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Theros: Past, Present, and Future

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A Ray of Light on Theros

Last week, I posted my quarterly Top 10 list and talked about many sweet Theros cards. Between its reposting on Reddit and those who viewed it on this site, I got a lot of feedback. Thank you to those of you who took time to comment. While I don’t respond to everyone, I do read every post. There are a couple things I want to clear up that people seemed confused about.

The main point that I wanted to get across last week was that there are so many cards in Theros with similar power level, they all could not be included on the Top 10 list.

Fleecemane Lion is a great example of this. Is the new Watchwolf solid, of course. Will it see play, definitely. Is it one of the ten best cards in the set, maybe but probably not.

With all that being said, I played the lion in my deck this weekend. Sure it’s a reasonable creature to cast and once in a while you do make it monstrous, but it’s not as impactful as you might think. I have found this to be the case with tons of cards from Theros. The list of playable constructed cards in the set is enormous. Based on how many cards might see play, I would guess Standard will be evolving each week as more and more cards enter the metagame.

Two cards, both red, impressed me more than any of the others. Overwhelmingly the readers of last week’s article felt Stormbreath Dragon should have been on the list. After playing against it this weekend, I would tend to agree.

In my opinion, this dragon’s playablity depends on what the metagame looks like. Right now, there's tons of white creatures and removal floating around. Stormbreath Dragon obviously shines in this type of environment. Against something like Mono Red or a deck with black removal though, I think you would find yourself underwhelmed by the card.

Nevertheless, our new dragon pal should have been on the list, over Magma Jet I’d imagine. The second red card that stood out was Hammer of Purphoros. There was one game in particular where the card just took over the game. Even though I did mention it last week, I think I underestimated how good it is against a control deck. It doesn’t win the game on its own, but it comes close.

Spotlight on the Past

Shards block was a turning point for me in competitive play. When that set was released, I was immediately inspired by the Naya shard. Seemingly all of the great cards in the set were in one shard, or at least that’s how it seemed at the time. Even before the full spoiler was out, I began brewing green, white and red decks with cards from the set.

Certainly I had been playing competitively for a while before this set, but it was not until States 2008 that I truly began to believe I could be successful at larger events. States is not the most competitive tournament of the year, but it is one of the most fun. Often it is the first tournament of a brand new Standard format, which makes it a great time to build your own decks. Also, it’s a great way to get FNM players to go to a bigger event.

Despite it not being that big an event, I tested more for States than any tournament before and for a long time after. I was so excited about Naya! I did quite well and as you might imagine, landing in sixth place at this event had a big impact on my future with Magic. Here’s the list I played.

2008 Naya

At this time, everyone disagreed with me about how good Wild Nacatl was. As soon as I saw the card, I began working on a deck to fit it into.

One of my favorite parts about the deck was that it was extremely aggressive, but also had a midgame strategy. If you needed to grind your opponent’s life total down all you needed was to get a Sarkhan Vol into play and then cast your other creatures. Once you had your planeswalker in play, all the rest of your dudes got bigger and had haste. If they had a blocker, you just used the -2 ability to remove it so you could deal them more damage instead.

Figure of Destiny flew over for a ton of damage late game and if you needed to get your Woolly Thoctars through, you could tap their guys with Naya Charm. Magma Spray and Puncture Blast were sweet removal spells for this format because they allowed you to remove Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap with just one card.

The manabase was a little shaky but other than that the deck had everything. The best play of the event had to be ultimating Sarkhan Vol and then playing a second one to kill my opponent from his starting life total.

New Rays of Revelation

How does my States deck from 2008 relate to what’s happening in Theros Standard? The answer to that question lies in one of the most iconic cards Theros has to offer: Purphoros, God of the Forge.

As I mentioned last week, the red god is the one card that has had all my attention since I learned about it. The format is full of possibilities and many of them in my mind include this new legendary enchantment creature.

Upon examining Purphoros in detail, I noticed a startling similarity to my favorite planeswalker of all time, Sarkhan Vol. You may think that Ogre Battledriver or Hammer of Purphoros would do a better Sarkhan Vol impression, but Purphoros offers something neither of those other cards have: the ability to win the game without attacking.

Every time I have the Forgemaster in play, he feels like a planeswalker that my opponents cannot attack and kill. In fact, a couple of my friends as well as opponents have made similar observations.

One downfall to both Sarkhan Vol and Purphoros, God of the Forge is that they often do not impact the board the turn they come into play. That makes them tricky to play, but the payoff is well worth figuring that out.

Once I noticed the similarities between the two powerful cards many blocks apart, I started to see other cards having counterparts with much in common from that States deck. There was a powerful red-green planeswalker, an aggressive curve, and most importantly, a follow-up to the red god that would end most games on the spot.

With these comparisons lingering in my head, the next step was obvious to me. I had to try to recreate my States 2008 deck. Without further banter, I present to you, Naya Forgemaster!

Early aggressive creatures to put your opponent on a clock and get some free wins, check.

Good removal for the format, check.

Card advantage and a some nice synergies, check.

Late game play, definite check.

The great thing about this deck is it can play whatever role you need to. Against Mono Red or White Weenie, you can control the game with big blockers and some removal spells. Post-board, you can lower your curve to race them with Unflinching Courage and more removal. Against any control or midrange deck, your threats are often just too much for them to handle.

You apply as much pressure as any other aggressive deck, but you also have many permanents they cannot deal with. Once Purphoros hits the field, how is any deck supposed to beat you? All you have to do is keep playing Magic. Play your creatures and your opponents die. It’s as simple as that.

Against most aggressive decks, the Forgemaster plan is too slow, but occasionally, you can control the board so well that you end up winning with it. Often your gods and scions are sided out against aggro though, but you need a plan to beat both types of decks.

