Theros Beyond Death Review for Highlander, Part 3
In the final part of my Theros Beyond Death set review, I take a close look at the green, multicolored, and colorless cards that are most worthy of consideration for the powerful European Highlander format. I conclude this series with my personal Top 10 of cards in the set.
Welcome to the third installment of my Theros Beyond Death set review for European Highlander! Let us keep our focus one last time in order to look at a wealth of interesting green cards. Then we will try to crack the code of complex-colored and colorless candidates. Finally, I'll leave you with my personal Top 10 cards of the new set. Enjoy reading, and as always, if you think I'm wrong somewhere or blatantly ignored a cool card, let me know in the comments!
Arasta of the Endless Web: I like this card because it is hard or at least unfavorably to kill and a real pain for spell-heavy decks like Grixis, Izzet, and Jeskai. Green decks can pump this out very quickly and up the pressure from there, creating a kind of necessity for your opponent to play into this. A legendary enchantment is prone to more removal including Karakas or Knight of Autumn, though, so be aware of that when comparing Arasta to other options in the highly contested 4-drop-slot.
Chainweb Aracnir: The dream is to snipe a Vendilion Clique, Nimble Obstructionist, or Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft and then block another flying threat. This even comes back as a decently sized creature and can wreak more havoc in the skies. But I doubt this has a home, as the 1-mana slot is usually occupied by mana dorks and premium creatures like Hexdrinker and Mother of Runes.
Destiny Spinner: This control hoser, in contrast to Prowling Serpopard, can be countered itself. However, it does hit the battlefield a turn earlier, often before your opponent can pass with open mana, and thus protects your curve much more efficiently. The activated ability is nice to have as a mana sink in the late game, although it will rarely be used. Destiny Spinner has decent stats as well and survives a bunch of popular red burn spells. Green-based aggro decks will love this, and Destiny Spinner is my pick for the best monogreen card in the set.
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove: This card is pushed. Exploration and Prismatic Omen on a Courser of Kruphix body? What is not to love? While the effects are certainly powerful, they can only really shine under specific circumstances. In decks not centered around lands, the Dryad will often just speed up a land drop or two and then be a medium-sized creature. Scapeshift decks can now win with six lands in play; Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle counts itself as a Mountain and spits out 18 damage when it sees itself and five neighboring peaks. But that plan is also quite risky: If your opponent can kill your Dryad in response, your Scapeshift likely does nothing. This is undoubtedly a strong card, but it needs to find a home. Maybe the rumored Lands archetype, which Jund is toying with, gets a much-needed push?
Loathsome Chimera: This may actually be a decent beater for Gruul and Green Stompy. Once it dies, the recursion is not that hard to enable.
Mantle of the Wolf: This Aura brings a lot of value as it circumvents the problem of opening yourself up to a two-for-one once it resolves. There have been players trying to brew up a Bogles-esque Highlander deck for a while and this might be a new toy for them. The rate on this may be good enough to make Gruul and Selesnya players at least interested as well.
Nessian Hornbeetle: There are certain decks that are in the market for Tarmogoyf-like creatures, meaning 2-drops that naturally grow in size during the course of a game. The Hornbeetle is not hard to trigger with such decks, and only triggering it once or twice already leaves a reasonable return on investment. Unanswered, this can become quite powerful and enable an earlier swing for the kill.
Nessian Wanderer: This may actually be a decent enchantress for 2 mana. It only finds lands, but in the early turns that is often exactly what you need, especially if you are looking for Serra's Sanctum.
Nylea, Keen-Eyed: Nylea's design is a bit uninspired, but once active the card is quite a threat. Green Stompy usually gets green pips quite fast with creatures such as Avatar of the Resolute and Steel Leaf Champion, so Nylea could be a nice curve topper in that deck. Reducing the cost of creatures is a cute added bonus, but by the time you play this, you will not have many creatures left in your hand to really capitalize. Kind of solving the issue is the activated ability, which synergizes with Nylea's passive. It makes for a decent mana sink for Gaea's Cradle and is a bit better than the ability of Duskwatch Recruiter / Krallenhorde Howler. Nylea is archetype-specific but can be a powerhouse in Green Stompy as both threat and grind engine. Now explain to me why a skyscraping creature with a bow does not have reach and we're good.
