Theros Beyond Death Limited Set Reviews
Hello and welcome! Compulsion and I (Drifter) are very excited to bring you our very first MTG Arena Zone set review, with thanks to Terence for formatting and hosting! As with other set reviews you may have seen in the past, we’ll be going through and rating every single card using the system below, in colour order. All these will be released daily on the site between the 10th and 15th, right before the Arena release and the paper prereleases. After the reviews have been released, we’ll be compiling a full tier list for your viewing pleasure, which will be updated over the coming months.
Please read on for our introductions, some information on our review criteria, some points of clarification, and the system we’re using. After that, we’ll get into the review itself. Enjoy!
Who are we?
I’ve played Magic since New Phyrexia 9ish years ago, and loved Limited since the beginning. By this point, I’ve drafted a huge variety of sets on every platform: Arena, paper and MTGO. I have a real fondness for flashback and cube drafts, and many sets have come and gone as I’ve been drafting. I am an infinite Drafter in Arena Bo3, having profited 20k or so gems from it, and have made high mythic in Draft Bo1 several times. My profile picture is the promo art for Mulldrifter, my namesake!
I’ve played Magic off and on for the last 20 years. I just checked to confirm that and it blew my mind a little bit. I started with 6th edition and began playing ‘competitively’ with Odyssey. My handle is actually a really good Limited card from the Odyssey block. Anyway, Magic Arena really got me back into the game, and I have been drafting infinitely since closed beta. I have finished top 1000 Mythic every ranked season except last month due to the holidays.
Why have a mission statement?
Limited reviews can be very finicky things that measure all sorts of different things; the ratings of cards is so contextual that having a universally applicable way of measuring precisely how good a card is is impossible. Even when you’re just considering whether to pick a card, there are a multitude of variables to account for. To name just a few using Smitten Swordmaster as an example: How early in the draft is it? How likely are you to be in Black? How many 2 drops do you have vs how many 2 drops do you expect to need (more in aggressive decks)? How many knights do you have or expect to end up with? Is there anything specific about the format that makes the Swordmaster pick better or worse – is black especially good or bad, are 2/1s especially bad because ping effects are abundant or because there are lots of 1/3s or 0/4s, are 2 drops especially important because there aren’t many? This is by no means a comprehensive list…
The reality is that in a draft, most of us won’t be considering all these things, but a good review has to. A good review must account for all the factors that lead to making a draft pick, but do so in an objective sense rather than comparing to other cards, and that’s very difficult because as you can see above, there’s really a lot to it… so you can approach a review in many different ways: a lot of them are pick orders or aim to assess the quality of p1p1s for this reason. That’s why we really need to state what we intend to do and what angle we’re approaching from specifically.
The mission statement of this set review (and later tier list):
Compulsion and I are rating how good the cards are likely to be in the composition of the final deck; we’re taking educated and researched guesses at what average well-drafted decks in the format will look like, and how well the cards will fit into them. For example, if a card requires auras to be useful, we’re considering how many auras you’re likely to get, how good the payoff is for getting there, how bad the failcase is if you don’t quite get there, and other considerations like how well the card fits on the ideal curve and how necessary it is for reaching that ideal curve. Whenever there are outliers (like if a card is really good in aggro and not in other decks), we’ll state them and factor them into our ratings.
Some points of clarification:
- This is primarily a Draft review and should be taken as such. We’ll try to highlight outliers when a card is much better in Sealed than Draft, but overall there are a few things one should remember about the Sealed format. Sealed is slower, you’re less likely to face aggressive decks, slower cards and cards that generate value are better, splashes and mana sinks are better, and playing 18 land is more often right than in Draft. That doesn’t nearly cover all of the differences but if you keep those factors in mind, you’ll go a long way.
- All reviews and tier lists are more accurate early on in the Draft, when picks are less contextual; this one is no exception.
- This is a first impression, the set is not out yet so Compulsion and I have not had the pleasure of playing with it. We’re going to get some things wrong; there’ll be some uncertainty of how things shake up. The tier list will be updated, this review won’t, feel free to make fun of us later on!
