With Born of the Gods on the horizon, I thought it’d be a good time to talk about the current format. Born of the Gods is guaranteed to introduce quite a bit to Theros Block Constructed, so I think it’ll be good to see where we stand before things are shaken up.
State of the Metagame
- RGw Monsters – 70.38%
- Black Devotion – 9.8%
- WU Heroic – 6.7%
- UG Prophet – 3.89%
These numbers were pulled from mtggoldfish.com, a site which monitors Dailies and sorts the lists into archetypes. Note that there are other decks in the format, but they are much less prevalent than what is displayed ablve.
It is no real surprise that the RG Monsters deck is the strongest and by far the most prevalent deck. The color combination has the strongest cards in the format right now plus a dual land (or two!) and natural fixing and acceleration in the Voyaging Satyr-Sylvan Caryatid duo. And with so many high-impact cards that scale well late game with monstrous, the deck never just falls off. Its main strength is that the deck is 30% mana, 70% threats, all of which the opponent must deal with. The deck doesn’t play cards that need to rely on other cards (like Gray Merchant of Asphodel), so it sets up fast for the format and doesn’t need to spend time playing multiple cards to present a threat.
“Mono” black – black devotion – is the next most popular deck, probably due to its relative cheapness (financially) and popularity in Standard. But the deck actually holds its own in the format despite this, and I believe it deserves the #2 spot. Its build-up devotion method of play is both its greatest strength and weakness. Black’s early game is pathetic; it relies heavily on just drawing the right cards at the right turn to deal with the correct threat. Whenever I play this deck, I frequently struggle with the high mana costs of cards in the early game, and because of the emphasis on needing setup time before you can present a threat, I often waver between progressing my board state and using a Hero’s Downfall. However, if the black deck gets rolling, there aren’t any tools in the format to really stop it, so it gets to just crush everything in its path with recursive Gray Merchant of Asphodels and indestructible, card-drawing Erebos, God of the Dead.
Heroic Aggro comes in both WU and WR flavors. WU is much more popular due to its explosiveness and difficulty to interact with, while the red version pops up from time to time to showcase better mana and access to Magma Jet. Both of these decks try to prey on how slow the metagame is by killing Monsters or Mono-Black Devotion (hereon referred to as “Devotion”) during their setup times and protecting their one or two threats with Gods Willing. Few things are as threatening in Block as Turn 1 Favored Hoplite, Turn 2 Ordeal of Thassa on the play. Unfortunately, that’s about as much as these decks have going for them. Heroic decks also have to set up a board state in order for them to win (in this case, creature + enchantment), but they need to play their combo quickly before the other player can either set up their own, bigger threat, or just kill the enchanted creature while Gods Willing is down. Also, in the WU version, the mana is quite bad. Drawing the second Island is distasteful, but drawing the third Island is a death sentence.
The UG Prophet of Kruphix deck is super-fun, but it mainly plays like a variance-prone Monsters deck. Prophet deck threats (Boon Satyr, Prognostic Sphinx) are mostly weaker than a Monsters threat (Polukranos, World Eater, Stormbreath Dragon). The Prophet decks also don’t get access to Xenagos – my favorite card in Block at the moment – without some iffy mana. It makes up for this by getting Prophet to basically double how many turns the deck gets to take, plus having four Dissolves to make sure the deck stays ahead when it gets ahead. Unfortunately, its cards are all very weak individually, leaning heavily on having both a Prophet live for multiple turns and sticking it early enough that you have board presence to use your Dissolves effectively. If you get behind on board with this deck, you have neither the card quality nor removal to catch up. But let me tell you, the god draw on this deck cannot be beaten by the god draw of any other deck in the format.
State of the Format
Theros Block Constructed is slow. Not an aggravating, glacial pace like Return to Ravnica Block where the removal was too good and the finishers too slow. No, Theros Block is slow due to the nature of two of the block’s mechanics: devotion and monstrous. Both reward methodical gameplay and a building up of resources to power up your cards, leading to a kind of arms-race gameplay. The differences in the two are ramp-up times. Monstrous has a great midgame and uses monstrous to clinch its lead, whereas devotion – lacking the use of hybrid and cheap double colored permanents – has a much slower and more snowballing style of play.
