Dragons In New Standard

Shaheen Soorani, veteran of control strategies, shows you the lists he’d be bringing to #SCGBALT if the tournament were this weekend! Get a jump start on the competition with these Dragon brews!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease March 26-27!

The rotation of fetchlands delivers a blow to the fabric of the Standard metagame. Many of the other pieces leaving don’t affect the control decks I’ve been accustomed to this last year or so, except Dig Through Time. Losing the best card draw spell in the format leaves a large void in Dragons Control variants as well as planeswalker-based strategies. I’ve been in the lab trying to figure out how control can survive without the card quality or quantity that Dig through Time and Treasure Cruise provided. The best remaining card draw spell is easily Painful Truths, but that locks any aspiring control mage into black.

Black is a very powerful color with outstanding removal, a diesel planeswalker, and a spicy Dragon, but there are many attractive new cards that make me want to venture elsewhere. I will probably launch my new Standard campaign with the Esper Dragons list I am posting, but I also have Jeskai and Bant ready to go.

There are pros and cons with each of the Dragons lists that I have crafted and it boils down to the power of Epiphany at the Drownyard; the strength of Nahiri, the Harbinger and red removal; and which Dragons pair best with Dragonlord Ojutai. I have taken some time getting the numbers to where I want them and the testing will begin this week for each of these lists with a focus on the Esper shard.

I’m not including sideboards on these lists until I’m more comfortable with identifying which decks are going to be dominating in the early SCG Tour® events, but I’ll be vigilant and timely getting those updated sideboards across my social media platforms once I have them formulated.

I have employed powerful statistician and personal friend Frank Karsten to help me with the manabases of my project decks. I’ll be working with him in the near future to get more refined manabases in the upcoming days. The manabase here, and the ones coming, are done by me and I’m far from convinced that they are perfect. The Esper Dragons manabase has worked well, but I’m sure there are some tweaks here and there that can improve the mana efficiency and reduce the frequency of enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands.

Jeskai is getting a lot of love with Shadows over Innistrad and it’s pulling me into the red camp little by little. Nahiri, the Harbinger is an absolute house in any control shell. Removal prior to Nahiri, the Harbinger can keep the battlefield down to one aggressive creature, similar to the days of Gideon Jura. She can come in and easily slay most any bothersome threat.

Formulating control gameplans is easy when there is a planeswalker in the format that can be the final piece of the puzzle to create a clear battlefield. There is all upside on this planeswalker, because it comes in and immediately gives a loot effect if the threats are light. After a few loots in a grindy matchup, a hasted Dragonlord Ojutai is exactly what the doctor ordered to provide more value and a threat from left field. I’m very excited about this planeswalker and it seems that red is having more and more to offer the control world.

Another card from the new set that I’m ecstatic to play with, but not against, is Avacyn’s Judgment. Control is at its peak when there isn’t a socially acceptable Fireball in the set. Those days are over, and get ready, because you’ll see a lot of this card in new Standard. The hype isn’t up yet on this card; however, I am positive it’ll pick up some steam once the madness engine is competitively used.

It does a great job at killing Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy early, kills an Eldrazi Skyspawner and its little friend, deals with a few other very aggressive red and black creatures, and even goes upstairs to the life total. With all of that early-game and a heck of a late-game, it gives reach to anyone willing to use a few discard outlets in their aggro, midrange, or control deck. We benefit from having the best madness outlets in Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Nahiri, the Harbinger, so get used to seeing this card come with that package. A Fireball that can divide any way we choose gives control players the ability to kill multiple threats at instant speed with our two-drop, and that is something worth investing in.

The rest of the red that gives us control players the fire survived the rotation. Draconic Roar is a card that goes well in any Dragons strategy, and since we are playing red, employing Thunderbreak Regent makes a lot of sense. A Bolt here from our Dragon, a Bolt from a removal spell, an attack or two from our threats, and all of the sudden this control deck feels a bit like midrange.

Chandra, Flamecaller is the best red win condition that control can use and it also provides a nasty discard outlet later in the game, when we have all the mana, to Avacyn’s Judgment our opponent into oblivion. The other red spell that will reserve a full sideboard regiment is Radiant Flames. I think Radiant Flames is the premier sweeper of the format when Dragonlord Ojutai is involved.

Languish is much more powerful; however, it never did work well with Dragons. I think that it is now a necessary evil though, because of the rotation of Crux of Fate. In this Jeskai Dragons list, I don’t think Radiant Flames needs to be in the maindeck. Reflector Mage, Avacyn’s Judgment, and Draconic Roar all deal a blow to the early-game threats that we will be facing.

