Theros: Beyond Death Commander Review
After 2019's constant rush of sets, it was kind of nice to have some semblance of peace and quiet post-Eldraine. Sure, we had some small products released in the meantime, but no big spoilers...until Theros came knocking once more. Now the original Theros was a fun set. Not really one of my absolute favorites, but it had some fun ideas, promoted some previously unsupported decks, and aside from Prophet of Kruphix, nothing really ever felt to be too strong for Commander.
And now with Beyond Death, I feel we're getting a bit of a deviation on that. One or two cards that may just be too much, a lot of cards that improve preexisting decks, but not really many truly new ideas or format staples. Just cards that slot in a few specific decks, specific scenarios, or general roleplayers. That doesn't make it a bad set, of course, far from it. With a grand total of 27 new possible commanders new decks will be aplenty, though a good chunk of them will be better just in the 99 of other pre-existing decks.
So as is tradition by now, here is MTGNexus's Commander Review of Theros: Beyond Death, brought to you by yours truly.
Due to the set having multiple auxillary products, cards will be sorted alphabetically per color, and new possible Commanders will always come first. So without further wait, let's dive into Theros: Beyond Death
Daxos is up for his third card and well, it's not what we hoped to bolster White's prowess in Commander. However, I do like his design for a simple reason; it's an expansion on pre-existing White design space, while at the same time also being something we haven't had as a Legendary creature quite yet. It's an expansion in that Daxos also gains life upon creatures dying, and unlike other Soul Sisters, it has a growing toughness, meaning that it can hold back some assaults on itself as well, should the need arise. Daxos is also an enchantment so I'm certain some decks will want to look at him for that reason alone.
Soul Sisters - small creatures that grant a life upon creatures entering the battlefield - are typically not all that great in Commander, though some decks can make good use of them and in particular the triggers lifegain can enable. Daxos is more likely to find his way into the 99 of such decks rather than at the helm of lifegain based builds, but he can lead a white weenie based build and give you a bit more of a cushion to work with. So while he doesn't boost White the way people wanted, he's not a dud.
Let's get an obvious comparison out of the way; Heliod's main ability is inferior to that of Archangel of Thune. But in exchange you get it on an indestructible God that only costs 3 mana to cast, and can grant other creatures lifelink as well for a small mana payment, and you can play him from your command zone. That in mind, Heliod is the more versatile of the two. Is it a strong commander though? Not really, unless you make full effect of his infinite combos, at which point he suddenly becomes a terror.
Most notably (and easiest to pull off) amongst said combos is Walking Ballista, with Triskelion as a close runnerup. Give it lifelink, take off a counter to shoot damage, gain a counter, rinse and repeat. And White has no issues tutoring for artifacts typically, most notably via Enlightened Tutor. If he's not the Commander but you still like this gameplan, Archangel is the better card typically, but Heliod is harder to remove and makes for a good backup option.
Taranika is a combat based Commander that I just don't really know what to make of. You want to play small creatures to turn into, effectively, Gideons, which also gives them pseudo-vigilance by untapping them. At the same time you can also make use of tap creatures and give them an untap through Taranika's trigger, allowing for other kinds of tricks.
The problem is though, Taranika has to attack herself, and she's a 4 mana 3/3 with no self protection, and she can't turn herself into a 4/4 indestructible. So you also need to pack quite a bit of protection. As a result I just don't think she cuts it unless you can pull off tricks with her untap trigger, as full aggro with her just feels weak even compared to other mono-White options.
A new addition to the hatebears archetype, Eidolon of Obstruction is not a card you nilly-willy put in a deck and it will do work. It has mediocre stats even for its mana cost, and the ability is only useful against one archetype. If you see a lot of superfriends in your local playgroup it is worth considering, if not, give it a pass.
Clever idea to put a mosaic on a Therosian saga, and it's a pretty good card too. Each step on its own is not all that great, but since you get all three effects, it's worth the mana. The first mode is simple clean removal of any permanent of converted mana cost 3 or above. Clean, but not worth the 5 mana. Step two, the taxing effect, can slow down players a fair bit. This can be a vital turn for you to resolve some cards without interruption. Then we get to the reanimation. The bonus +1/+1 or loyalty counter, pending what you reanimate, is a nice boon, and this is what makes the card worth playing. However, keep in mind that this is highly telegraphed. It's easy to see the third step coming and aim some grave hate at the player before it gets there. This is the kind of downside that can make you utterly miserable playing this card, so get the timing right or suffer a useless third step.
Elspeth is back and her spear got a bit death-y, so what does that mean for Commander? Well, for starters, we're looking at a 4 mana Planeswalker with 5 base loyalty, which is a good starting point. She only has minus abilities though, and realistically, none of them are particulary great. The -1 is dependant on you having creatures you plan to swing with, and the -3, a measly 5 life, is chump change. The -2 however is pretty nice, two tokens a turn can clog up a board pretty nicely.
And this is where the most interesting ability comes into play - Escape. Elspeth is easy to recur, though the price is rather steep at 6 mana and 4 cards exiled from your graveyard. If you can keep fueling this, however, Elspeth can become a board clogging machine. Though that is something many other White planeswalkers already do, so ask yourself if the ability to keep recurring herself is worth the price of admission.
Like with so many Planeswalker deck cards, Elspeth here is simply not going to cut it. You do get a lot of loyalty for your buck, easily ticking up to 7, but that's about where the good news ends. Two mere +1/+1 counters distributed among two creatures isn't going to cut it, and being able to tutor Sunlit Hoplite, at best a 3/1` First Strike, simply isn't any good. The ultimate ability is decent but absolutely not worth running the card for. Stick to one of her other versions, Elspeth has had a lot of quality cards.
Dual moded cards are fun, especially if one mode is typically strong but can fail at times, like is the case here. Destroying X artifacts and/or enchantments at a rate of XWW is pretty powerful, and can become a massive blowout late game. Especially on instant speed this makes for a powerful play. However, just in case you can go for the double lifegain option if there's just not enough targets to go for. While this isn't the mode you want, it's also not something you should feel bad about going for should the need arise. I foresee this being a heavily played card as a nice one-sided semi-sweeper most of the time.
