Today there will be no heartfelt anecdote, just getting down to business. The current Standard format is on the way out, and I can't reasonably express how happy this makes me. I've dreaded sleeving up cards for Standard tournaments for months, and my results have been exactly as I expected.
With such a volatile format featuring some of the game's most explosive or otherwise overwhelming starts on top of some of the best finisher cards we've ever seen, I am here to say:
And with that, it's that time again. Ah, spoiler season, where we see just how awesome or awkward the next set (or block) is going to be for Magic, and I just have to say that Theros definitely has me excited. On flavor alone, from just the cards I've seen, Theros is looking to rival Innistrad, which is something I never expected so soon. Set in a world akin to Greek mythology, Theros gives us heroes, gods, and a plethora of mythical creatures straight out of The Iliad and The Odyssey.
For starters, let's break down the mechanics currently spoiled, both new and old.
Scry has been one of the most useful mechanics in the history of Magic, giving us ways to gain virtual card advantage from spells that are reasonably costed. Preordain perhaps pushed the envelope on scry, and it was eventually banned in Modern as a result. But most cards with the ability aren't particularly devastating.
Scry is good for incremental advantage, helping a vast array of spells become a little better than they were before. I think that you're doing something right with a mechanic when you can put it on a burn spell that is "overcosted" by all implications and it still sees play.
It's a little tougher to discern this mechanic's playability. How many spells should you play in your deck so that you can reliably trigger the heroic ability? Do you need to focus on the mechanic or just use it as splash advantage with protective cards? These questions will be answered once we get the full spoiler, but my gut tells me it's pretty iffy at best.
Cards that force you to play stuff like Giant Growth can't be that good, at least not in Constructed. At the moment, I'm waiting for them to reprint Troll Ascetic with Heroic: +20/+20 so I can just quit playing Standard forever, but I think they might be learning their lesson with how out of touch the mechanic is.
Heroic doesn't excite me because it feels dangerous, but maybe that's the point. You can only be a hero if you're willing to make a sacrifice for those around you.
In particular, Anax and Cymede feels like a card that could easily be the poster child for the mechanic. The ability to pump all of your creatures for a turn can't be ignored in the Boros guild, and I'm definitely looking forward to some proactive spells that target your own creatures because I'm really not looking forward to casting Magma Jet on my own guy in order to pump my team and kill my opponent.
The key for monstrous will be how good or bad the initial stats are on the creature in question. At the moment, we have some pretty big . . . monsters featuring the mechanic that don't actually need much of a boost to be strong.
There are going to be plenty of monsters for the slaying come Prerelease time, as they seem to range from common all the way to mythic as far as rarity is concerned. Not all of them are busted, but most of them are pretty strong in Stage One and give you something to do in the late game when you start to flood out.
To me, this seems like a mechanic specifically designed to make Limited games better. If you give creatures the ability to be relevant at two different parts of the game, you can eliminate board stalls while giving players mana sinks, both of which are good for Limited games of Magic. The best part is that none of these creatures end the game on the spot when they come into play and you will almost always need to untap before making your creature monstrous.
Perfect design for Limited, but potentially strong in Constructed. I like this mechanic a lot.
While devotion is probably just a souped-up chroma, the flavor behind it screams at me. There are so many beings in the world of Theros that rely on the subjects around them to worship them in order to give them power. Without that devotion, they are relatively harmless, which is a pretty amazing concept in terms of mythological beings.
As for gameplay, I think this mechanic will have a huge impact on Standard. It will be interesting to see the dynamic between a multicolored format (Return to Ravnica) and a mechanic that pushes for people to play monocolored decks.
The God cards themselves allude to a mythical battle where it is necessary for them to assume a creature-based form. Luckily, they are gods, so they are indestructible, but their weakness lies in their followers. Without their devotion, they are powerless (well, mostly).
A definite "A" for flavor, and I can only assume that most of these cards will be Constructed playable (assuming there are enough playable creatures in each color to justify being a single color versus striving to be a guild). Honestly, I can't wait to see how good Purphoros is with Burning-Tree Emissary.
