First Look at Theros Drafting: Simic
Hello everyone it’s good to have you back for another ‘Know Your Limits‘. We finally have Theros up on Magic Online and drafting in earnest can begin. Today, I’m actually going to do a bit of a departure from my normal general strategy articles and home in on a specific archetype in detail.
I should first mention that I’m calling Blue the best colour early on, as I did with M14 and I am going to be really surprised if this is not the case. It has a slew of solid commons, plenty of internal synergy and probably the best answers to most of the format’s themes.
Therefore, I think it makes sense to introduce you to one of the best archetypes that has emerged for me so far which is Green/Blue sky monsters.
The goal is to bog down the ground in the early turns to stop a traditional rush and stop enchanted creatures with tempo plays. Hopefully you’ve found a bit of time to ramp and draw a couple extra cards while this is happening. Once the opponent’s offence has been disrupted you begin to win the game with evasive threats and/or huge monsters.
Your cards fall into three categories Defence, Win Conditions and Support. Any card that can fill one of these roles will be useful to you and the best spells can handle multiple jobs.
These cards are the ones that are most often going to push you into colours. These are the clearest indicators that your colours are open as they are the most open ended and powerful commons. If you are seeing these around 3rd – 5th pick it’s a pretty fair assumption that it’s safe to commit.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and call this card the best common in the set for limited. It offers both power and flexibility, which are rarely seen together and especially not at common. If you Bestow a creature it gains dragon status and absolutely must be dealt with for your opponent to stay in the game.
Further, you can usually get the toughness of your guy above four, which dodges the common removal suite of Lightning Strike, Lash of the Whip and Rage of Purphoros. This means you opponent is going to have to use very clunky options like Sip of Hemlock or Vanquish the Foul to deal with it.
When they do finally kill the bestowed creature you even get your deposit back via a 2/2 flyer, which is always going to be a relevant creature in a limited game. If that wasn’t enough, there is enormous synergy with heroic available and I haven’t even yet mentioned that you can just cast it as a Wind Drake in a pinch. I have splashed this card, that’s how good it is.
In this deck it fits the theme perfectly. We are trying to win with evasive threats already and we will also have a fatty or two spare to make a truly massive threat that usually ends the game in two swings. I would not feel bad about first picking this card as a stellar Win Condition.
Griptide is enormously underrated at the moment. This won’t last for long so pick lots of them up while you still can. In this format the removal is seriously sub-par. Plenty of opponents are going to be voltroning up a threat and your removal is likely to be ineffective or too slow to deal with it. There are going to be a whole bunch of times when there is a two for one or massive tempo hit just waiting to happen on the other side of the board, but your cards are too clumsy to capitalise.
However, Griptide is different. It’s reasonably cheap, instant speed and doesn’t care how big or resilient the target is (and they really do come big in Theros). This is going to be one of the leading support commons for your deck.
It’s not difficult to obtain card advantage. There are a significant number of playable combat tricks, non-bestow auras, all of which you can blow out at instant speed. I’ve once used Griptide on an enchanted creature that was untapped with Savage Surge to block and basically won the game on the spot.
It’s also no sweat to get a big tempo swing, even against Bestow which is normally quite strong against this sort of effect. Imagine your opponent casts Purphoros’s Emissary on their four drop and you Griptide it. In this case they have spent a total of 11 mana against your 4 and all they have to show for it is a Hill Giant. You have not even lost card parity like you would with a bounce spell.
In a normal format this would be solid filler for any blue deck. In Theros it just matches up so well against the threats it’s going to be one of the better cards in your deck. Almost every time I cast Griptide it feels like a blowout. And I feel that’s a good sign. I am not over the moon with this as a first pick as I’d really like a strategy enabler, but you could do a lot worse.
This card never seems to over-perform, but I really am always happy to draw it. It provides adequate defence in the early game if necessary, especially as one of the few good answers to Vaporkin and other aggressive flyers.
Later on it lets you go over the top by suiting up an evasive threat if that is what you need or creating a huge blocker if something like a Wingsteed Rider has got out of hand. It functions excellently as a Win Condition or a Defence card.