- As this is a first impression, it’ll be equally useful for Magic Arena and paper. We won’t be accounting for what the bots do at all in this review. Our tier list, however, will be slanted towards Magic Arena and the updates may take into account the tendencies of bots.
- This review, like every other review, is not the end all be all. We don’t recommend following it blindly, draft is far too contextual for this to be more than a good overview and helpful guideline. Compulsion and I will disagree sometimes, but you have our individual ratings and thoughts to inform your decision.
- One of the cool things about Theros is that it’s the enchantment set, and has a large number of enchantments and payoffs for having enchantments. Enchantments are good enablers for your enchantment payoffs so it’s upside if something is an Enchantment Creature rather than a regular creature (even if you’ll sometimes get Revoke Existenced). It’s obvious and we don’t want to keep saying it for every card, so just keep it in mind!
- LSV’s Rating System is an often-used one, so we will include roughly how our letter grades translate to his number grades. That’s just a rough outline – our mission statement and the things we’ve considered are different from LSV and we’ve cut away and combined some of the less useful tiers from LSV’s system.
Legend (we strongly suggest you read this!)
- S: Ridiculous bomb; has a huge effect on the game immediately, and threatens to dominate it if unanswered.
LSV equivalent: 5.0 and 4.5. (Oko, Thief of Crowns, Garruk, Cursed Huntsman, Lochmere Serpent)
- A: Very powerful card, approaches bomb status, pulls you strongly into its colour.
LSV equivalent: 4.0. (Giant Killer, Epic Downfall, Stolen by the Fae)
- B: Great playable, happy to first pick, pulls you into its colour.
LSV equivalent: 3.5. (Bake Into Pie, Fierce Witchstalker, Mysterious Pathlighter)
- C+: Good playable that almost never gets cut.
LSV equivalent: 3.0. (Scorching Dragonfire, Tome Raider, Wintermoor Commander)
- C: Fine playable or decent filler, sometimes gets cut.
LSV equivalent: 2.5 and 2.0. (Outflank, Maraleaf Rider, Foreboding Fruit)
- D: Medium to bad filler, gets cut a lot.
LSV equivalent: 1.5 and 1.0. (Tall as a Beanstalk, All That Glitters, Claim the Firstborn)
- F: Mostly to totally unplayable cards.
LSV equivalent: 0.5 and 0.0. (Happily Ever After, Fires of Invention, The Magic Mirror)
Alseid of Life’s Bounty
A 1/1 Lifelink that turns into a God’s Willing at some point in the game is a solid rate. A common play will be to block then sacrifice this to save one of your other more expensive creatures in combat. Being an enchantment creature and triggering your Constellations and other synergy very cheaply is nice upside.
Even though a 1/1 lifelink isn’t too desirable, protection is a nice effect to threaten despite being out in the open. Plus, it looks like White is often going to be in the market for cheap enchantments.
Archon of Falling Stars
A 4/4 flier for 6 is a fine rate to begin with in Draft, and the upside on this is really powerful. If the format is slow, this could easily be an A.
This thing is an A in sealed, but I fear it will be a bit slow for draft. If you end up with some good enchantment creatures don’t think twice about topping your curve with it.
Archon of Sun’s Grace
Great body? Check. Strong abilities? Check. Busted rare? Check check check! If they don’t have removal, this is going to run away with the game very quickly.
This is a great rare that will really take over the game unless it meets removal or a bigger flyer.
Banishing Light is a solid answer to almost anything but beware of fast speed Enchantment removal as that can lead to some real blowouts, and will be maindeckable in this format anyway.
This is a spell I will always want in my deck but I am not expecting it to be hard removal in a format where a lot of players are going to be main decking enchantment hate.
The Birth of Meletis
Birth of Meletis is a fantastic way to get extra value from a slot that would normally just be occupied by a Plains. Worse in aggressive decks, but solid in anything else (and even aggro decks will want to board it in sometimes for games 2/3).
