Last week, I talked about seven cards from Theros Beyond Death that exceeded my expectations. This week I want to talk about the flipside, cards that haven’t met my expectations or were hyped before release, and now reality is setting in. To be clear, these cards aren’t bad, they simply aren’t the titans of the Standard metagame some expected them to be. A few of these are role players that are seeing play when better alternatives exist, so while not every card is a big name, expect some name and shame there for uncommons as well.
7) Klothys, God of Destiny
I hope to be wrong about this card down the line as I was pretty excited for Gruul to get another playable land and a couple of other potential hits. Klothys is the closest thing we’re going to see to Sulfuric Vortex. Opponents can still gain life, but you gain 2 every turn and it’s an order of magnitude more difficult to remove Klothys from the board. In this specific role Klothys does a good job, you’ll rarely run out of food for the exile ability and the 2 a turn adds up in grindy matches.
The issue crops up in normal play of how often you want to actually deploy Klothys over any other 3-drop. Or 4-drop. Or 5-drop. The answer is “pretty much never,” unless you know the game is going to go a minimum of another five turns. It takes a while for that damage to really add up, and the format is more powerful than you imagine. Klothys is not a maindeck card and fights for space in the sideboard.
Part of this also comes down to how hard it is to set up a board capable of turning Klothys on that doesn’t end the game. Five other devotion is a lot, unless you play a bunch of double-pip spells and even then you’re talking three other cards. The only exception is Vivien, and I have yet to make a version with her that actually plays well. If you have a Gruul build where you’re consistently attacking with Klothys, then by all means keep them in the main. Otherwise stick to the bounty of other options like Bonecrusher Giant, Lovestruck Beast, Gruul Spellbreaker, Phoenix of Ash, The First Iroan Games, etc.
5 & 6) Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
Remember the list is underwhelming, not bad cards from THB. After playing with and against these cards for a bit, I’m pretty firmly coming around to the idea that neither of them are the world shakers they were hyped up as. Let me get Uro out of the way first, as many people had it pegged as one of the best cards in the set.
Turns out that a 3-mana Explore/Gift of Paradise hybrid is low on the list of things Simic Ramp actually wanted, and Uro is often one of the worst ramp cards in the deck while being a weaker turn-3 play than Risen Reef. Above all else, Uro is nigh unplayable without Cavalier of Thorns.
Yeah… turns out the ramp deck doesn’t actually fill its graveyard all that quickly. So in normal gameplay, odds are good that if you jam an early Uro it won’t be escaping the graveyard until turn 7 at the earliest. Even with Cavalier of Thorns, we’re talking about an undercosted 6/6 that’s still coming out on turn 5, putting it on the normal curve for these decks. It also fights against casting Nissa or Krasis on time, although the draws turns you get to cast Nissa and escape Uro together are pretty impressive.
So instead of being a playset and one of the best cards in the deck, Uro probably ends up as a 2-of. Multiples of Uro suck and without Cavalier the card just isn’t all that good. I’ve seen it played in Temur Reclamation, and while it looked fine there, it also didn’t really do anything impressive. The card largely won games where the deck was already rolling, and on turn 3 it’s just another random ramp spell. In your average deck though this card is borderline unplayable, so please stop jamming it in every 25-land Sultai shell you decide to make, thanks.
Now Kroxa. Kroxa’s problem is that the rate you get from casting it isn’t playable, end of story. If you’re casting Kroxa on turn 2 and not sacrificing it to Witch’s Oven, you’re probably losing. 2-mana “discard a card” isn’t playable, and 2-mana “discard a card deal 3 damage” is borderline unplayable. You could just play a relevant threat and end the game instead.
I don’t think the normal Rakdos sacrifice deck wants Kroxa, and its ability doesn’t generate velocity the way Uro does. Kroxa is good at shutting the door when you’re already winning. Uro at least has the potential to dig you out of a hole or break a stalemate. In the sacrifice deck your entire strategy is already snowball-based and I don’t think you really need the extra help.
In terms of the games I’ve lost to either of these Titans, they were rarely a significant contributor to the result. When it did matter, however, the draw and life gain mattered a heck of a lot more from Uro than discard and extra damage from Kroxa. I’ve beaten Kroxa plenty of times after multiple attacks, Uro not so much. So from early impressions Uro is a playable, and I’m not sure Kroxa makes the cut once decks get more streamlined.
4) Ashiok, Nightmare Muse
A reminder to the audience that generating sweet value isn’t a prerequisite for a control win condition. I have seen so many Esper decks playing this card, some in lieu of Dream Trawler, and I simply do not understand the appeal. It is an Ob-Nixilis-style planeswalker which can answer a threat and potentially net you a few cards. In a normal format I think that’s enough to see play.
In this format? Have you seen what the bare minimum is for a win condition? To recap, we’re playing a card that:
- Generates blockers that lose to the best aggro creatures.
- Can’t answer other big control win conditions.
- Has an ultimate where the power level is decided by chance.
- Doesn’t permanently answer problematic cards if the opponent has a hand.
This card is seeing way too much play in decks that want clean answers to opposing permanents and the ability to close a game out. It doesn’t generate enough cards on its own to be considered an engine planeswalker and the threats it pumps out are worse than Nissa. Just play another Dream Trawler and an Elspeth Conquers Death.
3) Medomai’s Prophecy
I see people have now remembered that Teferi, Time Raveler is still a good card. In certain metagames, I think this card is really solid. In the current one, you’re never going to get to draw two cards and feel really silly for playing this over Omen of the Sea. Originally, I thought The Birth of Meletis wouldn’t be good enough, but it ended up perfectly filling a niche in the U/W Control deck. As a result, you have to choose between this and Omen, whose immediate card makes it the head-to-head winner.
2) Drag to the Underworld
Stop playing this card over Murderous Rider. Just play the entire playset of Riders first and then really think about kill spells 5-6. You don’t want your removal to be conditional, and paying the full 4 for this early on is a disaster. It sucks against aggro unless you play very narrow BB creatures in your deck and even then you’re often casting it as your only spell for the turn. The bonus of being only BB to cast is largely negated when the bulk of your deck lives in the 3-4 cmc range. Treat the card as Murder and then decide if it’s still fine for your deck.
1) Gray Merchant of Asphodel
This card so very medium without Bolas’s Citadel or Nightmare Shepherd in play. 5 mana for a drain 5 and a 2/4 body rates as “good enough,” so the games where you’re forced to run it out there as a generic 2/4 gain 2, lose 2 to the sound of a sad trombone playing in the background are depressing. The reason it’s just underwhelming and not unplayable is because in theory, a perfect copy of Mono-Black Devotion could be tier 1 of a certain type of metagame.
I’m just not sure in a world where common sights include:
What we need to see is a major trend back toward Food-style decks that want to get into long grindy midrange fights and take turns off either developing a board or doing a bunch of small incremental value things. That’s where I think Gray Merchant going around all that nonsense seems right at home. In the current metagame, decks either mostly want you dead long before your engine gets going or go so far over the top that you can’t do anything about it.
When the small-ball aggro decks are brawling through your usual speed bumps and have the potential to take out your key X/4s, then you probably need to rethink the entire plan.
So those are the cards that have underperformed and looked rather mediocre. Anything else from Theros Beyond Death underperforming for you so far? Anything you disagree with on the list?