Theros Beyond Death Set Review - Blue
(Thassa, Deep-Dwelling | Art by Jason A. Engle)
Devotion to Blue
The latest Magic set is almost upon us: Theros Beyond Death. I've been tasked with plundering the depths of the set's best new sea-based cards! There are way too many to talk about, but I'm going to do my best to hit the highlights within the color. Let's see what Thassa and her friends contribute to the Commander card pool this time around.
Kiora Bests the Sea God
Unpopular opinion: I don't like Sagas. I think they're unreliable, easily removed, and the effects are generally too temporary.
However, even I have to admit that Kiora Bests the Sea God is an excellent card! For the cost, even just Step 1 is enough to make me happy. But should I get to tap down an opponent and then steal something, that's just icing on the cake. This card is just all value! Personally, I'll be slotting it into my Sun Quan, Lord of Wu sea monster deck. With enough bounce, I think I can make this card a real workhorse. And that's to say nothing of the commanders like Estrid, the Masked or Muldrotha, the Gravetide who can bring this back more regularly. Oh, and for the 32 Chisei, Heart of Oceans players out there, meet your new best friend!
The new Thassa seems... scattered. Her two abilities aren't inherently tied together, and the tapping ability is quite overcosted. It happily saves you one mana on your Verity Circle, which is nice, but even a Training Grounds won't work on her unless she's a creature, a thing you don't usually want your Gods to be since it makes them vulnerable to Path to Exiles.
The immediate impulse is to put her into many of the same decks as Conjurer's Closet, such as Yarok, the Desecrated, Lavinia of the Tenth, or Roon of the Hidden Realm. The new Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths probably likes her, as well.
There's a funny wording on Thassa, though. Like Conjurer's Closet, she returns the blinked creature to the battlefield under your control. Not under it's owner's control. If you temporarily take an opponent's creature, such as with a Domineering Will, Thassa can blink that card on your end step and give it back to you. Permanently. It's sorcery-speed and probably a little tough to build around, but it's interesting and will likely catch your enemies off-guard. Kiora stole Thassa's Bident, so it's fun that Thassa can steal things back.
At first glance, Ashiok's Erasure looks pretty sweet. It staves off a spell, triggers your Enchantresses, and gives you two Devotion if you need that sort of thing. The 'can't cast cards of the same name' ability is fairly irrelevant in a singleton format, but it generally seems pretty good.
However, love for this kind of effect isn't really prevalent in Commander, since we'd rather Counterspell than risk giving opponents back their cards. Looking at EDHREC's numbers, the similar card Spell Queller is only in 780 decks (1% of those that could run it). Combine that with the fact that Summary Dismissal or even Dissipate are strictly better cards for the format, and I don't think Ashiok's Erasure will get much love.
Nadir Kraken is, by far, my favorite card in the set. It's a cheap Kraken that can help the mana curves in sea monster decks, it scales as you draw cards for a cheap extra cost, and it puts tokens onto the battlefield as it does so. Like Kiora Bests the Sea God above, I'll be finding room for this in my Sun Quan, Lord of Wu deck, but I also think it has other applications.
The extra token production on draw makes it a fabulous addition to any Ephara, God of the Polis or Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer build. Any deck already running Chasm Skulker (and there are 6,867 of them) should also think about adding Nadir Kraken. It's not exactly the same, but they overlap quite a bit in what they can do for a deck. Just fantastic!
Serpent of Yawning Depths
The best part about coming back to Theros is all the new sea beasts we get! If you love Whelming Wave as much as I do, then this card is for you! A part of me wishes that Serpent of Yawning Depths was legendary, but it'll see enough play in the 99 without having that in its type line. Even on its own as a six-mana 6/6 with near-unblockable, it feels like a big step up from the Tidal Kraken of yesteryear. Hopefully I can score one, even though it's only appearing in Theme Boosters.
Not every card in a cycle can be great... but this one is! Thassa's Intervention is a powerful member of the "Intervention" cycle. Choosing between some top-tier card filtering on par with Dig Through Time, or a better counterspell than... well, we've never seen a counterspell quite like that one. Let's call it a "double Clash of Wills." In any case, both modes are fantastic. Filtering at instant speed is always appreciated, especially when that filtering leads to card advantage. I expect this to be a prized addition to blue decks, especially cost-reduction monsters like MIzzix of the Izmagnus, with popularity and reach similar to Cryptic Command (9,031 decks) and Mystic Confluence (10,482 decks). I recommend getting hold of a few while it's in Standard.
This is solid. It provides a body and filters at least two cards deep for just two blue mana. Not great, but also not terrible, and probably worthy of a look in any Merfolk tribal deck.
Then they threw that last sentence onto the card, and it turned Thassa's Oracle into an instantaneous Laboratory Maniac! I mean, any card that has the phrase "you win the game" printed somewhere on it is going to get attention. (I'm still consumed by the need to make Happily Ever After a viable win con in Standard.)
So, how best to turn Thassa's Oracle into a win condition? Well, there's always cards like Doomsday, Leveler, or Mirror of Fate (among others) to reduce or eliminate your library in one fell swoop. You could combine it with heavy use of the scry mechanic with Tunnel Vision, or, if creature-light, an Oath of Druids. Or perhaps just go with repeated use of Mirror-Mad Phantasm to burn through your deck quickly. Any way you slice it, the Oracle is going to see its fair share of play in Commander. If you see it in a deck that isn't Merfolk tribal, watch out: it's up to no good.