A cheaper Evangel of Heliod that brings one less token on its own, but actually makes tokens of two relevant tribes instead of just one. If White swarm is your gameplan, you'll want to consider this, but it won't always make the cut. It's just something to keep in mind if you often find yourself high on White devotion.
Well, I guess White finally gets straight up drawpower...except this is better for the Green player who sees their fatties get destroyed. Huh. Anyway, note that the card draw doesn't trigger on creatures dying, so if you have an Avacyn, Angel of Hope out on the field you still cantrip and wipe the board while saving your own. Not the best mass boardwipe but it's there, especially if you can guarantee having a 4 power or great creature on the field.
This is a card you run in one specific archetype, and that archetype only: White-based swarm decks. Even then you have to ask yourself, isn't it better to run one of the various anthems? For 5 mana you get Dictate of Heliod which has flash and provides a much bigger initial boost. So you have to have ways to actually make use of the +1/+1 counters to make proper use of this card. If you're building such a deck, consider the Envoy, but always ask yourself if it's worth it.
Fun take on Narcissus, Alirios is a Commander that does something new. He creates you a small army, but you can't use part of it for as long as you control the other half. Said other half also doesn't count for the Commander damage counter, so probably the best way to use the token is to simply buy you some time, or use cards like Switcheroo or Polymorph to exchange it for something better.
In addition, if you can repeatedly cast Alirios, or blink him via the likes of Deadeye Navigator or Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, or even just use Panharmonicon, you can get something of a swarm deck going, which is a take mono-Blue isn't typically doing. Such engines could probably do more broken stuff if you really want them to, but sometimes just swarming the field with pretty reflections is what the game needs.
Callaphe brings the protective Frost Titan effect to your entire field of creatures and enchantments, changing the math of various effects and spells which can heavily mess with the plans of opponents, especially mass removal cards that still target like Heliod's Intervention. This kind of effect becomes even more fun when combined with the likes of Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, forcing a double tax.
However, I do not think Callaphe makes for a great Commander due to her dual frailty. She also only has 3 toughness, so the devotion-boosted power makes her a glass cannon at best. She's better off somewhere in the 99 as a protection piece for big swarms of fields or just a few big beaters, and the aformentioned Kira may simply be better at that job to boot.
The new Thassa confuses me. These abilities feel more White than they do Blue, even though they are firmly inside both color's slices of the pie. I feel if this had been Heliod it would actually become one of the most popular commanders around, while as it is, she's still good but likely better in the 99, since blue on itself rarely plays the enter-the-battlefield game on its own.
When in the 99 Thassa plays like a better Conjurer's Closet, costing less mana and coming with the tapdown ability on top of that. It's oddly boring, really, but it is a strong ability and will see plenty use in the various enter the battlefield decks, with Yarok, the Desecrated as the biggest candidate.
Thryx is a card that looks amazing at first glance. Decent stats with Flying, Flash to get him in whenever you want, and then the discount for big spells, on top of making them uncounterable. It's a lovely combination of abilities, that works both for control decks as a flashy finisher and a way to guarantee the big X-spells through, and for beatdown decks by giving you a discount on your fatties and again ensuring they won't be countered.
However, there is a bit of competition to consider: Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. Teferi may not be as impressive in combat and he doesn't offer a bonus discount, but he does effectively make it impossible for every single spell you have to be uncounterable, and on top of that, your creatures have flash too. When you're considering Thryx in the 99, consider if Teferi may be better for what you're trying to do first. As a Commander, the two work with somewhat different decks so that's an easier consideration to make.
It can completely nullify an opposing Commander - though any boardwipe, sacrifice outlet or bounce card can take care of that - and has a hilarious name and flavor text. There are other Auras that do the same job but none of them feature quite as delightful a tongue twister to go with that.
Kiora loves her Krakens and her saga, shared with Thassa, gives you a nice 8/8 one with hexproof to kick off with. The next options are far more interesting though, as first you get to lock down your opponent's board for a bit, guaranteeing anything you want to hit with will go through (barring instant interactions - lands escape the lockdown), and finally a permanent theft. The second step is likely the most powerful one if you can repeat it by, say, blinking it with Brago, King Eternal to reset the Saga counter. In one versus one games especially this can mean a full and total lockdown while you're pushing out repeated Krakens. It's a bit less powerful in multiplayer but still not a cards to scoff at, the only downside being that 7 mana is a rather hefty initial investment.
Nadir Kraken is a fixed Chasm Skulker, and in decks that draw a lot of cards, Chasm Skulker is a great card. The main draw of this one is that you get the tokens immediately, making for a more direct threat, but at the same time it also means that a single boardwipe will stop all your hard work. What really makes it worse than the Skulker though is the requirement to pay mana to get the tokens. But they're tentacle tokens and that's quite funny at least.
This is the kind of card you want to play in hardcore control or flash-themed decks, such as Baral, Chief of Compliance on one end, and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir on the other. The discount isn't big, but if you're playing on your opponents' turns, it can add up quickly and will repay for itself within one or two turn cycles and only provide more and more profit as the game goes on. If this is not your dedicated theme however, you can safely ignore this Naiad.
This one falls in the vein of Song of the Dryads or Imprisoned in the Moon, holding creatures at bay and making them hard to sacrifice for reanimation shenanigans. This one turns most creatures into even worse things than the first two do, but it doesn't do much against creatures with activated or continuous abilities. This is best used in metas where cards like the Eldrazi titans run rampant, as they're held down by it while being unable to get their triggers, but it will usually lose out to the other two.
While I prefer my clones to be able to copy enter the battlefield effects, Protean Thaumaturge still gets a look at for being able to change relatively on the fly as long as you pack enough enchantments. Obviously best when copying creatures with strong triggered or activated abilities, it should only really be considered in a deck where you can feasibly change who he becomes every single turn, if neccesary. If you can't guarantee this, there will be many better clones available, despite the low mana cost of this one.
