Points Announcement: Theros Beyond Death (II)

Points announcements are usually made the Monday after each prerelease. However, due to CanCon 2020, a.k.a. ‘Highlander Nationals’ being only a week after prerelease, we made an early “no change” announcement for the ease of players preparing for that event. 

We know that a large points change can disrupt invested playtesting, so have reserved this Theros Beyond Death (II) announcement for a week after Highlander Nationals. The additional time and metagame data has also assisted with placing some very impactful cards. 

The changes are:

Time Walk +1 (now 4 Points)
Oko, Thief of Crowns +1 (now 1 Point)
Thassa's Oracle +2 (now 2 Points)
Flash +1 (now 2 Points)
Wishclaw Talisman +1 (now 1 Point)
Underworld Breach +1 (now 1 Point)

Scheming Symmetry -1 (now 0 Points)
Tendrils of Agony -1 (now 0 Points)
Stoneforge Mystic -1 (now 0 Points)
Library of Alexandria -1 (now 1 Points)

Here are the points changes in detail:

Time Walk +1 (from 3 to 4)

Proactive decks using Time Walk have had tremendous success in the past couple of years. In the last five major events (Nationals, GP Highlander Championships, etc.) Time Walk archetypes took 15 of the 40 potential Top 8 places. On performance alone, Time Walk has been moved to 4 Points. 

The success of Time Walk is even more impressive when you consider there might have been more people running it if not for its price tag. We are very happy with fun and expensive cards being played, but if the best points package is 2 pieces of blue power, it presents an unnecessary financial barrier.

Oko, Thief of Crowns +1 (from 0 to 1)

He’s banned in Standard, Brawl, Pioneer and Modern for good reason. In Highlander Oko has been in each winning deck of the past three major events and has featured in half of all Top 8 decks. 

Diversity is important for fun, and Oko scares away far too many cards, namely creatures or artifacts with cmc ≥3 and no ‘enters the battlefield’ trigger (being stolen, or made into an Elk).

Time Walk and Oko gaining a point means a double-hit for Temur decks, but the ‘RUG’ colour combination still has strong points combinations available (and will be watched closely).

Thassa’s Oracle +2 (from 0 to 2)

As the breakout card at Nationals, Thassa’s Oracle put up unparalleled results for a new combo strategy. When you combine Thassa’s Oracle and Demonic Consultation or Tainted Pact, it is a turn 3 win which is immune to removal spells and graveyard hate. This leads to very little magic being played, and not being able to interact is arguably ‘un-fun’.

The decision was made to add points to Oracle and not Demonic Consultation (0) or Tainted Pact (1) because those cards have been acceptable at their respective pointings before Oracle made a splash. Further, a ‘Flashless’ combo deck would be too powerful with Oracle at zero points. Having said that:

Flash +1 (from 1 to 2)

Before Thassa’s Oracle existed Flash combo was still powerful, touting turn 2 and turn 3 instant-speed wins immune to removal with enough mana spare for spells to protect the combo. Some years ago that strength earned it a pseudo-‘banning’ with 4 points on Flash and 4 points on Hulk. Since then it has slowly had points removed, gaining strength in the shadows despite only being played by a few people. 

The namesake card is inherently non-interactive and disproportionately punishes opponents for not playing blue (for counterspells). Flash regaining its second point is a combination of consistent strong performance, combo speed, and lack of interaction and fun.

Wishclaw Talisman +1 (from 0 to 1)

Unlike Transmute cards and 3 mana tutors such as Grim and Rhystic Tutor, Wishclaw Talisman enables a split in the mana investment, costing only 1 mana to tutor a key card to hand on the critical turn. This makes Wishclaw Talisman ubiquitous in any black combo deck which can win in a single turn, such as Storm, Flash, Channel, Time Vault, etc., typically doing so on Turn 3. 

However we do note that many such combo decks were already weak to Null Rod, Stoney Silence, and Collector Ouphe. If these hate cards see enough play to push aforementioned combo decks out of the format then it could be safe to return Wishclaw Talisman back to 0 points in the future. 

Underworld Breach +1 (from 0 to 1)

Regardless of the one week of legality in which Underworld Breach has had to prove itself, on raw power level alone Underworld Breach is too close to Yawgmoth’s Will to remain at zero. In the best-case scenario a ‘mill’ card like Brain Freeze and ritual like Lion’s Eye Diamond or Black Lotus combine to win the game on the spot (Escaping for more and more mana and fuel in the graveyard until you’re ready to mill your opponent or another win-condition presents itself). 

