Dragons of Tarkir was fully spoiled last weekend. After reading through the list and thinking about the impact the new cards will have on Standard, there are three decks I am most excited about. Today I'd like to share these three decks and explain why I believe they will be contenders in Dragons of Tarkir Standard.
Dromoka's Command is one of the most exciting cards in Dragons of Tarkir and there are a handful of different decks that will want to use it. It's essentially an Erase that you can play in the maindeck because it is also an instant speed Hunt the Weak for half the cost. It can't kill Stormbreath Dragon, but it is good in so many different situations. In this deck it can have the opponent sacrifice their Courser of Kruphix while allowing our Surrak, Caller of the Hunt to survive combat against a Siege Rhino. Or it can counter a Stoke the Flames while killing a Seeker of the Way or an Outpost Siege. The first build I wanted to try it in is Green/White Aggro because in conjunction with Valorous Stance and Banishing Light you can pretty much deal with any permanent outside of Stormbreath Dragon. That's also where Avatar of the Resolute comes in handy.
Avatar of the Resolute is a three-power two-drop alongside Fleecemane Lion that allows us to start pressuring the opponent's life total early in the game. Later in the game we can often set up a scenario where it is at least a 4/3, which is conveniently large enough to block and trade with a Stormbreath Dragon. To put counters on creatures we have Fleecemane Lion's monstrosity ability, Dromoka's Command's third mode, and Deathmist Raptor's megamorph ability.
Speaking of Deathmist Raptor, he's a welcomed new addition to this style of deck. Brimaz, King of Oreskos cannot be cast on the second turn off Elvish Mystic unless you played a Mana Confluence on the first turn due to the double white in its mana cost, so in order to maximize the power of Elvish Mystic, I want all of my three-drops to be castable off GGW. The Raptor fits this restriction and gives us some late game power boost similar to Vengevine when we flip a creature that was manifested off Whisperwood Elemental or if we draw a second Deathmist Raptor and morph+unmorph it. Another important attribute of the Raptor is that it has three-power, which is the sweet spot for this deck because it singlehandedly turns on Surrak, the Hunt Caller's formidable ability.
Surrak, the Hunt Caller is one of the main reasons I want to play this deck. While Deathmist Raptor's ability to Revive itself from the graveyard is similar to Vengevine's return ability, Surrak is similar to all of Vengevine's other abilities. Haste is a really big deal right now in a format full of wrath effects, planeswalkers, and powerful creatures that require opponents to tap out on their own turn. This deck has a lot of instant speed interaction which allows it to set up big turns involving Surrak's haste ability. For instance, the opponent casts Crux of Fate to wipe our board. We then cast end step Boon Satyr, untap, play Surrak, give himself haste, and attack for 9! We have a lot of ways to keep the pressure going in the face of a wrath effect: sacrificing Whisperwood Elemental to make manifest creatures, making a creature indestructible with Valorous Stance, making Fleecemane Lion monstrous, bringing Deathmist Raptor back from the yard, having Boon Satyr become a creature when it falls off the creature it was enchanting, etc. All of these things work extra well with Surrak, the Hunt Caller's haste ability.
The sideboard is a little rough but at least has a coherent plan. Your removal spells are necessary game one against so many decks but are pretty useless against most control decks. So I want at least eight cards I can bring in against control, which I've chosen as: three Mastery of the Unseen, one Whisperwood Elemental, and four Secure the Wastes.
Secure the Wastes, like Boon Satyr, is an instant speed threat that plays around a board sweeper. You play out your creatures on the first three turns and then on the fourth turn you attack and then pass with four mana open. If they don't wrath you, then you add three warriors to the board and kill them. If they do wrath you then you add three warriors to your board, untap and play Surrak or bestow Boon Satyr on a token and attack for 7-8 damage. Secure the Wastes is also good against creature decks with a lot of one-toughness guys (red aggro, various token strategies, etc.), so it doubles as a reasonable sideboard in those matchups as well.
Surge of Righteousness might not be necessary but I wanted some way other than blocking or Banishing Light to deal with Goblin Rabblemaster. Surge seems like a slight upgrade on Last Breath.