One of the more popular "It's really kinda bad but so much fun when it works" deck types is Quest for Ula's Temple Seamonsters. And with the Serpent of Yawning Depths, that archetype just got a lovely haymaker. Outside of those decks, this is a card that's typically outclassed by other evasion-granting cards, though even on its own it's typically going to be a 6/6 unblockable for 6, which isn't terrible. So if you run some of those big creatures, even if it's not a dedicated deck, see if the Serpent is a useful inclusion in your deck.
Much like Heliod's, Thassa's Intervention offers one stronger option and one more situational one, though neither are all that strong in this case. The first one, where you look at X cards and then pick two of them to draw and ship the rest to the bottom of your library, is typically outclassed by something like Blue Sun's Zenith or Stroke of Genius despite the higher initial mana cost. Yes, you get to see one less card, but you get to keep a lot more of them. And the second option is worse than most counterspells around. As such, I consider Thassa's Intervention as a card that you can use if you're already fully stocked on other X-draw spells, and even then there's others probably more worth to consider.
Thassa's Intervention may be kind of weak, her Oracle is the best card in the set for Commander standards and I would not be surprised if this gets something in the various Protean Hulk chains banned. This thing compares very favorably to Laboratory Maniac which is already a high end win condition. You do have to be a bit more careful about not just picking up your entire deck but leaving a few cards so that you don't die before actually being able to cast it, but once you do, removal won't stop you from winning like what would happen with the Maniac, as the trigger is already on the stack. On top of that, the Laboratory Maniac does absolutely nothing on his own, whereas the Oracle at least offers you a bit of card selection in even the worst of cases.
As for the instant win, if Protean Hulk dies, you get this card, Nomads en-Kor and Cephalid Illusionist. With the Oracle's trigger on the stack, you target the Illusionist as many times as you want with the Nomads, and once your deck is in your graveyard (You can keep up to 3 cards just to be safe), you let the Oracle's effect go off. Have fun!
While blue typically isn't the color for Enchantment based shenanigans, the 2018 decks have given Bant a few options for a deck around it, and there's also the likes of Bruna, Light of Alabaster. Keeping that in mind, Thirst for Meaning is a great card for those decks but will see less play than Thirst for Knowledge given the omnipresence of artifacts, especially in blue. That said, instant speed draw 3 discard 1 or 2 is always worth considering, though if you can't take advantage of the enchantment clause, you are still looking at competing with the massive amount of draw blue has access to so Thirst for Meaning may fall to the sidelines.
There are a few spells that hit every spell on the stack like Flusterstorm or Mindbreak Trap, and Whirlwind Denial fits neatly in between the two, also being able to hit abilities. It's value becomes much less if "big stacks of spells" isn't common in your local meta, but if they are, consider using it as an extra safeguard.
Aphemia's niche is being the cheapest legendary flyer Black has. This enables some early damage and quick recasts, and when it comes to evasive Black commanders, Hatred is always looming on the horizon.
Beyond that, however, Aphemia isn't all that good. If you want to do more with her than just beat face, you'll need to run a good amount of enchantments that you don't mind ending up in your graveyard. And the payoff for that is a 2/2 zombie at the end of each turn...not really impressive, to say the least. She's also an enchantment creature so that makes her more vulnerable to various removal options like the ubitiquos Reclamation Sage. So while she does have a specific niche, outside of that, you'll always find better options, and even within said niche the question is if you shouldn't rather run Drana, Liberator of Malakir or Rankle, Master of Pranks.
Ayara, First of Locthwain got herself a new BFF in the form of Erebos the Second. In fact, just about every black deck that does anything with sacrificing or looping creatures will be wanting a piece of this. Black typically has no troubles turning the death of creatures into lifegain, and turning life into cards is also just what the color loves. Erebos does both steps in one go, and comes with a built-in sacrifice outlet to boot to help out in a pinch.
The sacrifice outlet itself is not particulary great, costing 2 mana and a creature for a meager -2/-1 to a creature, but it can throw combat math off. Typically you'll still want to accompany Erebos with free sacrifice outlets such as Viscera Seer to fuel him. Some lifegain helps as well as the 2 life a turn can add up quickly.
Tymaret is grave hate in the command zone. Given how important the graveyard is to many a deck, this alone makes him an interesting choice to build around. However, beyond the grave hate, he doesn't really do much. He can get to a high toughness, making him a blocker while doing his duties, but he does require you to keep fueling his graveyard exiling with mana, and the bonus lifegain is negligible. It can give you a bit of a cushion but realistically don't expect to gain much from it.
All things considered Tymaret is best as a hatebear against grave-happy metas, but overall he's just not that impressive, and the standard weaknesses of being an enchantment on top of being a creature also apply.
Alright, this isn't a great Demon, but it's a 7/7 flying trample that Kaalia of the Vast can power out, and can force people to get rid of their ground forces. For that reason alone, people will want to look at it. But beyond Kaalia, this is not a good creature as it takes a full turn to do something, and if you can connect with a 7/7 flying trample, that sacrifice clause is rarely going to do much in the grand scheme of things.
It's always good to pack some spot removal, and Drag to the Underworld becomes a highly viable option for mono-Black decks especially. It has no restrictions unlike Doom Blade or Go for the Throat, with the tradeoff being that it's not guaranteed to only cost 2. However, the small price of having a little bit of devotion is easy to attain so typically you shouldn't have issues casting this for as little mana as possible. However, this can still pose an issue if you need to deal with a threat that gets powered out early, so always weigh this against the previously mentioned cards when you're looking for spot removal.
Instant speed mono-colored Planeswalker removal is always welcomed, though Eat to Extinction is kind of pushing it in the mana cost department. You do effectively get a Surveil 1 tacked on to it so that makes up for it, but the ratio still isn't particulary good. Still, if you're hurting for Planeswalker removal, you can't go wrong with this one as an addition to your spot removal suite.
