Thursday, 16 January 2020 10:05

'Theros Beyond Death': The best cards in each color

Written by
'Theros Beyond Death':  The best cards in each color WOTC

When Theros Beyond Death drops for Magic: The Gathering on Jan. 24, it will bring with it 254 cards with the vast majority being brand new to the game.

The set includes a nice selection of themes and mechanics such as enters-the-battlefield matters, sagas, enchantment creatures, and enchantment matters.  It also introduces the new escape keyword ability along with two returning abilities from the original Theros block: Devotion and constellation.

So, what are the cards that players should be on the look out for?  What are the best of the best?  The crème de la crème, as it were?

Well, just like beauty, what's "best" is largely in the eye of the beholder.  And, no, we don't mean that big creepy monster from Dungeons & Dragons.

So, without further ado (and before you plop down your hard-earned cash for a THB booster box, bundle, or collector pack), here are the best three new cards (sorry, Gary) to be found for each color in the soon-to-release set, Theros Beyond Death:

White

Heliod, Sun-Crowned (Mythic Rare) – In the running to be the best god card in the set, Heliod, Sun-Crowned is a bright spot in a color that hasn’t had many in recent sets.

While this latest version of Heliod is coming from a Standard-legal set, the hype around Heliod is anything but standard.  Instead, it comes from non-rotating formats.  Specifically, the card is ½ of an amazing two-card combo found in Pioneer (and, subsequently, Modern, Legacy, etc.) where it pairs up with the Aether Revolt rare Walking Ballista to form seemingly infinite damage for a very small amount of mana.  It also pairs with the Stronghold card (reprinted in Time Spiral) Spike Feeder as an infinite life combo.  What’s really nice about that second two-card combo is that you can get them both into the battlefield at the same time thanks to the card Collected Company from Dragons of Tarkir.

Now, isn’t that convenient?

Eidolon of Obstruction (Rare) – Let’s face it.  Wizards of the Coast has printed some fairly busted planeswalkers of the years.  And while some of them (*cough* Oko) have been taken care of on an administrative level, others (eg: Liliana of the Veil and Karn Liberated) are quite the handful.  That’s where Eidolon of Obstruction comes in.

A 2/1 first striker for two (1W), this eidolon is a Death & Taxes dream card as it taxes one of the few things that the deck has trouble with: in-play Planeswalkers.  Suddenly with a mana cost tied to the planeswalkers’ abilities, those abilities don’t seem so good anymore.  And since the eidolon isn’t legendary (unlike D&T staple Thalia), that means you can have multiple instances out at once.  A planewalker tax increase, if you will.

After all, at least check planeswalkers aren’t tax-exempt and it’s time for them to pay.

Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis (Mythic Rare) – One of Theros Beyond Death’s three planeswalkers, Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis is one of those rare ones that’s destined to die.

No, seriously.  She has no “plus” abilities.

What she does have, however, is escape allowing her to return to the battlefield from the graveyard to pull her tricks all over again.  And the tricks she has (while none amazing in their own right) are all handy in the correct situation.  Need to buff your troops?  There’s a -1 for that.  Need to Raise the Alarm?  There’s a -2 for that.  Short on life?  Elspeth will give you a Chaplain’s Blessing with her -3.

Now that’s handy.

Blue

Ashiok’s Erasure (Rare) – A 2UU enchantment with flash, when Ashiok’s Erasure enters the battlefield you exile a spell, thus removing it from the stack, and disallowing opponents from casting other copies of said spell so long as the enchantment is in play.

It’s essentially a counterspell without being a counterspell (meaning that it can “counter” uncounterable things such as a Carnage Tyrant, a well-timed Exquisite Firecraft, or a creature brought in with Rhythm of the Wild in play).  Sure, you’ll have to give the spell back should Ashiok’s Erasure ever leave play, but the sheer disruption this card brings will be well worth it.

And again, the effect is that opponents cannot cast spells with the same name as the exiled card.  Not you.  Go wild.

