3-Color-Red Aggro Burn and Five Other Theros Questions Answered

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
9/13/2013 1:11:00 PM
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For the past few weeks I've been analyzing post-rotation Standard and the impact Theros will have on it. This week I am going to continue that theme, but instead of offering a bunch of deck lists (well, there are a couple deck lists toward the end) or thoroughgoing analyses of the format, I am going to focus specifically on some of the more common questions I've been asked by readers about Post-Rotation Theros Standard. The final question, concerning perhaps the best card in Theros ( Steam Augury), leads into a discussion of an alternate way of taking advantage of this very powerful card draw spell, including a main deck and sideboard that is ready to be used as soon as Theros hits the shelves!

1. What do you think of the heroic mechanic?

One of the mechanics that looks interesting in Theros is heroic. Whenever I target my heroic creature with a spell (not ability), it gets a bonus. The creatures with this ability are otherwise fairly underpowered (and mostly common and uncommon), so I suspect this mechanic was designed primarily for Limited. However, with most mechanics, there are usually a few cards that are good enough for Constructed (and are usually rare or mythic). Fabled Hero looks like it may be that rare. It's kind of like Silverblade Paladin, Fiendslayer Paladin, and Mirran Crusader, but its extra bonus is the heroic mechanic. The problem with heroic so far is that there are not very many spells that trigger the bonus profitably. Dauntless Onslaught and Martial Glory are a decent start, but we really need a few Travel Preparations type cards to make the mechanic worth pursuing for Constructed.

It is also worth noting that heroic is a linear type mechanic since the necessary support cards would be narrow and require a deck to commit pretty heavily to it. Hence you would have to use a lot of heroic creatures and have enough enabler cards to get paid off for running otherwise underpowered creatures. So far we have zero enablers that are worth the cost, but it's possible they simply haven't been spoiled yet. Another possibility is that the enablers get printed in an upcoming set and all these unplayable cards that proved disappointing finally come together as a real deck. This would make sense if a mechanic in the next set plays particularly well with heroic. For example, flashback and buyback would work especially well with it. As of now, the heroic cards appear unplayable, but given the amount of cards with the mechanic, I suspect there will at least be a decent deck to build around them for Standard (at some point), and the tipping point will hinge on quality enablers. Did I ever tell you you're my hero? Well, there is certainly no wind beneath the wings of these heroes, at least not yet – but that may soon change! Tagging Winds of Change here for #value.

2. What are your thoughts on the three most recently spoiled White Weenie cards?

Fabled Hero seems less good than Fiendslayer Paladin except in a dedicated heroic deck, which as I already mentioned, lacks the necessary enablers as of yet. He would likely be great in such a deck if the pieces come together at some point.

Spear of Heliod is pretty exciting. I was spoiled by Honor of the Pure and then Intangible Virtue. Nowadays I expect my Crusades to cost two mana. Then Path of Bravery was printed and suddenly I had to work hard just to get a three mana Crusade with some upside. Then they printed Spear of Heliod, which is essentially a Glorious Anthem with upside. It's still no Honor of the Pure, but I could see it playing an import role in white decks in conjunction with Heliod, God of the Sun. Heliod is basically a Hero of Bladehold with perpetual echo. With Spear on the battlefield, you are pumping out 3/2 vigilant tokens for 2WW, and all your other creatures have +1/+1 and vigilance. This is similar to Moorland Haunt + Intangible Virtue combo in terms of cost and payoff. Given that Standard is at its weakest just after rotation (comprising only 5 sets instead of upwards of 8 sets), I could see this combination being one of the strongest things to do in Standard. I would also keep in mind that we have lots of ways to pump creatures between Spear, Path of Bravery, and Archangel of Thune. It wouldn't take much to push this shell over the top. We just need some more quality token producers like Lingering Souls or Spectral Procession. Any day the missing link could get previewed (or, conversely, it may not ever come, who knows?).

