My testing for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir has just begun, and I've started by brewing a lot of decks. As they get more tuned, my obligations to my team will prevent me from writing about them, but while I'm in the brainstorming stage, I can share a lot of brainstorming. Dragons of Tarkir has opened a ton of doors thanks to an amazing number of great new cards, and I haven't come close to running out of ideas I want to try out, but let's get straight to some lists.
First, everyone's talking about the return of Mono-Blue Devotion. That might work, but I have my doubts. Mutavault was the reason to play Mono-Blue Devotion. Even if we still had awesome UU two-drops, the deck would be nothing special without that card. So why do I bring it up if I don't think it's good? Well, I have some other thoughts on how Mono-Blue might work:
The basic idea is that I want to maximize my ability to draw extra cards and bounce all my opponent's creatures. I have twelve one-mana creatures and four Ornithopters to maximize my ability to draw with Military Intelligence on turn 2 or 3. The unblockable creatures are obviously great with my card drawing enchantments, but let's talk about those Sidisi's Faithfuls.
First of all, I'd actually had conversations about how Kraken Hatchling would be kind of good in Mono-Blue Devotion the first time around, but this one has a lot more going for it. On turn 1, I'll always play another one-drop first, but if I don't have one, I'll be happy to cast that as an 0/4. It's a good blocker against people who are trying to attack you on the ground, but more importantly, it can attack to trigger Military Intelligence, and it's not trivial for your opponent to get it off the board. Most importantly, it's good at bouncing things. You can play a creature on turns 1 and 2, and then on turn 3, play Military Intelligence and Sidisi's Faithful as a Void Snare to set them back while you start drawing extra cards. It's even better at bouncing things when you sacrifice it to Profaner of the Dead, where having a four toughness creature you can throw away will often fully reset their board, clearing the way for you to reload with Bident of Thassa.
The two-drops are also unconventional. I generally see people talking about Status Dancer and whatever else, but I'm going in a different direction. The best way to beat Military Intelligence and Bident of Thassa is to keep your opponent's creatures off the board. Given my structural weakness to this strategy, I've chosen creatures that are designed to be as good against that plan as possible. If my opponent wants to use a removal spell on my two-drop, I'd like to get a card. If I'm going to play a three-drop, I don't want them to be able to use a removal spell against it at all. Maximizing toughness in my deck both minimizes the quality of removal against me and maximizes the value of my own Profaner of the Deads.
Obviously, I still get to sideboard Master of Waves, and likely even Thassa, God of the Sea, as Master of Waves will always be great against Mono-Red, and Thassa is likely one of the better options against control.
Again, no devotion. I have too many artifacts for that. So, let's go over the card choices here.
Ghostfire Blade is very powerful when you have enough colorless creatures to equip it to. I have face down Gudul Lurkers, Ornithopters, Phyrexian Revokers, Scuttling Doom Engine, and Ensoul Artifact. Also, Renowned Weaponsmith can tap to pay for most equips in a pinch. That's more than enough to make the card great on its own, but it also gives me a one mana artifact to Ensoul, and it happens to play really well with Profaner of the Dead, letting me bounce bigger creatures than I would otherwise be able to.
Chief Engineer and Renowned Weaponsmith are both very powerful when the deck is built to be able to consistently use the mana they generate. I've included Renowned Weaponsmith's trinkets because I think the toolbox is worth it, and their cost isn't prohibitive when I'm this good at casting artifacts. It's nice that I can tap the Weaponsmith to find something to Ensoul, and I also get answers to Goblin Rabblemaster and the wide variety of x/1s. I actually expect to sideboard additional copies of the Bow.
Changing gears, let's spend some time talking about dragons. This is a dragon set after all, and I'm very curious to see how much of that will come through in Constructed. There are a lot of directions worth exploring, so let's quickly touch on a few:
This plays as a basic U/R Control deck early, except that your cards happen to be sweet because you're holding a dragon. You might not care a lot about the three damage to the opponent from Draconic Roar, but it's certainly a nice upside, and you get to play eight hard counters, and half of them only cost two mana. Anger of the Gods gives you a sweeper, and Roast lets you deal with big creatures. You have some card selection to put everything together and a bit of card draw in Dig Through Time and Dragonlord's Prerogative but less than other control decks would have because your real plan after surviving the midgame is just to crush the opponent under an avalanche of dragons.
I'm pretty optimistic about Crucible of the Spirit Dragon in this deck. I like the idea of storing up to be able to cast a dragon with a counterspell up to protect it. I'd play more of them, but I also have really intense color requirements on my other spells.
Next, an attempt to be even more draconic:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Shaman of Forgotten Ways
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 1 Dragonlord Atarka
- 1 Dragonlord Dromoka
- 2 Dromoka, the Eternal
- 1 Silumgar, the Drifting Death
This deck is all about casting huge dragons on turn 3 or 4. Frontier Siege and Dragon Tempest turn your dragons into removal spells (you'd better believe we're choosing dragons with Frontier Siege), and the rest of the deck is entirely dragons and creatures that let us cast them faster.
You'll notice that this deck gets a little loose on which colors it's playing. Haven of the Spirit Dragon, Sylvan Caryatid, Shaman of Forgotten Ways, and Sarkhan Unbroken can all give me any color to cast my dragons, so I can do things like put Silumgar, the Drifting Death and Dromoka, the Eternal into my dragon deck to take advantage of their immediate triggers when I attack with another dragon.