Outside of the easy win, with a draw spell and enough cards in the graveyard Underworld Breach can repeatedly dig into the necessary parts of a combo, and can sometimes even win games in situations where Yawgmoth’s Will can’t. This is a testament to its power, especially in Storm, where the option to have a close-to-functional second Yawgmoth’s Will (historically the key card that Storm never cuts from the deck) should be a decision rather than a ‘free-roll’. 

Scheming Symmetry -1 (from 1 to 0)

During the points reshuffle on Storm cards, Scheming Symmetry received a point due to its strength in Storm. Whilst Scheming Symmetry is very powerful, it must be combined with cards which break the Symmetry; typically this means paying extra mana and/or combining it with ‘draw a card’ effects to win on the spot. 

Whilst the odds of turn 1 wins in Storm increase with Symmetry at 0, two other Storm cards are receiving points in this update: Underworld Breach and Wishclaw Talisman. The cost of including symmetry-breaking cards (and the risk of the opponent getting a free tutor) are high enough that we’re happy giving Scheming Symmetry a shot at zero points.

Tendrils of Agony -1 (from 1 to 0)

The reshuffling of the pointed Storm cards last year gave an historically homogeneous deck the flexibility to choose where to allocate its points (see the September Update: Points for Announcement Throne of Eldraine). In order to ensure the ‘best’ combo deck at the time was taxed for this flexibility we cautiously increased the total number of points in their pool of cards, with the view to gradually remove that tax as long as Storm did not become dramatically more degenerate. With many lists adopting Underworld Breach, the new point on Breach will largely serve the purpose of taxing Storm’s point pool, permitting us to remove the Tendrils of Agony tax. 

Overall, the storm reshuffle has led to interesting diversity within the Storm archetype, and even had Yawgmoth’s Will see minor play innovations outside of Storm. One small consequence has been the use of alternative win conditions to Tendrils of Agony that are less reliable and make the big combo turn more tedious for the opponent. Therefore another small side-benefit of switching the Tendrils point to Breach will be cleaner combo turns (that are equally deterministic but require fewer administration, record-keeping, and game actions than Aetherflux Reservoir for example). Whilst this update on points for Storm will ‘break even’ (-2, +2), with the new printings its overall card quality has improved compared to a year ago, when it was still a top tier deck. We are aware of this and it is a risk we are willing to take, but we will be watching both Storm and Flash closely as some of the strongest and fastest combo decks in Highlander.

Stoneforge Mystic -1 (from 1 to 0)

Equipment has seen a steady downturn since the height of its popularity, and The Committee has gradually removed points on historically powerful cards like Skullclamp and Steelshaper’s Gift. New cards have continued to weaken Equipment as a strategy, including artifact removal like Dack Fayden, Kolaghan’s Command, Knight of Autumn, and even Oko Thief of Crowns to name a few. Further, the historical synergy with equipment (buffing small creatures like Llanowar Elves) has been weakened by the critical mass of new X/1 punishers like Liliana the Last Hope and Wrenn and Six. Last, as the format becomes more tempo-oriented, the mana investment into building around the ‘Sword of Fire and Ice family’ is simply not worth its current points. 

Despite the statements above, Stoneforge Mystic has been a point for nearly a decade and at 0 this may see a dramatic change for the format. The potential of putting a Batterskull package into control could be a punisher for Aggro decks (which we would like to avoid hindering) so we will be monitoring the impact on aggressive decks. Conversely, the free equipment package may draw too many creature decks into white, reducing diversity. However white as a colour has been less popular as of late, so it may provide a healthy uptick in representation.

Library of Alexandria -1 (from 2 to 1)

This card has been on the watch list for a long time and the subject of much discussion. Library of Alexandria has very little deck building cost as it is colourless. It ideally slots into decks with cheap interaction to be able to uphold the ‘tap’ cost every turn, and many decks are already playing those (which makes adding Library a very small deck building cost). When it comes to blue decks there is a deep points pool to select from, making the 1 Point cost of including Library a non-trivial choice. Deck builders might weigh up the costs of a pointed card which is consistently great when drawn, or a high variance card like Library, which is typically excellent only when in the opening hand.

Library shines best in a control mirror, and can make for polarized and impossible Vintage-esque games when played on turn 1. With the landscape of Highlander involving fewer control mirrors than previous years, and more focus on tempo of late, now is the right environment to see Library at 1, i.e. a lower likelihood of ‘non-games’. Further, discard effects like Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize are very popular at the moment and good at turning off an opposing Library (especially if the Library player goes first). Nevertheless, if Library proves to become a format staple and an auto-include at 1 point, this may present a financial barrier to new players so its potential ubiquity will be monitored.

 

In conclusion, with this large a number of changes you might see our reticence toward updating the points list a week or so before one of the largest Highlander major events. However, now we look forward to seeing what you brew up with the official Theros Beyond Death (II) Points Announcement!