Theorizing About Theros

Posted in The Week That Was on September 20, 2013

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

"Are we theeeeeeeeeeere yet?"

The week before a Prerelease has me channeling my inpatient, whining, and petulant inner child. I just want to get my hands on the new cards and build my sealed deck already. I feel trapped in a Magic version of Zeno's dichotomy paradox that will see me stuck halfway to Saturday for an eternity. I have tried to distract myself from the crawl of time by thinking about the cards I expect to see in Dublin, be it in the context of forty-card, sixty-card, or ninety-nine-card decks.

I have broken down each color by cards I am fully expecting to see in a Standard Deck, Deck Tech. These are the cards I consider to be locks for Standard. I am not saying it is the best card in that color but a card I fully expect to see being played in the Standard portion of Pro Tour Theros as they attempt to fill the void left by the departure of Innistrad block from the format.

Next, I crossed my fingers and picked a longshot. These are the new cards I think could find a home in Standard but am not sure if they will be up to the rigors that the world's greatest Magic players put them to in the next few weeks of playtesting.

I also picked a series of first picks that I imagine players at the Pro Tour making when they sit down to draft at the start of Day One. Obviously, everyone wants to open up on a God or some other mythic rare, but I have constrained these to commons.

Finally, I chose some cards that I expect to see hanging around the Command Zone. There was once a time when Pro Tour evenings were made up by two coverage staff activities: drafting and waiting to get enough people to do a draft. Commander has provided a welcome alternative to five people standing around tapping their toes. Now we tap Command Towers. I have also selected a handful of cards I expect to see making their way into various Commander builds.


Soldier of the Pantheon

The Lock: Soldier of the Pantheon

It is not hard to imagine this card playing a role in a White Weenie deck. Cards with the same stats have been a fixture in such decks since the dawn of the archetype. Savannah Lions, Elite Vanguard, and Dryad Militant have all seen frontline action and are all made to look pretty shabby when held up against this hard-working Human Soldier. I fully expect that someone—maybe even a recent Pro Tour Champion—will be sporting four copies of this new card in his or her Standard deck.

And why not? Protection from multicolored means this is one of the few cards that can tame a monstrous Fleecemane Lion. Detention Sphere is not an answer to a quick opening with a pair of Soldiers. Burning-Tree Emissary is just a little less scary of an opening when you gain a little life and force your opponent to have a monocolored spell to deal with this aggressive creature. With both Brave the Elements and Gods Willing available as essentially counterspells to Magma Jets and Lightning Strikes, I think that this card could go far in Ireland.

Fabled Hero

The Longshot: Fabled Hero

I just want to see a deck built around the heroic mechanic at Pro Tour Theros. Is that too much to ask? Even without a full linear deck this card seems good enough to make the cut in a white creature deck. Throw in a Gods Willing and suddenly you are hitting your opponent for 6 damage. There are two different directions you can take the deck and, early on, when Akroan Crusader and Anax and Cymede were first previewed, I was leaning toward building a Boros build.

Martial Glory is an especially exciting card in a Heroic deck, since it can trigger the ability on two different heroes. Just imagine putting down a Phalanx Leader followed by a Fabled Hero. Martial Glory would yield two counters on your Fabled Hero (one from its own ability and one from the Leader's) and the +3/+0 from Martial Glory would threaten 14 points of damage on turn four.

Madcap Skills and Pursuit of Flight are also fine additions to a Boros Heroic deck but I really like scrying. Battlewise Hoplite has gotten me thinking about an Azorius version of the Heroic deck and it has me going deep to find cards—even longer shots than the longshot Fabled Hero. What you really want with a mechanic like heroic is some way to repeatedly target your creatures. You want something like buyback or Flickering Ward. I started thinking about cipher and encoding spells onto my creatures. Blue has three options that target one of your own creatures—Trait Doctoring, Stolen Identity, and Hidden Strings. I am kind of enamored of the last one but please don't tell Marshall Sutcliffe .

Wingsteed Rider

The First Pick: Wingsteed Rider

I am going to be playing white at the Prerelease just so I can have my first chance to play with the heroic mechanic in Limited and I have already penciled in Wingsteed Rider as one of my most-drafted commons. A 2/2 flier for three is pretty much the baseline at common, but the upside of this card is so much higher than you normally get at this rarity. There is a whole cycle of Auras that let you draw a card when you play them, giving you a reliable way to swing in for AT LEAST 3 on the next turn. The uncommon cycle of Ordeals let you attack for 4 on the next turn and get some bonus when you sacrifice them a turn later.

Assuming you can draft a heroic lineup, the cards that have me most excited are the ones that target up to two creatures. Dauntless Onslaught is going to require a swift and immediate answer and Triton Tactics is the proverbial blood bath waiting to happen.

