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.

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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.)

THS: U/R spells

Earlier this week, I had a chance to draft the U/R spells/scry deck that I’d theorized about in previous posts but that I hadn’t drafted yet. Here was my deck:

1 Omenspeaker
3 Crackling Triton
1 Spellheart Chimera
1 Spearpoint Oread
1 Borderland Minotaur
1 Ill-Tempered Cyclops
1 Purphoros’s Emissary
1 Prescient Chimera
1 Stoneshock Giant
3 Magma Jet
2 Lightning Strike
1 Voyage’s End
1 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Griptide
1 Steam Augury
1 Rage of Purphoros

9 Mountains
8 Islands

Sideboard:
1 Fleetfeather Sandals
2 Akroan Crusader
1 Satyr Rambler
1 Deathbellow Raider
1 Fanatic of Mogis
1 Wild Celebrants
1 Titan’s Strength
1 Spark Jolt
2 Boulderfall
1 Sealock Monster
1 Mnemonic Wall
2 Fate Foretold
2 Stymied Hopes
1 Reaper of the Wilds
1 Fleshmad Steed

This was an extremely casual draft and only one other drafter at the table was in red, which is how I ended up with 10 removal/bounce spells. The first pack I opened was weak and I took Griptide over a Steam Augury that I thought might table (it didn’t). I then took a Lightning Strike over a Vaporkin, and then a Magma Jet, followed by a second one later in the pack. I also picked up a Steam Augury (not the one I opened) and a Spellheart Chimera (over a Flamespeaker Adept) later in the pack, both cards that I would have usually ignored if I hadn’t previously thought through what a U/R deck might look like. I opened Hammer of Purphoros in the second pack and obviously took it. (I learned later that another Hammer of Purphoros was dedrafted fourth pick by the person next to me; red was wide open.) The rest of the draft was more removal and whatever creatures I could pick up, including a couple of late Crackling Tritons.

The deck didn’t end up being quite the U/R spells deck I’d envisioned. It didn’t have any Flamespeaker Adepts (I saw 2 but took removal over one and a Spellheart Chimera over the other) and I would have preferred more Spellheart and Prescient Chimeras. However, the plethora of removal made it really strong and I ended up going 5-1 (10-2 in games) over the course of the evening.

Some things I learned:

  • Make sure to pick up an Annul or 2 for your sideboard because this deck has no other ways to deal with enchantments. Similarly, it’s a good idea to have a Wild Celebrants or 2 for your sideboard or even your maindeck, in case your opponents have a weapon of the gods or an aggressive start followed by a Prowler’s Helm.
  • All but one of the creatures in my deck had toughness >= 3 which largely invalidated any Pharika’s Cures and Magma Jets that my opponents were running. There are only a few blue or red creatures with toughness <= 2 that you really want to run anyway (Master of Waves, Nimbus Naiad, Vaporkin, Labyrinth Champion, and potentially Fanatic of Mogis), so it doesn't make sense to run cards like Spearpoint Oread since those provide targets for these removal spells.
  • In the summary of archetypes in THS/THS/THS, I’d theorized which cards would work well in this deck. I was wrong about a couple of them. There are many 5cc spells you’d prefer to run over Mnemonic Wall, like Prescient Chimera, Rage of Purphoros, and Wild Celebrants. Triton Fortune Hunter and Wavecrash Triton also don’t work well in this deck as it has a relatively low creature count, so you don’t want many spells that target your own creatures. Bestow creatures are often a good way to add targeting effects to your deck without increasing your spell count, but all the common bestow creatures have a toughness of 2, which is suboptimal for the reasons described above. Finally, there are many other creatures at 3cc that you’d rather run in this deck — Spellheart Chimera, Flamespeaker Adept, Crackling Triton, and Meletis Charlatan — all of which have a toughness of 3.

THS: Archetype wheel

Theros Archetype Wheel

If we take all the archetypes discussed in my post summarizing archetypes in Theros draft and plot them on a color wheel, this is what we get. A line between 2 colors indicates that there is an archetype that spans those 2 colors (monocolor and 5-color decks are indicated by an arrow from the color to itself), and is labeled with the archetype name. A thick line indicates that the archetype is more likely to come together in a draft because it relies on fewer key cards, requires fewer uncommons/rares, or shares cards with fewer other archetypes; these are the archetypes that were bolded in that post and can usually support 2 drafters at an 8-man draft. Archetypes that rely on specific rares, require multiple copies of a common/uncommon in order to function, or that share cards with multiple other archetypes are riskier to attempt and are indicated with thinner lines; these archetypes can usually support 1 drafter per table. Archetypes that I haven’t drafted yet are indicated with a dashed line; these usually won’t have any drafters since they need multiple uncommons/rares in order to function. If you want to read more about a particular archetype, that post has a list of the key cards for each archetype and links to more detailed descriptions.

