Theros Beyond Death Set Review - Red
(Underworld Breach | Art by Lie Setiawan)
Forging a Path Forward
Hi there, and welcome back to EDHREC’s full set review for Theros Beyond Death! Today, we’re diving into red’s offerings in this return to Theros. This group of cards has a few exciting considerations for our format, but even better than that, we've got some flavorful and weird ones as well! And I mean really weird. In this set, red gets to break the color pie in a couple of interesting ways and even sees an old, famously powerful mechanic returning in a new form. Sepulchral prison escapes, a royal kidnapping and the war that follows, and Yawgmoth’s Will in red? I’ll be your captain today, so buckle up: we’re preparing for takeoff.
We’re starting with a heater. Given the position that Purphoros, God of the Forge holds in EDH, this new iteration has a high bar to meet. Bronze-Blooded both sidesteps and meets that bar, in my opinion. This effect is Sneak Attack variant on a commander.
Yes, there are important differences; Bronze-Blooded costs more to cast and activate, gives haste in another way, and can only sneak in red and artifact creatures, so no Eldrazi. It is clear that this is less powerful than Sneak Attack, but there is plenty of room below the power level of Sneak Attack and above the level of playable, especially when this effect lives in the command zone and is as slippery to removal as the Theros Gods tend to be.
In one particular aspect, I believe that new Purphoros is better suited to Commander than Sneak Attack: it’s Fervor. If you reach a point in the game when you can start casting bombs for sticker price, you don’t have to activate Purphoros’s ability to swing in immediately. In EDH, this card scales to the late game better than Sneak Attack.
While everyone’s favorite monsters (Ulamog, Kozilek, It That Betrays, etc.) aren’t available to new Purphoros, there are still several powerful options for us here. Blightsteel Colossus is what first comes to mind. When you have it early, you'll likely be able to swing in for lethal before the table has had time to set up their defenses. Etali, Primal Storm is an incredible piece of card advantage, but suffers when you can’t grant her haste, so it will be perfect here. Finally, Avatar of Slaughter can act as an alpha strike very early in the game.
Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded is a monster in the command zone and is worthy of his namesake.
Ox of Agonas
Escape is one of my favorite mechanics from the last few years, both for its flexibility and future design space. For EDH, having cards in the graveyard that you have constant access to over the course of the game is a dangerous prospect. The Ox is a perfect example of this. Discarding your hand and drawing three cards is a very powerful effect to repeatedly cast, especially in the right decks. Exiling eight cards from your graveyard is a steep price, but red is already one of the best colors to fill the graveyard.
The real power of this card is that it only costs two mana to Escape. As long as you have those eight cards that you don't mind exiling, Ox of Agonas is a reasonable and manageable play on any given turn. It's something you can do whenever you have two spare mana. With a general like Anje Falkenrath at the helm, finding eight expendable cards in the yard won’t be difficult, and the Ox could be helpful in increasing velocity through your deck. Ox of Agonas also has synergy with another of my favorite cards from last year, Bag of Holding. Especially in mono-red, rummaging can form the base of a powerful draw engine. Ox of Agonas plays very well into this sort of engine and I would consider it in any shell that is already rummaging.
Red. Mass. Aura. Reanimation. Those are four words that have no precedent being in the same sentence in the world of Magic. I am flabbergasted by this card, but I also acknowledge that it seems extremely powerful in the right deck. I am a huge proponent of Retether in EDH, and Storm Herald shares some important qualities with that card. Yes, the Auras you reanimate only stick around for one turn, but if you're playing Uril, the Miststalker and return Eldrazi Conscription, Runes of the Deus, and Ancestral Mask, that won't matter because an opponent might just be dead. This is a very niche card, but I expect it to be one of the best in the decks where it fits. Consider it highly in Aura-heavy Voltron decks that include red.