Some other cards I considered for this deck include:
Warden of the First Tree (not enough white sources)Monastery Mentor (not a combo with Whisperwood)Wingmate Roc (not a combo with Surrak)Sylvan Caryatid (would rather just have a lower, more aggressive curve)Polukranos, World Eater (slower than Surrak and no Nykthos to get the big upside)Elspeth, Sun's Champion (without Caryatid, it's too slow; nice answer to Stormbreath though)Dictate of Heliod (prefer Boon Satyr since we have big threats instead of lots of little ones)Citadel Siege (our creatures are big enough as is; would rather have another creature or a more efficient removal spell)
While Surrak, the Hunt Caller and Dromoka's Command are great, there are a few other new cards that are also great that require a different deck. Black/White Warriors (or 'Chieves' if you remember Frank Lepore's video) gained a few very powerful cards.
There are so many playable warriors right now that it is very difficult to figure out exactly which ones are the best ones. Notable omissions from my list include:
Mardu ShadowspearTormented HeroSeeker of the WayBattle BrawlerMardu Strike LeaderBrutal Hordechief
Bloodsoaked Champion is the obvious best one-drop warrior, but beyond that it is close as to which of the other four are the next best. It's possible that running a mix of two of each of the other four is optimal just to play around Bile Blight since they are each otherwise so close in power level. I decided against that because I think there will be just enough delve to make Mardu Woe-Reaper good and just enough dragons to make Dragon Hunter good. It's admittedly very close though.
Seeker of the Way got cut because I only have 14 ways to trigger its prowess ability and the only other place I could see making room for it was at the one-drop slot. I like having 12 one-drops though. Battle Brawler is another strong two-drop that I wouldn't be unhappy playing, especially since we have 19 ways to give him the bonus. Again though, space is an issue and I think Chief of the Edge is the best two-drop in this deck. It pumps our one-drops immediately and it also pumps all our tokens from Secure the Wastes, giving us seven anthem effects (in conjunction with Sorin, Solemn Visitor).
The biggest power boost to The Warrior deck happened at the three-slot on the curve. Wow! Arashin Foremost and Blood-Chin Fanatic are awesome! If you've ever played with Silverblade Paladin, you know how insane this type of effect can be. He immediately affects the board upon entering the battlefield and then continues to make everyone around him much better while simultaneously being a cost-efficient beater all on his own. Double Strike works so well with the seven anthem effects in the deck too. The card is straight gas!
Blood-Chin Fanatic is the other new bonkers three-drop. It doesn't immediately hit as hard as Arashin Foremost, though it is still a 3/3 for three. Where it really shines is when you untap with it or in the late game when you start to flood. It basically lets you Fireball your opponent out by sacrificing all your creatures. This makes the final alpha strike much more profitable or it can overcome the most thwarted of starts by throwing all your warriors at the opponent. I really don't want to have to play against this card and I'm sure my opponents won't either.
Secure the Wastes is another great addition to The Warriors deck. It's great against control decks as an instant speed threat, but we also have seven ways to pump the Warrior Tokens, making it that much more powerful in this deck than it is in other decks.
The last big addition to BW Warriors from Dragons of Tarkir is Ultimate Price. It's one of the best removal spells in the format and a great complement to Hero's Downfall and Valorous Stance. The deck gained some really powerful three-drops, a powerful late game token generator, and another powerful removal spell. It also gained Duress as yet another powerful sideboard option against control decks and against Drown in Sorrow / Anger of the Gods that will frequently come in post-board against us.
Some other cards I considered for this deck include:
Athreos, God of PassageObelisk of Urd
Athreos is powerful in this deck, especially in conjunction with Blood-Chin Fanatic, but ultimately I decided the deck's cards were all individually powerful enough that I didn't want a situational card like Athreos that might be too low impact against faster decks. It's possible that it belongs in the sideboard against decks trying to kill all our stuff. Obelisk of Urd could be a powerful way to fight through green midrange strategies but I think pressure combined with our extremely powerful and efficient removal spells will be enough to overcome them anyway without the need to resort to clunky cards.
