Theros Beyond Death Review for Highlander, Part 2
We continue our dive into the new set from the perspective of a European Highlander player. Today we will discuss noteworthy black and red cards that may have impact on several archetypes. Aristocrats, Gruul, and Black Aggro welcome some new additions. But beware, there are traps too!
Welcome back to my review of Theros Beyond Death for the competitive-minded connoisseurs of singleton Constructed! Today, we will analyze notable black and red cards and discuss where they could fit into the metagame. As always, I am happy to discuss opinions in the comments below, especially if you think I blatantly disregarded something good!
Agonizing Remorse: Players have been on the lookout for good early discard for years, to complement the usual suspects of Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, Duress and Collective Brutality. Blackmail and Harsh Scrutiny saw some play here and there, but ultimately fell short. Castigate has always been a nice option if your deck incorporated white. Finally, the new set de-whites Castigate to introduce Agonizing Remorse, which is much better. Not only is it easier to cast with more applications in multiple decks, it also does something when the opponent has no cards in hand. The option to remove a target for Reanimate or to exile a Lingering Souls is very real as well. The cost of 1 life is more than fair for a discard spell this flexible, and I expect Agonizing Remorse to see play.
Cling to Dust: This card is unassuming, but the initial interaction may be worth 1 mana. In the mid- to late game the escape gives you some nice mana sink to generate card advantage or help you survive against aggressive decks. Cling to Dust is just a neat little package that could be worthwhile for decks like Grixis Control to check out.
Discordant Piper: A 2-drop that leaves behind a body is always playable in Aristocats, but it will be hard to slot in the Piper when Carrier Thrall, Tithe Taker, and similar cards are just a bit more powerful.
Drag to the Underworld: There is surely no shortage of kill spells in Highlander, but many of the Doom Blade iterations have weird little drawbacks. See Ultimate Price, Victim of Night, and so on. This card does not discriminate between targets and should consistently cost 2 mana in monoblack decks. The fail state of this card is very real, though. If you have no board in an attrition war, you are rarely willing to spend 4 mana to kill something.
Erebos, Bleak-Hearted: This God may be of some interest for Aristocrats-style decks, which are always on the lookout for more cards like Midnight Reaper. But 4 mana is too much to ask. Paying 2 life is also a considerable cost and the activated ability is overcosted as well. Erebos is one of those cards where everything about it feels way too safe. Possibly the weakest God in Theros Beyond Death.
Erebos's Intervention: Erebos himself may be weak, but his signature spell is quite good. Killing something and gaining life at a reasonable rate is powerful against popular aggressive decks like Red Deck Wins and White Weenie. In midrange matchups, however, it will be hard to kill a large Tarmogoyf or Knight of the Reliquary with this. Exiling cards from graveyards is situational, but a nice option to have, especially in the Reanimator matchup.
Mire Triton: This card brings a lot to the table for its low cost. Deathtouch is a very good keyword in Highlander and can slow opponents down significantly. Milling two cards is often relevant in decks with delve and graveyard recursion, and Mire Triton even gains life. This Zombie Merfolk — both good tribes — improves several matchups at once while never being bad per se, which in my book makes for a good Highlander card.
Nightmare Shepherd: Probably my favorite design in the set and undeniably powerful. The only question is if this Demon has a home. Aristocrats may be interested in this as most of the deck's creatures have death triggers. Sadly, the Shepherd exiles dying creatures, which makes recursion, for example from Rally the Ancestors or Return to the Ranks, worse. Then too, this is just a good evasive beater and you can even Enlightened Tutor it up. Monoblack Aggro can surely make use of this just to create some inevitability, but 4 mana is a steep ladder to climb.
Omen of the Dead: This is probably the best iteration of Raise Dead that we have seen. Instant speed is a huge deal, enabling decks like Grixis Tempo to recur a threat at end of turn while keeping up mana for other things. It even comes with a decent activated ability that can make a real difference in the late game. I like the Black Omen — now I want to replay Chrono Trigger for a hundredth time — and I wouldn't be surprised if this saw play.
Treacherous Blessing: You probably need to remove this to make it playable and that is a lot of effort to ask for. Highlander decks are probably better off opting for Phyrexian Arena or Arguel's Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz. It is pretty cute to Donate this, for what it's worth.
Tymaret Calls the Dead: Black History of Benalia this is not quite, but this Saga plays a different role. It fuels your graveyard strategies, produces decent bodies, and has tribal synergies. It is being held back a bit by its need to exile a creature — or enchantment, but those are rare — that you'd rather stay in the bin. The final chapter is fine, but unexciting as well. My guess is that this Saga does not make the cut and is only decent enough in dedicated Zombie Tribal.
