Theros Beyond Death Draft Guide
Ranked Draft has finally come to Magic Arena! If you are new to the set, or are looking for some background information about its mechanics and archetypes, I recommend checking out my Limited Overview article before reading further.
In this guide I will be focusing on the best common and uncommon cards to draft within each color. The colors are ranked in order of their relative power level, but as always I would urge you to pay attention to signals in your drafts and follow what is open rather than forcing a certain color just because it is ‘stronger’ in a vacuum. I am going to generally avoid commenting on bot behavior as it was just changed and will almost surely be adjusted further in the near future.
Before we dive in to the colors I’d like to comment on a couple noticings I have had about the format so far. First, it has been mostly slow. I have seen and played some decks that are capable of curving out in a devastating way, but for the most part the weaker 2-drops and abundance of value spells make Theros Beyond Death a fairly slow and sometimes ‘swingy’ format. Another significant contributor to this is the prevalence of combat tricks. There are several good tricks in every color, so most decks are packing them. As a result, players are often leaving mana open to win combat and take an advantage with these spells. This is a format where you really need to think hard about attacking when your opponent has untapped lands and you have no tricks yourself. Many games reach a turning point when one or more of these spells earn a decisive advantage. For reference, below are the combat tricks I would recommend being on the lookout for in your matches (there are some rare ones as well but you will see them considerably less):
Important Combat Tricks
One of the best things you can do to give yourself an edge in any new Limited format is committing the combat tricks to memory and choosing your attacks and blocks accordingly. In THB it is also important to be careful about where and when to place your Auras. In most Limited formats Auras are considered to be bad due to the 2-for-1 potential, but the power level of the Auras and Enchantment/Escape synergy in this set makes many worth playing. Still, the risk is there and you need to be thoughtful when playing them. In general they are best played in situations where your opponent is tapped out you can get some immediate value to mitigate the losses if they untap and remove the creature. It is often good to enchant your weaker creatures as well, so that for example you create a difficult choice between an Omen of the Sun token with Hydra’s Growth or your Voracious Typhon for an opponent wielding Final Death.
Now, let’s get into the best common and uncommon spells to draft in each color.
Black is by a good margin the strongest color in THB Limited. The reason is simply that it is packed full of good removal spells. What’s more, Black has two of the best Devotion cards in the format, Gray Merchant of Asphodel (aka Gary), and Blight-Breath Catoblepas, which encourage players to Draft even more Black spells. In ‘real-life’ drafts, I suspect players will be fighting over Black much more than on Arena, but depending on how the bots are tweaked it may become more difficult to acquire this color. Ultimately, Black runs deep with good playables and there are going to be a lot of drafts where ending up in this color is the correct decision.
All of these cards are great payoffs for playing Black. Drag to the Underworld should be taken over most rares, and Elspeth’s Nightmare and Gary have been seriously over performing my initial expectations. Nightmare hits a card on II more often than not, which makes it a 2-for-1 most of the time, and exiling the graveyard is just icing on the cake. Pharika’s Spawn is another card that is even better than it looks. The 3/4 body matches up efficiently against a lot of creatures, and the cost is low enough to reliably Escape it even if you don’t draw cards like Mire Triton. While Mire Triton is the least of the bunch here, it still trades 1-for-1 with almost anything (2 if they have an Aura attached) while providing solid Escape enabling and a little life for good measure. Tymaret is a card that for whatever reason I have not had a chance to play with, but it has always been decent for my opponents and when I was playing a deck that relies on Escape cards he was downright obnoxious.
Blight-Breath Catoblepas, Final Death, and Mire’s Grasp are all reliably great, and the best commons Black has to offer. Aspect of Lamphrey is a good one-of in most Black decks. Sometimes you will draw it late and only get Lifelink out of it, but there are times where it devastates. Lampad of Death’s Vigil has surprised me with how valuable it can be. Having some reach to close out games is a great asset to have in your deck. I have had a few games where I was far behind but this creature enabled me to grind out a win by chump blocking/sacrificing to its ability, surviving long enough to find more threats. Soulreaper of Mogis serves just fine as a sacrifice outlet though, so consider both of those sharing the slot. Lastly, I like Funeral Rites a lot, especially if you aren’t also in Blue. I think it plays a lot better than Foreboding Fruit did in Eldraine because the three cards it adds to enable Escape is more impactful than the Food token, and the 2 life is less significant (so far) in this set. To close out Black I’d like to highlight a recent Mono Black deck I drafted (to 5-0) in a Traditional Draft :
I was actually Rakdos going into pack 3 which then presented Kiora Bests the Sea God. I ended up taking it and looked to splash Blue, but it wasn’t open at all and I ended up finding enough good Black stuff to justify mono color.
