Hello there, thanks for coming back to another ‘Know Your Limits‘! The purpose of this article is to give a quick update of some of the new cards and mechanics that are joining the Theros block draft and sealed formats, especially for the pre-release this weekend.
Remember that you are going to be playing with a lot of cards from the actual Theros set still in the mix, so this will not be a completely new format. Most of the things you have learned since last September are still going to be true.
If you want to simply find out what happens at the pre-release I would recommend reading the pre-release primer on Wizard’s own site. If you instead want to find out how to play the cards most effectively, read on as that is what I will be talking about.
First of all there are two new mechanics and both of them are actually pretty complicated and difficult to evaluate for limited play. These are ‘Tribute’ and ‘Inspired’.
This is the most interesting part of the set in my opinion. The thing you have to keep at the front of your mind is that Tribute is purely a downside. I have heard a lot of chatter, which seems to imply something along the lines of ‘Awesome, you get this oversized creature or this amazing effect, how can it possibly be bad?!’ People seem to think it’s like an option, but it really isn’t as you will always get the worst of the two. It is both, but it’s worse than either of those things on their own.
I believe the best way of evaluating them is as follows. First work out what is the worst option for you in the majority of cases. For example Siren of the Fanged Coast is either Mind Control + Flying Man or Air Elemental. Mind Control is generally considered the superior card, even without the Flying Man, so we’ll call the version when tribute is paid the weaker one.
What we have then is an Air Elemental with a downside. That’s potentially good, because Air Elemental is quite excellent and has room to manoeuvre. Now we work out the situations where the other mode is more desirable. To be honest I struggle to think of many as Mind Control is just so amazing.
The only one I can conjure up is when your opponent is somewhat struggling, perhaps they have only mustered 1-2 weak or purely defensive creatures, against your guys that are currently able to attack past them. You’d really just rather have a well sized flier to put them out their misery before they can draw a way out of the crisis.
It turns out in that situation you usually win the game anyway, so I would call Siren of the Fanged Coast a fairly strong example. It is so close to being as good as Air Elemental that I would happily pick it highly and play in my sealed decks.
What about Pharagax Giant? It seems like both options are pretty bad for your opponent. I however, am not so keen.
It seems fairly obvious to me that the worst mode is when the tribute isn’t paid. On defence a Hill Giant + Lava Axe is not going to do a lot. At the hefty cost of five mana, you need something that stabilizes the board a lot more effectively.
If you are extremely aggressive the reach from the direct damage alongside a little more board presence might be just the ticket, but unless my deck is quite all-in (I rarely even do this), I would rather just have the bigger creature.
So we are starting with a 3/3 Lava Axe, which is quite playable in aggressive decks, but has minimal impact in a slower deck or even if you have a slower draw than usual. Now though we have to take account the situations where your opponent would rather you have a bigger creature.
Honestly the best thing I can hope for in the scenario when my opponent taps five mana for a spell and I am already on the ropes is some random vanilla creature. Most other options will kill you quite quickly. What I am really saying is that the few situations where a Lava Axe is actually good you don’t even get it!
Even though both modes of Pharagax Giant are quite decent on their own, they are relevant in such different game states and neither of them is just loaded with power this becomes something I am not excited to play. You may disagree with me, but I would actively look to cut this card from my sealed deck if I can.
Others like Ornitharch have two modes that are really quite similar. In both cases you end up with five points of evasive creature(s). There are a few outliers, if your opponent intends to use spot removal they will most certainly pay the tribute, whereas if they have a blocker such as Nessian Asp the split apart mode will be easier to manage.
On the whole though, both modes amount to pretty much the same thing. This is important in reducing the drawback by keeping your opponents ability to control your cards to a minimum.
I’m pretty sure at some point everyone will overate one or more of these cards. Many of them are good desirable spells just because of the raw power level (some of the choices are tantamount to you lose or I win), but they are pretty much all worse than they look.
My prediction for the Inspired cards is that people are going to try and get too clever with them and try and go off and do crazy stuff. Some of the upsides are pretty significant, but consider how slow the uncommon Inspired token making cycle is for example.
Turn 4 you cast Aerie Worshippers. Turn 5 you tap it via one of the many enablers. Turn 6 it untaps and you get the trigger, which you pay for and make a 2/2 bird token. Now finally it’s Turn 7 and you can finally attack with the bird.
It’s taken 3 turns and you have tapped some amount of mana on each of these turns. I think you can see the problem.
I have serious doubts about some of the inspired enablers. Are Epiphany Storm or Claim of Erebos really playable cards? Even the better ones along the lines of Karametra’s Favour seem really slow to me.
Springleaf Drum could be the exception as it does have the upside of being able to tap your creature through summoning sickness and even without Inspired the utility it provides is quite handy.
Even so, I played with this card in Lorwyn and while it was ok and sometimes necessary in sealed it was frequently annoying. The number of times you want to have a blocker available, but have to tap it for mana are quite significant.
In any case back to tapping your creatures. Do you know what the best and most common way of doing this is? Attacking your opponent!
I would say the best way of enabling Inspired is actually Bestow. Think about this, if you simply Bestow a Nimbus Naiad onto your Aerie Worshippers you are going to be attacking with (and tapping!) that 4/6 flying fortress every turn, putting a lot of pressure on your opponent and when they do finally come up with an answer the now fallen off Nimus Naiad is still leading a small force of Wind Drakes into battle.
