Theros Beyond Death Limited Overview and Sealed Guide
I really appreciate how well the release cycle flows these days in Magic: The Gathering. Just as one format begins to get stale, another is just around the corner! The fairy tale is over and it is time to enter a darker realm that is just as Enchanting, albeit in a more literal way. First we will get an overview of the format, before delving into the ten 2-color archetypes, and finishing up with some Sealed strategy. Remember, one color and 3+ color decks are possible, but understanding the 2-color combinations is a good starting point for understanding how each color will behave in this set.
Let’s start with some key features of the Theros Beyond Death format based on the structure of the set as a whole.
- It is Bomb heavy – There are quite a lot of cards that can completely take over the game if they go unanswered. Many of your Sealed pools and Drafts are going to be guided by opening one or more of them.
- The Removal is Strong – Black is particularly loaded with removal, but every color except Green has efficient options at common and uncommon. White and Blue have some Enchantment-based removal that could end up being softer than usual due to the viability of playing Enchantment removal in the main deck. Speaking of which…
- There are so many Enchantments – Nearly 100 of them, making up over a third of the set. About half of them are Enchantment Creatures, which sets up an interesting give and take. They are able to further your synergy with Enchantment payoffs but are more susceptible to removal (Yes, Return to Nature is finally playable in BO1).
- The creatures overall are Average – Many creatures are lacking on stats but create value over time. This is exemplified by creatures that have Escape, which adds a lot of value to them but requires some enabling. Balanced decks with strong synergy should be able to outpace 1-dimensional ones in this format.
- The format looks to be fairly Slow. Overall, I think the slower creatures along with the strong removal is going to result in a slower format. I predicted this in Eldraine as well with similar reasoning though, and after the bots started passing key Boros cards Aggro became dominant. Cards like Faerie Guidemother and Rimrock Knight showing up late in drafts really helped enable it. As you will see this time around Boros has a similar ‘go-wide’ archetype, but in Eldraine the Adventure mechanic allowed combat tricks to be built into your creatures, while in THB it will be trickier to strike a balance between creatures and tricks. I expect Boros (and other Aggro decks) to be a bit less explosive this time around.
It is time to explore all of the two color combinations and their themes in this set, as well as highlight some key common cards that enable each archetype. Keep in mind that I am showing commons and uncommons that have good synergy within the archetype but aren’t necessarily the best cards in those colors. Final Death, for example, would have to be included every time I showed Black commons because of its power level, but that isn’t really helping you understand the archetype.
Azorius (UW) – Flyers, Auras, and Card Advantage
This archetype is in classic form, and looks to win by controlling the game and poking with flyers while deriving card advantage and other value from Enchantment synergy.
Archon of Falling Stars and Shimmerwing Chimera are both very good reasons to end up in these colors. The ability on Chimera is extremely powerful, allowing you to continually use Sagas like The Birth of Meletis or the Blue/White omens. You can also save Enchantment creatures from pacifism effects, and if you happen to have a Shoal Kraken (or even more powerful Constellation effects like Wavebreak Hippocamp) in play, there is a lot of value to be had.
Fliers, removal, and card advantage are the key ingredients to this archetype. If you find good payoffs in Blue for playing spells on your opponents turn, there are some good Flash options at common including Vexing Gull and Omen of the Sea. If you have some of the good aggressive White creatures, this archetype can be played as a faster tempo deck that could include spells like Stern Dismissal and/or combat tricks like Karametra’s Blessing.
Orzhov (BW) – Auras, Sacrifice
This is the archetype that cares the most about Auras, and has many ways to get extra value out of them even if they end up in your graveyard. As a result, this color pair looks to play fairly ‘grindy’ as usual, and I will be looking to combo some of the Black sacrifice effects with White creature tokens.
These cards are some of the key enablers of the archetype. I would only play cards like Hateful Eidolon and Dawn Evangel in this color pair, but they have a lot of potential here! It is too bad Heliod’s Pilgrim costs 3 mana or things could get really insane.