As a side note, the Underworld Dreams wrapped and I ended up with two of them, but left one in the sideboard. I did end up boarding it in against a particularly slow deck, but the main deck one got boarded out more often. The three Devotion to power up Gary and Catoblepas was really great at times, but overall I think Underworld Dreams is a ‘win-more’ card and only consider it filler (even in mono Black).
Blue plays a supporting role in THB, but does it extremely well and with great flexibility. Its cards support ‘draw-go’ control archetypes, Enchantment-based tempo archetypes, or simply contribute card advantage to more straightforward decks. I really like Blue because it compliments any of the other colors and it has several great commons, making it a safe bet if the signals are unclear early in the draft. The best pairings seem to be a Black leaning deck complimented with Blue, or a more equitable UW Enchantments deck that takes advantage of the Constellation mechanic and downright abuses cards like Shimmerwing Chimera.
I cannot overstate how good Shimmerwing Chimera is. In fact, I just upgraded it to an A on our Tier List. There are so many great interactions in every color and you could do much worse than Snapping Drake as a floor. After that, Alirios, Enraptured and Medomai’s Prophecy provide great value for their cost. Threnody Singer probably should have gone on my ‘combat trick’ list, and is yet another interaction to be aware of. There are a few 2-drops for it to snipe such as Underworld Rage-Hound and Setessan Skirmisher, and it can also help your other creatures win combat if you draw it late. One with the Stars is about as good of removal as you can ask for in Blue, while Stinging Lionfish has been a little worse than I expected but can still foster a big swing in the right deck.
Omen of the Sea and Thirst for Meaning are the main reason why Blue is so good. Most decks are not quick enough to punish you for taking a turn to cast them, and the card advantage provides a significant advantage. Unsummon, I mean Stern Dismissal, is much better than usual due to all of the Auras running around. Vexing Gull and Witness of Tomorrows are your bread and butter common creatures if you are playing Blue which is yet another reason why Blue is so darn playable in this set. Frogify is not a good card in my opinion, but Ichthyomorphosis is a fine playable due to the Enchantment synergy in this set.
While I have White in the middle of the pack in terms of power, I expect it to be played quite a lot because of its natural synergy with the other colors. I really like how White partners with Black, Blue, and Green especially. I am all for a good Boros deck, but I am just not seeing it in this set. There are enough tools to enable a good Boros deck, but I prefer how the Enchantment synergy pans out in the other archetypes. After discussing the most important commons and uncommons I will highlight a couple of my recent Traditional Drafts that have featured White.
Archon of the Falling Stars and Banishing Light are both cards I am perfectly happy first picking. Favored of Iroas is a beefed up Raging Redcap in this set, and with the myriad of Auras and combat tricks it is a force to be reckoned with. Daxos isn’t the most exciting card to play, but in more defensive decks such as Azorius he can be a blessing. Commanding Presence is amazing when it works, but sometimes you will end up down a card and left with a 1/1 to show for it. The former will happen more frequently and so it is a card I will happily include in any White deck. I like playing Alseid in decks that include Auras and/or important creatures, which ends up being most White decks.
The first three cards are essential to playing this color. Daybreak Chimera is perhaps the best common creature in the set, while Dreadul Apathy is one of the best common noncreature spells. Heliod’s Pilgrim finds cards like Dreadful Apathy while providing a 1/2 body ‘for free.’ Omen of the Sun is a great deal in and of itself, but it triples as an instant speed enchantment as well as a combat trick in its own right. Sentinel’s Eyes have been pretty easy to acquire from the bots so far, but that could change as it is a great one-of in most White decks to capitalize on Escape in a color that has so little of it. Revoke Existence is a fine removal spell if you don’t end up finding better ones in your other color. Instant speed hurts it but Exile can be highly relevant at times. Below is an Orzhov deck that is sorely lacking Heliod’s Pilgrim, but still managed to go 5-1 in traditional draft with its removal suite and grindy nature. I had to screenshot my Stream because I forgot to take a picture during, so you aren’t able to see that the last two lands are Scry lands (the only rares in the deck).
