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Brewing with Dragons of Tarkir

Dragons and a powerful 5 drop Planeswalker that spews out more dragons? Sign me up!

Hi, I’m Sam Karopoulos. You might know me as that guy who always draws triple Stormbreath Dragon, or as that guy whose decklists always inexplicably contain Evolving Wilds, but today I’m here to write about some of the brews Dragons of Tarkir has inspired me to work on. Dragons of Tarkir has a tonne of exciting cards for Standard and while there are some cards like Thunderbreak Regent which slot straight into decks, most of the new cards have a bit more depth. So let’s dive into evaluating them!

During spoiler season, I like to evaluate cards with constructed implications according to three metrics:
1. Does this card fit into an existing archetype?
2. Does this card improve a fringe deck?
3. Does this card spawn an entirely new deck?

We’ll be applying this logic to some of the more exciting cards from Dragons of Tarkir, so let’s start with my favourite card of the set:
Sarkhan Unbroken

Sarkhan Unbroken makes mana, draws cards and spews out dragons – what more could you want from your 5 mana Planeswalker? However, Sarkhan pulls us in a lot of different directions and so its difficult to find the best shell for him. In the context of Standard, we need to compare him to the other premier 5-drops available in Temur colours. Of the 5 drops available, it’s readily apparent that Stormbreath Dragon and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker are the most aggressive of the lot, Whisperwood Elemental really wants to play the long game and Nissa Worldwaker is a really a 6 drop which is poorly positioned in a world dominated by Siege Rhino and Stoke the Flames. In this context, Sarkhan Unbroken slots in somewhere in the middle – he’s not quite as durdly as Whisperwood Elemental and not quite as aggressive as Stormbreath Dragon or Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker.
There is no Tier 1 Temur deck in current Standard, although early in Fate Reforged Standard the Melbourne metagame was saturated with GR Aggro. Some people tried splashing blue for Savage Knuckleblade and Stubborn Denial, but Temur Aggro never had any breakout performances. So what would an updated Temur deck look like?

Temur Aggressive Midrange

Creatures (23)
Elvish Mystic
Rattleclaw Mystic
Savage Knuckleblade
Thunderbreak Regent
Surrak, the Hunt Caller
Stormbreath Dragon

Noncreatures (13)
Sarkhan Unbroken
Lightning Strike
Roast
Crater’s Claws
Lands (24)
Yavimaya Coast
Frontier Bivouac
Wooded Foothills
Forest
Mountain
Temple of Epiphany

Sideboard (15)
Arc Lightning
Draconic Roar
Roast
Chandra, Pyromaster
Stubborn Denial
Disdainful Stroke
Destructive Revelry

For the most part, Stormbreath Dragon and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker are better aggressive options than Sarkhan Unbroken, as the Dragons which Sarkhan creates do not have haste. Thankfully, another new card from Dragons of Tarkir, Surrak, the Hunt Caller fixes this problem. Surrak, the Hunt Caller is exactly the 4 drop that aggressive green decks in Standard were always missing – Polukranos, World Eater and Xenagos, the Reveler were too durdly and Shaman of the Great Hunt was too fragile. Surrak, the Hunt Caller strikes a happy medium between the two while also granting any further threats haste. He also plays well with another new card from Dragons of Tarkir, Thunderbreak Regent. Thunderbreak Regent is a very powerful card on its own, but coupled with Surrak, the Hunt Caller to give him haste, he is a truly formidable threat.
This deck eschews small beaters like Heir of the Wilds, Goblin Rabblemaster and Fanatic of Xenagos in favour of bigger, more durable threats. This trade off means that we aren’t able to snowball out of control with Turn 1 Elvish Mystic into Turn 2 Goblin Rabblemaster but it does mean that we have more power in the mid to late game.
The sideboard is pretty rough – the main thing to bear in mind is to try to diversify your sideboard options early on in the format in order to hedge against the wide swath of unknown decks. The big gains here are Roast which gives us a real answer to Siege Rhino instead of leaning on Fated Conflagration and Crater’s Claws and Draconic Roar to give us a leg up when racing other aggressive decks.

