Top 5 Modern Cards from Theros Beyond Death

As Darrel and I recorded the Meta-Call podcast in which we tabulated our Modern picks for Throne of Eldraine, we looked back on the set with a bit of surprise at the amount of Modern impact it provided.  At that point, not a lot of Theros Beyond Death was spoiled but there were quite a few appealing new tools that made us think that this new set has potential to match or exceed Throne in terms of eternal play.  While that remains to be seen, the time is right to engage in everyone’s favorite new set pastime of speculating!  Here our the five cards that I would expect to have the greatest impact on Modern.

5-Whirlwind Denial

Whirlwind Denial provides a hard counter at a reasonable (but admittedly, not exceptional) rate.  Denial exists as a hybrid between Mana Leak, Disallow, and Flusterstorm and that is an awful lot of utility for a format that requires a diverse set of answers.  The major upside here is the fact that you could snag both a spell and a cast trigger.  This becomes most relevant when dealing with Eldrazi spells like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger which are notoriously very back-breaking to Modern control strategies.  Additionally, Denial can be brought in to deal with Storm strategies such as Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens, counter both cards involved in a Cascade effect (most notably, Bloodbraid Elf), counter triggered abilities from cards like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Amulet of Vigor, and simply, step in when additional counter magic is needed to deal with combo strategies or in creature-light match-ups where you’ve got removal spells to board out.  Though this spell is most likely a sideboard piece, we’ve seen cards like Mystic Denial see play in Modern maindecks based on the fact that they could be used against spells that don’t fit their “plan A” criteria when needed and I don’t think it would be embarrassing to run one or two of these in your 60.  I would expect that it is more realistically a one-of in UW Control (and similar) sideboards.

4-Soul-Guide Lantern

Soul-Guide Lantern is the next installment in a long lineage of one-mana artifacts that deal with the graveyard.  This one seems to be “the people’s Nihil Spellbomb” in the sense that it can be activated for free to nab just your opponent’s graveyard rather than requiring you leave up one-mana for the opportunity to exile both (see Relic of Progenitus) but doesn’t require black mana when it just needs to be “Cycled”.  Unlike Spellbomb, Soul-Guide Lantern can pick off a card when it enters the battlefield which should help to disrupt your opponent enough so that they can’t bully you into cracking it early to pave the way for more graveyard shenanigans.

While there are plenty of decks that will remain interested in either Spellbomb or Relic, there certainly some that will prefer Soul-Guide Lantern and I expect it to see quite a bit of play, especially in strategies that want to maintain their own graveyards but don’t produce black mana necessary to draw a card with Nihil Spellbomb.

3-Ox of Agonas

Ox of Agonas seems to be a perfect fit for Modern Dredge.  In fact, we’ve seen this type of thing before in Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and frankly, I’m a little terrified of what this version might do.  While Ox is not an 8/8 Trample creature, it does provide some very important utility that Hogaak couldn’t even dream of.  That is its ability to loot.  Its just as important that Ox allows you to discard cards as it is that it lets you draw them as Dredge players lose a lot of games when they draw into lots of Dredge cards but no discard spells to enable them.  “Draw three cards” could, in the best case, translate to Dredge 15 (enabled by multiple Stinkweed Imps) which not only enables your deck to do what it does best but also provides plenty of fodder to Escape Ox of Agonas a second time and do it all over again.  I’d expect this guy to be played as a one or two-of in Dredge.

2-Heliod, Sun-Crowned

Heliod, Sun-Crowned provides yet another combo route for creature combo decks looking to utilize Walking Ballista as a win condition.  While Devoted Druid/Vizier of Remedies strategies achieve lethal Ballista damage through infinite mana, the interaction between Ballista and Heliod finds an entirely unique axis that requires fewer pieces but with a slightly larger mana commitment.  Importantly, Heliod is a very difficult combo piece to interact with as Indestructible non-creature enchantment removal in Modern is seemingly limited to Teferi/Cryptic bounce, Detention Sphere, or Ulamog/Karn Liberated.  Unlike some other God creatures in Magic, Heliod is not considered a creature when your devotion requirement is not met.  This is a huge advantage because it keeps it safe from one of the most commonly played removal spells in the format; Path to Exile.

In addition to the Walking Ballista interaction, Heliod is likely to befriend an old combo tool in Spike Feeder and serve as a nice pivot point between the Druid combo and the “Angel Pod” combo involving Spike Feeder and Archangel of Thune.  Though the Archangel itself is likely not necessary in such a deck, the possibility of having a diverse set of combo pieces seems like a good way to force your opponent to make difficult gambles on which one to focus removal on.  At just three-mana, Heliod seems to fit very nicely into most creature toolbox strategies involving cards like Collected Company, Finale of Devastation, or Chord of Calling.

Beyond green-based strategies, a few mono-white lists have appeared in which Heliod has been used in a fair way as a plan B to the Ballista combo.  When paired with lifegain creatures like Soul Warden and Serra’s Ascendant, innocuous one-drops can get out of hand very quickly.

1-Dryad of the Ilysian Grove

This card seems very clearly designed with Modern in mind.  A three-mana 2/4 provides an excellent blocker for aggressive creatures while keeping itself safe from three-damage burn spells like Lightning Bolt.  Its ability to allow additional land drops is obviously appealing for ramp decks (most importantly, Titanshift), but the Prismatic Omen effect is really what puts this card over the edge.  This is an incredibly powerful effect that is very easy to overlook.  Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks are looking to use this effect to win via Scapeshift one turn earlier but can also tap fetch lands for mana so that they can be used later to fetch for Mountains and deal damage with Valakut once it is online.  This is extremely relevant against decks that aim to play longer games as resolving a Scapeshift or Primeval Titan may not be a given against Control, for example, but eventually drawing enough lands to ‘bolt’ your opponent to death is much more difficult to stop and Dryad allows you to do this much sooner and with much greater consistency.

All three of the benefits described in the last paragraph (defense, ramp, and the Omen effect) check boxes for Scapeshift decks, especially, and I’d expect this one to find a permanent home in those types of decks very quickly.

Overrated: Underworld Breach

Underworld Breach is definitely a strong Magic card but in a Modern that no longer has access to Mox Opal, I find it hard to believe we can assemble an effective and consistent combo that involves this tool that isn’t slow to accumulate or weak to Rest in Peace.  I’ve seen some Legacy players do some truly nasty things with this card but I just don’t think Modern is the right home for it when it comes to combo styles.

It does have potential for its fair use, however, and could be a pseudo-Snapcaster Mage for red decks like Mono Red Prowess.  That said, I think the opportunity cost and mana investment might be too great for this style, too, and I don’t expect it to see many appearances.