Arena Exploits: A Theros Beyond Death Draft Walkthrough
- Tobi Henke
Recently, I peaked at #2 on MTG Arena's ladder. Along the way, I recorded all the decisions from one of my Drafts, so that you can see how it's done. While it's not as easy to exploit the bot behavior anymore, there are tricks to Theros Beyond Death Limited with general application even outside the program.
They say artificial intelligence will never match human folly. Nonetheless, I've been impressed with Arena's Draft bots lately. Maybe I just got desensitized, but it seems they really stepped up their game. Whereas many of the early sets, Guilds of Ravnica in particular, allowed you to force one underdrafted color combination all the time, I never found a similar exploit for Theros Beyond Death. Yes, black is the strongest color. However, that appears to be true for real-life events as well, even at the highest level. For instance, 54% of the 3-0 decks on Day 1 of Players Tour Brussels were black.
Maybe it's just this Limited environment, whose options I find so enjoyable. I must have done more than 50 Drafts by now, and I'm still crossing things off of my bucket list. For example, I had beaten Dream Trawler a couple of times before and Kiora Bests the Sea God too. But until last week, I'd never won a game where my opponent had both — and then I did it only with commons and uncommons.
Unbeatable rares? Well, say hello to my unbeetlable Beetles! pic.twitter.com/ck7OVJHziy— Tobi (@TobiHenke) March 3, 2020
I haven't found a sure-fire recipe for Theros Beyond Death, no easy way to go "infinite" — where every Draft pays for the next. In total, my most recent trip to Mythic cost me close to 3,000 gems. Nevertheless, I learned some valuable lessons along the way and I feel vaguely qualified to share them.
One of the coolest features of this environment is that it can be correct to run more than 40 cards. Factors: you have starving escape artists to feed; to this end, you draw extra cards and/or put them into your graveyard; ideally your deck's power distribution is rather flat. Usually, in Limited, it's imperative to select the best 23–24 spells, to increase the chance of drawing stronger cards than your opponent. The escape ability changes things. Sometimes, you can outlast the competition simply by having more material at your disposal.
The above deck went 7-1 and went to a whopping 48 cards. Between Woe Strider and Pharika's Spawn, it featured three excellent escape monsters, plus Thirst for Meaning and Shoal Kraken for filtering. It's quite possible 48 were too many, but I'm certain that 40 would have been too few. At that size, the deck would have had to lose some defenders or removal and likely even a Thirst.
Let's jump into another one of my Drafts and see how grand and literally big the deck becomes …
As far as first picks go, this pack is as disappointing as it gets. I'm not a huge fan of the fleeting nature of Heliod's Punishment or the risky business of Impending Doom. For me, the choice here comes down to Relentless Pursuit or Warbriar Blessing. In spite of the above introduction, I'm not crazy about self-mill. The Blessing isn't necessarily a blessing, but more generally useful in more archetypes, and a little harder to replace.
Thirst for Knowledge is strong, but Elspeth's Nightmare is stronger. Black is better than blue, and although I'm far from married to my first pick, black-green also makes for a better combination than green-blue. None of the green cards justify staying monocolored either.
Not jumping into red for Iroas's Blessing, but the top black and the top green card both appeal. Even though I already have a piece of graveyard removal, I value the ability on Tymaret, Chosen from Death highly. At this point, I'm also way more likely to abandon green than to abandon black.
The third black uncommon in sequence, Hateful Eidolon can be quite the bomb, and this is early enough to steer in that direction. I even have one Aura already …
… which happens to work nicely with Moss Viper. There's a limit on how many low-impact creatures one can play. Regardless of deathtouch, the Viper doesn't race a Witness of Tomorrows, for example. So I'm not elated to take one as a fifth pick, but I rather fix my early game first, instead of taking one of the 6-drops. Other than that, I'm faced with the choice of trading one of the white or blue cards for a Blessing and a Viper, which clearly isn't happening.
Importantly, Loathsome Chimera makes for my first escape creature. Once again, I'm not being given a reason to reconsider my choice of colors. Drafting on easy mode.
And indeed I do. The rest of the pack adds one 5-drop and one 2-drop to my line-up, as well as a bunch of irrelevent cards to my sideboard. This leaves me at ten playables after one third of the Draft, well on track for some upgrades down the line. Going forward, I'm specifically looking for more escape and more Auras for my Eidolon.
