Devotion To Dragons

Chris VanMeter went with G/R Devotion instead of G/R Dragons this past weekend, and as good as Devotion is, that is not a mistake he intends to make twice.

Last weekend there were two big Standard events that happened here in the US: Grand Prix Providence and SCG Indy. Both of these events were headlined by extremely similar G/R Dragons decks that were only a handful of cards off of the Goblin Rabblemaster Dragons deck that I posted in my article last week.

I was at SCG Indy. I didn’t play G/R Dragons.

I’m real stupid.

I knew that the deck was going to be good this week. My gut told me that a more aggressive version with Goblin Rabblemaster was where I should be. With how popular G/R Devotion was the previous week, I thought that there would be a healthy number of that along with some Esper Dragons sprinkled in as a way to try and combat the Devotion deck.

G/R Devotion can be tough, but Draconic Roar is very good at slowing them down, and since they have no hard answer for something like Goblin Rabblemaster the games can get out of control quickly. Esper Dragons is traditionally pretty bad for G/R Dragons, but with no Courser + Caryatid in the deck to compound how bad the burn spells are against them, we can just grind them out with our Deathmist Raptors and Haven of the Spirit Dragons.

That would be if I had Raptors. Sadly, my list was more focused on Den Protector attacking and was using Boon Satyr as the three-drop of choice, which ultimately had me off the deck and back onto G/R Devotion.

Eric Rill and Steve Rubin’s deck was perfect for this weekend, and sadly I wasn’t on the train and got dispatched just like I deserved. If you haven’t read the interview that [author name="Ari Lax"]Ari Lax[/author] did with them yesterday, I recommend that you do so.

Let’s talk about the G/R Devotion deck that I played before we jump into thoughts on G/R Dragons and where we go from here. I had some ideas about where I wanted to be with Devotion. I was unimpressed with [card name="Deathmist Raptor"]Deathmist Raptor[/card], and I expected there to be a decent number of mirror matches happening, which only increased my dislike for [card name="Deathmist Raptor"]Deathmist Raptor[/card]. In the mirror, all things considered equal, it’s all about getting the mana advantage. Whoever outramps the opponent, usually involving [card name="Elvish Mystic"]Elvish Mystic[/card] to get out ahead or getting to be the first to untap with [card name="Xenagos, the Reveler"]Xenagos, the Reveler[/card], typically wins.

Here is the list I played and gave to a friend I was staying with who ended up 11-4:

[deck id="86547"/]

I had been so impressed with [card name="Xenagos, the Reveler"]Xenagos, the Reveler[/card] over the last couple of weeks that I wanted to go up to a full four. It definitely felt like the key to breaking the mirror, and Xenagos also put in a lot of work against any control deck that we might come up against. I also ended up with a [card name="Nissa, Worldwaker"]Nissa, Worldwaker[/card] in the sideboard as it’s a good threat when we are on the play against any midrange deck, including the mirror, and is great against Esper Dragons.

I knew going into the weekend that I wanted to try and avoid Mardu and Esper Dragons, which was a bit of a mistake. I should have taken into account that since [author name="Jeff Hoogland"]Jeff Hoogland[/author] has won the Premier IQ at the Season Two Invitational in Columbus, there would likely be a lot of Mardu in Indy last weekend.

Unfortunately, luck was not on my side for the Standard Open. I got paired against Mardu three times and Esper Dragons twice before I dropped to get my trade on. I also mulliganed to five on average once per match, and even lost a game against Esper where my opponent mulliganed to four, and I to five, where I got Thoughtseized and then had a spell Dissolved on turn three.

The great thing about Standard is that any deck can win. The cards and decks are all so powerful that even a bad matchup is still winnable. Every deck has an angle of attack against every other deck, and something as random as a mulligan or a missed land drop can mean that you are behind or ahead.

Given what I know now, if I had the chance to do last weekend over I would have played [author name="Eric"]Eric[/author] Rill’s deck, but I still think that my G/R Devotion list was good and given a few less mulligans and some better pairings I could have ended up battling for glory on Day Two.

Instead, I got to play in the 5K Legacy Premier IQ. I’ve been pretty high on OmniTell recently, and I firmly believe that it’s the best deck in Legacy. That’s what great about Eternal formats like Legacy and Modern. Whatever deck someone is championing is always the “best deck” to them.

No, but really. OmniTell is the best deck.

Here is the list I ran with (the same 75 that I lent to [author name="Brad Nelson"]Brad Nelson[/author], who used it to split in the finals of the 5K Legacy Premier IQ in Columbus at the Season Two Invitational)

[deck id="86787"/]

The deck felt great. I blazed through the Swiss rounds, going 5-0 and double-drawing into the Top Eight. Along the way I beat Elves, Death and Taxes, Storm twice, and Miracles but wound up being paired against Ben Weinburg in the Top Eight who was on a pretty standard Temur Delver list.

The Delver decks are difficult to navigate, but I feel like they are definitely winnable and about as close to an even matchup as you can have in Legacy. This particular OmniTell list is a little slower than traditional [card name="Show and Tell"]Show and Tell[/card] decks since we don’t have [card name="Lotus Petal"]Lotus Petal[/card] and there are only two “Sol lands” with the [card name="City of Traitors"]City of Traitors[/card], but that’s OK. We aren’t really a [card name="Show and Tell"]Show and Tell[/card] deck anyway, we’re a [card name="Dig Through Time"]Dig Through Time[/card] deck that happens to kill with [card name="Show and Tell"]Show and Tell[/card].

