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Theros Beyond Death Pauper Set Review

Theros Beyond Death is poised to make an impact on Pauper. Throne of Eldraine did not build upon any existing themes and a dozen cards from that set managed to appear in a Magic Online Challenge Top 32 list or League 5-0 deck. Theros Beyond Death provides tools for existing archetypes. The newest set adds to themes that were present upon our first visit to Theros. Bogles and Heroic are two strategies that stand to benefit from the abundance of Auras. Escape, while not a retread of an earlier mechanic, is a perfect fit for the format. Pauper already treats the graveyard as an extension of the hand and escape cards fit neatly in this space.

Theros Beyond Death enters Pauper at a time of extreme polarization. At one end of the spectrum are hyper-efficient aggressive decks based around Savage Swipe, Galvanic Blast, or Ethereal Armor. The middle space is occupied by interactive decks leaning on either monarch or Mystic Sanctuary. The top end of the metagame is dominated by Tron decks utilizing Ghostly Flicker to create a prison-style lock with Dinrova Horror and Stonehorn Dignitary. So where do the new cards fit in?

Daybreak Chimera

Daybreak Chimera

Even after all that, I’m starting with a card that is clearly a stretch. A 3/3 flyer for WW is a fantastic rate and would warrant exploring a base-white aggressive deck. It is not hard to envision a scenario where this comes down on turn 3, making it slightly better than Serra Avenger. The Chimera also matches up favorably with Kor Skyfisher, Glint Hawk, and Mulldrifter. All that being said, it is very hard for a creature to make it on combat stats alone. If an aggressive white deck crops up (that does not lean on tokens), I could see Chimera earning a slot.

Karametra’s Blessing & Sentinel’s Eyes

Karametra's BlessingSentinel's Eyes

I want to talk about these two cards together because they are likely to find themselves in the same deck: Heroic. While Bogles is a tried and true strategy, Heroic has been a fringe player spiking results occasionally, but has not had sustained success since the decline of Izzet Delver. The prevalence of Skred in the metagame made effects like Cho-Manno’s Blessing and Emerge Unscathed valuable pieces of interaction. The fact that these cards could also pump a Seeker of the Way or Lagonna-Band Trailblazer provided a clock backed up with the force multiplier of Ethereal Armor.

Karametra’s Blessing gives a creature a boost while also likely making it tough to answer for a turn. What it doesn’t do is help to get damage through. Protection is inclusive of “can’t be blocked.” As a result, Blessing will likely be more important for accruing card advantage in combat, rather than just trying to force through damage.

Sentinel’s Eyes can give Heroic a semblance of a long game. Often these decks can run out of gas if their main threat gets removed. Because the escape cost on this Aura is low, it is reasonable to bring it back several times throughout the course of a game. Sentinel’s Eyes could be good for 3 damage each time it is cast between a creature with Heroic and a Seeker of the Way. While always having an Aura in your pocket is nice, the ability to pair Eyes with Tethmos High Priest to recur threats could prove vital to Heroic surviving a “destroy all monsters” matchup.

Heroic
17 Plains
3 Pious Wayfarer
4 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
4 Akroan Skyguard
4 Seeker of the Way
2 Tethmos High Priest
4 Ethereal Armor
4 Cartouche of Solidarity
3 Sentinel's Eyes
4 Cho-Manno's Blessing
4 Emerge Unscathed
4 Defiant Strike
2 Karametra's Blessing
1 Gods Willing

Omen of the Sun

Omen of the Sun

When I was talking about Daybreak Chimera I mentioned that it could see play if a deck could consistently resolve it on the third turn. Considering that one of white’s best tools in this set is a card that makes tokens, that may be a big ask. Omen of the Sun plays into a long lineage of white cards that help you go wide. In fact, before the introduction of Palace Sentinels and Rally the Peasants, there was a solid (if unexciting) white token deck that used Raise the Alarm, Battle Screech, and Triplicate Spirits that could end the game in short order with Guardians’ Pledge. Omen of the Sun fills a dead spot in the curve and can help dig for a game-ender late. As with every other Omen in Theros Beyond Death, it works exceptionally well with Kor Skyfisher. If a white token strategy returns to the metagame I would not be surprised to see it run a few copies of Omen.

Pious Wayfarer

Pious Wayfarer

This one is a stretch. A 1/2 creature for 1-mana, this creature is a damage engine in a deck that runs enough enchantments. Heroic could benefit from this, but that deck already runs Deftblade Elite to help push through damage. A deck like Bogles, however, could make use of this one. Bogles likes having extra bodies around to absorb Chainer’s Edict and similar effects. Bogles can also resolve several enchantments in a single turn. While this may not be enough to supplant Khalni Garden or Aura Gnarlid—Bogles tends to be base-green and having a white 1-drop could be a liability—it does fit in with the overall strategy of beating down with one monster threat.

