With Ixalan on our doorstep, many players may be questioning how the new set will impact Standard. The answer in many cases seems to involve looking at the powerful tribal synergies Ixalan is bringing to the table. Upon first glance, the Dinosaur tribe looks like a bunch of huge fatties without enough ways to compete early on in a game. However, when looking deeper there are a few strong Dinosaur enabler cards that help to ramp out Dinosaurs earlier. Beyond that, there are many Dinosaurs that do have a reasonable mana cost.
Like each tribe in Ixalan, there are specific colors that are focused on a particular tribe, and it's Naya colors that are focused on Dinosaurs. The most impressive Dinosaur might be Gishath, Sun's Avatar, though it does require playing a three-color deck. I would like to start by looking at what a three-color Dinosaur deck can look like:
This version of Dinosaurs has the ability to play all the best Dinosaur cards if it wants to. While this is nice, it means you do need to pick and choose what Dinosaurs you want, and be careful how many copies of each you play. Since this deck is trying to accelerate its mana, you need to play enough expensive Dinosaurs in order to make the acceleration worthwhile. Most of the ramp is in the form of creatures, as each of the three colors has a creature that helps bring your Dinosaurs into play a turn earlier.
Of the three colors, green is the base. There are multiple green cards that help produce your other colors, so you definitely need a green mana early on, while it isn't completely necessary to have white and red. Drover of the Mighty is the most powerful way of accelerating your mana. Most of the time this card will be a 3/3 for two mana that also can produce a mana. Any green deck with Dinosaurs is going to want to play four copies of Drover of the Mighty.
The other two creature accelerators aren't quite as powerful, though they are cheap. Kinjalli's Caller costing only a single white mana makes it a very good deal. There are some creatures in the format Kinjalli's Caller can actually block, and then it's going to also be involved in your best starts. For instance, if you are able to play Kinjalli's Caller on turn one, you can play another accelerator on two, and then turn three play Regisaur Alpha. Unfortunately, the mana base makes this difficult, even if you have the right spells. That's why I ended up playing only three Kinjalli, Caller, as you might not have an untapped white mana on turn one.
The red accelerator is Otepec Huntmaster. Normally giving a huge creature like a Dinosaur haste is great, and Otepec Huntmaster has the ability to do that. However, this ability doesn't look great when your Dinosaur is coming into play with haste anyway. As it happens Regisaur Alpha is one of the key Dinosaurs, and if you have one in play, Otepec Huntmaster isn't going to be as impressive. You want a Otepec Huntmaster early on, but don't want multiples of. The other acceleration card here is Gift of Paradise, not because of any DInosaur synergy, but because it is a good card, and smoothes out your colored mana a bit.
With so much ramp, there had better be some impressive Dinosaurs to ramp into, right? Fortunately, there are, but before going to the top of the curve you want some Dinosaurs you can play as early as turn two. Raptor Hatchling is the cheapest in the deck, and is really here to soak up some early damage. Ripjaw Raptor is the ideal turn three play against any of the creature decks of the format, and it can start netting you cards pretty quickly. If Ramunap Red throws two burn spells at Ripjaw Raptor, it has done its job.
Sometimes you have a turn-two mana accelerator, but then end up playing a tapped land on turn three, as there are eight of the cycling lands. If that happens, then Deathgorge Scavenger is going to still be a strong option and if you are able to gain some life with Deathgorge Scavenger it can keep you out of burn range. We also have a bit of early removal that is here to deal with opposing early threats. Lightning Strike and Cast Out are both extremely versatile, but this is a creature deck, and there can only be so many slots devoted to these.
Now we get to the big payoff Dinosaurs. These Dinosaurs are generally how you take over later in the game. Regisaur Alpha usually comes down on turn four, and is a high-impact play. Putting two Dinosaurs in play has value – and it makes Drover of the Mighty bigger – and even if the opponent deals with Regisaur Alpha you still have the token. Also, when you play Regisaur Alpha on back-to-back turns it is pretty great, so I don't mind having the full playset.