Kiora Bests the Sea God (Mythic Rare) – Possibly the best saga in the set, Kiora Bests the Sea God showcases an event from the original Theros block when the merfolk planeswalker Kiora was able to battle the plane’s blue god, Thassa, and steal her bident right from under her nose. (Gods have noses, right?)

Don’t get hung up on this card’s casting cost (5UU), because for seven mana you get not only an 8/8 hexproof beat-down specialist, but you also get to tap down your opponent’s forces a-la Sleep, then you get a strictly better Confiscate.  And that’s all on one card.  One card!

MTG power creep might be more like a power run these days thanks to cards like this, and while we don’t want to promote the practice, this card is just so darn powerful that it had to make the list.

Thassa’s Oracle (Rare) – She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor; and she’s drawing like she’s never drawn before!

Magic’s new (and strictly better) Laboratory Maniac, Thassa’s Oracle is an alternative win condition with a great devotion ability.

Costing two (UU) for a 1/3, this merfolk wizard lets you peek at the top of your deck equal to your devotion to blue, giving you the option to snag one of those cards for your hand and putting the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.  Oh, and if you peek at more cards than you have in your library, you just flat-out win the game (which isn’t too shabby).

As former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards once said: “You play to win the game.”

With Thassa’s Oracle, that couldn’t be any more true.

Black

Erebos’ Intervention (Rare) – A nice modal card with a decent power level, Erebos’ Intervention acts as either spot removal (with life gain tacked on as a bonus) or as graveyard disruption.  And, as an instant, both options can be quite nice.

While the spot removal/life gain is nice and will often be the mode of choice for many of the card’s users, its real power comes in the graveyard hate as it not only allows for the removal equal to twice of whatever you spent on “X,” but it’s targeted graveyard removal at instant speed.  In short, this card can really ruin the plans of many a graveyard strategy in many a format.

Simply put, it’s Erebos’ Intervention is going to see play.

Nightmare Shepherd (Rare) – A 4/4 flyer for four (2BB) isn’t bad to begin with.  Add to that good token generation, and you’ve got yourself a force with which to be reckoned.

In exchange for exiling your creatures as they die, Nighmare Shepherd creates a 1/1 token creature that (aside from power and toughness) is a near-exact replica of the felled creature.

This ability pairs extremely well with cards like Teysa Karlov from Ravnica Allegiance which gives you double Nightmare Shepherd triggers, as well as in aristocrat and aristocrat-like decks.  There’s also great synergy to be had with ETB abilities, essentially allowing you to double-dip on them upon death.

Erebos, Bleak Hearted (Mythic Rare) – It’d be awkward to talk about Erebos’ Intervention without Erebos himself on the list, right?

Erebos, Bleak Hearted may not be the most powerful of the gods in Theros Beyond Death, but he is one of the handier ones.  The phrase here is card advantage.  For a cost similar to the classic Magic card Greed (two life), Erebos lets you draw a card whenever another of your creatures die.  As passive abilities go, Erebos’ is very much an active one as the card also lets you sacrifice one of your creatures to provide a Weakness-like effect to another.  If you’re truly desperate (or greedy) you can even use the ability on another of your own creatures, drawing two cards at a tradeoff of four life (and, technically, two creatures).

There is good potential with this card and we can see player (especially EDH players) making good use of it.

Red

Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded (Mythic Rare) – Possibly the runner-up for “best god,” Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded is a card that people have been brewing around since the day it was spoiled.

A big boy on his own (a 7/6 for 4R so long as you meet his devotion requirement), this new Puphoros not only gives your creatures haste, but he does it with Sneak Attack-ish flair.  For the all-too-affordable cost of 2R, you can bring a red or artifact creature from your hand into play, then attack with it.  An idea paring, of course, would be something along the lines of Ilharg, the Raze-Boar, which (in turn) doubles-up your sneak attack possibilities.  Could you imagine Puphorosing in an Ilharg, only to attack to Ilharg in something like an Eldrazi titan, a gearhulk from Kaladesh, or some other big baddie?

We can.

