Welcome back, fellow Theros petitioners. By now, we’ve all had the chance to get a little more familiar with Theros Beyond Death thanks to streamer previews, Prereleases, and MTGA Sealed. I hope you’ve all enjoyed your early experiences with this sweet set!
But evaluations of the set still haven’t settled, and there are still more Theros Beyond Death cards to discuss in our preview series. Today, we’ll address the Nemean lion’s share of them with our review of green’s new staples!
Like her original Theros incarnation, Nylea feels a little less like a slam dunk than the other mono-color Gods. Perhaps it’s because a four-mana 5/6 is a little under-rate for green these days — even with indestructible — but it seems like this won’t just be an auto-include even for the creature-heavy decks she aims to support.
What Nylea does offer is a mana discount and a mana sink, making her useful in two situations. As a sideboard card against control, she’ll stick around post-sweeper and help you rebuild quickly. But I can also see her having potential in creature combo decks. Duskwatch Recruiter is cheaper and digs deeper per activation, but as a way of making infinite-mana wins deterministic, Nylea works just as well. Her cost discount can help you deploy your pieces in the same turn, and she does a fine job in combat combat.
Luckily, she does have some help in Standard…
This extravagantly-named creature is already the new toy for Commander players everywhere, but it’s also worth remembering that Leyline of Abundance is legal in Standard. With the all-time-great selection of mana dorks and ramp spells available, it’s very easy to reach seven mana in a timely fashion. Of course, even most ramp decks don’t need their seven-mana ramp spell to effectively be another ramp spell!
Therefore, we need to look at the Ancient as a combo piece, preferably one which immediately puts the game away. Ancient plus Wakeroot Elemental is only one or two ramp pieces away from infinite mana and a bunch of angry lands. It also pairs well with the underplayed Faeburrow Elder, offering another path to infinite mana with Gauntlets of Light. Making things slightly more plausible is that Nyxbloom Ancient, Gauntlets, Gift of Paradise, New Horizons, Leyline of Abundance and even High Alert can all be found by Calix, Destiny’s Hand! (More on him next time in our gold/colorless card review.)
Being enchantments also means they get some other handy Standard support, such as…
Design-wise, Setessan Champion may as well be the poster child for this whole set. Virtually any green deck which wasn’t already viable is built around her powerful draw engine and combat prowess. She might be slightly more expensive and less resilient than classic options like Argothian Enchantress and Enchantress’s Presence, but her draw effect triggering as enchantments ETB rather than when they are cast opens the door to disgusting combos with cards like Replenish, so even in eternal formats there’s an argument to play Setessan Champion in heavy enchantment decks. A great all-rounder to ensure enchantments get somewhere in this format.
The term “mythic uncommon” has been popularized in some Magic circles to refer to uncommons which punch above their weight in Limited. But Destiny Spinner (while a fine Limited card) simply seems like a mythic or rare card which somehow got squeezed into the silver rarity slot. The combination of mana cost, stats, enchantment typing and two powerhouse abilities make this almost as universal as Setessan Champion, and four of each is a decent place to start green Standard lists if you want to do anything with enchantments going forward.
This one-two punch is essentially going to trigger a wave of new Enchantress testing across all Constructed formats — that’s how big a shot in the arm they are. But in Modern and Legacy, Destiny Spinner looks to shine brightest of all — she laughs at Chalice of the Void and sends giant trampling lands after Narset, Parter of Veils, two of the biggest safety valves on the archetype. Definitely do not let the rarity here deceive you into sleeping on the Spinner.
ARASTA OF THE ENDLESS WEB
For the length of their tenure in Magic, spiders are just now starting to get some proper tribal support. Players running Ishkanah, Grafwidow in Commander — or those who wanted a second option — will be thrilled with Arasta’s effect, which of course scales brilliantly in multiplayer games. Arasta might also find a home in Standard if Arclight Phoenix makes a resurgence, as her free wall of reach blockers and high toughness make her a legitimate problem for that spell-heavy deck. There’s also some potential for her should a toolbox enchantment deck arise around Calix or Enigmatic Incarnation, since her narrow but powerful effect makes her a perfect tutorable one-of.
THE FIRST IROAN GAMES
If sagas aren’t your favorite card type in Theros Beyond Death (at least aesthetically), then I don’t know what to say to you! This is another terrific top-down design which both offers a ton of opportunity for synergistic play and has a pretty high floor by itself. The key decider as to whether The First Iroan Games works out for you is likely how your opponents’ creature removal interacts with chapters two and three. If your counter-boosted creature dies before it can get in damage and you don’t get to draw two, then this is likely a bust.
