This week let's talk Dragons of Tarkir and its impact on Standard. Out of the handful of cards that have been spoiled so far, I'd like to talk about three decks that greatly benefit from the new cards. The first is a Jeskai Tempo deck that takes advantage of the new planeswalker Narset Transcendent. The second is a version of Red Deck Wins utilizing Lightning Berserker and Dragon Fodder. The third is an altogether new archetype based on a tribal theme introduced in the new set: Dragon Jund.
Let's start with the hottest topic: Narset Transcendent.
Jeskai Tempo has been one of the top performing decks in Standard since the release of Khans of Tarkir. Fate Reforged gave the deck some new tools: Wild Slash, Valorous Stance, and Outpost Siege. Now with Dragons of Tarkir we get Narset Transcendent.
The first iteration of the deck was highly aggressive and relied only on a pair of Dig Through Times for card draw in the midgame. When the deck ran out of gas, it was basically in "topdeck a burn spell or bust" mode. Outpost Siege changed that by offering the deck a reliable and steady source of card draw that allowed the deck to play more defensively with its burn spells instead of having to try and burn the opponent out from a high life total before they can stabilize.
In addition to Outpost Siege, Fate Reforged gave the deck some upgraded removal spells that further improved the deck's ability to play as a control deck instead of solely as a burn-based tempo deck, although still having the tools to go the burn route when necessary (e.g. against a control deck). Wild Slash can kill an opposing Goblin Rabblemaster or Elvish Mystic or it can target the opponent. Valorous Stance can kill a Siege Rhino or Courser of Kruphix or it can counter a Hero's Downfall targeting our Mantis Rider.
Dragons of Tarkir offers the next new piece in the evolution of Jeskai away from a solely burn-based tempo strategy and toward a more controlling deck with a burn-based Backup Plan. Narset Transcendent starts with so much loyalty that it is difficult to kill her even when you're behind on board, beginning with six loyalty and going up to seven. She will draw a card in this build approximately 35% of the time with her +1 ability, not accounting for scry lands or sideboard. This is a much lower turnover rate than Outpost Siege but with the added flexibility of being able to cast the spell whenever you want instead of having to cast it that turn. That's not all Narset does though. She has a very relevant second ability too.
Her second ability can effectively copy any of the 16 removal spells in the deck or any seven of the 15 sideboard cards (Glare of Heresy, Erase, Anger of the Gods). Rebounding burn spells can rapidly accelerate the burn plan or it can quickly take out an opposing army of creatures. Rebounding Anger of the Gods can also effectively act as a Time Walk since whatever small creatures the opponent plays on their next turn will die on your upkeep to the rebounded Anger of the Gods. But wait, Narset still has one more ability!
Narset's ultimate will come up more frequently than you might expect. If you have a useful spell that you want to Rebound, then you'll usually just use the -2 ability for value. But if you don't (or you don't have the available mana to cast the spell yet), then you'll want to keep using the +1 ability until you find something to Rebound. Either of these scenarios will soon result in rebounding spells with the -2 ability. So what about the situation where you don't have anything you want to Rebound and you aren't finding any spells off the +1 ability? Well, it only takes three misses before you can go ultimate and completely lock the opponent out of casting anything but creatures for the rest of the game. This ultimate ability will be especially useful against control decks that just want to waste time and not pressure you. There's basically no way they're beating a Narset ultimate.
While Narset Transcendent is the super flashy new planeswalker that slows down the Jeskai deck and provides it with more reach and inevitability, the next card I'd like to talk about is an innocuous Mons Goblin Raider with an ability so powerful that it can make Crater's Claws look like an inferior Fireball effect. The card is Lightning Berserker!
Red Deck Wins has been picking up steam a lot lately, given the increased popularity of control decks and green devotion decks. It applies lots of early pressure from its one-drop creatures and then backs it with burn spells that can either be directed at opposing blockers or opposing faces. The deck traditionally has two main weaknesses though.
The first weakness is its lack of reach in the face of life gain. If an opponent gains enough life or forces you to expend too much of your burn on their creatures, then the red deck will often not be able to generate enough damage to close out the game. The second weakness is its inability to recover from Drown in Sorrow or Anger of the Gods. These mini board sweepers kill every creature in the deck and often leave it having to recover by casting a fourth turn Foundry Street Denizen and desperately hoping it can attack five times to get the opponent into burn range. Both these weaknesses are greatly remedied by Lightning Berserker and to a lesser extent Dragon Fodder.