You end up with an odd assortment of stuff, but this isn’t a bad deal for two mana assuming you have a plan for it.
Captivating Unicorn’s ability is a powerful one in a set full of Enchantments, especially since there’s another cycle of those with Flash so it’s also sometimes useful on defence. Setting up free attacks is useful in any deck so the Unicorn is a pretty high C, and I could see moving it up. If I already had a few Flash enchantments, I would take this at C+ easily.
This is an expensive unicorn, but one that will fit in snugly with some decks. Tap-down effects are often the difference between a stalled board and opening up a way to win the game, so it is not to be underestimated.
This is a really powerful Knightly Valor-esque rate for 4 mana. The card you put this on will absolutely demand removal, and quickly run away with the game unless immediately answered – try not to put it on something too high value already. Don’t be afraid to board it out in Bo3 if they do have a lot of removal.
I tend to avoid auras due to the 2-for-1 potential, but Dub v2.0 will see some play in this format. The 1/1 soldiers look to be useful with all of the global buffs and tricks/auras in the format.
The ability doesn’t really add a whole lot – it’s pretty hard to get any value from it as you need a) a creature with converted mana cost 2 or less in your graveyard and b) another creature of yours with an aura on it to die. Even if you do get value, it’s not a whole lot of gain. This is mostly just a very understatted creature that you’ll play if you need more Enchantments for your payoffs.
This guy sure has a lot of stipulations. Mostly he will be a vanilla 2/3 enchantment creature but there is some combo potential with cards like Mire's Grasp.
Daxos, Blessed by the Sun
Daxos is a great card – he represents a lot of lifegain over the course of the game and will still have a very relevant statline in the late game, potentially as big as 2/5 or 2/6. He’s hard to cast, so you do want to be base White – he’s a lot worse if you can only play him later in the game. Aim to have about 9 white sources minimum.
I like this card quite a bit. The mana cost is a little restrictive (but devotion enabling), and being able to pressure early and/or act as a sizable defender late provides great flexibility.
Daybreak Chimera is very easy to get down to a reasonable cost, and will often cost 2 or 3 by turn 5 which is an excellent rate that’s great for double spelling. The base rate of 4 mana 3/3 flier is nothing to sneeze at if white is your second colour anyway. I consider it a pretty low B, but it’s powerful enough to merit that.
I am going out on a limb and say this is the best White common. Yes it is going to make your deck lean very White (if not mono colored), but even for 4 mana a 3/3 flyer is great.
As Pacifism with a very relevant mana sink clause that makes Enchantment removal less effective and makes this hard removal in the late game or if you’re desperate, this is the kind of card I want in all of my decks.
Dreadful Apathy is a little worse than Banishing Light, but still quite good. I like that it can become hard removal but in most situations you aren’t going to have the mana open to respond to enchantment removal (if your opponent has it). Also keep in mind that this does not shut down abilities, which could result in taking most of two turns to permanently remove a key creature.
Eidolon of Obstruction
Youthful Knight is a pretty solid card for attacking or blocking; the Eidolon is very good at outclassing other 2 drops and has a really solid body. The planeswalker text is irrelevant, ignore it completely.
I see some Standard potential here (finally a creative answer to Teferi, the Time Raveler), but only aggro decks are going to be excited about this card in Limited.
Elspeth Conquers Death
This saga combines strong removal with getting back your best creature two turns later if they don’t remove the enchantment. It’s very comparable to Eldest Reborn, but has a far better removal mode and a weaker third mode (can’t steal your opponents’ stuff). The second mode is just gravy, but can really disrupt your opponents’ attempts to remove it!
Epic Downfall is already close to if not an A for me, so throwing in Recursion and another situational bonus mode gets this into the Bomb range.
Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis
Elspeth represents a ton of damage, spawns a lot of blockers, stops them killing you, and is incredibly hard to permanently deal with.
Having all minus abilities on a Mythic Planeswalker is interesting. With the escape addition Elspeth is still likely to provide outstanding value and shouldn’t be passed.
Favored of Iroas
There are enough tricks and auras in the set that Favored of Iroas is going to be a major threat in any aggressive deck.