Leafcrown Dryad does a lot of work in both aggressive and defensive decks, so it is a very safe early pick. You can be confident that this will fit very nicely in whatever strategy you end up with and G/U is no exception. It’s just very hard to look at a board state and not get good value from this card.
One of the reasons why I like this archetype so much is that you get to play the top two commons from the whole set. Nimbus Naiad and this card currently hold these titles for me. With commons this powerful and hard working, this format is looking more and more like Rise of the Eldrazi every time I experience it.
Nessian Asp has amazing internal synergy in that it is a reliable tool to get to the late game and once you are there it then wins it for you by going monstrous. Efficient, big and reliable, this snake speaks for itself.
I nearly didn’t include Voyaging Satyr on the premium list, but after seeing how strongly it enables several strategies I had to. You may have noticed that all the other commons here cost 4-5 mana and we would love to cast them ahead of time.
Quite simply it is the best ramp card in the format being the only one that costs 2 mana (please don’t mention Sylvan Caryatid, rares are near pointless to discuss or plan for in limited!).
It looks like all of the green based decks except G/W Heroic are looking to accelerate their mana and for good reason with cards like Nessian Asp slithering around.
There is also quite a huge gap down the next best rampers Opaline Unicorn and Karametra’s Acolyte. This means you are really going to have to fight for Voyaging Satyrs if you want to get them. Believe me they are very much worth fighting for, they are the best Support cards you can hope for.
It’s not hard to find big things to do, but this guy is your option for truly efficient ramp.
While not quite as worth talking about as the commons, both due to their more obvious power and reduced frequency of appearance there are still a couple you should watch out for.
The lack of these cards are not an indicator that the colours are not open. You should always focus on the commons when trying to interpret signals as these provide the most reliable information.
Yeah, it turns out these cards are pretty awesome. Interestingly I like Thassa’s Emissary more as a creature and Nylea’s Emissary more as an enchantment, so it would really challenge me if I had to make this pick early.
Later on I would favour the crab if my mana curve was a bit high and the cat if I needed some more big game breakers.
Put simply these cards are both very powerful and have great flexibility. They are strong in every possible archetype, so expect fierce competition for them.
It’s going to be in your best interest to pick cards like these highly and leave the archetype specific cards to pick later as there will be much less of a scrap over those.
Now we get to the workhorses of the deck. I have arranged them into the three categories I mentioned earlier and their relative strengths going from the top to the bottom.
However, the limitation is that I can only really compare cards from the same list at any given moment. It may usually be stronger to pick a Sedge Scorpion over a Sealock Monster, but perhaps you are currently lacking Win Conditions? Now things change.
You are going to have to rely on your own instincts to know exactly the right direction to go, which is really one of the beauties of drafting.
It is important to know that the core of the deck is a good mix of Defence and Win Conditions with the Support cards filling in the gaps or just being quite individually powerful. Try and get a good core sorted as the first priority before rounding out the deck with other cards. If a card has missed this list I will almost never play it in my maindeck.
I’m sceptical of any defence card that costs more than 3 mana, unless it is also providing an additional bonus for you, which is why Breaching Hippocamp is at the bottom of this list. Generally all these cards are fairly efficient and make the game go longer than it should.
Nemesis of Mortals
Agent of Horizons
Ordeal of Thassa
It’s not a big deal if your win conditions cost a lot of mana. Our goal is to stall and ramp, so you will most definitely get to play them unless you are under an enormous amount of pressure. Therefore, I prefer inevitable threats to efficient ones. Rare bombs are nice if you can get them, but a couple of random flyers will get the job done if the rest of your deck is functioning well.
Time to Feed
Sea God’s Revenge
Triton Fortune Hunter
Fade Into Antiquity
Commune with the Gods
These are all basically just the extra tricks that provide utility in a variety of situations. They are mostly individually powerful, but some effects like the ramp tie quite closely into your strategy. As I mentioned before, picking up premium cards and getting your core of Defence + Win Conditions together should be your first priority unless there is a serious power discrepancy. More on why Time to Feed is at the top of the list later.
