As we step into the new year, this feels like the first time we can fully experience the new release structure for Standard-legal sets. While the last year and a half has been stand-alone sets, the three sets taking place on Ravnica skewed my perspectives on how Standard is developing. Now with the preview season for Theros Beyond Death in full effect, I am very excited for the first set of the new decade.

As with most sets, I like to let preview season pass before I talk strategy for any given general, allowing me to have the full context of what will be available once the set is out. But seeing as I have the feeling this set is going to occupy a lot of my attention in the coming weeks, I wanted to get a head start while also casting a wider net and covering more than one general. This week I will be looking at the cycle of demigods in this set, all five sharing a mechanical space to tie them together while also being basic enough to recommendations for anyone who might be starting Commander and looking for a solid budget option.

All five of today’s generals share the theme of devotion, something of varying power level depending on which color they care about, because mana costs of permanents are not created equally. The reality is, all five of these skeletons are designed with the flaw that they live and die based on their general—though that’s true of Commander generally. As an added bonus, all five of these will act as a good starting point that can be upgraded to their respective mythic rare gods, who they feed into very well.

Daxos, Blessed by the Sun

First up we have Daxos, Bless by the Sun, our third sighting of Daxos since we first met him back in 2013. Beyond the flavor implications of Daxos being a champion of sorts for Heliod—who famously killed Elspeth during the closing moments of Journey into Nyx—I think our white legend highlights some of the best and worst aspects of what we can come to expect from all five of our legends. In several cases, we’re going to want to skew our build towards accommodating a token strategy, though Daxos might be the one that gains the most from this—no surprise, as white loves tokens.

Daxos easily passes the vanilla test, but doesn’t do a lot to protect himself on a hypothetical second turn of the game. Still, I think our general can be a sizable wall that can survive damage based removal and we can reasonably come out on top from most other Wrath effects. The most important part of Daxos might also be the most deceptive: the slow but reliable trickle of life gain. Triggering off of our creatures coming into play and dying, Daxos, Blessed by the Sun will hopefully garner a lot of synergy and often make games of attrition very unwinnable for our opponents.

As with any tokens build, there is a push and pull to this deck; but I think any card that carries two or more points of devotion—easy in a mono colored deck—and also supplied multiple bodies is going to be very successful here. A few work horses that come to mind are Captain of the Watch, Evangel of Heliod, and Harmonious Archon all doing excellent work. A constant flow of life isn’t going to win games, so we’re also going to dedicate a healthy amount of our deck to buffs like Benalish Marshal, Intangible Virtue, Phantom General, and Spear of Heliod. Overall, if you want to a deck with sticking power and the ability to go wide, I think this will be for you.

Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea

Looking at Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea, my first inclination was to try to craft an enchantress deck that plays in similar space to Talrand, Sky Summoner. It might be my own blindspots, but I don’t know entirely know what I would do to optimally use her. A starting point I happen to like is teaming her up with Kira, Great Glass-Spinner to not only tax our opponents as they try to deal with our board, but also make them overcommit resources.

From there I think we have an awful lot of directions to go in; Leviathan or Merfolk tribal being two surprise picks, but mono blue Clones being my personal first choice. This wouldn’t be as aggressively copy-effect obsessed as something like The Mimeoplasm or Lazav, Dimir Mastermind; but would basically insure that whatever our opponents are packing, our versions are a little bit better. My big attraction is making Copy Enchantment and Mirrormade more appealing in a format that doesn’t respect enchantments enough. If there is one general I would would like to delay a final judgment on, Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea would be it.

Tymaret, Chosen from Death

As a card, Tymaret has a lot going for him. In my eyes black is one of the best colors for devotion with classic cards like Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Phyrexian Arena, and Whip of Erebos being eternally useful. And as a creature Tymaret, Chosen from Death can easily survive a spell like Slagstorm. That shouldn’t detract from the other generals, but it’s something that should be accounted for if you happen to know your local metagame.

Speaking of knowing you metagame, Tymaret is an excellent inclusion in any deck that wants to focus on graveyard removal, an added perk as a general. Because of that, I don’t feel we would need to focus deck space to cards like Nihil Spellbomb or Tormod’s Crypt, instead simply looking to bring Tymaret’s toughness up as high as possible with threats.

The question stands of what exactly we’ll build with Tymaret. As a fairly open-ended legendary creature, the sky becomes the limit. In fact, think with a reasonably sized backside, it would be correct to include cards like Bladed Pinions, Cobbled Wings, and Fleetfeather Sandals to allow for our general to act as an impassable flying wall. But for the remainder of the deck, I see going Zombie tribal as a fun twist that might be be immediately expected at the table. Being able to use Balthor the Defiled to recure an entire graveyard stacked with Calculating Lich, Custodi Lich, and Geralf’s Messenger will not only help our general, but it will also make for a force that must be answered.

Anax, Hardened in the Forge

Tossing around ideas for Anax, Hardened in the Forge has not been a simple task, but I think that comes from how uncharted his design is for a mono red Commander deck. I don’t know if there is a red general that can so easily brush off a board wipe. The closet analog I could parse out was thinking of Anax as Mogg Infestation stapled to a creature. And even that was pretty loose. He obviously plays well with Purphoros, God of the Forge, but in trying to forge his own identity my mind drifts to finding combos with Blasphemous Act or Chain Lightning while having Fervor and Shared Animosity on hand.

I’m honestly very excited by this card. While we’ve seen cards like Tilonalli’s Summoner, Ogre Battledriver, and Tempt with Vengeance making appearances in decks together, I don’t know if they have synergized with a general as much as they ultimately should with Anax. Easily the most potentially explosive of today’s skeletons, but I don’t feel afraid of running around with a glass cannon when it hits this hard.

Renata, Called to the Hunt

Ending our list we have Renata, Called to the Hunt, possibly the best of today’s generals. While I have a lot of faith in Daxos and Anax breaking out with unique builds, a successful deck skeleton already exist to be retrofitted to Renata. On top of that, I think green may be the best color to benefit from devotion simply because of how much mana its allowed to make and the amount of green mana showing up in casting costs is a drawback in many other environments. While Renata will easily fall to damage if not appropriately protected, I think the rewards will outweigh that risk.

My first thought upon reading Renata was to compare her to Bramblewood Paragon without tribal loyalties. But after some thinking, she became so much more. Major influence comes from Rishkar, Peema Renegade—a card worthy of being a second-in-command for this deck—where new cards like Steelbane Hydra and The Great Henge move mountains along side Tuskguard Captain and Evolution Sage. With a skeleton of +1/+1 counters enhancing cards like Mowu, Loyal Companion and Hardened Scales, just about any creature coming into play is going to be more aggressive than their mana cost normally allows.

The endgame here is to find creatures like Avenger of Zendikar that represent multiple bodies to swarm the opponents, or Craterhoof Behemoth which will simply turn all of our creatures into unstoppable monsters. Backed up by reactive spells like Arachnogenesis and Wild Onslaught, it’s hard to imagine that we’re going to be easy to attack into.

Each of these decks is at a reasonably lower power level. None of them are going to steal games over and over against tables where the decklists have been refined to be as powerful as possible. But I think a lot of value can come from keeping a deck in your arsenal that falls in the four to six rating on whatever power level scale you subscribe to. Mono colored decks are often some of the best to put into the hands of new players, so my hope is that today’s article can be a good springboard for people who want to explore commander without necessarily needing to dig into the kinds of generals that we see each year in the Commander products. I’ve still got a lot in the tank, so we will be covering more of Theros Beyond Death for a little while longer. See you next time.

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH and the EDH community. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks.

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