Theros: Beyond Death released this past Friday! As with any major Magic set that is released, many of the early days of the set are spent learning the limited format and experimenting with some exciting cards in various constructed formats. All of my time in the past weeks has been spent testing limited, as I attended Grand Prix New Jersey this past weekend.
Throughout my testing, several cards have overperformed notably, and I think identifying them and discussing why they have been overperforming is a useful exercise for all of us who have been focusing on Theros: Beyond Death limited. Here are the 5 non-rare cards that have impressed me the most in the new sealed format:
Alseid of Life’s Bounty
I’m seriously in love with this card. Alseid of Life’s Bounty doesn’t really seem like a world-beater when you take your first look at it, but it’s one of those classic protection cards that plays significantly better in game than on paper.
For Alseid specifically, it checks off a lot of boxes for pretty much every deck that is going to be playing it. For aggressive decks, it’s a 1-drop that has an impact on a stalled board. For decks that are looking for enchantments (likely to trigger constellation), this is a cheap option that has pseudo-haste, as you can use the activated ability on it the turn you play it should you want to. For more controlling decks with valuable creatures, this card protects the important creatures in your deck after you land them, while making attacking into you and just 1 open mana very tricky.
This is the crux of why this card is so strong: it’s never doing just one thing for the decks that want it. Regardless of which deck is playing it, combat against Alseid and a single open mana is a nightmare, and it completely changes the equation regarding which creatures should be attacking or blocking. Double blocks are almost disallowed entirely against an Alseid player, and 1-for-1 trades with large creatures in combat will always favor the player with Alseid, as they can just choose to trade their 1 mana creature for the opponent’s larger creature. Additionally, being able to protect evasive creatures or large, board-dominating creatures from spot removal spells is not to be overlooked.
Shimmerwing Chimera is a much more obviously powerful card on its face. A 3/2 flyer for 4 mana is already a card that most decks would want to play. On top of that, being an enchantment creature has very positive synergies for the majority of decks in this format.
The real “juice”, as the kids say, comes when you are able to get value off of the triggered ability on Chimera. Every color has multiple enchantments that you want to bounce with Shimmerwing Chimera. All sagas are perfect to bounce, as are all of the enchantments in the Omen cycle. Getting a Raise the Alarm, Preordain, Raise Dead, Shock, or Rampant Growth every turn is the type of turn-over-turn value that swings the game significantly in your favor.
Additionally, the auras in this set were consciously designed to have impactful enters the battlefield abilities, such as Setessan Training. Getting to bounce these over and over again makes Chimera a must-kill-on-sight type of card for your opponent. Remember: you don’t have to return an enchantment if you don’t want to!
Mogis’s Favor is a very unassuming card, but it does a lot in many of situations. Firstly, 1 toughness creatures on the opponent’s side are absolutely embarrassed when this card is drawn. The escape cost in terms of exiling cards is just low enough that it’s conceivable to cast it over and over again for as many X/1s as your opponent has. Similarly, combat gets significantly more awkward for the opponent, as you get a profitable combat result in a situation where, say, two 3/4s would normally bounce off of one another.
As with every other enchantment in this set, triggering constellation is a big deal. However, Mogis’s Favor is designed to die and be brought back several times, meaning it’s easy to get several constellation triggers per game using just this one card. And don’t think of this card as a slow-burning Curse of Death’s Hold, you can put this bad boy on an evasive creature and turn it into quite the clock in a pinch!
My pick for red is a bit strange, but I think Incendiary Oracle may just be the red card that has overperformed for me thus far. Especially in sealed, your opponents are going to look for value out of their cards, which means they’re likely to play more escape creatures than in draft. Incendiary Oracle does just enough to justify its inclusion in nearly every red deck. It’s easy for it to trade up with 3-mana, 4-mana, or even 5-mana creatures with the activated ability, and the triggered ability means it can frequently trade evenly with valuable escape creatures. Its damage output is threatening enough to get your opponent to respect it, meaning it trades up much more frequently than other red cards in this format.
While it’s a bit banal to pick a 2/2 for 2 as the red card that has impressed me the most, I do think that Incendiary Oracle is more than just a little red 2-drop…. It’s the little red 2-drop that could ♥.
Wow is this card a huge pain! A 1/4 for 3 mana is already a pretty big brick wall, especially in a format where most creatures have 3 or less power. However, adding reach means it’s going to be able to swallow most of the limited fliers it’ll come into contact with. Just in terms of stats, it’s a very good defensive option in green. However, the constellation trigger is so innocuous at first glance that I think all of our assumptions about this card were wrong. 2 life is a lot! But it’s not just 2 life, it’s 2 life over and over and over again. Most of the time in this format, you’ll end up with a significant number of enchantments in your deck (say, 6-10) without even making a conscious effort! That means that you very likely see Nexus Wardens trigger multiple times per game. And don’t get me started about this card in multiples! It makes attacking a nightmare for any deck that’s not cleanly going over the 1/4, and aggro decks frequently can’t keep up with the lifegain output.
All in all, I’ve really been enjoying this limited format so far, and I think the format is incredibly deep and deckbuilding is much more complex than in other sealed formats. Regardless, I always say that the most exciting thing about limited is working with ideas about cards over the long run in each format, learning new fun and powerful ways of making the most out of the cards you have, and challenging yourself to keep an open mind and always learn more as formats evolve and card evaluations change.
These are the cards in each color that have impressed me the most thus far. But next week, they could be different cards entirely!
Until next time,