Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis
– Theros Beyond Death
January 1, 2020
Commander [EDH]: 3.13
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale.
1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
“To conquer death, you only have to die.”
As much as I sometimes struggle with bright Australian summer days, it’s important to remember that the sun is, ultimately, the force that sustains all life on Earth. As such, I wonder what happens to a world like Theros when you kill its sun god. Will Fimbulwinter descend? Will someone else rise to replace him? Will Elspeth be hailed as a hero, or as a demon? Greek mythology often blurs the lines between the two, with decidedly amoral protagonists and villains who make valid points. We’ll discuss things like this when I do my gameplay-free review of Theros Beyond Death in a few weeks, but for now, I’m very excited by the reveal of Elspeth’s new card.
Why is that? The escape ability is a big part of the reason. Although white can interact with graveyards and occasionally resurrect things, self-recurring cards are not especially common. Elspeth’s self-recurring ability is a big part of her appeal; after War of the Spark, people probably wouldn’t think much of a planeswalker with only loyalty-decreasing abilities. But you have the potential to get numerous uses of each one in a properly constructed deck, and it will be very difficult for opponents to keep up via conventional means. Even though Banishing Light is coming back too, many decks’ default plan against planeswalkers is to attack them. Both her escape ability and her -2 loyalty ability make that plan unviable. I think she has a lot of potential, even if we’ll have to wait for the whole set to determine the exact deck for her.
New year, new set, new planeswalker. Seems apt! And who better to kick off Theros Beyond Death reviews than Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis, who seems to be out for a bit of revenge against a megalomaniacal sun god who caused her to meet with an unfortunate death experience.
Elspeth’s first new card since the original Theros is…weird. It has only minus abilities and no conventional ultimate (you tell me that gaining 5 life is an ultimate, I dare you), and the abilities are of the “incremental advantage” variety. Buff attacking creatures, gain a bit of life to escape kill range, or make warm bodies. Ideally, you can use her -2 to make bodies and pump them with her -1. It’s a lot of little value abilities for four mana; flexibility is good, but she doesn’t have a ton of impact, and losing loyalty for each ability is not a great look.
That said, Elspeth has one more trick up her sleeve: escape, the new set mechanic. This gives Elspeth the ability to recur herself so long as you have cards to exile from your graveyard (and mana to pay for it). You can kill her, but she can bring herself back when you least expect it. Her escape cost isn’t trivial in white, the color with the most issues concerning loading up one’s graveyard with things and stuff, so she alloys better with other colors to ease the burden of her escape cost. You can even pay for escape after you tick her all the way down.
More than other planeswalkers, Elspeth is hard to really evaluate. None of her abilities really pop as being strong, but there is synergy in her abilities and strength in her ability to not stay dead. She’s going to be an interesting presence through Standard; she’s not Sun’s Champion (for better, arguably), and white is one of the weaker colors in Standard at the present, but any value engine with the ability to make themselves less dead than average definitely deserves a long, hard look.
Welcome to a new year and new cards and new sets! It’s Pojo’s Card of the Day and we’re looking at a spoiler of epic proportions! It’s Elspeth back from the dead and showcasing the new Escape Mechanic from Theros!
Now since we haven’t seen much of the new set and the Spoiler Season has only started it’s kind of difficult to evaluate this Elspeth in a vacuum but to me she seems incredibly strong for Azorius Control decks that will rely on Planeswalkers as part of their win condition since Papa Teferi retired from Standard.
While this Elspeth doesn’t scream strong the power in her is the recursion effect and the modality of her abilities are perfect for Control Decks. Creating two chump blockers against an aggressive deck and putting a target on her rather than your face acts as a great decoy, and the fact that she can simply gain you 5 life is relevant when you’re sitting across the Mono Red deck packing a suite of burn spells they’re looking to chuck at your face like a fiery 52 card pickup.
What’s great is that after they deal with her the first time, they’ll have to deal with her again making more doods and pumping those doods into a valid win condition.
Now looking at her in the other formats she loses a lot of her spice, in Commander, 4 mana to make 2 doods is not where you want to be, especially at 6 mana. Same in Multiplayer where you have to deal with multiple threats and the last thing you wanna do is have your planeswalker time-walk you due to multiple combat steps.
In Limited she’s going to be a bomb-diggity-bombshell because Planeswalker removal is already difficult, but having to remove it a few times is going to bring a headache to anyone who sees it across the table.
In Cube, where I’m super excited for her, she’s going to make an awesome recurring planeswalker that can act for multiple decks, a pump-anthem-doodmaker in the White Weenie, a Recurring Threat for both the Control Decks and for the W/X Midrange builds, I’m really excited to see how she plays out!
Constructed 3/5 – There’s a lot of speculation here but I think she’ll find a home with other planeswalkers in the control decks.
Commander 2/5 – The Recurring Value threat here simply doesn’t do enough compared to cards like Ajani variants, or Big Momma Elspeth.
Limited 5/5 – Games tend to go a bit longer here so you’ll be able to cast her more than once usually.
Cube 4/5 – I definitely need lots of testing with her to solidify this opinion but my initial inspection says that she’s going to be worth a spot in the White part of the Cube.
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