The most important truth here is that Born of the Gods is a second set, and only represents one pack in a typical draft. It's easy to get caught up in the hype riot that ensues with every new release. New mechanics and cards promise to change the entire Limited landscape. While change is usually welcomed at this point, it's up to us to frame that change properly. In this case, it means recognizing that only one of our three packs will not be Theros boosters.
That 33% is a significant change, but it's not a completely new format. It's an augmentation to an already well-established format. This is what we must remember as we look at the new cards. Not only do we still get two Theros boosters, but we only get one shot at the Born of the Gods booster pack.
When Theros first arrived, we had visions of building entire decks around the heroic mechanic or running enough black cards to consistently take advantage of cards like Disciple of Phenax and Gray Merchant of Asphodel. We knew that we had three full packs from which to build the critical mass of these resources. This is no longer true. Now we have two of those packs, and only one of the new set.
When we look to draft an inspired-based deck, for example, we have to accept that we only get one precious shot at all of our inspired creatures. Additionally, we only get one attempt at the inspired enablers available in Born of the Gods.
All of this, of course, doesn't mean that we abandon the pursuit of these new strategies. It just means that we maintain perspective on the fact that building a fully fleshed out inspired deck is going to be quite difficult. It's better to accept the role that new cards and mechanics may hold in your final build, and adjust accordingly.
Speaking of Inspired
There are thirteen non-rare inspired creatures in Born of the Gods. They have been very challenging to evaluate. They really push on the "BCSM"—or Best-Case Scenario Mentality—part of your brain. This devious subsection of gray matter will remember all the great times you had with your favorite sketchy card while deftly sweeping any bad memories of it from your view. The inspired cards look like a ton of upside, but actually demand a lot from your deck and from the way you play your games. Many of them demand risk, payment, and sacrifice to get those triggers rolling.
The number one thing I think I have heard people talk about are the enablers. Cards like Springleaf Drum are being spoken about in hushed tones as if they are bomby inspired enablers worthy of early picks.
It's cheap to cast, free to use, and even can help pay for the inspired cost. What's not to love?
Kind of a lot. First thing is that without inspired, there aren't too many decks that would want a main-deck Springleaf Drum. It offers some utility, but it generally isn't worth a card and didn't see much play in its previous printing. Second, you just don't get that many shots at snapping up good inspired creatures. There are a few highlights that would make it worth it, but even then you likely only have one or two copies of it in your deck.
The fundamental idea to consider when making a decision like this is: Do I want to play a subpar card to make another subpar card good? I try not to fall for this trap. The obvious reason being that sometimes you have one and not the other, in which case you are just playing with bad cards. If your inspired creature can hold its own as a creature and not worry about needing any enablers, then run it and extract your well-earned value. But if your card needs a Springleaf Drum or some Equipment just to be reasonable, I'd look elsewhere.
Theros set a very specific tone for removal. Namely, we didn't get much good removal. But it went further than that. While going over the cards from Theros when it first came out, I noticed a dearth in two types of removal we see often in Magic.
The first is what we call a Pacifism effect. Named after the most iconic of this type of effect, Pacifism-type cards use an on-board permanent to render a creature useless. We have seen blue pick up a few similar spells of late, in the form of Claustrophobia, Narcolepsy, Encrust, and some others.
The presumed reason for this lack of Pacifism effects is that people want to build huge battle-cruiser creatures using the bestow mechanic, and an effect like that could represent a two- or three-for-one too easily. I thought it was the right move, and it certainly opened the door to not getting punished for this strategy. (Incidentally, this is part of why Voyage's End and Griptide are so important to the creature-interaction picture in Theros.)
In Born of the Gods we didn't make much headway in this area, but we did get something:
They didn't exactly shave any weight off of the already cumbersome Paralyzing Grasp effect, but it's here at least. Resolving an Eternity Sphere will take some work, but it will feel amazing when you do. We can finally punish the Voltron-style bestow super-beasts that sometimes get formed in this format. And we even get to draw a card, which is nice. I think we would still prefer to just have Paralyzing Grasp over this cantripping version, but I'm glad that we'll see a few of these running around.
I think this card will be a bit underrated to start, especially in Sealed Deck. One caveat is that there are many effects in this block that will untap a creature. Eternity Snare will stay on the creature, and if it becomes tapped again, it won't untap as normal, but it's still something to keep in mind.
The other form of removal that was completely absent from Theros was a tapper, a creature that you could use to repeatedly tap your opponent's creatures. These have been a mainstay in Limited Magic for a while. Why didn't we see any in Theros? While I don't know for certain, I assume the same logic was applied to tappers that was applied to Pacifism effects. If people were going to go on a bestow binge and stack two or three Auras on one creature, they couldn't really let us ruin all that fun with a tapper.