This is the first deck I’m piloting in Shadows Standard. That tournament will most likely be the upcoming #SCGBALT, so I need to make sure that this deck is perfect before venturing up north. Blue and white will be the control base moving forward due to the undebatable power of Dragonlord Ojutai; Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy; and Silumgar’s Scorn. Silumgar’s Scorn is still the premier counterspell of the format, but it did drop in power like most of the other cards in Standard. With old Standard, we could Dig Through Time and bag a Dragon, a counterspell, or both if need be. Without the ability to go seven cards deep to find the missing piece, you will be separated from a Dragon and left with a Force Spike.

The upside is the rotation of Crackling Doom. More often than not, you can stick a Dragonlord Ojutai and it will be safer than ever. There is some excitement for the card To the Slaughter, but I have to rain on that parade. I think delirium is going to be tougher than expected to assemble, which weakens all of the cards with that attached. To the Slaughter does kill a planeswalker, and the Edict effect is nice, but I think Foul-Tongue Invocation is much better with the lifegain added. I see To the Slaughter being a decent sideboard option; however, in our deck I am banking on the power of Anguished Unmaking to be our planeswalker killer.

Most of the cards in this list are older and proven. SoI provides us the experimental Epiphany at the Drownyard to hit early land drops and serve up valuable spells later in the game. Anguished Unmaking is the most exciting answer-all I’ve seen in quite some time, and Sorin, Grim Nemesis gives a nice life boost with a removal bonus in the late-game.

The rest of the deck, outside of the manabase, is from the pool of control cards that Dragons variants have tapped into from time to time historically. Cards like Transgress the Mind increased in stock because first-turn Duress isn’t ever happening with the land setup in the early game. Exiling cards is also a powerful effect, which adds to the hand disruption spell’s stock. Grasp of Darkness is in the maindeck currently but may be tough to consistently cast. So far I haven’t had much of a problem with it, but if Ultimate Price is good enough to kill all of the early pressure, then it’ll replace Grasp of Darkness. The popularity of Eldrazi Aggro and the power of creature-lands will determine which removal spell gets our vote.

The best part of Esper Dragons is that we get to play with Painful Truths. Painful Truths is the most powerful card draw spell in the new Standard and the only challenger has some big shoes to fill. Epiphany at the Drownyard has been great in casual use, but I haven’t tested it against the gauntlet yet.

An X=3 use of Epiphany revealing two land and a Dragonlord Ojutai seems rough for us; clearly we are getting the “worthless” land and our powerful Dragon is going into the graveyard. In reality we wanted those lands desperately and we thank our opponent graciously for providing us the land we need to continue to build our battlefield-state empire. The complete opposite scenario can take place as well: our opponent tries to next-level us after reading this segment and places the card advantage into the graveyard, giving us our threat, but this time we are on the flooded side. I think there is going to be a lot of player error that rewards the user of Epiphany more often than the other way around.

With cards like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, there isn’t a whole lot of downside in filling the graveyard with spells that didn’t make it to our hand after Epiphany at the Drownyard resolves. Because Esper Dragons has access to Painful Truths, there isn’t much to lose if the new card draw spells don’t work out. I have high hopes for Epiphany at the Drownyard and I think it’s going to be a very good card, but if not, there is nothing to fear. Esper Dragons, on the back of Dragonlord Ojutai and Dragonlord Silumgar, will give control players enough firepower to take down tournaments.

This Bant Dragons list is the most theoretical out of the lists provided for you. I love Dragonlord Dromoka in the new format and believe that a turn 5 Dragonlord Ojutai paired with it is nearly unstoppable. The lifelink is huge, the pseudo-protection is powerful, and the body is nearly impossible to kill. I tried very hard to find a way to use Sylvan Advocate with Silumgar’s Scorn in the same deck, but it’s simply not possible. The white has to remain a heavy part of the deck because of how dependent a Bant Dragons strategy is on removal. Stasis Snare and Silkwrap have to be the premier removal spells in a deck like this, and that means the white sources have to be increased to near-blue levels.

Bant Dragons uses Epiphany in a slightly different way, having multiple ways to regain spells lost in the mix. Pulse of Murasa gives lifegain and Den Protector creates a threat paired with a Regrowth. The other benefit of having to play a large number of white sources is the easy inclusion of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. We all know how powerful the white planeswalker is, and being able to consistently cast it the turn before Dragonlord Ojutai is pretty exciting.

The only thing left to work on with these three Dragons strategies is the manabase. These are the lists that I’ll test thoroughly this upcoming week (Spring Break for me!), so stay tuned for updates, sideboards, and a few tweaks here and there. I am really excited to get out there and continue to show the world that Dragons Control of any type is capable of contending with anything new coming out of SoI.

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease March 26-27!