Lightning Berserker is the final threat to deploy in this strategy. The game plan is to cast all your other threats first and deal as much damage with them as possible. Then when the coast is clear, you dash Lightning Berseker onto the battlefield, tap all your mana to pump him the full amount, and effectively Fireball the opponent (+1 damage from his base power of 1). Then he returns to your hand to Threaten yet another Fireball whenever the opponent leaves their shields down again. This ability to Fireball an opponent multiple times with a single card allows the red deck to use more of its burn spells on opposing creatures without finding itself in the predicament of getting the opponent within burn range and just not being able to close the deal. Lightning Berserker was born to close the deal!
Lightning Berserker also helps the deck to recover from Drown in Sorrow or Anger of the Gods (or Arc Lightning). The game plan remains the same. You run out all your creatures and attack for as much damage as possible, making them have the wrath effect or die. Then if they have the wrath effect, instead of being left with a lonely Foundry Street Denizen or whatever in hand, you can dash Lightning Berserker in for four damage, threatening to do the same the following turn. Dragon Fodder also helps against wrath effects because it allows you to continue applying pressure without having to deploy all your threats. For instance, a second turn Dragon Fodder allows Foundry Street Denizen to attack for three damage without requiring you to play out two additional threats. Then if they wrath you, you can follow up with Hordeling Outburst and begin the road to recovery.
Narset Transcendent offers a powerful new direction for Jeskai decks (and probably more than just Jeskai decks) while Lightning Berserker and Dragon Fodder help shore up some of the weaknesses in Red Deck Wins, allowing it to cast Fireballs for days. These are each upgrades to existing decks. The last deck I'd like to talk about had not existed prior to Dragons of Tarkir.DECKID=1231935
Jund hasn't really been a deck in Standard since Siege Rhino was born because everything Jund could do Abzan could do better. With Dragons of Tarkir that is no longer the case. The thing Jund can do better than Abzan is ramp into large, hasty, hard to kill dragons. Alongside Sylvan Caryatid and Elvish Mystic, Dragonlord's Servant accelerates the deck into its namesake dragons. Scaleguard Sentinels is a formidable Backup Plan if you don't have an accelerant. You get the added bonus of showing the opponent their fate...you know, for the rub-ins.
Thunderbreak Regent is the premier third turn play in the deck. It is big and evasive, much like Ashcloud Phoenix, but has the added ability of bolting the opponent each time they try to kill it or any other dragon you control. And if they have to use two burn spells to kill it, they take six damage. More importantly, it's a threat they have to deal with right away and will draw the removal spells away from our bigger threats.
Stormbreath Dragon and Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury are the big follow-up plays to Thunderbreak Regent, which then make way for the baddest dragon on this side of the color pie: Dragonlord Kolaghan. This mythic dragon's base stats are that of Rorix Bladewing. It hits hard and fast, immediately punishing an opponent for ever tapping out. It also restricts what spells the opponent can cast by representing ten damage if they cast a spell that the dragonlord Forbids. It also grants all your other creatures haste, allowing anything that comes after it to join in the onslaught immediately.
This deck looks like it would be especially well-positioned in the metagame for a few reasons. First off, it has haste creatures. These are great against control decks that want to tap out for planeswalkers and sorcery-speed removal spells. It's also convenient that an opposing Crux of Fate only kills half your board in a typical game state. The creatures are not only hasty but also flying which makes the deck naturally good against opposing green ramp strategies that aim to gum up the ground but are weak in the air. The deck also has great sideboard options.
In the board we get access to four Thoughtseize to combat opposing control decks and to improve the Heroic matchup. Destructive Revelry is the enchantment kill spell of choice, though Back to Nature could replace it if the metagame calls for such. Outpost Siege is a strong option against midrange and control decks where games tend to last longer. You also have Anger of the Gods and Crux of Fate for opposing aggro decks, UW Heroic decks, and green devotion decks. You name non-dragons with Crux of Fate and it is even better than End Hostilities because it wipes out all the creatures on the battlefield except your dragons! Anger of the Gods has a similar effect in that it will wipe out opposing Hornet Queens and her insect army without affecting your dragons.Conclusion
There are some powerful new cards revealed so far from Dragons of Tarkir. Narset Transcendent will likely show up in multiple decks, including the Jeskai one discussed today. It may also pair up with Ashiok in Esper or with Courser of Kruphix and Kiora in Bant. Lightning Berserker and Dragon Fodder help to shore up some of the weaknesses in aggressive red decks by giving them more reach and ability to recover from Drown in Sorrow effects. Lastly, Dragon Jund is setup to be a new powerhouse deck that fights in ways that will force the other decks in the metagame to adapt.
Which cards from Dragons of Tarkir are you most excited about?
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter