Dromoka's Command is the best disruption spell in Standard after Pro Tour Magic Origins. A one-stop shop for beating the two major menaces from the Pro Tour, Red Deck Wins and U/R Ensoul Artifact, Dromoka's Command comes with the ability ability to counter burn spells, including Shrapnel Blast and Searing Blood, the ability to destroy enchantments, including Ensoul Artifact and Eidolon of the Great Revel, and with its fight mode, the ability to destroy the small creatures that these aggressive decks rely on. This versatile instant has utility against nearly every deck in the field, so Dromoka's Command has found success in a wide variety of different archetypes. Its presence was responsible for keeping both Red Deck Wins and U/R Ensoul Artifact out of the Grand Prix San Diego top 8.
Most decks with Dromoka's Command also include Valorous Stance, which provides white decks with a reliable and efficient removal spell that deals with the largest creature threats in the format. Its alternate mode is a useful combat trick and a Counterspell for removal spells. Valorous Stance frees white decks from the commitments of other colors for fulfilling their removal needs, and it allows these decks to compete effectively in a metagame where access to removal spells is a necessity
Hangarback Walker is the best threat in Standard. Hangarback Walker can be cast on turn two, and it grows increasingly threatening every turn it is left unchecked. In the late game, Hangarback Walker is a mana sink and powerful topdeck. Hangarback Walker can also be abused in a variety of different ways. Hangarback Walker has found a home in many different Standard archetypes, and it grows more popular as time goes on.
Hangarback Walker is very strong against control decks, because when destroyed by conventional removal it will generate card and tempo advantage by creating Thopters. Against Red Deck Wins, it Threatens to generate tempo and card advantage, because Thopter Tokens are effective for racing or blocking their small creatures. Most creature decks are unable to favorably interact with Thopter Tokens in any way, leaving them quite vulnerable to Hangarback Walker.
The most popular Dromoka's Command deck at GP San Diego was GW Megamorph. It was favored by many top-ranked pro players, including top-16 finisher Jacob Wilson, and it ultimately reached the top 8 piloted by Loren Eakins:
This deck has a variety of advantages over other archetypes that share some similarities. It is a two colored deck, so it has a better manabase than Bant Ojutai or Abzan Megamorph. Its lands come into play untapped more often, it takes less damage from its lands, and with less potential to be missing a color of mana, it's more consistent and mulligans less. Compared to Abzan Aggro, Elvish Mystic makes GW more explosive, and the Megamorph package gives it greater Staying Power into the long game.
GW is aggressive in many matchups, but it's a decidedly midrange deck, a fact belied by the inclusion of Courser of Kruphix, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, and Nissa, Vastwood Seer, which turns into the planeswalker Nissa, Sage Animist. The deck often finds itself in the controlling role behind a defense of its robust blockers, while it amasses an incremental advantage with these card-generating engines.
An interesting maindeck addition is Boon Satyr. It's an efficiently-costed aggressive threat, and with Flash, it allows one to pass the turn with the option of Dromoka's Command or Valorous Stance, but still retain the ability to play a threat at the end of the opponent's turn if casting disruption isn't necessary. The real treat here is Bestow, which allows any of the relatively small creatures in this deck to attack into nearly any blocker.
The sideboard includes a playset of Hangarback Walker and a pair of Evolutionary Leap.
Evolutionary Leap can sacrifice any creature to dig through the deck for a new creature. This ability is best when combined with Den Protector and/or Deathmist Raptor. Given enough mana, a pair of Den Protector can set up a recursion loop and find a nearly endless supply of creatures. A pair of Deathmist Raptor will provide a similar effect. Evolutionary Leap will dig for more Deathmist Raptor, which makes the engine more powerful, and will eventually overwhelm the opponent by drawing a nearly endless supply of creatures. Hangarback Walker offers synergy with Evolutionary Leap, which acts as a sacrifice outlet for the artifact and can then turn each of the Thopter Tokens into a new creature.
With a wealth of blockers, disruption in Dromoka's Command, and even sideboard Arashin Cleric, GW is very strong against Red Deck Wins. GW is very proficient at stopping Ensoul Artifact, which leaves evasive threats as the biggest problem for GW to contend with. Its best plan is to minimize the amount of damage the opponent can deal on the ground while aggressively racing with its own creatures. Sideboard Unravel the AEther improves the matchup. The control matchups can be beaten through the sheer amount of card advantage the deck generates, but it's vulnerable to Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Perilous Vault. The deck that GW does not want to face is GR Devotion, which goes over the top of what GW is doing, but Dromoka's Command and Valorous Stance go a long way in making the matchup winnable.
Abzan Aggro has been out of the spotlight since the purported death knell of Languish took it out of the metagame, but it is among the finest Dromoka's Command decks in Standard.
Corey Burkhart played four maindeck Dromoka's Command en route to taking Abzan Aggro to the top 8 of GP: San Diego:
For their mana cost, the creatures in Abzan Aggro are relatively larger than others in the format, which allows the deck to better leverage the fight ability of Dromoka's Command, and its high creature density means it's rarely lacking in creatures to fight with. In Abzan Aggro, the fight ability of Dromoka's Command resembles Terminate.
Abzan Aggro has always had a favorable matchup against Red aggro decks because it is so effective at clogging up the ground, and the life gain of Siege Rhino punishes their burn plan. With Abzan Charm to Remove Ensoul Artifact, Abzan Aggro has plenty of game in the U/R Ensoul Artifact matchup, especially with Thoughtseize to disrupt their synergy-reliant plan.
