Theros Beyond Death Spotlight: Underworld Breach


Some Theros Beyond Death cards already spark discussions, and even outrage. Underworld Breach is reminiscent of Yawgmoth's Will, one of the more broken cards in history. Is it a fixed version or another candidate for the banhammer? Join us as we examine the card's potential in various formats.

When most people read the first sentence of Underworld Breach, they probably immediately thought that the card is overpowered and will quickly get struck by the banhammer. That's until they read the next, which says that, besides paying the mana cost, they also need to exile three other cards from their graveyard. This makes it look like a strictly weaker version of Yawgmoth's Will, but is it really? And is that enough of a downgrade to be fair?

underworld breach yawgmoth's will

Sure, exiling three cards for every spell cast from a graveyard during a single turn sounds very underwhelming, but note that the escape mechanic does not involve exiling the spell that's being cast. This gives Underworld Breach a tremendous advantage over Yawgmoth's Will as you can recast Lion's Eye Diamond several times, which is something we'll get to later.

This is one of those cards that players quickly find or make a promising decklist for in the more powerful Eternal formats, but not in Standard. However, since escape is one of the main mechanics in Theros Beyond Death, not all is lost for Standard either.

Standard: Escape Decks

underworld breach

Some of the previewed cards already have escape and often come with additional benefits when they escape. To balance this bonus, their escape costs are usually set very high. This makes many such cards nearly unplayable, but Underworld Breach gets around their printed escape costs.

Take a look at Chainweb Aracnir, for instance. As a 1/2 creature with reach that can ping an opponent's flier for 1, it already looks like reasonable tech for specific circumstances. A 4/5 that can kill nearly any flier when it enters the battlefield without taking damage, however, looks so much more appealing. Letting it escape at the cost of 5 mana and four other cards from your graveyard sounds like a tough feat to achieve, but how about an escape cost of a single green mana and exiling one fewer card? Underworld Breach lets you pay an alternate, usually lower escape cost, which could give you an edge in grindy games.

chainweb aracnir kroxa polukranos, unchained

I believe that Underworld Breach might see some Standard play, at least upon the release of the new set. Possibilities exist, but it all depends on whether or not we'll get further powerful cards with escape and easy ways to fill the graveyard. There are a few promising ones, but I think we'll have to see more for escape-oriented decks to rise. For now, I see Underworld Breach as a janky sideboard way for slamming big creatures that do additional stuff.

Modern: Storm Variations

Since the Faithless Looting ban in Modern, decks that rely heavily on a player's graveyard have largely disappeared. Although Underworld Breach might, at first glance, look like a dangerous card that should bring graveyard hate back onto the map, it doesn't mean that that's going to happen. It merely means that everyone will experiment with it, but we've yet to see if anyone ends up with decent enough results.

I am willing to try Underworld Breach out in some of my combo decks that don't rely on the graveyard to try and fight counter spells, but I'm not overly optimistic about this approach. Modern doesn't really have a deck that depends on a single card besides, in part, Blue-Red Storm with Gifts Ungiven. But Storm already has its own, completely different, gameplan, with a tight decklist and a lot of cards that need to stay in the graveyard. It also has Past in Flames, which is an entirely different card and poses a big conflict. I don't think there's an existing deck in Modern that would benefit from Underworld Breach. On the other hand, building a whole new deck around it might work …

grinding station mox opal grapeshot

Underworld Breach seems to be the sort of card that, if it's going to have a shot outside of Legacy and Vintage, needs to be the centerpiece of a strategy. Kellen Pastore, a pro player with three Grand Prix Top 8s to his name, posted a Temur Breach list that relies on the combination of Underworld Breach and Grinding Station. Once you have both in play, any 0-mana artifact will allow you to mill your whole library, by repeatedly triggering and paying for the activation of Grinding Station, which in turn pays for the escape cost of the 0-mana artifact. Mox Opal generates mana in the process, so that you're able to finish with a lethal Grapeshot.

At first glance, the only thing this deck is lacking is a good way to search for the enchantment. Since the deck is capable of generating green mana, it maybe should include Commune with the Gods. Contingency Plan/Taigam's Scheming might also work, since cards in the graveryard are almost as good as having them in hand once the underworld is breached. This is particularly true for the required 0-mana artifact.

commune with the gods taigam's scheming contingency plan

This list did not come with a sideboard, but I can already see Oko, Thief of Crowns in there, so that's checked too. As Pastore himself stated, it's unsure whether Oko and Breach will be legal in Modern at the same time, which explains why he decided to try and make a list without the troublesome planeswalker. He also noted that Emry, Lurker of the Loch might not fit in here that well and that, should this deck work, Mox Opal might finally get banned. Such a ban would probably tear it all apart, since it is the best way to generate mana.

