Recently there has been a rise in the popularity of the Monsters archetype. Whether Temur, straight red/green, or even Naya Monsters, the big threats on the green and red colors have been showing up a lot recently. At the start of the current Standard format the consensus was that Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker should be played over Stormbreath Dragon in most decks. Right now Stormbreath Dragon is starting to see more play, but overall Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker still sees more play than Stormbreath Dragon. The question becomes which decks want to be playing Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, which want Stormbreath Dragon, and which want a combination of the two?


Reasons to play Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker over Stormbreath Dragon

One of the first reasons that is obvious, is that Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker usually wins the heads up fight, meaning that if a Stormbreath Dragon is already in play and you play a Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, you can of course shoot down the Stormbreath Dragon and still have your Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker in play.

This idea is typical of all planeswalkers, which leads to another reason to play Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, and that is that it can provide card advantage more of the time. After playing your planeswalker and killing an opposing creature, if your opponent then kills it with a spell (rather than by attacking), this is of course netting a card. This means that playing Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker alongside other removal spells actually makes it better, so that it is less likely the opponent will have creatures already in play, to simply attack and kill the Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. The last reason that I want to mention here is the Indestructibility of when Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker becomes a creature. This doesn't actually dodge too many removal spells, Sultai Charm and Murderous Cut are the ones that immediately come to mind. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is a versatile threat, and fits better in a deck full of individually powerful cards, as compared to a deck that has a clear and synergistic gameplan.

Many decks in Standard are equipped with a lot of removal which is why planeswalkers in those decks are such good threats. In a deck like Mardu Midrange while I have seen some lists playing Stormbreath Dragon the vast majority of lists do opt to go with Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, and I like that decision. Here is a list played Brandon Sammons at the TCGplayer Diamond Open in Kentucky: DECKID=1222361

Brandon obviously agrees with the sentiment that planeswalkers are a good addition to cheap removal spells as he not only has Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker as a five mana planeswalker, but there are also four other planeswalkers in the list, to go along with a host of removal spells. In general these sorts of decks run less actual creatures, and play threats that will not trade one for one with an opposing removal spell.


Reasons to play Stormbreath Dragon over Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

First off there are a lot of white removal spells being played right now, and when Stormbreath Dragon does go unanswered the opponent often dies almost immediately. When their Utter End, Abzan Charm, Banishing Light, or even Reprisal is what is being relied upon to deal with your big threats, Stormbreath Dragon is just the best possible card to have. Also, in a world of Wingmate Rocs Stormbreath Dragon shines, and can't be killed by opposing creatures attacking you as planeswalkers like Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker can. Plying a Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and then just getting it attacked the next turn by a Polukranos, World Eater is no fun. Many of the best decks happen to be decks playing 12 or less actual creatures, like Mardu Midrange and Jeskai Tempo (not counting Hordeling Outburst) which puts Stormbreath Dragon in a weird place. Stormbreath Dragon is best off in decks which do play a number of creature-based threats, which means that it won't get played in some decks over Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, but in an archetypes like Monsters there is a very good argument for playing Stormbreath Dragon.

After attempting to find the five mana threat that fits best the given archetype, then the question becomes how many five-drops can you play? In a deck with both Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid the whole idea is to ramp into big expensive threats, so it makes some sense that more than four copies of a five-drop can go into these decks. However, it isn't as easy as jamming a playset of both Stormbreath Dragon and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker into a deck. It is certainly defensible to play both in a red/green ramp style deck though, like that of novas01 who recently 4-0'd a daily on Magic Online with the following list:

DECKID=1221826

Novas01 has decided here that Stormbreath Dragon is better than Sarkhan, the Dragonsepaker but he wants a total of six five-drop threats, so there are also two copies of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. This makes a lot of sense to me, as not only is this deck able to Overload on threats but it also has a small devotion element. The red/green decks with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx often favor Stormbreath Dragon, because of its ability to become monstrous. In the smaller Red/Green Aggro or Temur Aggro decks which run cards like Heir of the Wilds, it can be difficult to reach seven mana, which makes the monstrous on Stormbreath Dragon far less relevant. There seems to be a trend of red/green decks that are a cross between a traditional Devotion deck, and a Monsters strategy, as Novas01 illustrates.

