What a weekend… and a lot of work, tweaking, and learning took place during the weeks leading up to it. This past Saturday I attended the Open Series in Indianapolis, my first Open Series event in a year and a half, to try out a deck I’d been fiddling with for a while and, at least in concept, was an adjustment from the deck I featured last week.
It took a long time to come up with this list, but trying the list against different archetypes put it through the fire and honed it even more. From this version, I tried to assess its weak points and tackle its problems aggressively while continually staying ahead both on board and in card parity. After some troubling matchups against decks like Atarka Red, I made some additional concessions to that matchup maindeck, shifted some cards around and realigned the deck’s plans in order to better combat both aggressive and controlling matchups. The Dragons were sturdy enough to get the job done, but a little support couldn’t hurt.
On Friday, I bought the final pieces and successfully tested the deck in one match against Esper Dragons. On Saturday, it was time to make the 110-mile drive to Indianapolis.
Early on a muggy Saturday morning, my friend Josh and I rendezvoused and pushed off for Indy, gas and parking money in hand. Along the way, we discussed the sideboard, which I was a little unsure of, particularly the fifteenth slot. Should it just be Ugin? Maybe another Anger of the Gods to complete the playset? Bow of Nylea for the lifegain?
After a detour, we arrived at the venue, unloaded, and he lent me the last couple cards to complete the list. The fifteenth sideboard card, he thought, should be a Den Protector. Den Protector is probably never wrong in a deck that can cast it, right?
After arriving at a fairly empty exhibit hall within the convention center, we registered and grabbed decklists. He was on his own planeswalker-heavy version of Naya Dragons, and I had this stack.
- 3 Stormbreath Dragon
- 2 Shaman of the Great Hunt
- 1 Dragonlord Atarka
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 3 Icefall Regent
OK, so here’s my reasoning. Atarka Red was pretty good against me (as I’m fairly sure it’s good against most things before sideboard), and Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst seemed like nice ways to handle it as both cards provided blockers for their tokens. If I wasn’t fighting Atarka Red, having some early pressure against something like a control deck or a non-Courser deck seemed acceptable. Shaman of the Great Hunt helped that plan, too, while also providing a draw engine in stalemates. I wanted another threat at the four-drop slot and it seemed to fit the bill nicely.
Unlike most Temur Dragons decks, which generally favor Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, I decided to try to leverage the raw power of Silumgar’s Scorn, which means I needed to be fairly heavily blue to reliable cast the most difficult of Dragons-Matter spells from Dragons of Tarkir. Playing lots of tokens while keeping up a hard counter and then casting a threat of my own seemed like a reasonable plan to win.
You might notice the glaring absence of Draconic Roar, and that was intentional. In preparation for the tournament, I expected four main decks to dominate the field: Atarka Red, G/R Devotion, Abzan Control, and Esper Dragons. None of these decks cares too much about Draconic Roar. Its best matchup, Abzan Aggro, was perhaps effectively mitigated by the presence of large Dragons and cards like Icefall Regent, so the last Roar was cut for the second Hordeling Outburst to put us a little more all-in on that plan. With more tokens, planeswalkers were safer choices, as the Goblins offered perfect blockers to protect them. I expected Icefall Regent would be particularly strong against the green decks, pinning their large threats and leaving them with a bunch of mana creatures.
