Last weekend was Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. Some might have been skeptical about how much impact Dragons would make in Standard, even with a set called Dragons of Tarkir.
I, for one, wasn't.
There were some pretty sweet decks that came out of the Pro Tour, but I was the most excited to see players like Joel Larsson and Olle Rade playing almost identical versions of the G/R Dragons deck that I won the Syracuse Standard Open with.
I didn't have the honor of traveling to Brussels for the Pro Tour, but I did get to travel to good ole Charleston, West Virginia to battle in Spring States. With Standard on Saturday and Modern on Sunday, there would be no shortage of battling for me over the weekend.
I knew going into the weekend that I was going to be on G/R Dragons again, but there were a few keys points that I wanted to address in my preparation.
First off, I knew the deck was going to be popular. I'm not the only one who loves casting Dragons and bashing my opponents over the head with them. I also had an unbelievable amount of messages and comments through social media from people congratulating me (thanks!) and asking me about any changes that I'd make to the deck because they plan on playing it in their local States, PPTQ, or FNM.
The strengths of the deck were that we could use Draconic Roar to keep the board relatively stable while also doing damage to our opponents. This allowed our Thunderbreak Regents and Stormbreath Dragons to really put on a lot of pressure, and it made our Crater's Claws lethal much more often. The way that I designed the deck, by moving to Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, it made us much less vulnerable to Draconic Roar and Roast.
With this in mind, trying to find a way to gain an edge in the mirror is very tough. We can try to go over the top with more copies of Dragonlord Atarka, but that can lead to stranded seven-drops in our hand. I think that an aggressive plan when we are on the play after sideboard might actually be reasonable, but then we get into this dance of keeping in Draconic Roar or not. If we present with something like Goblin Rabblemaster or Boon Satyr in our deck and they still have their Draconic Roars in, then we are at a huge disadvantage; likewise if the scenario is the opposite and we don't have those creatures and they still have Draconic Roar, then we are advantaged.
With all of this in mind, paired with the experiences I had with the deck in Syracuse, I ended up just making one maindeck switch:
By moving the copies of Arbor Colossus to the maindeck, we get a couple things. It is a huge trump game 1 of the mirror. They have to use a Crater's Claws on it, and if we happen to get it into play without a Dragon on their side, then it takes a lot of mana to clear it out of the way. It's also not the worst thing against the other decks in the field. Just about every deck has a way to get rid of it, and if they don't, it can end the game quickly. Arbor Colossus is also pretty sweet against Jeskai Aggro/Midrange. If they're on things like Mantis Rider, then Arbor Colossus is a huge roadblock that requires them to have a Valorous Stance or get out paced very quickly.
I do still like Ashcloud Phoenix. My only real gripe about the card was that it was a bit difficult to cast with the Haven of the Spirit Dragons, but even with the green slant in our manabase, Arbor Colossus wasn't a breeze to get onto the battlefield either. I did notice, however, that against my true mirror opponents at States that Ashcloud Phoenix was a bit of a liability for them because in game 1s, it was a target for my Draconic Roars.
The other changes that I made to the deck were to the sideboard. After testing a bit during the week against the mirror, I came up with a plan that I liked. I basically wanted to cut all of my copies of Draconic Roar and Roast to bring in cards like Plummet and Outpost Siege/Chandra, Pyromaster to try and just Doom Blade and out-card them. All of the creatures that matter have flying, and being able to steal back the initiative with a two-mana spell while landing a threat of your own seemed great. It also played out well in my testing for the mirror.
West Virginia States was a little small, as anticipated, but we were just short of the seven-round mark. Local stalwarts Stephen Horne and Tom Ross decided to make the trip with me, and with Tom on Bant Heroic, I was hoping to dodge him for the majority of the tournament.
I took a loss to a Mono-Green Aggro deck in round three which was a little frustrating. I ran him over in game 1 and was a little unsure about how to sideboard. He destroyed me in game 2 curving Servant of the Scale into Avatar of the Resolute into Reverent Hunter. I only had a lowly Sylvan Caryatid on turn 2, but I drew a land for every draw step and never hit a removal spell to interact with him.
I still failed to sideboard properly for game 3, and while it was a drawn out game, he was able to take the advantage with back to back Collected Company to punish my land-light draw.
I was able to make it through the rest of the Swiss, and after exacting my revenge on the Mono-Green player in the quarterfinals and besting a true mirror in the semifinals with some early Stormbreath Dragons (turn 3, oh yeah!), I eventually fell to Abzan Control a la Jacob Wilson flavor in the finals.