Woe Strider: This is one of the strongest cards in the set for black decks because it checks several boxes. It brings consistency and redundancy to archetypes like Aristocrats, has a recursion ability, which improves your late game, and is simply a good card to cast for 3 mana. Aside from Viscera Seer, Carrion Feeder, and Goblin Bombardment, decks have always been lacking good sacrifice outlets, and Woe Strider even brings another body as fodder.
Anax, Hardened in the Forge: Did anyone say Aristocrats? Whereas Woe Strider is a good new sacrifice outlet, Anax is an exciting new payoff. 3-drop creatures that generate bodies on creatures dying are what the archetype is looking for. However, the Satyrs cannot block which can be a real detriment. Double red mana is also tough to handle for a deck that is traditionally white-black at its core.
Blood Aspirant: This may look like another solid Aristocrats enabler. But the triggered ability does not do enough and the activated ability costs mana and is not repeatable, which makes this basically unplayable.
Careless Celebrant: A simple, yet elegant design. This Satyr can make combat for your opponent hard to navigate and often trades favorably. Don't underestimate the ability to hit planeswalkers either. You can swing into a planeswalker with this and almost guarantee it taking damage.
Escape Velocity: This looks unassuming, but it is a cheap piece to a larger puzzle that can easily recur from an Oath of Druids trigger to give your payoff haste. Dragon Breath is similar and costs no mana to recur, but has a serious restriction. Escape Velocity might be an interesting card for self-mill strategies.
Ox of Agonas: This card is really cool. As a curve topper, this will often straight up draw three cards while being a decent attacker. The truly exciting part is in its ability to escape somewhat cheaply from the graveyard. Decks with Careful Study, Thought Scour, Faithless Looting, and Seasoned Pyromancer should take notice. The only question is if drawing cards is even something these decks need more of.
Phoenix of Ash: Red Deck Wins used to pack Chandra's Phoenix and other iterations in order to have some mid- to late-game reach. To recur this new Phoenix, however, you have to pay a pretty steep cost. The activated ability is nice to have, but Red Deck Wins can usually do far more dangerous things with 3 (and 4) mana. Where this chicken may shine is in decks like Izzet Tempo that are interested in recurring evasive threats in the late game when they run out of gas. Some Highlander players are somewhat high on this Phoenix, but I remain skeptical. We have seen similar cards in the past, all of which ultimately fell short.
Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded: Sneak Attack this is not. Purph can only summon red and artifact creatures which severely hampers its potential. No sneaking in Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Griselbrand. Add to that the high mana requirement and you have an overcosted card in the vein of Erebos, Bleak-Hearted. Even if you can use this as a creature — 7/6 indestructible is nothing to scoff at — you would have had more success if you just played a good beater instead, one that does not need a specific board state. Giving other creatures haste is also not worth the investment. Hard pass.
Storm's Wrath: Big Red and Izzet Control rejoice! These decks have always been lacking in the potential to deal with beefy midrange creatures. Storm's Wrath may hit an important sweet spot, one Anger of the Gods and Sweltering Suns could not consistently reach. This notably hits planeswalkers as well, a card type red decks can struggle with — especially in the new world where 3-mana planeswalkers have absurd loyalty totals from the get-go. Storm's Wrath should have been printed ages ago, but at least now it's here.
Tectonic Giant: Medium Red and Gruul could toy around with this as it does create some inevitability. If your opponent kills it, it hurts. If they ignore the Giant, they will get hurt, too. The only question is if the weak stats make this unplayable. Getting blocked by a Tarmogoyf or Gurmag Angler will make you question the investment. Note that the red draw ability — exiling cards, then giving a time frame to play them — is not particularly strong in a format that rewards good timing and usually offers surprises. But the included selection improves the ability quite a bit.
Underworld Breach: Now this is a big one and one paragraph is not nearly enough to do the card justice. Let's just say that this is absurd with Lion's Eye Diamond, Lotus Petal, and basically all the good rituals. Storm is a shaky archetype in Highlander, but Breach may give it a completely new angle. The power level here is undeniable and I'm excited to see where deck builders will take it.
If Erebos and Purphoros Had an Arm Wrestling Contest...
… I think the black God would be slightly ahead. Both of their cards underwhelm somewhat, but Erebos's package is a bit more convincing. Black is a powerful color in Theros Beyond Death, while red plays more of a niche role this time. Then again, Underworld Breach may be totally busted and change the face of Magic forever, who knows? Join me in the final part of this set review when we discuss interesting green, multicolored, and colorless cards!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.