From the sideboard, Anger of the Gods and Hornet Nest are the go-to cards to slot in against any deck with a creature that attacks on turn two, and Anger is good enough against the ramp-heavy G/R decks to warrant play. Stratus Dancer, as demonstrated in last week’s article, proved to be an excellent sideboard choice against me from the control sideboard. Back to Nature was a card I basically read as “Destroy all creatures named Courser of Kruphix.” In a deck mostly comprised of one-for-ones, the potential for Back to Nature blowouts was high, and since I had no enchantments to destroy it would provide all upside. I chose it over Destructive Revelry because of the two-for-one potential, especially since the two damage seemed irrelevant to my plans and Revelry would be harder to cast. With the exception of Perilous Vault, which I wasn’t really worried about, there aren’t many artifacts I want to target in Standard, either. Keranos, God of Storms and Dragonlord’s Prerogative are nice ones against control, and Surrak Dragonclaw is good there too, making it so my Dragons and Stratus Dancers cannot be countered. It isn’t bad against ground pounder decks, either, as he’s a pretty beefy creature anyway. Mob Rule was another card I planned to use against either G/R Devotion or nearly any Dragon deck, providing sweeping blowout potential on a stale board, which I predicted with a large number of Goblin tokens gumming up the floor. Finally, the fifteenth slot was filled by Den Protector because hey, it’s a solid creature.
Seemed fine to me; I finished the registration at my seat for the players meeting, and then it was off to round one.
Round One – Sean (U/G Devotion/Collected Company)
Sean was a local fellow, excited to compete in his first Open. After shuffling, cutting, and exchanging pleasantries, he took the play after I rolled a four on three six-sided dice. He led with a Yavimaya Coast and, for a moment, I thought we were on the same plan, or that maybe he could be on Sultai. The thought of U/G Devotion didn’t occur to me until Thassa, God of the Sea came down. I fell behind on the board despite making a mess of Goblins. While I countered his first Collected Company, he cast Master of Waves, made three elementals, and I picked up by cards for game two.
In the second game, he got stuck on three lands and I made enough Thunderbreak Regents to obliterate Sean and his friend two tables down.
In the final game, I made a critical error. On the draw, I had a hand that, among other things, contained a Hornet Nest and a Mob Rule, but it only had two lands. I went in the tank on it for a while, but eventually decided to mulligan. My next card was a land, but it was too late. I shuffled and took a four-land, Dragon Fodder and Dragon hand. He stuck two Master of Waves after I played a couple flimsy Goblins, and none of these things could block a Master.
Losing the first round is always hard, but I’ve made Top 64 after a round-one and round-two loss before. Let’s just hope I wouldn’t get the second one.
Josh came back with a thumbs up, having cleanly 2-0’d his opponent.
Round Two – Todd (Abzan Control)
Todd extended his hand in greeting when I sat down, both of us having lost our first match. He had a mull to five in one of his games as I recall, but this was an all-new match.
Game one saw a good development on the board for me, but it wilted under a hail of removal. Although I kept making threats, he kept killing them, my mull to six put my behind, and I wasn’t able to seal the deal. Game two didn’t go too much better after bad sideboarding on my part. While I did get him to five, I couldn’t get the last few points in despite a flurry of Stormbreath Dragons.
Josh came back, thrilled with another clean 2-0. His deck was solid, and we playtested some. I got on the other side of him with the perfect curve of Dragon Fodder, Hordeling Outburst, and Shaman of the Great Hunt.
Round Three – James (G/R Devotion)
James and I sat down for round three, both of us in a struggle for survival.
His opening was slow, and I made some Goblins and got in there some, saving a Stoke the Flames for a turn-three Courser. On turn five he cast Whisperwood Elemental and I cast Anticipate in response, hoping to find a counterspell. As I Anticipated, I grabbed the three cards and set them against the Atarka and Stoke in Flames in my hand. James called a judge, advising that touching the cards to the rest of my hand counted as drawing. Both the table judge and the head judge agreed, following an appeal. I scooped up my cards furiously, the taste of salt filling my mouth. This was just not a good day.
I sided out all my Anticipates; I wasn’t as pleased with that card today as I had been.
In game two, he had another slow start while I deployed some Dragons to stay ahead of him. I had a Stormbreath Dragon and an Icefall Regent out, with him at thirteen life. He had cast an Arbor Colossus the turn before, and I had pinned it with the Icefall Regent. With his sixth land, he activated Arbor Colossus’ monstrous ability, making the Colossus a 9/9. He targeted and killed my Stormbreath Dragon, I assume because he feared I could monstrous it the following turn. Instead I untapped and cast Mob Rule naming creatures four or greater, stealing his Colossus and swinging for exactly lethal.
