Theros Beyond Death Set Review - Green
(Klothys's Design | Art by Lie Setiawan)
The Grass is Greener on the Other Side
Actually, wait... it's greener on this side, too! Welcome to the green portion of the Theros Beyond Death set review! Since this is part five of the review cycle, you probably already know what's coming: here we'll take a look at the most impactful new green cards from the upcoming set. Let's waste no more time and just jump on in!
Lets get this out of the way: this is hands down green's strongest card in the set. It's had a lot of buzz in the past week, and for good reason. Primeval Titan and Sylvan Primordial are banned in EDH, after all. Nyxbloom provides mana advantage we've almost never seen before, not just because it triples mana, where Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger and Zendikar Resurgent merely doubled it, but also because it amplifies mana from any permanent. Not just lands. Sol Ring now taps for six.
I'd include some images here of the commanders that might make good use of this card, but the list of green commanders that would like to play Nyxbloom Ancient includes... *checks notes* ...ah, yes:
All of them.
A Green Sun's Zenith-able, Pattern of Rebirth-able, Academy Rector-able, resurrectable Mana Reflection-but-better is pretty darn bonkers. The conversations of 'this card needs to be banned ASAP' tend to crop up around set releases, and those conversations have indeed been had about Nyxbloom Ancient.
Some folks find that it will warp games around itself, while others view Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger as a bigger problem. Regardless of where you personally fall on that line, the fact that the discussion is being had about this particular card should indicate something about its power level.
Nylea is far less volatile and vindictive than her Greek inspiration, Artemis, who liked to do things like transform people into stags if they happened upon her in the woods. (Guess Oko, Thief of Crowns got his ideas from somewhere.)
A legendary Duskwatch Recruiter is fine, and I do like her more than her previous version, but mono-green is a surprisingly tough crowd to beat out, even when accounting for the fact that many of the top mono-green commanders are niche or tribal strategies (such as Ezuri, Renegade Leader and Gargos, Vicious Watcher).
In terms of her abilities, she's competing with the likes of Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma and Selvala, Heart of the Wilds. Her card advantage ability is a nice mana sink, but I worry Nylea falls a touch too much on the 'generic' side to pull her numbers higher than the other options. In the 99, she'll frankly be quite fun in creature-based decks such as the aforementioned Selvala, Heart of the Wilds, and she may find a home in some decks such as Kethis, the Hidden Hand or perhaps even Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, since they like her ability to incidentally fill the graveyard.
Arasta of the Endless Web
I was very happy to review the green cards until I got to this one and my arachnophobia kicked in.
This is, of course, an automatic inclusion in Ishkanah, Grafwidow Spider tribal (and Thantis, the Warweaver Spider tribal, too) but how does it fare on its own?
Frankly, it's completely unlike the mono-green strategies we're used to. Green usually goes big and stompy, often posing the problems that others must answer, but Arasta is more interested in playing the long game and keeping a low profile. In other words, she's mono-green control. Arachnogenesis and Asceticism will keep her safe, while removal like Kenrith's Transformation and Lignify will give her ample disruption. Folks may even try playing her with a planeswalker or five, since she produces useful blockers.
Her Spider army won't grow exponentially, or even all that reliably, and this may be unsatisfying for players who are used to the regular tempo of green decks. However, there are those who like to gently pull strings and stay out of sight until a sudden Triumph of the Hordes or Coat of Arms turns four little Spiders into a lethal swing, and for them, Arasta is a very rewarding challenge.
But seriously, screw Spiders.
The First Iroan Games
A clever piece of design, though I'm not thrilled by it in EDH. The token and the counters are too minimal for most decks that usually care about such things, and the delayed card draw is tough in a world of Harmonizes, Rishkar's Expertises, Return of the Wildspeakers, Guardian Projects, and The Great Henges.
I predict the most popular commander to play this Saga to be Rhonas, the Indomitable, since he's more directly rewarded by the power boost and will consistently be able to trigger Chapter 3 just on his own.
PS: Am I the only one who finds Chapter 4 to be directly at odds with the flavor text on Arena Athlete?