Interesting tech in Corey's deck is Herald of Torment. A three-mana 3/3 creature with evasion is an efficient rate and a fine addition to this highly aggressive archetype. Herald of Torment truly shines with Bestow, which grants flying to a creature and sends it past the ground blockers that define the format, including Deathmist Raptor. It's an all-star against the tough G/R Devotion matchup. The loss of life is troublesome against red decks, but the card will still help to win a race
Perhaps better called G/R/w Devotion, finishing in the top 32 of GP San Diego was a G/R Devotion deck that splashed into white for Dromoka's Command, Valorous Stance, and Mastery of the Unseen.
Dromoka's Command presumably makes the matchups against RDW and U/R Ensoul more favorable, and it's effective disruption in the mirror match. Den Protector allows the deck to recur its disruption, Deathmist Raptor provides an extra body for the fight ability, and together the package helps the deck to play more as a midrange deck capable of fighting an attrition war. Mastery of the Unseen is strong in long game and against control especially, and it can gain life against red decks, but I question its effectiveness in a field of Dromoka's Command.
This deck gives up Polukranos, World Eater, which is an interesting metagame choice given that the card is so poor against Valorous Stance.
Sideboard Arashin Cleric is a nice addition against red decks, a card more efficient than Nylea's Disciple but less powerful.
This deck is a very interesting adaptation to an established archetype, a work of innovation that attempts to make the deck more fit against a hostile metagame. It is not clear whether or not the deck succeeded, but it had its day in San Diego and is a starting point for further work on evolving the Green Devotion archetype.
Perhaps the deck that best takes advantage of Dromoka's Command is Bant Heroic, which abuses its synergy with Heroic creatures. Last week, Todd Anderson and Tom Ross played a version with a maindeck Hangarback Walker and a pair in the sideboard, but Todd has since moved to three maindeck copies in his SCG IQ-winning decklist from this past weekend. Perhaps Bant Heroic takes best takes advantage of Hangarback Walker too:
Hangarback Walker is the tech here, and it fits in seamlessly with Heroic's core strategy while adding a new dimension to the deck's gameplan. Heroic attempts to snowball its early board position to an insurmountable lead by building up a large creature and protecting it. Hangarback Walker does not build itself up quickly, but it does so surely, without requiring spells, and it can be protected by God's Willing. Most opponents are unable to effectively deal with Thopter Tokens, and against these opponents, building a large Hangarback Walker is a recipe for success. This plan is especially effective when the deck takes on a Defensive Stance, allowing it to sit comfortably in a stalemate while slowly building an advantage. Typically Heroic has been forced into a more aggressive role because of its poor late game, but Hangarback Walker only gets better as the game goes on. Consider the power of a topdecked Hangarback Walker in the lategame, a haymaker play that this deck has always wanted but has been previously unable to effectively incorporate into its main gameplan.
Hangarback Walker has great synergy with Ordeal of Thassa, which adds +1/+1 counters, and a Hangarback Walker 2/2 or larger Threatens to immediately trigger its card draw ability. Hangarback Walker is also great with Dromoka's Command ability to place a +1/+1 counter, and the fight ability can potentially destroy it and unlock the Thopter Tokens.
Another piece of technology in this decklist is replacing Ajani's Presence with Valorous Stance, which gives the deck greater disruption ability.
Bant Heroic takes great advantage of Dromoka's Command, and it seems to be well positioned against just about everything. Seeker of the Way and Dromoka's Command do serious damage against red decks, and the deck is more than capable of racing UR Ensoul. Heroic preys on the clunky GR Devotion and Abzan Control deck. While the current configuration is not designed with a UBx control metagame in mind it's a fine matchup that Hangarback Walker surely improved. Mardu Dragons and its Crackling Doom is absent from the metagame, and that leaves Bant Heroic in a great place.
Josh McClain, who has made the top 8 of the TCGplayer MaxPoint Championship two years running, did not compete at GP San Diego, but rather the TCGplayer 5k Open in the competitive Madison, Wisconsin, where he finished in the top 4 with an Abzan Midrange deck that includes four maindeck Hangarback Walker:
This is the same Abzan Midrange deck we all know and love, only with Hangarback Walker giving it a scary new angle. Hangarback Walker can come down early as a proactive two-mana play this deck sorely desires, and it demands attention from the opponent. It's also a huge late-game play that takes advantage of any extra lands.
Other tech here includes Tragic Arrogance, which is remarkably similar to a five-mana Duneblast. The opponent does get to keep some number of permanents, but it's not difficult to get an advantage out of Tragic Arrogance
Another adopter of Hangarback Walker is the new BR Dragons deck, which reached the top 8 and put another player into the top 16:
With a healthy mix of powerful creature and efficient removal spells, this midrange deck can shift between the role of aggressor and control player. Hangbarback Walker is an early threat or a late-game powerhouse, and the Thopter Tokens are a nice supplement to the flying Dragon theme, especially their synergy with Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury. Kolaghan's Command is a powerful tool that can destroy opposing Hangarback Walker and recur one's own Hangarback Walker from the graveyard.
Dromoka's Command severely hurt the success of Red Deck Wins and UR Ensoul Artifact last weekend, and the immediate future isn't much brighter. Dromoka's Command is strong against the field in general, and while it won't be as good this weekend, it's surely a major player that will continue to oppress the format. Abzan Aggro and Megamorph decks tend to be strong against control decks, so it's not likely that UBx will rise to take over the metagame. GR Devotion is as strong as ever, and is a great option this weekend as players move towards the less powerful midrange green decks that Green Devotion preys on. Hangarback Walker will continue to find homes in more and more decks, and players will take advantage of it in different ways.
What other decks can use Dromoka's Command? What other archetypes can incorporate Hangarack Walker? What other cards are strong against the field, and will be well-positioned this weekend?