However, the current Block Constructed environment is mainly defined by what it lacks:
- Fixing – As much as I didn’t enjoy Return to Ravnica compared to its neighbor blocks, you had more dual lands than you could shake a stick at. Theros has five in an odd color arrangement, plus the unplayable Unknown Shores.
- Removal – Chained to the Rocks, Hero’s Downfall. These two cards are the only non-conditional removal spells in the format. I’d like to say there are a smattering of playable conditional removal spells to choose from, but most are too low-impact for how “go big or go home” Theros is. Mass removal is completely nonexistent. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is great for combatting hordes of monsters, but can be played around, costs 6 mana, and does nothing against a Cavalry Pegasus deck. Hythonia the Cruel costs so much mana to wrath that I wasn’t taught a number that high in school, but I’m pretty sure it’s approaching infinity. There are no Supreme Verdicts or Blasphemous Acts, and there are definitely no Pyroclasms. Falling behind on board is almost a guaranteed loss in Block because there are no reset buttons; you have to just go bigger than your opponent. You’re better off playing threats than removal in Block because you have so little removal available that you can rely on.
- Self-Reliant Cards – I like synergy as much as the next guy, but Theros takes it to an unrealistic level. It is difficult to build a deck in Block that doesn’t rely on building up a critical mass of cards that work together, mainly due to how powerful the synergistic cards are when fully realized. The closest thing to stand-alone cards in Theros are the monstrous cards, and you can see how crazily dominant the deck that plays them is. Other than the monsters, there are very few interchangeable threats in Block. There’s no choice between a diversity of cards because there aren’t that many cards in the Block yet.
What I Want from Born of the Gods
The #1-thing I want from Born of the Gods is more answers. I can live with a format full of synergy as long as there are interesting ways to assemble and disassemble those synergies. Playing against Devotion is often miserable because there’s almost no way to stop losing once you start losing. The answers are so low-impact that they aren’t worth playing. I want effective, preferably cheap, ways to disrupt strategies so that Block has more interaction other than “do your thing, I’ll do my thing, let’s race.” I don’t even need the format to fill up with Doom Blades and Mana Leaks — I played a ton of Geistflames and Silent Departures because they were versatile and dealt with specific threats in the format.
A corollary to this is that I would like a Wrath of God variant of some sort. I mean, come on, Wizards – Wrath of God. Isn’t that what this set is supposed to be about? I honestly don’t think this will happen because Wizards is pushing devotion quite hard, but it would be fantastic if I weren’t just dead when I’m facing down a team of Heroic creatures. I would also take something like Gideon Jura. It’s pretty funny/sad that Vraska wasn’t printed in this block, as she would see significantly more play despite GB’s poor mana.
The #2-thing I want is gold gods, or just any card really, that push towards a specific strategy rather than being ubiquitously desirable. I love cards that provide an engine or niche that utilizes block mechanics in a way you can build around. Astral Slide, Burning Vengeance, and even Maze’s End are examples of cards that require unique game plans.
Finally, I want to play Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. I’ve crashed many a DE with Ashiok, but I’d like to cash many a Daily with Ashiok, too. I don’t know how Wizards can change the format to make Ashiok #1, but just do me a solid here, WotC.
Next Time (Regarding Born of the Gods Spoilers)
I’m writing this with only four days worth of cards spoiled, but by the time y’all get to read this, there will be a week and a half, if the whole set hasn’t been revealed. I don’t want to make prejudgments without seeing the whole set. It’s not about being wrong, because I’m wrong all the time. (Try scrolling back through my archives.) It’s about being so hilariously uninformed that I’m just not given much of a good base to start on. So even though I know about Tribute, I’m not going to say that it’s an awful mechanic and none of the cards will be worth playing. I will write an article for next time about my thoughts on Born of the Gods. Until then, I’ll be jamming two-man queues with Naya Monsters while watching League of Legends’ LCS.
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Nice article! It is interesting to note how the problems of limited and block are similar when there is only one set available (e.g. the removals). It seems that some of your wishes became true!
This article is good…. 30+ days ago.