There are a couple Priest of the Wakening Sun, which can be used as a toolbox of sorts. Priest of the Wakening Sun can find any of your Dinosaurs, which means you don't need to play as many of the really expensive ones. Priest of the Wakening Sun is the perfect example of a one-drop with plenty of utility both early and later in the game. Burning Sun's Avatar is a bit restrictive on the mana, but has a strong enough effect when entering play to play one of.
The two highest impact Dinsosaurs are the ones that are the most expensive. Eight mana is a lot, but for that investment you get a card that can very easily win the game on its own. We have the signature Dinosaur fatty in Gishath, Sun's Avatar as well as Wakening Sun's Avatar. Wakening Sun's Avatar is insane against creature strategies like Temur Energy, as it is sure to win you the game once you are able to wrath the opponent's board while keeping your own huge fatties.
The Naya Dinosaurs deck clearly requires some decision making. There are a lot of cards to take into consideration because it's a three-color deck. However, we can go straight two colors to make the deck more streamlined into a typical midrange strategy. Right now, I'm trying a Green-White Dinosaurs deck that looks like this:
This deck is pretty streamlined, as we are playing almost all of the good Green-White Dinosaur cards. There are also some new additions as well – we are getting more aggressive, but also want a good curve. After Drover of the Mighty, I think the next best two-drop is Raptor Companion. This card may not seem great, but it does a lot of little things and having another Dinosaur in play or to reveal to Priest of the Wakening Sun is useful.
You don't mind trading Raptor Companion early, as it becomes good fodder to exile with Deathgorge Scavenger. It really comes down to the fact the deck wants to have a critical mass of actual Dinosaurs. Similarly, Kinjalli's Sunwing is a card that isn't terribly strong, especially versus decks without very many creatures, however it serves an important role. It is going to be much easier to play one of the three-mana Dinosaurs on turn two in this deck since having an untapped land for Kinjalli's Caller is more likely. We want to be able to get threats on the board very quickly.
Savage Stomp is essentially a one-mana Hunt the Weak here, as we are only ever going to be fighting using one of our Dinosaurs. Using Ripjaw Raptor to fight an opposing creature is great, as you get an extra card out of the deal. The three and four-drop Dinosaurs generally can deal with some of the more annoying creatures the opponent might have in play, and using Carnage Tyrant to fight the largest creatures tends to work out well.
Carnage Tyrant is a Dinosaur we didn't see in the Naya list, but that's certainly not due to lack of power. This card is an absolute nightmare for control decks. Unless they are packing a mass sweeper like Fumigate, Carnage Tyrant is going to be virtually impossible to beat. Rather than having a card like Gishath, Sun's Avatar, we have Carnage Tyrant as one of the primary ways to close out games. There is also one Waking Sun's Avatar because we can search it up easily.
This deck plays out more smoothly than the Naya Dinosaurs deck because of the mana, and it's not like the cards are much worse. Commune with Dinosaurs is a flexible card that can either allow you to hit a key land drop, and chances are you have a Dinosaur in your top five cards as well if that's what you need. Commune with Dinosaurs is another incentive to make sure your Dinosaur count is high. I'm not sure if I want more copies of Commune with DInsaurs because sometimes you actually don't have a good opportunity to cast it, but being able to curve out is key and it fills in the gaps.
Both Red-White and Red-Green Dinosaurs have merit also, though I like the early drops the most in this version. It is a Dinosaur deck, sure, but the curve is extremely reasonable. Both Kinjalli's Caller and Priest of the Wakening Sun provide a strong incentive to be white, as there aren't really good one-drops in the other colors. I don't mind using Unclaimed Territory just to be able to run out one of these guys on turn one.
That's Dinosaurs in Standard. We'll see where things go from here, and if the deck can break through.
Thanks for reading,