History will show that Pteramander is the best card in Ravnica Allegiance. It demanded attention when it was spoiled because it's very reminiscent of Delver of Secrets, another one-mana blue creature with a funky creature type and an affinity for instants and sorceries. The set was released just a couple weeks ago, but Pteramander has already emerged as a player in nearly every format where it's legal. It's being played in winning decklists in Legacy alongside Delver of Secrets, and it's outperforming its predecessor in Modern. Pteramander is truly outdoing itself in Standard, where it wasn't so obviously a staple, but is currently in the midst of redefining the format.
Pteramander has brought about a renaissance of blue aggressive decks in Standard. By applying fast pressure, often with evasion, and backing it up with the disruption of Counterspells, they can get under the juggernauts of the format, Hydroid Krasis and Nexus of Fate. Pteramander has found a home in the Mono-Blue Tempest Djinn deck, which it has brought back from the dead to being one of the hottest decks in the format. Last weekend the deck reached the Top 8 of the Mythic Championship Qualifier on MTGO, but it also propelled Pro Tour Champion Alex Hayne to the #1 spot in the Magic Arena constructed ladder this week.
This deck plays what looks like a low number of spells for a deck with four Pteramander (just 18) but therein lies some valuable lessons about Pteramander. Its primary role in this deck is actually that of Flying Man, a 1/1 flyer. Flying makes it as good as Mist-Cloaked Herald in most situations anyways, and whether it is wearing Curious Obsession, enabling the raid clause on Chart a Course, eating a removal spell, or just attacking for one, it does the job. Adapting Pteramander doesn't become a factor until later in the game, where it becomes a mana sink that doesn't actually require that many spells in the graveyard to be effective. The huge flying body it creates fits perfectly into the strategy alongside Tempest Djinn, and it really taxes the opponent's ability to contain everything, especially when they can be backed up by Counterspells and Dive Down.
Pteramander brings the Mono-Blue Tempo deck to the next level, but to really make the most of the Salamander Drake means loading up on spells to enable it to Adapt ASAP. That makes it a perfect fit in the Izzet Drakes deck, down to the creature type. The decklist that finished second in the Magic Online Mythic Championship Qualifier has 27 spells – a full 50% more than the mono-blue list – and includes a set of Discovery // Dispersal that further enable it with surveil, so it's going to adapt earlier and more often.
The Izzet Drakes deck has always suffered from being light on threats, so the addition of four strong creatures is a boon to its consistency. Previously the deck typically used a pair of Niv-Mizzet, Parun and took a more controlling role, but Pteramander really allows for ramping up the aggression. It's a necessary shift, because looking to play a long game in this metagame against Hydroid Krasis and Nexus of Fate is a fool's errand. Pteramander is also a minor but marked improvement to the deck because of its interaction with Chart a Course, which previously the deck had no way to ever cast on turn two and not have to discard.
The Izzet Drakes deck with Pteramander is no joke. It broke out in the MTGO MCQ, finishing in second, third and sixth place. A previous-level version with Niv-Mizzet, Parun, and Search for Azcanta finished fifth, but it had a set of Pteramander hiding in the sideboard. Between the Izzet decks and Mono-Blue, it's Pteramander that was the story of the tournament, with four copies in 8 of the top 16 decks, half the winning metagame.
Ultimately a Nexus of Fate deck did finish first, besting Izzet in the finals, but the tides are clearly turning, and the field this week looked far different from last week, where the Top 8 was full of Nexus of Fate decks. It will be interesting to see where how the metagame reacts, and I imagine we'll see an increase in other aggressive decks like Mono-Red and Azorius that have the tools to contain and race the Pteramander strategy.
Pteramander is never a 5/5 that early in Standard games, but it doesn't have to be in order to be effective. Games can go long, and a Pteramander on turn seven or eight will often be the best topdeck possible. In a format like Legacy things can go a lot faster, so it makes sense that Delver of Secrets – which can flip on turn two – is so valuable. Pteramander will really never be able to do that barring perfect draws involving many free spells and is more reliably a turn three or turn four activation, so they have to be viewed differently. The reality is that many games of Legacy and Modern do go long, and in these games Pteramander will excel just like it does in Standard.