The matchup is much better than what I experienced for sure, but mulligans, poor play, and some poor draws on my part coupled with some good draws and great play on my opponent's part ended up with me losing and a young kid named Gabriel walking away as the West Virginia state champion. Well earned, and congratulations Gabriel.
Here is the list that I ended up using:
- 2 Arbor Colossus
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Dragonlord Atarka
Late into the day on Friday, I had been chatting with Anthony Lowry about the changes to the deck and things I wanted to try, and one of them was Den Protector. I actually wanted to try them in the maindeck over Arbor Colossus, but with still wanting at least two of them in the 75, I really couldn't find room for them in the sideboard and ended up just staying with the Arbor Colossus.
Anthony then had the idea of playing a Den Protector over the second Plummet as it wasn't nearly as narrow and can just play the role of Snapcaster Mage like how Legacy decks used to play one in the sideboard as an extra copy any high impact spell.
As great as the idea is, unfortunately, it just didn't really pan out in practice. I had images of rebuying Draconic Roars and getting more value out of them, but in the end it just didn't work out that way. It did feel pretty sweet in the Esper Control match that I had, but outside of that, I always just wished that it had been a second Plummet or just another actual spell.
I think that there might be potential for a build utilizing Den Protector, however. It does make us a little more vulnerable to Draconic Roar in the mirror, but alongside Deathmist Raptor, Den Protector is amazing.
Here is an alternate version that might be decent right now.
- 2 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 4 Den Protector
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 1 Boon Satyr
Something like this could end up being pretty sweet as a more aggressive version of the deck, but it can still grind it out in the long game. Den Protector combined with Deathmist Raptor gives us a lot of inevitability but can also attack freely through a lot of different things. It's especially nice to bestow a Boon Satyr on a Den Protector.
I will not be in Providence this weekend like I had planned previously, as I will be helping my girlfriend make the trek out to Seattle for her new job, but there is another deck that I have been wracking around in my brain.
I can't quite figure out the build for this, but the idea is a Mardu Dragons deck. I feel like Crackling Doom is the best card in Standard that's not seeing play, as it lines up very well against almost all of the popular decks. Killing Thunderbreak Regent without any recourse and giving you a way to kill Stormbreath Dragon is good stuff. It's very good against Heroic since it's a removal spell for their best creature that can't be stopped by Gods Willing or Dromoka's Command. It even has utility against the control decks as a way to kill the hexproof Dragons Silumgar, the Drifting Death and Dragonlord Ojutai in addition to just doing some damage when needed. I'd love to hear the ideas from anyone who has been thinking about the same thing, or even working on a decklist. Maybe we can brainstorm the winning strategy for the Providence Open.
The beauty of States weekend events is that now there are two separate events: one Standard and one Modern. I really wanted to try and top 8 the Modern event so that I could get the second part of the sweet playmat panorama that we designed for Spring States, but ultimately it was not to be.
I decided to play Amulet Bloom for Modern, as it's a very powerful, fun, and challenging deck to play. I spent time leading up to the weekend playing and goldfishing the deck to learn as many different interactions as I possibly could. I talked with a bunch of players who had experience playing the deck to get insight into how and what to sideboard for different matchups.
I felt like I had a very good grasp on the deck, but I still ended up at 4-2, losing both rounds to my mistakes and inexperience.
I lost to Jund by overvaluing his Liliana of the Veil when I had a Leyline of Sanctity in play. I should have just jammed a Thragtusk, but I ended up using my turn to Engineered Explosives away his Liliana, stranding the Thragtusk as the only card in hand, which was lost to his follow up Liliana.
My other loss was to U/R Twin, where I felt like I was a dog the entire matchup and just didn't really know how to sideboard or what my plan was against them. I will be putting in a lot more time with this deck for sure, and I plan on playing it in Columbus for the Season Two Invitational, and in Charlotte for the Modern Grand Prix that SCG will be hosting June 12-14th.
For those interested, here is the list that I played for Amulet Bloom:
I had a ton of fun playing this deck, and I learned a lot. I plan on jamming it online to get even more reps in, and I will likely be streaming it for maximum hilarity while I fumble and bumble my way through the MTGO triggers with the deck.
All in all, I had a great time battling in States this weekend, and I would like to congratulate Adrian Sullivan on his Pro Tour Top 8. I remember reading his articles on The Dojo when I was first learning how to play Magic. Well done, Adrian!