Everyone keeps talking about how sweet Standard is right now, and I tend to agree. There are some annoyances (which I’ll touch on in a moment), but for the
most part, it’s amazing just how many different cards and strategies you can deploy and do well with by using a combination of solid theory, craft,
practice, and tight play. Dragons of Tarkir seems to have surprised a lot of people with just how deep and impactful the set is, but I’m not
surprised when I recall that Dragons of Tarkir is a “big” set, roughly the same size as Khans of Tarkir and other large sets that we
typically see in the fall. That’s not to take away credit from Wizards R&D in coming out with a fantastic product with lots of great cards and
gameplay-Dragons of Tarkir is as sweet as Khans even without the allure of the reprinted fetchlands.
I do have a nit to pick though when it comes to Dragons of Tarkir. The set has Dragons in its name and is obviously not messing around – the goal
of this set is to have Dragons be a meaningful part of play whether it’s in Limited or Standard. Part of that goal was a cycle of uncommon “Dragon rewards”
cards-spells that do something extra if you reveal a Dragon when they’re played, or if you have a Dragon on the battlefield. Let’s take a look at them:
Now I’ve been playing Magic since Unlimited and, as a fan of green from the very beginning of the game, I’ve long suffered at the hands of the
enemy color blue getting the best toys. Just look at this cycle from back then, the “lucky charms” – instant speed, one mana, get three of something:
Now, only one of these was absolute trash in terms of power (sorry, Healing Salve), but Ancestral Recall is the card miles more powerful than the other
ones. It took many, many years before fundamental changes in design philosophy shifted Magic away from the idea that blue gets the most powerful things
because being powerful is blue’s identity (its slice of the “color pie,” so to speak), and there is no doubt that powerful cards in Magic are much better
balanced across all the colors now than they used to be. Still, it does seem that old habits die hard, and it is all too easy to accidentally give blue
something that’s just incredibly overpowered compared to the other colors in the cycle. Let’s take a look at those Dragon rewards again alongside the cards
they most closely resemble, assuming you’ve got a Dragon in your hand or on the battlefield when you play it:
Even “juiced up” versions of Searing Blood, Wall of Omens, and Kalonian Tusker are pretty mediocre in modern Magic given the size and power of creatures
being played. A juiced-up Diabolic Edict, however, is an excellent tool against a handful of creatures that otherwise could be problematic to remove, such
as Sylvan Caryatid, Fleecemane Lion, and the two hexproof Dragons on the block. The life boost is also significant against the aggressive decks, where an
Edict isn’t as good.
Then there’s Silumgar’s Scorn, which doesn’t need to be a juiced-up counterspell because Counterspell is already a ridiculous card that needs no juicing up
(see: Mana Drain). Counterspell was last printed almost sixteen years ago in Mercadian Masques, and you know what? Magic became a much better game
without having Counterspell around because there really shouldn’t be such a cheap, all-around answer to nearly any spell cast whether it’s in the earliest
parts of the game or the very last turns.
But not only do we get a counterspell at its best with a Dragon around, at its worst Silumgar’s Scorn is a Force Spike-also a powerful card, at least in
the early parts of the game where deploying or answering threats on-curve is part of every deck’s gameplan.
Now, we can tell ourselves“well hang on there, if we know our opponent is playing Force Spike, we can always play around it” by giving up your
mana efficiency, because sometimes your opponent isn’t going to have Dragons in hand or on the battlefield. It’s not like a blue deck is going to want to
play but so many Dragons, right?
Here’s the thing. Imagine that the blue Dragons were good but slightly less pushed than the non-blue Dragons. At that point, we might have some interesting
tension regarding Silumgar’s Scorn-players would actually have to weigh some real costs against the powerful benefits of having Counterspell at their
disposal. Instead, players who want to play Silumgar’s Scorn as Counterspell are forced to pay the cost of playing the best Dragons in the format. How’s
that for a difficult choice?
Look at Silumgar’s Scorn. Now look at the other Dragon rewards. Now back at Silumgar’s Scorn. One of those cards is the Old Spice Man, the others are mere
mortal schlubs. Scaleguard Sentinels isn’t exactly incentivizing players to build decks around Dromoka and Atarka.
