Checking In: Theros Beyond Death in Modern

Michael Rapp Modern

It has been a month since Theros Beyond Death was released, and some of you may remember the “Top Five Theros Beyond Death Cards for Modern” article I wrote around that time. I thought this would be a fun opportunity to check in and ask, “Where are they now?” 

As it turns out, all five of these cards have seen success in the competitive arena. Let’s take a look at the Modern metagame and see where these cards fit.

Heliod, Sun-Crowned

In his short tenure in Modern, Heliod, Sun-Crowned has already made a name for himself as a combo centerpiece.

Heliod Company by Chris Marshall, 7th place SCG Philadelphia

3 Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
4 Birds of Paradise
1 Eternal Witness
1 Giver of Runes
4 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Ranger-Captain of Eos
4 Spike Feeder
1 Viscera Seer
1 Walking Ballista
4 Collected Company
4 Once Upon a Time
2 Forest
2 Plains
1 Godless Shrine
4 Horizon Canopy
1 Marsh Flats
1 Overgrown Tomb
2 Razorverge Thicket
1 Temple Garden
3 Verdant Catacombs
4 Windswept Heath

SIDEBOARD

3 Aven Mindcensor
2 Knight of Autumn
2 Scavenging Ooze
3 Path to Exile
3 Veil of Summer
2 Thoughtseize

Heliod enables quite a few combos in this deck:

Heliod + Spike Feeder with at least 2 counters = infinite life

Heliod + Kitchen Finks without a -1/-1 counter + Viscera Seer = infinite life and infinite scry 1.

Heliod + Walking Ballista with at least two counters = infinite life and infinite damage

Heliod gives us three different ways to win the game in this deck. Once Upon a Time and Collected Company let you see Heliod or whatever combo piece you’re missing with high frequency.

I believe Heliod will be a player in Modern for a long time to come as the new key card for these GWx Collected Company combo decks.

Ox of Agonas

Ox of Agonas was heralded by some as the card that will break Dredge again, but I never believed the hype. Instead, I thought Ox would simply be a solid role-player in the graveyard machine, giving Dredge a much-needed power level spike in the mid-game. 

Dredge by salty12ZA, 5-2 MTGO Challenge 

4 Bloodghast
2 Golgari Thug
3 Merchant of the Vale
4 Narcomoeba
3 Ox of Agonas
4 Prized Amalgam
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Cathartic Reunion
1 Conflagrate
4 Creeping Chill
4 Life from the Loam
4 Shriekhorn
1 Arid Mesa
2 Blood Crypt
2 Bloodstained Mire
4 Copperline Gorge
1 Dakmor Salvage
1 Forgotten Cave
1 Gemstone Mine
1 Mountain
2 Stomping Ground
4 Wooded Foothills

SIDEBOARD

1 Conflagrate
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Blast Zone
2 Driven // Despair
1 Force of Vigor
2 Lightning Axe
4 Nature’s Claim
2 Surgical Extraction

As expected, we see Ox competing for spots in the deck with Conflagrate, the old standby of mid-game Dredge cards. The exact numbers of Ox and Conflagrate will vary depending on how many small creature decks are present in the metagame; Ox will often give you a bit more speed, but it lacks the ability to interact. In the current Modern metagame, where Dredge needs to be faster and not necessarily interactive, it makes sense that we see the split lean toward Ox.

Thassa’s Oracle

Man oh man, Thassa’s Oracle has been a smash hit in Modern and Pioneer. In Modern, you will traditionally find Thassa’s Oracle in Ad Nauseam, but don’t be surprised to see it in Neoform, or any deck with Underworld Breach.

Ad Nauseam by Genxim, 7-0 MTGO Challenge

1 Brazen Borrower
4 Simian Spirit Guide
3 Thassa’s Oracle
3 Serum Visions
2 Sleight of Hand
4 Ad Nauseam
4 Angel’s Grace
1 Lightning Storm
3 Pact of Negation
4 Spoils of the Vault
4 Lotus Bloom
4 Pentad Prism
3 Phyrexian Unlife
3 City of Brass
2 Darkslick Shores
4 Gemstone Mine
1 Island
1 Plains
3 Seachrome Coast
1 Swamp
3 Temple of Deceit
2 Temple of Enlightenment

SIDEBOARD

3 Bontu’s Last Reckoning
4 Leyline of Sanctity
2 Path to Exile
2 Thoughtseize
4 Veil of Summer

Thassa’s Oracle has supplanted Laboratory Maniac in most of the Modern decks that cared about winning the game with an empty library. Oracle saves one mana on the casting cast and the necessity of drawing from an empty library, making Ad Nauseam the perfect home. I expect that all of the uses for Thassa’s Oracle have yet to be fully explored, but breaking into three Modern decks over the course of a month is quite the accomplishment for a Standard card.