Nylea's Intervention: 4 mana to grab Dark Depths and Thespian's Stage? Pay 1 extra to also get Wasteland or Field of the Dead? This spell is worse than Sylvan Scrying and much worse than Crop Rotation, but land-centric decks may be interested in the extra redundancy. Add to that that you can sometimes Hurricane a blue tempo deck and we have got quite a card to consider for Lands.
Nyxbloom Ancient: Once you untap with this, your ramp deck can go wild. However, it usually goes wild anyway with its natural game plan, so why bother going above and beyond with this clunky creature? Nyxbloom Ancient is a prime example of a win-more card and I only see potential in weird combo decks that cheat it out.
Setessan Champion: This is another enchantress, one that can grow into a threat and get out of Lightning Bolt-range fast. Enchantress revels in all the new redundancy in this set and an improved Verduvian Enchantress is exactly what that archetype needed.
Wolfwillow Haven: A Wild Growth for 2 mana is nothing to be particularly excited about, but this can be another option for decks that want to ramp with enchantments instead of lands or creatures. The activated ability is a nice bonus but will rarely make a difference in decks whose strategy revolves around ramping into something huge.
Calix, Destiny's Hand: This seems like a nice archetype-enabling planeswalker for Enchantress. But normally you would rather resolve a powerful 4-cost enchantment instead of a fragile walker. Calix's abilities are fine and an extra Replenish is somewhat exciting, but planeswalkers do suffer in decks that cannot reliably protect them. This feels like a deck building trap.
Klothys, God of Destiny: I went back and forth on this card, but now I think it is one of the very best cards in the set. This does so many things at once: Klothys ramps, races the opponent very well, hoses graveyard strategies, and can become a formidable beater all in one neat package that is cheap to cast and easy to tutor up. People have been comparing the God to Sulfuric Vortex because it creates a similar sense of urgency. Klothys has already popped up in some legacy control lists, which is funny as it is the Gruul God after all. Do not sleep on this card — you will realize Klothys's power once you sit across from it and feel like spiky walls are closing in.
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger: This can be a punishing card if you can enable escape quickly. Five cards, however, is a considerable cost and so is double black and double red. I can see Grixis Tempo, Rakdos Aggro, and Mardu decks being interested. Notably Kroxa triggers on-death effects such as Midnight Reaper, so Aristocrats may once again have a new toy. Also note that all Titans can be cute with Karakas in response to the death trigger.
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath: What is up with 3-mana Simic cards these days? Uro has seen considerable hype prior to the release, but I think only part of it was warranted. As a Growth Spiral that gains 3 life for 3 mana, Uro feels alright to resolve, ramping while simultaneously making sure you do not die in the process. The power, of course, lies in the escape mechanic that can start generating tons of value in the mid- to late game. The cost of 4 exact mana can be hard to pay, though, and Uro loses some of its initial wow-factor. Where does Uro slot in in European Highlander? Ramp decks usually don't play blue. Decks like Simic Flash and Bant Midrange would rather have a body on the battlefield on initial cast. Temur Tempo can often not pay the double-Simic mana cost for escape. Uro may join the club of Powerful Cards Without a Home. Can you adopt it?
Polukranos, Unchained: On first glance, this may be the perfect card for Four-Color Blood (Midrange without blue) as Polukranos is a huge threat that can generate value. It loses counters on damage, so its ability usually is a one-time affair. Recurring a dead card for only 6 mana and six other cards in the bin and getting a 12/12 that also fights the board? Now that is impactful. If there is a self-milling graveyard deck somewhere — think Satyr Wayfinder and Grisly Salvage — Polukranos may become a powerhouse.
Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths: People will give this a chance simply because it is so much fun to play. I love the design as well and the mind games it creates, but Atris just does not impact the board enough to matter for 4 mana. Decks that are interested in quality draw spells rather play instant-speed options. Plus, Gonti, Lord of Luxury is arguably a better card in the same slot, so Atris faces strong competition.
