Dragons of Tarkir is a typical third set of a block; it is full of flashy and powerful cards, and it is incredibly deep in cards with Constructed applications. The set is full of potential just waiting to be realized, so it has given deck builders a lot to chew on. There are many cards with a lot of power locked inside, like Silumgar's Scorn and Orator of Ojutai, which don't fit into any existing archetype and it's not clear how to make them competitively viable. There are also flagship cards like Sarkhan Unbroken and Narset Transcendent, which are clearly teeming with power, but are not clear additions existing archetypes and are very open-ended in their deck building applications. These cards and those like them are an important part of the Standard puzzle, and they offer a competitive edge to anyone who can properly leverage them in Standard.
I argue that the best first step in preparing for a new Standard format is identifying the most efficient new cards that re-define the rules that govern a format from the bottom-up. These cards include powerful threats, efficient removal, disruption like discard and Counterspells, and efficient card selection or card advantage. The cards I will focus on today are not necessarily the most high-profile, flagship cards from Dragons of Tarkir, but they are efficient tools that will find homes in a variety of decks across the format until Dragons of Tarkir rotates from Standard. These cards are a single-color and thus accessible to multiple wedges and two-color pairs, and they could see play in a variety of different archetypes and strategies. Powerful Four Mana Creatures
The Khans of Tarkir Standard format warped itself around the four mana Siege Rhino, which proved to be a dominant aggressive and defensive tool for all varieties of Abzan decks. Dragons of Tarkir introduces to Standard some new four mana creature options that rival Siege Rhino in power and impact, but as single-color creatures, they are available to a greater variety of archetypes.
Thunderbreak Regent will be an instrumental tool in various flavors of Standard red decks going forward. It stands out for a few reasons: the value it creates against targeted removal spells, its aggressively-costed flying body, and its Dragon status. The primary reason Thunderbreak Regent is so playable is that against targeted removal spells it will deal three damage to the opponent; it's not quite the red Siege Rhino, but often it does a good impression.
Three free damage will be relevant in any of the highly-aggressive Red decks that might incorporate Thunderbreak Regent, like in Jeskai as a way to fill the curve between Mantis Rider and Stormbreath Dragon. Thunderbreak Regent could supplement or replace outright Butcher of the Horde in Mardu, and it also potentially helps enable a move away from white to a Rakdos Midrange deck. Thunderbreak Regent could sit at the top of the curve in Monored Aggro. It's also excellent with Flamewake Phoenix, and this combination could be used together in a "Big Red"-style Monored deck.
Thunderbreak Regent will also be a key component of any Standard Dragon deck alongside Stormbreath Dragon, like a RG Monsters-style Dragon deck with Draconic Roar, or in UR Dragon Control with Silumgar's Scorn. As a four mana play Thunderbreak Regent is cheaper than other dragon options, which also makes red the most appealing color for a Dragon deck.
Surrak, the Hunt Caller
Surrak, the Hunt Caller provides Green with a quality four-mana legendary creature that is extremely aggressive compared to the defensive Polukranos, the World Eater. The Formidable ability of Surrak, the Hunt Caller is easily met considering that it fills all but three power of the requirement by itself. For practical purposes, in the decks that will play it, Surrak, the Hunt Caller has Haste, and on each subsequent turn it will grant haste to one new creature. Haste is extremely powerful in aggressive decks as a source of free damage, which adds extra value to creatures in racing situations and especially against removal spells.
Effectively acting like a Fervor that gives haste to not only itself but to future creatures as well, Surrak, the Hunt Caller makes green aggressive decks a potent force in the Standard format. Haste is typically limited to red decks, and it adds a terrifying new dimension to green decks. Surrak, The Hunter Caller will find a home in all varieties of proactive green decks, including GW Aggro, RG Monsters, Temur, Monogreen Aggro, and potentially in Green Devotion variants.
Being aggressive, and thus likely to be destroyed by blockers in combat or destroyed by creature removal helps to alleviate the legend rule on Surrak, the Hunt Caller, so it will be a four-of in many decks that want it.
Ojutai Exemplars gives white decks of all sorts a powerful and flexible four mana creature. Ojutai Exemplars is a mixture of aggression and defense, which makes it alluring from a strategic standpoint because it's great in a variety of game situations and board states.
Rather than having Prowess, noncreature spells trigger one of three options on Ojutai Exemplars: lifelink and first strike, a Flicker effect, or tapping target creature. Lifelink makes it a great racing tool and especially potent against aggressive decks, and the first strike makes it more robust in combat. The Flicker effect makes it very resilient against targeted removal spells. Tapping any creature is great for both holding down big attackers and for pushing through damage, and while it doesn't stand out on paper compared to the other two abilities, it will prove tactically valuable.
Ojutai Exemplars seems great in a Jeskai shell, it could see play in a Mardu variant, and it has promise in UWx control strategies. It also could be useful in white/X aggressive decks, but it's best in decks with a high spell count.Powerful Two Mana Removal Spells
Before Dragons of Tarkir, all of the best removal spells in Standard cost three or more mana. Available two mana options like Bile Blight and Lightning Strike were limited in their scope, dominating cheap creatures but failing completely against creatures up the curve. Dragons of Tarkir shakes up the format by introducing two powerful two mana removal spells that have the ability to destroy creatures large and small, Roast and Ultimate Price.
