Remember Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir? That tournament was only a few weeks ago, yet the Standard format has been developing rapidly since then. For Den Protector, a card that actually didn't see a ton of play at the Pro Tour, the moment has come .This creature stood out to me as a good card when first reviewing Dragons of Tarkir but it has far exceeded those expectations. Deathmist Raptor got a reasonable amount of attention initially while Den Protector flew under the radar, but that no longer is the case.
Currently it seems like the majority of the decks in Standard are green, and almost all of them want access to Den Protector. While Den Protector may be at its best in a deck with Deathmist Raptors because it can return them, Den Protector also doesn't need to be in a deck with Deathmist Raptor to be good. Looking at the Top 8 of Grand Prix Toronto is a perfect way to see the various types of decks which can thrive with Den Protector in them. To start here is what the Abzan Aggro deck Brad Nelson played to a Top 4 finish in Toronto looks like:
Okay, so to be fair here, the Den Protectors are simply additions to the sideboard, but that doesn't mean they don't have a significant impact. Game one Brad is playing the normal creatures we expect out of Abzan Aggro, which have a high immediate impact early in the game. With that said, versus any of the controlling decks after board the Den Protectors get sided in, and alongside Thoughtseizes and the high powered threats, Den Protector provides a ton of value. Den Protector provides card advantage in the form of a creature which is something that the control decks really do have serious problems with.
Overall Brad has played an updated version of Abzan Aggro which is one of the most popular decks in Standard, and simply inserted another powerful creature to the seventy five. It isn't like the Den Protectors are that synergistic out of Abzan Aggro, yet they are still the best sideboard option versus control, which is really saying something. Variations of Abzan are nothing new, and there were also other Abzan decks in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Toronto, all of which included Den Protector. Here is the version of Abzan often classified as "Abzan Megamorph" which was played by Ben Feingersh:
This is what the Abzan Midrange deck which included Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector looks like. The traditional Abzan Midrange deck just plays Courser of Kruphix, Siege Rhino, and potentially Fleecemane Lion or Tasigur, the Golden Fang. This version however goes up to a full twenty creatures. By playing both Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector it does mean
that some spells get cut, but right now Standard is trending towards decks that have more threats than answers. By this I mean that even the control decks which are full of answers can't continue to come up with answers indefinitely. The reason Esper Dragons is good is the presence of Dragonlord Ojutai, and the ability to actually race the midrange decks. In my experience, if the Esper Dragons deck doesn't get an early Dragonlord Ojutai down, eventually this sort of megamorph decks will start chaining those Deathmist Raptors together and overwhelm the control deck.
Speaking of Deathmist Raptor it is almost always correct to play Deathmist Raptor before Den Protector, which makes sense inherently as if the Deathmist Raptor dies Den Protector can of course bring it back when morphing up. With that being said there can be some interesting Mind Games when selecting what morph to play. For instance during a match I played versus Craig Wescoe at the Grand Prix I Thoughtseized him and knew he was holding both Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector in hand. When he played a morph on turn three I thought to myself, "is there any chance he could be playing the Den Protector rather than the Deathmist Raptor?" I came to the conclusion that the morph was very likely Deathmist Raptor and opted not to use a Counterspell or removal spell on it. With that said, if it had been a Den Protector I would have lost the game almost immediately.
The lesson learned is the conventional logic is to play the Deathmist Raptor first, but sometimes casting Den Protector early in the game is important. Remember Den Protector is not just a five mana spell. While it is necessary to wait until having five mana to get the full value out of Den Protector, it is also a two drop. There are a good amount of games it is correct to play Den Protector on turn two or three, though in general this will indicate a lack of other plays at that time. Also, there is a lot to be said for casting an early Den Protector when holding a second copy in hand. Chaining Den Protectors by returning another one can be a gamebreaking lategame sequence.
Not only are the eight best green morphs in Ben's deck, but remember that these decks will have Mastery of the Unseen in the board or in the main. Manifesting a Den Protector with Mastery of the Unseen is dirty, and is yet another reason to play the card. These Abzan Megamorph decks may actually have a better long game than any other deck in Standard. Also, remember how much of a problem Elspeth, Sun's Champion can be in the mirror matchup? Well Den Protector can attack through the Soldier Tokens made by Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Does Den Protector really need the clause that creatures with power less than it can't lock it? While this is not say Elspeth, Sun's Champion isn't a game-breaking magic card, the existence of Den Protector makes it a bit worse.