Heliod’s Pilgrim still looks particularly good here because Black provides some nice targets at common. Cards like Soulreaper of Mogis help you grind out value over time. This archetype is going to rely even more on synergy than most of the others but I think it has potential if built correctly.
Boros (RW) – Go-wide, Heroic (combat tricks)
Now these colors are much more straightforward. Boros wants to flood the board with creatures and get additional value out of them through Auras and combat tricks, often targeting creatures like Hero of the Nyxborn to buff the entire team.
Careless Celebrant followed by Anax, Hardened in the Forge would be an excellent curve out and demonstrates what this archetype is trying to do. This is probably the only deck I would play Commanding Presence and maybe even Heliod’s Punishment in, but they both look to make a big impact early in the game to keep your creatures attacking. Favored of Iroas could end up being an even better version of Raging Redcap, which was a Throne of Eldraine Boros staple.
I think the main thing holding this archetype back is the 2-drop creatures. Hero of the Pride and Leonin of the Lost Pride are both acceptable, but are often a vanilla 2/2 and 3/1, respectively. While there is some interesting synergy with the flash auras and combat tricks like Infuriate (which looks to be quite good in this archetype), I would be worried about getting blown out by instant speed removal when playing a deck like this. The jury is out on whether this will be a good deck, but it is definitely the Aggro deck to look out for early on.
Selesnya (GW) – Auras/Enchantments
Every color is Enchantment heavy but these colors give you the strongest payoffs for running them, which is completely on-brand for Selesnya. This archetype has the tools to be a solid Aggro or Midrange creature deck, which ends up creating great synergy as most of its best creatures are also Enchantments.
Constellation effects and cards that benefit Enchantments and/or creatures are exactly what this deck is looking for, bonus points if the card itself is an Enchantment creature.
Ideally you get some strong Green threats like Voracious Typhon and support them with Enchantment synergy. These colors do limit you in removal options, so you will need to rely on some tier 2 removal such as Warbriar Blessing and Triumphant Surge. You are also somewhat weak to flier beatdown, so creatures like Nexus Wardens can sure up your defenses and help ensure you don’t lose to more aggressive decks like Boros or Rakdos. If this archetype ends up with a lower curve I would include Karametra’s Blessing as well since it saves many of your key creatures from removal.
Dimir (UB) – Control, Self-Mill
This color pair looks to be quite strong, as usual. Both Blue and Black offer great control options, and the Escape mechanic allows you to get a lot of recursive value out of your threats. There are also quite a few options for getting your Escape creatures directly into your graveyard from your deck, creating some extra value in the process.
Efficient options that get cards into your graveyard and/or provide Escape value are what you are looking for. Medomai’s Prophecy is a nice way to draw a couple cards while also informing your self-mill decisions.
There will be a lot of different ways to build this archetype, but the focus should be on prioritizing removal and card draw. Cards like Towering-Wave Mystic and Venomous Hierophant do help set up Escape, but they should mostly wrap for you in Draft as they are not very efficient creatures.
Izzet (UR) – ‘Draw-go’ (play spells on your opponents turn)
Red looks to be a natural support color for the classic Blue gameplan of only playing stuff on your opponents turn. There are some great enablers for this archetype, in particular I would prioritize trying to get multiple copies of Mischievous Chimera and/or Dreamstalker Manticore, as they add a lot of reach to your deck.
Dreamstalker Manticore and Stinging Lionfish are probably the most important cards here, but I am not sure they are going to make or break your deck. I really like efficient creatures such as Celebrant and Alirios in here. They can do double duty, pressuring opponents if you are in a position to control the board or helping to hold off Aggro decks to buy time for your card advantage.
I think Arena Trickster is going to be a sleeper for some people. It won’t snowball as quickly as Spellgorger Weird, but it is a very playable 4-drop for this archetype. Blue is really stacked at common for this sort of deck as well. Izzet seems to be the natural place for Vexing Gull in particular, as it allows you to build up your board while keeping control options open.