So we’ve seen that Sarkhan Unbroken shows some promise in aggressive Temur decks, but does he enable any brand new archetypes? One card which Sarkhan Unbroken is reminiscent of is Broodmate Dragon, a standard staple in Jund decks of the time. The major problem with building a grindy Sarkhan Unbroken deck is that Temur is the worst colours for removal in Magic – Green offers very little removal, Red offers burn spells which are efficient early but often can’t kill what we need them to kill in the mid to late game, while Blue offers counterspells which don’t mesh well with tapping out for expensive spells like Sarkhan Unbroken. As much as I’ve tried to brew a controlling Sarkhan Unbroken deck, I don’t think there’s a deck there. As it stands, our only options for coming back from behind are Anger of the Gods, Aetherspouts and Aetherspoouts. Maybe if there was still a Mizzium Mortars effect in the format we could build a Temur Control deck, but for now I don’t think there’s a playable deck there.

Next lets look at the ‘Dragons matter’ cards:
Orator of OjutaiSilumgar's ScornFoul-Tongue InvocationDraconic RoarScaleguard SentinelsDragonlord's Prerogative
With the exception of Dragonlord’s Prerogative, all of these cards offer a huge payoff for squeezing enough dragons into our deck and if we can consistently have a dragon at the ready, they start looking as good as or even better than Modern staples. Before we dive into where these cards could see play, we need to work out how many dragons we need in our deck to reliably make these cards live.

TurnNumber of dragons
214
313
412
511
610

Realistically, this rules out both Scaleguard Sentinels and Orator of Ojutai, as there is no feasible way to squeeze 14 dragons into a deck without completely ruining your curve and Angelic Wall and Nissa’s Chosen aren’t exactly Standard playable.
Draconic Roar has a decent shot at being playable, since two of the best dragons – Thunderbreak Regent and Stormbreath Dragon are in red. However this isn’t really a build around and is more of a sideboard option out of red decks (a la Searing Blood).
This leaves us with Silumgar’s Scorn and Foul-Tongue Invocation. Of the two, Silumgar’s Scorn is the more exciting of the two, so we’ll focus on how we can play Counterspell in Standard. Realistically, the ‘bad Force Spike mode’ is probably good enough for the first four or five turns of a Standard game, where people typically are spending all of their mana each turn. This means that we only actually need the ‘Counterspell mode’ from turn 6 or so onwards. This means we can go as low as 10 dragons. Counterspell is at its best in either a tempo deck, a control deck, or something in between.

Blue/Red Dragons

Creatures (10)
Thunderbreak Regent
Stormbreath Dragon
Icefall Regent

Noncreatures (26)
Wild Slash
Draconic Roar
Roast
Anticipate
Silumgar’s Scorn
Dissolve
Anger of the Gods
Lands (24)
Swiftwater Cliffs
Temple of Epiphany
Shivan Reef
Island
Mountain

Sideboard (15)
Magma Spray
Arc Lightning
Lightning Strike
Negate
Disdainful Stroke
Stratus Dancer

Two of the major problems with control decks in current Standard are that they don’t have enough things to do on Turn 2, so they’re generally behind on tempo and that without Sphinx’s Revelation to put the game away, they have to kill literally everything, lest they die to some random idiot. This deck eschews the notion that you have to kill everything that your opponent throws out, instead it attempts to slow down your opponent until you can slam a dragon. The hope is that from there, you are then able to finish your opponent before they topdeck something which can kill you.
My major concerns with this deck is how timing sensitive all of its reactive cards are, how weak it is to noncreature threats and how many dead cards it has against control decks. With no actual card advantage to bury control, we have to transform into a counterburn deck, relying on the few cheap threats we can afford to sideboard in conjunction with some extra counterspells to get the job done.

Next up, dinosaurs!
Deathmist Raptor
While a recursive creature isn’t anything new, the vast majority of recursive creatures suffer the downside of being unable to block. The few that are allowed to block include Vengevine and various Dredge cards (notably Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Grave-Troll). Vengevine itself is the centrepiece of Tier 2 Modern deck, while we all know how busted Dredge is. All of these signs point to our little dinosaur being quite the powerhouse. Ideally, a Deathmist Raptor deck would be a creature heavy deck which is able to dump Raptors into its graveyard and with either a high density of Morph/Megamorph creatures or with a powerful Manifest engine. Thankfully, there are already two (!) existing strategies in Standard which Deathmist Raptor slots right into. Firstly, G/W Devotion (featuring Mastery of the Unseen and Whisperwood Elemental) already manifests roughly a trillion permanents, so it should be trivial to recur Raptors in that deck. However, this deck doesn’t really fill its graveyard, so we could definitely build a deck to better abuse Deathmist Raptor. Thankfully, the best graveyard enablers in Standard (Satyr Wayfinder and Commune with the Gods) are both in Green and Green also has access to Whisperwood Elemental, the premier Manifest card. Indeed, several Whip of Erebos decks were already playing all of these cards which mesh beautifully with our little dino pal.