Bronzehide Lion: Selesnya Aggro gets another Watchwolf with upside, but Fleecemane Lion this is not. Bronzehide Lion enables some free swings, but holding up Selesnya mana all the time will be painful. The weird recursion-as-an-enchantment ability is cool, but it has the same problem. You would have to severely limit your board development in order to protect the creature it enchants. I can see this slotting into decks that simply want good rates on their 2-drops, but other than that, this will likely not beat other options.
Dream Trawler: This Sphinx is an absurdly pushed control finisher that is hard to kill, hard to race, and hard to outvalue. 6 mana is a steep cost and it does compete with the likes of Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Torrential Gearhulk, and Will Kenrith. Control players in all formats are very high on Dream Trawler, though, so I can definitely see myself becoming very frustrated in the future sitting across from it.
Enigmatic Incarnation: I never got the chance to play with Birthing Pod before it was banned, and this new card will certainly not give me the same raw power. As a card in Enchantress, one could sacrifice permanents in order to get a Argothian Enchantress or Setessan Champion into play. The Incarnation triggers in the end step, which is good because it will generate value the turn you play it; but that also means your new creature has to survive your opponent's turn or generate immediate value itself.
Kunoros, Hound of Athreos: The wealth of abilities reeks of Questing Beast. The three-headed hound hoses Reanimator while being decent on offense and defense. If Death and Taxes ever manifests in Orzhov, this will likely see play, and given the right metagame it can be another Anafenza, the Foremost in Abzan and Four-Color Blood.
Siona, Captain of the Pyleas: People have experimented with Slippery Bogle decks in the past and one of the major problems for that deck was consistency. Siona offers very deep selection and a decent ability after that — sacrifice fodder for an opposing Liliana of the Veil, perhaps? Note that this goes infinite with Shielded by Faith, but it's a very fragile combo.
Staggering Insight: There are some decks that would want another copy of Curiosity and Curious Obsession, but these decks have almost always been monoblue in the past. I doubt that this printing alone will push those brewers into Azorius, but it is a piece to consider.
Shadowspear: This is right up the alley of White Weenie because now Stoneforge Mystic can find a very good racing tool that is cheaper than, say, Sword of Light and Shadow. White Weenie is often suffering in the midgame against Midrange decks when its creatures get outclassed by the likes of Tarmogoyf or chumped by Young Pyromancer tokens. That's what the Spear is here for — to pierce through the competition. The activated ability can sometimes help against a Geist of Saint Traft or Thrun, the Last Troll, which will be relevant every full moon or so. Shadowspear is a powerful piece of equipment and even other aggressive decks like Green Stompy will be interested in its great rate.
Soul-Guide Lantern: Very similar to Relic of Progenitus and Nihil Spellbomb, the Lantern is a great option for decks using Tolarian Academy. This can even exile your opponent's graveyard while you are tapped out and therefore buy you a decent amount of time while you fill your board with further artifacts.
Labyrinth of Skophos: Tapping five lands in total for this is really expensive, but a hard control list may favor this over Maze of Ith or consider it as a second Maze. Then again, White-Blue Control rarely plays Kor Haven which is similar but way cheaper to activate.
Top 10 Highlander Cards of the Set
Whew. Look at all these words. I am quite a fan of Theros Beyond Death, because it manages to provide options without featuring too many automatic inclusions — looking at you, War of the Spark and Modern Horizons! This set rather ventures into new directions design-wise and powers up some niche archetypes. I am personally excited to see what players will do with the new cards. To conclude this article series, here's my personal Top 10 of cards for European Highlander:
- Thassa's Oracle (I have now played against this a few times, and it is that good.)
- Whirlwind Denial
- Klothys, God of Destiny
- Woe Strider
- Agonizing Remorse
- Destiny Spinner
- Underworld Breach
- Omen of the Sea
- Mire Triton
Disagree? I'm eager to see your Top 10 in the comments below. I hope you enjoyed reading my set review as much as I enjoyed writing it. See you on the battlefield!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.