In this case, maybe another Storm variant, one that combines it with dredge, gets the spotlight. The following, by Goldfish user JavaK, is one of those specific Breach lists where it acts as a replacement for Past in Flames.

Legacy: ANT Shenanigans

In Legacy, Ad Nauseam Tendrils is known for very fast kills. Underworld Breach may help the deck by providing an additional route to victory, or even replace the ANT part altogether.

ad nauseam tendrils of agony

Since Underworld Breach costs a whopping 1 mana less than Yawgmoth's Will, the first option seems more likely. People have already come up with lists that include Breach within a regular ANT shell. Here's one from another Goldfish user.

There are also alternatives that go all in on Breach. They rely on the key pieces of Underworld Breach, Brain Freeze, Lion's Eye Diamond and/or Lotus Petal. If you get all four in your opening hand, you even have a shot at a turn one kill: land and Petal pay for Breach, Lion's Eye Diamond nets three blue mana and should leave you with enough cards in your graveyard to cast Brain Freeze via escape. Then you mill yourself for twelve, recast Diamond and Freeze, repeat, and eventually point a lethal Brain Freeze at your opponent.

As long as you have Breach and Freeze, you only need one copy of either of the two artifacts to enable a turn two kill: two fetch lands and any cantrip put three cards into your graveyard, so on turn two you could play Underworld Breach, cast the same Lotus Petal twice, and Brain Freeze for twelve. This is enough to recast the Petal two additional times as well as to recast Brain Freeze. With Lion's Eye Diamond instead of Petal it gets far easier.

brain freeze lion's eye diamond lotus petal

Since you're using Lion's Eye Diamond to generate blue mana anyway, you can also kill via Laboratory Maniac or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, in case your opponent flips over Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Underworld Breach even allows you to fetch a missing piece with Entomb. Still, it's hard to say if going all in on Breach like that will work in a format where Force of Will and Daze are legal.

At they very least, it seems to me that ANT could use the new addition to unlock additional angles of attack, making it more resistant to both counters and discard spells. These will most likely prevent turn one kills, especially if you're on the draw, but they require an exceptional starting hand anyway. Also, since ANT generally runs many cantrips, setting up a turn two kill is much more likely regardless.

The Bottom Line

Underworld Breach is undeniably a dangerous card with great potential and a lookalike that's banned in Legacy for a reason. I dare say it's more powerful than Yawgmoth's Will in some situations, although it does require a very specific set-up, meaning one either has to build one's whole deck around it or play it in exactly ANT in Legacy. This further means that the card might break both Legacy and Modern if Breach decks prove consistent enough. If they don't, the card will end up a janky buildaround for the people so inclined. Standard players don't have a reason to worry … yet.

At this point, it's nearly impossible to say if any deck can reliably unleash the possibilities Breach offers. But it's a good idea to keep it in mind for possible future use. Magic has shown numerous times that cards that used to be bad can become format-defining later on, which is what might happen to Underworld Breach should it perform poorly after the release of Theros Beyond Death.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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PBardin(09.01.2020 16:02)

If you want to play lab maniac, you should consider Thassa's Oracle instead.

ElonThragtusk(09.01.2020 16:40)

Unfortunately, Thassa's Oracle got spoiled after I've finished writing. :( It definitely deserves a spot here, as it will likely swap Lab Man and Jace in not just Underworld Breach variants, but also Modern Ad Nauseam (these two just first came to mind).

Albarkhane(09.01.2020 13:36)

You did not talk about Vintage. Actually, there is not much to say, only that the card will be restricted as soon as possible if Wizard cares a bit about this format.
The card allows easily and with no special setup to play 2-3 ancestral recall a turn (you may insert time walk, wheel of fortune or your favorite broken card), that is usually enough to win.
If you want to design a deck for it, there are several ways. One of the easiest is : This + Lotus/LED + brain freeze. If you have 6 cards in graveyard, you win. The first brain freezes should target you and when the storm count is about 5-6 you target opponent with them.

ElonThragtusk(09.01.2020 16:30)

Thanks for the Vintage pointers! I believe you're right, the Breach is so good at making very broken cards even more broken, I can see it getting restricted quickly.

About decks focused on Breach, you could even add a Grapeshot as an alternate wincon, but I'd say Brain Freeze is the way to go. With Thassa's Oracle getting released, you can also mill yourself and finish the game with that instead of Jace/Lab Man.