When Boros Reckoner was printed in Gatecrash it had a huge impact on the Standard metagame. Boros Reckoner's presence forced the metagame to warp itself around both incorporating and beating the card. Boros Reckoner was too powerful as a defensive creature on the ground, a card that simply could not be attacked through profitably, so it was a real nightmare for aggressive decks to play against. When on offense, Boros Reckoner was just as difficult to block effectively.
As the format developed, it became clear that the best plan for beating Boros Reckoner was to go over the top of the card strategically and try to ignore it as much as possible. Decks like The Aristocrats sought to go wide and push through Boros Reckoner, but its best plan was to fly over Boros Reckoner with Falkenrath Aristocrat. Sphinx's Revelation Control decks, with cards like Supreme Verdict, fought on their own axis, and could treat Boros Reckoner like any other threat. The deck that eventually went on to dominate the Boros Reckoner metagame was (Abzan) Junk Reanimator with Unburial Rites: a deck that could overpower Boros Reckoner with its own suite of synergies and top-end threats, especially the potent Angel of Serenity.
Deathmist Raptor is not completely analogous to Boros Reckoner, but it shares the trait of gumming up the ground and being a nightmare for traditional aggressive decks attacking on the ground. Deathmist Raptor's Deathtouch body allows it to trade with any attacker, and recurring from the graveyard is a potent tempo play. Unlike Boros Reckoner, Deathmist Raptor is also a card advantage engine, and that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on traditional control decks that win attrition battles with the classic mix of card drawing and removal spells. This problem is exacerbated when you add Den Protector to the mix, which makes fighting a war of attrition against megamorphs an impossible task.
In order to compete with the synergy of Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector, the Standard metagame has been forced into evolution. The results of major events last weekend showcase the dominance of Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector, but also provide some excellent examples of decks that are designed with beating these creatures in mind. These decks will serve as paragons of what new decks will need to look like in order to compete with these megamorphs going forward.
Today I'll explore various archetypes that were successful this past weekend because of their abilities to go over the top of the metagame.
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Yuuki Ichikawa has proven himself among the game's elite, and he continues to astound with a win at GP Shanghai, where he played an Abzan deck of his own design. Its way to go over the top of the metagame is Elspeth, Sun's Champion, which with an army of 1/1 Soldier Tokens shuts down ground based attackers and matches any card advantage generated by megamorphs.
This deck combines elements of traditional Abzan Control with the megamorph package of Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector, which form a powerful core that can outlast any attrition battle, but also provide the deck with a way to get aggressive and actually win the game, especially with a set of Siege Rhino.
The deck also includes Satyr Wayfinder to fuel the graveyard engine, digging for Den Protector fodder and adding more Deathmist Raptors to the mix. This deck gets better the deeper it goes into the library, because each additional Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector it finds adds to the recursion engine, so more Satyr Wayfinder are always welcome. In a pinch, Satyr Wayfinder can be returned with Den Protector for reuse. Satyr Wayfinder is best of all with Tasigur, the Golden Fang, which can be cast as early as turn three. Tasigur, the Golden Fang also helps fuel the graveyard in its own right.
Wingmate Rocgoes over the top of the format in elegant fashion. With raid triggered, the two flying threats it creates fly over any blocking Deathmist Raptor and will win any race, especially with its life gain ability helping. It's difficult for the opponent to deal with Wingmate Roc from a card advantage and tempo standpoint, because it demands two removal spells or a board sweeper like Crux of Fate. Wingmate Roc is also excellent because it is capable of beating even Elspeth, Sun's Champion, which makes it a very potent card indeed.
Wingmate Roc and its Roc token are excellent for triggering raid on future Wingmate Rocs, so one Wingmate Roc begets another Wingmate Roc, and so on. This certainly adds risk to the equation, because a Wingmate Roc without raid is weak, but it also adds a big reward, and it's that mentality that Abzan Aggro has built into its core game plan. Abzan Aggro decks that were most successful this past weekend used Wingmate Roc, and to get the most of them, they played Wingmate Roc in high numbers.
Taylor Atchison won last weekend's TCGplayer Open $5,000 tournament in Milwaukee, and he did it on the wings of Wingmate Roc:
This deck should look familiar; it's built in the mold of Craig Wescoe's Bant Ojutai deck from GP Toronto, except Atchison has replaced Dragonlord Ojutai with Wingmate Roc. This makes a lot of sense, given that the metagame has skewed toward beating Dragonlord Ojutai. Wingmate Roc, on the other hand, attacks the metagame from its own angle, and it's wonderfully positioned against the field. Wingmate Roc is excellent against Deathmist Raptor-Den Protector, Abzan Aggro, Atarka Red, and especially Elspeth, Sun's Champion, which is otherwise difficult for this archetype to beat.
Taylor also added a set of Satyr Wayfinder, which is excellent combined with the Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor package. It's also a very fine way to trigger raid for Wingmate Roc, because it's otherwise a terrible target for opposing removal spells.
This deck also includes some planeswalker tech, like Ajani Steadfast, which offers a variety of useful abilities in a deck with a high creature density.
