This week I present my Top Ten Cards of Theros Limited. Bear with me. I know everyone’s been waiting eagerly to hear my Top Ten, from the moment I announced its existence (in the title of this article) until now. You’ll have to wait a little more. (Unless you scroll down, but that’s cheating.) First, I have to talk about a little problem I’ve been having in the Magic Online 8-4 draft queues: I’ve been seeing red.

SulfuricVortex

I don’t think I’m in Kansas anymore.

Everywhere. In all color combinations. It’s crazy. Blue-red scry? Black-red minotaurs? Black-red control with Whip of Erebos and Anger of the Gods? White-red Heliod token swarm? Green-red infinite Stoneshock Giants? Green-red Centaur Battlemaster swing for 20? Seriously.

And red deck wins, against me at least. I believe I am approximately 5-30 in only 8-4 draft matches against decks that play a Mountain and approximately 15-5 against decks that don’t. (These numbers are totally ballpark and not in any way precise.) I don’t know what is crazier, that two-thirds of all opponents I face in 8-4s have played red, or that I’ve lost so consistently. Some of that is running into nut draws from red-white heroic decks, which can happen to anyone, but that’s not what I’m losing to most of the time. Well, maybe it is “most” of the time, but if so only in the 51% range that is so far within my completely imprecise margin of error (+/- 20%) that saying “most” is as useless as having an asshole on my left elbow.

killbill

Decidedly not the People’s Elbow.

The apparent consensus of the Magic-playing world is that red is the weakest color in Theros Limited. I agree. There are very few red commons that make me want to play the color. Lightning Strike is nice, and can often kill a Wingsteed Rider or Voyaging Satyr, but woe is she who faces down an 8/9 with red spells in hand.

Often, my death comes at the hand of non-red spells. Sea God’s Revenge seems to be the most popular choice, and that makes sense. Red can’t get rid of giant creatures, or even medium-sized creatures. Ill-Tempered Cyclops and Borderland Minotaur can end a game if the opponent has no blockers. I can verify that for sure. But then there’s games like this:

wtf

This actually happened.

Does this count as a red deck? As you can see, I had an okay starting hand (much better before Voyaging Satyr got lit up) but really needed to draw into my gas. In this deck, that happened to be Reaper of the Wilds, Bow of Nylea, Nylea’s Emissary, etc., with the secondary plan of taking my opponent to Athreos High School.

Anyway, I could tell that my opponent was on some sort of “big things” plan and I felt I was in trouble unless I slowed that plan down by eating the Opaline Unicorn. Sure, I considered that I could get blown out. My opponent had two mana open—the Unicorn and the land with Nylea’s Presence. Voyage’s End? Another Lightning Strike? Sure. Not much I can do about that, especially since I can’t realistically expect to Time to Feed the giant creature my opponent taps out to cast in a turn or two. Pheres-Band Centaurs already did their eating for the year, grew some big butts, and now only snack on low-toughness creatures.

I felt I had to go for it. Titan’s Strength? Reeeeealy? I suppose it is less crazy than if my opponent had cast Boon of Erebos. Well, I basically died right there, and my rotting corpse was cleaned up by a pair of Stoneshock Giants. So yeah. Red deck wins.

Am I crazy? Incompetent? Anyone else running into all sorts of red decks online? Or in paper drafts? Is this just my annual visit from crazy Uncle Variance? Let me know what you think about red decks in Theros draft.

Theros Top Ten!!!!

So then. How excited are you? Not at all? Just a little bit? Like it or not, here it comes: my top ten favorite cards in the Theros Limited format, across draft and sealed. My grading is holistic, based on many factors including power level, flexibility, flavor, contrariness, random chance, lolz, etc. Drumroll please.

twoseven

When’s the wedding?? Should I wear my spats??

10. Stymied Hopes

Ah, Force Spike. I still own the original Legends copy from my childhood. It can do so much for so little, and nothing is better at tilting your opponent. Three factors help make Force Spike valuable in a Limited format: Lots of game-breaking expensive spells. Tempo that requires tapping out in the early game to develop your board. Lack of strong counterspells. Theros has all three. The first is especially true in sealed, while the others are true generally.

