Magical Thinking: Theros Beyond Death
Welcome back to Magical Thinking, a look back at the cards and art of Magic: the Gathering, set by set, from the beginning, through the eyes of a casual fan. This week, we return to a much beloved plane, where a much beloved hero was unjustly slain and is in need of some much needed resolution to her story. Put on your toga and grab a gyro from the fridge. It’s time for the January 2020's Theros Beyond Death.
Last time we were on Theros, planeswalker hero Elspeth had been murdered by her patron, the sun god Heliod. But apparently death only served to piss Elspeth off. She’s come back, and not as one of those memory-less faceless guys either but real proper back to life. Armed with a new shadow spear, and hounded by the goddess of fate, Elspeth is looking to settle accounts with Heliod.
Which is good because Heliod has decided there should be no other gods before him, and has declared war on the rest of the pantheon. When gods make war among themselves it’s the mortals who lose. Will Elspeth be able to put an end to Heliod’s shenanigans and save Theros? Let’s find out.
In case you needed a reminder, Theros is the “enchantments matter” plane, and so we get a return of this nifty mechanic. Constellation does a thing when you play an enchantment. In this case is gives you more and more pegasi tokens. If you recall Ajani’s Pridemate and other lifegain cards, this guy can ruin your day before you can say Healer’s Hawk (More like Healer’s Hack, am I right?)
Remember Sagas? Those multi stage enchantments that go away after three turns but do different stuff? Well they’re back. And they fit Theros really well, since A) again, enchantments matter, and B) it’s based on Greek myths and plays, so of course it’s gonna have epic stories. I really like the flavor of this one too. First you scope out some new real estate (tutor land), then you build a city there (represented by the wall), then you reap the benefits (the life gain).
Hey remember Daxos? He’s back, and in demigod form. Daxos is annoying not only because of the lifegain but because his health is tied to devotion. This makes him really hard to kill, just like a real demigod.
Me whenever I think of the myriad writing projects I want to start but just can’t right now.
And there she is, our hero, the last honest paladin (until they figure out how to bring back Gideon at least). And look, she has a new keyword. This set is all about escaping the underworld, so cards get the mechanic escape. This lets you play them from the graveyard in exchange for paying a new mana cost and exiling other cards from your graveyard. You literally can’t keep a good card down.
And then there’s this asshole. Did you know the tie-in DnD setting book for this set actually has the gall to list Heliod as being Lawful Good? After all the tricky shit he pulled last time the idea that this clown is good anything is laughable.
So here we are, the fallen champion Elspeth vs. her all powerful former master in an epic battle for all the marbles! WHO WILL TRIUMPH?
Wow. Held the tension for a whole second there, didn’t I?
I do like the flavor here though. It’s like pacifism (but better because it negates abilities) but it only lasts until the creature its on pays their dues. So off you go to weenie jail, Heliod. Do not pass go, do not collect any prayers from worshipers so you’re probably gonna starve down there.
Previously we were introduced to enchantment creatures; creatures that are also enchantments. But in the past those enchantment creatures always had some kind of effect. Now we’re getting vanilla enchantment creatures; they don’t have any special abilities, but you still have an enchantment, and in Theros that can be enough.
I like that we have a card here that is a functional reprint of Wrath of God (plus some potential card draw) in a set about angry gods fighting each other.
I bet you never thought you’d see a card based on Narcissus, did you? I mean, that’s a real mythological B side right there. And since this is Magic we have to add a little twist; Alirios may be too busy looking at himself to fight, but that doesn’t mean his reflection wont kick your ass.
Kiora may not be in this set, but her legend lives on in what is probably my favorite saga from this set. If you manage to get this one off, the game is over and you pretty much already won. It gives you an 8/8 hexproof, locks down the board, then lets you steal your opponent’s best card. Its the ultimate triple threat.
“When they said they were gonna make me a star, I didn’t think they meant this!”
…Yeah, that was terrible. They can’t all be winners. Sue me.
Of all the gods in this set, I think I like Thassa the best. Her bounce ability is awesome, since there are so many things you can use it on. Remember Mr. Self Reflection up there? Great target. She works well in bounce decks, mill decks, any kind of deck you can think of. Definitely a winner.
Thryx is another card I really liked from this set, but his true potential won’t shine through until we get to Ikoria, which we will see in a few weeks.
Hey, another mill staple from back in the day. What I like here is that even if they get chump blocked you’re still gonna mill them. Your walls are meaningless to me! Of course, they die pretty easily, but a 2 mana creature isn’t here for a long time, just a good time.
Wherever Elspeth went after she left Theros, I hope they have therapists there.
Angry dooting intensifies.
In this set Erebos is actually helping Elspeth out because, as mentioned, Heliod is just acting like a jerk. He has a cool ability too; just watch out because that life loss can come back to haunt you.
Remember this handsome devil? It’s Gary. He’s back and it looks like he’s making bank. He’s got so much money they upped his rarity to uncommon. He works hard for the money.
I’m guessing the return from the dead isn’t working out to well for Daxos then?
I should probably note that Theros Beyond Death did not have any accompanying fiction. It just had a bunch of short blurbs that explained the plot like crib notes. Now that may sound disappointing… Anyway let’s get back to the cards.
Like Dead Weight, I’m pretty sure this card is only ever played with the intention of killing a creature outright.
Remember this guy? Mister “Kill everyone I meet on the off chance they may be the shapeshifter God I’m after?” Yeah, he’s fun. And now he’s a demigod too.