This visit to Theros has given us a few interesting forms of card advantage for red decks, and this Giant is no exception. The first mode on this card is mostly irrelevant in EDH, but the second mode is so interesting that it may deserve consideration on its own merit. Tectonic Giant is slower than options like Light Up the Stage and Ignite the Future because it must attack or be targeted to gain advantage out of its effect. This may be too high a hurdle to overcome, but the particularities of the text deserve attention. You exile the top two cards of your library and then choose one to set aside to play. This is both card selection and card advantage.
Tectonic Giant is extremely unique, but there may be too many fail cases for it to deserve four mana. Consider this card in creature-heavy decks that already place priority on haste such as Samut, Voice of Dissent or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Outside of those corner cases, it might be best to prioritize more definite forms of impulsive draw, like Outpost Siege.
The Akroan War
This is a card that screams potential without a clear home. This is essentially a Threaten effect that also has a mass removal clause on delay. While the creature you threaten when The Akroan War enters the battlefield doesn’t gain haste, you hold onto it for two extra turn rotations, meaning you can potentially use it as a blocker or as a deterrent. The second and third lore counters combine for a mini board wipe, forcing them to attack and then hit themselves a turn later. It is a combination of three abilities that form a strange whole, but for four mana, this might just be good enough for many decks.
The flow and flavor of this card is admirable. This retelling of the Trojan War is a surprisingly good fit for a card game—the first lore counter representing the theft of Helen, the second conveying the war, and the third recounting the aftermath. I would strongly consider playing The Akroan War, particularly with commanders that like to steal creatures to sacrifice them. The three featured above immediately come to mind. Even if you don’t have the means to sacrifice the stolen creature on the board, you can attack with it before the third lore counter hits to avoid returning the creature. I like this card a lot and will definitely be testing to see how it fares.
This is one of the weirdest cards I’ve seen in a while. It’s so weird that even though I think it is playable in certain archetypes, I’m also not sure if it’s a real rectangle of cardboard. Even though red has effects like Recoup, Past in Flames, and Flashback, this seems like a breach of the color pie. With Underworld Breach, you can cast any nonland card, not just instants and sorceries. Even more bizarre: it's an enchantment.
At its base, Underworld Breach is a highly-restricted imitation of Yawgmoth’s Will, one of the more powerful cards in the history of Magic. But is the limitation of exiling other cards from your graveyard too burdensome? I don’t think so. This seems very powerful, especially for specific archetypes, such as Spellslinger and Storm, which rely on casting low-cost spells quickly and filling the graveyard. But even in other contexts, this may just be a high-value, generally good card. I would consider this in any mono-red deck solely as a form of card advantage. If you're running a big-mana package, it becomes even better.
Terror of Mount Velus
This card is just a bread-and-butter red roleplayer. That isn't a bad thing, though, especially in the case of this terror. While green has always received alpha strike effects in the form of stat buffs and trample (as seen on cards like Overrun, Pathbreaker Ibex, and End-Raze Forerunners) red is normally given alpha strikes in the form of cards that give your creatures double strike.
I've generally found that while giving your team double strike is an extremely powerful effect, it ends the game less frequently than Craterhoof Behemoth. I expect this card to see play in a few strategies. Avatar of Slaughter only sees play in 1,136 decks listed on EDHREC, and I would expect Terror of Mount Velus to reach similar numbers. Consider this card for commanders such as Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded, Ilharg, the Raze-Boar, and Xenagos, God of Revels, and Dragon tribal decks from here to the end of time.
Deathbellow War Cry
I really want this card to be playable because it seems like there should be some game-ending combo that arises from searching up four creatures and dropping them onto the battlefield. Unfortunately, I've found no such combination of four Minotaurs that will end the game when cheated into play together. In fact, the most compelling use I found while brewing with this card is in a Reaper King deck, using Deathbellow War Cry to search out four Changelings that all trigger the King and destroy four permanents.
