The Best Conceived Cards of Theros
So, I am a little late, but I thought that I would put together a little review of the best cards of Theros in regards to their concepts. My standards, as discussed in my previous article about the aesthetics of MTG cards, have nothing to do with playability, so, if you are looking for a review of the best cards of Theros, you should stop reading right now.
In this article, I look at some of the best conceived cards of the set by evaluating how the card’s artwork, text and mechanics work together to make a unique and collectible item.
Overall, I thought the concept of the set, which is derivative of Greek mythology, was pretty interesting and well-done. In contrast to the bland filler of the Core Set and the underwhelming final addition to the previous Ravnica block, Theros provided a breath of fresh air. While it has the apparently inescapable junk cards scattered throughout, there are actually a lot of original and creative cards in Theros. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of them.
Alright, so Coordinated Assault is an underwhelming uncommon that does not see constructed play, but it is a good start for evaluating card concepts. This red instant is an exemplary MTG card because the card’s title, mechanics and flavor text all work cohesively, and it is supplemented by some pretty good artwork to boot.
The flavor text is certainly not the most interesting excerpt that I have ever read, but it still reinforces the title and function of the card: two creatures, working in coordination, gain an increase of power and first strike, enabling them to strike before a defender can raise their guard.
The fact that the spell is efficient and targets two creatures is also relevant because it works synergistically with the Heroic mechanic, which is contingent upon a creature getting targeted by a spell you control.
Gift of Immortality
So, Gift of Immortality’s mechanics are somewhat clunky, which relegates the card to casual play, but, I think that it is another conceptually well-developed card. While it does not have any flavor text (which is probably for the best), the card’s title, type and mechanics work in perfect unison in actual gameplay and in relation to the other ‘immortal’ cards printed in this set.
In close similarity to the ‘Gods’ of Theros, Gift of Immortality is an enchantment that has a nagging propensity to stick around. The key difference is that this is not an overwhelmingly powerful, indestructable and legendary enchantment/creature. Instead, this gift from the Gods grants a ‘mortal’ creature the ability to be as existentially stubborn as Thassa with her tide of cronies.
I might be a little biased in regards to this card because it happens to be a perfect fit for my Uril, the Miststalker EDH deck (Uril will be one happy dude.), but that does not change the fact that Gift of Immortality is a well though-out card complemented by some respectable artwork.
One cannot create a MTG set based on Greek mythology without incorporating a siren, and, fortunately, the creative department at Wizards delivered. Although Shipwreck Singer is a relatively weak card, it still has the mechanics that effectively mimic the Sirens, creatures that lured adventurers to their doom with their beautiful melodies (Or, in the case of O’brother Where Art Though?, lure them in and turn them into toads). Shipwreck Singer even has a secondary activated ability that helps to facilitate the lured creature’s demise.
The artwork is also fitting, as it shows a siren in the foreground and the vessel that has been charmed into shipwreck in the background. The flavor text on the card also adds some nice commentary on the Siren’s medley of death and beautiful melodies.
While we are on the subject of song, another card from Theros that is conceptualized around a melody is Swan Song. I think that it was the artwork that sold me on this one, as the card features a beautiful image of a spell being transformed into what must be one Hell of a big bird (a 2/2 Swan?).
I really like the unique point-of-view that the artwork offers, which seems to be from an inverted underside view. It is almost as if the point-of-view is from someone below with his or her head craned in admiration.
The card’s mechanics and flavor text are also fitting, as the player who casts Swan Song essentially turns what could be a violent and devastating spell into a picturesque, soaring bird. Unfortunately, that big bird will be flying down at that player’s head next turn.
An instant speed Dreadbore for three? Check.
An excellent card for standard? Check.
An excellent concept with cool artwork, interesting flavor text and mechanics that fit perfectly within gameplay and the overall set? Check.
Although it essentially builds off of the foundation of Hero’s Demise which slightly takes away from the card’s originality, Hero’s Downfall is a great example of a MTG card that works in perfect cohesion, and the fact that it is valuable and highly playable makes this card that much more satisfying.
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
So, I will forgive the fact that this planeswalker is vaguely reminiscent of Lord Voldemort, just because the artwork is well done and the mechanics make sense. On top of that, it is a new and original planeswalker (that isn’t a Satyr).