Now here is a deep cut. All the way from Legends we have Underworld Dreams, which is great for this set because it’s thematic (it’s set in the underworld) it’s an enchantment, and it’s three Black so it’s straight up devotion fodder. Definitely a personal favorite.
Yes, now you too can get in on the fun of the new sensation sweeping the nation: Haruspication! Haruspication is the practice of trying to divine the future by reading the entrails of an animal! Just grab the nearest goat (or cat, or satyr, or human, or demigod, or leper or wall or…) rip them to pieces, and you to can scry for one card. Amaze your friends, get on FBI watch lists, the fun will never end. Try it today!
Disclaimer: do not try this at home. Seriously don’t do it.
Like I said last time, Theros satyr’s are party animals in all the worst ways. And when you got a hammer that big, everything starts looking like a pinata.
YEAH! RUNNIN DOWN A DREAM! CAN’T STOP WON’T STOP DON’T KNOW HOW TO STOP OH GOD GET OUT OF THE WAY THE BREAK LINES ARE CUT!!!
Hey the sword of Damocles, another mythology deep cut.
I love that one lady in the crowd that seems shocked this happened. Bless her heart.
Purphoros is probably the God I played with the least in this set. But he has some neat abilities. Basically you can quick-play your Red creatures and artifacts. But haste makes waste as they say, since you need to quickly sacrifice them. Remember, anything worth doing is worth doing right.
I once ran into a Storm Herald deck that killed me in one turn. It’s the source of some really busted as hell combos, as you can imagine. Having haste doesn’t help things.
Another personal favorite of mine. Arasta has a lot going for her; good stats, reach, and she can make a horde of spider tokens. This card looks at Blue and is like “No thank you, sir.”
This card can really spiral out of control. At a certain point, if this card is on the board long enough, you may as well give up because you are as good as dead.
I love how the word “chimera” has come to refer to any weird combination of creatures. Like this horrible elk-lion-thing. Also, maybe it’s because we now live in a post-Centaurworld world, but I’m getting Nowhere King vibes from this guy.
Nylea is another favorite of mine. Mainly because it’s fun to fill your hand with creatures and keep playing them one after another, and because she goes well with the Great Henge.
And of course we have this guy. Mr “Just how big CAN I make this hydra?”
Ugh, this card. She’s not Ajani’s Pridemate, but she can be just as annoying under the right circumstances.
Ashiok is the instigator of the plot of the adventure, since they are the one who spurs Elspeth to escape the underworld through their chicanery. They also learn about the Phyrexians and immediately leave the plot. I’m sure Ashiok will do something eventually, but I’m not holding my breath.
And here we have our new planeswalker. Calix was a nyxborn created by Klothys to bring Elspeth. After she planeswalked away after beating Heliod, he developed a spark to follow her. As you can expect, he’s enchantment focused, and also has the ability to put people in enchantment jail, which makes for a fun planeswalker.
Haktos is a fun and flavorful card. Like Achilles he’s almost indestructible. Often, playing him is a win button because he can’t be stopped, unless you are unlucky and your opponent is lucky.
Meet the new goddess, same as the old goddess. Klothys is the proper Gruul god on Theros, busy in the underworld with the titans before Elspeth made trouble (which is how Xenagos was able to usurp her position for a while). Now she’s back, eating away your opponent’s graveyard to keep them from escaping or making any further trouble.
I’m sorry, your son needs braces. And also an exorcist.
There are only two titans in this set, this bad boy and another one. But they have a similar theme; dual colored, die unless they were played with escape, but they do something powerful when played or attacked. In this case Kroxa eats up your opponent’s hand.
You may remember Polukranos as Elspeth’s first victory in Theros. Now he’s back, undead, and pissed off. I had a lot of fun with this card. He can easily wipe out enemy forces with his fight power, take a lot of punishment, and come back for more.
Oh boy, Uro.
See, I missed the reign of Oko. But here? I was there for Uro. I remember how ubiquitous Uro was, how often he showed up, how he was in pretty much every deck, and how busted he was. He’s lifegain, card draw, and mana acceleration on the same card, for three mana. Just three mana. WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?
And then he escapes and does all that again, and does it every time his 6/6 self attacks. That is a powerful card. That’s why he’s now banned in most stuff. Also, I’m pretty sure he’s based on Goya’s Saturn. You know the one.
And here is Elspeth’s new weapon, conjured from her very nightmares. She was able to beat Heliod with it by telling everyone that her spear was real and Heliod’s was just a forgery. And since Theros works on belief, when they clashed, Elspeth won. And of course this weapon can also make gods mortal, allowing them to be killed. A useful thing for a god killing weapon to do.
One of my personal favorite parts about Theros Beyond Death were these beautiful basic land cards. Rather than depicting land, they just depict a cloud in the shape of the mana symbol. These will always have a special place in my heart.
But we aren’t done yet. There’s still the Buy-a-Box, and once again we do not disappoint:
Our favorite Charon stand-in is back, being the only god besides Klothys who isn’t mono colored in this set. But of course he’d be back with this being the underworld set, and this time the ferryman is paying you. But you may not want it because when you die you’ll have to pay him back, for eternity. Did Atheros join the Orzhov when I wasn’t looking? I mean, he’s got the color for it.
Those are questions for later, because once again we draw to the close another edition of Magical Thinking. Tune in next time when we go into our next Un-set. Yep, we’re back on that nonsense again with Unsanctioned. But until then, Stay Magical.