JOU/BNG/THS: The mill deck

Theros and Born of the Gods had a smattering of mill cards, but no particularly effective ones at common or uncommon other than Evanescent Intellect, which gave your opponent an opportunity to 2-for-1 you. Journey into Nyx brings Thassa’s Devourer and Countermand to the table. Does this give us a critical mass of mill cards in a block draft?

Let’s start by looking at all the cards in the format that help you get cards out of your opponent’s library, organized by set, rarity, and color. The number after the color indicates how many cards it mills. N / X means it is a reusable effect that mills N cards each time X occurs, whether that be a mana cost or an ability trigger.

Journey into Nyx Born of the Gods Theros
Common Countermand (blue, 4) Evanescent Intellect (blue, 3 / 1U+{T}) Thassa’s Bounty (blue, 3)
Thassa’s Devourer (blue, 2 / constellation) Forsaken Drifters (black, 4) Returned Centaur (black, 4)
Returned Reveler (black, 3)
Uncommon Dakra Mystic (blue, 1 / U+{T}) Siren of the Silent Song (U/B, 1 / inspired)
Rare Mindreaver (blue, 3 / heroic) Pyxis of Pandemonium (artifact, 1 / {T})
Daxos of Meletis (W/U, 1 / dealing combat dmg to opp)
Mythic Phenax, God of Deception (U/B, T / creature) Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver (U/B, 3 / turn)

Thassa’s Devourer is the strongest of the mill effects at common since it has a reusable effect with a reasonable trigger condition, and provides a strong defence that buys you time to mill out your opponent. None of the other common or uncommon mill effects in Journey into Nyx are worth building a deck around, and an 8-person draft will only have 1.3 copies of Thassa’s Devourer, so a mill deck is only possible in a draft with an unsually high number of copies of the card or in a casual draft with more than 8 people. If you’re already in blue and see a couple of copies going around, you can plan to take them if they lap the table. (If someone else takes them, you don’t want to be drafting a mill deck anyway, since the format does not have enough mill cards to support 2 drafters.) If you don’t end up drafting a mill deck, they can still be a good sideboard plan against control decks. Since you have to draw at least 1 Thassa’s Devourer for the deck to get going, you’re not likely to have a strong mill deck unless you draft at least 3+ copies of the card, especially since the format has a fair bit of enchantment removal.

Once you have decided to draft a mill deck, it is probably worth picking up Evanescent Intellect in Born of the Gods. While playing it still involves a certain amount of risk, I believe Journey into Nyx makes the card more playable since it triggers Thassa’s Devourer (and so can mill 5 cards on the turn it comes into play) and Countermand can protect the enchanted creature from removal. Like Thassa’s Devourer, Evanescent Intellect is likely to lap the table, so you don’t need to take them the first time around.

If you’re building towards a mill deck but are not yet in black when you get to Born of the Gods, you can also consider white as your second color. The color provides Dawn to Dusk and Griffin Dreamfinder as ways to get Thassa’s Devourer back if it is killed. It also provides access to Daxos of Meletis and Gods Willing in the Theros pack, although those are not passed quite as often as Returned Centaur. If you’re drafting this deck, you should also prioritize Griptide higher since it allows you to mill away your opponent’s best creature after putting it back on top of their library.

THS/BNG: Enters-the-battlefield effects and reanimation spells

In my most recent post, I discussed how Rescue from the Underworld lets us reuse enters-the-battlefield effects. In the past, I’ve also discussed how Triad of Fates lets you do that. There are also other reanimation spells in Theros and Born of the Gods — Fated Return, Champion of Stray Souls, and the temporary reanimation of Whip of Erebos — as well as March of the Returned and Pharika’s Mender, which require you to recast the creature. However, I haven’t yet done a comprehensive review of all the enters-the-battlefield effects on creatures in the format, which could help us decide which color to pair with black if we find that we have more that a couple of reanimation effects in our deck. Let’s do that now. In the list below, italics denote a relatively weak enters-the-battlefield ability or an unplayable creature, [] denotes rares and mythics, and bold indicates that the trigger happens when other creatures enter the battlefield.

