Next year we will be returning to one of my favourite planes of all time with the January release of Theros Beyond Death. The world of Theros (for those of you who do not know) is a plane heavily inspired by the Greco-Roman myth and legend from the real world. It was also one of the most flavourful sets to ever be released, and in my opinion, rivalled Innistrad in its overall design. It was also the set that got me interested in playing Magic: the Gathering again after my extended break from the hobby.
I remember seeing some of the new cards and designs and being blown away with the world of Theros. This might have something to do with the fact that I am a huge ancient myth fan, but regardless, I was so interested in the setting that I got myself the Heros vs Monsters Duel Deck to play with my wife at home. Not long after that, I returned to the hobby proper and I have yet to look back.
So, as you can imagine, I was super excited to hear we would be returning to the plane of Theros, and this was excitement was only catalysed by the previews we got last week at the Game Awards. In light of my overall excitement, today I thought it would be fun to look at a couple of the revealed preview cards and explore the real-world myths that may have inspired them. Some you might have heard of, while others you might not. Hopefully it will be a fun experience for us all, and if you learn a little something along the way then all the better.
Hound of Hades
Let’s start with an easy one, Underworld Rage-Hound. Anyone that knows anything about Greek mythology will know that this little guy is inspired by the creature Cerberus. In the mythology, Cerberus (sometimes referred to as the hound of Hades) was a three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the underworld to prevent the dead from leaving or the living from entering. Most famous for its feature as the twelfth labour of Heracles, where the hero had to wrestle the creature into submission, it isn’t surprising to see it referenced here.
Indeed, there were three other cards depicting similar creatures the last time we visited the plane. But why would the hound of Hades want to escape the underworld? After all, Cerberus wasn’t dead, so it would seem weird for him to want to run away from his home. Well, as it turns out, there was another multi-headed hound that did end up dying and would probably like to get out to the underworld, and that would be Cerberus’ sibling Orthrus.
Orthrus was a two-headed dog who guarded the giant Geryon’s cattle. He was killed by Heracles who, as part of his tenth labour, was tasked with stealing the aforementioned cattle, along with the cattle herder Erytion and Geryon himself. Now while Underworld Rage-Hound has three heads and not two, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine the art department taking a few artistic liberties with the design to make him look like his brother. In either case, it appears we will have at least one new multi-headed hound in the upcoming set.
You can’t Escape Death
No one wants to die. Even if you believe in an afterlife, most people would probably prefer to remain among the living. So, it is unsurprising that some in mythology have, at times, tried to escape death one way or another. However, we all will eventually meet our Inevitable End. A fun pseudo-removal Enchantment, Inevitable End shows the folly of trying to escape death, as it will always catch up to you in the end. This was the case with the tale of Sisyphus.
Sisyphus has already been represented on a Magic card in the form of Titan’s Strength, which shows his eternal punishment of being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down when it nears the top. But what many do not know is why Sisyphus was given this specific punishment. You see in life Sisyphus was a king who had a habit of killing his guests and stealing their wealth. This was a big no-no in ancient Greece, as it violated the rules of hospitality. So, the gods sent Thanatos (the Greek god of death) to chain Sisyphus and bring him down to the underworld.
But Sisyphus was very crafty and was able to trick Thanatos, capturing him. This meant that nothing on earth could die, which really annoyed Ares, God of War, as battles without death had lost their fun. So, Ares found Sisyphus, freed Thanatos, and together they dragged down him to the underworld. However, this was not the end of Sisyphus’s attempts to escape death.
You see, before his death, he had made his wife promise not to perform funeral arrangements and instead throw his body out into the street. This meant he ended up on the shores of the river Styx, where he was able to convince Persephone, goddess of the Underworld, to let him return to earth for three days to perform his funeral rites. However, when the time was up, he refused to return. At this point, he was dragged back to the underworld by Hades himself and was given his eternal punishment, which symbolises the pointless endeavour of avoiding death.
The final card I want to talk about today is The Akroan War, which marks the return of Sagas to the world of Magic. I personally love this decision, because it allows Wizards of the Coast to explore myths and legends that exist within the world that they create in the same way that poets like Homer did with tales like the Iliad. In fact, I believe this is exactly the story that is been represented in this particular Saga.
The Akroan War shows a woman either being taken or running away with another man, which prompts the woman’s original husband or lover to raise an army and go to war. A glorious battle ensues, and, in the end, all is laid to waste. This is point by point the same story as the original story of the Trojan War, in which the Trojan prince Paris steals queen Helen from her husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta.
In some tellings of the story, he kidnapped her, while in others it was the goddess Aphrodite who had promised Paris the most beautiful woman in all the world in exchange for a golden apple. Either way, Menelaus enacted an oath that obliged king Agamemnon to summon all the other Greek kings and their armies and go to war. I won’t go into all the events of that war here but suffice to say it was a bloody affair that left the city of Troy in ruins.
If this is anything to go by, then I personally can’t wait to see what other tales we will see told in the Saga’s of Theros.
That will about do it for today. As we can see, there is so much flavour to be had even in these few cards. There’ll be more lore to myth comparisons in the new year when we have had a little bit more of a look at the set. This will also be my last article of 2019, as over the next few weeks I am intending on spending some time with my wife and family over the festive period. I’ll be back on the 7th of January with more Magic content, so make sure you check back then for all the new articles.
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If you have any ideas for new and exciting decks you want me to look at you can contact me directly @MTGTengu over on Twitter. But until next time, remember: no matter the game you play or where you play it, good luck and have fun.