THS: Humans

Other than Minotaurs, the other main tribal interaction in Theros is with Humans: Cavalry Pegasus gives Humans flying if they attack alongside it, and Titan of Eternal Fire gives Humans the ability the ability to tap to do 1 damage to a creature or player. Much of the value of these cards depends on how many Humans you have in your deck, so it helps to know whether Theros has enough playable Humans to make these cards worth taking early.

This spreadsheet lists all 33 Humans in Theros. White has about a third of these and a disproportionate number of the commons, so about 40% of the Humans in a typical draft will be white (this is not a commentary on the racial makeup of the Magic community :)). 1 of the white commons is unplayable and 2 are filler, but white does also have an exceptional Human at common (Wingsteed Rider, although it does not benefit from Cavalry Pegasus since it already flies). White also has 2 exceptional Humans at uncommon (Favored Hoplite and Phalanx Leader) so it will have 4.8 exceptional Humans in a typical 8-person draft, 4 times as many as any of the other colors, and none of which can be played as a splash by non-white players. If you don’t have Titan of Eternal Fire, Wingsteed Rider is not any better than a non-Human since it does not benefit from Cavalry Pegasus, but white will still have 2 times as many exceptional Humans as the other colors in a typical draft. Finally, all the multicolor Humans are also white except for Prophet of Kruphix: 2 are R/W, 2 are W/U, and 1 is W/B. This means that a Humans deck will need to run white as a main color rather than just splashing Cavalry Pegasus as a finisher.

Red and green are next with 5 Humans each, including 2 at common. The commons in both colors are playable, but red has an edge because it has 2 uncommon Humans instead of 1, provides access to 2 multicolor Humans, and has Titan of Eternal Fire. Black has 4 Humans, only 1 of which is a common, and that one is unplayable unless you’re drafting the black devotion deck. On the far end of the spectrum, blue has only 3 Humans, 2 of which are rare, although it does also have 2 of the multicolor Humans.

Let’s also look at Humans that particularly benefit from having the evasion that Cavalry Pegasus grants:

  • Daxos of Meletis (W/U rare): generates card advantage if it deals combat damage to an opponent
  • Favored Hoplite (white uncommon), Soldier of the Pantheon (white rare), and Tormented Hero (black uncommon): can enable aggressive starts with Cavalry Pegasus allowing you to keep up the pressure
  • Fabled Hero (white rare), Staunch-Hearted Warrior (green common), and Akroan Hoplite (R/W uncommon): these creatures can do a lot of damage if they are unblocked
  • Arena Athlete (red uncommon): can prevent opposing flyers/spiders from blocking your creatures

Looking at all of this information in concert, it appears that R/W is the best color for a Humans deck as it has both cards that interact with Humans, the most number of playable Humans, and the most Humans that benefit from the evasion granted by Cavalry Pegasus.

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THS: Minotaurs

Theros is unusual in having 2 lords for a single tribe: Rageblood Shaman and Kragma Warcaller. How good are they in triple Theros drafts? Let’s figure it out.

Theros has 7 Minotaurs, including the 2 lords. There are 4 commons, 2 uncommons, and 1 rare, so the average 8-person draft will have 12.3 Minotaurs, including 1.6 Minotaur lords. The Minotaurs are listed below, along with my prior evaluation of them:

  • Common: Deathbellow Raider (2cc, good), Minotaur Skullcleaver (3cc, filler/conditional), Fellhide Minotaur (3cc, filler/conditional), Borderland Minotaur (4cc, good)
  • Uncommon: Fanatic of Mogis (4cc, exceptional), Kragma Warcaller (5cc, TBD)
  • Rare: Rageblood Shaman (3cc, TBD)

The Minotaurs are spread reasonably well across the mana curve, which is good. All are in either red or black. While the black Minotaur is not particularly strong, Kragma Warcaller is, and Deathbellow Raider requires black mana for regeneration, so a Minotaur deck is likely to be R/B or R/b (red splashing black).

Many of the Minotaurs are playable on their own merits, even without a lord: Borderland Minotaur, Fanatic of Mogis, and Kragma Warcaller. Deathbellow Raider and Minotaur Skullcleaver are also playable in a sufficiently aggressive red deck. Other than Fanatic of Mogis, however, none of these cards are likely to be taken highly by non-Minotaur players. So it is likely that a player drafting Minotaurs can expect to pick up about 8 Minotaurs over the course of the draft if no one else is drafting the same deck. (I say 8 instead of 12 because some Minotaurs will get drafted by other players, because you will have to pass Minotaurs for removal, and because Fellhide Minotaur isn’t worth playing unless you have multiple Minotaur lords.)