I do want to make special mention of Flicker of Fate. Due to a weird rules trick, you can target a card like Pacifism with Flicker of Fate and then upon its return it can attach to a creature with hexproof. You can also respond to Journey to Nowhere’s enters-the-battlefield trigger with Flicker of Fate to permanently exile one target and conditionally exile a second.

Naiad of Hidden Coves

Naiad of Hidden Coves

Anything that produces this much of a mana advantage warrants exploration. Spellstutter Sprite is a heavily played creature and if given enough support could form the backbone of a flash style strategy. Adding Whitemane Lion to the party gives the deck the ability to rebuy Spellstutter—something Ninja of the Deep Hours has shown to be pretty good. If the goal is to rarely tap out on your opponent’s turn, this is a decent place to start:

Azorius Flash
4 Plains
9 Island
4 Tranquil Cove
2 Azorius Chancery
2 Ash Barrens
1 Mystic Sanctuary
4 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Whitemane Lion
4 Naiad of the Hidden Cove
4 Spire Golem
2 Lawmage's Binding
2 Temporal Isolation
2 Omen of the Sea
4 Preordain
3 Thirst for Meaning
4 Prohibit
1 Exclude
1 Deprive
2 Counterspell
2 Last Breath

Omen of the Sea

Omen of the Sea

This is solid with Kor Skyfisher but you already knew that. Preordain is the best cantrip in Pauper but the Omen costs twice as much. For that extra mana you get to cast this at instant speed and cash it in later for an additional scry. If it’s late in the game you can even stack the triggers to scry 2, then scry 2 again before drawing a card.

Starlit Mantle

Starlit Mantle

After Fencing Ace was downshifted in Magic 25, I tried to make the card work. Given the potential damage output with a card like Ethereal Armor, I figured that the Ace could end games quickly. Blue gives the deck access to cheap interaction in the form of Spell Pierce and Dispel, while also providing some decent Auras such as Arcane Flight and Cartouche of Knowledge. Starlit Mantle is another piece of the puzzle, providing a synergistic piece that can also protect a key threat.

Blue Bogles
8 Island
6 Plains
4 Terramorphic Expanse
2 Tranquil Cove
4 Slippery Bogle
4 Slither Blade
4 Seeker of the Way
4 Fencing Ace
4 Ethereal Armor
4 Arcane Flight
2 Starlit Mantle
2 Sentinel's Eyes
2 Ophidian Eye
1 Aqueous Form
4 Preordain
3 Spell Pierce
2 Dispel

Thirst for Meaning

Thirst for Meaning

Thirst for Knowledge has a pedigree from Vintage and Extended. Enchantments are not as abundant as artifacts. At the same time, the ability to dig three cards deep on an instant is powerful. A cursory look at enchantments that have a positive interaction with the graveyard include the Dragon Breath cycle from Scourge.

The recognition of Breath of Life and False Defeat as Pauper legal last year had me working on various fair reanimator decks. Thirst for Meaning gives these strategies a way to bin key pieces and set up a haymaker play on curve. While Pauper lacks the sort of creatures that can both end the game and bury an opponent under card advantage, backing up a quick Ulamog’s Crusher with countermagic might be good enough.

Esper Reanimator
2 Swamp
8 Island
4 Plains
4 Ash Barrens
2 Azorius Chancery
2 Dimir Aqueduct
4 Striped Riverwinder
4 Mulldrifter
2 Ulamog's Crusher
4 First-Sphere Gargantua
2 Gurmag Angler
2 Angelic Renewal
1 Foil
2 Counterspell
4 Thirst for Meaning
4 Exhume
2 Breath of Life
3 Omen of the Sea
3 Dragon Breath
1 Dragon Wings

Blight-Breath Catoblebas

Blight-Breath Catoblepas

How much are you willing to pay for a Flametongue Kavu? 6 mana is a big ask, especially in a format where the dominant control deck moves into its victory formation as early as turn 5 and the best aggressive strategies can end the game by turn 4. Still, the newest devotee of Swamps makes a solid case as a one- or two-of in Mono-Black Control decks. When your entire strategy is based upon incremental two-for-ones, adding another at the top end makes sense, especially when it can take out troublesome creatures.