  • White: Evangel of Heliod, Griffin Dreamfinder, Lagonna-Band Elder, Leonin Snarecaster
  • Blue: Breaching Hippocamp, Horizon Scholar, [Master of Waves]*, Mnemonic Wall, Omenspeaker
  • Black: [Abhorrent Overlord], Blood-Toll Harpy, Disciple of Phenax, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Mogis’s Marauder, Odunos River Trawler, Returned Centaur
  • Red: Fanatic of Mogis, Minotaur Skullcleaver, [Purphoros God of the Forge], Wild Celebrants
  • Green: Nylea’s Disciple, [Reverent Hunter], Satyr Wayfinder, Setessan Starbreaker
  • Multicolor: [Ashen Rider], Chronicler of Heroes, [Ephara God of the Polis], Pharika’s Mender

* The Elementals already in play die when Master of Waves is not in play, so this only helps if you’ve lost some of the Elementals in combat or if you now have a higher devotion to blue.

There are also a few creatures that have a trigger when they die: Forsaken Drifters, Loathsome Catoblepas, and [Ashen Rider]. [Reaper of the Wilds] and Fate Foretold also trigger when other creatures or the creature they’re enchanting dies.

Looking at the lists above, we see that black has the most and highest quality enters-the-battlefield effects, but that most of the other colors have 2-3 good enters-the-battlefield effects on creatures that are not rares or mythics.

Of course, Rescue from the Underworld and Fated Return can also be used purely for their reanimation. There are a number of cards in black, green, and blue that allow you to get cards from your library into your graveyard: Returned Centaur, Forsaken Drifters, Satyr Wayfinder, Commune with the Gods, Evanescent Intellect, Thassa’s Bounty, Steam Augury, and even Phenax God of Deception (although you’d usually want to use it to target your opponent). The best of these effects are in green, and they can be used to try to mill an expensive creature like Ashen Riders, or for a creature that is otherwise difficult to cast, such as Chromanticore. And if you end up drawing one of the cards accidentally, there are also a handful of discard outlets in the format (Epiphany Storm, Erebos’s Emissary, Prognostic Sphinx, and potentially also Disciple of Phenax, Ordeal of Erebos, and Thoughtseize). Given these colors of these effects, a reanimation deck would probably be a B/G graveyard deck with some reanimation, or a U/B control deck with perhaps some incidental self-mill.

THS: Rescue from the Underworld and Gift of Immortality in W/B control

A draft last Tuesday started with Fated Intervention, Odunos River Trawler, and Sunbond out of a weak third pack, followed by another Sunbond fourth pick over Asphyxiate because I was hoping I might be able draft around the pair of enchantments. Unfortunately, the Oreskos Sun Guides I saw were in the same packs as the Sunbonds, I took Abhorrent Overlord over an Insatiable Harpy, only saw one Scholar of Athreos, and never saw a Hopeful Eidolon or Ordeal of Heliod. My final pool had 6 potential ways to gain life, but Ephara’s Radiance and Cutthroat Maneuver were terrible in that deck unless Soulbond was already in play, and Last Breath and Setessan Battle Priest were unlikely to ever gain me life, leaving only Scholar of Athreos and Gray Merchant of Asphodel as playable sources of lifegain.

I did nevertheless end up with a strong W/B control deck with a strong defense, some incidental lifegain, a few sources of card advantage, and a couple of finishers. Here’s my decklist:

2 Baleful Eidolon
1 Setessan Battle Priest
1 Guardians of Meletis
1 Felhide Minotaur
1 Odunos River Trawler
1 Scholar of Athreos
1 Observant Alseid
1 Wingsteed Rider
2 Disciple of Phenax
1 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
1 Abhorrent Overlord
1 Traveler’s Amulet
1 Boon of Erebos
1 Eye Gouge
1 Revoke Existence
1 Last Breath
2 Asphyxiate
1 Read the Bones
1 Gift of Immortality
1 Rescue from the Underworld

10 Swamps
7 Plains

Sideboard:
1 Astral Cornucopia
1 Opaline Unicorn
2 Sunbond
1 Ephara’s Radiance
1 Loyal Pegasus
1 Cutthroat Maneuver
2 Asphodel Wanderer
1 Pharika’s Mender
1 Fated Intervention
1 Fade into Antiquity
2 Commune with the Gods
1 Agent of Horizons
1 Kiora’s Follower
1 Sphinx’s Disciple
1 Boulderfall
1 Reckless Reveler

I’ve drafted W/B control decks previously. However, I was surpised by the strength of 2 cards I’d never given much thought to previously: Rescue from the Underworld and Gift of Immortality.