What does this mean for the playability of the Minotaur lords? Kragma Warcaller is good on its own merits as a 4/3 haste creature for 5 manas, so it’s worth drafting highly if you’re in those colors, even if you don’t have many Minotaurs. Rageblood Shaman is more conditional, but is very playable in a deck with about 8 Minotaurs, so it is a reasonable early pick that you can try to craft a deck around.

THS: The heroic deck

Theros has 18 creatures with the heroic keyword, but how good are they? I did an initial evaluation of them, along with all other cards in Theros, in a recent post, but their valuation also depends to an extent on the number of targeting spells available in Theros. In particular, it depends on the number of beneficial targeting spells, i.e., targeting spells that you would like (or at least not mind) casting on your own creatures. In turn, the value of those spells also depends, on an extent, to how many good creatures with heroic are available in Theros.

Let’s start by looking at the creatures with heroic. Blue, red, and green each have a common, an uncommon, and a rare creature with heroic, so they will each have 4 creatures with heroic in an average draft. Black has only an uncommon and a rare with heroic and so will have only 1.6 creatures with heroic on average, and white has 2 commons, 2 uncommons, and a rare and so will have 7.5 creatures with heroic on average. A color is typically shared by 3 drafters at a table, so even a W/X deck will only usually have 4 creatures with heroic, so it does not make sense to try to pick up good beneficial targeting spells in anticipation of being passed good creatures with heroic.

This is especially true since many of the heroic creatures are playable even with few or no beneficial targeting spells in a deck. However, there are some exceptions:

  • White: Favored Hoplite (uncommon), Phalanx Leader (uncommon)
  • Blue: Triton Fortune Hunter (uncommon), Artisan of Forms (rare)
  • Red: Akroan Crusader (common), Labyrinth Chamption (rare)
  • Green: Staunch-Hearted Warrior (common), Centaur Battlemaster (uncommon)

So while white has the most number of heroic creatures, it is green and (to a lesser extent) red whose heroic creatures need to be accompanied by beneficial targeting spells in order to really shine.

Next, let’s take a look at which colors have the best beneficial targeting spells. This spreadsheet lists all the beneficial targeting spells available in Theros, including all instants, sorceries, enchant creatures, and enchantment creatures with bestow that help your creatures. The table on the left summarizes them by color, rarity, and quality, and the total row for each color computes the number of cards of that color and quality that you’re likely to see in an 8-person draft.

Looking at the total column, we see that white has the most number of beneficial targeting spells at 16, followed by black and red at 13, and then blue and green at 11. However, quality is more important than raw numbers, so let’s only look at spells that are playable (/) or better. It turns out that most colors have about 10 beneficial targeting spells in an average draft, while black has only about 6. Consequently, the average 8-person draft will have 46 such spells, or about 6 per player. (It is worth noting here that blue has more exceptional targeting spells than the other colors.)

This means that red and green decks will usually have access to enough good beneficial targeting spells that you can draft good heroic cards and expect to pick up some beneficial targeting spells later. However, most heroic decks are likely to be W/X since white has the most number of heroic creatures and the most number of beneficial targeting spells in Theros.

THS: The devotion deck

Let’s use the evaluations from my last post to try to get a sense of how good the various cards with the devotion mechanic are. Let’s start by looking at the cards that depend on devotion in each color:

  • White (2 total): 1 uncommon (Evangel of Heliod/2 colored mana symbols), 1 mythic (Heliod God of the Sun/1)
  • Blue (2): 2 mythics (Master of Waves/1, Thassa God of the Sea/1)
  • Black (5): 2 commons (Disciple of Phenax/2, Gray Merchant of Asphodel/2), 1 uncommon (Mogis’s Marauder/1), 1 rare (Abhorrent Overlord/2), 1 mythic (Erebos God of the Dead/1)
  • Red (2): 1 uncommon (Fanatic of Mogis/1), 1 mythic (Purphoros God of the Forge/1)
  • Green (4): 1 common (Nylea’s Disciple/2), 1 uncommon (Karametra’s Acolyte/1, which I no longer think is unplayable since it can enable early monstrous creatures), 1 rare (Reverent Hunter/1), 1 mythic (Nylea God of the Hunt/1)

From this, it appears that black and green are the only colors with a potential devotion deck. However, green’s devotion cards are playable even if you don’t have a lot of green mana symbols in play, so black is really where we want to focus our efforts.

Next, let’s examine the number of colored mana symbols in permanents by color and rarity. White has slightly more colored mana symbols among its common permanents, but only by a very narrow margin (14 vs. 13 for blue/black/green and 12 for red). However, when you look at the average number of colored mana symbols among permanents in a draft, white comes out well ahead with 43.65 vs. 41.25 for green in second place.

