Flying Under The Radar With R/B Dragons

Tom Ross and the Roanoke crew noticed something important going into #SCGCOL, and the result was this firebreathing beast and a Top 4 finish for The Boss! Is this deck going to be a player for the rest of the Standard season?

The StarCityGames.com Regional Championships, February 6!

Last weekend I didn’t have a deck I wanted to play.

Atarka Red had just won #SCGATL the weekend prior and would undoubtedly be on everyone’s radar. Korey McDuffie’s sideboard strategy was effective when it was unexpected. I’d been wanting to play Atarka Red without the Temur Battle Rage combo and with more of a go-wide approach. I was also liking a higher land count and Thopter Engineer and Pia and Kiran Nalaar. Still, my build felt all over the place.

I worked on Naya Prowess before #SCGATL but decided not to go. I’d played a tournament every weekend except during Christmas, when I flew back to Louisiana. I needed a break. Also, I was getting whooped by everyone, including Michael Majors and his Rally the Ancestors deck. Four copies of Hallowed Moonlight in the sideboard of my cantrip deck wasn’t enough. Maybe they should all have been maindeck; no one expects the game 1 Hallowed Moonlight out of the aggro deck. I did like its chances against other aggro decks, though, like U/R Prowess and Atarka Red.

Brad Nelson played R/B Dragons in today’s Premium VS Video. He said the deck was powerful and that I should give it a try. I always seemed to lose against R/B Dragons in the past. The deck doesn’t take an immense amount of skill to pilot – it’s simply very powerful. A deck full of naturally powerful spells that doesn’t need much prior experience sounded like a perfect choice for me.

Standard seems to be soft to flying right now. Neither Abzan nor Four-Color Rally runs anything that can block a flyer outside of the rare (mythic) Wingmate Roc. Thunderbreak Regent and Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury are huge and dodge many of the removal spells people use, like Dromoka’s Command, Silkwrap, and Fiery Impulse. Dragons are weak against Ojutai’s Command and other counterspells but those are in low numbers at the moment.

This is the version that Top 8’d #SCGATL and that Brad played in the video.

And what I registered for #SCGCOL:

R/B Dragons needs to curve out to be at its most effective. You’ll lose more games to stalling on land than flooding out. We immediately wanted a 26th land, so another Haven of the Spirit Dragon got in there. A Mountain was cut for a Swamp, which made Grasp of Darkness a bit easier to cast and justified the sideboard, which included a lot of black spells I wanted to bring in. After cutting five double-red cards (four Hordeling Outburst, one Flamewake Phoenix), the need for the fifth Mountain was no longer there.

Overall the mana is a dream, as all twelve fetchlands can get Smoldering Marsh to have both colors. They fuel Murderous Cut nicely to let you cast it turn 3 when you need to or to double-spell on a critical turn later in the game. The life points lost rarely matter as you hit so hard and so fast in the air. Virtually no one has blockers in the air.

Thopter Engineer is a card I’d been playing in Atarka Red and believe is underplayed. No one has really put Thopter Engineer in any decks since the U/R Thopters deck from Pro Tour Magic Origins. Thopter Engineer’s stats are pretty good. The 1/3 body blocks 2/3s well and the additional flying creature pushes your flying theme further. The 1/1s from Hordeling Outburst are pretty poor against many decks that clog up the ground well. Thopter Engineer is also very good against Hordeling Outburst and was a key part in winning the mirror matches that I played at #SCGCOL. I also cast Thopter Engineer off Swamp, Mountain, Haven of the Spirit Dragon and other similar mana setups that I couldn’t have cast Hordeling Outburst with.

Without Hordeling Outburst, I was concerned whether the Spell Mastery from Fiery Impulse would have trouble getting online and if I would put enough cards in my graveyard to have cheap Murderous Cuts. Given those concerns, I felt like moving down a Murderous Cut was the safest.

Also, without Hordeling Outburst, Goblin Dark-Dwellers becomes much less appealing. Even with some Kolaghan’s Commands in the sideboard I didn’t feel like Goblin Dark-Dwellers would be good enough. It’s a ground creature that enables their ground blockers, even though it does have menace.

With the Thopter Engineers, I wanted to press the artifact theme a touch more with the fourth Hangarback Walker. I kind of wanted a third Pia and Kiran Nalaar too, but I did draw both copies a few times and it got awkward, so only two Pia and Kiran Nalaar is probably still right, even though curving into two more haste Thopters is really sweet. I also attacked with hasted four-mana 2/2 Hangarback Walkers. At the very least you can cast Hangarback Walker and level it at the end of your opponent’s turn.