On the other hand, the payoffs for this card are so good and so flexible that I’ve seen people testing it as a four-of in Legacy. In Standard, it synergizes fantastically with existing green strategies as well as a splash to white or blue, where the smaller average creature size and higher rate of flying or lifelink makes the counters more impactful. With the last chapter being somewhat of an afterthought, this is one of several sagas to play beautifully with Vraska, Golgari Queen, and of course it also makes a 1/1 for Lovestruck Beast. Green’s cup continues to runneth over in Standard!
DRYAD OF THE ILYSIAN GROVE
Even discounting the tastefully classical art direction, this card is still going to be attractive to a lot of different people. In Standard and Pioneer, Dryad’s abilities will make reaching Niv-Mizzet Reborn even more trivial, while the statline makes it a more respectable blocker than you’d usually get out of a combo piece.
Looking to Modern’s Primeval Titan decks, the Dryad has a lot of competition from Azusa, Lost But Seeking, Oracle of Mul Daya, Wayward Swordtooth, and Courser of Kruphix. But initial testing is promising! While it’s slightly less explosive than Azusa, Dryad is not legendary, survives Lightning Bolt, and enables Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle without Scapeshift. It may be “Prime Time” once again in post-ban Modern!
We don’t know what kind of flyers archetype might exist after Ikoria releases; at the moment, UW is a little below the competitive tier. But, for now, Nylea’s Intervention is a card without a home in Standard. That’s not to say it’s bad: the open-ended search for X non-basic lands has tremendous implications for Commander and also looks like a great option for Vintage Fastbond decks.
While paying three mana for Sylvan Scrying is probably just the wrong rate for ramp decks in Modern and Legacy, I could see this as a useful sideboard card when faced with land destruction or just a lengthy game where you want to continue going over the top. This is also one of the most efficient green “draw spells” on the market, if you don’t care what the actual cards you draw are. I wouldn’t expect Awaken the Erstwhile to suddenly take off in Standard as a result, but this is the kind of thing that pops up out of nowhere when somebody wants to abuse Windfall or discard effects in the future.
Another uncommon design which packs in an impressive number of potential synergies! The most notable thing about Wolfwillow Haven is simply that it dips below the standard CMC of three for mana-boosting auras. This has obvious yet significant implications for linear combo decks which need help accelerating to their game-winning turn, especially ones which already focus on lands, like Lotus Field decks in Pioneer. It’s worth noting that Wolfwillow Haven adds mana as a trigger when the enchanted land is tapped — which will not be multiplied by Nyxbloom Ancient’s effect. Those decks will want Gift of Paradise or New Horizons to combo off with.
On a fun note, this can help the surprisingly-real Wolf Tribal deck in Standard cast its best spells sooner, accelerating into turn three Nightpack Ambusher or Wicked Wolf before following up with Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves, Garruk, Cursed Huntsman and Arlinn, Voice of the Pack. Paying five and losing your aura feels a lot better when the wolf token enters play as a 4/4 which gains you life and fights a creature!
This is the perfect example of how a common can be elevated by its environment. Warbriar Blessing is a very powerful Draft pick for green, and I can easily see it crossing over to Standard and possibly other Constructed formats based purely based on its aura typing. While there is the usual concern of having the creature you target removed, decks looking to utilize auras are usually accounting for that already through hexproof or similar mechanics. In Theros Beyond Death, Karametra’s Blessing and Starlit Mantle are perfect backups which transform Warbriar Blessing into reliable removal. I expect this humble common to comfortably become a top card in GW or Bant Auras.
I’m including this unusually-named beastie not so much for it’s importance right now — although it is pretty nice in Theros Beyond Death Limited. No, I’m looking at this and to a lesser extent Arasta as a signpost of things to come later in 2020. We know that Ikoria, the next upcoming Standard set, is taking place on a new plane populated by giant monsters.
Hydras are the iconic giant monster type for green, but we’ve just had a ton of hydras appear on Ravnica and Theros. How likely does it seem, then, that Ikoria will feature some enormous spider-monsters in green as a way to set itself apart?
If we do get some further benefits for spiders, then Chainweb Aracnir will potentially overtake Kraul Harpooner as green’s cheap, main deck defense against flyers. But, for now, that’s only a theory…
THE ECSTASY OF GOLD
We’ve now managed to cover the best and most interesting cards Theros Beyond Death has to offer across the five colors of Magic… but we are still not quite done. Stay tuned for the final instalment of our review series, when we address the gold and colorless cards of the set! There may not be as many of them, but what they lack in numbers they certainly make up for in power and depth — a whopping six mythic rares will be leading the review. See you then!
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.