Theros: Beyond Death Card Review Part 1 – Elspeth, Ashiok, Daxos, Setessan Champion, The Akroan War and More
Theros: Beyond Death is the upcoming Magic: The Gathering expansion coming to MTG Arena on January 16, 2020! We already have a bunch of early previews from The Game Awards After Party Event, as well as a few extras. According to the preview schedule released by Wizards of the Coast, the full spoiler season begins again on December 24, so we have a bit of time to digest the new cards we have seen so far.
Throughout the spoiler season, we will be taking a closer look and reviewing some noteworthy cards for constructed (i.e. mainly Standard but also for Historic or Brawl) play and then our limited format overviews will follow once the whole set has been revealed. We will also attempt to rate them on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is a card like Oko, Thief of Crowns and will be a format staple and all-star. Magic: The Gathering cards are notoriously hard to evaluate, especially when the set is not fully spoiled yet! Take this as more of an opportunity to discuss and explore the potential of the card in the comments below and let us know your thoughts.
Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis
Let’s start with one of the main characters of the set! Here we have a 4 mana cost mono white planeswalker that showcases one of the new mechanics of the set – Escape. After being spoiled by a bunch of supercharged three mana planeswalkers in the last few sets (Oko, Teferi, Narset), one could say Elspeth is a little bit underwhelming for its cost. Its loyalty abilities do not tick her up, and generating a couple of 1/1 tokens and gaining 5 life seems mediocre at best. The Escape ability allows the card to be brought back into play, even repeatedly, which is fine in itself but the cost seems a little bit too high.
Considering all that, where can we even play Elspeth? Her abilities suggest she can go in a creature based deck, to make use of all her abilities, and we can see potential in a Orzhov deck with Corpse Knight and Cruel Celebrant. It can even buff flying spirits from the Afterlife ability. On the other hand, a control deck could be using her as a reusable finisher, that can stall games with the 5 life and use the tokens as blockers. You can then Escape when your opponent’s cards have been exhausted, as your graveyard will be well stocked with spells.
Ashiok, Nightmare Muse
Ashiok is the other central character to the Theros plot, and it certainly looks more interesting than Elspeth at first glance. Its first ability allows it to tick up to 6 loyalty when it first comes down, protecting the board with an asymmetrical 2/3 creature. The second ability looks really powerful, reminding us of Teferi, Time Raveler’s ability and can even act as a straight up removal spell if the opponent has no cards in hand. The ultimate is decent, but probably needs a little bit of help from the other cards of your deck to exile your opponent’s cards and make it more reliable rather than solely relying on the Nightmare Tokens.
What I like most about this card is that it makes the Dimir color combination more powerful, which is usually less prominent. With cards like Thought Erasure, Drown in the Loch, Lochmere Serpent, Thief of Sanity in Standard – we could have a semi-functioning deck depending on what other Theros cards we get. While the potential is there to be played as a one or two copies of and looks like a fun card for control decks, I don’t see it making a huge impact compared to the high bar set by Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in the 5 mana planeswalker slot.
Card rating: 6/10
Daxos, Blessed by the Sun
I do not think more life gaining strategies will help white decks to be more viable in Standard, especially as a legendary creature that you cannot control more than one of on the battlefield. However, it is important to note that Daxos is an enchantment as well – which is one of the central theme of Theros. To what extent this will end up mattering depends on how the rest of the set unfolds, though we don’t think it won’t be anywhere on the same level as the Food mechanic in Throne of Eldraine.
I do also see this card as a speculative inclusion in the Historic Soul Sisters deck, but we even already have Impassioned Orator in the two mana slot. What about in Brawl decks that care about creatures with high toughness, such as Huatli, the Sun’s Heart or in Friendly Brawl, Arcades, the Strategist?
Card Rating: 4/10
As noted with Daxos above, enchantments being a central theme to Theros means there will be cards built around it, like Setessan Champion here. Drawing a card from enchantments is what we call an “Enchantress” effect – named after Argothian Enchantress from Magic’s past – but this is no Edgewall Innkeeper. We do have some nice enchantments like Conclave Tribunal, Prison Realm, Sky Tether, Season of Growth and All That Glitters as well as this card that prophesied our return to Theros:
We will definitely have to see what more powerful enchantments that Theros will bring us before we can predict a potential deck archetype. In Historic, some have tried to make Hexproof creature (“Bogles”) type decks work as well, slapping on enchantments on our creatures and we even have Satyr Enchanter to help us:
All in all, seems like a decent build-around card but probably not strong enough to be played in a meta deck.
Card Rating: 4/10
The Akroan War
Speaking of enchantments, Sagas are returning to Theros – what better way to tell a Greek mythology? This is the first Saga spoiled and while it depicts the Trojan War in a really flavorful way, we feel that the card itself is a bit situational and a little bit too slow to be any useful.
The first ability does not give the stolen creature haste (like red spells usually do – see Claim the Firstborn), which means you cannot even attack with it. The second chapter is where you ideally want to trade your stolen creature with the opponent’s attacking one, so you don’t give it back unharmed on the last chapter. Even there, if the creatures have more toughness than power then it will do nothing anyway. Seems really good in draft though!
Card Rating: 3/10
Other than the enchantment theme in Theros, another mechanic that is returning is “Heroic” – where targeting your creatures with spells trigger beneficial abilities like in Hero of the Winds and the already preexisting Tenth District Legionnaire. Auras are one of the ways to trigger it, and Staggering Insight looks to be one of the better enchantments in Theros, as we compare it to the likes of Curious Obsession:
In exchange for one more mana, we don’t have to sacrifice it and it also gives the creature lifelink. However, what made Curious Obsession so powerful was also having the access to one mana protection spells like Dive Down, Siren Stormtamer and Spell Pierce – which we don’t really have in Standard other than Mystical Dispute.
While the card looks definitely playable, we’re not sure if it’s something that’s good enough for the current Standard environment without the necessary support. Auras give your opponents an easy way to two-for-one you, so you have to be careful when playing cards like this and that is why you may need to back it up with protection like Dovin’s Veto or God’s Willing if you want to try it later down the track. Maybe we will get some nice hexproof or heroic creatures?
Card rating: 5/10