Consider that in Modern Delver of Secrets is not actually a staple, because without Brainstorm it's less reliable and there is less of a density of great spells, among other considerations like Daze and Force of Will making this sort of strategy more appealing in Legacy. Yet, Pteramander has already made its way into Modern. While it might be slower, Pteramander is more reliable than Delver of Secrets because growing it is completely within your control. In Ross Merriam's latest outing with his Izzet Drakes deck he added a pair of Pteramander.
With Manamorphose, Gut Shot, and Thought Scour to help fill the graveyard, this deck can realistically attack with a 5/5 Pteramander on turn three, and as the game goes on it will become a UU 5/5 to topdeck. Just like the Standard Izzet Drakes deck was light on threats before Pteramander, so too is the Modern version. Adding this new aggressive element should make the deck more consistent in closing out opponents, especially those that can Overload it with removal. One factor to consider is the 5/5 body Pteramander creates is very difficult for some decks to deal with. Lightning Bolt and Flame Slash are two of the premier removal spells in the Modern format, and Ptermander plays well against them. With enough mana available, adapt can be activated multiple times in response to burn-based removal like Lightning Bolt (it will just only resolve once), so with careful play it can beat an instant-speed Lightning Bolt.
Pteramander is really exciting in Legacy, where it can be pitched to Force of Will. Blue spells are simply better than the rest in Legacy, and checking this box really is a big step towards playability. It makes it more exciting than a card like Monastery Swiftspear, which it has replaced in this Izzet Delver deck.
It can be expected that Pteramander is found wherever Delver of Secrets is, but it's also clearly not better than Delver of Secrets, which at no mana to flip is in a league of its own in a format defined by efficiency. Pteramander fills a more supplemental role, so a better comparison is actually Gurmag Angler, which has become a staple of the format in Grixis Delver and Dimir Death's Shadow decks as a large threat that is difficult for many opponents to deal with. Gurmag Angler is often a turn 3-4 threat in those decks, and Ptermander looks to be similar. Its obvious advantage is that it doesn't eat the graveyard, which is a significant drawback that keeps Gurmag Angler down to a two or three-of at most, while Pteramander has freedom to be a four-of. Its many advantages mean that Ptermanader may eventually supplant the non-blue threats used by Delver-style decks. It could replace Gurmag Angler in Grixis, for example, like it has replaced Tarmogoyf in this Temur deck.
Pteramander is a solid threat for Delver decks, but none of those lists really seek to make the most of the card. It's fully utilized in this Izzet deck that puts it alongside Arclight Phoenix and cards like Manamorphose and Thought Scour.
So far Arclight Phoenix has seen most of its Legacy play in combo-like decks with Buried Alive, but it's appealing in a more balanced strategy like this deck features. Ptermanader is the perfect bridge between Delver of Secrets and Arclight Phoenix, taking advantage of the same spells that enable Arclight Phoenix but attacking from a different axis. This makes it potent against disruption like Surgical Extraction that would otherwise stop the strategy, but also simply makes the deck less reliant on digging for and setting up Arclight Phoenix. The deck can play a more "normal" game and win with disruption backed by Delver of Secrets and now Pteramander.
Seeing Pteramander alongside Arclight Phoenix in both Modern and Legacy made me wonder why this combination hasn't shown up in Standard, but after I did some digging I discovered it has. Kevin Jones took an Arclight Phoenix deck with Pteramander to a Top 16 finish in the SCG Baltimore Team Open.
At the end of the day, the Arclight Phoenix deck isn't a whole lot different than the Drakes deck in the spells it plays, but there's something to be said for Arclight Phoenix if one of the weaknesses of Izzet Drakes is its threat-light nature. A move toward the recurrable Arclight Phoenix might make sense if the format shifts towards Esper Control its removal, including the Dive Down-dodging Kaya's Wrath.
If any card in Ravnica Allegiance does prove to be better than Pteramander in the end, I can't imagine it would be any other than Light Up the Stage. This card too has already emerged as a clear staple in Modern and Standard, and it's seeing enough Legacy play already that it looks like a staple there too. The two cards actually work well together, with Pteramander being a good way to enable spectacle for Light Up the Stage, which in turn helps fill the graveyard with spells. A set of each made their way into Kevin King's Izzet Delver Legacy deck, so this is already being applied in practice. Tariq Patel added a pair of Light the Stage to his Izzet Phoenix deck in Modern, and seeing that Ross Merriam added Pteramander to his, maybe it's only a matter of time before both are played together in Modern. Before long I expect we'll see these cards show up together in Standard, too.