I’d always thought of Rescue from the Underworld as an instant-speed Zombify that that could sometimes let you ambush an attacking creature and occasionally save one of your creatures from removal, but also cost an additional mana and couldn’t be used if you didn’t have a creature in play. However, it also has a couple of advantages over Zombify:

  • It allows you to reuse the enters-the-battlefield ability of the creature in play, possibly in addition to that of the creature being reanimated. My deck had 2 Disciple of Phenax, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Odunos River Trawler, and Abhorrent Overlord, all with potent enters-the-battlefield triggers and, on occasion, I was even able to reuse 2 enters-the-battlefield triggers. (I considered splashing Pharika’s Mender as it also has a strong enters-the-battlefield effect, but that would have required running Opaline Unicorn. The Unicorn is often quite good in B/X control decks, which tend to have a glut at 5cc, but this deck had a sufficiently low mana curve that Opaline Unicorn would have been substantially less impressive.)
  • Similarly, it also allows you to reuse monstrosity triggers and ask an opponent to pay tribute again (if they didn’t pay it the first time; if they did, they’ll just choose to pay it again and you’ll be back where you started).
  • It can let you attack in unfavorable board states without losing your best creature, which is especially useful if you have multiple creatures with inspired or a creature like Cavalry Pegasus, Noble Quarry, Silent Sentinel, or Prognostic Sphinx that has a “Whenever X attacks” abilities.

Gift of Immortality was an even bigger surprise. I consider Indestructibility unplayable, and viewed Gift of Immortality as a slightly cheaper version that provided your opponent a brief window of opportunity to permanently kill the creature. However, Gift of Immortality has a couple of advantages over Indestructibility:

  • When it enchants a creature with a powerful enters-the-battlefield effect, it can be a strong deterrent to your opponent attacking into or blocking the enchanted creature.
  • The creature comes back even if your opponent makes you sacrifice it, say with Agent of Fates.
  • It can get absurd if you can sacrifice the creature yourself, either to get additional uses out of the sacrifice ability (e.g., Burnished Hart), to retrigger an enters-the-battlefield ability (e.g., Abhorrent Overlord), or both (e.g., Odunos River Trawler). In addition to Burnished Hart, the format also provides Priest of Iroas, Reckless Reveler (although you’re unlikely to have the need to use its ability multiple times in a single game with BNG/THS/THS draft decks), and, if you’re willing to run 3+ colors, Crackling Triton and Tymaret the Murder King. Tymaret the Murder King also provides a way to sacrifice other creatures enchanted with Gift of Immortality to retrigger their enters-the-battlefield effects, as do Abhorrent Overlord, Champion of Stray Souls, Eater of Hope, and Scourge of Skola Vale.

THS/BNG: Combos

Here are some of my favorite combos that only utilize Theros cards:

  • Akroan Hoplite + Cavalry Pegasus
  • Shipwreck Singer/Meletis Charlatan + untap effects like Triton Tactics and Savage Surge
  • Triad of Fates + Gray Merchant of Asphodel/Disciple of Phenax
  • Triad of Fates + Portent of Betrayal (you draw the 2 cards if you exile the borrowed creature using the third ability)
  • Deathbellow Minotaur + Dragon Mantle
  • Spellheart Chimera + Steam Augury

And here are some of my favorite combos that utilize cards from Born of the Gods:

  • God-Favored General + Cavalry Pegasus
  • Kragma Butcher + Grisly Transformation
  • Retraction Helix + untap effects like Triton Tactics and Breaching Hippocamp
  • creatures with inspired + Black Oak of Odunos (and, to a lesser extent, Stratus Walk, Grisly Transformation, Aqueous Form, Fleetfeather Sandal, and Prowler’s Helm)
  • Vortex Elemental + Noble Quarry
  • Archetype of Finality + Lightning Volley

While the last 2 combos are pseudo-wrath effects, they require 2 Born of the Gods uncommons and so are more likely to come together in a BNG/BNG/BNG draft than in a BNG/THS/THS draft. They also require that a relatively fragile creature survive until you draw/play the other half of the combo. Finally, the Archetype of Finality + Lightning Volley combo requires playing cards that you might not play otherwise (especially if you’re playing an aggressive B/R Minotaurs deck) and requires having multiple creatures on the table for maximum potency.