This ability is low impact and doesn’t add much, but it’s quite free on a 3/4 for 4 body at least. This is fine but unexciting filler, a good roleplayer in decks that want more Enchantments.
A 3/4 for 4 with a meh ability is filler in my book, but it isn’t bad.
Flicker of Fate
Flicker of Fate is really only worth running in your deck if you have a lot of good enter the battlefield abilities. You probably want minimum 6 that are worth a card and for a couple of those to be really good to play this card, and most decks won’t even approach that many. It is upside that you can use it to remove a blocker temporarily, trade with a trick, or stop a removal spell, but those situations don’t really come up enough to be worth a card, and you don’t want to have 2 mana up most of the time.
I really don’t think this is useful enough to justify a card slot. I reckon there is a possible deck that could reliably get value from Flicker of Fate, but that is not something I am interested in drafting at this point.
Heliod gets better if you have enough sources of lifegain, but his base rate is still incredible. You’ll want to be using his ability a ton. Even if you can’t reach five devotion that easily, it’s still worth running him, but he is much better if you can.
Similar to Adamant in ELD, this God cycle and the Devotion mechanic in general gets me excited about mono or nearly mono colored decks in limited. A variety of viable archetypes is healthy for any format. Oh, and this card is a bomb and well worth building around if you see it early.
Heliod’s Pilgrim is a great card if you just have two or three auras that are worth a card in your deck – it’s easy card advantage and gives you a free body at that point that’s great with flicker and recursion effects. It’s a bit worse with something like Indomitable Will, since a lot of that card’s value is in them being surprised by it, but if you have two or three other auras with that then that’s just upside.
Tutors can be great when they leave you with a free creature. A 1/2 is no Cloudkin Seer, but Auras and abundant creatures look to be important for White.
In a format where enchantment removal is maindeckable, it turns out being able to hit two or three at once is really good! This card does so at an incredibly efficient rate – it only costs 1 more mana to add an extra Enchantment.
I think this card is much better than it probably looks. Instant speed enchantment removal is going to result in some blowouts due to all of the enchantment creatures and auras. Against certain decks early or most decks later, this is likely to hit a minimum of two permanents. I don’t think the life gain will be used often but it is nice to have a secondary mode just in case.
Heliod’s Punishment only really belongs in very aggressive decks, which I don’t think are well supported in White in this format. Four turns is not actually that many; eventually you’re going to be a card and mana down so you really need to capitalise on that time and the gain is you only really save 1 mana on the many better Enchantment removal options in the set. I think this is a fairly high D though, since it will be good in the few decks that want it.
Four turns is a lot of time, but it isn’t forever. This is a great spell in Aggro but slower decks will need to be more thoughtful about if and when to use this or it could be them that ends up getting punished.
Hero of the Pride
Hero of the Pride is a medium rate as a 2 mana 2/2, but you want to be activating his abilities with tricks and auras for him to be reaching his full potential. Even then, his full potential isn’t really that exciting – but if you’re aggressive/can go wide with tokens, it’s pretty solid upside. I consider him a pretty low C.
This one is going to depend a lot on how the format shapes up. Hero of the Pride would be a nice addition to the popular RW Aggro archetype in Eldraine, for example. Part of what makes that deck so good is the Adventure mechanic which allows you to play creatures like Rimrock Knight, Fairy Guidemother, and Silverflame Squire that double as combat tricks. In Theros it is going to take more effort to run a card like this effectively.
Hero of the Winds
Hero of the Winds is better than it looks – 1/4 flier for 4 is actually not that bad a rate, it will block a lot of the things you want to block, holds auras and equipment well and that ability is decent upside if you have auras and tricks. That being said, it’s still a pretty low C.
More expensive than Hero of the Pride but also more survivable and has evasion. It isn’t a great card but I suspect there will be a solid archetype that likes it.
You really need a bomb Enchantment and then several other good targets in order to put this card in your deck. Don’t take it highly unless you already have the bomb requirement sorted; there are a lot more bomb Enchantments in Theros than the average set at least.
