While everyone starts a draft looking to grab potent game-breaking rares and overwhelmingly powerful spells, reality and our dreams for a perfect draft seldom seem to match. This is where Magic manages to become far more challenging and fun as players scramble to get extra value out of later and later picks. Theros has proven to be very interesting in that it is rich both in playables and in cards that can prove to be worth far more than their rankings than the pick order would suggest.
Normally a six drop 4/5 creature isn’t something that excites me as a player, but with this particularly expensive creature, context is everything. Having a solid body attached to the ever important Hexproof is a pretty devastating combination in Theros limited. Its especially rare to see this on common. The spells and Bestow creatures that go well with the Giant are legion. Nimbus Naiad, Cavaran Lampad and Hopeful Eidolon are three of the best Bestow creatures to attach to this massive creature. It’s hard to lose a game when you swing for 6 with evasion or gaining 5 life per attack without having to worry about pesky spells like Voyage’s End or Divine Verdict ruining your day.
When I saw this card I thought that I was looking at one of the worst creatures in the set. Four mana for a 1/2 body on the ground is frankly embarrassing and while this creature does have a tap ability its conditional in a set where pumping creatures up is a common occurrence. Then I read an article on Channel Fireball by Frank Karsten about Theros pick orders. While the article itself was quite good, I found the section at the end particularly intriguing. It was all about boarding in cards that didn’t seem good but against certain opponents could be excellent. One of the cards that he mentioned was Ephara’s Warden, saying that he had used the card against opponent’s who had several 3 or less power fliers in their decks. At first I thought he was crazy and then I realized that this is a card that proves a point: creatures and spells in Theros are actually pretty useful if you board into it correctly. As Karsten said there are many low power fliers like Horizon Chimera, and Vaporkin that can pick apart your life in short order. Then there’s a solid number of low power creatures like Shipwreck Siren that have relevant abilities and low power, to say nothing of pesky defenders like Guardians of Meletis and Returned Phalanx that can prove irksome. I’m not saying that this is a definite inclusion in every deck but it certainly is a compelling card in certain matchups.
For all its positives and negatives one thing is clear about Theros draft: it’s harder to be aggressive in this set than normal. This is a set that is low on cheap removal, and high on really good cheap defensive creatures (here’s looking at you Returned Phalanx) which means that aggressive decks need to get a little more creative when looking to seal the deal on games. Whether its grabbing creatures like Mogis’s Marauder or Titan of Eternal Fire, players are trying different ways to punch through those last precious points of damage. That’s where artifacts like Prowler’s Helm and Fleetfeather Sandals come in. Granting a creature evasion, even if that creature is nothing spectacular can help close out the game. Prowler’s Helm in particular is quite good. You know how many walls are in this set? One. In one color. That costs five mana to play. With that in mind Prowler’s Helm may as well grant your creature unblockable. While artifacts like these aren’t as flashy as some of the enchantments in this set they get the job done.
Many players saw the cycle of cards that were particularly detrimental to their own color and ignored them. While this is right to an extent (I certainly wouldn’t take these over a creature or even one of the better pump spells.) With that in mind however these cards are exceptionally good as inclusions into your sideboard and the cards in this cycle are significantly more playable then some would think. In particular Dark Betrayal, Gainsay, and Glare of Heresy stand out as cards you’ll want to use. Dark Betrayal is the perfect at sniping some of the sets most annoying creatures such as Cavarn Lampad. However, it also finds some pretty ripe targets in some of the sets premier creatures. The ever annoying Shipwreck Singer, the flexible Triad of Fates, and the game ending Ashen Rider all fall before a one mana instant. Glare of Heresy stands out because of the lovely “exile” clause tacked onto it. In set where Bestow and creature recursion are likely to come up its nice to ensure that whatever you want gone stays gone. It also bares mentioning that this is the single most cost effective way to rid yourself of an Elspeth should your opponent have one. Meanwhile, Gainsay maintains its effectiveness because it helps hose the deepest color in the set. Frank Karsten of Channel Fireball fame ran an article about important picks and during his piece mentions that blue is the strongest color in Theros. I for one could not agree more, and having a counterspell to hose the sets number one color is great in a sideboard card.
It’s a tale as old as time. Somewhere half way into pack one, or just starting pack two and everything starts to fall apart. Suddenly the coherent strategy you’ve been laying out with a careful hand shatters and your left with little direction and less hope. There are many ways to salvage a draft like that but one of the tried and true methods is to just draft some big dumb creatures. Former WoTC draft guru Steve Sadin called them dinosaurs and they’ve been helping players win games for years. They’re not pretty, they’re not spectacular, but they get the job done. Pheres-Band Centaurs follows along with that tradition and its stronger then you may think. First, its reasonably priced: five mana for a 3/7 is a very nice deal, and with only one green mana symbol its easier to cast in two and three color decks. In addition its 3 power means it can deal with early drops and even a few midrange creatures with very little issue. What makes it great though is that 7 toughness. This is one of the few creatures that can block a Monsterous Ill-Tempered Cyclops and not break a sweat. Plus, with 7 toughness you don’t need to worry about losing your Centaurs to instant speed removal like Lash of the Whip when your strapping him up with an enchantment. This is one card that is likely to fly under the radar because it looks unremarkable, but can actually outperform.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed our journey through the dregs of the pack. May the gods be with you and may you find value in the strangest of places!
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