Similar to the cycle of Fated cards we discussed a couple of weeks ago, the Gods in Born of the Gods occupy an awkward but fascinating spot on the Limited spectrum. We are going to take some time to discuss each of the Gods, individually, from a Limited perspective, but we will also use them as a launching point for some key card-evaluation insights as well.
The first factor that should be mentioned is that all five of the Gods in the set are mythic rares. For Constructed, this doesn't really matter much, but for Limited it means that we have just one pack in which to find a God peeking out from behind the uncommons at the back of the booster. Simply put, you won't see them often. So when you do get the opportunity to first-pick a God, you should jump all over it, right?
Phenax, God of Deception | Art by Ryan Barger
As we read on, we'll see that you must be sufficiently devoted to these Gods in order to first-pick them—not only in the draft portion but also on the battlefield.
The second factor is that they all are two-color gold cards. Generally speaking, gold cards are more powerful than equivalently costed non-gold cards because they are harder to cast. There is a simple tradeoff here: you pay more, you get more. As we will discover shortly, that payoff can vary immensely.
When we talked about setup cost last week, these are the poster-children for this concept. Not only do the Gods demand that you play (at least) two colors in your deck, they also cost at least four mana, and rarely affect the board immediately.
Costly setup indeed.
I think of the Gods as having two modes: enchantment mode and creature mode.
I'll just get this out there right now: If you can consistently make any of these Gods a creature in a reasonable time frame, they are all exceptionally good cards. They demand a fairly high devotion—seven mana symbols on your permanents of either color in the God's casting cost. Don't forget that two of the symbols are already taken care of by the God itself. Still, five more can be a tall order. The good news is that if your deck is exclusively the colors of the Gods and if you have a fair number of permanents in that deck, you can get there.
As for the enchantment mode, some Gods are more giving than others. This is the part to really pay attention to. I like to think of the Gods this way:
If this card was just an enchantment, would I be happy with playing it in my deck for this cost?
Taking this view helps us estimate what we can expect on an average-case basis whenever we resolve one. The Trained Armodon in the room when it comes to the Gods is the fact that they rarely affect the board in an immediate way. Theros-block Limited is a hostile environment, where taking a turn off to cast Divination is often too much to ask. The Gods cost significantly more and do even less in the immediate sense.
Still, they are powerful spells and this isn't necessarily a deal breaker.
Like all things in Magic—and many things in life, for that matter—the truth lies not in what it asks of us, but what it gives us in relation to what it asks. Buying a house costs a lot of money, more money than most people make in a significant amount of time. But people do it because having a house gives them so much back. It can be a place to live, to work, and even an investment opportunity in some cases. It's not about the ultimate cost of the house; it's about what it gives you in relation to that cost.
On the flip side of that coin, think of a fancy Italian sports car. It costs as much as many houses do, but what does it give you back? You get to drive around, which is nice. But you could do that for much less investment if getting from point A to point B is all you were trying to do. You get to look and feel cool, drive really fast, and maybe you feel some value in owning a status symbol or a piece of racecar history. Clearly, there is some value to purchasing the car, but for the average person the payoff just isn't there. (Which is why you see more people buying houses instead of sports cars.)
Are the Gods of Born of the Gods houses, or are they Italian sports cars? Let's take a look at each one individually and see how they stack up.
I'm going to focus on the enchantment mode we talked about earlier when evaluating the Gods. It's the mode you always get, even if you splash for a God. Don't forget that whenever you turn the God into an active creature, you are way ahead of the curve and should be winning the game.
Phenax, God of Deception
Phenax is my favorite of the God cycle from both Born of the Gods and Theros. Phenax is perhaps also the most powerful, with the most potent immediate effect on the board. In Limited, we are playing forty- (not forty-one!)-card decks and after an initial draw of seven cards, plus five draw steps before you can cast Phenax, that leaves just twenty eight cards left in the library. It doesn't take much time or many creatures on the battlefield to completely warp the game state around Phenax.
Phenax closes out games quickly and is a difficult permanent to interact with. My favorite thing about Phenax is that if you open him in your Born of the Gods pack, you can take him knowing what your plan is. You want a controlling blue-black deck with high-toughness creatures and removal. That's it.
Mogis, God of Slaughter
Mogis, God of Slaughter costs four mana and looks pretty threatening on the surface (and in the artwork), but he doesn't pan out quite the way you'd hope most of the time. The fact is, most black-red decks want to be attacking early and often. Mogis doesn't facilitate this, as he is rarely in creature mode at any point during the game. He makes your opponent's removal and blocks better, and doesn't apply enough pressure with his upkeep ability to close out the game quickly enough.
He can still be quite good in a hyper-aggressive build, when he is your curve-topper. If he ever gets to be a creature for even one attack step, he is amazing. Overall, I would run Mogis in my red and black decks, but don't get too excited; Mogis isn't a bomb.
Ephara, God of the Polis
The white-blue deck in Theros-block Limited is an aggressive archetype. It's built around the heroic mechanic, and as such, it tends to build up huge individual threats using bestow and combat tricks to grow them. This often leads to quite a few permanents staying on the battlefield, which makes Ephara much easier to put in creature mode.
Additionally, Ephara's static ability is great, as most Limited decks will have around fifteen creatures anyway. Drawing an extra card every time you cast a creature adds up quickly and can take over any game that has been put to a standstill. If you are ahead, you get further ahead. If you are at parity, you will pull ahead. If you are behind, however, Ephara isn't very good (none of the Gods are in that case, to be fair).
Overall, I think Ephara is not only playable, but also pretty good. I'm not sure how highly I would pick a card that was just an enchantment with the ability she has but without the creature part. It would be a good sideboard card in any type of matchup where your opponent wasn't running you over immediately, though.
Karametra, God of Harvests
Karametra is probably the worst of this God cycle. The problem is two-fold:
- Five-mana creatures are aplenty in these colors, and some are arguably better than a 6/7 indestructible (Nessian Asp?). And they are creatures all the time, with no additional work.
- Karametra's special ability isn't very exciting. Grabbing extra lands from your deck is okay, but we are already at five mana if we can cast Karametra at all, getting to land number six and seven a few turns later isn't much of a thrill. Karametra just doesn't bring enough to the table, unfortunately.
Xenagos, God of Revels
Again, if you are behind in a damage race, Xenagos doesn't always deliver. But if you are at parity or ahead, you essentially can't lose once you have Xenagos on the table. The power hit is just too big and the tempo gained from the haste part of the ability is too much to overcome for most decks.
The Gods are some of the most interesting and complex cards we have in Born of the Gods. They are usually awesome when you are ahead, or at parity, and struggle to do much when you are behind. They also have great flavor and artwork, if you are into that kind of thing.
Taking them first pick is often not the strongest play possible, but if you prove your devotion to them, they will reward you. Plus, they are just really fun to have on the battlefield, and that counts for something, right?
Until next week!