Funeral Rites

Funeral Rites

Some cards are build-arounds and others are just nice pieces. Funeral Rites is the latter. Black has a bevy of draw-two options that all do something slightly different. Funeral Rites is likely to get the slot in decks that are more reliant on the graveyard as fuel for delve or if escape ever takes off. Some versions of Tortured Existence decks are likely to want this as well, but I imagine those will also need to run white for Auramancer effects since you lack control of what makes it into the graveyard.

Lampad of Death’s Vigil

Lampad of Death's Vigil

I love Aristocrats-style decks and Lampad is both a sacrifice outlet and a Blood Artist. Except it costs mana to activate. Carrion Feeder and Nantuko Husk have shown that free sacrifice outlets are where it’s at, but Malevolent Noble has a Top 8 on Magic Online, meaning that an activation cost is not the non-starter it appears to be. The difference between Noble and the Lampad is that Noble got bigger. Lampad might not fit into Aristocrats decks so easily, but if you have plenty of tokens laying around it does a fine job of converting them into damage.

Orzhov Tokens
9 Plains
7 Swamp
4 Scoured Barrens
2 Ash Barrens
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Sacred Cat
2 Selfless Cathar
4 Squadron Hawk
2 Lampad of Death's Vigil
2 Falkenrath Noble
4 Raise the Alarm
2 Ramosian Rally
2 Harsh Sustenance
4 Omen of the Sun
4 Battle Screech
4 Night's Whisper

Mire’s Grasp

Mire's Grasp

Dead Weight is a staple of the format. While it cycles in and out of popularity it has a lot going for it. It kills Atog, Kiln Fiend, and Seeker of the Way dead through all sorts of pump shenanigans. It also does a fine job of taking out Stompy 1-drops, as well as Delver of Secrets and Glint Hawk. In fact, it’s fantastic against every early game creature except Kor Skyfisher. Mire’s Grasp costs 1 more mana than Dead Weight but handles all the same creatures plus Skyfisher.

And that may not be good enough.

The early game in Pauper is important for aggressive decks and not having an answer to a turn-1 threat can be a huge liability. From the control perspective, taking turn 2 to handle one creature is a risk thanks to the prevalence of Burning-Tree Emissary. It is not that Mire’s Grasp won’t see play—it’s too good not to—but it requires reevaluating the full suite of removal in a deck rather than acting as a strict upgrade to Dead Weight.

Mogis’s Favor

Mogis's Favor

Repeatable removal always deserves a look. Death Spark is a fringe playable that allows creature-heavy decks to grind out advantages against other creature-based strategies. Mogis’s Favor does not ask as much in deck composition as Death Spark but it has some pretty severe drawbacks. Paying 1 mana upfront to handle a 1-toughness creature is fine, but paying 3 to do it each subsequent time can get expensive. If you bring in Mogis’s Favor against Elves you are likely to get their turn-1 play but then be on the defensive each subsequent time you cast it. The Aura is likely to be fine against Spellstutter Sprite strategies, but even then you have to make the choice between casting this and advancing your board.

Omen of the Dead

Omen of the Dead

Instant-speed Raise Dead effects tend to come in at 2 mana these days, so Omen of the Dead is already ahead of the game in that department. The scry on this Omen looks to be of a higher impact than on the other members of the cycle. By the time a deck is looking to recur a threat, it is also likely digging for specific cards and the ability to do both for 2BB is solid. That this also combines with Kor Skyfisher to form what may be the best Gravedigger ever and you have a card that is almost guaranteed to see play.

Pharika’s Libation

Pharika's Libation

The first bit of on-board enchantment removal for black is a doozy. Pharika’s Libation seems poised to change the texture of several of Mono-Black Control’s matchups. Enchantments such as Curse of the Pierced Heart or Journey to Nowhere are a problem for the black deck, but thanks to Libation these are no longer permanent problems. Considering how often there is only one enchantment that matters, using that mode is almost guaranteed to nab the correct target.

But what about creatures? Chainer’s Edict, Diabolic Edict, and Geth’s Verdict are all likely better. Libation’s flexibility is a benefit in that it can help to constrain Bogles on various axes. Provided they only have one creature on the battlefield, Libation is going to get its Bogle, no matter how slippery it may be. Neither half is impressive on its own but together you get a card that does just enough to earn a spot.

Irreverent Revelers

Irreverent Revelers

Look, I’m not going to sit here and claim this card is an all-star. But it is a Manic Vandal you can run in the main deck and not feel embarrassed about. Considering the number of Prophetic Prisms and artifact lands running around, having access to this effect in the main deck is a way to gain an edge, albeit a small one.