During round nine of GP Toronto, I managed to counter a Nessian Asp and a Baleful Eidolon with Stymied Hopes. I still lost both games, as I discussed previously, but at least the Hopes came to play. When I got my opponent the first time, he said “not again” and told me he lost to Sam Black earlier in the tournament stymying an attempt to bestow a Boon Satyr during combat. Just this past week I heard Owen Turtenwald warily note, during a Theros draft video, that he hoped his opponent didn’t have Stymied Hopes for the blowout, but that he wasn’t going to play around it. There you have it. Stymied Hopes!

9. Hammer of Purphoros

This card is basically unbeatable in a long game. Hammer of Purphoros might as well be Pack Rat, since an army of 3/3s is plenty to overwhelm any blocking force. And they never stop coming. If your opponent doesn’t draw lands to sac, they probably draw creatures to play. Which by the way have haste.

Blue-black, my favorite color combination, never wants to see this on the other side of the board. I usually play Annul in my main deck, since there are a lot of bestow creatures you can get with it, plus it’s really your only way to stop a Hammer. If you’re lucky. Red is my least favorite color in Theros, but Hammer gets my respect.

marteau sans maitre

Marteau de Purphoros is a difficult card to master.

Expect to see it more in Standard as well. Why spend five on Assemble the Legion when you can spend three on Hammer? Sure, both the Hammer and the Golem tokens are vulnerable to Detention Sphere. But so are Pack Rat and Assemble the Legion. Hammer is the real deal.

8. Returned Phalanx

Blocker extraodinaire. Or as I like to call it, Creeping Tar Pit. You can play the Phalanx in any black deck, but it really shines in blue-black. Usually a turn two Phalanx sits back and stops early ground assaults, which is great when you want to live to play late game bombs. One of the weaknesses of slow defensive decks, however, is an inability to apply early pressure if an opponent stumbles on mana. When you let your opponent live to draw out of mana screw, you have to face all the awesome cards they have been stuck unable to play all game., and you lose the advantage from your opponent’s initial bad luck. But if you can activate the Phalanx, then you can start swinging for three a turn. So good. That can at least soften them up for a Gray Merchant. Besides, you get to eat Deathbellow Raiders for days. Yum!

7. Time to Feed

Speaking of food, it’s Time to Feed.

haumph

HAUMPH!

How sad is it that a three-mana Prey Upon that gains three life is in my top ten? They don’t make removal like they used to. But incidental life gain is always nice, and there are a lot of big creatures hungry to eat your opponent’s board.

6. Aqueous Form

t1000

Your foster parents are dead.

How do you beat the T-1000? Better have a plan that doesn’t involve blocking! Aqueous Form is good on anything giant. Or Benthic Giant. It’s also nice with Flamespeaker Adept.

5. Fleshmad Steed

Steed might be the best Magic card ever printed. The Mares of Diomedes are pretty high on the awesome scale of the labors of Hercules. Fleecemane Lion might be more fearsome in Magic, but horses that eat human flesh? Such flavor!! How do you tame them?

zelda8-4

Grumble, grumble . . .

The best part about Fleshmad Steed, though, is how absolutely horrible the card is to play.  A black bear like Walking Corpse is a perfect curve-filler in a Limited deck. It gives you something to do with your mana, can attack or block, etc. The best part is, you can play Walking Corpse and then it sits there doing its job. You never have to think about it.

Fleshmad Steed completely fails here. You have to think about it all the time! Did you want to block? Better hope your opponent didn’t stop by the store and pick up some Meat Stick for 80 rupees, because Steed is gonna get tapped. A game of Magic has so many decisions, which is why it is so mentally taxing to play. There is real value in cards you don’t have to think about. That’s why vanilla creatures are so important to Limited, why Wizards R&D has put so much “New World Order” effort into removing on-board complexity.