Thryx, the Sudden Storm
Thryx, the Sudden Storm feels a little out of place on Theros. His main ability, while very good, just doesn't feel at home in the land of enchantments. Anyway, Thryx is very powerful, and will be a valuable member of the 99 for a number of decks across the thematic spectrum. He would also make for an excellent commander, leading a deck of mono-blue fliers, Elementals, or even sea monsters. However, I think his best work is going to be as a counterspell commander, making "free" counters like Force of Will and Thwart uncounterable, while also reducing the cost of X spells like Spell Burst and Condescend (assuming a sufficiently large X). The fact that Thryx also has flash and evasion baked into a good-sized body means that he's capable of finishing a game. This giant definitely has some potential!
These cards that care about casting spells on an opponent's turn remind me fondly of similar effects of the Faerie tribe in Lorwyn block. I've always wanted to fit cards like Glen Elendra Pranksters and Faerie Tauntings into a deck. I'm glad to see the triggered ability make a comeback, along with a slew of flash cards giving the theme support.
Wavebreak Hippocamp is going to add power to Counterspell-heavy decks like Baral, Chief of Compliance, Venser, Shaper Savant, or Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. Powerful cards like Vedalken Orrery and Leyline of Anticipation pair well with them, ensuring that no play need occur on your turn.
Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea
I'm a fan of the cycle of Demigods from the new set, but I have to say that I think Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea is the worst of the bunch. Power that scales with Devotion is great, but I'm not a fan of her second ability. I feel like effects that tax targeting actually end up painting a bigger bulls-eye on your permanents instead of discouraging their removal. Also, the ability only pertains to spells that target. An ability could still take out one of your prized cards with no problem. In a different format, where a tempo-based deck is more viable, I see this as far more valuable, but in Commander, I want an effect that's either more rewarding for me or more of a safeguard, like Rayne, Academy Chancellor for the former or Kira, Great Glass Spinner for the latter. I will say, it's some great artwork, though!
For the Saga Medomai's Prophecy, I see a lot of room for abuse with Clockspinning. Being able to cycle through Chapter III after you've named "Clockspinning" in Chapter II could lead to some huge card advantage each turn. I'm also curious, based on the current wording, what exactly happens if different cards are named in repeated Stage IIs. As it reads right now, it sounds like the effect only happens the first time on the turn you cast a named spell, but the wording is still set up assuming Stage II only happens once. Anyway, throw this in your Chisei, Heart of Oceans deck and make your opponents ragequit instead of comprehending the nuances of Medomai's Prophecy. Judge!
One with the Stars
As the number of Gods has grown in the Magic universe, and with the elimination of the "Tuck Rule," I've become more reliant on cards like One with the Stars intended to lock down a creature without it leaving the field. However, I think this card comes short of what I'm looking for. Even if I don't have Song of the Dryads or Imprison in the Moon available to me, I'm far more likely to run Frogify or Arrest instead of One with the Stars. Instead, I see this as far more of a protecting spell, able to transmute one of my creatures into an enchantment, maintaining its key abilities while surviving a Wrath of God. Even if that's why I'm running it, four mana still feels like a lot for that effect. Maybe there's a combo I'm not seeing, but I don't think this one's for me.
(Also, it's funny that this was literally a pretend test card in the Mystery Packs just a short while ago.)
I think the real power of these "cast on your opponent's turn" creatures come when they're paired with green. Being able to use Stinging Lionfish to untap a permanent that makes lots of mana with a single activation, or pairing these cards with Seedborn Muse can really unlock their true potential. I can't believe I'm saying this, but... if only Prophet of Kruphix weren't banned in EDH. Or for those looking for a more tame use, commanders like Ephara, God of the Polis, Wydwen, the Biting Gale, and Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage show the softer side of flash.
Naiad of Hidden Coves
I've already talked about these "not on my turn" cards twice already, so you should all be aware of why I like Naiad of Hidden Coves so much. However, for iteration number three, I think we need to talk about trying to not take turns, and instead function only on an opponent's turn. Skipping turns would be easy with cards like Chronatog and Magosi, the Waterveil, plus you could stretch effects like those on Island Sanctuary and Teferi's Protection indefinitely, assuming you could skip infinite turns. You could just sit back and watch the table play themselves to death, which sounds both boring and interesting. I wonder if this latest batch of "not on my turn" spells is enough to make such a thing a reality?
Thirst for Meaning
Theros Beyond Death has some truly fantastic commons in the set, and one of the best is Thirst for Meaning. The card really says it all, and I think we can expect this card to make waves in all blue-containing Enchantress builds going forward as well as blue-inclusive Reanimator strategies that love to discard, too. To give you all an idea of how popular it might become, let's compare it to some similar cards already in print:
- Thirst for Knowledge: 4,373 decks, 22% of Artifact decks
- Compulsive Research: 2,363 decks
- Chart a Course: 2,521 decks
- Mystic Meditation: 35 decks
With Thirst for Knowledge being the closest functionally (and in name) to Thirst for Meaning, I don't think it's unreasonable for the card to hit 5,000 decks in the near future.
Make My Escape
Thanks for reading my take on the latest blue cards from Theros Beyond Death. Did I skip over any cards that are worth discussion? Are some of my takes on these cards controversial? Did I miss an interaction between one of them and an uncommon from Ice Age that's game-changing? Let's talk about it in the comments. Hope you enjoy the rest of the set review rolling out this week, and see you all at the prerelease!