Theros Beyond Death First Looks: The Best So Far

Theros Beyond Death has Sheldon Menery excited! He chooses the best previews so far, including the potential Commander he can’t wait to build around.

Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, illustrated by Vincent Proce

In just a few short weeks, Theros Beyond Death will bring new life to your Commander decks.  Preview season is in full swing, and today we’re going to look at the best of the best so far.  During my two-month tour as a Magic designer back in October and November, I saw the Theros Beyond Death file and even played with some of the cards despite not doing any actual work on the set.  I can tell you without spilling any secrets that your Commander decks are going to be happy. 

We’ve seen ten to fifteen cards of each color so far.  I’m going to discuss those that have really captured my attention.  Although you may have seen some cards spoiled here and there, I’m only going to discuss the ones officially previewed as of the time that I wrote this piece on Tuesday.  Something even cooler may have popped up in the last day or two. 

Let’s first talk about the mechanics.  Returning are Sagas, devotion, and constellation.  Sagas are one of my favorite mechanics, because they tell a story.  The Professor from Tolarian Community College did a nice job demonstrating the storytelling part of a Saga card in his official preview of Kiora Bests the Sea God.  I don’t know if we’ll end up seeing any of the Saga designs I worked on, but I sincerely hope that the mechanic will become a staple part of future sets.  The Binding of the Titans is probably the one that gets my motor running fastest.  Green self-mill fits into my own preferred play style (even though I’m not a fan of dredge), so Binding of the Titans would fit easily into one of my Karador, Ghost Chieftain decks or Muldrotha, the Grave Tide. 

We can’t talk about this set and devotion without the card that’s making a huge splash already, Nyx Lotus.  A large list of folks pinged me on social media the day it was previewed asking if I had seen it.  The answer was yes, and the reply was that I was just as excited about it as they were.  Now to find those Amulet of Vigors I have stashed somewhere. 

I’m also an enchantment fan, so constellation piques my interest.  I don’t think we’ve seen any cards that are too far gone with it, but Setessan Champion seems like high-octane gas for your Enchantress decks. 

The new mechanic is escape.  I was skeptical at first, not because I thought poorly of the mechanic, but because of my own prejudice when it comes to exiling cards from my own graveyard.  I might want to use them again!  Still, the idea of stuff leaking out of the underworld got my attention.  Then I played with the escape cards, and I was sold.  The best of the escape cards has yet, pardoning the wordplay, to see the light of day. 

By the Colors

I’ll pick the best two of each color as it stands at the moment, then we’ll circle back when I do my full set review to see how the early ones stand up in comparison to the entirety of the set.  I usually pick a top three from each color, so it’ll be interesting to see where the overlap might be.


Archon of Falling Stars

This one is more personal favorite than perhaps objectively good, but as mentioned, I’m a fan of running back cards from the graveyard, especially in Abzan decks.  We all love strong enchantments, and they’re prone to getting blown up by our opponents.  Some recursion is nice.  Plus, with Sagas making their return, you could get to tell the story again.  Archon of Falling Stars will be full of win in whichever of my decks it ends up in.

Heliod, Sun-Crowned

Gods are back and they’re as good as ever.  I’m not ready to replace Heliod, God of the Sun as commander of my mono white-deck just yet, but I’m sure ready to play the new Heliod in a lifegain deck.  It’ll slot into your Oloro, Ageless Ascetic decks pretty easily.  My intention is to put it into my Trostani and her Angels deck to both take advantage of the lifegain trigger and to give lifelink to some of those Angels that don’t yet have it.


Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea

We have Demigods now, too.  Callaphe is at least a 2/3 and likely to be quite a bit larger.  What excites me, of course, is the bit of protection that it offers my creatures and enchantments.  Magic is a game of math, and Callaphe messes with your opponents’ numbers.  She might not help with the big battlefield sweepers, but Callaphe is going to make targeted removal just that much more difficult for everyone else.  She doesn’t affect abilities, only spells, but that’s hardly a sin. 

Thryx, the Sudden Storm

Holy moly!  Commander is the format of big spells, and Thryx makes them uncounterable.  That’s only the beginning.  A 4/5 flyer with flash for 3UU is a bargain.  Big spells being even cheaper is just the kind of bonus that makes a card great—and I’d play Thryx without it.  Whether you’re getting an extra card off of your Genesis Wave or fooling someone into thinking you can’t cast Overwhelming Intellect because you only have five mana available, Thryx is going to pay dividends. 

(Bonus Card)

Thassa’s Oracle:  Yes, the RC has seen it.  Stay tuned.


Erebos, Bleak-Hearted

I’m going to try to stay away from list listing Gods as favorites, but this Erebos is absurd.  Of course I’m paying two life when one of my creatures dies.  The only question will be how much I will be willing to pay when someone sweeps my battlefield.  The built-in sacrifice outlet really charges my batteries, because not only is it going to trigger Erebos, but in black it’s likely to trigger a whole host of other useful things like Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble.  This card will test the mettle of my resolve to put only one copy of new cards into my suite of decks.