Let’s also look at the number of permanents in each color that contribute more than one colored mana symbol.

  • White: 2 commons, 2 uncommons, 4 rares, and 1 mythic = 9 cards in an average 8-person draft have 2 or more colored mana symbols
  • Blue: 1 common, 1 uncommon, 3 rares = 4.75
  • Black: 2 commons, 2 uncommons, 4 rares, and 1 mythic = 9
  • Red: 3 commons, 1 uncommons, 3 rares, and 1 mythic = 9.75
  • Green: 2 commons, 2 uncommons, 4 rares (one of which has 3 colored mana symbols), and 1 mythic = 9

So it’d be more difficult to have a blue deck with a lot of colored mana symbols, but it doesn’t matter since blue has only 2 cards with the devotion mechanic, and they’re both mythic anyway.

Now let’s take a closer look at the quality of the cards with more than 1 colored mana symbol:

  • White: Among commons, Silent Artisan is unplayable but Wingsteed Rider is exceptional. Among uncommons, Phalanx Leader is exceptional and Evangel of Heliod is TBD. The 4 rares and the mythic are all bombs except Hundred-Handed One which is merely exceptional.
  • Blue: Prescient Chimera (common) and Sealock Monster (uncommon) are both playable. Among the rares, Shipbreaker Kraken is exceptional and the other 2 are bombs.
  • Black: Among commons, Gray Merchant of Asphodel is TBD and Disciple of Phenax is unplayable unless you have several Gray Merchants of Asphodel and need to increase your devotion to black. Among uncommons, Insatiable Harpy is playable and Keepsake Gorgon is exceptional. Among rares, Nighthowler is TBD, Whip of Erebos is exceptional, and the other 2 rares and the mythic are bombs.
  • Red: Among commons, Two-Headed Cerberus is conditional/filler and Borderland Minotaur and Wild Celebrants are playable but on the expensive side for a red deck which might want only a couple of cards at that point on its mana curve. Stoneshock Giant (uncommon) is also playable but also at the top end of many R/X deck’s curves. Among rares, Rageblood Shaman is TBD and the other 2 are exceptional. Stormbreath Dragon (mythic) is obviously a bomb.
  • Green: Both commons are playable. Among the uncommons, Centaur Battlemaster is playable and Nemesis of Mortals is exceptional. 2 of the rares (Arbor Colossus, which has 3 colored mana symbols, and Boon Satyr) are exceptional and the other 2 are bombs as is the lone mythic.

So each color has roughly 1 playable common and 2 playable uncommons with 2+ colored mana symbols. Green does have an additional playable common and also has 4 devotion cards, so it should be easier to trigger devotion effects in that color. Red has the most number of commons with 2+ colored mana symbols but probably can’t afford to run more than a couple of them, especially since it has only 2 devotion effects. Evangel of Heliod is probably quite good, especially in conjunction with Phalanx Leader, but also in any W/X Skies deck since the 1/1s can hold the ground against monstrous/bestowed creatures. A typical 8-person draft will have only 2.4 copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel, so we can’t really plan to build a deck around it, but black has a reasonable number of permanents with BB in the casting cost so Gray Merchant of Asphodel should be quite good, especially if you’re willing to run Disciple of Phenax to power them up. Blue has few devotion effects (which makes sense from a flavor standpoint too), so there’s no need to try to load up on permanents with UU in their casting cost, even if you’ve already drafted either of the blue mythics that look at devotion.

THS: Evaluations

This is an initial set of evaluations of the cards in Theros. Here’re what my various evaluations mean:

  • Bomb (B): Will usually win the game if not dealt with and also difficult to deal with or play around, e.g., large flyers or mass removal.
  • Exceptional (+): A superior card that will turn the tide in your favor, e.g., most unconditional removal that isn’t overcosted or a 3/3 flyer for 4 mana.
  • Good (/): The bread and butter of most decks, e.g., a 2/2 flyer or a vanilla 3/3 for 3 mana.
  • Situational/Filler (~): Good in the right deck, filler in most others, e.g., a vanilla 2/1 in a deck that is not particularly aggressive.
  • Sideboard (S): Useful to have in your sideboard, but not usually playable maindeck, e.g., artifact/enchantment destruction or color hosers that aren’t good if you’re not playing against those colors.
  • Unplayable (x): Should not be played except in the right deck or under exceptional circumstances, e.g., a vanilla 1/1 for 1 mana. Some unplayable creatures can be sided in against the right deck, e.g., a vanilla 1/3 for 3 mana might still be sided in against an aggressive deck.
  • TBD (?): Requires more analysis or more experience with the format to evaluate, e.g., a card that depends on how many playable enchantments there are in the format.