The plight of the Underplayed Theros block mechanicsby Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
We all watched the Pro-tour with baited breath not all that long ago. For starters, Congratulations must go out to Patrick Chapin. I doubt he’ll ever read this article, but the truth is what he accomplished is tremendous. To defeat the world’s best players and win a Pro-tour is the stuff dreams are made of (although he made it look frighteningly easy!). However, in amidst all the talk of Block Constructed decks, did anyone notice that there were hardly ANY of the mechanics from Theros block on display? A block committed to the Devotion mechanic by virtue of being tied to the Gods of Theros…and it was virtually totally ignored. There were very few creatures carrying the Monstrous ability. Constellation got some love…most in the form of Eidolon of Blossoms. Inspired? Tribute? Bestow? These hardly even got a sniff. In the end it was wars waged as Elspeth tokens crushed Elspeth tokens and Thoughtseize and Brain Maggot crippled the hands of countless players. No…the mechanics of Theros were sadly underplayed and it felt…I don’t know…deflating.
Well, I’m here today to try and restore our faith in the little used mechanics of Theros and present a budget worthy Casual Brew that can grind down an opponent (or multiple opponents as the case may be) and find a way of getting you a win from seemingly out of nowhere. The mechanic I’m thinking about is the Inspired mechanic because it is so tempting…so poised with potential…that to not attempt to build a deck would just be wrong.
Now, we have seen that some of the mechanics in Theros are very powerful. Devotion powered out crazy amounts of elemental tokens with Master of Waves, drained buckets of life with Gray Merchant, and pumped out dizzying amounts of mana with Nykthos. No, Devotion is pretty safe. Monstrous is the same way. With Stormbreath Dragon and Polukranos running around still Monstrous is a thing and they may be joined by Fleecemane lion as staples of this mechanic. Bestow and Heroic have shown to be invaluable in Draft giving these decks new reach and greater power than ever before. No, these three mechanics are just fine despite not being played much at the Pro-tour. However, Inspired and Tribute, both Mechanics from Born of the Gods have hardly got off the ground.
It makes perfect sense for why Tribute has been largely ignored. In almost every instance the cards carrying Tribute present an option for your opponent to dictate the terms of the creature. This means that you are no longer in control and if you are looking for a desired effect, well, I can assure you that you won’t get it because your opponent is out to put the screws to you. Snake of the Golden Grove is a perfect example because you either get 4 life…or a 7/7. Let me assure you, 100% of the time you will give your opponent the life gain. However, if you REALLY needed a 7/7 to help you block…well…tough, you are out of luck.
Inspired on the other hand actually holds some promise. This is actually an ability that you could use because the only requirement is that the creature untaps. Simply untap. It seems so simple…but yet getting your card to actually untap is pretty tricky. The most common ways of tapping it is by virtue of attacking with it and then on your next turn untapping it. The problem is that usually if you go into combat, something dies meaning you could very well lose your inspired creature. Other options exist like Spring Leaf Drum, Retraction Helix, Epiphany Storm and Claim of Erebos which all allow the creature to tap without combat, but this is extra work for you and harder to set up. So, how to maximize your chances of Inspired without as much set up cost to your deck?
I have long been a proponent of making combat as absolutely miserable for my opponent as I can manage. This means I pack decks full of combat tricks, death touch, first strike, double strike and haste, basically ensuring that my opponent really has to think twice before blocking ANYTHING. Well, Inspired gives you even MORE incentive to pack your deck as full of nasty tricks as you can find so that no one is keen to actually block. With this theory in mind let me share with you a little deck list that I’ve put together to exploit the Inspired mechanic.
B/W “Grindy” Theros block mechanics deck for Standard
The game plan behind this deck is actually pretty straight forward. You are looking to do everything you can to drain off the life of your opponent without attacking , but the creature base in the deck is actually aggressive enough that you can start on the beat down path and not actually take your foot off. All the while you are looking to exploit the Inspired Mechanic as much as you can wrangle.
For 1 drops we have Tormented Hero which is a solid 2/1 for 1 black. Sure, it comes into play tapped, but play him turn 1 and attack turn 2 and you’re pretty golden. Also, when he is targeted he does exactly what you want the deck to do and that is drain the life of your opponent. At 2 we have a couple of bears, namely Sun Guide and Pain Seer. These are both aggressive enough that they can come down early and swing in, hopefully triggering the Inspired trigger on either of them. Baleful Eidolon and Spiteful Returned are technically 2 drops, but are really there for the Bestow ability to basically make something totally unpalatable for your opponent to block. Spiteful returned is also triggered just by attacking, making him just extra value. The last 2 drop is Cartel Aristocrat because when you are missing a way to sneak through, Sacrifice a creature and get in there. At the 3 drop spot we have the bread and butter. Scholar of Athreos is an awesome mana sink and a solid blocker to plug up the ground. Servant of Tymaret is a wily little 2/1 with regenerate that I WANT to block with and need to regenerate in order to trigger the Inspired ability when it untaps after regenerating. The 4 drops are really there as Bestow creatures apart from King Macar, but at 5 we have Gray Merchant and he is a sure fire way to drain out a bunch of life all at once. The spells are pretty tame in a Gods Willing to protect something or more importantly to allow a creature the ability to sneak in for free. Necrobite presents an awful combat trick for your opponent. He will need to play around a situation where you have 3 mana up or risk trading something for a deathtouch creature…who now regenerates. Whether this is Tormented Hero’s heroic trigger, or regenerating a Pain Seer, there is going to be value generated. The last one is Asphyxiate which is a poor man’s Hero’s Downfall. Same casting cost…but much slower and more conditional. Not my first choice, but acceptable considering the financial cost of a playset of Hero’s Downfall.
Some would say that this looks like an Extort deck from Gatecrash and I can’t disagree…except I prefer this model to relying on the Extort mechanic of Gatecrash because Extort rewards you for durdling around with spells and paying the extra mana to drain the life. In this deck there is no need to durdle around. If you have open mana sink into something…like your Scholar of Athreos, attack with your Servant of Tymaret, or cast a Bestow creature to make blocking totally undesirable. You are being proactive and engaged instead of being rewarded by casting derdling spells and hiding.
This deck is weak to decks packed with fliers or with control elements like counter spells and plenty of targeted removal. Oh, and it still gets run over by the pack rat/desecration demon game plan prevalent in Standard, so don’t take it there. Where does this deck shine? Multiplayer variants of all sorts. Free for all, Two Headed Giant, Grand Melee…if any of these formats match what you like to play then this is a cheap and efficient deck that will do work. Life drain is absolutely brutal in multiplayer matchups and this deck is no different.
So, I have done my part to restore faith in the mechanics of Theros…particularly Inspired. Now it is up to you to go forth and Inspire that same belief in your opponents and drain the life right from their souls…without ever attacking! Enjoy frustrating the heck out your opponents because you can bet I’ll be enjoying every minute of it.
Thanks very much…and until next time keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it Casual.
Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791