First Take: Theros Beyond Death

The first real spoilers for Theros Beyond Death have come out. With them, it’s time to begin critically thinking about the new set and what it can bring to commander. There were other leaks about the set weeks ago. We will not be discussing them. Odds are they will be accurate. Still here at Commander Clinic, we want to deal with confirmed cards to have our information as accurate as possible.  

The Escape Mechanic

With the unveiling of Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis, we ascertain a new mechanic, escape. Escape allows you to pay a resource cost and then reanimate that card from the graveyard. Our only instance of escape seen is currently on a planeswalker. This is enough to let us know that escape will occur on more than just creatures. Elspeth’s escape mechanic also requires you to exile cards from your graveyard. I would not be surprised if all of the escape cards have such an exile cost. I would expect each card requires different numbers of cards to make it happen. Overall Escape could be a solid value mechanic for commander. Given the format of releases for 2020, I doubt escape will be in any card set other than Theros Beyond Death. There may be a handful at most of this mechanic that will be strong enough to include in commander decks.  

Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis

I like the fact that they are bringing Elspeth back after they killed off Gideon. Unfortunately, I do not think this planeswalker card is for a commander. Four mana is a reasonable price for a suite of abilities. However, will be limited as all the abilities tick down and none raise her loyalty. While flavorful, because why would she be loyal after she was betrayed by Heliod? It still gives limited functionality for EDH. With a high cost of exiling cards for playing her over and over again. You have to have the cards in the graveyard to exile to make it work. White does have some cards that will recur things from the graveyard. Oftentimes they are better includes for a white deck.   

The abilities are incremental. They are almost as if you are playing an idle game. Abilities such as +2/+1 for two creatures, create two tokens are even gaining five life is not enough for an effective commander card especially in white. White plays from a disadvantage of card draw and mana ramp. It needs some strong cards to supplement the color, not incremental value. You would have to combine this ability multiple times to get reasonable value form this card. 

The only thing Elspeth has going for her is that in many cases players will be willing to let her remain on the table. This means you should be able to get multiple activations from her. I can see her useful as a setup for using the Elderspell. This way you can ultimate one of your planeswalkers quicker. 

Ashiok, Nightmare Muse

Ashiok is a solid design for a planeswalker. It creates a token with its +1 ability. This gives you a blocker with six loyalty planeswalker making it harder to kill. I am not big on mill strategies. It takes more cards to kill with mill than to reduce an opponent’s life to zero. As an incidental value on top of the token, it can be quite effective. It will not feel good when you exile a land. However, when you hit a bomb it is exceptional to know your opponent will not have access to it.  

Its -3 ability is solid control that can set an opponent back. While I normally do not like cards that bounce because you will have to deal with them again, this ability is the exception to the rule. There are several reasons for this. Let’s explore a few of them.

First, if you target a high casting cost card you will gain mana in the exchange. Your opponent will have to spend more mana that you did to put it back on the battlefield. Second, it is on a planeswalker. This allows you to use the ability multiple times bringing value compared to a card such as Boomerang. Finally, the opponent must also exile a card from their hand. This ability costs your opponent not just a card on the battlefield but also a card in hand. If you are lucky your opponent may have to exile the card bounced. While the majority of commander decks do not attack the hand, alternative builds could find this section of the planeswalker text very useful. 

Ultimate abilities rarely factor into a game. Planeswalkers will normally not live long enough for their ultimate abilities to be used. This one has me salivating in case Ashiok survives.  Ashiok’s ultimate breaks commander by casting cards for free. In a Sultai deck with Doubling Season you can ultimate quickly and gain value off of this card. The ultimate is great because it allows you to play cards for free giving you access to an explosive. You build with these cards plus whatever you cast with your mana. As preached here on Commmander Clinic explosive turns to win commander games. The only downside of this ultimate ability is that it will take some turns to activate. In many cases, there will not be exiled cards and you will have to use its other abilities first.. 

Excellent Esper

Since the Modern Horizons release, I have been very quiet on the white card Winds of Abandon. It’s a two-mana Path to Exile. It might be nice to add to a mono-white deck, but it still costs double the mana. It’is not nearly as efficient as Path to Exile or Swords to Plowshares.  It does have an overload cost which can make it applicable to more situations and increase its utility. However, the conservative player in me finds it hard to spend six mana to wipe the battlefield and then give my opponents gain a significant number of lands to that they can use to rebuild their battlefield. In addition, I don’t have access to the ramp myself. There may be some Armageddon mischievousness you can accomplish to limit the drawback of this card. I find it not worth its inclusion in most decks. Until now…

Ashiok’s ability is wonderful when you pair it with Winds of Abandon. Normally you will not have a lot of mana to increase your board when you play Winds. With Ashiok’s ultimate ability, you don’t need mana. You exile your opponent’s board and then choose the strongest three cards from among the exiled creatures. Finally, you play them. All the while you get to keep all the creatures on your side of the board. 

Athreos, Shroud Veiled

My first impression of this card is that it should not be your commander. I love the gods as commanders because when they hit the battlefield, they just won’t go away. However, we now have a god for each guild pair. This new copy of Athreos must compete with its Theros block version of itself. It does not compare favorably.

While recursion is strong, it’s slow placing one coin counter on a permanent once per table rotation. The text states “at the beginning of YOUR end step”. Your is not the word we want to read at Commander Clinic. Second Atheros the Shroud-Veiled costs six mana to cast versus the previous three mana version of itself. It’s slower to cast than OG Atheros and in return will be out on the battlefield less. Thus less time to take advantage of its abilities. Athreos, Shroud-Veiled can be a commander but I believe it loses some of the punch of the original Orzhov god. Thus, it is better suited in the ninety-nine. 

Finally, Atheros can not target himself for a coin counter. This fact in some ways encourages you to make him your commander as it can relocate to the command zone. However, the cost to recast him is prohibitive if your opponents find a way to remove him. It is far better to place him in a Teysa, Orzhov Scion deck to help maximize death triggers than to pilot the deck himself.

Copying the return to battlefield ability is a possibility to break although it will be a little convoluted. You would need to copy the return to the battlefield ability but then it will do nothing unless you are able to sacrifice or exile it before the second ability resolves on the stack. Again this abuse is far more conducive to a deck that is piloted by Teysa Orzov Scion. Teysa Karlov would be a better choice to maximize these triggers. You could also copy placing a coin counter ability of Atheros by using cards like Strionic Resonator. It would speed things up. I think that this ability would help you keep a board that is out of control. It won’t help you get there quickly.    

As a commander, I think that Atheros Shroud-Veiled excels with a concept that I call the deck ladder. When playing multiple commander games in a night. One way to match yourself to your opponents is by using the deck ladder approach. If you win a game switch decks to a weaker one if you lose pick a slightly stronger one. Because Atheros will not be as efficient as the aforementioned Teysa decks, the deck occupies a location lower on the ladder to play.


While these three cards help generate buzz for the next set, I think when it comes to commander we have not begun to see the cards that will impact our format. We are only at the beginning of the spoiler season and there will be many more cards to come. Expect more Escape cards and with any set titled Beyond Death, you can expect more graveyard mischievousness to ensue. We here at Commander Clinic will continue to provide deck tech and perspectives for the casual commander community and also give you a quick take on upcoming sets and cards. Most importantly to the Johnny Deckbuilders out there stay inspired. There is plenty to be excited about in 2020.  

If you have any comments or questions feel free to contact me 

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