My first impression was a simple, "Oh, that's pretty cool." My second impression was, "Wait, that's really, really cool." My final impression was, "Get into my Lord Windgrace deck, like, yesterday."
Pumped-up Sylvan Scrying is already excellent. Searching for any land, not just basics, is exceptionally nice, especially for commanders like Omnath, Locus of Rage, who often find themselves in the conundrum of running out of basic lands to fetch for their Landfall abilities. Feels pretty great to find a bunch of utility lands for Field of the Dead or Dark Depths shenanigans, too.
Not only that, but the option to wreck flying creatures is so much better than it seems. This card is good enough even if you never use that ability, but protecting Lord Windgrace from random flying creatures has been a problem for me a lot more than I'd like to admit.
The list of Landfall commanders is quite long now, and they'll all love grabbing oodles of lands to play with their Azusa, Lost but Seekings and Explorations, but I also love this for Borborygmos Enraged, the land-hurling Cyclops, and the oddball Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant, who likes lands in hand, and who is to date one of the only permanents that will rival Nyxbloom Ancient in terms of mana production. (Imagine getting both of those out at the same time. That's math I cannot do.)
Mantle of the Wolf
I don't like this card nearly as much as I want to. Green just has better Auras, especially at four mana. Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves will probably enjoy it, but if I'm getting the Wolf tokens from this Aura dying, things are going poorly, and this card slot could have been used on a more impactful Aura or a protection effect that might have prevented the death in the first place.
We couldn't go through the plane of Theros without another Enchantress effect! Setessan Champion joins the ranks of Verduran Enchantress, Enchantress's Presence, and Eidolon of Blossoms in enchantment-heavy builds, and happily buffs herself up along the way!
Importantly, this ability triggers when the enchantments enter the battlefield, not just when you cast them. In other words, Replenish, Retether, or Open the Vaults effects can get really nutty. We all already know where this will see play, but that doesn't make it any less exciting, especially when your opponents devote all their efforts to get rid of your Tuvasa the Sunlit or Uril, the Miststalker and don't realize that your little three-drop can attack for lethal now too.
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
I'm extremely surprised that this card is a 2/4, and extremely impressed by the Jolly Green Giant. Wayward Swordtooth and other such extra-land-per-turn creatures are the lifeblood of Landfall strategies, and that's just where this card starts. We haven't even gotten to the bonkers stuff.
This is a potent blocker, a mana-fixer, an Enchantress trigger, a tutorable creature, an extra land drop, and it enables land-specific stuff the world over. Cabal Coffers loves the Dryad's Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth impression, and Valakut the Molten Pinnacle is excited not to have to find a bunch of actual Mountains off of a Scapeshift. Creatures like Emeria Shepherd or Dread Presence will trigger off of nonbasic lands left and right. Even stuff like Collective Restraint and other Domain cards get a kick out of it. This isn't just another Exploration, this is an enabler, and it's a darn good one.
By the by, anyone who uses the Dryad in a Prismatic Omen-based Last Stand deck, please tell me your results!
Inspired by the myth of the Caledonian Boar, we have Magic's very first 10/6 creature, and it's appropriately bizarre.
I think it's helpful not to view the Boar as a creature. That probably sounds diminutive, but attacking and blocking doesn't seem to be this critter's main job. Its job is to die to a Greater Good. Its job is to power out a Ghalta, Primal Hunger. Its job is to give Kresh, the Bloodbraided a ton of counters.
Its job is to fight Grothama, All-Devouring. Its job is to be Scavenge fodder for Varolz, the Scar-Striped. Its job is to... oh, you get the point. Treat the Boar like a spell, not a creature.
I just don't like this thing. It blocks for days, but that's about all it can do, and this thing will be incidentally picked off by a board wipe without nearly as much impact as other creatures of a similar mana cost. Gargos, Vicious Watcher may enjoy the company, but this is low on the list of Hydras and lower on the list of five-drops.
Unfortunately, I can't get excited for this Theme Booster rare either. Seven mana is a lot, and in a world that now also contains Nyxbloom Ancients, well, it's tough competition. This same ability is present on a one-mana Taunting Elf, which, granted, isn't winning any of those fights and doesn't draw cards when it dies, but drawing cards isn't the important part of an army-distracting card like Taunting Elf. Winning the game by making the rest of your team unblockable is the important part. Treeshaker Chimera is just too much mana to fill that role, and gets outclassed by other creatures at that level.
