Magic: the Gathering returns to Theros, a Greek mythology-inspired plane of of gods, monsters, and heroes, this Winter with the game’s next expansion: Theros Beyond Death.
We left Theros four years ago after Heliod, God of the Sun, betrayed and murdered the planeswalker Elspeth Tirel, condemning her spirit to Underworld. But no one is ever truly gone on Theros and Elspeth joined the other dead in their eternal fate under the watchful eye of Erebos, God of the Dead.
Welcome to the Underworld
Theros Beyond Death is set in that same Underworld, a subterranean realm that lies beneath the five Rivers that Ring the World that separate the land of the living from the land of the dead. This Underworld is a grim place, neither light nor dark, ruled by Erebos and completely cut off from starfield of Nyx where the pantheon of other major gods reside.
Erebos was born from the first shadow ever cast by Heliod, who feared his shadow when he saw it so much that he banished it beyond the Rivers that Ring the World. That shadow eventually became Erebos, who accepted his fate outside of the world of the living and has ruled Theros’s Underworld ever since.
The dead arrive on the shores of the Rivers that Ring the World soon after death where they are met by Athreos, the god of passage. Athreos ferries them across the rivers to join Erebos in the Underworld where they are meant to spend eternity. Some are able to escape the Underworld and the few that do can only do so at the cost their memories and identity.
Theros’s Underworld Has Sprung a Leak
But something has changed since we last visited Theros, causing the barrier between the living and the dead to become much more porous. This has resulted in Klothys, the god of destiny, returning to Theros after spending eons trapped in the Underworld, and has also allowed Elspeth Tirel to escape to the world of the living.
This mass exodus from the Underworld is represented in Theros Beyond Death’s new mechanic, Escape. Cards with Escape can be cast from the graveyard by paying the alternate mana cost and exiling some number of cards from your graveyard. Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis, for example, escapes from the Underworld for the cost of six mana and exiling four other cards from your graveyard, allowing her to reenter the battlefield and continue the fight.
The Escape mechanic is a powerful way to continuously return cards from your graveyard to the battlefield but it is only usable once a card is in your graveyard. As such, many of the cards with Escape are designed to make it easy for you to get them into the graveyard. Elspeth, for example, has three loyalty abilities—but all three of them remove loyalty counters. This means you’ll eventually use up all of her loyalty, sending her to the graveyard/Underworld, where she can then escape and do it all over again.
But it’s not just heroes and gods escaping from the Underworld. Monsters, auras, instants, sorceries, and even equipment can make use of the Escape mechanic—and will often receive a bonus after successfully escaping.
Constellation, Devotion, and Sagas
Escape is joined in Theros Beyond Death by three returning mechanics: Constellation, Devotion, and Sagas.
The entire plane of Theros is permeated by enchantments—the gods themselves are living enchantments that reside in the night sky in a celestial realm called Nyx full of other enchantment creatures. The enchantment-based nature of Theros and the celestial home of the gods is captured by the Constellation mechanic, which is an ability word that confers specific benefits when an enchantment enters the battlefield. Every card will have a different Constellation bonus; in the case of Setessan Champion, it will receive a +1/+1 and you will draw a card every time an enchantment enters the battlefield.
Like Constellation, the Devotion mechanic should be familiar to players of the original Theros block. The gods of Theros may be enchantments that live in the night sky, but they can take the form of creatures if the denizens of Theros are sufficiently devout. This is represented by Devotion, which cares about the number of particular mana symbols among the permanents you control. If your devotion to Black is high enough, Erebos will shift from his enchantment form and become a creature.
The gods can also provide benefits for those that exhibit significant devotion. As Daxos, Blessed by the Sun’s name implies, he has been blessed by Heliod, God of the Sun, who has bestowed upon Daxos increased toughness based on your devotion to White.
The final mechanic in Theros Beyond Death are Sagas—enchantments that tell stories from throughout a plane’s history one chapter at a time. The story advances by a chapter on each of your turns, triggering small effects, until the Saga crescendos in a final chapter with a strong conclusion to its story. The Akroan War is one such Saga in Theros Beyond Death and tells the story of the eponymous war, which appears to be inspired by the Trojan War, starting with a kidnapping that leads to a war and ends with self-destruction.
All of these mechanics, along with scores of gods, heroes, and monsters, will be playable this January in Theros Beyond Death. Prereleases for Magic’s newest set will take place January 17-19, 2020 with the official release a week later on January 24, 2020.
Theros Beyond Death also releases on Magic: The Gathering Arena on 16th January; you can download Magic: The Gathering Arena for free right now.