Theros Set Review – Draft and Sealed
Theros is about to return us to the glory days of Magic.
Ready to learn how to draft the format? Check out thoughtscour.com’s Theros Draft videos!
The set is filled with powerful constructed cards and sweet flavor, but take that all away, and I’m still happier than a triton in a Meletis harbor. What I’m most excited about (naturally) is the limited play. Have you looked at the spoiler? It’s absolutely packed with giant monsters, game-winning abilities, and all the walls in the world. The most aggressive card would be considered a blocker in some formats. And that, to me, sounds like paradise.
The limited set Theros most resembles, to my mind, is Rise of the Eldrazi, one of the most beloved limited sets of all time. ROE game-play was all about the slow buildup: everyone started out of the gates at a crawl, slowly building up momentum until they were doing something absurdly powerful. It was glorious. Now, I’m not saying Theros will be as slow and Timmy-ish as ROE, but it definitely looks like a durdler’s paradise.
I had a great time reviewing this set. If you want to skip straight to the reviews, skip to the bottom of this page and use the mini-navigation there to check out each color.
I’ve also done some analysis on the set (inspired by Ari Lax, I’ve broken down the commons and uncommons by CMC and analyzed the amount of power/toughness, evasion, and removal that exists in the set). Below are a few observations that should help you put the fear of god into your prerelease opponents.
Lastly, I’ve made some recommendations as to which prerelease promos are likely to yield the best results should you select their path. Those can be found toward the end of the article.
The Two-Drop Disappearance
The hallmark of an aggressive format is an abundance of two-power two-drops. For reference, Zendikar, the most aggressive draft format in the “modern” era, had about 16 good one- and two-drop commons that could really punish you for missing a land drop or having no plays until turn three. Theros only has about nine such cards. And I’m counting one that has defender.
Theros also has a huge number of good blockers. Even many of the rares are very defense-oriented.
It’s not going to be easy to just go pure aggro in this block. You can definitely be the beatdown, but you don’t want to be running your Rambling Satyrs into your opponent’s Omenspeakers all day long. There seem to be three options for beatdown: 1) Midrange. Big creatures like Borderland Minotaur are capable of busting down walls. Maybe you can supplement them with green ramp or black removal. 2) Evasion and pump effects. Auras and pump spells like Dauntless Onslaught may be capable of helping your Cavalry Pegasuses deliver payloads of damage unmolested. 3) Heroic weenies. Cast heroes and make them crazy hard to block with auras and pump spells.
These should be viable beatdown plans, even if the classic 2/2 beatdown is not. But if you’re inclined to leave your attackers at home and sit behind walls while doing something degenerate, Theros limited is your big chance.
Grind on Me
Cheap removal and creatures with low toughness combine to create empty boards. Empty boards mean no pressure, which means plenty of time to draw extra cards and rebuild armies.
Theros has neither cheap removal nor low-toughness creatures. Instead there is a fair amount of evasion, lots of good combat tricks, and an unusual amount of “haste” effects (including auras).
These elements are going to combine to keep games from devolving into attrition wars. There are always going to be threats on the battlefield, waiting to demolish you if you play into a combat trick or leave back the wrong blocker. This state of affairs means that tempo – not attrition – will be key. You’ll want to create a board presence and use it to either stave off damage or incrementally damage your opponent while the resource battle is being fought.
The format will probably have a pretty late starting point – you won’t be under the gun from turn two on. But you’ll want to have ways to win tempo wars and races. Bounce spells, auras, combat tricks like Gods Willing, instant-speed removal, and durable blockers like Benthic Giant will all be a little better than you’re used to them being.
As I’ve mentioned, Theros has lots of toughness and not that much power. There are 13 common creatures with greater power than toughness, and 18 creatures with more toughness than power – and I don’t think that stat even tells the full tale.
When both players have a bunch of creatures that can’t kill each other in combat, it means board stalls will happen. Plan for ways to break through them. Maybe you use evasive creatures. Combat tricks are another option – and there are lots of good ones in this set (hint: almost any of the scry 1 instants are good). Bombs are obviously another way to break open a stalled game, so you should try to play them (even harder than usual!).
50 Shades of Grey
Unless you get scry lands (which you don’t really want to happen in Sealed), the fixing is godawful in Theros. You have a Shimmering Grotto functional reprint, a three-mana Birds of Paradise, and the worst Abundant Growth variant ever. Traveler’s Amulet and the Explosive Vegetation pony are fine but unexciting. You’ll probably want to stick to two colors at the prerelease unless you have a very good reason not to.
