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Theros in Standard


Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Theros in Standard

Hey everyone!

Theros is upon us – on Monday this week, all the Theros cards were revealed and even though we’ll have to wait a couple more days to get our hands on the physical copies of the new Standard cards (unless you count your old Thoughtseizes and Magma Jets), there’s nothing that prevents us from delving deep into the new format and starting to build brand new decks. Today’s article is going to be exactly about that – exploring the potential of some of the new cards and trying to predict how these new role players will fare in the near future.

Whip of Erebos
Theros (Foil)

As I've already mentioned, today, I’d like to start with some brand new things that are likely to spawn completely new strategies in Standard. It’s always more difficult to make predictions about these decks than about the additions to the already established ones, since you don’t have much information to base them on, but at the same time, it’s a lot more fun. The first step is always going through the new cards and looking for synergies and „build-around-me“ cards. And Theros is unusually rich with these. The first one that I’d like to have a look at today is Whip of Erebos – a powerful card in vacuum that just needs a good home. Fortunately, there are other cards supporting a very similar approach and it looks like the „New Reanimator“ deck just might be there. The strategy is definitely going to be a lot different from the „Junk Rites“ deck from the old Standard, but that there is a lot of potential is unmistakable. The key here is to find the right tools how to get cards into the graveyard, the right fatties to reanimate and also to make the first ability relevant. After a lot of tweaking, this is a list that I’ve come up with and that I’m quite happy with so far:

Theros Reanimator

Let’s break this deck down into the basic components and see what it actually does. There’s one „core“ engine and then a lot of synergies that make the deck not fall apart when you don’t draw what you’re supposed to draw. Plan A is quite clear here: sift through your deck with Grisly Salvages and Commune with the Gods, fill your graveyard and then use it for various (mostly reanimation related) shenanigans. Commune with the Gods is a new variation on Grisly Salvage and while in some aspects, it’s clearly worse than its predecessor (having a sorcery speed and not being able to dig for lands), it’s straight-up better in others. What it lets you do is search for enchantments and that means two things: you can fetch a Whip of Erebos once your graveyard becomes reasonably full and you can also dig for the singleton Deadbridge Chant in the lategame. Having four spells that can get you so much closer to your key cards while not having to play excessive legendary artifacts or six-mana enchantments is a very welcome feature. Also, it digs five cards deep into your library, which should provide for a healthy amount of dead creatures in a deck which desperately needs them.

Alright, so we have our „self-mill“ + Whip of Erebos engine. What do we do next? Well, apart from the Whip, we also have Rescue from the Underworld as another „reanimation“ spell. While it’s not quite a Victimize, since you can’t sacrifice a random dork to bring two monsters back, it still has a lot going for it. First, it’s an instant, which partially gets around the „as an additional cost, sacrifice a creature“ clause, since you’re not that likely to walk right into a counterspell and lose both your creature and your spell. But as both creatures return at the beginning of your next upkeep, this also means that you can save your guy from a Supreme Verdict. Also, this whole charade with sacrificing a creature and then bringing it back triggers various comes-into-play effects, so you can easily send a Sin Collector on the Journey, or – in the very lategame – also a Shadowborn Demon, Abhorrent Overlord or even Ashen Rider, if you live the dream. What looks like a downside at the first glance can easily turn into an advantage.

We have the reanimation package, so now let’s have a look at the creature suite. Deathrite Shamans act here mostly as mana acceleration / fixing, since you have eight two-mana spells that are likely to dump some lands into your graveyard. Sylvan Caryatids serve the same purpose – you need to cast all these 5-drops somehow, after all. Sin Collectors are there to help force your key spells through the opponent’s countermagic. The deck needs a lot of creatures and the non-creature slots are almost full by default, so there’s unfortunately no room for Thoughtseizes. This might be a mistake, but right now, I feel that you simply need as high a creature-count as possible, mostly for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.

There are only two 4-ofs in the creature base: Lotleth Troll and Nighthowler, and both are crucial here. Lotleth Troll has so many great applications: it discards the fat monsters if you manage to draw them and need them in the yard to reanimate them. It makes very good use of the lifelink provided by Whip of Erebos, since it can attack into bigger defenders in any board situation. And perhaps most importantly, having trample, it’s a great target for Nighthowler’s Bestow ability. Nighthowler is – I think – the centerpiece of the deck and the biggest reason why you need to play a lot of creatures. With eight spells that dig five-cards deep in your deck, it’s easy to have access to Tarmogoyf-sized Nightstalkers very early on (and then provide them with lifelink, courtesy of the Whip, for good measure). Deadbridge Chant just makes all Nightstalkers absurdly big. What I like about this new black dork is just how quickly it grows (it also counts the opponent’s creatures) and also how difficult it is for the opponent to get rid of – with Bestow, it basically needs to be killed twice. Even a lowly Deathrite Shaman can easily grow out of hand when bestowed and the only way for the opponent to 2 for 1 you is to play Pacifism or Claustrophobia, neither of which sees any Standard play right now.

