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Magic: The Gathering’s Theros: Beyond Death set is a wild, cosmic ride through myth and madness

Hera today, gone tomorrow.

In Magic: The Gathering’s latest Greek-myth inspired expansion Theros: Beyond Death, gods dwell in the night sky, centaurs and cyclops alike frolic through the plains, while terrible abominations linger behind the stars.

The cards in the latest set are beautiful, each element taking on a unified Greek-myth theme. White is all sacred pillars and winged bulls, Blue is epic sea monstrosities and dream-like shores, Black is a mythic traipse through star-studded powers that feel ancient and unknowable, while Red is raging cyclops and wrathful lightning.

As well as looking the part, many of these cards fit their theme mechanically; satyrs are tricksy, gods crank up their power based on your Devotion (the amount of mana in their chosen colour you have on the field) and, as you’d expect, many entities demand sacrifice.

Just as you’d imagine that strange liminal, ancient place where Greek myth resides to be, faith sparks off literal deities, death can be escaped and all the omens points toward something greater.

Even the new mechanics unveiled have a distinctly mythic tone. New keyword action Escape complements the Theros: Beyond Death theme, with the barrier between life and death being as porous as it is in the (under) world. Meanwhile Devotion changes a creature’s power based on how much mana of their type you have on the field. As such, you do really worship the gods in Theros: Beyond Death.

In addition, the returned Saga cards spell out mythic tales over a tense series of turns. and the Constellation mechanic lets you effectively draw power from those strange, distant stars that wheel up above.

The White mana colour in Theros: Beyond Death is the most traditionally mythical. It comes replete with a cast of pegasi, winged bulls and spear-wielding Greek soldiers. With the latter, there are references to actual Greek military tactics, such as hoplites and an instant that puts all your creatures together in a phalanx.

But White is not all about life-giving. During one particularly gruelling match using the Theros: Beyond Death set on Magic: The Gathering Arena, I was shocked when my White-based opponent placed the Shatter the Sky spell down. It completely razed the battlefield - annihilating both my creatures and their own.

Such wanton destruction left to the fire-fuelled antics of the Red deck, but White in Theros: Beyond Death seems to represent the wrath of the gods as much as it does their healing life force.

Magic: The Gathering - Theros Beyond Death White cards, including Archon of Falling Stars, Transcendent Envoy, Daybreak Chimera and planewalker Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis
Image credit: Magic: The Gathering - Theros Beyond Death White cards, including Archon of Falling Stars, Transcendent Envoy, Daybreak Chimera and planewalker Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis

Among the White spells are also included a range of things that exile - helpful for gods that can’t be killed - destroy or cripple cards. Of particular note is low-mana enchantment Dreadful Apathy, which dooms the creature to which it’s attached to a “wretched tedium”. They can’t attack or block, rendering them useless. However, I did find when playing a Black-based deck, that these poor, apathetic creatures doomed to tedium made excellent sacrifices.

Last but not least, the White Theros: Beyond Death cards have an abundance of new mechanic Constellation. Drawn from the god-filled skies of Theros, some cards, such as the cosmic soldier named Favored by Iroas, gain bonuses and new abilities whenever an enchantment or other constellation enters the field. This opens the White set up to some truly horrifying chain effects.

These range from mildly effective to full-out wild, such as the pegasus rider Archon of Sun’s Grace, who can create 2/2 flying pegasus creature tokens everytime an enchantment enters the battlefield under your control. In one match I faced an army of flying horses. It did not end well for me.

Next up, Blue is the colour of the set of the other planeswalker, nightmare-weaver and dark mage Ashiok. Their Nightmare Muse card can not only create Nightmare creature tokens, but also lets you bring back your opponent’s cards from exile under your control.

Within the Greek mythology vein, Theros: Beyond Death includes eidolons - based off of the spirit shades of yore - and a range of terrifying sea monsters.

Like many of the other Magic: The Gathering - Theros: Beyond Death cards based on Greek mythology, the creature card Alirios, Enraptured draws from the legend of Narcissus, who got lost staring into his own reflection. Alirios turns up with his very own mirrored visage - a token complete with the same stats, but reversed.

Magic: The Gathering - Theros Beyond Death Blue cards, including Nadir Kraken, Wavebreak Hippocamp, Sea God's Scorn and Towering-Wave Mystic

I especially enjoyed throwing element giant Thryx down at opportune moments as, like an angry storm, he can turn up in a flash at any time. The merfolk wizards are also surprisingly creepy, usually depicted chanting at a swirling dark sky while gazing mournfully out to sea.

Notably, Blue is the Theros: Beyond Death colour that features one of the set’s cards that could be called a game-breaker. Kiora Bests the Sea God is a Saga card - a returning mechanic - that tells the story of how the merfolk planeswalker overcame a deity of the briny deep. Like the other sagas in the set, on each turn, you place a lore counter down on the card itself. Each placement triggers an event that hits prior to combat.

In its first step, Kiora Bests the Sea God lets you set down a hexproof - immune to all and any spells - Kraken creature that packs a not-too-shabby power of 8/8. The next step then forces your opponent to untap all of their beasts - leaving them completely vulnerable to attack from your new Kraken.

Just as you’d imagine that strange liminal, ancient place where Greek myth resides to be, faith sparks off literal deities, death can be escaped and all the omens points toward something greater.

