Theros Beyond Death: White Cards

Tom Anderson Design

Welcome back, Theros fans! In the days since I wrote my spoiler analysis article for red, we’ve already seen exciting new gods, titans, heroes and Planeswalkers. Today, I’ll push on and talk through the most exciting Theros Beyond Death spoilers for white: a color which is attracting more than its usual share of attention after falling off the radar with Throne of Eldraine. Which cards will bring white back to prominence in Limited, Standard, and Pioneer? Let’s take a look.

THE HEADLINERS

Two of white’s biggest bombs were previewed early; Elspeth was revealed far in advance of the main spoiler season to drive interest for the set. With Gideon Jura dead in the canon, mono-white needed its other main champion back, and so Elspeth has tagged back into the roster of living Planeswalkers. But she’s no longer the Sun’s Champion, serving Heliod; here, she has escaped from the underworld of Nyx to seek revenge on him for betraying her.

I’m thrilled to have Elspeth back; there hasn’t been a bad Elspeth yet, and Sun’s Nemesis is no exception! Reception to this design was mixed initially — a 4-CMC Planeswalker who only ticks down? It’s certainly a far cry from Oko, Thief of Crowns, but the comparison here should be to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar instead. I’ll certainly be looking at her as a “fifth copy” for my Pioneer Gideons deck!

Elspeth does a decent impression of that older white mythic, sacrificing potential longevity for flexibility. And the escape cost lines up perfectly for her to fill two slots on white’s curve, providing a great way to use an otherwise neglected graveyard. Don’t be shocked when your opponent casts Elspeth on turn four, makes soldiers for two turns, then gets the double-pump turn six by using her last loyalty and then immediately escaping her back to the battlefield. That’s quite a punch to pack to get your White Weenie deck over the line. 

Heliod was spoiled more recently, but he’s already garnered a ton of attention from the competitive Constructed community. His powerful triggered ability and high stats for a white creature mean that he may be the last piece needed to make a “lifegain aggro” deck competitive in Standard. Between Ajani, Strength of the Pride, Ajani’s Pridemate, Linden, the Steadfast Queen and supporting lifelinkers like Hushbringer and Healer’s Hawk, the required mix of cheap lifegain and redundant payoffs is there. Whether a linear aggro deck can pack enough interaction to handle the big guns of Standard will be the biggest question.

But the much bigger buzz around Heliod is due to his potential not so much for Standard, but for Pioneer, Modern, and Legacy. In these formats, the mighty Walking Ballista is legal — which, given a Heliod activation and a spare point of toughness, represents easy infinite damage. Both cards have cheap and undemanding mana costs, and both are good enough to impact the game on their own. Particularly in Pioneer, where there are few competitive combo decks, HeliodBallista looms large as the new premier two-card combination for ending games. Be prepared to respond to those Heliod activations, or face the consequences!

LIFEGAIN GANG

Getting back to Standard, there are a few more cards to consider for a mono-white lifegain deck. Daxos is a reliable attacker in this deck, and he can potentially hold some auras, too. A fine evolution for this many-lived legend.

Alseid of Life’s Gift might be too weedy an attacker to make it into the lifegain aggro deck alongside Healer’s Hawk, but it does seem quite good against controlling decks. One of the biggest concerns with this sort of deck is that you’re more focused on synergy than most aggro lists. In our taxonomy of aggro decks, you can consider it a sort of “lifegain tribal” deck, with Ajani’s Pridemate serving as a lord. Having a one-drop that can power up your high-value permanents and protect them in a pinch might get the Alseid into the 75 somewhere. 

ENLIGHTENED ENCHANTING

In the meta-narrative of Magic’s design, Theros is the standard-bearing plane for enchantments. While white may not see another Mesa Enchantress anytime soon, Sigil of the Empty Throne is almost as nice a theme to riff on. Archon of Sun’s Grace looks like a fantastic card to stabilize against red decks who dare leave Lava Coil at home, or to win the race against green’s ground forces.

There is a conflict to be solved in this design: it’s a combat-focused creature that asks you to play a large number of enchantments. Will there be enough playable enchantments to contribute to a combat game plan? Flipping the script, I don’t know if the Archon is reliable as the sole finisher in a controlling enchantment deck. It’ll do work in Limited, but if this were a 3/5 that survived Lava Coil and Storm’s Wrath, I’d be much more confident in it.

We don’t have room to discuss many commons in these articles, but the Omen cycle stands out — especially Omen of the Sun. Three mana for two tokens at instant speed is only slightly inefficient compared to Raise the Alarm, and the Omen does pack a few side benefits. Lifegain, the scry ability, and synergy with cards like Archon of Sun’s Grace are all relevant in Standard and very good in Draft. But as mentioned in our pre-Theros enchantment breakdown, the best part of being an enchantment can simply be leaving a “spare” permanent around, especially when…

THE FORECAST IS DOOOOOOM!