Underworld Breach

Underworld Breach is another card that has been making waves in Pioneer, but is now breaking into Modern as well. Over the last week or two, a new Urza variant has popped up playing Underworld Breach. It was only a matter of time before a deck married the strengths of Grinding Station and Underworld Breach, so let’s dive into the list. 

Grixis Urza Breach by AlabasterWolfie, 5-2 MTGO Challenge

4 Emry, Lurker of the Loch
2 Goblin Engineer
1 Thassa’s Oracle
4 Urza, Lord High Artificer
4 Arcum’s Astrolabe
3 Chromatic Star
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Grinding Station
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Mox Amber
1 Sword of the Meek
2 Thopter Foundry
2 Wishclaw Talisman
4 Underworld Breach
1 Blood Crypt
4 Polluted Delta
2 Prismatic Vista
4 Scalding Tarn
5 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Mountain
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Steam Vents
1 Watery Grave

SIDEBOARD

2 Ashiok, Dream Render
1 Battle at the Bridge
1 Blood Moon
1 Echoing Truth
2 Fatal Push
2 Mystical Dispute
1 Pharika’s Libation
1 Sai, Master Thopterist
1 Shenanigans
1 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
2 Thoughtseize

Underworld Breach and Thassa’s Oracle both make an appearance in this deck — I’ll count that one as a two-for-one! These two cards are part of a tricky four-card combo: Underworld Breach + Grinding Station + zero-mana artifact + Thassa’s Oracle. Once you have those four pieces in place, the combo works like this:

  • Activate Grinding Station to mill yourself for three cards
  • Escape any zero-mana artifact from your graveyard 
  • Untap Grinding Station
  • Repeat the process until the number of cards in your library is equal to or fewer than your blue devotion
  • Cast Thassa’s Oracle and win the game 

This might sound like a lot of work to set up, but you don’t need to start with Thassa’s Oracle; you can escape it once you’ve put enough of your library in the graveyard. Goblin Engineer and Emry, Lurker of the Loch can find your Grinding Station or zero-mana artifact and pull it out of the graveyard. Wishclaw Talisman will also find you whichever piece you’re missing, which is nice because it increases access to Underworld Breach (the hardest piece to find given that it’s an enchantment, not an artifact). 

This Urza build also has more traditional elements, such as Urza, Lord High Artificer, Thopter Foundry, and Sword of the Meek. Once these decks move away from counterspells and toward a combo build, Underworld Breach becomes even more attractive to grind through opposing interaction. 

Dryad of the Ilysian Grove

Dryad of the Ilysian Grove might be the card with the biggest impact on Modern from Theros Beyond Death. An all-star in Amulet Titan and Titanshift alike, Dryad has put Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle back on the map. 

Amulet Titan by Violent_Outburst, 7-0 MTGO Challenge

1 Arboreal Grazer
2 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
4 Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
4 Primeval Titan
4 Sakura-Tribe Scout
4 Once Upon a Time
1 Pact of Negation
4 Summoner’s Pact
4 Amulet of Vigor
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Bojuka Bog
2 Breeding Pool
4 Castle Garenbrig
2 Cavern of Souls
1 Field of the Dead
2 Forest
1 Ghost Quarter
2 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Gruul Turf
1 Hanweir Battlements
1 Radiant Fountain
4 Simic Growth Chamber
2 Snow-Covered Forest
3 Tolaria West
2 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
1 Vesuva
1 Wooded Foothills

SIDEBOARD

1 Field of the Dead
1 Radiant Fountain
2 Aether Gust
1 Beast Within
3 Dismember
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
4 Mystical Dispute
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Tireless Tracker

Dryad of the Ilysian Grove added redundancy to the “exploration” effect that the Amulet decks have lacked since the banning of Summer Bloom. Now, with Sakura Tribe-Scout, Azusa, and Dryad, these decks have so many opportunities to play extra lands that they can race other combo decks in Modern. Dryad also allows Amulet to play two copies of Valakut alongside Field of the Dead as ways to win the game should an opponent answer Primeval Titan. You’ll also notice that there are no Mountains in this deck; Dryad takes care of that, as it turns all your lands into Mountains. 

Titanshift had fallen out of favor, often regarded as less powerful than Amulet Titan, but it has popped back up with the printing of Dryad. I outlined the turn three kill that Titanshift has with Dryad in my prediction article, which you can find here. Titanshift will likely remain on the back burner as long as Amulet is around, but you can still expect to play against it from time to time. 

I know I enjoyed looking back on these standout cards after the first month to see them shaping up well. If I didn’t cover your favorite Theros Beyond Death card that is performing well in Modern, be sure to let me know on Twitter at @RappaciousOne!