There are a lot of cards in this set. A lot of good cards. Cards that appear very hard to evaluate. It seems like many Dragons of Tarkir cards could end up in junk rare bins or just as easily be in the next breakout deck.
It's the perfect time to be a brewer. The perfect time to be playing Standard. Heck, the perfect time to be into looking at Magic cards. After all there are more of them now than there ever have been before.
We got plenty of fresh new cards, we got an awesome Standard format that is already diverse even without the influx of new cards. We also got a few new dragons.
Many Dragons of Tarkir cards do unique things, or have four different modes, or require the right synergies to unlock their full potential. So why don't we take a look at the new cards and lay down some speculation and evaluation. Identify the ones that are the best and the ones we need to test.
I'm gonna share with you my top 10 Dragons of Tarkir cards that I think will see plenty of play (Yes), 10 cards that I don't think will see immediate success or are worse than they might appear (No), and 10 speculative picks that could be good under the right conditions (Maybe So).
Let's jump in, hopefully get some things right and almost certainly make a fool of ourselves somewhere along the way. I'll start with the "Maybe So"s: the cards that I think might be good in sideboards and small numbers, depending on where the metagame shifts.
Maybe So - Top 10
Holy token hate, Batman! This could start seeing play if Jeskai Ascendancy ever starts taking up too much of the metagame. It completely shuts down cards like Hordeling Outburst or Raise the Alarm and annoys cards like Akroan Crusader, Goblin Rabblemaster, Monastery Mentor, and Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Expect this card to occasionally show up as one-of in sideboards. The issue is it's very situational and narrow, and you can already run four copies of Drown in Sorrow. It's worth mentioning because it outright wins the game against dedicated token decks.
The "Untapped Land that Provides Value" slot doesn't have too much competition right now, so I could see this fitting in many different decks. The most likely place would be either U/B or U/W Control with Dragonlord Ojutai, Dragonlord Silumgar, or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. But really any two-color decks running any sort of dragon can toss this in and be happy. Green ramp decks or maybe even Mono-Red with Thunderbreak Regent or Stormbreath Dragon could as well.
Her casting cost is going to keep her from seeing play outside of two-color decks if not only Mono-White, and she's legendary, but she's very good at what she does.
Obviously a creature that gave +1/+1 to the rest of your team for two mana would be ridiculous (I'm looking at you Wizened Cenn). Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit isn't that good, but what she does do is provide a permanent bonus for a low investment. With Mastery of the Unseen, she gets into fantastic territory.
Points against her are that there are plenty of good token producers around, which she doesn't trigger off of, her mana cost is restrictive, and no one is really playing Mono-White right now, but as long as Craig Wescoe is building decks, she has a shot to find a home.
Two more cards to throw in the ridiculously huge pile of good token makers. Jeskai Ascendancy decks are easily capable of not running any creatures now if they feel like it. Goblin Rabblemaster and Monastery Mentor are still probably good, it's just a matter of finding the right balance.
Secure the Wastes is interesting because you probably want some number to cast at the top end of your curve, but you don't ever really want to be casting a three-mana Raise the Alarm. Do the times you cast it for seven or more make up for the times you have to fire it off as a suboptimal version of Hordeling Outburst or Raise the Alarm?
The evil version of Sphinx's Revelation. Mind Spring with life loss or a game-ending Volcanic Geyser to someone's face is a really powerful split card. I can see this showing up in small numbers in Abzan Control, or really any deck with access to black mana. In decks that aren't Mono-Black Control, you probably don't want to draw multiple Damnable Pacts, and it's less efficient than Read the Bones in the earlygame, so one seems like a good number to top off curves.
An explosive mana generator with a built-in win condition could potentially fit into Green Devotion strategies. Shaman is competing with Courser of Kruphix in the three-drop slot, which hurts his chances quite a bit, but there are plenty of good things to ramp out, from Genesis Hydra to Dragonlord Atarka.