Roast is a game-changer for red decks, which were previously dead in the water to Siege Rhino. Rather than being forced to resort to a two-for-one with burn spells or relying on Stoke the Flames and a Goblin Token, red decks can now answer Siege Rhino at a huge tempo gain with Roast. Roast also deals with the troublesome Course of Kruphix, and it's very functional as a removal spell for anything that would fall to Lightning Strike. Roast does lack flexibility as a burn spell for the opponent, but as a dedicated removal spell it is unmatched in red.
Roast is a huge boon to Monored decks. Roast is particularly relevant to RG Monsters, which has grown significantly better strategically with the addition of a removal spell capable of removing all of the most commonly played Standard creatures, including Siege Rhino and Polukranos, the World Eater. It is no longer forced to play the unexciting Lightning Strike. Roast will also prove useful in a variety of other red decks, including Mardu, Jeskai, RW Aggro, and Rx control decks. Roast is a great maindeck inclusion for some decks, and it will also see plenty of sideboard play across many archetypes.
A reprint, Ultimate Price is a familiar face to those who played Standard last year, but it has been conspicuously absent since rotation. While Khans of Tarkir brought gold cards to the forefront, single-colored creatures still make up the majority of Standard creature fare.
Ultimate Price will prove useful against almost every creature deck in the format. Ultimate Price will see play as part of the maindeck removal suite of any black decks, including Abzan Midrange, UBx Control, and Mardu. It's also a potent sideboard card. Ultimate Price is extremely effective against top-tier archetypes Green Devotion and RW Aggro, and it will prove instrumental in containing these decks. It's great against monocolored decks like Red Aggro, and it will be strong against any potential Monoblue Devotion deck.
Ultimate Price will do its part to push opponents away from monocolored creatures and towards gold creatures. Abzan Aggro is well-positioned against Ultimate Price, as is Jeskai tokens.Hand Disruption
The amount of hand disruption available in a format is a key component in determining how viable control decks are in the metagame. The addition of Duress to Standard provides a powerful tool to the sideboard arsenal of black decks, which puts a negative pressure on control as a strategy in the format.
Just when there seemed to be a control renaissance occurring Standard, Duress comes and ruins the fun. Duress joins Thoughtseize as a powerful piece of disruption against control opponents in Standard. Decks like UB Control, Sultai, and UW Control will all find it difficult to combat such a deep discard suite.
Duress is particularly important because it's an addition to the sideboard of Abzan Midrange, which was recently the most dominant deck in Standard, but it suffered from a weakness against the rising tide of controlling blue decks of the format. Duress serves as an additional way to prevent Dig Through Time, will clear away removal or Counterspells, and can strip away Ugin, the Spirit Dragon in the late game. It also has great synergy with Tasigur, the Golden Fang as a way to attrition cards and fill the graveyard.Card Selection
Efficient card selection in a format helps enable versatile control decks that play a variety of situationally powerful reactive cards to combat the metagame. Card selection also allows combo decks to more reliably find and assemble a specific combination of game-winning cards.
Anticipate will likely be the most widely-played Dragons of Tarkir card during the set's Standard tenure. An instant-speed card selection spell that resembles Impulse, Anticipate has applications in all varieties of strategies in archetypes, most notably in control and combo decks.
Card selection is most impactful in decks filled with cards that carry highly-variable situational value, and least relevant in a deck with a homogenous composition. For example, if Anticipate was added to a deck with 20 Islands and 40 Air Elemental, it would at best offer the decision between an Island and an Air Elemental. In a five-color deck with 20 varied nonbasic lands, and 40 singleton situational cards, including reactive color hosers like Slay, Execute, Gainsay, and Tidebinder Mage, and combo pieces like Splinter Twin and Pestermite, Anticipate could potentially both fix mana and find cards with a large amount of value in specific situations, like color hosers against a certain colored permanent or a combo piece when the other half is in hand.
Card selection is especially useful in combo decks, which are required to find certain cards in every game and can't reliably do so with their draw steps alone. Anticipate is an excellent addition to Four Color Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, and it will also be useful in Jeskai Ascendancy Tokens.
Card selection is of utmost importance in control decks, which are reactive by nature and require access to specific cards in specific situations. Efficient card selection makes control decks run more smoothly because it increases their flexibility. Card selection allows control decks to more reliably find the answers they need, and it gives them increased ability to change gears. Preordain was the secret reason behind the dominance of a past Standard powerhouse, Caw-Blade, granting it a previously unheard-of level of consistency and flexibility.
Anticipate may be just what Standard control decks needed to reach the next level. Anticipate will play an important role in Standard control decks like like UB and Sultai, and it could help to reinvigorate decks like UW, Esper, and Jeskai Control.Looking Forward
Part of the process of solving any new Standard format is working from the bottom up. The most impactful cards are often not the most flashy and powerful, but the most efficient and flexible.
Did I miss any single color Standard staples in Dragons of Tarkir? Secure the Wastes and Deathmist Raptor deserve an honorable mention for having a lot of potential. Going further, what two-color gold cards stand out? I'm particularly fond of Kologhan's Command for its card-advantage capabilities.
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