Well, hello there, many-headed friend.
With this Pharika's Spawn, I now have enough escape monsters to justify more than one Funeral Rites-type effect, so I'll be on the lookout for additional copies, for Venomous Hierophant, and for Relentless Pursuit.
My late game is basically taken care of, save for some more fat. Meanwhile, my early game looks solid enough that I should be able to take some time off to move some cards and lose some life. Funeral Rites makes for the perfect bridge between the two.
Can't say no to a second copy of Elspeth's Nightmare either.
This is a tough one, for a change. The two Nightmares already deal with smaller creatures, so it'd be nice to have Drag to the Underworld for larger problems. Then again, Mire's Grasp isn't limited to the same targets, is way more efficient, and so good with Hateful Eidolon.
Can't say no to another copy.
Mana producers that cost 3 mana seldom offer actual acceleration. You'd have to draw four lands, Altar of the Pantheon, and a 5-mana spell to gain a speed advantage. If you draw three lands and an Altar, you would have been better off with a land instead, and Gods forbid you should get stuck at two. With Tymaret, the Altar does provide additional utility, and mana fixing could be useful too. Still, I'm taking my third 2-drop here.
If ever there was a doubt that I'm in the right colors, and there wasn't, then it's gone now. I'd be happy picking up any of four cards here, although I don't need Underworld Charger to fulfill my escape quota anymore and have enough Funeral Rites. I clearly pick Venomous Hierophant, but I'd love to take Skola Grovedancer as well.
The rest of the pack gives me Omen of the Dead, Mogis's Favor, and Nyxborn Colossus. I store all of them in my deck for now, because it's starting to look like an option to run more than 40 cards. In total, I'm at 21 playables.
I'm not splashing white for Banishing Light or the rare. While I don't think I'd ever want more than two Funeral Rites in 40 cards, it looks increasingly likely this deck won't stop at 40. Of course, the third Rites don't make for a satisfying first pick either way.
Acolyte of Affliction seals the deal. I'm going heavy on self-mill.
Another Acolyte or a second Tymaret? There are obviously diminishing returns to having multiple copies of the same legend, and by now I have three graveyard removal effects. Furthering my own game plan takes precedence over disrupting the opponent's.
Each 6-drop you put into a 40-card deck represents a certain chance to draw a dead card when you don't have 6 mana. Each 6-drop you put into a deck with more than 40 cards represents a smaller chance of the same. Add to this all the extra draws from Funeral Rites, and I'm taking Pheres-Band Brawler here.
Since I last looked at Underworld Charger, my self-milling capabilities have increased by one Venomous Hierophant and two Acolyte of Affliction. I'm definitely in the market for a fifth escape card at this point and the Charger qualifies.
Arguably, I didn't pay Rage-Scarred Berserker enough respect earlier. Luckily, I get my chance to pick one up now. I even get another two, which is quite fortunate, because …
Only during deck construction do I realize how heavily my cards skew black. I move nonessential green to the sideboard, until I'm left with just seven such cards in my final 45:
I can see cutting a land, a Rage-Scarred Berserker, the Nyxborn Marauder, and/or one Funeral Rites. But I do have a lot of self-mill either way, as well as excellent ways to benefit, and thus a strong plan. In the end, it's rare to get a 100% indisputable answer in Magic, less so for Limited. So I'm curious: What do you think about this deck? How would you have built it? And with how many cards? The fact that number of cards is a discussion worth having is much more interesting to me than being right in this specific instance.
I can't even claim correctness based on results with the above deck. When it worked, it worked beautifully. Yet things ended in a disappointing 5-3 record. Factors included mulligans I took and at least one mulligan I didn't take. More frustratingly, Elspeth's Nightmare, usually one of the better cards to find in one's opening draw, let me down twice: one opponent curved Underworld Rage-Hound into Warden of the Chained into Flummoxed Cyclops into a string of 5-drops; another opened on Leonin of the Lost Pride and Dreamstalker Manticore.
I knew this deck could have done better. So I jumped right into the next Draft, essentially drafted the same again, and went 7-1 with the following 42 cards.
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