One card that has interested me in terms of its value in these types of decks is Goblin Rabblemaster. Unlike a deck like say Mardu Midrange which almost always will play Goblin Rabblemaster, in Temur there are very mixed opinions on whether or not you want to be running Goblin Rabblemaster. One of the major upsides to playing Goblin Rabblemaster is that you have the ability to cast it turn two off of an Elvish Mystic, but on the other hand it doesn't trigger ferocious reliably. Let's take a look at the list Anthony Lowry took to the top eight at a Maxpoint Diamond Open in Indianaplolis: DECKID=1219589

This list is a bit unconventional, but the four copies of Stormbreath Dragon make sense. In a more aggressive deck that wants to win before the lategame begins, is where the dragon really shines. The deck is very red-based which does make it easier to cast Stormbreath Dragon more reliably. One issue though is that by adding the extra red sources it means you can no longer play Elvish Mystic. I understand this decision but then it is harder to advocate the addition of Goblin Rabblemaster, as one of the main draws to play Goblin Rabblemaster is that you can cast him on the second turn of the game as I already noted. In a way the fact that Lowry has added Hordeling Outburst to the deck does make the Goblin Rabblemaster better, as it gets bigger when attacking. However this is not the direction I would recommend going in, as the absence of Crater's Claws is certainly noticeable. Having a burn spell like Crater's Claws is key in this sort of strategy, so as to have a card that can just kill your opponent after they have stabilized the board. Instead, Lowry is playing Fated Conflagration, which is a good way of dealing with an opposing threat, but isn't a card you can topdeck and just win in the same way you can with Crater's Claws.

For players looking to play with both Goblin Rabblemaster and Stormbreath Dragon I recommend a hyper aggressive approach, with the only mana accelerant actually being Elvish Mystic. Here is the list I have been playing on Magic Online, and it has been producing good results:

DECKID=1223110

This is about as aggressive as the red/green deck comes. Fanatic of Xenagos has started to see some play because it is a cheap three mana creature that can trigger ferocious. This list does have a low land count, because one of the main issues has been flooding or drawing mana producers later in the game. The curve is low, and while the best starts do usually involve a first turn Elvish Mystic, Heir of the Wilds is a solid two-drop in this sort of deck. While I wish that there was another good two-drop to play there really isn't, so sometimes you will just play a burn spell on the second turn. This is another example of a spot where Stormbreath Dragon has proven its worth.

There are actually a couple of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeakers in the sideboard though. This comes back to the idea that there are some matchups where you want one five-drop, and others where you want the other. Rather than choose between the two cards, I think having the Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker in the sideboard for the matchups where they are better gives the deck some more flexibility, especially since Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker can add an additional piece of removal. After the opponent sees Stormbreath Dragon game one they likely won't expect Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker in games two and three, which makes it more likely that you can set up the deal four effect to kill an opposing Stormbreath Dragon, and keep your Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker around.

I have gone over a number of straight red/green lists but of course Temur is also very popular, and is an archetype that is often seen running Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Stormbreath Dragon. There are definitely a variety of different directions that you can go when constructing a Temur deck. While adding blue doesn't change the archetype as a whole that much, the key remains deciding whether or not to take a more aggressive or midrange approach. In each case as compared to the red/green decks the Temur level gets more powerful cards like Savage Knuckleblade while making a sacrifice in terms of the manabase. Adding blue also gives the deck access to Counterspells which can add another dimension to the deck entirely. Let's take a look at a Temur Midrange list that actually plays the stable midrange card Courser of Kruphix. Here is Scott Russell's list from a TCGplayer Diamond Open in Texas: DECKID=1215664

This deck contains cards that are not seeing lots of play like Surrak Dragonclaw and Chandra, Pyromaster but that doesn't mean Scott was wrong for playing them. While this particular list is from a couple of months ago, I believe that this sort of deck has plenty of applicability to the current metagame. Perhaps the Surrak Dragonclaw and Chandra, Pyromaster are better off as sideboard cards, but I like the midrange style of this sort of strategy, and there are plenty of planeswalkers. Scott doesn't show preference to either Stormbreath Dragon or Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker as he has an even split.

There are a variety of different ways the Temur and red/green decks can be constructed. It seems that while in certain spots Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker sees more play, and in others Stormbreath Dragon is the five mana threat of choice, there is still much that remains unanswered. There is certainly no established "correct" way of building these sorts of decks. My recommendation is to first decide what type of deck you want to be playing, for example do you want to be a straight up big creature deck, or do you also want access to control elements like Counterspells. The Temur colors leave a lot of room for innovation and it has already been proven that there are many directions which can lead to a successful deck, whether the deck has Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker or Stormbreath Dragon.

Thanks for reading,
Seth Manfield