This could be an interesting finisher to pair alongside Narset Transcendent. I imagine a control deck full of only spells that waits for Myth Realized to accumulate approximately a million counters and then end things in one brutal attack backed by countermagic. Games where you cast it on turn 1 will allow it to grow quickly, and in the lategame you have the option to dump your mana into it. It is really a low mana investment for such a big potential upside as well. The problem is that it is slow, and control decks don't really want a big vanilla creature that dies to hard removal.
The megamorphing power rangers. These are all almost guaranteed to see play somewhere at some point in time since they're versatile and powerful in certain situations. Having Mastery of the Unseen and Whisperwood Elemental showing up more and more means that these should show up a little more as well since it's excellent to randomly manifest one.
It's nice you have the option to just run them out on turn 2 or a wait for a powerful effect later in the game. Don't underestimate the surprise factor, because it's hard to see exactly what's coming from an opponent's morph now that there are a number of decent ones, which should help make them play a little better as well.
A reasonable body that can attack and block with impunity. Deathmist Raptor increases the green mana symbol count for G/W Devotion and provides more inevitability for the deck. It will not stay dead for long if you're running Whisperwood Elemental or Mastery of the Unseen. It also synergizes well with Commune with the Gods (which can also find Mastery of the Unseen). One point against it is that it improves G/W Devotion where it already excels (lategame inevitability, green mana symbols, clunky creatures).
I see three main ways to beat the Deathmist Raptor. Try and ignore it (lifegain, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Whip of Erebos, Mono-Red, Jeskai Ascendancy), exile it (Anger of the Gods, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Perilous Vault, Utter End, Silkwrap, Banishing Light), or fly over it.
It doesn't have to be played as a four-of despite raptors being most effective when they travel in packs. It's a solid card, and it's probably only a matter of time until a clever girl (or guy) breaks the raptor.
Wall of Omens. With flying.
Oh, also freaking Counterspell.
Just ignore that stuff about the dragons and we're good to go.
The problem is obviously going to be the classic "Where are my Dragons?!" moments.
I imagine decks that start like this…
...have plenty of problems or these cards wouldn't exist.
The downside to not having a dragon handy is rather significant, whereas the upside is huge, possibly the biggest upside in the whole set for anyone who breaks them. High risk, high reward. In a 60-card deck with four dragons, you'll have at least one dragon in your opening about 40% of the time. The thing is you don't really want many dragons (aka expensive spells) in your opener, so cramming too many into your deck is going to leave you with more problems than you're solving.
Next time, just print Wall of Omens and Counterspell! Write the text for Wall of Omens and Counterspell and then you stop. Done. Start the freaking presses. No more text on the card. Don't even risk writing flavor text.
Yes - Top 10
My top 10 picks for the best Dragons of Tarkir cards that are going to show up in Standard.
Thoughtseize and Duress, together at last. I suppose this shouldn't be that oppressive, but it still seems like a bit much. Duress should show up here and there in sideboards and mostly be used to keep hard control in check if it starts popping up.
This guy is for those of you that are still full from Fate Reforged and are just asking for a little slice of Dragon carved out for you. That's what he is: a little chunk of dragony goodness.
The easiest card to compare him to is Flame-Wreathed Phoenix since they share similar stats. He has some things going for him, especially considering there are plenty of ways to exile creatures. Zapping those who oppose him for three is also a nice way to give back to anyone who summons him and is likely a very good ability. He is also has the creature type Dragon, which is apparently a thing now.
Always be all-in. Mono-Red gets two new additions to the squad and can really ramp up the cheap aggression beats. I don't know if there has been this many good one-mana red creatures before, but we're about to find out what it does to the metagame. You can keep your curve real real low.
These one-drops are pretty versatile since they can almost act like burn spells in the lategame when you dash them out. They might not be as efficient as Firedrinker Satyr, but just knowing that red mages have access to so many little dudes is giving me heartburn.