I am really surprised with how underrated Fate Foretold is at the moment. It can really do some quite excellent things in this deck.
My favourite is probably the ‘build your own Baleful Strix‘ interaction with Sedge Scorpion. It’s a really fast defensive combo that gets online by turn 2 and even draws right away to start gaining velocity through your deck. I mean who wants to attack into this? This is such value from two typically quite late picks (at least as of writing) and definitely something to take advantage of.
The heroic ones are a bit more obvious, but it might be important to note that because of those creature’s natural size and abilities it is generally better to be using a utility aura like Fate Foretold than it is a more aggressive one like Feral Invocation.
If you say attacked with both of these creatures into profitable blocks a smart opponent could just not block and take minimal damage intending to hit you for much more on the back swing. Although if you do have a Warrior’s Lesson in hand this could work out quite nicely! As in Ancestral Recall with upside level of nice!
Don’t underestimate the Horned Turtle part of Wavecrash Triton. The one efficient common removal spell in Lightning Strike can’t get through that fourth toughness and the same is true for all the aggressive creatures without enchantments. The Frost Breath angle is actually one of the best ways to deal with an opposing voltron. Every other way causes Bestow creatures to fall off, but keeping the creature tapped as much as possible is a virtual two or three for one.
It’s also really quite disgusting that you can potentially get three cards total drawn with Triton Fortune Hunter. I think you’ll find some way to win with all of those options!
I think the real trick is with Fate Foretold is aside from any synergies, to make the initial cantrip relevant, plus have a reasonable expectation of cashing in the second card draw. In a deck like this you do want the first card despite not affecting the board, because we absolutely have to hit out first 4-5 land drops. The fact that we want to extend the game means that we are likely at some point to cash in the second card as well.
Cards with Big Shifts in Value
It pains me to say this as it is one of my very favourite cards in the set, but Sea God’s Revenge drops a bit in value in this archetype. The best decks for this card play it at the top of their curve when they have plenty of board presence already, which isn’t necessarily the case for us.
We also already have a lot of things to do at this mana cost, may it be casting fatties or going monstrous, so there is quite a bit of competition.
The power of Sea God’s Revenge is inversely proportional to the number of turns that are left in the game. Every turn that passes after it was cast reduces it’s impact. As one of our goals is to lengthen the game, the value drops here.
I will still happily play this card, but what I would normally consider a blowout in a more aggressive deck is merely good here. U/R and W/U are the decks that can really capitalise on this card.
While Time to Feed isn’t really the best card in terms of abstract power, it does truly give you something unique in that it will send a creature of your choice off the battlefield permanently. Don’t get me wrong Griptide and co. are amazing, but sometimes you just need a troublesome creature dead forever and this usually does the job.
You tend to have so many big guys lying around that this spell is starting to get close to premium removal. As we have seen this set lacks quality removal, so if you can make good use of this kind of card, jump on the opportunity. The incidental life gain is also very relevant in this deck where one of your biggest weaknesses is having people out-race you.
I am definitely a fan of the counterspells in this format. The vast majority of decks are pulling out some expensive power plays in the late game and you can really get them with a well timed Annul. However, in this deck we are much more interested in just tapping out every turn and can rarely afford to keep up any mana.
We also tend to get slightly behind on board in the early game and then overtake with big plays in the mid game. Counterspells don’t contribute effectively to this strategy and they are best left in the sideboard if you can. Bring them in against opposing ramp decks only.
The multicolour cards in Theros have been pretty interesting. They are mostly excellent cards, but not so powerful as to dictate what you draft. I find that generally the right person ends up with them, as in if you are playing G/U you are likely to be passed some of the following two…
The most powerful of the two is Horizon Chimera. Three power evasion creatures at four mana are all stars in any format. Additionally, having both flying and trample make this guy an excellent bestow target, which gives this card extra utility in Theros.
If that wasn’t enough you also get the bonus of incidental life gain and even flash. The typical Theros game seems to be lasting about 8 or 9 turns, so playing this guy on curve will generally net you about 4-5 life and if we are executing our plan of drawing a few extra cards we can expect even more return.