And besides, Purphoros’ end-of-turn trigger off of his sneak attack ability works surprisingly well with the next card on our list…  

Dreamshaper Shaman (Uncommon) – Let’s ignore for a moment that Dreamshaper Shaman is a 5/4 for six (5R) because that is largely irrelevant here.  What is relevant is its end step trigger with which you may pay 2R and sacrifice a nonland permanent (even a token or itself if necessary) to bring the top nonland permanent in your deck into play.  Looking beyond Standard, the shaman can be easily built around and can get out something big and mean easily and largely efficiently in a very non-counterable way.

While not as much of a surprise as a Sneak Attack-like effect, one thing that is really, truly nice about the shaman’s ability is that the creature that’s brought into play stays in play as normal.  No sacrificing or bouncing necessary.

Mono-red big-boy Eldrazi in Pioneer, here we come!

The Akroan War (Rare) – The third saga to make our list, The Akroan War is a nice twist on the whole “steal a creature” concept.  For four mana (3R), you get to temporarily gain control of a creature.  Unlike cards like Act of Treason, however, you don’t have to give the creature back at the end of turn; instead you keep it for as long as you control The Akroan War.  On the saga’s second mode, it’s time for battle as it forces your opponents to attack with their creatures even if they don’t want to.  Finally, in its third mode, each tapped creature deals combat damage to itself equal to its power.  This final mode acts as a one-sided pseudo-board wipe (assuming your creatures are all untapped).

Who says war has to be hell when it’s this much fun?

Green

Dryad of the Ilysian Grove (Rare) – A 2/4 for 2G, it has a pretty solid stat line for a three-mana creature.  What sets the card apart, however, are its two static abilities.  Not only do you get to play an additional land on each of your turns a-la Exploration, but it also makes your basic lands count as every basic land type.  It’s amazing for color fixing and (since landwalk abilities haven’t really been a thing in quite a white) it doesn’t have any true drawback.

The Dryad has some good synergies with cards already existing in the game.  Just looking at Standard, it allows for easy double-up mana with Nissa, Who Shakes the World and has great land ETB synergy with the M20 card Dread Presence.

Nyxbloom Ancient (Mythic Rare) – While seven mana for a 5/5 with trample doesn’t exactly sound earth-shattering by contemporary standards, you’ll need to look beyond this card’s baseline stats to see the real draw.  Or, rather, the real ramp.

Nyxbloom Ancient can be a dream card for EDH and Oathbreaker players and we’re pretty sure that’s whom this card was designed for from the get-go.  Its passive ability quite literally triples-up the mana you can draw from your mana sources.  That means that basic Forest you just tapped just gave you GGG, Simic Growth Chamber will net you UUUGGG, and an online Urza’s Tower will give you a whopping nine colorless mana off of a single activation.  Do the math.

Oh, also it doesn’t just touch lands.  Llanowar Elves will net you GGG.  Sol Ring will net you six colorless.  Gruul Signet will give you RRRGGG.

So, yeah.  It’s kind of bonkers.

Hydra’s Growth (Uncommon) – While auras aren’t typically considered terrific cards overall thanks to the two-for-one card disadvantage they can bring should their enchanted permanent go bye-bye, some are powerful enough to warrant attention.  Hydra’s Growth is such a card.

Upon ETB, the enchant creature spell places a +1/+1 counter onto its enchanted creature.  The real spice, however, is that it then doubles the number of +1/+1 counters on said creature every upkeep regardless of where those counters came from.

In EDH, Hydra’s Growth will be right at home in decks like Animar, Soul of Elements and Ghave, Guru of Spores.  In Standard, putting it on something like Oathsworn Knight or (even better) Stonecoil Serpent could get out of hand quickly, as could enchanting the likes of artifact creatures such as Hangarback Walker, Triskelion, and Walking Ballista.

Oh the fun that could be had so long as removal doesn’t become a factor.

Multicolor

Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger (Mythic Rare) – A 6/6 with good ETB and combat abilities for two mana (BR) is pretty busted.  Sure, as printed Kroxa goes straight to the graveyard upon ETB unless it was brought in via escape (which only costs BBRR plus exiling five of your graveyard cards).  That said, its ETB/combat trick is pretty darn good for what is essentially an evoke cost of two.  But there’s more to this than meets the eye.