In game three, I got more Thunderbreak Regents out than the law should allow and, after having to cast Dragonlord Atarka to get further ahead, I revealed the in-hand Stoke the Flames during my upkeep for the win. The judge, who walked by at the moment we signed the slip, gave me a nod of approval as he took the slip, noting the game loss on the slip.
Literally no one ever is excited about a 1-2 record. It always reminds me of my least favorite count in baseball. If you’ve got a ball and two strikes, you just don’t feel safe at all as the batter. If you had two strikes and no balls, the pitcher might just have your number and he’ll strike you out on the next pitch, as precedent might indicate, but with a ball, it feels more unpredictable.
Josh came back to the table 3-0, still without a single game loss.
Round Four – Ronnie (G/R Aggro)
Ronnie, another friendly fellow with a Kentucky shirt on, greeted my kindly as we sat down for the next game. We had a nice back-and-forth, then the game began. His first play was an Elvish Mystic, which had me put him on G/R Dragons or Devotion. I played out my Dragon Fodder, as I had on most of my second turns at this point. He followed it up with an Heir of the Wilds, so I knew it wasn’t Devotion. On turn three, he cast Surrak, the Hunt Caller with enough power on the board to give him haste. I took seven after the Heir’s Ferocious trigger. I untapped and cast Stoke the Flames on Surrak, tapping a Goblin. He untapped, cast another Surrak and hit me for eight, putting me to three. With a single Goblin left, I picked it up. After sideboarding, I simply survived a little longer. He stuck two Goblin Rabblemasters after my Anticipates failed to find anything but a Hornet Nest a turn too late.
This was the first match where I actually feel like I didn’t have a chance. Elvish Mystic made this aggro deck far too fast, and I was dead the moment I sat down. At that moment, I regretted not having the fourth Anger of the Gods in the sideboard.
Josh crushed his fourth round again, still 8-0 in games. He was elated by his performance. As far as the tournament was considered, he was doing perfectly.
This is the moment of truth. Josh and I surmised that X-3s would be the minimum requirement for a day two berth. Thus, every opponent I’d face the rest of the day would be teetering on the edge of oblivion right there with me.
Round Five – Grant (G/W Hardened Scales)
Grant, a nice fellow with a nice handshake and a name that I struggled to hear correctly over the din of the crowd, shuffled up and put a Blossoming Sands out first. This almost certainly pointed to just green and white, as Abzan, Naya, and Bant (I guess) would just play fetchlands or Temples instead. Thus, I figured Fleecemane Lion would be coming to play. Sure wish this Silumgar’s Scorn was a Draconic Roar.
I had a sluggish start that game after a mulligan resulted in me getting stuck on two land despite an Anticipate to search for a third one. I did live long enough to see my opponent’s Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and Hardened Scales plan come together.
In round two, I sideboarded in the Back to Natures for only the second time on the day, and Anger of the Gods came in too. The second game was closer. I assembled an armada of Thunderbreak and Icefall Regents. He was playing Abzan Falconer, however, which gave all his creatures with counters flying. He played a Courser of Kruphix, my hand absent a Back to Nature to answer it, and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes came down shortly after. With two Hardened Scales, he was able to add nine +1/+1 counters with one activation. I swatted off his creatures for a while, but because I couldn’t get in there effectively, I couldn’t deal the ten points of damage I needed to finish the job, even with the Crater’s Claws in hand.
Glub glub glub…
Josh crushed his round five, still flawless. A last-minute sideboard card we’d thought of, Dragonlord Dromoka, had turned out to be an all-star for him, pulling unwinnable matches back from the brink.
With an unacceptable record, I scooped and played a shop friend who’d ridden up with another car. He was on the ol’ 1-4 record too, so we jammed for fun. He was playing a fun B/G Constellation Collected Company deck. While he played sweet cards like Master of the Feast, I cast Icefall Regents to tap down his Master and smashed back with Dragons. His Doomwake Giants ripped up my tokens, but before long I had him defeated. Love the concept.
