.
Temple of Abandon / Deceit / Enlightenment / Malice / Plenty – $2-$3
There’s not much to say about the Temples, really. The other ones are already in Standard thanks to Core Set 2020, and they’re also in the $2-$3 range. This cycle is on the lower end of Standard mana fixing, but all five will be playable for the next couple of years. Their prices probably won’t go up unless we don’t get good shockland replacements when the Ravnica sets rotate out, but you’ll want to have access to them in your Standard toolbox regardless. Pick them up as needed.
Tectonic Giant – $1.99
Tectonic Giant looks like dozens of other unplayable midrange red creatures that came before it, but I actually think that this one is good. Sure, it’s easy to generate card advantage with Tectonic Giant if you’re attacking with it, but that’s been true of plenty of four-drop creatures that have failed in the past. What makes Tectonic Giant different is that you can an almost guaranteed two-for-one off your creature they target it with a spell. That makes Tectonic Giant a win-win against control.
The problem with Tectonic Giant is simple: it isn’t very good against green staples like Questing Beast and Lovestruck Beast. If those cards continue to dominate the metagame, this card might end up remaining in the $1-$2 range for a while. If not, or if red gets enough weapons to fight back against green’s massive creatures, then Tectonic Giant could prove to be a new format staple. I’m grabbing a set regardless since $2/card is quite cheap, and this thing should find a home (and a price spike into the $5-$6 range) at some point during its time in Standard.
Haktos the Unscarred – $1.49
Haktos the Unscarred is better than you think. It’s only going to be vulnerable to a single converted mana cost (its Achilles heel, if you will), which means that your opponent really needs to have the right answer or they’re going to be taking six damage a turn. It’s situationally weak to Bonecrusher Giant, but it’s good against almost everything else, and even the Giant can’t beat it if you roll well.
The biggest problem with Haktos is that RRWW casting cost. There isn’t a dedicated Boros Aggro deck in Standard right now, and Rakdos seems to be the aggressive color pair of choice at the moment. Haktos might be powerful enough to spawn his own archetype, at which point he’d be a $3-$5 rare, but you’re probably going to have to wait until Boros gets a few more goodies before you can consider playing this card.
Storm Herald – $1.49
Much like Heliod, Sun-Crowned, I’m not sure exactly where Storm Herald will break through. I just know that it’ll happen somewhere. There are a lot of powerful Auras in Magic, from game-winning cards like Eldrazi Conscription to card advantage engines like Curiosity. I can imagine a grindy deck in Standard, Pioneer, or even Modern that uses Storm Herald returning five to eight Auras as the killing blow. Oh, and worst case, Storm Herald is a future Commander staple. I love buying cards that have cheap, powerful, and unique effects like this. At $1.50, it’ll be hard to lose. This is one of my favorite spec targets in the set.
Allure of the Unknown – $0.99
Allure of the Unknown isn’t going to see any competitive play. I hate to be so dismissive of a draw-five, but the fact that it’s a five-mana sorcery that lets your opponent play the best card for free is a deal-breaker. There are ways to mitigate the downside, some of which Bryan Gottlieb explored last week, but I doubt it’ll be worth jumping through all those hoops. Ultimately, this will end up being a bulk rare that will see some play in multiplayer Commander. Don’t bother picking it up now, but it should trade well to Commander folks in the future.
Aphemia, the Cacophony – $0.99
Aphemia, the Cacophony looks powerful enough to make an impact in Standard, which sucks because I can never spell “cacophony” right the first time. Does that word really have two o’s in it? Anyway, a 2/1 flyer for two mana with upside seems good to me, especially in an aggro deck. It’ll need some support, but Dead Weight is currently in Standard and Theros Beyond Death should give us a few additional goodies as well. This is a very solid buy at just $0.99.