Two life for two cards is a pretty standard ratio in black, though usually you'd want that for only two mana, such as in Sign in Blood. This comes with the added bit of tossing two cards from your library into the graveyard, and since there are plenty of decks that enjoy that, it's worth trying out if your gameplan involves reanimation, dredge or delve. If not, there's plenty of better draw even in mono-Black.
Here we have the distant cousin of Corpse Connoisseur which, in pure reanimation-based decks, is almost always going to be the better card, but there are a few cases in which Gravebreaker Lamia is the better one. For starters, it can get any card, so a deck like Kess, Dissident Mage may want to make use of the ability that way. Second, there's the discount on spells cast from the graveyard. The aformentioned Kess but also a commander like Kethis, the Hidden Hand or Chainer, Nightmare Adept appreciates an added discount. Some mechanics as well, such as this set's own Escape but also Flashback will take advantage of the bonus provided. So if you're just purely playing reanimator, the Connoisseur will win out, if you use other gravebased strategies, the Lamia is better.
If you don't plan on running a lot of reanimation cards, Nightmare Shepherd is an interesting way to still double-dip on enter-the-battlefield effects of your creatures. It doesn't create a strong army, so unless you can make use of these triggers it's best to avoid him, but there will be decks making use of simply the extra effects combined with some chump blockers. It's worth trying out if the good Shepherd works for your deck, it's not a card I would personally just put in every deck that can.
The cheapest rate of card draw mono-Black can get, you will not want to run this without a sacrifice outlet right next to it so you can get rid of it before it starts hurting too much. The best way to play Treacherous Blessing is to put it on a creature you were going to sacrifice anyway or one that's going to get rid in a boardwipe so you won't end up paying more than 1 life. Hold on to it if you can't guarantee a way to get rid of it, your opponents likely aren't going to do so for you.
It's like Viscera Seer got buff and decided to bring his own sacrificial fodder. What makes Viscera Seer so great though is being a mere 1 mana, whereas this costs 3, and I feel that this makes Woe Strider outclassed despite the upside of bringing along some sacrificial fodder and the Escape ability. You typically don't play this kind of effect because you plan to scry all that much but rather to prevent stuff from being exiled or stolen. And even with the extra +1/+1 counters from Escape, this still isn't going to be a big impressive beater. Still, a second Viscera Seer is still a good card to include if you need plenty sacrifice outlets, such as in Erebos, Bleak-Hearted decks.
A mono-Red swarm Commander that isn't a goblin? Well, that's something I didn't expect anytime soon. Anax can be a reasonably powerful Commander giving your field some resilience, as you get to keep Satyrs whenever your big hitters die. These Satyrs cannot block however so it's not easy to keep up defenses, these Satyrs are meant to smash face, and without boosts, 1/1's aren't going to cut it.
However, Red offers another venue to make use of this through cards like Impact Tremors or Goblin Bombardment, allowing you to double dip on those effects. This can allow Anax to burn your opponents down relatively fast, especially when using creatures that bring along their own tokens to boot. I do however feel he might be better in the 99 of other swarm based decks, particulary combined with Green or White allowing for buffs to the Satyrs making them hit harder, but he's a fine choice for a mono-Red Commander as is.
The original Purphoros is one of red's best cards in this format, and the new one just doesn't reach those heights. But that's okay, we're still looking at a pretty impressive card in its own right. Giving your entire field haste on its own isn't worth the 5 mana price of admission, but that's just gravy on top of Purphoros' activated ability. For 3 mana, you get to effectively Sneak Attack a red creature or artifact onto the field. And even a more expensive to activate Sneak Attack can still make for devastating results.
The obvious application for this is to use with the Escape mechanic introduced in this set, but beyond that just pushing out massive threats to swing the gamestate such as a Blightsteel Colossus, or when Purphoros isn't your commander push out stuff to be reanimated later is going to be what he'll be mostly used for. In reanimator decks Purphoros pulls double duty in that he can get those big creatures out for a quick first swing, and then upon reanimation grant them haste to boot. As such I feel he's better in the 99 of such decks than as a commander, to make more use of his abilities.
Here we have what looks like a purely one tribe card and well, typically it is. Minotaurs are a bit of a weird tribe and they could really use a Commander in Red/White/Black colors, but they're playable and can be fun, and they'll appreciate this card. 4 Minotaurs at a rate of 2 mana a piece is going to be a fine rate, and with Fanatic of Mogis you can likely take a sizeable bite out of your opponents' life totals while you're at it. However, there is another application, and that's with Changeling Hero, Changeling Titan and Changeling Berserker. Getting all three of these will allow the Hero mechanic to create an infinite loop you can break any time. Between cards like Impact Tremors and Purphoros, God of the Forge, it's easy to win with this. And then there's the interaction with Reaper King, letting you blow up every permanent on the board. It's a niche deck, but a strong application.
This is a slow card that constantly drains mana, but you can have a lot of fun with it regardless. Yes, it costs 9 mana before you first get to use it but then you can turn tokens into, well, whatever the luck of the draw gives you. Of course you can build to make more use of this card by using tutors to the top of your library like Worldly Tutor, or you can just go hail mary with it and see whatever it yields. It makes for a fun casual card that I wish was a legendary creature to make it easier to build around, but alas.
I'm personally a bigger fan of Merchant of the Vale than I should be, so seeing the Oread...well, I like it, but it lacks the upside of just being able to get a quick discard and draw off for a single mana. And being an enchantment it's also frailer than the Merchant. But I still like it personally, even acknowledging it's just not that good.
This plays like a bit of a riff on Bedlam Reveler in that it wants to be played in decks that run out of cards fast and then give you a quick refill. Unlike the Reveler you can't reduce the cost, and the Reveler can become a bit of a threat by virtue of Prowess, but on the other hand, the Escape ability may push this ahead of the Reveler when it comes to usefulness. Red doesn't typically play from the grave a lot - exceptions apply - so exiling 8 cards to get a hand refresher for a mere 2 mana isn't a bad deal. It isn't going to be an all star, but in a color as aggressive and in need of direct draw as red, it will see play.