For another take on ramping into dragons, I also have this hybrid Green Devotion Aggro/Dragon Theme deck designed to take advantage of Scaleguard Sentinels:
- 4 Avatar of the Resolute
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Genesis Hydra
- 4 Reverent Hunter
- 4 Scaleguard Sentinels
- 4 Sunscorch Regent
- 4 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Dromoka, the Eternal
- 1 Polukranos, World Eater
Avatar of the Resolute is also outstanding in this deck: Scaleguard Sentinels, Reverent Hunter, Polukranos, Genesis Hydra, Dromoka, the Eternal, Sunscorch Regent, and Dromoka's Charm all make +1/+1 counters to fuel it, so it should be enormous in the lategame. On turn 2, it'll only be a 3/2, but it will also provide two devotion to get my engine going, and that's a pretty good worst case scenario. The aggressive two-drops have pulled me away from Sylvan Caryatid, but I still have Voyaging Satyr to untap my Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, which should allow for huge Genesis Hydras that come with giant dragons coming down pretty quickly thanks to my excellent ability to create devotion.
Dromoka's Command plays to the more aggressive nature of my deck and offers my G/W deck some solid instant speed removal.
For another take on Green Devotion, I've taken a page out of Reid Duke's book to play Yisan, the Wanderer Bard with Kiora's Follower and Prophet of Kruphix, but now we can add some great new tools:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Genesis Hydra
- 4 Kiora's Follower
- 1 Profaner of the Dead
- 3 Prophet of Kruphix
- 1 Sidisi's Faithful
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 1 Temur Sabertooth
- 4 Whisperwood Elemental
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
I love the idea of picking up an instant speed bounce spell with my first Yisan activation, and finding Temur Sabertooth or Profaner of the Dead if I get to four should be outstanding. More importantly, playing Prophet of Kruphix while your opponent is tapped out and untapping with Whisperwood Elemental seems great to me. Sure, you're down a manifest compared to if you'd just cast the Whisperwood, but you're up a Prophet of Kruphix, which is a big deal, and now you can flash in Whisperwood Elemental in response to a sweeper.
For a completely different take on U/G, I've also tried giving morphs another look:
I've played with this one a bit, and I've played a little with Secret Plans and Trail of Mystery, which are notably absent here. The big problem with morph is that it's a very slow mechanic, but Obscuring Aether goes a long way to fixing that. Still, adding the grindy two-mana enchantments only slows you down further, and with a deck with this little interaction, you just can't afford to take the time. Instead, we have Obscuring Aether, Ghostfire Blade, and Deathmist Raptor as payoffs for playing a lot of cards with morph.
In testing I had four Stratus Dancer and four Icefeather Aven, but they felt pretty clunky, while every other card felt better than I expected. I cut the fourth of each for two Epic Confrontations as a starting point, as this deck really needs to be able to answer things like opposing Goblin Rabblemasters, and if you're looking to add anything, I definitely see those as the flex slots. It's possible that the correct configuration is four copies of both Epic Confrontation and Den Protector, or maybe some mix of those four cards.
In a world with Dromoka's Command, I like that the only enchantment in the deck can stop being an enchantment, and I was really happy with how Obscuring Aether played, letting me smoothly play morphs on turns 2-4, and then it could flip over and start attacking, often picking up a Ghostfire Blade first.
For something completely different, I know I'm not the first to write about it, but this is my take on Necromancer's Stockpile:
- 4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 4 Risen Executioner
- 4 Shambling Goblin
- 2 Sibsig Muckdraggers
- 4 Sultai Emissary
- 3 Sidisi, Undead Vizier
I'm not sure how many zombies you need for Necromancer's Stockpile. This is 21, which feels like it should be fine, but I could see playing a couple more. Palace Siege is another option, which offers a nice engine with Sidisi, Undead Vizier where you can pay five to tutor for it and then pay five to tutor every turn. I think this is too slow to be desirable in most matchups, so I imagine this as more of a singleton in the sideboard.
The basic idea here is pretty straightforward: Use Necromancer's Stockpile to sift through all your creatures, filling your graveyard for Corpseweft, Whip of Erebos, or Sibsig Muckdraggers while getting value with Risen Executioner, then drain them out with Gray Merchants.
Finally, another black controlling deck, but this time, I'm back to trying to use the dragon theme:
This is another deck that's all about revealing a dragon, inspired by my desire to play with Foul-Tongue Invocation, which I expect to do a lot to offset life lost by Thoughtseize and Sign in Blood. I'm playing more Chandra, Pyromaster rather than Outpost Siege out of respect for Dromoka's Command, and because I'm pretty good at keeping creatures out of play anyway, I like the extra utility as removal, plus I'll never choose dragons with Outpost Siege. I have one Outpost Siege over the fourth Chandra, Pyromaster just so that I can potentially have both in play.
This deck gets to sideboard Anger of the Gods and Wild Slash, or more Crux of Fates and Ultimate Price, so it's very well-positioned to handling all kind of creatures. Against control, it brings in Duress and Liliana Vess and tries to force through a planeswalker, which it should be pretty good at doing.
After having spent some time looking at the deck I'm interested in with Dragons of Tarkir, I love that it makes me want to build new decks rather than just upgrading existing decks. The new decks don't necessarily seem better than the old decks, but they're not clearly worse either. I think this set could blow up an already extremely diverse format into levels of variety we've never seen before in Standard. I hope people at the Season One Invitational in Richmond and Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir won't be too scared to try something radically new, as I'm really looking forward to see where this format can go.