There are just so many hurdles for this card: it can only search up members of one underpowered tribe of creatures, it can only search your library and not pull from the hand or graveyard, and it costs eight mana total. This is a card for people who really love Minotaur tribal decks. If you're one of those, more power to you. This War Cry just doesn't have much of a home elsewhere. So if Neheb, the Worthy is your flavor, then this card slots right in. If not, there's no reason to think about it again until more Minotaurs are printed.
Commons and Uncommons
Anax, Hardened by the Forge
Red is really moving in on green’s territory of checking for creatures with power 4 or greater. I like this unique design, but I think it's missing something important to be a powerful consideration for the command zone. This card seems to lend itself to very fair play. Anax lends itself toward a deck that plays a lot of nontoken creatures (and not only that, but big nontoken creatures with power 4 or greater), then uses those creatures either as sacrifice fodder or to recklessly attack into an opponent’s defenses. The final nail in the coffin for me, though, is the fact that Anax’s Satyr tokens can’t block. This card just seems too subdued to warrant too much attention.
In the 99, however, Anax could be a good roleplayer. Consider this in any red-inclusive deck that's already playing cards like Purphoros, God of the Forge, Impact Tremors, and Goblin Bombardment.
Given cards like Chaos Warp and Reality Scramble, this effect seems like it's firmly rooted in red’s patch of soil. I'm still attached to the good ol' Polymorph, though.
Unfortunately, because of this card’s high cost to cast and activate, I don’t think it'll be very impressive in our format. It's eight mana before it does anything. That's a big ask.
If Dreamshaper Shaman does deserve consideration, it will be in red-inclusive decks that try to flip scary creatures from the top of the library onto the battlefield. If you are so compelled, you could try this card with things like Mayael the Anima or Atla Palani, Nest Tender. I don’t think it'll make the cut in the long run, though.
Is this the second coming of Outpost Siege? It’s not quite there in my opinion, but I do like a lot of what this card has to offer. While this card is less versatile and has more conditions to its card advantage than Outpost Siege, it also only costs three mana and specifies that you can play the exiled card until the end of your next turn. If you play a significant number of instant-speed spells, this distinction could be important. I even like the stipulation that you can play the card last exiled with Furious Rise until the next card is exiled. Even if you miss a turn with a creature with power 4 or greater, you'll have access to the card from the previous turn.
This effect is very reminiscent of cards like Colossal Majesty in green, but this card might be even better. Any effect that triggers on the end step is immediately in a higher class than effects that trigger upon upkeep. Because EDH is a multiplayer format, your upkeep is much further away than in two-player formats. Both you and your card have to survive two extra turns before gaining advantage. I would highly consider Furious Rise in any deck that has a commander with power 4 or greater, making the possibility of meeting the card’s condition much higher.
Here we have a near strict upgrade on Manic Vandal. While Manic Vandal has never been an EDH staple, it does see play in creature-heavy deck that plays with enters-the-battlefield triggers. Irreverent Revelers should replace Manic Vandal in any circumstance under which it would see play. In any shell that draws cards based on creatures entering the battlefield, removal that is stapled onto a body is valuable. Consider Irreverent Revelers in decks that already run cards like Guardian Project and Lifecrafter’s Bestiary. This pick may not have deep consequences in our format, but it is noteworthy.
Strike While the Iron is Hot
Am I exaggerating, or are the red cards from Theros Beyond Death just really, really... weird? I don't quite see a design through-line or an overall theme; every noteworthy card here seems to be spinning off in its own direction. Red has been at a crossroads for a few years, and perhaps these cards are indicative of how its design space will stretch in the future.
If so, I'm here for it. Give me more red cards that break my conception of the color. I'm eager to start testing Underworld Breach, The Akroan War, and Storm Herald wherever I find space for them.
What about you all? What do you make of this selection? Is there a card or nuance that I missed? Let me know in the comments! Remember to EDHREC responsibly: always dig a little beyond the statistics. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you all on down the road.