Commons and Uncommons
Renata, Called to the Hunt
I unfortunately don't think Renata adds anything new to the conversation that Grumgully, the Generous already started. A fun additional role-player in that deck, but she's frankly more noteworthy for her combo enabling rather than her power boost. Persist creatures like Woodfall Primus will lose their -1/-1 counter when Renata adds her own. Again, though, this is a conversation a lot of other cards (Grumgully, Ghave, Guru of Spores, Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed) had already started, so she's more of a supporting role than a lead actor.
Ever wondered what would happen if Vorel of the Hull Clade was an Aura?
Kalonian Hydra can win games all on its own if it isn't answered, and Hydra's Growth threatens to do something similar. If you watched Loading Ready Run's pre-prerelease event, you may have noticed Kathleen De Vere and AliasV play this enchantment in games of Limited, where it consistently put the enchanted creatures up to the hundreds of counters.
We all know favorites like Vorel of the Hull Clade and Pir, Imaginative Rascal + Toothy, Imaginary Friend (though be careful, as too many counters on Toothy might kill you if you're not prepared for it). And of course, everything is good with Atraxa, Praetor's Voice; it's practically impossible to make room for all the value she can take advantage of, but since this particular one gives her the counter to start the ball rolling and the doubled counters mesh so beautifully with lifelink, it's probably worth trying to find the room if you can.
However, I also like this Aura on some other niche commanders. Skullbriar, the Walking Grave is extremely excited to keep his doubled counters, and Mowu, Loyal Companion is a very good dog indeed. I particularly like Hallar, the Firefletcher, who can spend just a few turns wearing this Aura before they make a random Grow from the Ashes suddenly super lethal!
Whoever designed this card knows Enchantress's weak points, alright. Not the uncounterable parts, although that's also kind of amazing; remember how Gaea's Herald was a rare? And symmetrical? And a 1/1?
No, Destiny Spinner represents a great outlet for all the mana that Enchantress decks, especially Estrid, the Masked, are able to produce, because sometimes these decks have no place to use all that mana. Now there's another win condition, one that some folks won't take seriously until they realize they're being attacked by two 8/8s with trample, and they can't attack back because of all those Sphere of Safety effects. That's game, right there. Creature-focused decks may utilize this card here and there, but Enchantress is happy for such a thoughtful new tool.
By contrast, I don't think Nessian Wanderer is solving any significant problems for Enchantress decks, whose primary fear is that they run out of spells, not that they don't have enough lands. With how many cards they draw from Eidolon of Blossoms and other such effects, mana flood is much more difficult to overcome than mana screw. This looks like a trap card to me.
A God killer is great (although it's awkward that this does a better job of it than Godsend did) but I frankly would prefer Deglamer to help hit indestructible artifacts too, and I gotta be honest, I don't run Deglamer all that much.
The Binding of the Titans
I'm one of probably just a dozen people who doesn't like that green has a multiplayer mill card now. It's not hugely obtrusive, of course; green has always had self-mill, and it's not exactly going to be milling anybody anytime soon with kid's stuff like this. But across many formats, the narrative of 2019 was largely the pushing of green into spaces it did not belong, and I'm sad to see that trend persist in small ways here too.
How's the card itself? Fine. Not stellar. Notable perhaps for Muldrotha, the Gravetide to recur it over and over again, but that's another commander who's hard-pressed for deck slots, and a delayed Nature's Spiral is a tough sell.
Omen of the Hunt
A land-fetching enchantment isn't usually noteworthy, but Tuvasa the Sunlit in particular stands out to me here. Tuvasa only triggers once per turn, but can do so on opponents' turns, so maybe there's some nice use there. Tuvasa is already full to brimming with other options, so it may not wind up any better than the other Fertile Ground effects she already has so much of, but it's a nice synergy to have access to.
What do you think of green's new cards? Are you terrified of the mana tripler? Just as jolly as the Dryad? Is there an interaction I've missed, or a card I'm dead wrong about? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Til next time!