What are some of your favorite combos? (You can email me or post them in the comments section.)

BNG: Sunbond

Sunbond is a card that’s intrigued me since I first saw the Born of the Gods spoiler. The format has a fair bit of incidental lifegain (lifegain that comes with another effect), and has relatively little removal that deals with large creatures. Sunbond seems especially strong on creatures with lifelink since they double in size each time they deal damage.

Here’s a list of all the cards in the format that can gain you life. Cards in bold provide recurring lifegain (this includes creatures with lifelink). While they may gain you less life than some of the non-recurring cards like Ordeal of Heliod, they can help even if you played before you draw Sunbond. Cards in italics are either filler/situational or only gain you 1 life at a time.

  • White (average of 10.1 cards with lifegain in an 8-person draft, 4.5 of which are recurring):
    • common: Hopeful Eidolon, Lagonna-Band Elder, Mortal’s Ardor, Oreskos Sun Guide, Ray of Dissolution, Setessan Battle Priest (Ephara’s Radiance is almost never playable and Last Breath is almost never used on your own creatures)
    • uncommon: Ordeal of Heliod
    • rare: Soldier of the Pantheon
  • Black (average of 7.2 cards, 3.2 of which are recurring):
    • common: Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Pharika’s Cure, Servant of Tymaret
    • uncommon: Cutthroat Maneuver, Insatiable Harpy, Tormented Hero
    • rare: Whip of Erebos
  • Green (average of 5 cards, 0.5 of which are recurring):
    • common: Nylea’s Disciple, Snake of the Golden Grove, Time to Feed
    • rare: Bow of Nylea, Courser of Kruphix
  • Multicolor (average of 3.3 cards, all of which are recurring):
    • common: Scholar of Athreos (while it doesn’t require black mana to be playable, it does require black mana to be used for lifegain)
    • uncommon: Daxos of Meletis, Horizon Chimera
    • mythic: Chromanticore

Unsurprisingly, white has the most cards with lifegain and the most cards that provide recurring lifegain, followed by black and then green. This means that W/B has the most cards with lifegain, and therefore is most likely to be able to maximize Sunbond. W/B also provides access to Scholar to Athreos, both creatures with lifelink in the set, and if you’re really lucky, Whip of Erebos.

Including Scholar of Athreos, an 8-person BNG/THS/THS draft will have an average of 18.8 white or black cards with lifegain. Hopeful Eidolon, Ordeal of Heliod, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Pharika’s Cure, Insatiable Harpy, and Whip of Erebos are high picks in most decks running their colors and constitute 5.7 of the 18.8 cards. If you draft a third of these cards and half of the remaining 13.1, you end up with 9.5 cards, which is enough to power Sunbond.

Keep in mind that Sunbond is an uncommon, so an 8-person BNG/THS/THS draft will only have 0.4 copies of the card on average. I don’t recommend taking Sunbond early and trying to draft around it. However, if you’re looking at a weak pack or if you’re already in W/B, you can pick it up and prioritize the cards with lifegain just a little higher.

BNG: How good are the Gods?

For a long time, I thought the Gods in Theros were bombs. I’d read that maybe they were not quite as great as they seemed and perhaps even less playable than their Emissaries, but they’re mythic so I’d hadn’t played with or against them much. The new 2-color Gods in Born of the Gods seemed just as powerful and easier to meet the devotion requirements of. However, at a Born of the Gods prerelease event, I had a W/G deck with both Heliod God of the Sun and Karametra God of Harvests and they were never creatures, even though I cast both of them at least once. That surprised me because it didn’t seem like it should be that difficult to have other permanents with 4-5 colored mana symbols on the battlefield.

Let’s do some rough analysis for a generic 2-color deck to figure out how likely it is that a God will be a creature. Limited decks tend to run 16-18 lands and 14-18 creatures. Let’s say that the deck has 16 creatures and 2 enchantments, making 18 colored permanents. Of these, let’s say there are 2 multicolor permanents that have 1 mana symbol of each color. Let’s assume that the remaining 16 permanents are split evenly between the 2 colors, and that each color has 1 permanent with 2 mana symbols of that color in the casting cost, with the rest having 1 mana symbol of that color. (You’d think there’d be more permanents that require 2 colored mana to cast, but Theros has few such permanents outside black, and to a lesser extent, green.)