Below you will find a deck that does have some sweet rares, and takes advantage of Selesnya Enchantment synergy. This is my current Traditional Draft and is 3-0 at the moment. Nessian Wanderer provides enormous value in this deck, and the entire thing works together very cohesively. Removal is traditonally a problem in these colors, but in this format Mystic Repeal, Return to Nature, Triumphant Surge, Revoke Existance, and even Plummet (Dreadful Apathy and Warbriar Blessing not pictured) get the job done. So far this is my favorite non-black archetype to play in Theros Beyond Death:
I really like how Green pairs with White (Enchantments) and Black (Escape). It has a lot of really powerful uncommons but is unfortunately a little shallow at common. So if I end up finding a good rare or a couple of the key uncommons I will happily play Green, but it is not a color I would chase after.
Green really benefits from ‘engine’ cards and Nessian Hornbeetle, Nessian Wanderer, and Renata answer the call. All three provide enough of an advantage to prompt immediate removal. At times Nessian Wanderer flies under the radar because your opponent may not want to for example use Mire’s Grasp on a 1/3 even though they absolutely should. I’ve had Chainweb Aracnir get a little awkward in situations where you need it to die, but when Escaping it provides awesome value. Destiny Spinner is another card that can be situational, but being able to put your lands to work in Limited is a great asset. Pheres-Band Brawler is awesome in any Green deck, but like most of the best cards in this color it has a double Green mana cost that makes splashing it more challenging.
Green is only okay at common rarity which brings it down some in my opinion. Voracious Typhon is awesome, but it starts dropping off from there. Return to Nature and Warbriar Blessing are both fine removal spells for Green, but most of the other colors have better options that you would rather play. I will say Nexus Wardens is really good in a midrange deck, efficiently fending off creatures like Daybreak Chimera. Playing the Loathsome Chimera is like having a couple 5/2’s in your back pocket. You don’t really want to spend five mana on it, but if you run out of other cards it is a great source of more gas. Ilysian Caryatid is a card that thrives in decks that are 3-color or high-curve, but may get cut in other archetypes.
Even though I have Red ranked last, I see it as a great support color. I think it is a little too thin on good playables to carry your deck, but playing Black or Blue as your main color and supporting it with the best Red cards seems to be a powerful strategy. Below you will find the key cards that would pull me in to Red, although you will see that similar to Green this color suffers from a lack of depth at common.
Fateful End is great and Skophos Maze-Warden is good in any Red deck, but the other four are more archetype specific. I wouldn’t go too far out of my way to enable the 4+ power ability, but Anax, Hardened by the Forge does need a deck that is Red enough to support its mana cost and Devotion. Blood Aspirant is most at home in Rakdos Sacrifice, while Dreamstalker Manticore fares best in Izzet. Careless Celebrant is more flexible with color combinations but does best in Aggro decks. Altogether, there are some really good cards here, and even though some are better enabled by certain archetypes, Red has enough stuff to justify playing them regardless.
Iroas’s Blessing and Omen of the Forge are the ideal commons for Red decks to find, but it drops off some from there. Infuriate is a perfectly fine combat trick and Final Flare an adequate removal spell, but neither are particularly exciting. Arena Trickster is slow but decent in the right deck, while Incendiary Oracle interacts well against Escape creatures and the firebreathing allows it to trade up. Ultimately, Red is a good support for any of the other colors and I could see it moving up in my rankings if the bots start passing more of these commons and uncommons.
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone
Here are some additional resources to help wrap your head around Theros Beyond Death Limited:
See you in Ranked Draft! I’d be happy to discuss any of the cards if you have any comments/questions. If you want to see me draft live and play with commentary check out my Twitch.