In my match against Ben, I basically punted and gave both games away by incorrectly sequencing my game actions and spells and getting absolutely destroyed by a [card name="Daze"]Daze[/card] that I knew was in his hand the entire time. I can’t recall the last time I played as poorly as I did in my match against Ben. I was frustrated at myself, but still wished him earnest luck in the semifinals and packed my things and got out of there as quickly as possible.

Mistakes happen, that is very true, but making the same mistake in back-to-back games to lose the games and match just really stung. Maybe it was fatigue – I felt like I was playing very well during the swiss and got some food during my two hour break from double-drawing. Maybe I was dehydrated since I wasn’t drinking as much water as I normally would since the water fountains were quite a ways away.

Maybe there isn’t an excuse for it and I just need to make sure that it never happens again.

I’m going to go with the last one. Even at the end of the day when you’re tired and have been playing lots of Magic, there is no excuse to rush through things and miss stuff. Slow down and take your time. Play methodically. Play smart.

Now for what we really want to talk about. DRAGONS!!!

I’m pretty happy that G/R Dragons did so well this weekend. I love the deck’s style of play and I love that there are so many different versions that you can play, but we still have to try and decipher where we should be for this weekend’s Standard Open in Baltimore.

When I played the Courser + Caryatid version of G/R Dragons in Syracuse, the archetype was a known entity, but it was much more akin to what we are currently seeing. [card name="Rattleclaw Mystic"]Rattleclaw Mystic[/card], [card name="Goblin Rabblemaster"]Goblin Rabblemaster[/card], Deathmist Ratptor, and/or [card name="Boon Satyr"]Boon Satyr[/card] were all the early-game headliners and I was able to exploit this by figuring something out pretty early on in testing with the deck:

This card is absolutely insane!

Being able to leverage my Draconic Roars against their creatures while I had virtually only Elvish Mystics, Xenagos satyrs and Ashcloud Phoenix as live targets put me in a great position to do what the deck does best – race with Dragons. Incidental damage from removal on Thunderbreak Regent combined with chip shots from Courser of Kruphix and extra Draconic Roar damage put opponents dangerously close to being dead to a Crater’s Claws.

My gut is telling me that we might be going right back to almost that same format.

  • Atarka Red will creep back up since they will expect less Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid.
  • Abzan Aggro will make a bit of a resurgence since it has good game against the smaller, more aggressive styles of G/R Dragons.
  • Abzan Control will start to re-stabilize in the format, with G/R Devotion being expected to decline slightly.
  • Some people will still play Mardu with a small amount of success despite its glaring mana curve issues.
  • Some people will still play Esper Dragons even if they expect to get bashed by Abzan Megamorph style decks because they just love Dragonlord Ojutai.

G/R Dragons can decide to take one of two routes. They can either remain more aggressive with the Deathmist Raptor + Den Protector grind plan against the control decks, or they can switch to a Courser + Caryatid build and give up some percentage against the hard control decks but take a much better position for the G/R Dragons mirror and Atarka Red.

Here is the list that I was championing a few weeks back that I almost played at the Season Two Invitational.

I really liked how this list played out when I won a Super IQ with it. The Den Protectors were sweet and did exactly what I needed them to do. They got in some damage when I played them for some early aggression. They let me rebuy Draconic Roar for some massive damage. I even got to rebuy a Crater’s Claws to do massive amounts of damage.

Shaving on Courser of Kruphix like I started doing back in the Jund Monsters days before I made the switch to Goblin Rabblemaster felt great. I didn’t really like how often I felt my hands getting clogged up by Courser of Kruphix, but I always wanted at least one in just about every game.

Maybe there is some world where a hybrid of the two decks could be good. It could be likely that my initial observation of Goblin Rabblemaster before Syracuse is still correct in that it’s obviously a 10/10 on the play and when we can jam it early and uncontested, but is a clear 2/10 when it’s bad, which is just too inconsistent for my likings.

Deathmist Raptor is clearly great as a way to grind out games and get in chip shot damage, and Rattleclaw Mystic does make us a little more vulnerable to getting our mana creatures killed, but Courser of Kruphix can help with smoothing our mana.

Let’s give a hybrid a crack and see how it looks.

This maindeck doesn’t actually look all that bad. It’s likely that we want to be on only two Haven of the Spirit Dragon since we have a lot of GG and RR in our non-Dragon mana costs, but I’m still leaning on the side of inclusion.

Cutting Xenagos, the Reveler from the maindeck isn’t really something that I like doing, but I really like Ashcloud Phoenix’s position in the metagame right now and think that relegating the planeswalkers to the sideboard is likely fine and will probably be where I start.

A build like this doesn’t really make us immune to Draconic Roar in the mirror, but having Courser of Kruphix definitely makes us better against the Atarka Red decks, and it plays pretty well in the grindy games where we are getting value off of our Deathmist Raptors.

I think that this is where I’m going to start and will likely end up on a Dragons deck for SCG Baltimore this coming weekend. Every time I don’t sleeve up Stormbreath Dragon for a Standard event, I always feel like I’m making a mistake. I do love all sorts of Dragons though, so if anything is going to get me off Thunderbreak Regent and Stormbreath Dragons, it’s likely something along the lines of the deck that Kent Ketter played to a top 4 finish.

I think it’s time to bring back my hashtag. #wherearemydragons