Erebos's Intervention

As someone who loves his own graveyard and knows that this card will be the occasional wrecking ball to it, I’m nonetheless high on this card because I know that I’m not the only one who loves the ‘yard.  The flexibility of killing a creature (especially an indestructible one) is great, but for the most part, I know I’ll be most frequently intervening on behalf of the God of the Dead.  Sometimes, it’ll be to get the best stuff out in preparation for my own big Living Death or Patriarch’s Bidding.  Other times, it’ll be in response to players attempting to do broken stuff.  One of my favorite parts of the card is that you can target things in multiple graveyards at the same time. 

(Bonus Card)

Tymaret, Chosen from Death:  Speaking of good graveyard hate, Tymaret might not be Scavenging Ooze, but it’s close enough for my tastes.  I’d prefer the power to be the changing value, but hey, let’s not get greedy.


The Akroan War

So much You Did This to Yourself on one card, artistically cool on more than one axis, and truly capturing the essence of storytelling in Sagas. Every act of this tale is worth the mana investment.  What’s neat mechanically is that if you have a way to tap the creature you’ve borrowed before III goes off (so during your upkeep or with the trigger on the stack in your draw step), the creature will be returned to the original owner when The Akroan War reaches its armistice, but it’ll still damage itself.  You might consider playing The Akroan War in a deck that has Opposition if you’re in blue or Glare of Subdual if you’re playing Naya.  The latter is likely to be able to bring the War back again, too, since it has some good enchantment recursion.

Dreamshaper Shaman

Our Minotaur friend might be a little pricey to get out, and as a creature its lifespan might be short, but if it stays around, it’s going to be a boon to nearly any deck that loves permanents.  It’ll be even boonier if you have some top-of-the-library control.  For the low cost of 2R, you’ll be able to turn something smaller into something larger, or something that you don’t want into something you do.  In black decks, you’ll likely have sacrifice triggers, whether that’s Dictate of Erebos or the aforementioned Blood Artist, and you can use the sacrifice to fuel your graveyard shenanigans.  When it comes right down to it, Dreamshaper Shaman is aptly named, because I’m already dreaming about all the nonsense I’m going to shape with it.


Nylea, Keen-Eyed

Longtime readers know I love casting creatures, so the new Nylea is right up my alley, since they’re cheaper to cast.  That doesn’t even get us started on the value of the card, though.  Effective card draw (that which puts extra cards into your hand without using the term draw, which has a specific meaning in Magic) is a powerful tool in any deck.  Once again, if you have a little top-of-the-library control, you can maximize your benefit.  Additionally, the ability doesn’t tap, it just costs mana, so it’s an effective sink for all that mana you saved since you didn’t have to spend it on creatures.  Along with Nylea, God of the Hunt, the new Nylea might make her my favorite of the Gods. 

Renata, Called to the Hunt

Speaking of love of creatures, Renata does a few things.  It makes all your other creatures bigger as most of them are making her bigger.  I think that’s what the kids call synergy.  The part about Renata that really catches my attention is that it means you’ll get to use your creatures with persist infinitely (since the +1/+1 counter wipes out the -1/-1), so long as you have a sacrifice outlet.  I’ll feel kind of dirty if I have Renata, Woodall Primus, and Goblin Bombardment, but I suppose games have to eventually end.  If this were the first card to be able to do that, I might be concerned, Juniper Order Ranger has been a card for a long time now (and there have been others since).  It’s actually more likely that I’ll stuff Renata into my Prime Speaker deck, since it’s all about the counters and not about the infinites. 


Effectively an enchantment version of Birthing Pod, this thing has been getting lots of coverage just in the few days we’ve seen it.  I’ve included it because it will be compelling to work with.  It doesn’t do the same thing Birthing Pod does in that it doesn’t fuel itself unless you’re using enchantment creatures.  Fortunately there are enough of them to make a go of it (44 in just Simic, going all the way up to the eight-CMC Archetype of Endurance).  There are certainly more in Theros Beyond Death that we’ve yet to see.  The card will simply be fun to brew around.

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

A 6/6 for three mana, but you can’t really cheat it only the battlefield and have it stay there—but you might not care.  Three life and a card draw for three mana is very tasty cake, plus the delicious frosting of the additional land drop.  Muldrotha decks will certainly keep casting Uro over and over.  To be fair, any of the Titans could have made this short list. It didn’t occur to me until I looked back that both of these were Simic, which tells me either I now have a Simic problem (no doubt from my Temur problem) or the color combination is just really good in the format. 

Bonus First-Look Commander to Build a Deck Around

Gallia of the Endless Dance

I mean, who isn’t stoked about Satyr tribal?  There are currently 22 others.  All right, maybe it’s not about the Satyr tribal (I guess hasty Willow Satyr is okay), but about the compelling triggered ability.  I’ll look at more cards from Theros Beyond Death before committing to it, but it sure seems like something crazy could be happening there.

These are just the first looks at the new set.  We’ll have more, to include the complete list, coming up soon.  It already promises to have an impact on Commander.  The question will be how deep will its influence goes.

Before we go, I want to wish a happy first anniversary to the Commander Advisory Group (CAG).  They’ve been invaluable in the last year in helping the RC get deeper into the community and process more ideas and more feedback.  It’s been a job well done by them and we have every reason to expect more of the same for 2020. 

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