Magic: the Gathering’s latest set, Theros Beyond Death (THB), was released last January 24, 2020. While the set’s impact on Constructed has been felt most strongly in Pioneer and Modern, it’s been no slouch in Standard, either.
Over the past month, Magic fans have been treated to tons of high-level Standard featuring THB in the form of the 2020 World Championship and the DreamHack Anaheim 2020 Arena Open. It seems like the new set has unlocked several new strategies and has revitalized old favorites. Standard may be more popular now than it was at any point in 2019.
Combo and ramp enthusiasts in older formats have enjoyed the introduction of Thassa’s Oracle, Underworld Breach, and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove to the eternal card pool. Standard players, on the other hand, get a slew of resilient threats that deliver value turn after turn, as well as powerful and versatile answers the likes of which have been absent for some time.
In this list, we’ll look at the top 11 cards from Theros: Beyond Death that have made the biggest splash in Standard.
Kicking off this list, we have the least flashy but most subtly important addition to Standard, the ally color Temples.
Nicknamed this way because the two colors each Temple produces lie next to each other on Magic’s Color Pie, these nonbasic lands complement the enemy colored Temples printed in Core Set 2020. The Temples are reprints from the original Theros block, so they also contribute to nostalgia on our return to the Greek mythology-inspired plane.
Surprisingly, this ten-card cycle was received poorly by players when they were first printed. Standard battlers were used to having their dual color lands come into play untapped. Aggro players complained that Standard with tapped duals might slow the format down and advantage control players too much.
Eventually, the Scry 1 rider proved too good to pass up, and we’ve seen today’s players adding the Ally Temples to their decks right away to improve color consistency and increase card selection. Scrying a land to the bottom of your deck in the late game can be so valuable that it can sometimes be correct to hold onto the Temple for as long as possible.
Ashiok, Nightmare Muse is undeniably one of the most powerful cards from Theros Beyond Death, but this mysterious Planeswalker lands pretty low on this list because they haven’t found a deck to truly run rampant in.
When the set dropped, top players like Andrea Mengucci and Shaheen Soorani featured Ashiok prominently in their first drafts of Esper decks with either Hero of Precinct One or more controlling elements like Basilica Bell-Haunt.
Esper Hero actually did well in the first couple of weeks of THB Standard, earning several top finishes in Magic Online leagues. Unfortunately for fans of the deck (such as myself), the Esper shard proved to be outmatched by the tools and synergies available to Jund, Bant, Jeskai, Temur, and Azorius, the latter of which has become the premier control deck of the format.
I still believe that Ashiok has what it takes to dominate the format, especially since it shares many similarities with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. All they need to haunt your nightmares are one or two good control cards in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths.
The second reprint on this list—or sixth, depending on how you count it, Gray Merchant of Asphodel is back to give Mono-Black decks some of the insane finishing power they had back in the days of Pack Rat and Thoughtseize.
Its 2/4 body may be underwhelming, but it isn’t hard to set up a board state in Standard where Gary, as the card is affectionately known, can drain the opponent for four to six life points and end the game. His stats won’t matter if the opponent is dead.
Mono-Black is certainly a player in today’s Standard metagame, but Red offers sacrifice synergies like Mayhem Davil that make Rakdos a more appealing and therefore more common strategy. Even so, players who can’t resist jamming 20 Swamps and 4 Castle Locthwain can sleep well at night knowing that Gary has their backs at their next Standard tournament.