How long will Sarkhan remain unbroken? It might take a while until he finds a home since Temur has not seen much play lately. He is incredibly powerful though and will almost certainly spawn some new decks around him. I'm thinking Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix midrange.
His ultimate might as well be flavor text, but his two other abilities are incredible. He can protect himself with a massive dragon blocker or act as immediate card advantage. It's worth noting he adds mana of any color with his plus ability, and he's the type of card that would fit in a four or five-color strategy as well.
The good set of Dragonlords.
I think it will take some time for Dragonlord Ojutai to find his place, but hexproof and card draw on a big flying body can't be ignored.
Dragonlord Silumgar can steal yummy planeswalkers or creatures alike to do his bidding. Taking something like Whisperwood Elemental causes them to immediately sac it. You can expect him out of control decks in sideboarded games and not in great numbers; however, if he's used at the right time, he can wreak total havoc.
I actually think Dragonlord Atarka has the most potential here and could show up as a four-of in many decks. He is just really really big and spews a lot of fire. Hornet Queen used to be the go-to card for this type of effect, but I think the Queen is outclassed by the King. First of all, in a heads up battle, he can melt all but one of the hornets and leave behind a massive body. Second of all, he provides an immediate impact on the board and essentially eliminates either a planeswalker, a big creature, or a smattering of little ones to a crisp. He is the ultimate top end to a curve, great to ramp into, removal, and a game-ending threat. Very good with Genesis Hydra or Whip of Erebos. We haven't seen an effect or a creature this big for such an efficient price and I expect big things from the big dragon.
The good commands.
These are both powerful enough to elevate the decks they fit into best (G/R Aggro and G/W Aggro). Dromoka's Command has four really solid abilities and requires constant vigilance to play around if your opponent has access to a green and a white mana. Atarka's Command is more about pure efficiency from its pump and burn modes, which are very powerful in a creature/burn deck.
Powered up removal that we don't see too often nowadays. It still has problems, notably against fliers and tokens, but other than that you'll be able to clear out Courser of Kruphix or Siege Rhino whether you're Mono-Red or Jeskai Control.
Move over Johnny Depp, Narset is here.
My two cents on the Domri Rade for spells echoes the same sentiment. She doesn't affect the board but makes up for it loyalty, mana cost, and card advantage.
Control in general hasn't been well-positioned lately, but there are plenty of tools in this set to get the party started. Notably lacking still are cheap wrath effects in U/W and ways to deal with tokens, so there's no guarantee for a complete takeover.
How is one of the best cards in the set a card that would get laughed out of the room five years ago? The days of Preordain are over. We must make do with the card selection we have.
I'm surprised a card like this was printed just because Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise exist and any cantrip like effect is dangerous in their vicinity. Anticipate isn't great as far as cheap blue card selection goes in vacuum, but it's much better than anything we've had in a long time.
It has a few things going against it, namely the Temples, which prevent decks from having two mana on turn 2 and actually provide a somewhat similar effect from the scry. I don't expect anything other than hard control to run Anticipate since it is a pretty big mana investment in this environment to not be loading up the board immediately unless you are capable of clearing everything.
No - Top 10
Here are the cards that I don't think will live up to the hype and/or see that much play in current Standard. Prepare to be snubbed!
Talk about some aggressive crotch flaunting. Youthful Scholar, you're trying to seduce me, aren't you? I don't care how many cards you'll draw me, no means no!
Dragonlord Kolaghan really suffers from not blasting opponents when they cast duplicate instants or sorceries and both fail the "dies to Hero's Downfall" test and cost a lot of mana.
Durdley bad blue cards that I want to be playable. Generally, any card that gives your opponent plenty of ways to play around it isn't going to succeed. Five mana on a counterspell requires one heck of an added effect, and while I hope I'm wrong about these--especially Contradict--I doubt they are good enough.