Born of the Gods changes that.
Not only do we get a tapper, but we can make any of our creatures a tapper. This Equipment will be super useful against decks trying to pile on Auras and battle cruiser their way to victory.
It's sufficiently clunky to not be great against every deck, but I plan on main decking this card in my builds until I figure out exactly where it sits. One neat trick you can do is pay two to tap something, move the Equipment over to another one of your creatures, and then tap something else in the same turn. It's a mana-intensive move, but it will probably come up.
I would keep my eyes and hands on Siren Song Lyre, as it may slip through the cracks in the early stages of the format. Even though it's not a svelte race boat of a card, I plan on taking it out on some test drives in the near future. This is another card that I have highlighted for Sealed Deck as well.
Five to Look Out For
I picked one card from each color to spotlight for you. These are some of the more powerful options from the new set, and I want to point them out so that they don't get overlooked in the early stages of the format.
While talking about the tribute mechanic, I have been envisioning a gap between the two possible incarnations of the creature. My theory is that the closer that gap is, the better the tribute card is. If one option gives you a small creature with a weird effect, and the other gives you a huge creature, that gap is quite large. This means your opponent will be able to identify easily which option to take.
You either get this:
Or you get this:
For five mana. No matter what, you are getting 5 power and 5 toughness in the air. This card is amazing, and the gap is very narrow, as you can see.
Before going to the next card, take a look at some of the other tribute cards in the set and evaluate the gap. My guess is that the smaller the gap, the more you'll like the card.
Siren of the Fanged Coast is such a cool card. It's a fascinating one to try to comprehend as well. It's hard to envision the worst-case scenario for this card, but it does exist.
If your opponent pays tribute at any time, you should be quite happy. A 4/4 flying creature for five mana has long been the staple of many winning Limited decks. The interesting part is when your opponent doesn't pay tribute. If his or her board is awful—say your opponent has just a 2/1 with no abilities—he or she will probably just let you gain control of the creature. If this is the worst-case scenario, it's still not bad at all. And anywhere above this, you are happy.
One thing to note about Siren of the Fanged Coast is that you maintain control of the creature even if she leaves play or dies. This means that, if you could find a way to bounce her back to your hand, you could repeat this process at a later game state where it may be even better.
Black: Spiteful Returned
Spiteful Returned is a card I could see falling under the radar, but not for long. There isn't much to it, but then you realize how well this works in any type of aggressive strategy. Those 2-point life losses add up quickly, and even after the bestowed creature dies, you get to attack one more time at least with the actual Spiteful Returned itself. If all you do is bestow a creature with it, attack, have the creature die, then attack again with the Spiteful Returned, it's responsible for 20% of your opponent's life total. And that's if everything got blocked and died immediately!
Red: Akroan Conscriptor
Akroan Conscriptor has perhaps the highest upside of all the creatures in Born of the Gods.
Since its inception, the following card has had varying mana costs, but has been the most used. Threaten has been reprinted multiple times as the functional reprint Act of Treason, and here you get it for free. Well, nearly for free. You merely have to trigger Akroan Conscriptor's heroic ability to garner a free three-mana spell. Not just any spell, but a Threaten effect; one of the scariest effects to have to deal with as the defending player.
But there's even more to this story. What about getting free copies of this spell:
That's right, you can fire this off at instant speed if you have such a trick in hand. This makes combat a complete nightmare for your opponent. It's awesome. Your opponent attacks with a few creatures, you target your Conscriptor, "borrow" one of the attackers and block the other attacker with it.
If you haven't lived this particular dream yet, I suggest you take Akroan Conscriptor highly and join the club.
Green: Raised by Wolves
Raised by Wolves is a high-risk, high-reward proposition. If you manage to stick the landing on a Raised by Wolves, you will have swung most games firmly in your favor. Whether you are behind, ahead, or at parity, Raised by Wolves will be the ticket to move things along in your direction. Creating 6 power and toughness on the board and spreading it across three creatures is great, and will often lead to victories.
So what's the catch? Well, it's a good old-fashioned Aura and if you get ambitious about when you cast it, you could find yourself with no Wolves, no creature, and no mana left for the turn. As good as resolving Raised by Wolves is, this is even worse.
The lesson is to be very careful about when you go to cast this spell. The game could be won or lost based on it resolving, so make sure the coast is clear before running it out there.
Reborn of the Gods
Remember to experiment a bit during these early stages of a fresh format. I have my ideas about what may work and what won't, but the most exciting part of a new format is finding out about the ideas I didn't even know I had yet. Have fun getting your hands on the new set!
Until next week,