Auras typically aren't Red's strength, unless part of a bigger combination like Uril, the Miststalker. Storm Herald, however, might just give you a reason to play a Red-based auras deck. While the effect is very much a one-off "Last hurrah" kind of thing, and those auras he pulls back will be gone forever, there are combinations that will ensure you just win on the spot, mostly focussed around Eldrazi Conscription. As a result, I foresee a variety of decks that will simply use Storm Herald as a final haymaker while playing the rest of the game as a typical aura-on-evasive-creatures deck.
Boardwipes that also hit Planeswalkers are always welcome, and selective boardwipes that you can play around with your own deck are always fun to look at. Storm's Wrath offers a decent rate at 4 damage to everything for 4 mana, which is in line with the typical 3-to-all-for-3 the color usually gets, and hitting Planeswalkers is a nice bit of gravy. Of course you'll miss on killing out any big threats but there are other tools available to Red for that job, this is to get rid of all the little ones so the big guys get to play, and you're probably killing a good chunk of Planeswalkers with it, and those that survive will at least be pushed far away from their ultimate abilities. It is the kind of card you'll want to be able to play around while knowing it hits your local playgroup hard, because there are other comparable effects around that may offer a better rate if you can't specifically make use of it.
Red's ever expanding arsenal of exile-and-cast-later cards gets a new addition in Tectonic Giant, and it's of the "End of your next turn" variety as well, giving you plenty of time to use whatever you hit. There is a twist this time in that you pick one of two exiled cards, the other is lost forever, but that's a minor downside for the typical Red all-in deck. And Tectonic Giant has to attack or be targeted by something to trigger it. The latter means he's likely going to die right there, and the former...he doesn't have impressive stats, so you better hope you can attack into some empty fields if you want to repeatedly trigger the ability. Yes, he can hit your opponents for 3 damage as well, but realistically, it's going to be the inferior ability most of the time.
First things first; this art is actually a tapestry, rather than a CGI image or a drawing. I love this card for that reason alone, but gameplay wise, this is a fun card as well. The first ability is decent for 4 mana, Keeping a strong creature for a few turns is a fair tradeoff for the haste these effects typically get. But once we tick to II things get truly fun. Forcing opposing creatures to attack is something I wish Red did even more often, as it's a nice way to disrupt the board, especially if you can somehow deflect any aggression pointed at you. And then, once you tick up to III, all those creatures are likely going to die. Unfortunately, as this happens after your untap step, it's hard to get rid of the creature you stole at the beginning this way, so you'll have to find a way to deal with that as it goes back to your opponent.
Most people know about just how stupidly strong Yawgmoth's Will and Past in Flames are. Underworld Breach is a lovely play on those cards, coming with its own up- and downsides. First things first, the escape cost. This is what makes it a fair bit harder to abuse in Commander, as you need to find a way to supply enough cards to your grave while you're doing your thing. This is something easier done in formats like Legacy or Vintage. On the other hand, a very important distinction is that cards you cast this way do not self-exile. This means you can repeatedly cast rituals or storm cards (like Brain Freeze) from your graveyard until you win.
Underworld Breach is a card that can utterly break decks, but it can also be built in a more fair way by decks that simply want to replay a few creatures. If you do, however, just be aware of just how fast it can be broken, and it may lead to a slippery slope of your deck making huge leaps in power levels to beyond what your playgroup enjoys.
Dragonlair Spider is a card I quite enjoy, though I always wondered why it doesn't make spiders. Well, that's why we got Arasta now, though the tradeoff for getting far better tokens while costing less mana is that she only triggers on instants and sorceries, not on other types of spells. This may lead to Arasta becoming a bit underwhelming, but even if not much gets cast, she still has respectable stats for her mana cost so it's not a full wash if that's the case.
Beyond that, Arasta being an enchantment creature herself may be an incentive to run the bevy of Green enchantress effects - such as this set's Setessan Champion or the old classic Argothian Enchantress - and build itself that way. Sadly the spiders she creates aren't enchantments themselves as that would've triggered various Constellation effects, but beyond that, she's still a solid Commander, and also a welcome addition to the spider tribe for all you Ishkanah, Grafwidow players out there.
Mono-Green appreciates having mana outlets as well as ways to cheat on mana, and Nylea provides you with a dose of both. The ability to cast creature spells for 1 cheaper isn't a massive discount but it still helps you to curve Nylea right into 6-drops, which is where you start to find a lot of Green's heavy hitters. If you're in the later game, repeated discounts may mean you get one or two more casts off than normally. It's a good ability.
But the bottom ability is what makes Nylea actually good. Digging into your library for creatures to keep the fuel going, while being able to filter away that which you do not need - while not being forced to actually put it in your graveyard - will help a deck hit by a Wrath effect to keep going on. This becomes exponentionally better behind a Seedborn Muse or Wilderness Reclamation, letting Nylea go through your deck at a steady pace. All in all making for a very appealing card both in the Command zone or in the 99.
I'm a big fan of Grumgully, the Generous, and Renata is effectively a mono-Green version of the same effect, except she doesn't discriminate against Humans. This leads to her playing much the same as Grumgully except by losing Red, you lose a lot of the combo potentional that Grumgully does bring to the table.
As a result, I feel Renata is best in the 99 of decks such as Grumgully or the likes of Pir, Imaginative Rascal & Toothy, Imaginary Friend, or even Atraxa, Praetor's Voice, to help kickstart +1/+1 counter tricks. She can work perfectly fine on her own, enabling a few combos or just fuel cards like Armorcraft Judge, but really like all other Demigods, she's typically going to be better in a 99.
You like your cards not to get countered? Destiny Spinner is there for you. As a one sided counter anti-measure, Destiny Spinner doesn't prevent control players from stopping others which can be important - Dosan, the Falling Leaf can give other combo players a free ticket to win even if you try to use it. For the low price of 2 mana having your creatures and enchantments be uncounterable, and the possibility of using the activated ability to create a bit of a beater you have a great mana-to-effect ratio, and I won't be surprised to see this card in many decks.
