The first official previews from Theros: Beyond Death arrived this week. We discovered some new mechanics, revisited the lore of the plane, and reunited with old friends. These previews provide just enough material to speculate on what we will find when the rest of the set is revealed.

Enter Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis

Elspeth has returned from the dead as a four-mana planeswalker with five starting loyalty. On the down side, none of her abilities add loyalty. On the plus side, she has a new mechanic that allows you to replay her from your graveyard. Her -2 produces two 1/1 tokens, which is a strong way to both protect her and build your board. The -1 fits perfectly, pumping up to two creatures, meaning you can attack with two 3/2s a turn after playing Elspeth into an empty board. If you are dying, you can also -3 to gain five life.

Despite all the value Elspeth can produce with her three minus abilities, the coolest part of the card is the new Escape mechanic. Escape is a flashback-style mechanic that allows you to pay the alternate mana cost and exile four other cards from your graveyard. Recurring Elspeth for armies of tokens sounds like a value engine. Also note that you will be exiling a lot of cards from your graveyard to do this. Maybe there will be other ways to benefit from that.

It’s a no-brainer that Elspeth will be powerful. She seems strong against aggro decks, where she pumps out blockers and gains life. And yet she should be even better against control decks as a single-card engine to produce armies of tokens. The best (or worst part about this card depending on your seat) is that it always comes back. As of now nothing exiles from the stack since Syncopate rotated back with Dominaria. Until we see some new ways to exile a planeswalker, Elspeth is going to be hard to stop.

Ashiok, Nightmare Muse

Speaking of new ways to exile, meet Ashiok, Nightmare Muse. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver was a crowd favorite during our first visit to Theros. They exiled a lot of cards back then, and their new form promises to exile many more in the future. Again we have a planeswalker in the business of exiling cards. Five mana for five loyalty and a strong +1 sounds reasonable as far as planeswalkers go.

Ashiok’s +1 ability creates a 2/3 token—nice blocker or attacker, and that’s before adding the ability to exile two cards off an opposing library whenever it gets in combat. Their -3 ability should remind you of Dinrova Horror, which is a strong ability even if it isn’t hard removal. You can’t bounce a land with Ashiok, but they can still interact with any other permanent—something Dimir doesn’t always do well. Ashiok thus offers an answer to problematic permanents like Enchantments and Artifacts.

Their ultimate allows you to cast up to three of the your opponent’s exiled cards for free. Not quite a true game-winner, but still quite powerful depending on what you exile from your opponent’s deck. Both smaller abilities fuel their ultimate—much like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver did. Ashiok looks like a nice five-mana planeswalker for the midrange decks and possibly control mirrors.

Athreos, Shroud-Veiled

It appears that the Gods have returned, along with their signature devotion mechanic.; which will also mean devotion is back as a mechanic. Once again, Athreos is indestructible in all forms, and the need for ways to exile various permanents rises again.

Beyoond the sometimes-4/7 body, Athreos offers a new coin mechanic. You put a coin on another target creature at the end step, and whenever the coined creature dies or gets exiled, the creature comes back under your control. This can combine well with sweepers, but mostly means unending chains of value. These types of cards have tons of cool applications, and I really love the flexibility. Athreos looks slow, at six mana to cast and one coin per turn; but like the other two previews, the god can become a value engine over many turns.

What to Expect

Now that we’ve met three of the signature mythic rares from Theros: Beyond Death, what else can we predict? As I’ve noted throughout, each of these cards involves or cares about exiling.  Both the god and Elspeth demand exile removal to answer them as well. That probably means we’ll get new exile-based removal spells, effects like Stasis Snare or Vraska’s Contempt.

What if they take exiling even further. We could get an exile-matters mechanic or cycle of cards. Ashiok may remind you of the processors from Battle for Zendikar, like Wasteland Strangler. Or what if the “face-up” clause on Ashiok really matters, if we’re exiling cards face down all the time. Maybe a new version of the Hideaway mechanic? Can we get a Shelldock Isle reprint?

Theros: Beyond Death preview season has just begun. What do you hope to see next?

Zack is a SCG grinder with one ultimate goal: getting to the Players Championship. Based out of NYC, you can find him in other cities every weekend trying to hit that goal. When he isn’t traveling he streams. Follow his journey on Twitter!

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