What really adds to this bitter pill for those of us not inclined to play blue decks is that there are actually six Dragon rewards cards in the set-and the
sixth card is the blue Dragonlord’s Prerogative, which just happens to be especially good against Silumgar’s Scorn! How’s that for incestuous towards
wanting to play blue?
With this crazy-good gang of Dragons across black, blue, and white tied together with Silumgar’s Scorn, it’s no wonder that Esper Dragons hit the format
like a ton of bricks. As if Dig Through Time wasn’t a powerful enough card for control decks, but now they get to run Counterspell and a gaggle of
hard-hitting, difficult to remove evasive utility creatures.
Taking the story of Silumgar’s Scorn to its natural conclusion is the deck that Mike Flores used last weekend to win a slot for the next Pro Tour. If you
have Starcitygames.com Premium, you can read about the deck in Patrick Chapin’s column this past Monday, but
if not, you can see the list in the Starcitygames.com deck database here.
Basically, it’s a Mono-Blue Control deck stuffed to the gills with counterspells – including four Silumgar’s Scorn – and a bunch of Dragons. Not just the
blue ones, either-he’s got Dragonlord Dromoka and Dragonlord Atarka too! By going straight blue he’s able to “splash” Dragons with the two Dragon lands:
Haven of the Spirit Dragon and Crucible of the Spirit Dragon. Everyone knows how good Haven of the Spirit Dragon is, but Crucible is a great land for a
deck that wants to hold up mana to cast counterspells in the early and mid-game-if you don’t need to counterspell something, you can salvage the mana
you’ve been holding up by charging up the land for casting future Dragons.
While I think it’s neat that you can potentially “splash” Dragons into a mono-color deck, I find it rather galling that the most powerful base color is
blue, and it is almost entirely because of how stupidly powerful Silumgar’s Scorn is. Doesn’t it make more sense that red should be the most powerful base
color for a Dragon deck? Thunderbreak Regent lines up fairly well with Icefall Regent in terms of power, but Draconic Roar pales in comparison to
Silumgar’s Scorn. At any point during design and development, did anyone step back and wonder: Shouldn’t red-the historical color of Dragons-have the best
Dragon reward card?
Now, the point of this pseudo-rant isn’t to say the sky is falling and that Standard is going to be completely dominated by blue decks. I think the format
is too robust for that to happen, and there are a ton of powerful cards still available to the other colors. I just think it’s a shame – really a stumble
on the design and development of Dragons of Tarkir – that blue got the best Dragon goodies rather than better balancing them across all the colors, or at
the very least, have made red the best base given the history of Dragons in that color. What do you think?
On a more positive note, I thought it might be fun to try and port the “splash Dragons” model into green, but as I fleshed out the deck, I sadly realized
that Scaleguard Sentinels isn’t at all worth the slots. Heir of the Wilds, or even Avatar of the Resolute, are just better. In this case, the “rewards” we
get for playing Dragons are just the Dragons themselves. While I don’t think this is as good as the blue version of Dragons, I am intrigued to give it a
- 1 Boon Satyr
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Heir of the Wilds
- 2 Dragonlord Silumgar
- 2 Dragonlord Atarka
- 2 Dragonlord Dromoka
- 4 Den Protector
- 4 Dragonlord Ojutai
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 3 Surrak, the Hunt Caller
- 2 Ainok Survivalist
It’s got the Den Protector/Deathmist Raptor package we all know and love. The eight deathtouch creatures make blocking awkward and provide a solid
stonewall on defense. We’ve got the amazing Courser of Kruphix to generate early card advantage. Once we get to four mana, things get interesting. Surrak,
the Hunt Caller gives any of your subsequently played Dragons haste, which is a pretty amazing way to close out games fast. If the Dragon gets killed, you
can fetch it back with Den Protector or Haven of the Spirit Dragon for more hasty beats.
