Theros: What Is Ashiok Up To?

It’s astonishing to remember that Magic: the Gathering’s first foray into the Grecian myth inspired plane of Theros was six years ago… actually closer to seven, and for those of us who are interested in the lore and the ongoing narrative, there has been a lot crammed into that time! The formation of a new set of core-heroes, there war with the Eldrazi and Nicol Bolas, two of the biggest foes to threaten the multiverse, culminating in a war that resulted in some big, high profile deaths among the ranks of the Planeswalkers.

In all that time, we still don’t have a damn clue who or what Ashiok is, or what he/she is up to.

Also, I’ve seen references to Ashiok as male, or at least male pronouns so male pronouns is what I’ll be using, but still, let’s put that down as one of many markers that build upon the mystery of his identity and nature. There are no fixed points upon which to stand with the Nightmare Weaver, his face is a wisp of black vapour, pouring from between a pair of slender horns like a shroud, the lack of eyes making him inscrutable and disquieting. We do not know his plane of origin, but I’ve seen some solid support to the idea that he’s a former vizier of Amonkhet, his attire has similar designs, and his horns have a similar curve to God Pharaoh Bolas.

During the previous events of Theros, Ashiok managed to manipulate the particularly potent dreams of the polies (the people) and briefly created a god. He started wars, played puppetmaster to people in positions in power, and endeavoured to put the entire plane to sleep so that he could harvest their dreams forever. In a world where dreams can create deities, Ashiok is at his most powerful, which raises questions to his efforts in the War of the Spark, but presumably he simply answered the same call that summoned the others… actually, who’s the Wanderer- y’know what, that’ll take me too far off topic.

So, new Theros block, the land of the dead is “leaking” souls, following the return of a mysterious God of Destiny, Elspeth is also returning, a zombie planeswalker with a grudge against the gods. And Ashiok, he’s back, and appears to be better than ever. Having been rendered invisible to the gods, he’s free to pursue whatever machination he pleases, and I can damn-near guarantee that he’s got something to do with the return of the new god, and his affiliation – if not outright allegiance – with Phenax, the god of lies and his host of zombies, will no doubt be working in his favour somehow.

This looks like a mythological zombie apocalypse story, orchestrated by the god of lies, the real villain of the whole piece. That’s cool, undead centaurs, minotaurs, sirens, the works, it’s going to be great. But ultimately, there is a mystery that appeals profoundly to my sense of aesthetics, a creature that manipulates nightmares, it has no origin, and yet it has impossible power to manipulate minds and it toys with the motives of gods, all with a faint and disquieting smile. I like mindscapes, and the creatures that haunt them, I like the idea that belief creates gods – it’s the Pratchett fan in me – and I like blue/black mana decks. Ashiok is my kind of mystery, and I look forward to knowing more.

A brief moment of conjecture before I wrap this article up. I suspect that Ashiok is building a weapon, a new mega-horror like an Eldrazi but totally under his control that he can take home and seek revenge against… something. If he did come from Amonkhet it may be that he wants the world brought under his control and the remaining gods wiped from his path, but there are other planes, many others, and there are a handful that have been hinted at in a few post-war releases.

And a lot of Planeswalkers died recently, leaving the multiverse highly vulnerable, the Gatewatch is shattered and picking up their own pieces, Elspeth is going to have some personal stuff to deal with by the looks of things, confronting her own death and a few of her old Phyrexian demons… but there’s someone back in the picture with experience and talent for killing planeswalkers. And he’ll probably be keen to get into a fight with anyone screwing with people’s minds.

Magic: the Gathering – Drafting M20

So, same as last year, I picked up a box of the latest core set from Magic, because while Throne of Eldarine looks very pretty, I can’t say I’ve seen enough to draw me in past the hydra-turtles. Usually for me that’d be enough, but finances are what they are.

M20 has a very particular theme. Actually it has several, elementals, goblins, birds, wolves, knights, the recurring leylines and cavaliers, a conspicuous return of Theros favourites and temple-lands, and a definite lean towards the commander format, all shine through in the setlist, but there’s a bias here that’s impossible to ignore, especially when you reach the list of red cards.