Soldier of the Pantheon is the newest installment of Savannah Lions. Riding on the back of Return to Ravnica block, I expect his abilities to be fairly powerful in the near future and then begin to drop off as more sets in Theros block become legal in Standard (since Theros block will be adding mostly mono-colored cards to the Standard card pool and thus decrease the amount of RtR block multicolored cards played in Standard). With that said, when the lifegain ability triggers, if you have cards like Archangel of Thune in play, it automatically generates a Gavony Township effect. This is pretty powerful considering it's a mostly free ability tacked onto a creature that is essentially already on par with what we would expect from a one-drop. Cavalry Pegasus proves they are continuing the “human tribe matters” theme, so despite the Pegasus not actually being very good, this at least bodes well for the possibility that Soldier of the Pantheon's creature type will count as a de facto second relevant ability. This guy would be awesome alongside Champion of the Parish, but unfortunately we don't have that anymore. So hopefully we get something sweet to replace Champion with for the “make humans a relevant creature type” theme. Judging by the amount of times I was tagged on facebook and tweeted at when this card got spoiled, I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this hope.

3. How good is Swan Song?

 Swan Song
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Jake Slease 1 $1.50
Raven's Nest Games 3 $1.68
Raven's Nest Games 1 $1.77
Munday is Gameday 6 $1.91
CuriousCards 2 $1.99
The Mages Sanctum 2 $2.00
Strategy Kings 1 $2.04
Comic Lair 3 $2.06
Mom's Basement Games 8 $2.09
At Ease Games 1 $2.11
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Swan Song Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

Swan Song is an efficient answer to a large enough range of problems that it will undoubtedly see play in Constructed. It is already proving itself in Legacy and Vintage, especially in Oath of Druids Vintage decks. The fact that it counters Sphinx's Revelation, Steam Augury, any of the five Gods, any of their weapons, most removal spells, and a variety of other cards makes it very versatile. The drawback is not negligible, but turning any of the above spells into a Wind Drake is pretty powerful. The timing on when to play this card or to play around it is important and thus makes it a card that should always be on your mind whenever the opponent has access to blue mana. For instance, it's generally correct to play your removal spell after the opponent passes priority post-blockers step. This way if they try to cast a spell such as Giant Growth (or bloodrush) on their attacking creature, you give yourself an opportunity to trade your removal spell for their creature and their Giant Growth instead of just for their creature. If, however, you're opponent might be holding Swan Song, you would want to cast your removal spell prior to blockers being declared. This way if they want to Swan Song your removal spell, then you would have the option to block with the freshly minted bird token.

You can also counter your own spells if you would rather have a bird, which could come up with some frequency in the deck listed at the end of the article where you could potentially have Purphoros, God the Forge and Young Pyromancer in play (and thus casting an instant or sorcery spell and countering it with Swan Song would net 3 creatures and thus 6 damage from the red god). The real question I would like to know the answer to is how many flashed-in Boon Satyr bestowals are going to sing the Swan Song mid-combat? About two weeks ago none of us would have had a clue what I was talking about with this question. Today? Well, at least now it's a meaningful question that I hope to hear repeated at future Magic tournaments.