Our very own Wheels drew this particular Saga during a match. I recall a genuine crushing horror as he untapped the formidable army I’d laid down, before that giant tentacled beast leapt forward and swept most of my remaining life force away.

Mana element Black was one of my favourite colours to play with during my time with the expansion. The artwork and general themes would make a good basis for some kind of dark world all of their own. Black in Theros: Beyond Death manages to take a lot of fairly generic horror tropes, like zombies and cosmic beings, and turn them into something that’s both mechanically fun but also gorgeous to gaze at.

Black has its very own gorgon, the Venomous Hierophant. While it won’t turn anyone into stone, like the snake-haired Medusa of myth, it does have deathtouch - meaning it can kill any creature through one instance of contact.

In tribute to the legend of Theseus - the brave hero tasked with killing the gorgon Medusa - the Theros: Beyond Death set includes a Mirror Shield. A mana-neutral artifact like many of the weapons in the set, whenever a creature with deathtouch blocks a creature wielding the shield, the creature’s deathtouch is turned back on them and they’re destroyed.

Black in Theros: Beyond Death also combines a mixture of nasty instant spells like Final Death, which exiles a creature immediately, and the delightful Eat to Extinction, which devours the opponent creature - like the rotted black giant depicted on the card.

Magic: The Gathering - Theros: Beyond Death's Black cards, including Omen of the Dead, Erebos, Bleak-Hearted, Nightmare Shepherd and Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger

There are also horrible harpies, complete with wings that shimmer like the night sky, cosmic blood-horned minotaurs and skull-faced buffalo. Of the Black Theros: Beyond Death creatures, the combination Red-Black elder giant Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, was particularly epic to lay down.

A chained titan yowling through some kind of nightmare world who only requires two mana to summon, Kroxa forces your opponent to discard a card. Afterwards, it self-destructs - much to the relief of your foe.

However, this is not the end for Kroxa; it can Escape using the new mechanic introduced in this set, which allows you to pay mana and exile creatures from your graveyard to resurrect fallen creatures. Kind of like a doomed blood pact. As such, Kroxa rose from the rubble of my graveyard, wherein it became a mighty powerful beast with power 6/6. Surprise!

The Escape mechanic overall is really fun to play with, especially as some monsters, such as deathly horse Underworld Charger and green snake beast Voracious Typhoon, arise from the dead with more power. These resurrected horrors gave me scope for ample vengeance.

Red, like Black, includes a range of gigantic beasties. Some of the more well-known culprits from Greek mythology are included here, like your cyclops, your manticore and an Underworld Rage-Hound - who is a nod (or three) to underworld gatekeeper Cerberus, a three-headed dog who guards the entrance to hell in Greek mythology.

Red also features numerous revelers, who reminded me of the debauched, sometimes lethal worshippers of Dionysis - the Greek god of wine and revelry.

Magic: The Gathering - Theros: Beyond Death's Red cards, including Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Underworld Rage-Hound, Dreamstalker Manticore and Ox of Agonas
Image credit: Magic: The Gathering - Theros: Beyond Death's Red cards, including Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Underworld Rage-Hound, Dreamstalker Manticore and Ox of Agonas

Theros: Beyond Death’s red cards includes a myriad of nasty destructive spells. Among the most notable of these is Storm’s Wrath, which deals a whopping four damage to every creature and planeswalker on the field.

I had a few particularly glorious moments in Magic: The Gathering Arena with seemingly light spell Wrap in Flames. While it only deals a paltry one damage each to three creatures, it also forces those cards to tap - opening your opponent up to a crushing by your mythic beasts.

The Green cards brim with bucolic melancholy, combined with utter savagery. They draw from mythological forests of yore, as well as Setessans, who appear to be kind of like the original Amazons of Greek myth - a tribe of mighty warrior-women. This is the deck that includes the highest abundance of centaurs, hydras and weird, fey-like horrible beasts, including a spider with a human face and a tree-tall giant.

Theros: Beyond Death’s Green cards link up well. I was annihilated a couple of times by a well-placed Klothy’s Design sorcery, which gives all creatures you control an armour and health bonus dependent on how devoted you are to the colour Green. In addition, the Nessian Boar can hit with 10 damage, and forces absolutely everything on the field to attack it - making it a beast that laid waste to my defences quite a few times.

Magic: The Gathering - Theros: Beyond Death's Green cards, including Voracious Typhoon, Nyxborn Colossus, Dryad of the Ilysian Grove and Setessan Champion

While mechanically Theros: Beyond Death is complex, it is relatively easy to learn. It’s a good way to learn how to play Magic: The Gathering, but there’s also enough here for experienced players to enjoy both in terms of building a Magic: The Gathering deck and tinkering around with all those wild new mechanics.

I’ve absolutely loved playing with Magic: The Gathering’s Theros: Beyond Death expansion so far. There are cards I’ve picked up through the Theros: Beyond Death sealed draft events that have made it into the holy sanctums of my main Magic: The Gathering deck.

The ways that Greek mythology, which veers towards traditional themes like tragedy, hubris and sacrifice, is deftly woven into the set both visually and through gameplay is very impressive - plus I cannot emphasise enough how beautiful the cards are.

While Theros: Beyond Death’s cards lack the sly humour and folklore trimmings of previous card set Throne of Eldraine, those things are replaced with something much more horrifying and epic, with all the cosmic trimmings adding an otherworldly tinge to the classic legends. It’s a dark deck, and it creates a strange new world that ticks along to its own inscrutable rules.

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