The rest of the creature base consists mostly of big finishers. Jarad is Nighthowler number 5 and also actually works very well with the Bestow creature, since you can first sacrifice the enchanted guy and then the newly born Nighthowler, presumably delivering two massive hits in the process. Shadowborn Demons are the only removal spells in the whole deck and there might be a need to play more, especially if Scavenging Ooze is big in post-rotation Standard, since the Ooze simply destroys the deck. Still, you have two Demons and eight ways how to dig for them in this particular build, which should usually be fine.

Abhorrent Overlord is the finisher of choice here and can easily take over the game, even if your opponent has some graveyard hate. There are twenty-five black permanents in this deck, most of them are cheap and many have double-black in their cost. In addition, you have eight spells to dig for more black permanents. An average Overlord should provide you with somewhere between five and seven Harpies, which should be more than enough to take over the game. Also, you get the Harpies even if you reanimate the Overlord with Whip of Erebos. Or you can reanimate Obzedat, then blink him away at the end of turn and return him back to play on your next turn. Yes, that’s how Obzedat works – it and Aetherling are very likely the only creatures that can cheat the Whip’s exiling condition.

Is this deck going to be a real thing in post-Theros Standard? I honestly don’t know – it looks really „cute“ and such decks tend to lose to the aggressive tempo based decks. But I think that it has a lot of power, possibly enough to be a contender in Standard. I’m sure to be working on this concept in the coming weeks and months.

The next deck that I’d like to talk about is an archetype that is centered around the card Master of Waves. I think that this mythic has a ton of potential and it’s only a matter of the right approach to find the best use for it. One such approach is to try to maximize the Devotion part of the card, to fill your deck with cheap blue creatures, possibly also opting for the help of the blue God, Thassa. Another approach – and this is the one that I tried to explore so far, is to focus more on the „Elemental creatures you control get +1/+1“ part. You see, Master of Waves doesn’t only boost the Elementals he creates, he also boosts any Elementals that you might have already had in play beforehand. And what other card is capable of producing a big quantity of Elementals? Why, Young Pyromancer, of course. Here’s my current version of Izzet aggro.

Izzet Elemental Aggro

Converted Mana Cost
Basic Land13
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Average: 4.6 (5 votes)

Master of Waves
Theros (Foil)

This is still a very rough concept, but there are several quite promising synergies in it, synergies that also overlap to a big extent, which is always a good sign. The deck is not heavy on blue permanents, but it does have some good ones, so Master of Waves should usually produce more than a few Elementals. And to be honest, it doesn’t really matter if you get three extra 2/1s or five – if the Master lives, it’s likely going to be such an advantage that you should win the game anyway. I think that what the decks running Master of Waves should do is not to try to squeeze as many Elementals as possible out of the card, only to see it killed and be left with a bunch of garbage. Quite the contrary, I think that it’s vital to find a shell which is good on its own and where the Master is – coincidentally – good as well. I believe that this could be such a shell.

This deck is an aggro deck in essence, having some aggressive two-drops and a lot of burn, but it can also play the longer game. Spellheart Chimeras can be massive in the lategame, especially if you manage to sift through your deck with Thoughtflares and Izzet Charms. Molten Birth is a spell that triggers Young Pyromancers, counts toward the power of the Chimeras, is discounted by Goblin Electromancer and produces Elementals, which get pumped by Master of Waves. Mutavault is also an Elemental, so with a Master in play, it’s going to attack for three. If we wanted to go more all-in on Elementals, we could also play cards like Water Servant (UU is good for Devotion) or Ember Swallower (RR not so much), but as I’ve said, I don’t think that stretching this aspect of the deck is necessary and indeed even desirable. As it is, the deck can function very well even without the Master, but when you draw the Merfolk, it’s likely to do big things.

Well, that’s it from me for today. Let me know in the comments if you have some ideas about how to improve the two concepts that I shared today! Happy brewing and see you next time!

Adam Koska

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Average: 4.3 (4 votes)
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