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.

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.