How To Win At Standard And How To Lose At Dragons Limited

Standard has been everywhere lately, and Sam Black is ready with a list to take down the latest metagame at #SCGPORT! But that’s not all! He also tells you how to improve your Dragons of Tarkir Limited game!

Unfortunately, I’m writing this before the results from the RPTQs have been posted, but we do know some things from this weekend based on stories I’ve
heard from the RPTQs and the results of the Open Series in Cleveland.

As predicted, Cleveland’s top 8 featured a far more balanced metagame than we saw at either event the previous weekend, which is mostly to say that Esper
Dragons made an appearance, but it was far from dominant. Ross Merriam won the event with a new build of Bant Heroic, the first take on the W/U Heroic core
that I’ve seen play fewer than four Battlewise Hoplite, as Ross played only a single one. It’s an interesting take on the archetype, designed to be able to
play an attrition game with four Treasure Cruises in the 75 and some focus on going wide with maindeck Monastery Mentor. It’s a powerful deck that
certainly wouldn’t be at the top of anyone’s radar, and it looks like Ross was able to capitalize on an environment that was preoccupied with entirely
different concerns.

The biggest news out of the RPTQs seems to be Mike Flores’ Five-Color Blue Dragons deck, which is kind of amazing given
that it finished in the top 4 at a 38-person tournament. Flores’ deck looks pretty good to me, and it definitely feels exactly like his style of deck. It’s
noteworthy both for the basic engine of playing eight Dragon lands as well as for some unorthodox specific choices like maindeck Encase in Ice, and either
idea could be worked into other decks. The deck is definitely noteworthy, though it’s worth keeping the context in mind with regard to the extent to which
the deck has proven itself so far.

Going into the weekend I suggested on Twitter that I’d found Esper Dragons relatively easy to beat when I tried, and that it might not be well positioned
at the RPTQs. It’s hard to know how good that advice was, and I did couch it with the suggestion that I expect Esper Dragons to qualify a good number of
people, both because I knew a lot of good players were playing it, and though I didn’t get into this, because it’s not clear that most RPTQ players would
find the right ways to attack it. From what I’ve heard, I know a lot of players who’ve had some previous success qualified with Esper Dragons.

Getting the results of the RPTQs will be interesting–they won’t point toward a single best deck, because many decks will have qualified; instead, they’ll
point toward a winners’ metagame, which is definitely a great snapshot of the format to have. It doesn’t really tell you what the world ever looked like or
will look like, but it kind of tells you what it possibly should have looked like, and trying to attack decks in proportion to their population in the
winners’ metagame is kind of a safe way to hedge against an unknown metagame in that even if you’re wrong at the beginning of the tournament, you’re likely
to get more right as the tournament progresses.

To predict this coming weekend’s Standard metagame, I’d start from that winners’ metagame, and then decide how much I think people will adjust based on new
information, like the press surrounding Mike Flores’ deck.

One substantial development that I’ve heard was the arms race among Esper Dragons decks. As you might expect, most players who played Esper Dragons
probably played it because they thought it was the best deck, and as such, expected to face it a lot at the top, so of course they came prepared. Ashiok,
Nightmare Weaver, Risen Executioner, and Pearl Lake Ancient became important pieces of the Esper match, with each player having slightly different tools at
their disposal as they each chose different ways to try to break the mirror. Steps in this direction mean that you likely can’t expect to compete in the
mirror without devoting substantial attention to it, which will of course weaken you slightly in other areas, and here we see the natural cannibalizing
forces that exist to keep the metagame healthily evolving.

Adrian Sullivan recently told me that he’d been playing against an Abzan deck that impressed him, combining the early creature base of Abzan Aggro and
Abzan Megamorph with Collected Company, and dropping Siege Rhino. It feels weird to play Abzan and then to minimize the number of great spells in your deck
in order to cut Siege Rhino, but my early results with the deck I put together based on what he said were promising. So, here’s my latest in a long line of
decks that I’ve won a few matches with and then stopped playing for no reason, Abzan Megamorph with Collected Company:

My removal suite avoids the cards that cost BB because I’m only playing sixteen black sources, but that’s for the best, because the remaining removal
spells all work well with having a particularly high creature density anyway. I mentioned that it’s weird to play Abzan and minimize spells since so many
great spells are available in these colors, but I don’t feel like my overall power level has suffered at all, as these creatures are also all great, and
filling up on cheap proactive threats rather than dead cards is an important piece of beating Esper Dragons or any other control deck.

I started with the traditional sideboard of Bile Blights and Drown in Sorrow to combat Red Aggro decks, but I quickly realized that my mana might not
support it well, instead, I’ve decided to go with Hornet Nest, which plays well with Collected Company and Dromoka’s Command.