Simic (UG) – Constellation (Enchantment synergy)
This deck thrives on casting enchantments multiple times, while capitalizing on the control/card advantage themes of Blue and the 4+ Power creature theme of Green.
I am usually a fan of these colors in Limited because I like running Blue control elements alongside strong Green creatures, but you do run the risk of not having enough removal. Most of the picks here are pretty straightforward, but Brine Giant and Starlit Mantle become quite playable in this archetype as you are likely to get a great deal on the giant and the mantle helps keep your big threats alive.
Rakdos (BR) – Sacrifice/Aggro, Escape
While I do think this archetype will need to be aggressive due to its lack of card advantage, I also believe it is going to play closer to midrange than usual. The sacrifice effects are going to need some time to set up in order to generate value. Plus, with cards like Gary (Gray Merchant of Asphodel) and Blight-Breath Catoblepas in the set, Rakdos is capable of some devastating mid-late game plays. Those cards do demand you to lean Black, which I think is actually really favorable because Black runs a lot deeper than Red in Theros Beyond Death.
I threw in four Black commons because your deck should really lean that way. Red is going to give you some lower curve creatures, fodder creature tokens, and direct damage spells. Lampad of Death’s Vigil and/or Soulreaper of Mogis are also very important for enabling this archetype.
Golgari (BG) – Escape
Golgari has the lion’s share of Escape creatures and I am very high on this color pair going into this set. I see Escape as generating a lot of value to a deck and shares a lot of similarity with Adventure. Black is packed full of quality removal and Green has quite a few excellent creatures, as usual. This is another archetype that I think can lean heavily toward Black in order to pay off some of the key devotion-based spells.
Escape creatures and removal are a must in this archetype, but bonus points for finding ways to get creatures into your graveyard and benefit from it! I like this color pair quite a lot and see it as a great midrange option.
Gruul (GR) – 4+ Power Creatures
The final (2-color) archetype is also a midrange deck that thrives on the 4+ Power creature mechanic. As you will see, there are a lot of good Red uncommons to find, some of which are uniquely good at supporting this archetype, while Green has the better commons.
I am a little nervous to play this color pair as there is a lot of removal out there that could shut down your 4+ Power creatures and turn off your synergy. Common creatures low in the curve are also a little slower and ability based than usual, which will make decks of this archetype even more mid range than what is typical. Still, playing a bunch of strong creatures is a tried and true way to win Limited matches, and many of the more durdly archetypes might get run over by Gruul.
Last but not least, let’s get into a little strategy on how to handle your Sealed pool. While it is important to identify the archetypes you are pulling from and put together cards that have strong synergy with one another, more important still is making sure you have a solid deck composition and mana curve. It can be easy to get carried away and for example run too many combat tricks because you are trying to maximize the ‘Heroic’ synergy in your Boros deck, or run too few lower curve creatures in your Golgari deck because you packed it full of fatties and removal.
Below are some guidelines to help you form a decent curve and composition with your cards, but keep a couple things in mind. First, Sealed pools are often dictated by your bombs. I would first sort by color and then pull out the cards from each color you would be excited to play. This helps you see where all of your powerful stuff is. Second, 3-color is perfectly fine in Sealed, even if you don’t have color fixing. The reason is the format is much slower than in Draft, so even if you are color screwed here and there it often won’t be game ending. Finally, because the format is slower, some pools will do better if you play more higher curve stuff and run 18 Lands. On the other hand, if your pool hands you really good Aggro tools those decks can be extremely strong as they can catch those higher curve decks by surprise.