Usually this type of card sees plenty of play in sideboards, but I think they hit a new low for enemy color hate cards. Most of these effects are situational beyond their color restraints, and the format has plenty of tokens and morphs. The best of the lot I feel is Encase in Ice, and it suffers from so many creatures nowadays coming with special abilities. Every creature is a special flower that must drain for three or pump out an endless army of creatures or gain hexproof, indestructible, lifelink, flying, and draw cards.
I want to be up against vanilla 3/3s and have unconditional removal, dagnabbit!
You are a just a lowly Nissa's Chosen. Nissa has moved on. She's good now. You are not special. You're not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You have no special abilities. There will be common two mana 5/5s a few years from now, and no one will even remember you existed.
The main thing holding them both back is that there's a lot of competition for good card draw in blue right now, notably Narset Transcendent and Jace's Ingenuity. They're almost directly competing for their slots, and Dig Through Time just crushes them both.
I can't imagine running this over Outpost Siege or Chandra, Pyromaster unless you're some sort of U/R Control deck with Perilous Vault, and even there Commune with Lava doesn't play well with counters.
The potential for incredible finds, like Goblin Rabblemaster and Courser of Kruphix, is there. The thing is, the dream scenario isn't going to happen often, and the nightmare scenario sometimes will. I think it requires a deck to be built specifically for it, and while the upside it pretty big, you can still always end up whiffing, or only hitting one creature.
A 4/6 deathtouch for five mana isn't that bad, and it at least interacts nicely with Siege Rhino. You also have the option of a five-mana Diabolic Tutor, which is also not that bad. The problem is that these modes are nowhere near good. So we need to look at the good scenarios where we're exploiting a more useless creature.
So what are we exploiting?
Sylvan Caryatid or Satyr Wayfinder immediately come to mind if we aren't specifically trying to find something like Palace Familiar that provides a benefit when it dies. In these scenarios we're actually getting a tutor effect and the fat body for a small sacrifice. I think the best case scenarios mean that there's room for Sidisi, Undead Vizier as a singleton copy since it's also a good Whip of Erebos target, but not much beyond that. Decks like Abzan Midrange probably won't want a copy since if you have to sacrifice anything other than Sylvan Caryatid, you're losing too much value for what you're getting. As for Mono-Black Devotion, I'll believe that when the Pack Rats, or whatever new vermin pop up, are finished gnawing my face off.
While all of these commands are excellent in certain scenarios, they're a little narrow and underpowered in most, and I'm not sure what decks they actually fit into.
A few sets ago I would've gotten real excited at Ojutai's Command.
"OMG! Cryptic Command confirmed!"
I've grown cynical about good-looking control cards. Cryptic Command mode, where you counter a creature and draw a card, is obviously great, but it's not that hard to play around, especially in a world of Thoughtseize. The other modes are pretty underwhelming.
I like Kolaghan's Command a lot since each of its modes is almost worth the three mana by itself some of the time. It's mostly just missing the right deck to fit into at the moment, and there aren't too many artifacts to destroy.
Silumgar's Command appears to be the worst of the bunch. Incredibly situational, easy to play around by casting spells after attacking with creatures, and the most expensive. There aren't many times you'd get to five mana and have it be relevant enough to justify the cost.
These commands are super splashy and powerful looking, but I suspect they might play a little worse than they look. Except them to show up rarely until the metagame is ripe for their specific set of skills.
If Mono-Blue Devotion is poised to make a comeback, I'm not seeing it. Not having Mutavault is already one gigantic strike against the deck. Shorecrasher Elemental needs four blue mana available to be safe from removal and even then a removal spell will flip it over and make it a morph. Triple blue for a card that is pretty underwhelming is not going to make any waves.
There you have it. The good, the bad, and the ugly but with a really great personality.
Which cards from Dragons of Tarkir do you think are going to breakout in Standard, and which have no future? What new archetypes will emerge, and which will fall from grace? If you disagree with any of my assessments, I say take it as a personal challenge to prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong!