Theros Limited is fantastic.
Hockey season is here.
Theros Standard is also fantastic.
I'm growing a beard.
Pro Tour Theros is right around the corner.
At least three of those things you should care about.
This past weekend was the official release of Theros. Living in the land of drafting (Florida) means there was no shortage of options to play. A gathering of some of the best players in the state took place in Tampa. Namely in attendance were Gold-level pros Stephen Mann and Chris Fennell. Along with them were two more qualified players for Pro Tour Theros and another four of us who are not. However, the other four players in attendance (myself included) have all played on the Pro Tour multiple times. This gave us a very accurate representation of what to expect in the format and when cards should get picked. The format is everything I had hoped for and more.
Boulderfall is surprisingly playable.
B/W is fairly bad.
U/G is underwhelming.
Red is the best color.
There are a lot of archetypes.
We went through a case of Theros in about a day and a half. I know we didn't find every interaction or every feasible archetype. What we did find were most of the obvious and not so obvious things that come with drafting a lot.
"After all, it's a Boulderfall." — Chris Fennell
At the beginning of the weekend, Boulderfall was going last pick in nearly every draft. Fast forward to the end of the weekend and a pack 1 Boulderfall wouldn't table. We found that R/G Ramp is a very powerful strategy once we gave it a shot.
If you take a couple of Voyaging Satyrs, Satyr Hedonists, and Karametra's Acolytes, you can ramp extremely effectively. You do end up taking some damage early as you play your mana dorks. However, you quickly start playing large creatures with monstrosity that generally outclass what your opponent is doing on turn 4 or 5. With all that mana, having access to a card like Boulderfall on turn 5 helps clear the board of any potential threat. Clearly Boulderfall isn't the best card for every red deck, but if you're playing mana dorks, this card is where you want to be.
I experienced my only winless draft with Orzhov. The cards in my deck where solid, yet I didn't really feel like I was in most games. I realize now the reason is that the majority of the good white cards need WW and black cards need BB. This means that land screw is commonplace, and there isn't much that can be done about that. Another thing I noticed is that most white cards are good early and bad late. With black it's the exact opposite in that most black cards are bad early and good late. These don't complement each other very well, which is another reason why these colors don't work well together.
Simic underperformed throughout the weekend. I have a couple theories as to why. The most basic one is that these colors traditionally lack removal. I managed to have a 2-1 record with it and was the only person in our group to have a winning record with Simic. I attribute that mostly to Time to Feed and heroic creatures. Since both green and blue have some really great Auras and combat tricks, it makes it really easy to turn on heroic.
Speaking of heroic, since we lack removal, opposing heroic decks can really give us a problem. Heroic comes at you fast, so you need removal to deal with cards like Phalanx Leader and Wingsteed Rider. Left unchecked cards like these make having a comeback insurmountable. The blue does offer some bounce spells, which is nice to help stifle such decks. But with both bounce spells being cards that are sought after, I wouldn't be surprised to only find one in a draft.
The thing Simic really does have going for it is the options you have and the cards your opponent has to play around because of it. Having four untapped mana can mean a lot of things when playing a Simic deck. You can be representing Breaching Hippocamp, Griptide, Horizon Chimera, Voyage's End, Triton Tactics, or Savage Surge to name just a few cards. With that in mind, be wary when drafting Simic, but be aware of what Simic does well.
Red is good. Rather, red has good creatures for a change. I want to go over a couple of cards that really proved their worth to me.
The Cerberus has "buff me" written all over it. This is useful to us since heroic creatures are very similar, meaning there are plenty of ways to do so. Putting a Dragon Mantle on Two-Headed Cerberus is very hard to overcome if you aren't packing plenty of removal. Complement it with Nimbus Naiad and it's a complete nightmare. I can't emphasize enough how many times I won games with this simple interaction.
A Hill Giant with trample is generally a very average-sized creature and nothing to write home about. However, it turning into a 6/6 two turns after it hits play gives decks a really hard time. For this reason I wouldn't expect you to see very many Ill-Tempered Cyclops after the first couple of picks, so scoop them up early.
With these two great creatures at common, there's also plenty of removal and combat tricks that go fast as well. Red is definitely the color to be if you can get it.
It turns out there are a lot of viable archetypes to draft in Theros. This is undoubtedly due to the quantity of gold cards in the set. The ones you're most likely to see because they're uncommon and their purposes are as followed:
Shipwreck Singer offers an effective and defensive U/B deck. Dimir has a lot of defensive creatures and tends to take over the game in the later turns. This card was insane all weekend.
Battlewise Hoplite really helps promote heroic in U/W. Azorius has eight heroic creatures, so be prepared to deal with combat tricks and early pressure.
Akroan Hoplite offers a good aggressive creature. Boros is powerful in the early game to nobody's surprise, so be prepared to be defensive against these colors.
Horizon Chimera is one of the few cards that make you want to pick up Simic. As I was saying earlier, it fits well in the deck by doing what these colors want to do by having flash and thus giving you options.
Destructive Revelry is certainly a playable and actually solid Gruul card. The problem is it doesn't really want you to be Gruul and is just a nice card to have if you happen to fall into those colors.
Kragma Warcaller is cute. If your goal is a Minotaur deck, this is the right card for you. If your goal is to win, this is the wrong card.
Sentry of the Underworld is in the wrong colors at the wrong time. It has solid stats for cost and reasonable abilities. As I said earlier, however, being in Orzhov raises conflicts in mana costs, and this card is just a liability.
Spellheart Chimera in theory is a terrific card. Being evasive and having the potential to be a powerhouse in the late game is tempting. Getting it to that powerhouse level is fairly unreliable, though, as you have to be playing at least ten instant or sorcery spells just to get it off the ground. This card in my experience is a giant trap.
A New Standard
Well, kind of.
The beautiful people of this here website hosted a Standard Open in Worcester last weekend. This was the first major Standard event with Theros. This event is going to have an impact on the Pro Tour even if it is small since it gives us an early look at the new Standard format and what to expect. To nobody's surprise, Mono-Red Aggro, G/R Aggro, and U/W/x Control are the three big contenders. This makes a lot of sense considering people try to be simple when a format is new.
Simple is safe.
Safe is smart.
Smart is winning.
We all know how much you like winning. Now that the format is somewhat defined, this when people start trying to figure out how to break it. Does that mean I've already done so?
Of course not!
I've got some plans. Namely an Orzhov control deck. Absolutely no testing has gone into this deck yet, but I like in theory where it's at. I'm going to leave you with a decklist I built with the help of some friends; let me know what you think.
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