Tutors are almost always unplayable in limited. This one could be played in some really rare scenarios where you open multiple great targets before seeing it, otherwise I would give it an F.
Indomitable Will combines well with the “heroic” cards that seem to be abundant in White in this set. It is a nice instant speed way to trigger your buffs and hopefully eat a creature, and is especially good with Favored of Iroas. That being said, it’s still a pretty minimal effect, but one that many white decks will be happy to have.
The effect seems pretty meh, but don’t underestimate the flash on this card. Winning combat pays it off and mitigates the 2-for-1 downside of auras. This will be one of the key tricks to be aware of while playing this set.
This is a solid trick to begin with, but great with the “heroic” cards that want you to cast spells on them, and even better with just random Enchantment or enchanted creatures you have lying around (of which there are a lot in the set) – you can counter removal and save your creature from anything if it is one of those. It is super high value to potentially save a creature with an aura on it from a removal spell. I suspect almost every white deck will want these, and should take them highly, and I could even see moving this up to a low B.
Lagonna Clan Narrator combines a solid statline with flood prevention and making races very hard for your opponents. If you have a lot of good value enchantment targets, this could easily be a B.
At a 3/4 this is never a dead card, and the upside is very high. I can’t imagine a white deck that wouldn’t want this card.
Leonin of the Lost Pride
Oreskos Swiftclaw with nice late game upside is a solid 2 drop. Hosing Escape is very important in this set, and this card does it for free on top of its fine body.
I am skeptical of how well a 3/1 is going to do in this format, but not enough to give this a D. Hitting an escape card probably won’t happen frequently but even threatening it is a decent upside.
The Courser has a strong defensive statline, generates two devotion and triggers those ever-present Enchantment payoffs.
This is a fine creature that really shines in a deck that wants white devotion and enchantments.
Omen of the Sun
Omen of the Sun has a fine base rate: it gains you a little life, gives you a Raise the Alarm, triggers Constellation at instant speed, and prevents flood in the late game. The card is especially good in Azorius where you can use it to trigger your “cast your first spell on your opponent’s turn” synergies, and great if you have some go wide buffs.
This is a strange card but packs enough value that it is probably going to be one of the best White commons. There are ways to benefit from the 1/1 creatures and life gain in White and the flash/sacrifice sets it up well to combo with Blue or Red.
Phalanx Tactics is better than it looks – it can lead to some real blowouts in stalled board states where it lets your creatures trade up/eat creatures of the same size, it triggers the “heroic” creatures which are common in white and it doesn’t fall off as hard in the late game as other tricks as it can still represent a lot of damage.
It falls a little short of C+ because the base rate isn’t that great. +2/+1 is oftentimes not enough to allow your creature to eat other creatures and the card won’t do much on a good deal of boards.
I really like this card, and it is yet another White combat trick to be very aware of while playing this format.
Pious Wayfarer would be absolute garbage in other formats, but is helped a little because there are really a lot of Enchantments in this set. You need to be aggressive and you want minimum 10 or so before this card is playable, but at that point it’s reasonable since the ability to buff other creatures means it doesn’t fall off in the late game that much, and gives you a lot of options. Still, card’s not great and you shouldn’t take it highly at all.
This isn’t unplayable but it is too situational to be more than poor filler.
This card is reasonable if you are base white and have some cards that cost WW – if you can make four or five tokens with it, you’re getting a decent deal and it’s very good with the “heroic” creatures that buff everything when targeted, and with Phalanx Tactics. Still, the failcase is really bad if you get three or fewer tokens, and that will happen sometimes, especially if your devotion generators are being removed. I think white will be playing a more supporting role this format, which hurts this card.
Reverent Hoplite is a ‘win more’ card and I am not a fan. You need to have a pretty big board to justify the cost, and I would rather spend five mana on something that is always going to provide value.