Oracle of Mul Daya has become exceptionally expensive, and Explore isn't cheap either, so here's another version of that effect. You don't get the bonus of being able to play lands from the top of your library like with the Oracle and it does cost 3 mana, but you also get a free Joiner Adept effect to go with it, meaning that in multicolor decks you get manafixing on top of your acceleration. I'm hesitant to call it a guaranteed staple because it is rather vulnerable being an enchantment creature, but I do foresee this being one of the most desired cards for Commander from the set to begin with.
A bit of a niche card, this is especially good in Yisan, the Wanderer Bard, and pretty good in every other Commander with a tap effect. In Yisan, this can help you chain up to the fourth verse in no time, and in other decks it can simply allow a quick refresh. It also goes infinite with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker on top of that, giving Red/Green versions of the Kiki-Combo deck a cheaper way to win than the previous options. Not a staple, but if you're building this type of deck, keep it in mind.
Sometimes, this card will smash into a bunch of tokens causing someone to deck out. Most of the times, this is going to be an incredibly poor tradeoff for the Boar's controller. Unless you're running Selvala, Heart of the Wilds, give this one a wide berth.
First things first; Borborygmos Enraged is going to absolutely love this card. Beyond that I wouldn't consider this a very good card were it not for one very important detail..the Intervention doesn't restrict itself to basic lands. That means you can pick up your Gaea's Cradle, Yavimaya Hollow or Reliquary Tower, or you can simply pick up Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Cabal Coffers, whatever you need, enabling you to burst ahead in mana over the next few turns, or utilize other important effects. In comparison the ability to hit flying creatures pales, but even that isn't a terrible ability to have just in case, this option may become more appealing in the lategame.
In the words of the famous Admiral Ackbar: It's a trap. This card has seen a lot of hype since it was spoiled and I don't entirely disagree, but the caveats are many. First off, let's look at the most obvious comparison; Mana Reflection. One mana cheaper and far harder to tutor for or cheat out, Mana Reflection is also a lot harder to remove than this. In addition, no matter which of the two you resolve, you should really immediately be in pole position to take advantage of it. That's the second problem here. You need to have at least 11 mana available to come out ahead if you just cast it normally, at which point you get bumped to...12. Only beyond that do things add up quickly. So at that point, cheating it out is really the only way to make massive use of this card, and at that point, there are typically better ways to win. But if you can cheat it out for a low amount of mana, and immediately take advantage of the massive boon it provides without needing to rely on it surviving a turn, it can still enable some powerful plays. Just don't nilly willy throw it in any random deck and expect it to do massive work. It will get removed.
How I wish this card was White. Both colors get enchantresses, and Green already has the lion's share, but alas, here's another Green enchantress. And, as every enchantress, it's good. Enchantment enters the battlefield, you draw a card, and Setessan Champion becomes a bit more resilient to damage-based removal. Do note that it is enter the battlefield on this one and not cast like on many older ones, much like with Eidolon of Blossoms. So yeah, bit boring, but a good card for the archetype. Not much more to be said, really.
Our buy-a-box promo, Athreos fits nicely in the vein of "Interesting but not exactly pushed" commander like the very first buy-a-box exclusive, Firesong & Sunspeaker. Athreos costs a lot of mana at 6, and comes with middling stats, being a 4/7 indestructible, only able to attack and block if your devotion to White and Black is 7 or more. The ability, however, is a lot of fun. On your end step, choose a creature you'd like to have, and put a coin counter on it. Then kill it at your leisure and voila, you're now playing theft in White/Black.
But there are more applications as well. You can protect your own creatures from boardwipes by coining them, or just coin a bunch of opposing creatures until it's time to cast a Wrath of God or something alike. It's a slow ability (Though a Strionic Resonator can speed it up a bit) but a lot of fun, taking the typical deck from these colors into a different direction.
Atris is a small-value Commander who...doesn't really do much. His enter the battlefield effect is a slightly worse Fortune's Favor which makes for nice mindgames, but typically you'd rather just draw 2 or something alike. Of course this can be made better by having cards that make use of the graveyard, and something such as Lim-Dûl's Vault can help you stack your library so that you know what you're getting, but really...it's just not a great effect.
On top of that, there's also not much in the way of combat stats, being only a 3/2 menace for 4 so...I really don't know what to do with this, unless you can make constant use of the enter the battlefield effect, there's so much better in these colors.
A bit of an odd one out, Dalakos, as Theros typically isn't known for being focussed on artifacts, nor are Merfolks. But here he is and he can push out big artifacts pretty early on, boosting your mana production by 2, coming down quite early to boot.
Of course he's mostly made for equipments, as his ability can also help you pay for equip abililties. Granting equipped creatures haste and flying works exceptionally well with cards like Sword of Sinew and Steel, allowing you to drop a small creature and just get hitting, the evasion usually enabling you to get through no matter what. This allows Dalakos to go various routes, whether it's just to accelerate artifacts or to make more use of equipments, he can do both very well.
Eutropia faces a lot of competition in likely the best 2-color combination of Commander, and within that color combo she just kind of falls flat. A single +1/+1 counter and granting flying whenever you get an enchantment is a very small payoff, and you're also not exactly in the best enchantment colors as Blue just doesn't do all that much with it, leading to Eutropia being probably the worst new possible Commander for the set.
It's always fun to see underrepresented tribes get some love, but if they don't do anything outside of supporting said tribe, the cards themselves tend to end up being just too niche to really be interesting. Fortunately, Gallia here does both, and does it in an interesting way too. First things first, giving Satyrs +1/+1 and haste is pretty nice as far as anthems go, especially for the mere 2 mana she costs. There aren't all that many playable Satyrs around though, but you can look for cards like Revel of the Fallen God to turn into a decent haymaker, or the various changelings to boost the numbers.