Each card was chosen for a particular reason. The creatures in the deck, including Advent of the Wurm, were chosen because they are the best options at each mana cost but also with the mana curve in mind.

For example, there are only three each of Loxodon Smiter and Boros Reckoner because there are also four Domri Rade and we don’t want too many cards at three mana, lest we get clogged at that spot. Ideally, you will cast something at each point along the curve each game.

One important aspect of the deck is the scry lands. If you have too many one-cost spells, a scry land allows you to set up your next draw while still casting your spells. They work particularly well with Domri because setting up a free creature draw is important.

As the metagame stands right now, this deck is perfectly positioned to defeat every archetype. The aggressive decks are a little harder to beat because they don’t give you much time to draw the cards you need. The post board plan of lifegaining enchantments plus a couple extra removal spells has worked effectively.

Playing against the control decks is much easier with this deck and then the four-card package of two planeswalker plus three relevant modes on Boros Charms makes them that much easier to defeat.

Shining a Light on Actual Events

This deck is the real deal and not just some crazy idea I had one day to turn an old deck into a current one. I took it to the TCG player event at Empire Cards this past weekend and was pleased with the results. Even though I slipped back into my old lose-the-first-round-of-top-eight, I was still playing in the top eight.

Winning four rounds and then drawing two followed by losing the quarterfinals is not the most impressive performance, but it does showcase some of what this deck is capable of. Here’s the way the rounds went.

  • Round 1: RWB Midrange WIN
  • Round 2: UW Control WIN
  • Round 3: Mono Red WIN
  • Round 4: RG Monsters WIN
  • Round 5: ID
  • Round 6: ID
  • Quarterfinals: Mono Red LOSS

As you can see, even though I had to play fewer rounds than half the top eight, I did defeat a variety of archetypes on my way there.

The quarterfinal match was unfortunate. Basically I did not get to play game one because I never drew lands after my opener. Game two I crushed him with the sideboard plan and game three I had the dreaded three scry land game where I was just too slow.

I did face a hard decision at a low life total on whether or not to cast Loxodon Smiter or Experiment One plus Soldier of the Pantheon. Let me know in the comments, but I think the right play is the Smiter to brick wall them. That is the play I made but he had Act of Treason, which I was not expecting to see, for my exact life total. Although if I had made the other play, I think he could have burned me out.

Overall I still like the deck, but I think the main needs adjusting in order to be better game one against aggro. Here’s what I would play if I could make it to SCG Cleveland this weekend.

Naya Forgemaster

The changes are minor but here’s a list to make things easier.

-1 Loxodon Smiter
+1 Boros Reckoner

This minor change is just a concession to fighting aggro. Reckoner is so much better against them because it makes their burn spells work against them. I think losing one Smiter against control is worth making the aggro match better.

-3 Mizzium Mortars
+3 Flames of the Firebrand

Making this switch was a difficult one because Mortars fits much better in the mana curve. The reason I was okay with it is because rarely did I cast my removal spell on turn two. The goal of this deck is to put pressure on the opponent early. I cannot do that if I am tapping out to kill a creature on turn two.

The other reason I think Flames of the Firebrand is the choice is because of how incredible it was for me this weekend. Especially against Mono Red (but I think this translates to other aggro decks as well), it was the card I wanted to draw every game. That proved difficult with only one copy.

It’s true that I will be bottle-necked at three mana but hopefully I can play my lands tapped on turn four to take advantage of multiple three-mana spells. Flames often kills two creatures and once in a while, three.

-1 Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
+1 Fleecemane Lion

Because I made the switch on my removal spells, I decided to lower this part of the curve. Ideally, I want to play a creature on turn one and two and then follow up with removal, or a planeswalker, on turn three. In order to maximize this sequence, I added the fourth Fleecemane. Scion is too slow against aggro most of the time anyway, so this is another concession to the prevalence of Mono Red.

Sideboard Changes:

-1 Electrickery
-2 Glare of Heresy
+3 Mizzium Mortars

Mortars is great against any deck with green mana and I think I want these removal spells in the sideboard. In the future the metagame might be at a place where I want a 2/2 split of Mortars and Flames or just Morters, but for now, I think they belong in the sideboard. Glare of Heresy seems unnecessary since I have other removal spells in their place.

Rules Knowledge

After a long discussion with some judges to make sure I was correct, here is some rules info about Purphoros, God of the Forge.

  • He can always be countered with Essence Scatter, but never with Negate.
  • He can always be countered with Annul and Swan Song.
  • He will trigger evolve only if you have the devotion for him to count as a creature.
  • You will always draw him with Domri’s +1.
  • You can only use Domri’s –2 if you have the devotion to make him a creature.
  • Once in a while you may want to use Domri’s -2 with Purphoros and Boros Reckoner to Fireball your opponent, but it doesn’t come up often.

Quotable Quotes

“This tournament felt like Level 1, and by that I mean we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what's good and what isn't in Standard just yet.” - Todd Anderson

Also,

“There are no wrong threats. Only wrong answers.” - Todd Anderson

His whole article this week was great. If you have Starcity Premium, definitely check it out here.

Until Next Time,

Unleash the Forgemaster Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter
Jedicouncilman23@gmail.com

7 thoughts on “Theros: Past, Present, and Future

  1. I should have stressed that in the deck him being a creature is not the important part. If you have reckoner and Domri then he’s a guy also but he is good enough just for his other abilities.

    1. I figured you didn’t care about turning him into a creature, I guess I didn’t think he’d be good as just an enchantment. I need to test him out.

  2. I’d say he definitely good enough with out being a creature. As I said, he’s like a planes walker they can’t attack. The only deck you don’t want to draw him against is mono red.

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