4. How much play will Hero's Downfall see?

 Hero's Downfall
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Snapcasters Gaming 3 $1.61
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Card Haven Games 3 $1.85
The Sleek Geeks 7 $1.92
Pristine CCG 1 $1.93
MillGeekComics 1 $1.97
TheOneStopShop 1 $1.98
The Perfect Hands 1 $2.00
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Magic MTG Card Hero's Downfall Magic MTG Card
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Hero's Downfall is a very powerful card and I expect it to see a reasonable amount of play. As I've been saying for the past few weeks, given that Standard is going to be at its weakest point next month, I expect Planeswalkers to be the default most powerful options for most decks. Jace, Architect of Thought, Domri Rade, and Ajani, Caller of the Pride each look really good right now. Ral Zarek could also be a big contender, as could be Gideon, Champion of Justice. Jace Memory Adept and the new Chandra Pyromancer will also likely play a role in control decks and Gruul decks alike, offering an alternate win condition to AEtherling or a trump to Lifebane Zombie, respectively. Hero's Downfall takes care of all these problems. And at what cost? Well, the competing option is basically just Doom Blade, which costs one less mana, can't touch a Planeswalker, and cannot touch black creatures, including only partially black multicultural multicolored creatures. More often than not, decks will want access to both of these cards, especially since black has an otherwise difficult time dealing with a resolved Planeswalker. Decks with access to red mana will usually prefer Dreadbore, but the fact that Murder saw play in Jund for a while and this card is a strict upgrade on Murder lends me to believe it will see a decent amount of play in Standard decks.

5. Are you glad Thoughtseize was printed in Theros?

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Plib Games 1 $14.00
DMs Cards 1 $14.00
ShopOfMagic 2 $14.17
Yougettoomuchmail 2 $14.25
The Perfect Hands 1 $14.50
Moz Magic 1 $14.54
Pristine CCG 2 $14.68
Freakonomics 2 $14.88
Mom's Basement Games 2 $14.99
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Magic MTG Card Thoughtseize Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

Yes. I got back onto the Pro Tour around the time Lorwyn was legal in Standard. Despite Kithkin being a popular tribe, my deck of choice was Black/Green Elves. The green had mana accelerants ( Llanowar Elves), cost-efficient creatures (Wren's Run Vanquisher, Tarmogoyf), token-generating anthems ( Imperious Perfect), and a difficult to handle finisher ( Chameleon Colossus). The black gave me Thoughtseize, Profane Command, and some removal spells. The deck was a classic aggro-rock style deck composed of green creatures and black spells. Before long I realized how much of a cost the two life was on Thoughtseize and so I had to replace Imperious Perfect with Kitchen Finks in order to reliably beat the Demigod of Revenge mono red decks. Otherwise the life loss from Thoughtseize was barely too crippling.

In Extended and Legacy I learned yet another lesson from Thoughtseize. I couldn't play all the Dark Confidants, fetchlands, and other powerful engine cards that use life as a resource, at least not all together in the same deck. Otherwise I would be depleting my life resource too rapidly and opening myself up to burn strategies. So in order to play a card like Thoughtseize, you have to not only play cards like Kitchen Finks that mitigate the life loss but you also have to play them to the exclusion of too many other cards that use your life points as a resource. Given the existence of cards like Thunder Strike, Turn // Burn, and all the various aggressive creatures in Standard currently, I expect Thoughtseize to play an important role but also be very exploitable from across the table. If everyone is playing Thoughtseize, then play strategies that attack the life total and/or play well off the top of the library, and/or have enough board presence or card draw to maintain an advantage despite having a card ripped out of the hand. There are plenty of ways to beat a Thoughtseize and yet Thoughtseize is one of the few discard spells in existence that seldom “whiffs”. In short, I see it as a skill-tester card that requires careful planning when playing with or against it, which is exactly the type of card I'm happy to see in Standard. Those are my thoughtsies on Thoughtseize.

6. How would you build around Steam Augury?

 Steam Augury
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Magic Mana Vault 3 $0.08
Cloak and Dagger 24 $0.08
Collectible Corner 10 $0.08
Dark Depths Games 4 $0.09
OldSchoolGaming 8 $0.09
SalesbyStephenB 1 $0.09
The Multiverse 1 $0.09
Dragons 2 $0.09
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Steam Augury Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

Gerry Thompson and Melissa DeTora recently wrote articles about the card's application for control decks, specifically UWR Control. Sam Stoddard also wrote about what good things he expects from Steam Augury. Personally I think control is a good direction for it but that there are multiple good directions for it. Fact or Fiction was one of the most powerful, skill-testing Standard cards every printed and Steam Augury is not much less powerful or skill-testing. So I would expect it to see an abundance of play beyond just control decks. One deck I am excited to try it out in is 3-color burn. My first Grand Prix top 8, way back in 2001, was Invasion Block Constructed where I played a UWR aggressive burn deck that refueled via Fact or Fiction and Prophetic Bolt. The cards in Standard seem fairly conducive to recreating a similar style of deck, with or without creatures (mine had 14 creatures).

