This week, Kristen takes us through the impact Theros Beyond Death will have on the average Commander table at your Local Games Store. 

Prerelease weekend for Theros Beyond Death is behind us, and hopefully you had a great time supporting your LGS and participating in one of the more relaxed and exciting events in the calendar. I had the chance to play in two events, and opened two copies of Elspeth Conquers Death in not one, but both events. What are the chances?! Pulling a foil Polukranos, Unchained was pretty sweet too—I was always going to splash that.

Elspeth Conquers Death is not as backbreaking as it first looks, but can do a serious amount of work when combined with the right cards, like flickering it with Flicker of Fate or bouncing it with Shimmerwing Chimera. Figuring out how to really break cards is one of the most appealing parts of Limited, a format I encourage all Commander players to play as often as possible. It’s also what we all live for when playing Commander.

Rather than covering which cards are the best cards from the set, or which ones can slot into other archetypes, which there’s plenty of time for later, I thought today I’d instead look at how the new set could impact your local metagame.

How Does Theros Beyond Death Shake up Commander?

When a new set drops, you’ll often see a swell of cards enter the pools of players in your local group. Whilst this may have minimal impact in a smaller group, such as at the kitchen table, it can definitely shift the metagame at your local casual Commander night at the store. Being aware of these potential shifts can pay dividends, not only for what to expect, but also in coming prepared to answer it.

There are two main things that THB brings to the table: Gods (or, more accurately, Indestructible enchantments), and graveyard shenanigans. The shenanigans in this case are mainly the use of the Escape mechanic, and also a wealth of new tools to both enable graveyard strategies, but also to shut them down.

Answering Gods

It’s been a while since we had indestructible enchantments flooding the metagame, especially ones that are sometimes-creatures-and-sometimes-not. When “destroy target enchantment” and “destroy all creatures” are about as effective as shouting at the constellations and expecting a miracle, you know you’re in for some problems. It’s long been the case that exile removal is the only true removal in Commander, and no truer can it be applied than when it comes to the Gods.

Thassa, Deep-Dwelling will undoubtedly prove to be one of the more popular Commanders, but will likely find a home in many Yarok, the Desecrated builds too; an indestructible Conjurer’s Closet is pretty decent. Heliod, Sun-Crowned is also likely to show up in both mono-White combo builds, and in more consistent builds featuring Green or Black for consistency. The other Gods also offer a lot of on board value, and denying your opponents their desserts is the aim of the game here.

To deal with these creatures permanently, we either need to hit them when they’re “online” or exile them. Besides temporary answers like Banishing Light and Oblivion Ring, White has plentiful answers in Crush Contraband, Fate Forgotten, Return to Dust, and Act of Authority. Green can Fade into Antiquity or just Deglamer, and Black also has options both when combined with White, like Anguished Unmaking, and by itself—think cards like Epic Downfall, when the God comes online. Pharika’s Libation could be useful, but I still don’t think will hit reliably.

Other colors will have to get more creative. If you’re in Blue, your best option is countering them—so try spells like Void Shatter or Summary Dismissal to make sure they can’t come back. Red will struggle the most, and have to rely on Chaos Warp and Scour from Existence. Packing Hour of Devastation over a similar board wipe may be an idea, at least for a little while.

Thankfully, we got given perhaps the best answer to a hard to deal with permanent in Shadowspear. All colors can run this, and it makes felling Gods a slice of cake. Of course, all of this is geared toward these creatures being part of the 99; if they’re the Commander, you’ll have to work together as a table to ensure you have enough ways to keep them down—especially Heliod & Thassa, who have arguably the most potential (though dropping in Blightsteel Colossus with Purphoros is pretty disgusting!).

No Escape

There are also a bunch of great cards that can keep coming back from the brink this visit to Theros—using the Escape mechanic to break out of the Underworld. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Polukranos, Unchained are probably going to be the most popular of these in the Command zone, but expect to see many decks try and break Underworld Breach:

While most of the more broken builds of this will require expensive cards like Lion’s Eye Diamond, Demonic Tutor, and Wheel of Fortune, there will no doubt be more budget conscious builds that can abuse the new Yawgmoth’s Will.

It’s more important than ever to include graveyard hate in your deck. For what feels like the hundredth time this year already, I’ll be strongly recommending Scavenger Grounds as an auto-include in your deck. With a couple of cycling deserts, or one of the more interesting ones like Endless Sands, you’ll have multiple shots to exile all graveyards at instant speed all within your mana base.

