Underpromise and overperform.
If you do those two things in your life, you're going to get a long way. There are a lot of people out there talking big game. That dude with the beard is going to slap that FlexSeal patch on the vat of water every fifteen minutes, but my guess is you're not getting the glass boat to work when you do it. Look at the picture in the ad for the new fast-food burger, then look at what's been thrown into the cardboard box on your plastic tray. Not the same, huh?
There's a lot of that sort of thing in the Magic community as well. You're going to read a bunch of articles in the next few days describing the super-awesome-mega-killer BEST DECK IN THE FORMAT that's going to dominate everything and everyone for the next three months. Or the card that's going to be so strong that you'll sell your siblings to buy a share of the card that you'll use once every other Sunday. In the words of Pulp Fiction's Jules Winnfield:
"But that sh*t ain't the truth."
The truth is that we're all guessing. Even if you've proxied out all of the cards and started playing matches against your friends, you know only slightly more than everyone else. The power of MTG is in the numbers. By yourself, you know a little. In your playgroup, your combined experience knows slightly more. In prerelease events or the streamer prerelease (which I'll be streaming on Wednesday, January 15th, so come see me nudge nudge), you'll know a bit more as you play more matches against more people. This ripple in the MTG pond expands outward to official release, the first major tournaments, and finally a fleshed-out worldwide meta where you can pretty much play the "best decks" and know you'll have at least a decent shot at doing something awesome.
So when I tell you about the decks that I'm going to be playing in the first couple of weeks of Theros, know that these are just my initial ideas. This is what I thought about when I saw the cards previewed and considered which ones might work best together. For all I know, there's an interaction that I'm missing that might make them terrible. There might be another overpowered bomb that will render any other strategy obsolete (please, in the name of all that is Oko, may this never be). But, in the meantime, this is where I'm starting:
Orzhov Death and Taxes
3 Starfield Mystic 4 Tithe Taker 2 Oath of Kaya 1 Prison Realm 4 Elspeth's Nightmare 3 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper 2 Gideon Blackblade 4 Kunoros, Hound of Athreos 3 Basilica Bell-Haunt 4 Kaya's Wrath 2 Elspeth Conquers Death 3 Athreos, Shroud-Veiled 2 Castle Locthwain 4 Godless Shrine 4 Temple of Silence 9 Swamp 6 Plains 2 Hushbringer 2 Eidolon of Obstruction 3 Leyline of the Void 2 Leyline of Sanctity 2 Consecrate // Consume 2 Sorcerous Spyglass 2 Prison Realm
With the sheer quantity of cards that care about the graveyard and bringing things back with Escape, I'm guessing that a lot of players will be drawn to this strategy. So I started thinking about building the most anti-graveyard deck I could. At the same time, it's been forever since there's been a legit Death and Taxes deck in Standard and we've seen a few cards in recent sets that danced around the edges of one, but haven't quite gotten there. But Theros has added a few options that makes me think that there might be a legit deck that can swim against the stream and not let people play Magic.
It starts with
Kunoros, Hound of Athreos. This very very very (one for each head) good boy is a
Grafdigger's Cage on a stick, but is also an incredibly effective body with tons of keywords for just three mana. We also get one of the most effective taxers made in recent memory in
Tithe Taker and two new Sagas that complement each other very nicely:
Elspeth's Nightmare for the early game, and
Elspeth Conquers Death in the late game. So if we're Orzhov, we also get
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper as a criminally-underplayed planeswalker that picks off Escape cards in the graveyard, and the most-effective boardwipe in Standard with
Kaya's Wrath. For a finisher, we might as well play the buy-a-box promo
Athreos, Shroud-Veiled to bring back our creatures from boardwipes and beat down. The sideboard also gets
Eidolon of Obstruction as more-specific hate cards in addition to two really strong Leylines.
Obviously, there are questions. It's hard to say whether the win conditions are good enough for this deck, or if ramp (and green in particular) is so strong that there isn't any tax available that's prohibitive enough from keeping it from doing whatever it wants. There are other cards like
Murderous Rider // Swift End and
Cavalier of Dawn that might fit well in here for removal or to return "expired" sagas to recast. I'm also interested to see how many enchantments and enchantment creatures get played in the early going, because
Revoke Existence might be the best removal spell in the game if they get a lot of play.
4 Gilded Goose 3 Growth Spiral 4 Paradise Druid 2 Vivien, Arkbow Ranger 2 Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner 2 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales 4 Hydroid Krasis 2 Polukranos, Unchained 3 Voracious Hydra 3 Nissa, Who Shakes the World 3 Bioessence Hydra 3 Gargos, Vicious Watcher 2 The Great Henge 3 Castle Garenbrig 1 Temple of Mystery 8 Forest 1 Swamp 3 Island 4 Breeding Pool 3 Overgrown Tomb Sideboard 2 Aether Gust 2 Disdainful Stroke 2 Return to Nature 2 Stonecoil Serpent 3 Thrashing Brontodon 1 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds 2 Negate 1 Thrashing Brontodon
Okay, you know you weren't reading one of my articles without some jank, right? Hydra tribal has been my go-to deck on Arena when I just want to chill out, have fun, and cast some ginormous trampling hydras and dare my opponent to do something about it. There isn't a "payoff" synergy in hydras per se, but there is
Gargos, Vicious Watcher that not only makes our hydras drastically cheaper if we stick one, but also supplies protection that will let us one-for-one trade our hydras for the opponent's best creature in nearly every circumstance. There aren't a lot of new cards here, but the point of the deck is that it provides a home for
Polukranos, Unchained. I mean... what DOESN'T this card do? Big body that escapes as a bigger body? Uh huh. Fight mechanic on demand? Sure. And we already play
Tamiyo, Collector of Tales to pump
Bioessence Hydra, and her ability to stock the graveyard makes escaping even easier.
The question I have for this deck involves the mana base and ramp strategy. To this point hydras in Standard have been Simic, so we're adding a third color essentially for one card. There are a lot of ways to get that third card, and I'm starting with a few other lands and the one ramp card that helps get black in
Paradise Druid. But there's going to be a mighty battle between
Incubation Druid (which is a better blocker but can't make black as reliably) and the newbie (and very tempting)
Ilysian Caryatid, which will make a ton of mana when nearly all of our creatures should have at least four toughness. One of these cards is probably the "correct" answer, but I have no idea which one yet.
So I'm underpromising. Maybe these decks will be great. Maybe they're terrible. Maybe you see something in one of these that you'll tune and improve and break the format with. I hope so, because I'd love for you to find that success. But this is where I'm going to start tuning on Wednesday. Come say hi during the event, let me know what's working for you, and as always...please drive friendly!