Jeez. Another flavor home run if you ask me. These champions of their respective colors lend their strength to those around them until their allies are vanquished. Once this happens, the champion emerges to pick up right where you left off.
While I don't think bestow will be strong enough for Constructed, I've definitely been proven wrong before. This feels pretty similar to monstrous and heroic in that it just depends on the initial stats of the creature in order to make that decision. If the creature would be fine on its own, then the added ability is just a bonus.
In this case, I think bestow is a pretty mediocre bonus, as it usually costs more than the creature itself, but there are definitely times where I will want to suit up my creature with +4/+4 flying and first strike without fear of removal. The fact that you get an Air Elemental with first strike as your original investment isn't terribly exciting for Constructed, but it could have its uses.
The downside to both bestow and the God cards is that they double as enchantments. This doesn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but they will be more vulnerable to different kinds of removal, though the Gods being indestructible definitely goes a long way towards ignoring that argument (thank the Gods that Silverchase Fox is rotating). I'm curious to see if they reprint something like Revoke Existence to give some of the colors ways to actually deal with these unkillable Gods.
The Impact of Thoughtseize on Standard
For those of you who have been living under a rock and haven't seen the big news, Thoughtseize is getting a reprint.
Yes, Thoughtseize. One of the best cards ever printed. Multi-format all-star. A defining factor in the dominance of Faeries back in the day and possibly the best discard spell ever made. Thoughtseize is back, and that means some big changes for Standard when Theros comes out in just a short time.
With Thoughtseize back in the mix, that means a lot of good things for black-based decks of all shapes and sizes. With this card at the helm to disrupt control (and possibly combo), as well as take the wind out of the sails of some "big aggro" decks, Thoughtseize should find plenty of places to call home in no time. While we don't have the entire set out for brewing just yet, I'm already giddy at the thought of stripping my opponent's hand while I beat them down with a motley band of creatures. Honestly, it doesn't even matter what they do because your opponent won't be doing much of anything when you're done with them.
Thoughtseize is currently one of the best cards in Modern, and for good reason. I know I've said it before, but the reason why Thoughtseize shines in Modern is because of the lack of redundancy in what most decks do. Without access to Ponder or Preordain (or Brainstorm in Legacy), Thoughtseize is primed to disrupt the opponent for a very small investment. Standard is in a similar place in that there isn't a lot of card selection or redundancy.
Each deck is usually built around one or two big threats (or weapons), and without access to those cards the decks just don't function nearly the same. At the moment, those decks feature Thragtusk, Sphinx's Revelation, and a host of gigantic expensive cards that are very hard to beat once they hit the table. When rotation time comes, there won't be any more Thragtusks, but you can bet the house that Sphinx's Revelation is going to come back with a vengeance. After all, Esper and Bant were two of the most played decks at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, and Sphinx's Revelation was the key to those decks' success.
With Thoughtseize at the helm, the game is going to change.
- 4 Blood Scrivener
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Lifebane Zombie
- 3 Liliana's Reaver
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Thrill-Kill Assassin
While this is just a rough draft of what a new B/G Aggro deck could look like, as I only have access to about seven black cards out of Theros, I'm digging it. The mana base looks pretty bad at the moment, but I can only assume that Theros will bring some new cycle of lands seeing as the core set was lacking. It's impossible to tell exactly how Thoughtseize is going to impact a black aggro deck just yet because we are missing so many potential tools. We don't even have the black God card spoiled yet!
But Thoughtseize won't just improve the strength of aggressive decks. It will allow B/X Midrange decks to thrive, as you'll be able to compete with U/W Control decks after taking away their counterspell or Sphinx's Revelation. Imagine how much better Obzedat, Ghost Council will be once we don't have to worry about Cancel! Think about the implication of Blood Baron of Vizkopa after we discard their Supreme Verdict!
I don't want to keep throwing inferior decklists at you, but you get the point. Thoughtseize is showing promise before we even have a third of the set to work with! The best part about all this is that Thoughtseize isn't all that damaging to aggressive decks, making it one of the most perfect cards to have access to in a Standard format. It is a weapon for black decks to put other midrange decks and control decks on an even playing field because Gods know we have been fighting hard against Sphinx's Revelation and often come up short. With such a large amount of cards rotating, that battle will only get more difficult.