Outside of this, I advocate strongly for the new Soul-Guide Lantern. This is a strict upgrade over Tormod’s Crypt in all but the most competitive of tables, given it exiles a card when it comes in, and then hits everyone but you on the way out. The cherry on the cake is that it can always cycle if you don’t need it. Certain colors have access to other ways to interact, too.

White has access to Angel of Finality, Stonecloaker, and Rest in Peace. Black can use the new Erebos’s Intervention, Leyline of the Void, and many ways to stop creatures ending up there, like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Overseer of the Damned. Green has Scavening Ooze, Return to Nature, and Noxious Revival; and Red increasingly has ways to exile with damage—I think Lava Coil is pretty underrated at more casual tables.

If you’re in Blue, you’ll have to use your imagination a little. Aside from dipping into artifacts, there’s the fantastically underplayed Spellweaver Volute. Learn from the Past replaces itself, and Mnemonic Nexus hits all players. It’s a little expensive for what it does, so why not add a wheel into the mix and play cards like Echo of Eons instead? Just watch out for enemy Smothering Tithes!

Caught in the Crossfire

It’s all well and good preparing for the changes to the metagame, but some decks will unfortunately find themselves struggling more than usual as players adapt to the fresh blood in the arena. If you’re playing Enchantress style decks, or Voltron decks focusing on a lot of Auras or Equipment; you may find your metagame is packing a little more heat than usual, and it might leave you reeling. If you’re not willing to try other decks, packing more protection might be a good bet—think some of the second pick cards that don’t make the cut when you build with Heroic Intervention and Teferi’s Protection. Try the underplayed Rebuff the Wicked, Wild Ricochet, or Imp’s Mischief. Travis had some great tips for Selesnya in particular in his latest Commander Primer.

Similarly, if you enjoy a good reanimator deck, or a deck that likes to use the graveyard a lot, you might find that more widespread use of graveyard tech means that you’re shut off a little more regularly than you’d like. There aren’t as many good ways to mitigate this disadvantage. Although Elixir of Immortality seems like a good idea, in practice it usually ends up leaving you at the same endpoint even if the graveyard wasn’t exiled—with an empty chamber, and nothing to do. It works if you heavily lean into self mill, admittedly, so perhaps try and include ways to speed up your engine, like Altar of Dementia, or more aggressively pair your reanimation with effects like Phyrexian Reclamation to try and get around the loss of creatures by using the stack. Vedalken Orrery might be just what Chainer, Nightmare Adept needs to fight this renewed opposition.

Ultimately, I feel like people should run enough graveyard removal to make reanimator a risky strategy anyway, but your mileage may vary.

In Closing

The impact a new set has depends mostly on the relative average level of play experience in your local community. The long term players will likely be unaffected, having already settled into their groove with favored strategies and a tightly curated suite of removal and countermeasures. If you’re in a fresher playgroup, or have a lot of more casual players around, then events like new sets tend to sway the metagame a lot more—though it will always swing back, eventually.

I’d be tempted to run one extra copy of artifact & enchantment removal for a few weeks—Heliod’s Intervention being a perfect addition to many decks. Having an extra, flexible addition to your removal suite can help you save the exile effects for cards that really need them. Similarly, I’d want to run a little more graveyard hate while people figure out what they want to do with escape. Generally speaking, the amount of graveyard hate you’ll end up running scales with the age of your playgroup anyway, as more experienced players are more fearful of cheating things into play, and making sure threats are truly neutered. Soul-Guide Lantern seems a safe bet alongside your Scavenger Grounds, and I’d build from there.

Return to Nature is a brilliant piece of cheap interaction, and the marquee example of what you should be doing right now in Commander. It’s the perfect budget card, and one that can do a lot of heavy lifting in even the more brutal games. Pack some modal spells, increase your flexibility, and don’t be cold to what your friends are doing. You want to win, right?

While everyone else is experimenting with the new cards, it might be an idea to revisit some old favourites that might perform well right now. Anafenza, the Foremost seems very well positioned, with access to plentiful ways of exiling both permanents and graveyards; but I also think lifelink decks like Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim and Karlov of the Ghost Council stand to gain a lot from cards like Daxos, Blessed by the Sun, Heliod’s Intervention, and Heliod, Sun-Crowned. What deck has had a breath of new life for you? Hit me up on Twitter to join the discussion!

Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up. Based in the UK, she works as a software developer, and her love for the Legion is second only to her appreciation for Lord of the Rings and Mass Effect.

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