The year is 1914. The place is Moscow, Russian Empire. Professor Nikolay Kun writes his book Legends and Myths of Ancient Greece, which will eventually become a desk book for numerous generations of Soviet children. Heracles, Odysseus, Zeus, and other gods, heroes, and monsters were an important part of our childhood, along with Zmey Gorynych (a three-headed dragon from Slavic tales) and bogaryts (mighty heroes who fought against numerous nomadic invaders). Later I spent endless hours reading history books and playing Total War: Rome. "Hannibal" to me first meant Hannibal Barca and then later Hannibal Lecter.
This means the flavor of Theros is very special for me—and it's a rare occasion when I have very strong emotions about flavor. Zendikar was interesting, Innistrad was cool, and Theros is simply the next level of excitement for me. Honestly, since I started playing Magic, I was curious about the lack of an ancient-themed block. The game has slowly progressed outside of the "high fantasy" comfort zone, but I'd like to see even more.
Ravnica contains three Hussars; did you know that the first hussars emerged in Hungary after the Turkish devastation of Constantinople made by enormous cannons? Have you been curious about 18th century clothing of the people of Innistrad—and no handguns? Zero silver bullets in a block full of vampires, werewolves, and zombies? That's weird. Wizards has some reason to avoid firearms, but I believe that they will finally cross this line one day—and I believe it even more since they've finally crossed the border of high fantasy and put us into antiquity.
Aside from the flavor and art, I like some of the new cards very much. Phalanx Leader, Omenspeaker, Read The Bones . . . my favorite, however, is not new. And it is not Thoughtseize. My personal favorite is Magma Jet—just because of Domri Rade. They may have taken away Bonfire of the Damned, but they can't prevent shenanigans. My guess is there will be no more red or green cards with scry, but Magma Jet is good enough as is. Mono-Red Aggro is a major player in Block Constructed, and it has even more interesting tools in M14 and Theros, so I expect it to make up a significant part of the metagame during the first weeks after Theros is released. So why don't we build a heavier version of G/R that's powerful enough to beat Mono-Red Aggro and fast enough to beat rough midrange and control lists?
We have no Thundermaw Hellkite and Hellrider anymore, but Stormbreath Dragon and Ogre Battledriver have some potential. Both are weaker than their predecessors, but we're not going to see Thundermaw-level cards any time soon. Stormbreath Dragon compares favorably with Malakir Bloodwitch. It's not the best card to compare with, but you may remember that Bloodwitch was a strong sideboard card in Jund—a deck that featured Bloodbraid Elf, Lightning Bolt, and Blightning. Malakir Bloodwitch was good against Baneslayer Angel and Path to Exile, and this Dragon is good against Archangel of Thune and Azorius Charm / Detention Sphere.
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 3 Gyre Sage
- 4 Ogre Battledriver
- 4 Reverent Hunter
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
Burning-Tree Emissary stabilizes your mana and helps you cast your RR spells later in the game. The mana curve is not ideal and the Emissary + Sage combination isn't that powerful, but I believe that playing Burning-Tree Emissary is worth trying. Burning-Tree Emissary can help cast red cards and occasionally allows us to cast Stormbreath Dragon earlier with Gyre Sage. I'd be happy to exchange Gyre Sage with Flinthoof Boar (the little swine will be missed by many players), but if Theros does not offer anything in exchange, green-based decks may be in trouble.
The deck's mana base is a reason to cry even with Burning-Tree Emissary. I hoped to see some kind of conditionally untapped lands, but we gained scry lands, which aren't good in either aggro or control. I understand that Naya Aggro with Strangleroot Geist and Boros Reckoner isn't the best thing that happened to Magic, but having to play twenty basic lands in a format with Return to Ravnica block is wrong.
G/R decks at least have Burning-Tree Emissary for emergency cases, but what about B/G? How am I supposed to cast turn 1 Thoughtseize, turn 2 Scavenging Ooze, and turn 3 1BB or 1GG creature (Lifebane Zombie / Witchstalker)? How are control decks supposed to cast Supreme Verdict and Far // Away in time against these stupidly fast Mono-Red Aggro decks? How am I supposed to cast turn 1 Elvish Mystic and turn 2 Loxodon Smiter? Am I supposed to cast Voice of Resurgence on turn 2 consistently? I may not understand something important, but I think that having only one playset of untapped dual lands is a mistake in Standard with a multicolored block. I'd like to see slower format, but this very format will not be slow due to presence of Mono-Red Aggro and possibly Mono-Green. And the last question is:
"Why are these lands rares, not uncommons like Arcane Sanctum or even commons like the Guildgates?
There are, however, some positive things. Mono-Red Aggro doesn't have Pillar of Flame anymore to deal with Voice of Resurgence, so G/W is a good anti-red solution. Chained to the Rocks is a card, but it's not very easy to use, especially if red decks want to splash green for Burning-Tree Emissary or black for Spike Jester.
G/W has enough tools to stop and outdraw Mono-Red: Loxodon Smiter, Unflinching Courage, Imposing Sovereign, and Centaur Healer. But how am I supposed to cast Trostani, Selesnya's Voice with twenty basic lands in my deck? Sylvan Caryatid is insanely good, but something is wrong when Brad Nelson includes a creature with defender into his Jund Aggro deck.
Sylvan Caryatid is a very interesting Farseek variant. I think it's more Farseek than a large Birds of Paradise. This card is exactly what midrange decks need against Mono-Red Aggro right now. It can block, and it doesn't care about Firefist Striker and Lightning Strike. It's not as good against Supreme Verdict but is a much better late-game topdeck against aggressive decks, allowing you to survive. I expect this card to see a lot of play. An example:
- 3 Archangel of Thune
- 2 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
This decklist is bad. Really. It's made with the Innistrad + Return to Ravnica approach: combine all best cards in your colors and put some lands in the mix. This approach will not work in new Standard. You simply cannot rely on casting Trostani on turn 4. Just forget it.
This list is probably too deep, but it's an example of how a two-colored deck should work in this format: fast and stable with a minimal splash for very important cards. Selesnya Charm is a perfect way to deal with Gods, Advent of the Wurm helps beat removal and control, and Unflinching Courage is perfect against Mono-Red. Yes, Kalonian Tusker is now Voice of Resurgence and Polukranos, World Eater is much worse than Trostani against aggressive decks, but you can be sure that you'll cast your cards on time and beat those who will not change their deckbuilding tendencies from Innistrad + Return to Ravnica Standard to Return to Ravnica + Theros Standard.
There are still a lot more Theros cards to see. There are some reasons to be upset (like the huge flavor miss in Akroan Crusader's card name or the lack of the second playset of untapped dual lands), but many aspects of Theros are exciting and interesting: its flavor, its cards, and its new complicated deckbuilding tasks. Don't miss them!
P.S. The Grand Prix schedule for 2014 was announced last week. After a huge success in 2012, a GP is returning to Moscow. The middle of June is a perfect time to visit Russia, and our community will be happy to share this feast with players from around the whole world.