Flamewake Phoenix is really not my style of card. Being forced to attack is predictable and can backfire. I didn’t regrow them much, though it was very good when I did. Midway through #SCGCOL I was really wishing I had cut all of the Flamewake Phoenixes instead of just one, but I nonetheless kept winning with them. As much as I don’t like Flamewake Phoenix, it does a fairly good job at what it does, so I don’t mind too much keeping them around.

Todd Stevens liked Ob Nixilis Reignited and suggested it as I had the deck laid out during building the night before #SCGCOL. I heavily dislike Outpost Siege as grindy card advantage and wanted something faster and more impactful. With that said, I never cast Ob Nixilis Reignited and often kept him in the sideboard of matchups where I thought I’d bring him in, like Abzan. I don’t think you need a late-game card advantage source at all. Haven of the Spirit Dragon largely does this work for you, as do outlets for excess mana like Hangarback Walker and Pia and Kiran Nalaar activations.

Crux of Fate seemed like a sweet one-of to put in the sideboard. After all, you’re a Dragon deck and could potentially destroy all of your opponent’s creatures while losing none yourself. Turns out that Crux of Fate works poorly if there’s ever a Planeswalker like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the mix or if your opponent can just bring them all back with a Rally the Ancestors. It’s also bad against Disdainful Stroke or Negate that these Abzan Blue people now play. Oh, and too slow for the real swarm decks like Atarka Red.

Kozilek’s Return was very good as a sweeper. Thopter Engineer was a good hedge against opposing Kozilek’s Returns while also surviving your own. Most R/B Dragons players still had four Hordeling Outburst and would get swept up by my sideboarded Kozilek’s Returns. I haven’t personally played against Atarka Red yet, but I imagine they’re super important there. I wished I had a third at #SCGCOL.

Self-Inflicted Wound is a card that I want either zero or four of. It’s not good at picking apart particular threats. You want to kill every creature that Abzan has and it’s best to go full-steam ahead on the plan rather than to just Roast their Siege Rhino. Speaking of, Grasp of Darkness did some work for me to kill Siege Rhinos in combat. They’re pretty incentivized to block Thopter Engineer with it since you put them under so much pressure, and your 1/3 ends up killing their 0/1.

Self-Inflicted Wound also happens to be good against the new wave of Jeskai Black decks that have gone back to Seeker of the Way and Mantis Rider. Even G/R Ramp lists run Sylvan Advocate and Jaddi Offshoot. It’s also sweet against Andy Ferguson’s Bant Company deck. Even though I lost against him in Top 4, he audibly groaned when he saw the four in my list. I don’t recommend bringing in Self-Inflicted Wound against Four-Color Rally, as killing Elvish Visionary isn’t great and Catacomb Sifter is, in fact, not green but colorless.

Transgress the Mind is certainly better than Duress and nearly deserves the maindeck spot instead of Duress. You really need some number of cheaper spells maindeck to ensure that you’re doing something relevant in the early turns. Seeing their hand game 1 is nice too. I typically wait as long as I can with Duress to give them more draw steps to draw their important spells, such as Collected Company and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and for the opponent to play the early turns in setting-up mode, expecting to resolve their spell later.

Transgress the Mind comes in mostly against G/R Ramp and in some numbers against Four-Color Rally and the R/B Dragons mirror, depending on play/draw and how I expect them to be sideboarding against me.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet was very good for me all day. I even played against R/B Dragons maindecking the card, and he said it was good in that spot as well. Four-Color Rally is the most popular (and arguably best) deck in Standard and Kalitas is a great tool against them. Don’t bank on Kalitas to be an end-all-be-all, but alongside a bit of discard, pressure, and removal, he fits perfectly in the formula to beat them. Kalitas is also fine against other decks that have Hangarback Walker, Deathmist Raptor, or really anything that has a “when this dies” trigger.

After some reflection this is the R/B Dragons decklist I’d play moving forward.

Not too far from what I played in #SCGCOL. Grasp of Darkness was very good, but Murderous Cut is better and isn’t nearly as difficult to cast as I once thought. The sideboard is cleaned up with more copies of your important spells and doesn’t mess around with one-ofs.

This weekend is #SCGRegionals and Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, both of which are Modern. It’ll be awhile before there’s another big Standard event, so I expect everyone to catch up on the lists from #SCGCOL and for the decklists from that tournament to make a solid foundation for the Standard metagame. If R/B Dragons isn’t considered a Tier 1 deck yet, it should be now and will be in the future.

For now, I have my eyes set on Modern as I have many friends preparing for the Pro Tour and trying to get myself into shape to have a strong finish at Regionals to try to nab a second bye at Opens.

G/U Infect looks really good. I suggest that…

The StarCityGames.com Regional Championships, February 6!