So each color has 11 mana symbols spread across 10 permanents, an average of 1.1 mana symbols per permanent. For the monocolored Gods, this means you’d need another 3.64 permanents in addition to the God. That doesn’t sound too difficult, but in order to have drawn 3.64 of the 9 remaining permanents of that color out of the 39 cards left in your deck, you need 15.77 cards which will happen around turn 9 on average, and that’s assuming you are able to cast those permanents and don’t lose any of them in combat or to removal.

So the monocolor Gods are less impressive than they seem at first glance. Some, like Thassa God of the Sea and Purphoros God of the Forge, are playable just on the basis of their abilities. (Thassa, in particular, helps you dig to your other blue permanents, making it easier to turn her into a creature.) Erebos God of the Dead has rather less impressive abilities, but black has more playable cards with multiple colored mana symbols in their casting cost, making it more likely that Erebos will become a creature. On the other hand, Heliod God of the Sun and Nylea God of the Hunt are much less playable; while they can dominate the late game, they require 8 mana for the first use of their activated abilities. Consequently, they should not be high picks, and should probably not be sided in as necessary rather than being played maindeck.

How about the new multicolored Gods, are they any easier to turn into creatures, assuming you’re in that color pair? With the God in play, you only need another 5 mana symbols of either color, and all 22 colored mana symbols are relevant. Those mana symbols are spread across 18 permanents, an average of 1.22 mana symbols per permanent. That means you need 4.1 of the 17 remaining permanents out of the 39 cards left in your deck. That only requires having seen 9.4 cards, which will happen by turn 3 on average. However, each time you lose a creature in combat or to removal, it takes another 2.3 turns to find another permanent to take its place. So it is much more likely that a 2-color God will become a creature, but you may need to play cards like Vanguard of Brimaz over Traveling Philosopher and put in a bit of extra effort to keep your creatures alive, perhaps by not engaging in combat that would lead to 1-for-1 trades.

Of the multicolor Gods, Phenax God of Deception is the best by far; I’m happy to splash him in most decks that are playing at least one of those colors since he will mill out your opponent very quickly if not dealt with, especially if you’re playing cards like Wavecrash Triton and Guardians of Meletis. Ephara God of the Polis is also excellent because she draws cards, allowing you to end up with more permanents on the table and thereby turning her into a creature. Mogis God of Slaughter and Xenagos God of Revels have abilities that shine in the format’s aggressive R/X decks. Karametra God of Harvests has the worst of the abilities; you don’t usually need mana acceleration on turn 6 unless you’re playing a lot of monstrous creatures, so she mostly serves to thin your deck of lands.

BNG: Expected numbers of copies of a card

In triple Theros, an 8-person draft had an average of 2.4 copies of a given common, 1.2 copies of a given uncommon, 0.4 copies of a given rare, and 0.2 copies of a given mythic. Now that we’re down to 2 packs of Theros, we have fewer of the key cards for our familiar archetypes.

An 8-person BNG/THS/THS draft will have 2/3rds as many copies of a Theros card at a given rarity: 1.6 copies of commons, 0.8 copies of uncommons, 0.26 copies of rares, and 0.13 copies of mythics. While there are half as many Born of the Gods packs as Theros packs, the draft won’t just have half as many copies of a given Born of the Gods card at the same rarity since the set has a different rarity distribution (60 commons, 60 uncommons, 35 rares, and 10 rares). Instead, it will have an average of 1.3 copies of a given Born of the Gods common, 0.4 copies of a given uncommon, 0.2 copies of a given rare, and 0.1 copies of a given mythic.

This means that while you will see 1/2 as many copies of a given uncommon, you will actually see about 3/4ths as many copies of a given Born of the Gods rare or mythic, and 0.85 as many copies of a given common, which is more than you might have expected. In fact, if a given Theros common has a very close analog in Born of the Gods, it means you’ll now have access to 2.9 copies of the card instead of 2.4 copies.

In future weeks, we’ll use this information, along with the prior analysis of what cards each THS/THS/THS archetype gains, to determine where the prior archetypes have gained or lost with the introduction of Born of the Gods.