I’m inclined to start Revoke Existence high, because the format really does have a ton of Enchantments. You don’t want too many of them, and even the second one drops off a bit, so don’t take them too highly early but most decks will be happy with one and often two. This is also an excellent Sideboard card even in multiples and in Bo3, you’ll take it over most other cards in the latter half of the packs on that basis.
I think it is safe to play 1-2 of these in your main deck. Nearly all of the best cards in this set are enchantments and decent targets shouldn’t be hard to find regardless of the colors your opponent is playing. This is going to be a sleeper for a lot of players used to always passing this type of card.
This card is exceptionally good in fliers decks, as with any other good defensive body, but the base rate is fine for any non-aggressive deck. Scry is very useful in the late game and helps a lot. This is just a reasonable filler card, all in all, don’t be afraid to cut it if you have a bunch of better 5s.
This just reads as filler for me. It doesn’t really further any archetype and the stats and ability are only okay.
I actually think this card is surprisingly strong, purely because its Escape cost is so cheap. Two cards don’t hurt that much and this is a significant buff to any creature when it can come back and be used over and over again. This card really displays how much Escape can add to a card, as it would be terrible without it. It is worth noting though that the more Escape cards you have, the weaker they become individually as they use the same resource, so you might not want this if you have loads of other Escapes.
I like this card. It is basically a Short Sword with vigilance and adds yet another (reusable) enchantment trigger to your deck.
Shatter the Sky
Wraths are usually great in Limited because your opponents usually don’t know to play around them, and this is no exception. This one allows you to extend a bit more onto the board than you normally would – the dream is to have a 4/4 in play holding back their small creatures, take only a little damage and then blow everything up when they try to add more pressure. Being 4 mana is great, since a common play will be to hold this till you reach 6 or 7 mana and immediately play something after you Wrath.
Drifter did a nice job explaining how to maximize what you get out of this card, and I agree that it is a bomb. I don’t love that in some situations your opponent gets a free card from it, but a wrath effect is a wrath effect.
Sunmane Pegasus doesn’t have great stats but its ability is cheap and useful. It wears auras well and stays relevant at any point in the game, which is nice.
This is filler but some decks are going to care about lifelink and it is a nice mana sink regardless.
Taranika, Akroan Veteran
Taranika represents a gigantic threat with any other creature you have lying around, and god forbid any of them have on attack abilities. She’s a bit hard to attack with sometimes since she only has a decent body, but every trick is a complete blowout with her and she demands removal.
The 3/3 body is definitely a limiting factor, but the White archetypes look to be packed with combat tricks. It is important to play 6+ 2-drop creatures if you draft her though. When this lands on curve and has an immediate target your opponent is likely to have a bad time.
This card is playable if you really have a lot of auras (since it does also carry them decently) or if you really need more Enchantments for your synergies, but the base case is bad and ineffectual.
You aren’t always going to want this, but it is going to be pretty good in the right deck.
Smite the Monstrous is usually a fairly decent card in Limited, but nothing special. This has a couple more things going for it though – this is a form of removal that isn’t weak to Enchantment hate, which will be in high demand, and gaining 3 life is very relevant and will help you in stabilising a lot. Also being an expensive instant pairs well with blue’s identity in the format; I expect this card to be great in Azorius especially.
This card is going to be dead at times which scares me, but the upside of getting a 2-for-1 on a big enchanted creature sure is enticing. I believe this card will be significantly better in Sealed.
White has a lot of good synergy and value-based cards, but the creatures seem a bit weak by themselves. I don’t think the White creatures are all that well set up to be aggressive unless you are going wide and I don’t think the go wide tools are going to really be enough. I suspect White will mainly be a strong supporting colour this format and will do so with all manner of good auras, tricks, removal and Daybreak Chimera.
White benefits the most of any color from Enchantments and looks to pair particularly well with Blue. They share the Constellation mechanic and White contributes some key flash spells that help enable the Blue ‘play spells on your opponents turn’ mechanic. There also seem to be tools for a RW Aggro deck that revolves around targeting specific creatures with combat tricks, buffing your entire team in the process. The individual power level of White cards looks to be generally low, but they have loads of potential synergy.