The real draw of Gallia would be the draw ability. While having to discard a random card is never a good thing, cashing it in for 2 new cards makes up for it. You do have to be pretty all-in on aggro in order to make proper use of it though, pushing her towards a niche in swarm-heavy decks that prefer quanity over quality. Overall this is not an easy archetype to pull off in multiplayer, and I feel Gallia will be better in 1v1 games as a result.
While the color combination already has quite a fair few combat-based options, few are as hard-hitting and hard to stop as Haktos. It's easy to misread Haktos' enter the battlefield ability, as he doesn't just get protection from what he doesn't roll, he gets protection from everything except what's being rolled.
This has massive advantages in that he'll be very hard to block - and if you hit 2 or 4, a Void Winnower will make him unblockable - and spot removal will rarely work on him. However, he doesn't stop non damage based boardwipes, anything that can block him will kill him, and it's hard to buff him as he may just blank whichever buffs you have ready for him. This, and the lack of haste, as well as him being forced to attack every turn, make it hard to build around him, but with global buffs, he can be a scarily fast clock.
Klothys is a gorgeous card, but unfortunately I do not believe she makes for a particulary great Commander card. Neither as the Commander or in the 99, though she's not terrible either, she comes across more as a card made for Modern where the constant stream of fetchlands will easily fuel her mana-making and the 2 damage will be far more impactful than it will be here.
That's not to say Klothys is without merits here, if you're in a meta where fetchlands are common she's relatively easy to fuel and make mana, but if the mana part is your goal, there are other options in this color combination that will be faster or make more mana in Radha, Heir to Keld or Grand Warlord Radha. The damage is slow and won't close out many games anytime soon. But you do get gravehate - albeit slow - on your Commander, so you really need to be taking full advantage of the whole package in order to make Klothys a good choice. Her low mana cost and sizeable stats, befitting of a God, keep her from being low end.
As one of the two Titans, Kroxa is unique in that it has to be cast through escape if you want it to stick around. If not, you just get a one-off reasonably powerful effect, and it can always escape at his own leisure, depending on how fast you fill your graveyard with cards you don't mind getting rid of. And then it comes back and starts swinging, attacking all of your opponents' hands no matter who it'saiming at. This means you can simply point him at whoever can't block him, and it'llrapidly eat away at their resources.
But Kroxa is far from without downfall. Being unable to stick unless it escapes means a simple Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace utterly nerfs it, and it is in the worst color combination for dealing with those. It also doesn't have any evasion, and it'll paint a pretty massive target on your head as nobody enjoys having their hand eaten away. You have to plan around these issues if you build it, otherwise you'll soon find yourself like a titan locked in the underworld with no resources to keep it going.
A bit of a keyword soup, Kunoros here is a very good dog, but also one that requires some thought. After all, one of white/black's favorite tricks is to reanimate creatures, and Kunoros puts a handy stop to that, being the Escape hoser he is designed to be. But a lot of decks in Commander just love doing that, so Kunoros will often hurt many players at once.
Due to this, however, Kunoros may also simply be better in the 99 of a deck needing an extra stopgap against such kind of deck, as if you play him as your commander, you'll find all decks that want to employ such a gameplan hounding you until you can't stop them anymore. The three keywords make him a decent enough combatant but he'll still easily be killed by anyone having more than one creature, so taking him in a combat route probably isn't going to work either. Still, it's good enough to make him a good Commander, but probably a better hatebear...or rather, hatedog, somewhere in the 99 of your deck.
Polukranos is a weird card, suffering rather direct competition from Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis in the Black/Green Cast From Graveyard style deck. While Hogaak is likely the more directly threatening and consistent of the two, Polukranos has a few tricks that enable it to be a rather massive, albeit oddly frail threat. First of all, counter doublers and in general improvements, such as Hardened Scales and Doubling Season. They make Polukranos already bigger on the first cast, let alone whenever he escapes. Beyond that, any other ways to keep piling up counters will make it a massive task to keep Polukranos down.
The ability to act as removal also helps, as he doesn't have trample or any other form of evasion, meaning it's not easy for him to actually punch through. The downside, ofcourse, is that every time he fights or battles he shrinks in size until he eventually dies. Unlike old Phantom cards, like Phantom Nishoba, Polukranos won't prevent damage if he somehow ends up without counters but still alive, so he will die rapidly. The Escape ability is pricy and hard to keep fueling, so sometimes you'll still want him to go back to your Command Zone instead of your graveyard. All in all, Polukranos is massive, flashy, but utterly frail in many ways, so keep those downsides in mind when you build him.
I foresee a lot of Wonder Woman and Xena, Warrior Princess alters in Siona's future. On top of that, Siona is good for one type of deck only, realistically; a deck packing a good amount of auras to buff up one big creature. This kind of clashes with her rather modest base stats and lack of self protection, meaning she's quite likely to play second fiddle next to something like Sigarda, Host of Herons or Uril, the Miststalker, where she does a good job of digging for an aura through the top 7 cards, and then giving you some chump blockers to flank your big beater while at it.
There is, however, an infinite combo with Shielded by Faith, which gives you as many 1/1's as you want. Every time a new one enters, it allows you to attach Shielded by Faith to it, which triggers Siona for a new token. All you need then is a haste outlet and you win, so that's a game you can play with Siona at the helm. Outside of that, as a Commander she doesn't do all that much given that going wide with creatures and spamming auras doesn't tend to mesh well together, but that doesn't make her a bad card.
Uro has the same downsides as Kroxa, but the color combination gives this titan far more ways to deal with the cards that would otherwise hold it down via either counterspells or Naturalize varieties. On top of that, Uro's effect is just better in setting up things. You effectively get a Growth Spiral each time you cast it with a bit of bonus life to go with it.
Once it escapes and sticks on the field, the value it gains may not be as explosive as other Commanders in these colors can be, but it's a very gradual buildup that will allow you to build a powerful position, whereas it's counterpart is more about disrupting your opponents. It does run afoul of the same no-evasion pitfalls and having only middling stats for Commander, but it's not meant to be the only thing killing your opponents, that comes from the cards you play after gaining all that sweet value from it.