There’s also devotion to consider. The more you stretch your manabase for splashes, the less playable those cards become.
The Ravnican Hangover
There are all these random gold cards in the set – ostensibly seeded to give a leg up to guild-affiliated decks in Standard. They’re all uncommon or rare, so they won’t impacted limited to a huge extent, but the gold uncommons are varying levels of sweet, and will probably come around pretty late when the colors are open.
Every color combination gets one of these uncommons, so pay attention to the signals they send, and realize you can often wheel them, despite their being good. When I post the set review for gold, I’ll expound on how this may affect limited play a little bit.
For the prerelease, you’re going to get to play with a bomby monster or hero – your promo. I’m going to give you some recommendations below. But first, if you want to skip straight to the reviews, here they are:
Theros Prerelease – Which Color?
As with the Return to Ravnica block, you’ll get to manipulate your results in the prerelease by choosing a color that will get you access to a specific prerelease promo card, as well as skewing one of your booster packs toward the appropriate color.
Both facets of your choice will be important, but the guaranteed thing is the promo you’ll get to play with. All of them are good cards, but let’s take a closer look.
A Serra Angel with first strike instead of vigilance, Celestial Archon is a powerful card when cast for five mana. The ability to pay seven and bestow can be a huge blowout, turning a humble Traveling Philosopher into a devastating demonic beatdown machine with “haste.” This is definitely one of the better promos, and it goes well with white’s gameplan of tricky, evasive, aggression. I don’t think white is the best color in Theros, though, so I won’t be choosing the Archon, despite self-identifying as a white mage.
This is my favorite promo, and likely the one I’ll be choosing. A 6/6 for six is a decent body, surviving most of the removal and blocking most of the creatures in the format. When you get to eight mana (which is usually a stretch, but seems fairly likely in Theros Sealed), you get access to what basically amounts to a Plague Wind. Blue also looks to me like one of the best colors, with access to a decent stable of spells to go along with above-average creatures like Mnemonic Wall and Prescient Chimera.
This is probably one of the weaker promos. It’s a bit expensive, and if you don’t win the game fairly quickly, you will actually start depleting your army of Harpies. Granted, a 6/6 flier and three or four Lingering Souls usually do a great job of winning the game – Abhorrent Overlord is still a bomb. Black seems like a pretty amazing color to be in though, and this promo solves one of black’s biggest weaknesses. Black’s creatures are mostly dinky and small for their costs, but in return you get access to lots of good removal and card advantage. When you supplement those sweet spells with a powerful finisher, you’re probably in business. Still, I’d rather pick another promo and get access to black’s commons incidentally.
A 4/5 for four is huge, and can put immense pressure on your opponent. However, there are enough 0/6 walls and 1/5 blockers in this format that Ember Swallower is a little worse than usual. The monstrosity ability, which lets you make a 7/8 while keeping your opponent off his late-game spells, keeps this guy firmly in bomb territory, but I don’t think I like him as much as the blue and white options. Red is the beatdown color in Theros, so if you’re the type of player who likes to attack, this is the guy you’ll want to pick. Just be intelligent when building your deck: Random 2/1s are probably not going to be a viable strategy in Theros sealed, so construct your deck with big, midrange creatures (like Ember Swallower!) in mind.
Anthousa can certainly apply a huge beating very quickly. There are lots of good walls in the format, but rushing around them with 2/2s seems good. My only concern is that green seems like an awkward color for heroic, with lots of already-big creatures and a glut of things to do at three, four, and five mana. Green will be a fine color, supplying the big bodies you’ll need to apply pressure in this format. But I wouldn’t be extremely excited about getting an Anthousa, Setessan Hero to play in my average green deck. I’m sure this is a fine choice though, and wouldn’t fault you for choosing it.
If I had to rank all five “paths” in terms of where I’d want to pick them (factoring into account both the strength of the color and the promo), I’d choose:
- Blue/Shipbreaker Kraken
- White/Celestial Archon
- Black/Abhorrent Overlord
- Green/Anthousa, Setessan Hero
- Red/Ember Swallower
Be sure to check Thought Scour every day this week for more updates. We’ll be going live with new colors every few hours. If you want to keep informed with up-to-the-minute updates, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Good luck at the Theros prereleases!
-Bert O Phillips
@themagicalhack on Twitter