Elspeth, Sun's Champion

The Command Zone: Elspeth, Sun's Champion

I would not be surprised to see this newest incarnation of Elspeth playing in Standard, but I fully expect her to make an impact in Commander, where she can come down and crater multiple players' battlefields. Players tend to have fatties in play in Commander and if the deck she is in is built correctly it could have little to no impact on her side of the table.


Thassa, God of the Sea

The Lock: Thassa, God of the Sea

I expect that all the Gods will see some action in Dublin, but Thassa has a couple of things working in her favor that lead me to believe she is the surest of things. For one thing, Thassa is cheaper than all the other gods, hitting the battlefield on turn three. She starts scrying a turn later and that increased card selection is going to be very appealing to control players even if their devotion never lets the God wander into the red zone.

Prognostic Sphinx

The Longshot: Prognostic Sphinx

That 5 toughness would be the magic number to avoid being killed by Mizzium Mortars if this blue flier did not also have the ability to turn any card in hand into a free Avoid Fate for your Sphinx. Throw into the mix the ability to dig three cards deep in search of just the right draw step and I would not be surprised to see someone attacking and prognosticating with this card. The question is, of course, what deck would it go in and what would it replace? It feels like it sits in the same roster spot that is currently occupied by Ætherling and it might be hard to displace an established finisher like that.

Prescient Chimera

The First Pick: Prescient Chimera

I love Voyage's End and would not be surprised if it became my most-drafted blue common, but as much as I like scrying, I like scrying twice more. I have first-picked more than my share of 3/3 fliers for five mana in blue and the extra point of toughness on the Chimera is very welcome in a world of Lightning Strikes. Blue flying seems good in general in this format, with multiple options vying for that first-pick title, but I like both the size and the ability on the Chimera

Meletis Charlatan

The Command Zone: Meletis Charlatan

Multiplayer Commander is a format of uneasy alliances and gestures of friendship. Giving other players a Fork for their spells from time to time is not a bad way to make nice with the neighbors. It is tricky, though, since they still get to control the copies and could betray you. Then again, you could always just use it copy your own spells.



The Lock: Thoughtseize

I merely point you in the direction of the Grand Prix Detroit Top 8 decklists and you can see why this card is a lock to be seen in Standard decks once again.

Agent of the Fates

The Longshot: Agent of the Fates

Assuming you can find enough ways to target this creature, it feels very Liliana of the Veil to me—although you will be hard pressed to make a player sacrifice a creature on turn three. One of the cards that plays well with this is Nighthowler. You can swing with your Agent of the Fates for 5 damage on turn four when you bestow Nighthowler on it, also forcing your opponent to sacrifice a creature. Even if your opponent kills your Agent in response, the Nighthowler would land as a 2/2 creature thanks to the boost of a creature in each graveyard.

I have to give an honorable mention here to Gray Merchant of Asphodel, which is capable of closing out a game and can do some disgusting things if you return two into play with Rescue from the Underworld with a Dark Prophecy in play. Hey, some longshots are longer than others.

Lash of the Whip

The First Pick: Lash of the Whip

Lash of the Whip is not quite a godslayer—the smallest of the gods still have 5 toughness—but it should kill almost everything else at instant speed.

Hythonia the Cruel

The Command Zone: Hythonia the Cruel

While Meletis Charlatan is about playing well with others, Hythonia the Cruel is about pushing the reset button and having the last creature standing. Or the second-to-last creature, since that pesky Chameleon Colossus is going to live through this.


Stormbreath Dragon

The Lock: Stormbreath Dragon

It took a little while for players to catch up to Thundermaw Hellkite, but now that they have gotten used to playing a hasty red five-drop I don't expect them to be ready to quit, especially with one with meaningful protection and a solid ability.

Flamespeaker Adept

The Longshot: Flamespeaker Adept

With Magma Jet, the sure-to-overperform Spark Jolt, and even land set to scry in Standard I am curious to see if Flamespeaker Adept can break out under the lights of the Tournament Center. It is scary to attack into a potential 4/3 first striker with the threat of a Magma Jet. I don't think anyone is going to go so deep as to emerge with an Aqueous Form on an Adept, but I am crossing my fingers.

Lightning Strike

The First Pick: Lightning Strike

I know it is boring to pick the removal spell but do you know what isn't boring? Winning eight packs at the end of your Magic Online draft.

Ember Swallower

The Command Zone: Ember Swallower

Commander is a mana-hungry format but not nearly as hungry as the Ember Swallower. This can hit play on turn two quite easily with a Sol Ring and nuke everyone back to the Stone Age just a couple of turns later. I don't really have a specific deck in mind, but when the players around you are trying to cast things like Tidespout Tyrant and Ashen Rider, I am sure I can find a home for it.


Polukranos, World Eater

The Lock: Polukranos, World Eater

I can still remember holding tournaments where the prize—a highly desirable one at the time—was a Juzám Djinn. Oh how far we have come since then. Is this the best 5/5 for four mana we have seen thus far in the twenty-year history of the game? I think so. Of course, Deadbridge Goliath barely saw any action for this past year, but it did not have the ability to shoot down a handful of creatures and clear the way.