If there is going to be a more controlling, methodical enchantment deck in Standard, then I would bet dollars to Therosian donuts it’ll be defined by this thing:

One of the first cards we’ve seen in a long time to evoke the idea of “Stax” resource-attrition decks in Standard, Doom Foretold made a brief splash in an Esper Dance of the Manse deck at the beginning of Throne of Eldraine before vanishing in a sea of UG decks. Doom Foretold asks you to generate as many non-token permanents as you can to ensure doom arrives for your opponent first, and Omen of the Sun joins Oath of Kaya (or even a depleted Elspeth!) as a prime candidate for sacrifice.

The Birth of Meletis is another piece of the WB Doom Foretold puzzle. Sagas, like the Omen cycle, can be safely sacrificed once they’ve done their initial job — especially this one, since the final chapter is by far the least impactful. I’m unsure whether this card is truly good enough for Standard, but considering the first chapter replaces itself and helps ensure you can curve into your signature spell, I could see it happening. 

AN IDYLL DREAM

This tremendously-illustrated rare is, of course, a reprint, having first appeared in Morningtide over a decade ago. But this is an important card to reissue — relatively cheap and unconditional tutor effects are among the few advantages that enchantment decks have over artifacts in Modern. I have explored many different fringe strategies which can take advantage of the consistency and flexibility Idyllic Tutor provides, and now we can look for similar options in Standard and Pioneer.

However, I don’t expect this reprint to necessarily make much of a splash in those newer formats. Even if the card goes directly into your hand, this is enough of a tempo loss that the enchantment you find needs to pack a game-ending punch. Standard’s best payoffs, like Divine Visitation or Ethereal Absolution, seem a little too slow to justify a lesson from the Idylls. Unless Wizards are holding out to spoil an enchantment sweeper in the vein of Planar Collapse or Pernicious Deed, I would expect Standard players to pass on this one.

REMOVAL AND DISRUPTION

Another welcome reprint, this time from Journey Into Nyx. Wizards has been avoiding printing another 3-CMC version of this effect for a while, perhaps for the sake of Commander. But with a return to Theros, we return to this premier piece of white removal — a broader alternative to Prison Realm and Glass Casket

The efficiency and flexibility of this guaranteed one-for-one is the reason for Wizards to deny white the ability to draw cards off enchantments. But you can always splash green for that effect to produce a potentially decent control shell. Banishing Light will also likely see play in any potential WB attrition setup. While it’s a poor sacrifice target for Doom Foretold, it can help control the battlefield, and you can always choose to sacrifice the Doom Foretold itself if this is your only other option.

No element of Magic design drew as much controversy in 2019 as Planeswalkers, and one of the primary concerns of their detractors was a lack of varied responses to the card type. Finally, white has an anti-Planeswalker hatebear to add to its ever-growing selection of disruptive creatures, and I expect Eidolon of Obstruction to be held up as an example of Wizards listening to community concerns in the coming months. I will say that this creature is most likely to have an impact in Modern or Legacy, where margins on resources are tighter and it can combine with other taxing cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

THE NEW AGE OF HEROES

This is such a fun card. Taranika, Akroan Veteran is a cool, low-to-the-ground commander for aggro, a highly effective force in Limited, and a potential player in other Constructed formats. Alongside Gideon Blackblade, she can enable attackers like Emmara, Soul of the Accord or Geist of Saint Traft. Similarly, her power boost can instantly amplify keyword monsters like Swiftblade Vindicator or Hushbringer

While Taranika’s legendary status may prevent her from forming an ideal attacking duo with herself, it does hold interesting implications for Modern, where players have toyed with Legendary tribal aggro builds to utilize Mox Amber and similar cards. In addition to Emmara, Geist, and Gideon, her ability is great to guarantee a flip of Kytheon, Hero of Akros, one of the vital one-drop legends utilized in such a deck. Was the flavor text reference a hint from Wizards? I can’t help but see it as encouragement, especially given the spoiling of an even better card for the RW version of this archetype…

OOPS, SPOILERS!

Oh, guess I gave away a little too much there — but that’s just the amount of excitement we’re dealing with right now as the internet overflows with awesome Theros Beyond Death cards. I’ll get around to the gold and colorless cards in a week or two, but you won’t have to wait that long for the next spoiler analysis! Check back in a few days to see what’s up in the sea, as we take a look at Thassa and the color blue.