hile doing coverage of the Magic Online Community Cup at PAX, I had a chance to attend a Theros worldbuilding panel. Normally I don't prioritize the flavor aspects of a new set—I'm usually more interested in the new cards and mechanics. But it was interesting to watch the panel and see how the interaction between the creative team and the rest of R&D helped shape some of the major concepts for Theros. One of the themes we have seen is enchantments.
Art by Howard Lyon
Last week, we talked about the bestow mechanic, and some of the issues that Auras have faced over the years. Bestow mitigates—and in many ways eliminates—the risk involved with playing Auras. But when it comes to risk, there is always the other side of the scale to consider: the reward. One way Auras have been tweaked over the years is making them so powerful the reward for playing them significantly outweighs the risk of getting two-for-oned.
Cards like Knightly Valor and Unflinching Courage serve as proper examples of when the power level of an Aura exceeds the risk enough to warrant inclusion in our deck. These cards are so powerful that if you can find a window to resolve them, they often make up the risk just by enabling one big attack step that wouldn't have happened otherwise. An extra creature token or huge lifegain burst doesn't hurt either.
The true upside, though, is when you resolve one of these and your creature goes unanswered. Perhaps you are playing against red removal and the toughness boost is enough to get your creature out of burn range. Now you have the biggest, best creature on the battlefield, and if unanswered, it will win you the game in short order.
A slightly different take on this is a card like Madcap Skills. Madcap Skills used a similar principle, but applied it much more narrowly. The main premise was posed in the form of a question: Do you have an answer? Since Madcap Skills is so cheap to cast, you can throw it on your first viable threat and outright demand an immediate answer while threatening to win the game. This isn't quite as powerful as the bigger Auras we talked about earlier, but in some cases it can be even better.
Our full cycle of Theros preview cards for this week are more like the latter than the former.
Ordeal of Heliod, Ordeal of Thassa, Ordeal of Erebos, Ordeal of Purphoros, Ordeal of Nylea
I'd put these more on the Madcap Skills end of the scale than the Knightly Valor end. Let's break down some of the key aspects of this cycle, and then we'll take a look at the cards individually.
These are cheap. They are easy to cast, and they can even be cast alongside another two-drop on turn four, for example. This will be a major factor as we evaluate these uncommons. Madcap Skills was good in large part because it was so cheap. If these are going to be good, their low cost will be a big part of the reason.
The one thing to remember about all five of these Auras is that they don't just encourage you to attack; they demand it. If you aren't attacking with the enchanted creature, then the Ordeal doesn't do anything. Once you start attacking, though, it gives your creature a nice boost in power and toughness—often enough to attack profitably past your opponent's defenses.
Each of the Ordeals has a bonus if you get up to the required three +1/+1 counters. I use the term bonus tentatively here, as once the creature receives the requisite counters, it won't get any more of them. But you will get a spell-like bonus, appropriate for the slice of color pie that the Aura represents. These range from very powerful to kind of conditional.
Another thing to consider about these Ordeals is that instant-speed enchantment removal won't have the same devastating effect it has had with Auras past. To use our earlier example of Madcap Skills, if your opponent confidently attacked his or her Skilled 2/2 into our 3/3, but we destroyed the Aura before blockers, we could then block to complete our devastating two-for-one. With these Ordeals, however, the counters are placed on the creature. So even if the Ordeal itself were to be destroyed, the creature would still retain the benefit.
Let's break down each of the Ordeals, focusing mainly on the bonus spell portion since the rest of the text is the same on each.
Ordeal of Heliod
The first question we'll be asking ourselves revolves around which colors are aggressive and which aren't. Remember: if you aren't attacking, these Auras don't do anything. So for now we will just assume that each color wants to be attacking in this format. (We will have to adjust our ratings after we get a better feel for the big picture and figure out which colors really want to be on the beatdown path and which don't.)