What I love about this card's monstrosity ability is that it is very flexible. While you have to worry about hitting a specific threshold of mana with the other ones, you can always get a little something extra out of your World Eater, even if it's just 2 extra points of power on turn five.

Reverent Hunter

The Longshot: Reverent Hunter

I am curious to see how the pro deck builders tackle cards that reward you for devotion to a color. Committing too much to the table—which is what the ability is asking from you—is always a risky proposition. You don't want to see your team swept away by the Anger of the Gods or rendered obsolete by a Supreme Verdict. Yes, Reverent Hunter can land on turn two as a 3/3 thanks to an Elvish Mystic or, with the help of a Burning-Tree Emissary, land as a 5/5 on that second Elf-aided turn.

Leafcrown Dryad

The First Pick: Leafcrown Dryad

I came very close to first-picking Nimbus Naiad in blue and this whole cycle of common bestow creatures will be very good in Limited. What I really love about Leafcrown Dryad is the ability to play it as a 2/2 that can trade against an aggressive deck with Vaporkins or get aggressive itself against slower decks. I am also a big fan of Feral Invocation, but Leafcrown Dryad edges it out based on flexibility.

Karametra's Acolyte

The Command Zone: Karametra's Acolyte

I dread every new Druid with every new Magic release. Rashad Miller's Seton, Krosan Protector deck is a nightmare of mana production, and this new card is not going to help matters any, especially with Seton adding three green pips into the mana pool for it. I am picturing disgusting Genesis Waves digging twenty cards deep as early as turn four from Rashad's seemingly innocuous mono-green build.


Fleecemane Lion

The Lock: Fleecemane Lion

Sorry Watchwolf. I think it is a fairly safe assumption that Brian Kibler has a notebook with a deck that has four copies of this card penciled—nay, inked—on top of the page. If you manage to monsterize this guy, your opponent's options for dealing with him are very limited. And it does not seem terribly hard to activate his ability, either. You actually cannot kill this creature fast enough. There was plenty of goodness to choose from in this category and you can go spell—Steam Augury—or Planeswalker—Xenagos the Reveler—quite easily.

Reaper of the Wilds

The Longshot: Reaper of the Wilds

It comes down early and is hard to kill. The green means you can play Reaper of the Wilds on turn three with an Elf, although you may want to wait and have hexproof mana up and play it on six. The black means you can play this in a deck packed with Abrupt Decay, Gaze of Granite, and the odd Doom Blade, and keep digging your way to your next spell. It plays well with Golgari cards like Varolz, the Scar-Striped and could be a sleeper card in Dublin.

Spellheart Chimera

The First Pick: Spellheart Chimera

There are no multicolored commons in the set but there are plenty of uncommons to choose from. The Chimera is exactly the type of card I want to build a blue-red scry deck around, bouncing creatures with Voyage's End, killing things with Magma Jet and Spark Jolt, and countering spells with Dissolve. Ultimately, you end up with a powerful flier that your opponent has diminished resources to cope with. If I open this card I will be hard pressed to not assemble a deck around it.

Prophet of Kruphix

The Command Zone: Prophet of Kruphix

Allow me to direct you to my preview for the card .


Temple of Deceit

The Lock: Temple of Deceit

I fully expect that all five of these lands will see some play but it is going to be a little more challenging to use Temple of Triumph and Temple of Abandon in the decks that you traditionally associate with those color combinations. The control decks will be pretty content to advance their board position and filter through the top of their libraries. If I had to guess at the order in which these five card will appear in decks during Dublin I would order them as such:

Akroan Horse

The Longshot: Akroan Horse

No, I don't actually think anyone will play the Trojan Horse deck but I can promise you that it is a very quick road to the Dublin Tournament Center if you do!

Fleetfeather Sandals

The First Pick: Fleetfeather Sandals

I honestly don't know how fast this format is going to be and I hate choosing an Equipment that does not buff my creatures, but sending my creatures airborne would be potentially good enough to play—add in haste and this card is capable of turning a race around all by itself. Perhaps most importantly, though, it will let you stay open to whatever signals the player to your right might be sending your way.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

The Command Zone: Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Cabal Coffers for all my men! Now it is not just the black mages who get to do disgusting things with their mana. Even sweeter than Coffers, the Shrine lets you still make a single colorless mana regardless of your devotion. If you have ever watched the crowded board states of a Commander game you will quickly realize how single- and double-color decks will be able to use this card to augment their mana, and thanks to the new legend rule everyone can have one in play.

Good luck this weekend during your Prereleases. I would love to hear what you think of the set once you have had a chance to put it through its paces. Feel free to use the new community pages or just contact me on Twitter (@Top8games).

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