Another possibility is splashing red:
Goblin RabblemasterCrackling DoomLightning StrikeKolaghan's CommandOutpost Siege
Goblin Rabblemaster is a warrior, so it gets the bonus from Chief of the Edge, can be sacrificed to Blood-Chin Fanatic, but more importantly can be granted double strike via Arashin Foremost. Crackling Doom could be good here but our removal spells are already great against Stormbreath Dragon and a giant UW Heroic creature, so this may be a bit redundant. Lightning Strike could make us a little better against Mantis Rider, but again, likely not worth it. Kolaghan's Command is interesting but likely not worth a splash in this type of deck. We're trying to tempo our opponent out rather than gain incremental card advantage. Outpost Siege seems worse than Mastery of the Unseen, Thoughtseize, and Duress against control and worse than pressure and cheap removal against midrange decks. Goblin Rabblemaster is really the big draw from red, but even that might not be worth it given the power level of our three-drops already.
The last deck I want to talk about takes advantage of two very powerful cards from the new set in a way that most people haven't been thinking about yet.
Monastery Mentor sadly hasn't really found a solid home, despite being an extremely powerful card on its own. I think this shell may be the perfect fit to take advantage of him. The main issue with the mentor is that you generally don't want to cast him until you have enough mana to cast another spell the same turn. This way even if they kill it right away, you can be left with a token worth of value. The other issue is that you have to play spells in your deck that you can cast reliably to trigger the mentor irrespective of what the opponent has on board. For instance, you don't want to throw a burn spell at the opponent in response because then the "free" token isn't really free. Similarly, you don't want to be stuck with a removal spell like Ultimate Price in hand when the opponent doesn't have a creature because then you still can't trigger the mentor. Valorous Stance is a nice card to combine with the mentor because it can protect the mentor from a removal spell with one mode or it can kill a creature if they happen to have one with the other mode, each of which triggers mentor to make a Monk Token. Gods Willing likewise can protect the mentor with value. But what if the mentor lives?
What can you cast to advance your position in the game while triggering mentor even when the opponent doesn't have any creatures and isn't trying to kill your mentor? Defiant Strike is ok because it cycles, but that will often just open you up to getting blown out by a removal spell in response that Removes the target and keeps you from drawing a card. And Defiant Strike is pretty miserable early, especially if you are trying to find lands or threats and there isn't even a creature in play to cycle it on. There haven't really been any good options in Standard to fill this role...until Anticipate!
Anticipate is a great card to cast early that actually fixes your draw, and then later in the game you can hold it until you have Monastery Mentor out and then cast it for even more value by making a Monk Token and searching for another way to trigger the mentor. Now that we have Anticipate to fix the Monastery Mentor problem, we have a new problem: what other ways do we have for gaining additional advantage from Anticipate and all the other noncreature spells in the deck?
Ojutai Exemplars generate a lot of utility when you cast spells. Any spell will protect them by "blinking" them in response to the removal spell. And if they are not dying and instead you just need to get a blocker out of the way, the spell can do that instead by tapping target creature. And if you're racing, the spell can grant the exemplars lifelink (and first strike). Between Seeker of the Way and Ojutai Exemplars, it will be very difficult for an opponent to race or burn us out.
Speaking of Seeker of the Way, he is yet another way to gain value from our noncreature spells. Also Soulfire Grandmaster can gain us some life in combat and it can buy back our spells so we can keep generating advantages in the late game. I'm not sure whether the grandmaster is worth it over more Treasure Cruises, but we can't really fill up our graveyard very quickly, so I don't want too much delve in the deck. It's possible that slot could be something else but I'm not yet sure what.
In the board we have Mastery of the Unseen and Negate to board in against control decks where our removal spells aren't very good. We have Ojutai's Command against midrange green decks. We have Surge of Righteousness for red decks, Mantis Rider, and Goblin Rabblemaster. We also have Encase in Ice which is great against Stormbreath Dragon but usually not as good against Goblin Rabblemaster. And we have Glare of Heresy against Abzan Aggro and against UW Heroic, a deck that gained some new tools as well.Conclusion
I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone that the first article I write after the set is fully spoiled involves three different base-white aggro decks. I am who I am and these are the cards that I'm most excited about from the new set. This set looks pretty awesome for Standard and I'm looking forward to trying out these new decks. If you have a question or suggestion, you're welcome to post it in the comments. I plan to respond frequently to the comments for this particular article because I want as many ideas as possible about these decks.