Raptor Whip

Creatures (26)
Satyr Wayfinder
Courser of Kruphix
Deathmist Raptor
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Whisperwood Elemental
Hornet Queen

Tutor targets (5)
Reclamation Sage
Dragonlord Silumgar
Silumgar’s Command
Torrent Elemental
Crux of Fate

Noncreatures (6)
Whip of Erebos
Hero’s Downfall
Lands (23)
Forest
Island
Opulent Palace
Temple of Malady
Llanowar Wastes
Swamp
Evolving Wilds
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Yavimaya Coast

Sideboard (15)
Bile Blight
Hero’s Downfall
Rakshasa Deathdealer
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Liliana Vess
Stain the Mind
Display of Dominance
Nissa, Worldwaker

Apart from Deathmist Raptor, the Whip decks also gain this sultry little lady:
Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Okay, so maybe she’s a little worse for wear in this timeline, but power level wise I believe she’s taken a huge leap forward. Whereas Sidisi, Brood Tyrant is an engine piece for our deck, which fuels our graveyard while generating value, Sidisi, Undead Vizier offers a far more powerful effect. The Demonic Tutor effect which our new Sidisi offers is incredibly valuable and comes at the low low cost of a sacrificing a creature of our choosing. In a deck with so many random bodies lying around, it will be very easy to pay the blood price for our Demonic Tutor. Having access to such a powerful effect warps the deck in a few noticeable ways. For starters, we can trim on some of our Legendary permanents or expensive spells (looking at you, Hornet Queen), as Sidisi, Undead Vizier can always find us additional copies if need be. It also means we can run a small toolbox of unique, situational effects. In this list I’ve opted to maindeck singleton copies of Reclamation Sage, Dragonlord Silumgar, Silumgar’s Command, Torrent Elemental and Crux of Fate. All of these effects can be devastating given the correct context, but threaten to clunk up our hand in other situations.
When building the sideboard for this deck, I was acutely aware that blue-based control decks will be a huge problem for this deck and the 4 copies Rakshasa Deathdealer are aimed squarely at that matchup, while also being respectable early action against other decks. Aside from that I’ve tried to diversify the sideboard as much as possible, opting for singletons where possible. This is a great way for us to hedge against the unknown metagame and Sidisi, Undead Vizier appreciates having a variety of options to tutor for.

So far, Khans of Tarkir block has offered us a constantly evolving, incredibly diverse Standard format and it looks like Dragons of Tarkir will continue this trend. This article has only just scraped the surface of what Dragons of Tarkir has to offer and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were still new decks cropping up a month or two into the format.


Bonus decklists:
These decks aren’t really brews, but they’re my current builds of GW Aggro and Big Red Aggro. Both of these decks look incredibly consistent, powerful and punishing, which leads me to believe that they are likely to be powerful forces in the Dragons metagame.

GW Aggro

Creatures (26)
Sunblade Elf
Warden of the First Tree
Fleecemane Lion
Avatar of the Resolute
Swordwise Centaur
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Boon Satyr

Noncreatures (10)
Collected Company
Dromoka’s Command
Gather Courage
Lands (24)
Windswept Heath
Mana Confluence
Forest
Temple of Plenty
Plains
Evolving Wilds

Sideboard (15)
Valorous Stance
Dromoka’s Command
Surge of Righteousness
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
Forest
Citadel Siege
Mastery of the Unseen

Big Red Aggro

Creatures (20)
Dragon Whisperer
Goblin Rabblemaster
Flamewake Phoenix
Thunderbreak Regent
Stormbreath Dragon

Noncreatures (16)
Chandra, Pyromaster
Wild Slash
Lightning Strike
Roast
Crater’s Claws
Lands (24)
22 Mountain
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Sideboard (15)
Wild Slash
Draconic Roar
Arc Lightning
Cone of Flame
Outpost Siege
Commune with Lava
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
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