Josh dropped his sixth match, but it didn’t stop him from earning a feature match in round six. I made my way to the side events, drafting a KTK-KTK-FRF pod. After drafting a junky toughness-matters black and green deck with triple Grim Contest, I crumbled to an Aura-heavy U/W flyers deck in the first round. Unfazed, I queued up again, drafting an Esper control pile with Ruthless Deathfang, Cunning Breezecaller, and morphs forever. Silumgar’s Scorn did much better in that deck than it did for me in Standard. I carried that mess to and through the finals, winning three packs and playing Pack Wars with Josh at the conclusion of his feature match, which he wasn’t able to win.
Josh went on to play two more rounds and close the day as 6-3 after an absolute nailbiter against Abzan Control. Josh’s opponent was ripping perfects off the top, Elspeth after Hero’s Downfall after Den Protector, keeping Josh’s Nissa, Worldwaker, Xenagos the Reveler, and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes in check. Finally he amassed enough of his own Elspeth tokens to crash for lethal. Although he’d binned a single copy of Soul of Theros earlier in the game, he’d forgotten about it. It didn’t matter, and after the round went to time, Josh clinched it on turn three of five, securing his seat for the second day.
We drove back from Indy that night and he walked through his matches that day. Every match sounded more intense than the one before. While I’d struggled, I’d learned a lot, as I try to do on a bad day like this. Token decks are currently easily squashed, and I wasn’t going deep enough on them to leverage them as well as I thought I could. No Atarka’s Command, Spear of Heliod, or any other Anthem effects in my deck kept them as humble, weak 1/1s. The sideboard was great, but I didn’t draw much of it. After all the debate I had over the fifteenth sideboard slot, I didn’t draw the Den Protector in any match.
Josh returned Sunday morning, played a 3-2-1 record on the day and clinched 54th place. It was his first large-scale tournament, and congratulations to him for making a strong deck choice, enduring a grueling fifteen-round gauntlet, and doing so well in his first professional foray!
Cutting the Draconic Roars was a mistake. The extra damage provided by the Dragon-matters clause would have closed a lot of games where I got my opponents to single digits. Silumgar’s Scorn was good but not great, and I sided out both it and the Anticipates quite frequently. Just as often, I sided out the token producers and Shaman of the Great Hunt. Draconic Roar would have been stronger for sure. I’d considered Savage Knuckleblades, but testing proved the mana was not friendly to that, but it could be that’s the right direction to go.
Mob Rule, on the other hand, would have literally won me every game I lost with the exception of G/R Aggro (he didn’t have enough damage and I never had six lands). Because I didn’t play Draconic Roar, they always had pretty full boards. A small concession, but it’s still something. Maybe there’s something to a Fodder/Outburst deck with Xenagos and four Mob Rule? Hmm…
As a brewer with one toe in kitchen-table Magic and the other in large-scale tournaments, I understand that I voluntarily put myself at a disadvantage. I’m confident that, with a tried-and-true deck, I could finish better, but that’s not really what it’s about. As a brewer, you live for the thrill of trying something new, looking at formats from a different angle. The only thing we can hope for is a Standard environment that is at least somewhat friendly to it. With so many beacons of power in the format that far outclass everything else, though, this can sometimes prove to be difficult.
Regarding this Temur deck, though? Back to the drawing board. Still, I had a great time, and I’m glad Josh had a great first large-scale tournament experience. Being a part of a friend’s good day makes your own better.
Even having a day full of beating doesn’t stop the fire, though. On the way home, I thought up three more decks in my head, some of which I expressed to Josh, who provided valuable feedback. With Magic Origins on the horizon, the game’s only going to get better!
When you’ve dug into Temur Dragons, what’s been your line? If you use a G/R Dragons shell, what do you use the blue for?