I have talked a lot about Abzan so far but I would like to mention Lucas Siow's deck which took down Grand Prix Toronto, and is yet another take and the green, black, and white cards:
This deck does have a lot of the same elements as the other Abzan decks, but is essentially just a straightforward Abzan Midrange deck, that also has Den Protectors in it. This is kind of an indication that Den Protector may just be a bit too overpowered, as it is being thrown into decks that it seemingly shouldn't belong in, based off of power level. Changing a few cards to make the Abzan deck a bit more controlling seems to have been the answer for Grand Prix Toronto, as Lucas was able to go over the top of the smaller Abzan decks.
Enough with Abzan. While I'm sure fellow TCGplayer author Craig Wescoe will be going over his take on Green/White Collected Company, the deck is simply too good not to talk about. Here is his Top 8 list:
Green/White Collected Company has been tearing it up on Magic Online, but Craig's version of the deck seems to be superior to some of the early takes on the archetype. Many of the other lists have more of an emphasis on green, and opt to play cards like Avatar of the Resolute and Aspect of Hydra. Also, other versions of the deck do play some amount of creatures that cost more than three, but not Craig. The density of creatures that you can hit off a Collected Company is at its greatest here.
This deck is not only very aggressive but it has larger creatures than other aggressive decks like Monored, while also having access to card advantage with Collected Company and the green morph package. This deck actually has very few bad matchups which may be why Craig has four Windstorms in the board, to deal with the problem dragons. The only issue the deck seems to have is fighting through Elspeth, Sun's Champion, though you can attack through it with Den Protector. I really like Craig's build of this deck and expect it to rise in popularity even more.
Moving away from Grand Prix Toronto and Green/White, how about Sultai with Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor? Sultai Reanimator hasn't really been a big deck since Reid Duke finished second in the SCG Invitational with it. Now though the deck has added the morphs to give it an even better graveyard engine. One thing that these other decks aren't doing is milling Deathmist Raptor, which can be even better than hard casting it. Here is the deck that won the SCG Open in Portland this past weekend:
This deck has become more of a never ending stream of creatures, and less about Whip of Erebos. While Whip of Erebos is still in the deck it is not quite as potent as you would think, as the lifelink it provides may be even more relevant than returning creatures. The reason is that because of Deathmist Raptor you don't really run out of gas, but there are less big creatures that aim to go over the top. This deck is the best at abusing both Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and Sidisi, Undead Vizier. Den Protector also naturally works well in a deck with mill effects, because there is a larger selection of stuff to return from the graveyard.
Sultai Reanimator is a deck that naturally preys on other midrange decks, though it's actually hard to say what this decks bad matchup is. Perhaps the scariest card though is Dromoka's Command, though this version doesn't play as many enchantments as previous version of the deck; Courser of Kruphix or Whip of Erebos getting sacrificed is pretty annoying.
Had enough different Den Protector decks? Well here is perhaps the most aggressive one in the format: straight up Monogreen Aggro. This deck isn't going for Collected Company at all, it is just pure beatdown. Here is a look at Stephen Girdner's deck from SCG Portland:
Being able to return Deathmist Raptors later in the game is nice, but more often than not Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector's main purpose will be to beatdown. Here the one card you really want to return with Den Protector is Aspect of Hydra, as that is the spell that often will finish off the opponent, and you can return it with a Den Protector, in order to cast it multiple times in the same turn.
Unlike Green/White Collected Company this deck really wants to be playing as many green symbols as possible to turn on Aspect of Hydra and Reverent Hunter. This isn't a two color deck so casting Avatar of the Resolute on turn two is easy. By not playing Collected Company the deck can be pure aggression and run four copies of Surrak, the Hunt Caller. Surrak, the Hunt Caller and Collected Company don't go well together, so I like choosing just one or the other, just because you can't hit Surrak, the Hunt Caller off of Collected Company and both are four-drops. This Monogreen Aggro deck is something worth looking into, and it will be interesting to see if it continues to put up good results.
Thanks for reading,