Ashiok’s Erasure – $0.99
A lot of folks are comparing Ashiok’s Erasure to Ixalan’s Binding, but this card is quite a bit worse. You can cast Ixalan’s Binding at any point to deal with a problematic permanent, but you have to cast Ashiok’s Erasure as countermagic or else it’s useless. Compared to the already fringe-playable Cancel, I actually feel like the downsides outweigh the upsides with Ashiok’s Erasure. Yeah it can prevent other spells from being cast, but it’s also vulnerable to enchantment removal in a way that other counterspells are not.
Ashiok’s Erasure might actually see some play as an answer to problematic creatures with protection from blue (like Shifting Ceratops), but it doesn’t have much of a home beyond that. It’s a fringe-playable card with upside in the $2-$3 range.
Dalakos, Crafter of Wonders – $0.99
Dalakos, Crafter of Wonders doesn’t appear to have a place in the metagame right now, but that could change during its time in Standard if we get an Equipment-heavy set at some point in the future. In the meantime, I don’t see it making much of an impact outside of Commander. This is a solid card to try and snag at $0.50, since it might be relevant in a future iteration of Standard and it’ll be a decent Commander card regardless. For now, I’ve got better spec targets to think about.
Nessian Boar – $0.99
I would not like to let my opponents draw a bunch of cards, please and thank you. There are loads of other large green creatures that don’t have this drawback. I don’t really want to attack with Nessian Boar unless its Lure effect is going to end the game straight away, but even that kind of upside is not enough to make me want to play this in a competitive Constructed deck. Bulk rare.
The Akroan War – $0.99
The Akroan War is a tad fiddly and slow for my tastes. Stealing a creature is nice, but there are a lot of games where this just won’t do enough to be worth four mana. It might see some play at the top of the curve in an aggressive red deck, but that wouldn’t get the price above $2-$3. Feel free to snag a few copies if you want, but I suspect this is a future bulk rare.
Wavebreak Hippocamp – $0.99
Wavebreak Hippocamp seems pretty solid to me. It would have been outstanding in last year’s Mono-Blue Aggro deck, and it’s at least worth considering in Simic Flash and Temur Reclamation. It’s awkward and vulnerable, sure, but it’s also quite powerful. I bet it’ll see play in at least one top-tier deck during its tenure in Standard, and you can’t do much better than that for $1.
This Week’s Trends
Curious about my take on a new Theros Beyond Death card that wasn’t covered in this article? Don’t worry — I’ll be back next week to review the cards I missed, including the rest of the mythic rares and my overall thoughts on the set. I really like the current Standard environment, and I’m cautiously optimistic that Theros Beyond Death will only add depth and complexity to the current metagame.
There hasn’t been much post-holiday movement in the Standard market, though, with only a couple of key cards trending up in value this week. Brazen Borrower, Cavalier of Thorns, Embercleave, and The Great Henge are all rising in price right now, and I wouldn’t be shocked if those gains intensify over the coming weeks. All four of those cards look like they’ll play well with the hot new staples in Theros Beyond Death, and Brazen Borrower has proven itself an eternal staple as well. If you want to play Standard this season, get it now while the market is still depressed from its winter lull.
Over in the world of eternal Magic, Walking Ballista was the big winner this week, jumping almost $10 thanks to Heliod, Sun-Crowned. Like I said earlier, I expect these gains to stick unless the combo is a bust (doubtful) or it’s so good it gets banned in Pioneer (a bit more likely). I am loathe to suggest that anyone buy into a spike, but Walking Ballista is a better bet than most to maintain these price increases.
Of course, the biggest spike of the week was Sen Triplets, a Commander stalwart that was totally bought out last week after making a flashy appearance on The Command Zone. It briefly jumped from $40 up to $70, though there are still a few $40 copies available here on Star City Games as of this writing. It remains to be seen whether any of the spike will stick, especially since this card seems like a prime target for a reprint this year, but I don’t think this buyout was totally artificial. This card is unique, and every time it gets press in the Commander world a whole new group of people end up buying copies. This is a super-low-supply mythic, so I’m not shocked that it got so hot.