In Theros, Wizards of the Coast wanted us to play with the God cards. They granted them with extremely powerful abilities and made them hard to remove, making sure they stuck around and had an effect on the game. But it wasn’t always the case that they saw a lot of play. Mono-Blue Devotion used Thassa, God of the Sea which, as the name suggests, was meant to be a creature thanks to the devotion mechanic. Other Gods made fleeting appearances during RTR/THS Standard season – Nylea was in a few Green Devotion strategies – but mostly, if a God did turn up, it was just the hard-to-kill enchantment.
Recently we have seen Pharika in the sideboard of the Sultai Whip decks or the constellation-based lists. However, in general, other cards have been the Theros block all stars, mostly Courser of Kruphix and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. The former, being an enchantment creature, hit Theros block’s other main theme, so I’m sure the folks in Wizards’ R&D are happy enough with how the main themes were/still are represented in top level competitive decks.
One of the odd things about Tarkir Block has been the total lack of Dragons in Khans of Tarkir set. This was somewhat remedied with Fate Reforged. That was the first inkling of constructed playable Dragons. The brood mothers were legitimate Limited bombs, as well as Silumgar, the Drifting Death made it into the Blue/Black Control decks, mostly in sideboards.
Then Dragons of Tarkir came. I mean the set was called Dragons… surely we would get constructed playable Dragons, right?
Oh boy, did we. Wizards have said that Dragons are the number one most popular creatures of all time in Magic. Which was a bit weird at the time, because most of them were pretty bad, Red 7 drops that could win you a draft, but they didn’t usually fit into competitive 60-card decks. But in recent years things started to change a little. Thundermaw Hellkite became a Standard staple. Then Theros’ own Stormbreath Dragon made a pleasant surprise representing its creature type last year – and it still turns up in lists this Standard. On coverage during the Pro Tour DTK the coverage team presented a Dragon counter, and in nearly every single match it ticked over. It counted Dragon-creature cards, cards with Dragons in their art like Silumgar’s Scorn, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon – even if he likes to be known just as a planeswalker.
The winning deck was Red Deck Wins that was splashing Green to play Atarka’s Command. Zero surprise there. I would have expected players to be playing the RDW deck also, but apart from Become Immense, I would have thought that any Red mage in your meta would have already started running Atarka’s Command the minute it was released. The deck ran no Dragons, but has now been christened as Atarka Red. And even though Atarka Red won the tournament, the breakout deck from the Pro Tour was probably Esper Dragons list. This one didn’t even bother with having specified a single Dragonlord in the deck name – it just went straight for the D word. Standard just feels very dragony now, so Wizards R&D should be hooting and high fiving each other over what a great success new Dragons come to be.
Pro Tours influence what happens at your FNM. If you weren’t seeing people running lists like Esper Dragons before the Pro Tour, you were afterwards. Without this publicity it might not have seemed the obvious choice of deck for Control players, as it wasn’t obvious straight off what shell Dragonlord Ojutai was going to end up in.
In fact, in my opinion, that is what makes Esper Dragons so interesting. It looks like a Control deck, when you read the list of cards most of them come from the previous Blue/Black Control decks. But somehow when they are all put together, it plays more in the middle part of the game. Turn 5 you are free to tap out and jam your Elder Dragon. Only a wrath effect like End Hostilities or an edict effect like Foul-Tongue Invocation can catch you out, since the UW Dragonlord bears hexproof when untapped. Turn 5 is early for a Control deck to be laying down a win con, but five points of power in the air ends a game pretty quickly – if your opponent doesn’t find a way to deal with it.
I play a Burn deck in Modern. This isn’t the article to discuss Burn strategies in Modern, but the comparison to the Esper Dragons list isn’t really as weird as you might think. When I open up with turn 1 fetch into Sacred Foundry and pass the turn, I’ve pretty much declared to my opponent that we’re now damage-racing. This is the greatest thing in the world a Burn player wants to say. Once I’ve dragged you into a race, I’m already winning. Esper Dragons has a similar sort of feel to it, when it switches gears from Control into Tempo. It changes the way your opponents goes about executing their game plan. Up to this point they could stall. Now they have to move and move fast.
In my opinion, the Esper deck is way out in front as the best deck in the format. In some ways this makes me a little sad, because Standard has been wide open for most of the Tarkir block. So the saying goes: If you’re not playing Esper Dragons, you better be playing something that beats it.
One of the high profile decks, just before the release of Dragons of Tarkir, was the Green/White Devotion deck. The one that made dozens of manifest creatures and gained endless amounts of life and only ever played one game per match. It’s gone away now, not only at the GPs and such, but I don’t expect this to be doing anything at your FNM either. Why? Well, this deck is miserable against flyers and as I’ve already spent a thousand words telling you how brilliant most of the Dragons are, you should expect to see a lot of these flying monsters at your FNM.
The GR Monsters deck had been putting up some good tournament results, and it’s got a lot of cards to experiment with in Dragons of Tarkir. And yes, you’ve guessed it, chief among these are Dragons cards. Dragonlord Atarka might not be in the deck that shares his name, but he has made it into a ramp deck that was doing great in the run up to the the Pro Tour – yet had a mediocre showing in the main event. This deck also has Thunderbreak Regent in it, and any deck that runs Dragons can be in with a shout of going toe to toe with Esper Dragons – because its main sweeper is a modal Crux of Fate. It’s only optimal making sure you give your opponent a tough decision on what to choose to destroy.
Bant Heroic has turned up to the party too. The reason to splash Green is Dromoka’s Command. Whilst I’m not sure if this is the best deck for this card, it certainly does work. This deck doesn’t break any new ground in terms of strategy, It plays just like UW Heroic list played before Dragons of Tarkir dropped.
When the community sees a card that reminds them of another card, they sometimes get a bit carried away. Who remembers Pain Seer being hailed as Bob’s little cousin? Alas, Dark Confidant it was not. When people started to say Den Protector was a bit like Eternal Witness I think most people could see the resemblance – but we’d all had our hearts broken before. This time it’s true love. The card is every bit as good as its previous incarnation. It also helps to bring the dinosaur back from extinction. These cards have been in a few lists. Abzan has put them to good use – Brian Kibler went straight up Green/White at the Pro Tour. I don’t think these cards have found their best deck yet but, if I were a betting man, I would think you will see a lot of these things at FNM.
But what of those cards that haven’t found a deck but still seem great? What is their fate? I expected to see Sidisi, Undead Vizier a lot more than I did at the Pro Tour. I told everyone who would listen to me that this card is broken, and then it was nowhere to be seen during the coverage. I still think this card is brilliant, I’m probably not the only one. It wasn’t at the Pro Tour, but it will be in decks at your FNM and it will win games when you see it. Another card to watch out for is Enduring Scalelord. If Corpsejack Menace taught us anything, it’s that people love to put counters on things. And someone is going to kill you dead with Damnable Pact in their Mono-Black Aggro deck.
All in all I’m enjoying Dragons of Tarkir and how it’s affecting Standard.