While each colour has a Planeswalker to represent it, red has three, all of whom are Chandra Nalaar at varying stages of her rise to power. Four of her key spells immediately follow in the set list, and much like with the return of the Theros cards, it rather feels like a nod to Magic’s future, as the upcoming TV series by the Russo brothers is expected to be heavily centred on the pyromancer.

My Deck

A quick reminder on how to draft cards if you weren’t already familiar.

Here was my first draw:

Unusual to grab a land as your first card, but scrying is a useful mechanic no matter the deck, and it does set the colours for my deck… so I was hoping. Unfortunately both of my opponents were keen on white and black, seemingly both throwing in a healthy dose of green just to scupper me. No one went blue… at all, until I started coming up with some beguiling options:

Ok, so I guess I’m building an elemental-heavy deck, I’ll put these with a collection of my red picks, heavy on the goblins to supplement the goblin deck I’ve been assembling. Surprisingly it wasn’t too difficult to assemble a synergistic draft based on the Temur colours: red/blue/green, and something that does what those colours do well. The deck I ended with filled the ground with creatures that support and feed off one another.

Lavakin Brawlers make the Creeping Trailblazer far more daunting, Scorch Spitter and Scampering Scorchers make it cheap and easy to bulk up the bonuses on each, and having drawn a Ripscale Predator and some goblins, it wasn’t too hard to make a rather daunting red-heavy deck, with green and blue supporting heavily.

The Game

I’d like to say that I won… we played four games between three players, of which I think we each won a game, but most of my experience was brief moments in which all of my horrible elementals worked together to swing for tremendous amounts of damage… before losing it all after one glorious push and dying horribly before I could rebuild. Overgrowth Elemental helped give me a drop of durability, and those Cloudkin Seers made it easier to keep a hand together and make plans round to round. But it took a genuine balance of good luck on my part and bad luck for my opponents for me to squeeze out a meaningful win.

Feral Abominations held me at bay, giants with deathtouch always blunts someone’s will to dive in to slaughter, and Griffins made it hard for me to slip flying through to their life totals. I was also facing down some green giants like Silverback Shamen and Thicket Crashers that dealt with a lot of my bigger nastier horrors, and while they left the battlefield for trying to get in my way, they took some of my teeth out as they fell.

Next

I like M20, and while I didn’t see many of the more interesting cards come out of my booster box I did pull Gargos, Vicious Watcher for whom I have the perfect deck, and Yarok the Desecrated who I immediately fell in love with for the sake of the mechanics, lore, and the colour combo that suits my playstyle to a tee… and yet still very easily traded away. While Yarok was right for me, one of my opponents pulled this:

Based on the colours I’d just put together, how could I not?

Now, Omnath howls Commander to me, and while I have about half a deck built in front of me, I still have a long way to go. I think there’ll be some awaken spells from Zendikar added to bolster the ranks of elementals from my land pool to make Omnath all the more powerful, maybe some flicker mechanics to have him bouncing in and out, some more land-draw effects to ensure that landfall ability of his comes into play.

I also foolishly passed on the Lightning Stormkin as a friend would benefit from having her in a wizard deck, and I’ll need to keep an eye out for a Thunderkin Awakener, and there’s a host of other mechanics that I’ve been mulling on that could really support a Commander. Apparently the Yarok deck I pitched against myself is already completed… guess I have some catching up to do.

Top 10 Cruel Gods

To be cruel is to be evil – Actually, not quite. Sometimes, you have to be kind to be cruel, or you have to be cruel to be kind. Naturally, evil entities are always pretty cruel typically – Torture, revenge via humiliation, the usual. The ten gods we list below are all cruel in their own ways, but their degrees of cruelty each vary. So read on for this week’s list, or I’m sure these deities will smite you for your indiscretions.

GeekOut Top 10s

To be cruel is to be evil – Actually, not quite. Sometimes, you have to be kind to be cruel, or you have to be cruel to be kind. Naturally, evil entities are always pretty cruel typically – Torture, revenge via humiliation, the usual. The ten gods we list below are all cruel in their own ways, but their degrees of cruelty each vary. So read on for this week’s list, or I’m sure these deities will smite you for your indiscretions.

Continue reading “Top 10 Cruel Gods”