Even something less impressive such as the new Nxyborn Triton is going to produce a large derrière that is very hard to block profitably.
By enabling your inspired creatures to attack rather than trying to grind out value you are pressuring your opponent from multiple angles. Don’t out think yourself with these cards, just try and get them into the red zone whenever you can and only use the enablers that work well with your deck anyway.
I want to take a moment to talk about a few cards that may have not immediately jumped out, but will likely have a strong impact.
It was amazing how good Sip of Hemlock was in both draft and sealed. In a format that regularly asks you to ‘deal with this or die’ a spell that lets you neuter a creature of unrestricted size is extremely valuable regardless of how efficient it is.
How often when you cast Sip of Hemlock was the creature tapped? Pretty much all the time it turns out. The big creatures in this block normally get that way by starting the turn as a lowly 2/2, then get catapulted into greatness with a wide variety of auras. Essentially you are mostly dealing with creatures coming at you at haste speed.
So it’s mostly just the same as Sip of Hemlock, but there is some extra text. The much desired ‘draw a card’ phrase is present and takes this card into a new level and makes it pretty much guaranteed to produce a two for one in your favour.
The good stuff doesn’t end there. This is the first card in the block that will actually let you permanently deal with a creature without it’s Bestowed enchantments falling off. Siren Song Lyre is another notable one, that I think I will be playing in any sealed deck, because of the same reason.
It’s possible for your opponent to invest a huge amount of mana and multiple cards only to have their creation locked down for all eternity.
I think you will be seeing Eternity Snare regularly nab three for ones and steal games. Keep an eye on it, I will be starting off by picking it highly for sure.
At the baseline you can buff this guy up whilst stealing a blocker for massive damage which is quite threatening (that one was for you Tom). Your opponent has almost no choice but to race you at that point seeing how leaving back blockers may simply backfire. If your deck is more aggressive you are usually going to come out ahead.
The untap part means you can even steal inspired triggers. However, things get really interesting when you can trigger this card at instant speed…
There used to be a card called Ray of Command and it was ridiculously good. When your opponent attacked you could steal one of the attackers and use it to block another taking no damage from either creature and potentially killing them both!
Akroan Conscriptor turns any random targeting instant in your hand into Ray of Command in addition to any other effect is does. I love the idea of paying one mana to kill two attacking creatures with Titan’s Strength and then enjoying my rub-in scry.
This card looks expensive and small, but I predict a lot of bad beat stories in the coming months are going to be the result of Akroan Conscriptor getting the job done.
Remember that whenever you introduce more cards into an environment it dilutes all of the linear strategies you knew from before. Gone are the days where you can reliably get 2-3 Grey Merchant of Asphodel if you worked out that mono-black was open.
Especially in sealed deck and the pre-release you are going to really struggle to make synergy work. You have so little choice over the cards you receive it’s much better to ensure that your cards can stand on their own and are nicely spread out over a range of mana costs than trying to do anything too ambitious with synergy.
One place where you do have some choice is in which seeded colour pack you will pick. This is essentially another booster, but leaning towards a particular colour. Nearly all of my sealed decks in 6xTheros were green or blue based, because of those colours huge depth of playable commons. I’m not seeing anything in Born of the Gods that goes against this, so I am currently of the mindset that I will probably continue to play mainly those colours.
I saw way too many people playing White sealed decks. White was very strong indeed during draft, but without the critical mass of good heroes like Wingsteed Rider and Favored Hoplite plus enough enablers the colour really does lose a lot.
It’s the pre-release and I would recommend that you pick the colour that you think will be the most fun, but if you want to win above other goals go for either Green or Blue. You are close to guaranteed that your 22nd/23rd cards will be respectable.
Play or Draw?
In sealed draw and in draft play. If you or your opponent somehow have the nuts aggro deck in sealed feel free to take the play.
I’m leaning towards 18 lands for sealed, especially if I have some scry available to fight flood in the late game. There are a ton of mana sinks already in the format and lots more coming via outlets like montrous, expensive activated abilities and alternate casting costs from bestow. That mana is going to get good use.
You can go for 17 land in sealed, but make sure your 23rd card is actually worth it. If it’s impact is very low, it might be better just to play a land instead and make sure you can cast your spells. Draft decks will probably be packing 17 in the majority of cases, but there are a decent number of decks that you would want to include an extra land.
In some cases where your deck is very aggressive and you have a high playable count I can see playing 16 lands. I probably do this less than 10% of the time though, it’s often not the best choice.
In sealed you can splash pretty easily. There are many common fixers that will allow you to do this already and Born of the Gods is continuing with this trend. Green in particular is excellent at fixing your mana. You should find it no sweat splashing a single Gild and a Polis Crusher into your otherwise Simic creation.
In draft it is very possible to splash, but the high count of playables means that your card quality actually doesn’t normally increase enough to be worth it. I would only recommend this if you have a truly devastating bomb or your fixing is so good the cost of inclusion becomes minimal.
Born of the Gods looks like it is going to shake up the environment quite a bit. I did begin to feel tired with Theros near the end. Even though the format was fun, it was not particularly deep and there were a few frustrating elements (Ordeals, I’m looking at you).
There are a lot of individually powerful cards coming in Born of the Gods and some great answers to cards and strategies from Theros. I think you will find this set will have a lot more impact than most small sets have done in recent memory.
Agree/disagree with some of my ideas? Let me know in the comments, I’ll do my best to reply.
Have fun at the pre-release and beyond. See you next time!