Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday Magic - Let's Talk About Theros

Holy crap, I'm excited about Theros.

I was able to attend my local Friday Night Magic last week after missing both the Theros prerelease and release events, so it was my first opportunity to play with Magic's new Greek-themed set.  And I have to say - Theros made one hell of a first impression.

The Set
Sure, a lot of my excitement comes from the fact that I ended up winning the FNM draft (my first such win), but the set brings pretty sweet mechanics and feels incredibly well-balanced.  Although the Theros metagame certainly hasn't stablized, no single deck archetype appeared dominant.  Aggressive decks were a bit stronger than slower controlling decks, but I think that's just because the set is new and people don't quite know what they're doing.  In the coming weeks, I expect several dramatically different styles to emerge victorious as players get more comfortable with the set's powerful keywords.

In addition to being a surprisingly flavorful set (see Underworld Cerberus and Rescue from the Underworld) with some fabulous art, Theros is incredibly fun to play.  Each color has powerful common or uncommon removal capabilities (directly, like black's Sip of Hemlock, by fighting, like the green Time to Feed, or through combat tricks, like the uncharacteristically blue Triton Tactics), and there are a few big nasty creatures in each color, too.  As a result, it seems possible to build strong control decks and strong aggro decks in virtually any color combination; I think the metagame for Theros will be pretty exciting.

The real high points, however, are the awesome set mechanics.  Each is strong, and they all affect gameplay in significantly different ways, giving the Theros a very robust feel.

Scry is a returning mechanic that allows the player to look at the top N cards of his or her library.  After considering the options, the player is then able to put any number of those cards back on top of his or her library and the rest on the bottom.  Scry is a powerful tool for controlling the flow of the game, as it allows you to filter lands when you're looking for answers or a game-winning blow, or you can use it to guarantee land draws if you need to hit your next land drop.  It serves as pseudo card advantage, and it's a great weapon in any sort of deck.

The Mechanics
My favorite of Theros' mechanics is probably Bestow, which gives a number of creatures an interesting alternate ability.  Similar to Gatecrash's Bloodrush, Bestow lets you cast a creature as an Aura enchanting another creature.  It then grants that creature's abilities to the enchanted one, buffing the existing creature.  The biggest threat, however, is the fact that a creature cast using its Bestow cost will revert to a normal creature if its target disappears - destroying the enchanted creature leaves the Bestowed creature on the battlefield.

Following with the Greek theme of heroes, monsters, and gods, Monstrosity lets your big baddies get even bigger.  Paying the Monstrosity cost on a creature (which can be done at instant speed) will add some number of +1/+1 counters to that creature, providing some fearsome combat tricks or just a way to dump unused mana in the late game.  When many of these creatures become Monstrous, they also trigger further effects, like destroying a creature or preventing creatures from blocking for a turn.  Monstrosity turns some of your beefiest creatures into long-term investment plans, paying dividends well into the game.

To combat the set's monsters, the Heroic mechanic allows smaller creatures to engage in David and Goliath style combat.  Heroic triggers any time you cast a spell that targets one of these fearless creatures you control, and the ability provides some additional benefit, like +1/+1 counters or drawing a card.  These effects occur after any type of spell you cast, including a Bestowed creature, allowing you to draw ridiculous value from auras and battle tricks.

Finally, the gods of Theros are empowered by your Devotion to their color.  As a measure of your fidelity to a color, your Devotion is simply the number of times a mana symbol of that color appears in permanents you control.  Devotion has a number of powerful uses, from turning your otherwise passive but omnipresent gods  (like Nylea) into imposing creatures to gaining life (like Nylea's Disciple) or draining your opponent's life (as the Gray Merchant does).

Those five elements give Theros incredible depth and make it a fantastic set to play.

The Draft Deck
To give an idea of how Theros plays out, here's the deck that I ended up using at FNM:

1 Akroan Crusader
1 Blood-Toll Harpy
1 Cavern Lampad
1 Ember Swallower
1 Flamespeaker Adept
1 Fleshmad Steed
1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Minotaur Skullcleaver
2 Returned Centaur
1 Tymaret, the Murder King

1 Hero's Downfall
2 Pharika's Cure
2 Spark Jolt
1 Titan's Strength

2 Portent of Betrayal
1 Rage of Purphoros
1 Read the Bones

1 Ordeal of Purphoros
1 Scourgemark

7 Mountain
10 Swamp

It was a moderately aggressive deck, with many cheap creatures doing most of the work, but the bigger things like Ember Swallower give something to look forward to in the late game.  I used a little bit of everything in this deck, mostly allowing the various Scry spells to help me find the particular pieces I needed at any point in a game.  Read the Bones is unbelievably powerful, particularly while Flamespeaker Adept is on the board to take full advantage of the Scry.  Cavern Lampad did a lot of work, both while an aura and while a dude, and the Gray Merchant got me out of a couple tight spots.

All-in-all, I was able to dabble with all of the set's mechanics a bit and, with the exception of Monstrosity, I put them to good use.  I found that Scry is just an awesomely powerful mechanic, especially when attached to some basic removal spells.  I expect to see much more coherent decks as people get used to the set, though.  I'm looking forward to building decks that feature each of the other mechanics a bit more prominently in the coming weeks; it should be a great time.

The End
It seems like this set is all about getting tons of value out of your cards, and it's incredibly fun to play.  I highly recommend that everybody with the slightest interest in Magic give it a shot.

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