Frontier Siege is most often used for mana, and it can certainly serve that role here-not only will it help you cast Dragons and charge up your Crucible,
but it can also really help pay for your megamorph shenanigans too. But in a deck with ten Dragons, four Den Protectors, and four copies of Haven of the
Spirit Dragon, the Dragons side of Frontier Siege can do good work too. It’s particularly good to know even if your opponent has a fistful of Silumgar’s
Scorn to protect his tapped Dragonlord Ojutai. If you’ve got a Frontier Siege set to Dragons and cast Dragonlord Dromoka, it will resolve and then fight
and kill a tapped Dragonlord Ojutai.
For the sideboard, I’m rocking Display of Dominance primarily to take out Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Narset Transcendent, though it can do some work
against Whip of Erebos and black removal too. Avatar of the Resolute provides a beefy early blocker against Aggro decks that can also block Mantis Rider.
Nylea’s Disciple can recoup some life against aggro/burn decks. Boon Satyr provides some surprise value against control decks and can provide a potent
one-two punch against a board sweeper with end of turn Boon Satyr, untap, cast Surrak, the Hunt Caller, and attack for nine. Having a few Dragonlords in
the sideboard lets you tweak the Dragon lineup a bit depending on what you’re playing with – Dragonlord Silumgar is good for stealing powerful permanents,
while Dragonlord Dromoka is better against decks that don’t have individual permanents worth stealing.
If I can scrounge up three more copies of Dragonlord Ojutai, I might run this bad boy at FNM tonight just for kicks! What do you think? Any maindeck tweaks
or sideboard suggestions that could make this a contender?
Bonus Modern Deck
I haven’t had the opportunity to play Modern in quite a long time, but I recently cooked up a deck I was pretty excited about. Some of you may be familiar
with Adrian Sullivan’s Obliterator Rock deck that he’s had some
success with at recent Modern events. One thing I loved about that deck was how it could use Setessan Tactics to force opposing creature decks to fight
Obliterator and wreck their permanents. Now, I’ve been playing the heck out of Dromoka’s Command in Standard ever since I got my hands on a playset, and it
occurred to me that Dromoka’s Command is a huge step up in power compared to Setessan Tactics. I could see it being a maindeckable card in Modern given its
enchantment sacrificing mode being excellent against Splinter Twin.
Of course, hoping to cast a spell that costs GW alongside a spell that costs BBBB may initially seem problematic, but come on-this is Modern! Impossible
manabases are child’s play.
I sketched out a sample decklist and was able to playtest some this weekend on Magic Online:
The overall power level of the deck is quite high, with Pack Rat, Dark Confidant, Abrupt Decay, Lingering Souls, and Liliana of the Veil all being
individually powerful and hard-hitting. I’m a little less sold on Path to Exile since it provides parity in permanents (assuming your opponent has some
basic lands), which softens the impact of Obliterator a little bit. Would love to hear your thoughts on how you might tweak it by getting rid of the Paths.
The deck performed pretty well overall, and I did get to pull off the combo in one game. I was playing against a Sultai good stuff deck, we jousted back
and forth with discard and removal, he tapped out to play Thragtusk with a Liliana of the Veil and Engineered Explosives (set to two) in play, I had a Dark
Confidant and a Liliana of the Veil in play, drew a sixth land off Dark Confidant and then drew another Dark Confidant. I tick up Liliana to make us both
discard (I discard the Confidant, leaving me with two cards and the land), he discards a land. I then play the sixth land, Obliterator, and Dromoka’s
Command to add a +1/+1 counter to the Obliterator and fight the Thragtusk. The fight resolves, he gets a beast, and then he has to sacrifice five
permanents and thinks a bit, then concedes. I imagine being left with three lands or two lands and a Liliana wasn’t going to do it.
I really like what this deck has cooking, and the next time I play Modern, it’ll be tough for me to choose between this deck (assuming I can borrow four
Dark Confidant) and my Zur the Enchanter/Doran, the Siege Tower deck (speaking of impossible manabases)!
Before I sign off, I just wanted to send a big thank you to all my readers who also follow me on Twitter. I recently passed a big milestone by breaking the
1,000 follower threshold and was incredibly excited and humbled to have that many folks follow my tweets. You guys and gals rock!
New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
Commander Primer Part 1
(Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
Commander Primer Part 2
(Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
Commander Primer Part 3
(Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
Commander Starter Kits 1
(kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 2
(kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
Commander Starter Kits 3
(kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):
• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)
- • Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)