The purpose of the archetype wheel is to help us see visually which colors support the most number of archetypes and, therefore, offer the most flexibility. This can help when choosing between 2 cards of similar power levels in the early stages of a draft. For instance, black supports the most number of color combinations and can be paired with any of the other colors, or be played on its own if you get enough black cards. However, most of the B/X decks are similar and rely on the same core of black cards, so you have to compete more with players for those key cards. Green allows the least number of color combinations and so offers the least flexibility; this is one of the reasons it is the least popular color in Theros. Note that white can support more drafters than it might seem because W/U and W/R can often support 2 drafters each. This means that you should consider taking a white or black card over a blue or red card of equal quality early in a draft, and that you should avoid taking a green card unless it’s a bomb.

This is roughly in line with my color preferences in Theros draft. Getting passed a Favored Hoplite or Phalanx Leader will almost certainly put me in W/X, getting passed a Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Keepsake Gorgon will usually put me in B/X, and I will likely try to play or splash a Sea God’s Revenge. Early in a draft, I will also usually take Coordinated Assault, Fanatic of Mogis, Kragma Warcaller, and Battlewise Hoplite over everything except in-color bombs and removal but I won’t work as hard to end up with a deck that can play them. On the other hand, very few cards can cause me to play green in this format since I’ve had consistently poor performance with G/X decks, even when I am one of the only green drafters at the table. (Or perhaps I just haven’t figured out how to draft green in this format — a friend recently said he’d won several drafts with monogreen and G/W heroic decks with a curve ending at 3.)

Weaving all this information together, we can conclude that a typical draft will likely have:

This means that a typical draft will have 6 aggro decks and only 2 control decks. There will usually be 4-5 white decks, 3-4 blue decks, 3 black decks, 3 red decks, and 1-2 green decks. White and red only appear in 1 control deck each, W/B control and U/R spells respectively, and the latter is unlikely to come together in most drafts, so you don’t usually want to use early picks to take control cards in those colors. There’s also only 1 black aggro deck (B/R Minotaurs), so you don’t usually want to use early picks to take aggressive cards in those colors.

THS: G/U skies

I had a chance last night to draft one of the archetypes I’d theorized about in my last post. After taking a Curse of the Swine from my first pack, I got passed a Mistcutter Hydra. (I guess the person to my right dislikes green even more than I do in this format!) After a few packs with uninspiring choices, I saw a Vaporkin and a Voyaging Satyr midway into the pack; knowing that G/U is more likely to be a skies deck than a ramp deck helped me realize that Vaporkin was the better pick. The prior analysis also helped me realize I should draft the Warriors’ Lesson I was passed late in the pack, even though it is a card I usually avoid (it often ends up just cycling, and is useless if you don’t have creatures with evasion). It turned out to be excellent in the deck but it might not have occurred to me to draft it if I hadn’t described the archetype in my last post. (Btw, don’t forget to gain life if you also have Horizon Chimera on the table.)

One of the weakness of G/U is that it lacks hard removal, but my deck lacked even the bounce and counterspells that help compensate for that. As a result, I decided to splash white for the Elspeth Sun’s Champion that I’d opened in pack 2 and a Divine Verdict. The final decklist was:

2 Vaporkin
2 Voyaging Satyr
1 Nimbus Naiad
1 Opaline Unicorn
2 Agent of Horizons
1 Wavecrash Triton
2 Horizon Chimera
1 Staunch-Hearted Warrior
1 Nessian Asp
1 Mistcutter Hydra
1 Horizon Scholar
= 15 creatures

2 Warriors' Lesson
1 Triton Tactics
1 Traveler's Amulet
1 Nylea's Presence
1 Divine Verdict
1 Elspeth Sun's Champion
1 Curse of the Swine
= 8 non-creatures

1 Prowler's Helm
1 Fleetfeather Sandals
2 Guardian of Meletis
2 Shredding Winds
2 Commune with the Gods
1 Vulpine Goliath
1 Satyr Hedonist
3 Benthic Giant
1 Mnemonic Wall
1 Spellheart Chimera
1 Demolish
1 Boon of Erebos
1 Viper's Kiss
1 Forest (foil)
= 19 sideboard cards

This list conforms somewhat to the G/U skies outline that I laid out in my last post, but lacks the early defense and bounce/counterspells that I’d believed were an important component of such decks. However, I did have mana acceleration in place of the early defense, and I had some hard removal in place of bounce/counterspells.

The deck went 3-1. Elspeth Sun’s Champion won a couple of games and Divine Verdict was also excellent, and was particularly devastating when the white mana for it came from Prized Unicorn or Nylea’s Presence since my opponent would usually play around Divine Verdict in that case if they hadn’t already seen Plains previously. Elspeth Sun’s champion did languish in my hand during one game, but was fine the rest of the time due to the Voyaging Satyrs which often provided the second white mana.