Pair Kroxa with Hushbringer, a rare from Throne of Eldraine, and you have yourself a 6/6 for two.  Sure, Kroxa’s ETB discard/life loss ability won’t fire off, but neither will its escape-or-die ability.  To that end, what you end up with is exactly that: an extremely efficient 6/6 with a very good combat trigger.

Mardu aggro in Standard, anyone?

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath (Mythic Rare) – The second of Theros Beyond Death’s two titans, Uro plays very similar to its brother card, Kroxa.  For three mana (1GU), you get a 6/6 that will die upon ETB unless it was brought out via escape (GGUU, exile five of your graveyard cards).  Upon ETB and combat, Uro lets you not only gain three life, but you also get to draw a card.  If that weren’t nice enough, the titan also lets you put a land into play for free regardless of whether or not you’ve already played one.  Card advantage plus ramp and a little life gain on the side?  Yes, please!

And, like Kroxa, Uro pairs very nicely with Hushbringer to keep it from killing itself a-la envoke upon cast.  Nice.

Klothys, God of Destiny (Mythic Rare) – Yet another god card to make the list, Klothys is a rather versatile card.  In addition to providing graveyard destruction, the card provides players with either free mana (in the form of R or G) or a color pie bending drain life effect almost like a pseudo Syphon Soul.  And, with the prevalence of escape cards found in Theros Beyond Death, graveyard disruption of any kind is probably going to be a good thing.

Looking beyond abilities, Klothys is a 4/5 with indestructible for 1GR, which is extremely good.  Sure, you need R/G devotion of seven for Klothys to take creature form, but that shouldn’t be too difficult at all.

Colorless

Shadowspear (Rare) Short Sword ain’t got nothing on this.

Almost like a mini Batterskull (I mean, it isn’t, and yet it kind of is?), Shadowspear requires a minimal mana investment (one to cast and two to equip), yet it yields amazing results.  While giving a creature a +1/+1 buff isn’t exactly record-setting, throwing in trample and lifelink is sure nice.  Then throw in the fact that it makes your opponents’ entire boards lose not only hexproof, but indestructible as well and you have yourself one nice and nasty little piece of equipment.

This card will likely see play across a variety of formats from Legacy to EDH and Oathbreaker and we wouldn’t be surprised to see it appear on top-eight decklists in the near future due to its power and overall efficiency.

Soul-Guide Lantern (Uncommon) – It should come as no surprise that there is graveyard hate in a set that cares about the graveyard.  What is a bit of a surprise is how good this uncommon is not only at graveyard hate, but also at being useful outside of that.

Costing a mere one to bring out, it exiles a target card from a graveyard (albeit at sorcery speed).  The artifact can also be sacrificed to exile the graveyard of each opponent (note: you graveyard is safe).  It also acts as an efficient one-time card draw resource as you can also pay one and sacrifice to draw a card.

Good versatility, good effect, and efficiently-costed, Soul-Guide Lantern just might be the new Relic of Progenitus (or, at worst, a Relic alternative).

Labyrinth of Skophos (Rare) – A land that taps for colorless, Labyrinth of Skophos provides more than just mana as it also provides players with a Maze of Ith inspired ability.

With a cost of four plus a tap, players can remove not only a target attacking creature from combat, but instead a target blocking creature as well.  Because of this, it’s quite versatile as it can be used defensively by removing an attacking threat, offensively by removing an opponent’s blocker from the picture (great with trample), or preventatively by service as a rescue mechanic to save one of your own creatures from an ill fate in combat.  At, at worst, just having this land in play will prove to be a discouraging factor for opponents looking to send attackers your way.

So, there you have it.  Our official list of the best few new Magic: The Gathering cards that are on their way courtesy of the upcoming release of the game's newest Standard-legal set, Theros Beyond Death.

What are some of the cards on your short list?  Let us know in the comment section below!

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.