But here’s where Steed shines again. Whenever I have a Fleshmad Steed in my draft or sealed pool, I only have to make one decision ever: Is my deck so bad that it needs to run a Steed? The answer is almost always no. So off it goes to my sideboard, and I never think about it again. So awesome!

4. Hythonia the Cruel

Kill ALL the creatures. But not the Gorgons. The only time I’ve ever Monstrous’ed Hythonia the Cruel and lost, my opponent had an active Hammer of Purphoros. So why does old Thoni rank higher? She’s a mythic bomb with beautiful artwork. And black will always triumph over red because red is dumb.

3. Horizon Chimera

Remember in Gatecrash Limited, when you played with or against an extort deck? You had to use two sheets of paper each game to keep track of life totals. Horizon Chimera is like that. Draw a card, gain a life. Oh and by the way, attack for three in the air. After casting it on your opponent’s end step. Did they block and trade with a Vaporkin? Well you still get two trample damage. Can you also get a car wash?

Car-Wash

The resemblance is uncanny.

Drawing cards, gaining life, holding up mana during my opponent’s turn, and keeping a clean car are some of the true joys in life. And you can get them all for four mana!

2. Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Gary. Such a powerful card.  I can spend five mana to kill my opponent without attacking? Sign me up! What? Sometimes your opponent lives, and you only get to drain them of four or six life, and you’re left with a 2/4 blocker? That’s still pretty good against beatdown decks.

robocops

I’ll buy that for a dollar.

The best deck in Standard plays four copies of Pack Rat, four copies of Thoughtseize, and four copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Sometimes you actually want to play Gary instead of discarding him to make another rat. And it’s already a major player in Eternal Pauper. What does that tell you? Gray Merchant of Asphodel is one of the most powerful commons printed in the modern era. It’s no Pestilence, but that card would never be a common today.

In Theros Limited, any time your opponent has a board state with devotion to black of at least three, you start counting. How dead am I if she has Gary? Usually the answer is “really dead” and your best choice is to start chump blocking when you are at 10 life. That’s just crazy! It’s like Fireball. Start counting your opponent’s lands! Or in this case, mana symbols. And what if they have Gary twins? Or triplets? Good luck with that.

1. Morph Card

So what’s better than Gray Merchant? What do I love more than the card whose image adorned the banner for this article until my editor said Gary has been the feature image for too many articles? What card depicts a woman playing with her smartphone?

gaga of athreos

Let’s have some fun, these beats are sick!

Yes, my number one Theros limited card is Scholar of Athreos! What’s better than drawing a bunch of cards and playing them? Drawing cards and NOT playing them because you can dump all your mana into draining life at the end of your opponent’s turn. Horizon Chimera is nice for holding up tricks or removal to discourage your opponent from attacking, but eventually you have to put the Chimera on board and attack with it (or with something) to win. Gray Merchant skips the attack step too, but you have to have a developed board. What if you draw a ton of lands? Well now you can drain for three every turn. What are those three or four or five cards in your hand? Lash of the Whip? Divine VerdictGriptide? Gods Willing? Who cares! Just drain away. And block if necessary.

****

So there you have it. I’d also like to give an honorable shout out to Pheres-Band Centaurs, because seven toughness is a lot. Best Thraben Purebloods ever. I wish I had thought to ask Shuuhei Nakamura sign a copy when we shared the feature match table in OKC.

And while we’re on the topic of honorable mentions, congratulations to Thea Steele for making the Top 8 of the StarCity Games Invitational in Las Vegas last weekend! She skillfully piloted Big Red Devotion in Standard and Jund in Legacy. The Invitational is at least as competitive as a Grand Prix, and it pays a lot more in prize money. We rightly celebrate when women make the Top 8 of a Pro Tour or Grand Prix, and we should celebrate Thea’s accomplishment at the Invitational as well. Also more generally, I was impressed with the quality of the coverage, both for play and commentary, throughout the Invitational. We got some snow in Brooklyn over the weekend, so I curled up at home and tuned in. StarCity announced that they will have a Players’ Championship next year on top of the four Invitationals. More high level Magic competition and coverage! Exciting!

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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