The flash is largely irrelevant in this archetype as we want to be tapping out a lot and won’t be playing reactive spells such as counter magic very often, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
I think what I’m implying here is that this card is quite powerful. However, it’s important not to get too excited if you open it in your first pack. We have just come off Ravnica block where there was plenty reward for picking up a powerful multicolour spell early, but Theros will not give you the follow up you have come to expect.
You will notice that these spells tend to find you on their own as there is much less competition in a solid two colour format.
By all means if you are already in Green/Blue pick them as high as you like, but know that drafting any multicolour card early is risky. If at all possible get mono-coloured cards in your pool that have a much better chance of making it to your eventual deck.
Agent of Horizons looks fairly underwhelming, but my experiences with him have been pretty good. He will trade with the vast majority of 2-4 drops at the reasonable price of three mana, which is a passable defence card.
Later in the game he becomes three points of unblockable damage, serving the role as a win condition. It might be quite mana inefficient, but remember by this point we are already aiming to have stalled the game out.
This wouldn’t be a great spell by either of those merits alone, however the fact that it does both really makes this card quite solid. You will not have to pick it very highly, because players who only have access to green mana are usually not going to play a vanilla 3/2 for three. Any copies you do pick up late will definitely make your deck unless you have drafted a true powerhouse of a pool.
Don’t be fooled by either of these coming round late. Despite them being excellent G/U cards it only means that no-one is drafting that exact colour combination.
It’s entirely possible that there is still a heavy blue drafter to the right of you and then a heavy green to the right of them. Make sure you piece together multiple pieces of information when working out what your neighbours are doing and don’t jump to conclusions.
I want to stress the point that this deck, amongst most others in the format wants to play 18 lands. All the really great cards start kicking in after your fourth or fifth land drop, so it is absolutely essential you get there on time. You will really find a lot of the time playing Theros that you want to top deck one more land to do X amazing thing. The spells are more splashy and powerful than your average set, but they are hungry for mana.
Splashing is very easy in this particular deck. We are looking to extend the game already, so there is a good chance we will see splashed colours. I will already play Opaline Unicorn in a straight two colour version of this deck for ramp alone, so this gives you essentially free colour fixing.
Nylea’s Presence is a very nice option too although it doesn’t do a lot outside of fix. It is basically Prophetic Prism, which I’m sure you found from playing Ravnica Block was so-so in a two colour deck and extremely helpful in a three colour one.
You can actively look to pick up cards with one mana symbol outside G/U if they are quite powerful. There is a pretty good chance you will end up with enough fixing, so sacrificing an average pick like Nessian Courser is usually worth it to take a chance on a high-impact card.
If you are splashing in any colour you will be able to play Traveler’s Amulet. You can pretty much trade these out one for one with lands, but beware of playing more than two or your draws can be quite clunky. You will also not be too impressed with them in an aggressive deck, although what are you doing playing three colours in an aggressive deck anyway?
For a bit of fun here is an example that won a draft fairly comfortably just before I finished writing this. It’s safe to say that Voyaging Satyr was probably being a little undervalued at the table as having three of them allowed me to get extremely greedy. I played 17 lands only, because I had 4 ramp spells and my overall card quality was quite high. Don’t be tempted to do this unless you have a large number of additional mana sources like this deck, one or two won’t cut it.
That’s it for this time. I hope this has been a nice window into the format from one particular axis. I do believe this archetype along with R/W Heroic are going to be two of the main pillars of the format going forward that you can use as a yard stick to measure other decks.
I believe the two main questions you will have to answer are ‘can you keep up with or stall R/W heroic in the early game?’ and ‘can you match or win before G/U in the late game?’
The difference is, G/U hasn’t been widely discovered just yet, so see if you can grind out some packs while you can!
Let me know in the comments what you think of the deck and what archetypes have you found? Any hidden gems you’ve been doing well with?
Thanks for reading, have fun drafting Theros and I’ll see you next time!