I have been away from the game for a while, but I am already sick of the bland variations of Elspeth, Jace and their other, redundant contemporaries in the multiverse. I mean, it is a multiverse (like a whole bunch of universes), right?
I would imagine that a multiverse is a big place, so, in theory, there should be countless planeswalkers jumping around trying to kill each other, not different versions of the same one. I understand that Wizards is trying to brand their product with identifiable characters, but, for the sake of originality, stop with the bland revisions.
Thankfully, Ashiok is here to materialize your opponent’s nightmares from their subconscious, instead of repeatedly manufacturing dumb looking beast and soldier tokens.
Rescue from the Underworld
First and foremost, the artwork for this card is excellent, and it results in a card that you can actually appreciate aesthetically. In addition, Rescue from the Underworld works perfectly within the set’s mythological concept. The card art displays two figures in the Underworld, one crossing the river (presumably the River Styx) and emerging from the mists , and one awaiting rescue.
The mechanics of the card directly mirror what is happening in the image. A player sacrifices a creature, sending it to the graveyard (Underworld, Hades, Hell, whatever). Then, that player chooses another card in the graveyard, and they both return to the realm of the living at the beginning of that player’s next upkeep.
Obviously, Rescue from the Underworld is no Unburial Rites, and the mana cost and the mechanics make it too cumbersome for competitive play. But, the fact remains, it is an excellent card conceptually that fits right into the set’s overall aesthetics.
While we are discussing the Underworld, let’s talk about its daunting and monstrous guardian, the Cerberus. This card is really neat. First of all, the artwork is an interesting, albeit hideous, take on the Cerberus, a staple of Greek mythology.
The Hell Hound’s mechanics are also very suitable. Known as fearsome, intimidating gaurdians of the Underworld, these multiple-headed dogs prevent anyone from crossing the River Styx and escaping the nether realm. The card’s mechanics reinforce this aspect of Cerberus mythology, as it is a massive (and inexpensive) 6/6 creature who can only be blocked by three or more creatures. That is apt because, well, it has three heads.
The best and most fitting aspects of the card, however, are its secondary mechanics, which protects cards in graveyards (read Underworld) and then open the flood gates for creatures to escape the graveyard once the Cerberus leaves play.
Overall, Underworld Cerberus is one of the more interesting and conceptually well-developed cards that I have seen printed in quite some time.
Thassa, God of the Sea and Erebos, God of the Dead
Ah, here I am, gawking at the Gods.
It was hard for me to decide which of the Gods were best in regards to conceptualization because I honestly think Wizards did an outstanding job with all of them. I think the devotion mechanic is a very creative nuance to the game, and making all of the Gods legendary enchantments that manifested into creatures with enough devotion to a certain color was a very innovative idea.
It was great to see that the creative department did not just churn out five additional planeswalkers that they called Gods, because the mechanics of a planeswalker would not have supported the idea of a Divine entity. The legendary-indestructible-enchantment-turned-creature card concept supports the idea far better. Although, I think the Gods are a tad bit overpowered (as with most cards printed today), that is something that I just need to come to terms with (I mean, they are Gods).
As I mentioned before, it was hard to pick the best Gods out of the five, but I think Thassa and Erebos are both best in terms of artwork and card mechanics. Thassa, as God of the Sea, is capable of making creatures unblockable by (what I am assuming) using her powers over the tide to sneak creatures through for an assault.
Her ability to scry reinforces her nature as a divine entity capable of looking into the future. The scrying ability is also perfect for a card contingent on devotion to blue, a color in MTG that is associated with predestination and drawing cards.
Erebos is the other God of Theros that I found to be superlative to the other deities. As the God of the Dead, it only makes sense that one of his static abilities is that no opponent can gain life. He serves as a malicious presence on the battlefield who helps facilitate your opponent’s journey to the underworld.
His ability to draw cards by paying life is also a perfect fit for both the color of MTG he represents and his status as an overseer of the Underworld. Traditionally in MTG, making a deal with a devil or demon usually comes at a cost, and Erebos lives up to that tradition.
As I stated before, I appreciate MTG cards for very different reasons than a strictly competitive player might. Please feel free to voice your opinions below. I would especially be interested in hearing about other cards from the set that you found to be conceptually well-developed.