Oread of Mountain’s Blaze

Oread of Mountain's Blaze

The few times I played with Merchant of the Vale, I was impressed. The ability to sift through dead draws in the late game is pretty important. While Merchant of the Vale comes with Haggle attached, the Oread comes down a full turn earlier. It also has a body that survives Electrickery, unlike other 2-mana Looters. Taken together, this card probably is just a hair shy of making the cut but could see play in a deck that needs this effect and wants a decent blocker on the second turn.

Satyr’s Cunning

Satyr's Cunning

Any card that can generate multiple threats should not be overlooked. While Satyr’s Cunning does not rise to the level of Battle Screech, let alone Cenn’s Enlistment, if does provide red decks with a fairly steady stream of bodies. Since red decks aren’t blocking anyway, the drawback is mitigated. All that being said, Satyr’s Cunning is likely not good enough.

Underworld Rage-Hound

Underworld Rage-Hound

Let me sing the Song of Blood. The Visions sorcery is one of those cards I always wish was better. The idea of dumping a bunch of creatures into your graveyard, then bringing them back with the bonus from Song of Blood fills my mind with visions of attacking for large sums of damage. Underworld Rage-Hound has rekindled this fire. A decent beater the first time around, the card is downright pesky if it can come back reliably. The escape cost is probably a bit too much to see heavy play, but I for one am excited to try out this good boy.

Song of Blood
8 Mountain
8 Swamp
4 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Carrion Feeder
4 Underworld Rage-Hound
4 Kruin Striker
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Dregscape Zombie
4 Rotting Rats
4 Viscera Seer
2 Scourge Devil
2 First-Sphere Gargantua
4 Song of Blood
4 Faithless Looting

At times, Pauper comes down to who has access to more cards. It is one reason why blinking a Mulldrifter is such a powerful play. Cards like Underworld Rage-Hound give decks that otherwise play fair access to additional resources in the mid and late game. While the Hound is likely not enough to make these decks top tier, it is a step in the right direction of giving creature decks a tool in the long game.

Ilysian Caryatid

Ilysian Caryatid

It’s a 2-drop mana dork that produces any color of mana. It’s a 2-drop mana dork that, in the late game, produces two mana of any one color. While Pauper has access to multiple other 2-drop mana dorks that can create multiple colors—Quirion Elves, Skyshroud Elf, Urborg Elf—this is only the second one that can make any color of mana (we see you Gemhide Sliver).

So how good is it? A lot of that will depend on whether  a deck can make use of its enhanced ability. It is not hard to get ferocious in Pauper, but what good is the extra mana late? The best home I could see for this card is a monarch deck based around Entourage of Trest, which could ramp into the monarchy and then use the mana from Caryatid to leave up Moment’s Peace and the like.

Relentless Pursuit

Relentless Pursuit

Gift of the Gargantuan is a card that should work. It digs for exactly what green decks want a majority of the time, but it just does not do enough. Relentless Pursuit, however, puts cards directly into the graveyard. That is a fairly big advantage for various decks. I expect Pursuit to find a home in green creature decks that want to fill the graveyard. Being able to add three cards to a delve cost or to help fuel escape is well worth the price of admission.

Setessan Training

Setessan Training

I do not think this card is good enough to make the cut. However, it is an Aura that provides a power boost, trample, and replaces itself. Bogles has shown us time and time again how valuable card velocity can be. Several builds now run Unbridled Growth in addition to Abundant Growth. I could see Setessan Training taking over one of Armadillo Cloak‘s slots as a way to get trample earlier in the game while also seeing a new card.

Skola Grovedancer

Skola Grovedancer

I am a huge fan of retrace engines in Pauper. These green decks rely on Mulch and Tilling Treefolk to churn through a deck. These decks then use Raven’s Crime to strip the opponent of resources and Syphon Life to slowly win the game. In the current metagame, Flame Jab is likely a better outlet as a way to control the board. Skola Grovedancer can then take the place of Syphon Life as a way to keep you healthy enough to keep going.

Gruul Lands
3 Ash Barrens
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Mortuary Mire
3 Tranquil Thicket
3 Forgotten Cave
5 Forest
4 Rugged Highlands
4 Gruul Turf
3 Mountain
4 Skola Grovedancer
4 Tilling Treefolk
3 Entourage of Trest
2 Battlefield Scrounger
3 Flame Jab
2 Swirling Sandstorm
1 Claws of Wirewood
4 Mulch
2 Pulse of Murasa
4 Crop Rotation
3 Moment's Peace
1 Weather the Storm

Theros Beyond Death is packed with powerful cards. While none of them are likely to make an immediate impact in Pauper, they all do just enough to warrant a slot here and there. By the time Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths rolls around I would not be surprised to see over ten cards from the latest visit to Theros to make waves.

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