Since this cycle demands attacks, it makes sense that the best of the Ordeals would be effects that aid in this effort. Ordeal of Heliod doesn't quite do that. After the third attack, you must sacrifice it then gain 10 life.
I'm not normally much of a lifegain proponent, especially if it's all a card does. But this one enables attacks and gains a truly massive amount of life. This seems like it would unbalance a race pretty easily, even if your opponent sees it coming three turns away—10 life is simply a lot of life. Still, I'd prefer something a bit more aggressive if given the choice, and my guess is that this Ordeal falls lower on the list than some others.
Ordeal of Thassa
I mentioned before that ideally I would like to see an effect on these cards that either keeps me attacking or finishes off my opponent. Instead of those, Ordeal of Thassa delivers one of the sweetest phrases in all of Magic: "draw two cards." Even though it doesn't technically affect combat, drawing cards is generally a great way to keep the beats flowing.
Almost any card that encourages me to attack while drawing cards in the process is a card I'm interested in playing. Ordeal of Thassa is no exception here.
Ordeal of Erebos
Ordeal of Erebos is the second-most-difficult Ordeal to evaluate. Forcing the opponent to discard two cards can be a strong play, but telegraphing it three turns ahead of time is a major downside to a card like this. My guess is that Ordeal of Erebos is the worst of the bunch and likely won't see much play. There is a chance that black is the most aggressive color, in which case this may sneak into some decks. It puts a lot of pressure on the three +1/+1 counters, although it's entirely possible that the counters by themselves are aggressive enough to warrant inclusion in an aggressive deck.
If the "discard two" part of the card is gravy, then it will just depend on if black is an aggressive color or not in this set.
Ordeal of Purphoros
I had big hopes for the red Ordeal, and Ordeal of Purphoros delivered. Dealing 3 damage to a creature or player is a time-honored Limited staple, and even if opponents see it coming from a mile away, it's still great. It also aligns strongly with the incentives that all five of the Ordeals give us. Namely, to keep attacking.
The 3 damage is enough to kill a relevant blocker, take a lethal chunk out of our opponents' life total, or just change the damage race enough in our favor to seal the deal. Assuming that red wants to attack as much as it normally does, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ordeal of Purphoros rise to the top of this particular Top 5 list.
Ordeal of Nylea
Ordeal of Nylea is the hardest Ordeal to evaluate. Two Rampant Growths is a powerful effect, but only if it can be properly utilized by the deck. Combining mana fixing with mana ramp is powerful and can change the course of a game dramatically. That said, most decks that require both mana fixing and mana ramp need consistent ways to obtain those things, and Ordeal of Nylea is certainly not that.
I think that because of the lack of consistency on when—and even if—this will reach double-Rampant Growth stage, it will spend most of its time on the sidelines.
This cycle of Ordeals doesn't have the same luxury that cards with bestow have. No, these have to pull their weight with no fallback plan. You have to feel like you are getting enough value out of them to justify the very real risk that the targeted creature will perish before a +1/+1 counter—let alone the spell bonus—materializes.
I think that the most aggressive colors will want to utilize these in their decks, as they are a powerful tempo play with potentially big upside if the creature goes the distance.
I'll be curious to see which colors want to attack the most in Theros. I'll also be keeping an eye out for playable one-drops, as a curve of one-drop into Ordeal sounds pretty terrifying.
The speed, price, and availability of removal in the format will also be a big factor in dictating if these make the cut or sit on the sidelines. If this is a format of Shocks and Doom Blades, the Ordeals will plummet in value. If it's a format of Explosive Impacts and Trostani's Judgments, then they will skyrocket.
I'll be keeping a close eye on these things and others as we inch closer to what looks to be an exciting new world for us Limited players.
Until next week!
Marshall Sutcliffe hosts the Limited Resources podcast, does Pro Tour and Grand Prix video coverage, writes articles, and produces strategy videos. Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited following a long hiatus from the game, but he enjoys all forms of the game. He lives in Seattle, WA.