First, here is a more controlling burn deck:

UWR Creatureless Burn by Craig Wescoe
Main Deck
4 Ral Zarek
Planeswalkers [4]
4 Anger of the Gods
4 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
2 Mizzium Mortars
4 Steam Augury
2 Supreme Verdict
4 Turn // Burn
4 Warleader's Helix
Spells [32]
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Island (237)
2 Izzet Guildgate
2 Mountain (245)
1 Plains (233)
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
Lands [20]
Deck Total [56]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

The gist of the deck is to eventually get to a point where you can start burning the opponent. This point should generally come after you have started drawing cards with Steam Augury or established enough loyalty on Ral Zarek. It's very possible Jace, Architect of Thought belongs in this deck.

This second deck is more aggressive. It is the one I would be more inclined to bring to a tournament, and it more closely resembles my Invasion Block deck:

UWR Aggro Burn by Craig Wescoe
Main Deck
3 Ash Zealot
4 Boros Reckoner
3 Young Pyromancer
Creatures [10]
2 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
4 Purphoros, God of the Forge
3 Steam Augury
2 Swan Song
3 Turn // Burn
4 Warleader's Helix
Spells [25]
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Izzet Guildgate
5 Mountain (245)
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
Lands [21]
Deck Total [56]

3 Detention Sphere
3 Gainsay
1 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Izzet Staticaster
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Ral Zarek
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

This is basically a three-color red aggro burn deck, or if you're a fan of corny acronyms, “The Burning C.R.A.B. deck”. I am a fan of such things. Hence I shall hitherto and hereafter refer to the deck as such. The Burning Crab has some strong engines, lots of reach, efficient removal (most of which can be pointed at the opponent), and a lot of versatility. It can curve out with fierce aggression (Ash Zealot > Hammer of Purphoros > Purphorus, God of the Forge). Or it can play the role of a control deck, burning out all the opposing creatures before taking over the game with card draw spells, gods, and Golem Tokens. Or it can sit back and play draw-go, casting all its spells during the opponent's end step (since the deck runs 19 instants main deck). This latter strategy can be particularly effective if we have a Young Pyromancer on the battlefield, thus generating an incidental offense in the process. If we also have a red god on our side, the damage can add up very quickly, even without old hammer man ever becoming a creature.

The blue and the white are mostly splashed for access to card draw and more powerful burn spells. It also gives us access to some useful sideboard options in the form of Detention Sphere, Gainsay, Izzet Staticaster, and Ral Zarek. I would expect most creature decks to have a difficult time overcoming all this burn, and to have an especially difficult time fighting through Izzet Staticaster and Mizzium Mortars. Detention Sphere gives us answers to planeswalkers and gods, as well as creatures too large to get burned out by cards other than Turn // Burn. Gainsay gives us more game against the two big opposing card draw spells (Steam Augury and Sphinx's Revelation). Between these and the two Swan Songs, we should be able to counter their first two attempts at drawing cards. The deck is designed to be able to close out a game under such conditions fairly regularly.

The deck is still in the theoretical stages, but on paper it looks pretty powerful. And it is in a color wedge with a lot of options to change things around however needed. This is one of the few decks I would strongly recommend exploring further once Theros is released. I might also consider renaming the deck. Now that I think about it, “the burning crab” sounds more like a sexually transmitted disease than a magic deck. Nevertheless, names aside, I'm looking forward to battling with this deck in the near future. Let me know what you think in the forum!

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter

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