Generic Composition – 17 Creatures, 6 Non-Creatures, and 17 Lands
Curve – 1-drops (0-2), 2-drops (5-8), 3-drops (5-7), 4-drops (2-6), 5+ mana (0-4), Cards that are cast off-curve (2-6)
Okay, so a couple things related to this outline. First, if you average them all you get about 23 spells, so that makes sense. Next, this illustrates the concept of mana curve. If you follow this outline the mana costs form a sort of curve, where most of your cards cost 2-3 mana and it tapers down from there. Most importantly, mana curve should be figured out based on cards you are actually going to play on that turn. So, combat tricks and counter-spells would usually be placed in the last category.
Aggro – These decks want to end the game quickly, and are happiest with a low mana curve and fewer lands than usual. This means you want to have plenty of 2 and 3 drops to maximize your chances of ‘curving out,’ which is more important to aggro decks than any other strategy. A sample deck might look something like this: 17 creatures, 7 noncreatures, 16 lands
1-drops (1), 2-drops (8), 3-drops (7), 4-drops (2), 5+ (0), Off-curve spells (6)
Your off-curve spells should primarily be removal and combat tricks in this archetype. These kind of spells allow you to keep attacking even after your opponent has played creatures that are stronger than your two and three drop creatures. Aggro decks want to empty their hand quickly and end the game before their opponent can empty theirs. This is a subtle form of card advantage that aggro decks can generate. Another common tool of aggro decks is evasion. Flying or unblockable creatures for example can allow aggro decks to continue attacking even in the later stages of the game. Another win condition for aggro decks is spells that can deal damage directly to their opponent. Often, an aggro decks will need to combine these tools in order to deal early damage with creatures and be able to finish off their opponent with evasion or direct damage. Tools that provide reach, a way for aggro decks to win even after their opponent has initially stabilized are often highly coveted in Limited formats.
Control – The alter-ego of aggro, control decks want to prolong the game in order to capitalize on value-generating and/or powerful but expensive spells. Where aggro decks are strongest early and then taper off, control decks gain strength over time. Control decks will usually play fewer creatures and favor a higher mana-curve. A sample control deck might look like this: 13 creatures, 10 noncreatures, 17 lands
1-drops (0), 2-drops (5), 3-drops (6), 4-drops (4), 5+ (3), Off-curve Spells (5)
Your off-curve spells should primarily be removal and counter-spells, as combat tricks are less relevant in an archetype that has fewer creatures. Notice there are still a decent number of creatures and enough two and three drops to consistently have early plays. This allows control to keep pace with aggro decks and eventually stabilize by playing powerful spells later in the game. Control decks usually win the game with powerful creatures, but can sometimes win the game by milling, or causing their opponent to run out of cards in their deck before them. These types of control decks can get away with running even fewer creatures. However, a mistake players new to control will often make is not running enough win conditions. It might seem reasonable to play many spells to disrupt your opponent/draw cards and rely on a couple bomb creatures to take down your opponent. But if your opponent has removal for those creatures you may find yourself in a situation where you cannot win. Regardless of deck type it is always important to consider how/when your deck wants to win the game and gear it to that end.
Midrange – This describes any deck that is a blend of aggro and control. Typically these decks have a medium mana-curve. Midrange wants to play creatures and spells that slightly outclass aggro decks, while still presenting sufficient threats to outpace control decks. Of all the strategies, more limited decks fall into this this one as it is difficult to find enough tools in most card sets to create a dedicated aggro or control deck. Creating an example midrange deck is sort of meaningless because there is so much variance.
I hope you have found this article to be a good primer for your upcoming prerelease events. May your Sealed pools be fruitful and your number of lands drawn be appropriate! If you want to see me play some Theros Beyond Death Sealed this weekend (or Draft after that), I would encourage you to check out my Twitch Stream . I took some time off from streaming but am excited to get back into it with this new set. If you are looking for additional articles/information on Theros Beyond Death, Drifter and I reviewed every card in the set for Limited:
Finally, we ended up compiling the ratings into a Tier List that will be updated as the meta shifts. The set review will not be updated however, so feel free to revisit it in a few weeks and make fun of us for being off base on certain cards!