Elspeth, Sun's Champion: Dawn of a New Age
With so many dominating midrange cards rotating from Standard, the new Elspeth looks like a pretty early favorite to take the lead. She dominates other midrange-style decks, allowing you to crush an opponent who overextends, and is another important answer to Blood Baron of Vizkopa.
The fact that she can build an army all by herself (which conveniently protects her from attacks) means she will be solid against a variety of strategies, though she looks pretty awkward when facing down Jace, Architect of Thought. That is, of course, until you use her ultimate.
While the new Elspeth isn't aggressively costed, I can't imagine her having those abilities for five mana. I'm assuming that somewhere in the process this was the case and they figured adding an additional mana to her cost was a good idea. I mean, Elspeth Tirel was pretty solid in her day, and she lost loyalty to create Soldiers. This one is yet another planeswalker in a cycle that promotes ticking up for value as opposed to ticking down, but her cost is a bit prohibitive.
Unless I see some other great finishers out of Theros, Elspeth will definitely be making waves in all sorts of control and midrange decks, though she is fighting for quite a tough spot alongside Aetherling in U/W.
Purphoros: Through the Fire and Flame
Purphoros, God of the Forge 3R
Legendary Enchantment Creature - God (Mythic Rare)
As long as your devotion to red is less than five, Purphoros isn't a creature(Each R in the mana costs of permanents you control counts toward your devotion to red.)
Whenever a creature enters the battlefield under your control, Purphoros deals 2 damage to each opponent.
2R: Each creature you control gains +1/+0 until end of turn.
Now this is a thinking man's red card. With Purphoros, God of the Forge, you will constantly be debating on how to approach each and every game. In many scenarios, moving all-in will be the correct answer, but Purphoros makes you decide almost immediately how many creatures you want to dedicate to the board against the threat of Supreme Verdict.
In some scenarios, you will want to resolve Purphoros before you start casting many of your threats, assuming most of them are going to die, since you get to effectively Shock your opponent each time one of them comes into play. And if they don't kill all of your creatures . . .
Well, let's just say that Burning-Tree Emissary has a new religion.
- 4 Ash Zealot
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Firefist Striker
- 4 Gore-House Chainwalker
- 3 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 3 Purphoros, God of the Forge
This is quite possibly one of the least interesting things you can do with Purphoros since triggering his Shock ability could be a priority. Things like Molten Rebirth could end up seeing more play alongside Young Pyromancer, but that is a different deck for a different day.
At the moment, I want to make sure to focus on the devotion mechanic, allowing Purphoros to actually be a major threat against most of the control strategies, though both his body and ability are hell on anyone casting Sphinx's Revelation.
You could make a case for Ogre Battledriver in this deck, or potentially in the Molten Rebirth / Young Pyromancer version, but I'm not sure he's good enough. I am certain that Battledriver is definitely not comparable to Hellrider, as his lack of haste or meaningful interaction on the turn you cast him is subpar. I wouldn't discount him yet, but he's got big shoes to fill and is competing with some tough cookies in the same spot.
Boros Reckoner and Burning-Tree Emissary play very well with the devotion mechanic, but you have to be careful. You want to make Burning-Tree Emissary actually good outside of having the cost of RR. Hopefully Gore-House Chainwalker, Firefist Striker, and Magma Jet are enough to justify it, but I want another sweet creature from Theros that costs 1R.
Woomp, Theros It Is
With the release of Theros right around the corner, I'm getting excited about some of the new prospects. The flavor and design of the set seems absurdly good, and I'm actually looking forward to a Prerelease for once. When a set has outstanding flavor, good mechanics, and is designed well for both Limited and Constructed, you've hit a home run. And while we've only seen a few Theros cards thus far, I'm confident it is going to deliver.
Greek mythology has always been an interest of mine, and while the names are different, I'm sure many of the stories will stay the same. Each and every card I've read so far has its own story to tell, and I can't wait to read them all.
Thanks for reading.