An easier to cast Golgari Findbroker that adds a bit of self-mill, with lesser combat stats. Ask yourself, do you need an extra effect such as this and can your deck make use of the self-mill? If yes, it's a slam dunk, though it still always will play second fiddle to Eternal Witness. Not much more to say really, it's a good card.
Oh how I love Ashiok. They're one of the most interesting designs as far as planeswalkers go, and nightmare manipulation is a fun power to toy around with storytelling wise. If only we had a novel to go with Theros, Beyond Death.
As for the card itself, it's pretty good. 5 mana 5 loyalty makes for a decent, albeit not spectacular ratio, but its the abilities where Ashiok shines. The +1 makes one of the biggest tokens on a Planeswalker ever seen on a plus ability, and it comes with an extra ability as well, hitting top cards from libraries and exiling them. While you won't be able to mill entire decks just based on this token, it can make players hesitant to attack into it.
The minus abilities are decent as well. The -3 is a pretty strong tempo swing. While you can use it on yourself to reuse an ability, the exile a card from hand clause can hurt. So it's typically best aimed at an opponent, to remove something preventing your other cards from working. The ult, which between Ashiok's high starting loyalty and the threatening token can be worked towards relatively easily compared to some others, requires some setup to properly work, but that's nothing a Bojuka Bog or, indeed, Ashiok, Dream Render can't fix. Even then it's still a bit luck based on what exactly ends up in exile, but if you can fire it off, go for it.
The planeswalker deck Ashiok falls just one tiny number short of being actually playable, as far as I'm concerned. Whether that's upping the starting loyalty by one or lowering the cost of the -5 by one, either would have worked. Though, realistically, when I say playable in this case I mean "Not a terrible inclusion" because you'd still be looking at a 6 mana card that can reanimate a creature once, or be a slow draw engine. As is, this Ashiok is simply not good enough to warrant inclusion, given how other Blue and Black cards do everything they can but so much better. The art, however, is absolutely brilliant.
A fun play on the old reliable Birthing Pod, Enigmatic Incarnation doesn't need you to pay activation costs, just sacrifice an enchantment at the end of your turn and get yourself a creature. The obvious intention is to be played with enchantment creatures, or enchantments that simply have a one off ability or a trigger upon leaving the battlefield such as Hatching Plans or Parallax Tide. It requires more build around than the aformentioned Pod and you can't immediately make use of most of the creatures you pull in, but there are chains possible that let you gain double advantage from it, as long as your deck is built to make use of it.
Typically, reanimation spells that cost 5 mana need to be pretty spectacular or have extra effects. Rise to Glory comes with the benefit of bringing along an aura and as mentioned with Storm Herald, something like Eldrazi Conscription can make for a powerful card to return, and Rise to Glory ensures you have something to attach it to. It's only really worth it if you run such massive effects on auras, if not, there's much better.
As a replacement for Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, this thing is a fair bit slower but doesn't require you to pay 2 mana to activate it each turn either. This is obviously a card intended for mono-color decks, especially permanent based ones. The ratio at which it becomes good is if you can consistently get it to produce more mana than a Gilded Lotus or a Thran Dynamo after it hits. If you can't, consider if those might not be better for you. Nyx Lotus is very good in turning an early swarm into a big hitter, but the delay on using it means that it can be a horrid topdeck, and it's heavily nerfed by boardwipes.
The strength of Shadowspear lies not in the keywords and power/toughness boon it provides, though those do make for a pretty decent starting point. Especially put on something with deathtouch, the low mana cost both for casting and equipping it will be a viable boon. The real treat however is the activated abillity, which can help you hit pesky indestructible or hexproof cards with mass or spot removal, respectively. A card like Arcane Lighthouse is already a decent inclusion as is, and this goes beyond that. More importantly, note how Shadowspear needs not be equipped to a creature to be activated. A solid card for anyone who regularly faces the likes of Shalai, Voice of Plenty, Avacyn, Angel of Hope or indeed the various Gods of Theros.
The question on if you want to run Soul-Guide Lantern is simply "Do I care enough about my own graveyard that I don't want Relic of Progenitus to hit it, and do I need to nuke multiple graveyards at once often enough that a Tormod's Crypt simply does not cut it?" Soul-Guide Lantern provides a happy medium between the two, getting a free exile upon entering the battlefield, and the ability to cantrip if you simply don't need to exile a grave. If you need multiple of these effects, you can't go wrong with it, especially if you need your own grave to stick around.
Speaking of in-betweens, Labyrinth of Skophos sits in between Maze of Ith and Mystifying Maze as a land that does tap for mana, unlike Ith's, but it simply removes the creature from combat, unlike the temporary exile Mystifying uses. This, to me, makes it better than Mystifying Maze as you don't always want to give your opponent an extra enter the battlefield effect, but the question is if the ability to produce mana makes it better than Maze of Ith, the old-time all star. Of course, Maze of Ith is not a cheap card, and pillowfort decks will want both anyway, so if you're in need of a defensive land, Skophos's Labyrinth will not disappoint.
And with that, we end the review of Theros: Beyond Death for Commander. There are so many pieces to work with here I personally don't know where to start, even if many cards don't directly fit into my decks. I feel this is a great set to just get a bunch of the pieces from no matter what so you have it on hand when you want to build a specific type of deck, because nearly every archetype has something in here they might want. And with 27 new legendary creatures, you can't go wrong with this set.
As for the set specific mechanics, the cost of Escape with the typically small effects mean only a select few cards are truly good enough for Commander. The graveyard is an important resource in this format, having to kill parts of it before you can get to where you want to be is not going to do you many favors, but the Titans and Underworld Breach offer a glimpse into the potentional of the mechanic. Meanwhile, Enchantress decks all around get boons from the enchantment theme Theros is known for, as was to be expected.
The Gods themselves feel less complicated than last go around, having simpler but not neccesarily worse abilities. All of them will see at least some play, with Heliod especially spawning a nasty new combo deck.
I look forwards to what others will do with the set. For now, this is MorganeLeFay signing off, until Ikora.