The traditional archetype for Wingate Roc is Abzan Aggro. Here is Nam Sung Wook's Abzan Aggro deck from the Top 8 of GP Shanghai:
Gerry Thompson played Abzan Aggro with Wingmate Roc to the Top 32 of the SCG Open in Dallas this past weekend:
Wingmate Roc is a necessity for Abzan Aggro going forward, and I'd recommend playing the full playset like Gerry Thompson.
Dragons, Dragons, Dragons
Another way to go over the top of the format is the Dragons of Tarkir Dragonlords.
This deck is built in the shell of Green Midrange decks with Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, but the top end is dominated not by planeswalkers but by a large and comprehensive assortment of Dragonlords.
In this deck the Dragonlords fill the role of Titans, which in their own Standard lifetimes warped the metagame around them as the most powerful and efficient threats available. The Dragonlords exist in the same deckbuilding space as Titans and they serve the same role as a card that goes over the top of what the opponent is doing. Dragonlords do not necessarily have the same immediate card advantage qualities as did the Titans, but if left in play they can be even more threatening than a Titan.
Dragonlord Atarka does the best imitation of a Titan with its five damage ability, making it something like a large Inferno Titan. It hits extremely hard in the air, and will likely end the game within two attack steps.
Dragonlord Silumgar usually generates little to no value if destroyed, but if left to survive it's the most powerful Dragon of the bunch. Stealing the opponent's card is a huge card advantage and tempo play, and it's the sort of massively game-swinging effect that is worth the downside. Dragonlord Silumgar wins games that no other card could, and for that it's worth its weight in gold. It's actually quite good against planeswalkers, which can be stolen and shrunk, if not destroyed, by using a minus loyalty ability. Dragonlord Silumgar also has the bonus of giving a creature summoning sickness if the opponent isn't able to destroy the Dragonlord until their own turn.
Dragonlord Dromoka is best as a huge flying lifelink creature in the same vain as Exalted Angel and Baneslayer Angel, which will win races when attacking in the air, and serve as a brick wall on defense. These cards are typically crushing against aggressive decks, though weaker against control. With the clause that it cannot be countered, and the fact that it turns off future Counterspells, Dragonlord Dromoka has extra value against control decks so it's strong all-around. It's relatively weak against Abzan Midrange, but it's good at racing megamorphs.
Dragonlord Dromoka also has some synergy in that it protects Dragonlord Ojutai from removal in the attack step, but Dragonlord Ojutai doesn't need much help. It's not as good in this deck as others because the lack of Counterspells, but Thoughtseize does a good impersonation.
The beauty of this deck is that the Dragonlords are supported by four Haven of the Spirit Dragon. This is a great mana source that allows for Dragons to be cast easily, and it's a very impactful source of card advantage and selection into the late game. Once this deck finds a Dragonlord, it's capable of returning and recasting it multiple times in the face of removal, so it's difficult to exhaust with attrition. Haven of the Spirit Dragon is also fueled by Satyr Wayfinder.
This deck fights fire with fire, and gets down into the trenches with megamorphs of its own. The Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector serve an important role here, serving as both an aggressive engine capable of pressuring the opponent, and a very solid defensive foundation for battles against aggressive opponents. Satyr Wayfinder also helps to support this graveyard plan.
A smattering of general disruption and removal spells complete the maindeck, including pairs of Foul-Tongue Invocation, Hero's Downfall, and Murderous Cut. Thoughtseize helps to slow opponents down in the early game, or protect Dragonlords later on.
The sideboard gives the deck a lot more room for flexibility, featuring a huge assortment of powerful but narrow removal spells, and including a pair of Dragons to give the deck some ability to tune its dragon package between games.
RG Dragons employs a simple strategy to go over the top of megamorphs: all of its primary threats have flying. Thunderbreak Regent and Stormbreath Dragon evade megamorphs by flying over them and, supported by mana acceleration, they will beat the relatively clunky megamorph threats in a pure race. Dragonlord Atarka will wipe up both a Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector, a strong tempo play, but it also wins any race with its 8/8 flying body.
RG Dragons had a big weekend, putting two copies into the Top 8 of GP Shanghai, and another in the Top 16.
RG Dragons also earned victory at the SCG Standard Open in Dallas.
Green Devotion fills the metagame niche of an archetype that goes over the top of Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor with a game plan of its own. Its powerful synergies allow the archetype to go big with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and cards like Genesis Hydra, Polukranos, World Eater, Hornet Queen, and even Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. These decks can go big and go wide, and can outpace the card advantage of the megamorphs.
The most successful Green Devotion deck of late is GR Devotion, which includes the powerful Dragonlord Atarka at its top end. This archetype was extremely successful at GP Shanghai, where it put three copies into the Top 8 and another in the Top 16.
Jeskai Ascendancy has filled the combo niche in Standard since it reached Top 8 at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. At GP Shanghai, Shota Yasooka unveiled his own evolution of the archetype which includes sets of both Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector.
Taigam's Scheming is strong in this deck as a graveyard enabler. Deathmist Raptor recursion is also supported by the Rattleclaw Mystic the archetype already played, which is a strong incentive for this archetype to go down the megamorph route.
What other decks and individual cards go over the Deathmist Raptor Stranglehold on Standard? Is going under the metagame a viable strategy? Where is Standard headed? Share your ideas and questions in the comments section.
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