This removal suite is great against control and against large creatures and enchantments, but it does have some holes. The first is that without sweepers
or Bile Blight, I don’t have a good way to punish people for going wide. Fortunately, large cheap creatures are naturally well-positioned against tokens,
so I’m somewhat covered on that front, and the enchantment removal of Dromoka’s Command helps with Jeskai Ascendancy. The other concern is Stormbreath
Dragon, as all of my removal is white. This is why the sideboard contains three Ultimate Price and a Hero’s Downfall, though it’s possible that one of
those should be a Plummet to help with multicolor Dragons. The Abzan Charm in the sideboard is mostly to bring in against creatures I really care about
exiling, most notably Deathmist Raptor, but of course, Anafenza, the Foremost also goes a long way toward helping there.

Mastery of the Unseen is a card I always keep in mind in decks like this, but I think I’m slanted toward beating control enough as is that I probably don’t
need it.

I don’t have much more to update on Standard, and after winning the MOCS in Dragons of Tarkir Sealed, I wanted to discuss the Limited format a bit, but I
knew the week leading up to the RPTQs was the wrong time for it. I’ve read a few pick orders, and while the pick orders don’t really tell me exactly what
people are thinking, I’ve disagreed with huge portions of them, so I get the feeling I may be thinking about the format differently from others. In the
spirit of full disclosure, I should admit that I’ve actually played very little of this format, as I’ve been focused on Standard since it came out, but
I’ve mostly been successful, and I’ve talked to plenty of people I respect, which has mostly reinforced my own findings, so I think my perspective is still

I think development failed at designs goals for Dragons of Tarkir. If you listen to anyone from Wizards talk about how they imagined Limited
playing out with this set, it’s clear that they wanted Dragons to be important, and they wanted it to be something you could draft toward. In theory, a lot
of people’s lategame and a high portion of their bombs will be Dragons, which does a little to inform the removal you want access to (making Plummet
effects better, for example), but in practice, I feel like there are some gold uncommons I can play if I want a top end for my deck, and then there are a
lot of flying bombs, but mostly, this is just a normal Limited format that’s toward the aggressive end of the spectrum, where the focus is pretty firmly on
curving out and getting to the point where you can play multiple spells in a turn.

Dragons and megamorphs are mostly just distractions in an aggressive world that’s about efficiency.

After the Pro Tour, I found out that other teams thought Flatten was the best common in the set and didn’t think it was very close. This was interesting,
because I’d thought it was Epic Confrontation. Flatten is great, but I wanted the cheaper spell that would give me some extra early damage and let me stay
ahead. I also found out that everyone else didn’t like green. That didn’t make sense to me either. Green had solid creatures and good tricks, with good
removal in both sets from Epic Confrontation and Hunt the Weak, a card I like more in this format than I’ve ever liked before, partially because the +1/+1
counter matters.

Going into the Pro Tour, we thought Coat with Venom was the second best black common, and there was debate as to whether it was close to as good as
Flatten. Others had many cards above it, including Vulturous Aven, which I think is reasonable, and Silumgar Butcher, a card that I’ve been completely
unimpressed by and basically consider filler. Coat with Venom is awesome, as it’s an easy way to make two big plays in a turn and can often two-for-one a
fight spell, which is often immediately game winning.

Conifer Strider is another card that my team has consistently rated higher than others and had great success with. I even had three with minimal synergies
in my Draft deck when I won the MOCS, and while I wouldn’t say they were responsible for my wins, they were certainly perfectly respectable cards at their
low end. We identified that we liked to try to get multiple Conifer Striders early so that we could draft around them. They’re best in G/W, where you can
pair them with Battle Mastery, Glaring Aegis, and either white rebound trick, but in G/U they’re great with Taigam’s Strike, and in G/R they’re good with
Tail Slash and Temur Battle Rage. They make any tricks you have much better, as your opponent is basically obligated to block any time they attack to try
to trade and punish you for spending four mana for a single toughness, but if you have Tread Upon you can save your Strider and get a lot of damage through
if they blocked with something small. Most importantly, it’s just good at generating spots where you’ll get to cash in cheap combat tricks as tempo plays.
If I have multiple Conifer Striders, I like to play Shape the Sands, and plan to attack and save my Conifer Strider when they block, and then play another
threat to gain position on board.

Looking at the bigger picture rather than individual cards, I’m willing to draft any color combination, and I’m willing to draft aggro or control, but I
definitely have preferences. Andrew Cuneo has been tweeting decks that make control look pretty good, but I’d still rather just be attacking.

I agree with what I see as a consensus that the power level of the white cards is a little low, but I’ve been really impressed with the aggressive shell
that white offers. It has plenty of good two- drops with good tricks and tempo plays to push damage and get ahead on board. Blue is my least favorite color
to pair with white, as blue has very few aggressive cards, and the ones that it has are somewhat redundant with what white can already do. The few good W/U
decks I’ve seen are based on having several rares or barely splashing blue.

G/W and R/W are two of my favorite decks, with W/B a little behind because black has fewer aggressive cards, and W/B is more likely to be pulled in
different directions.

I think blue is the worst color by a wide margin, a position I was surprised to learn isn’t universally shared. I do like some U/B or U/R control decks,
but I think they need a lot to go right–they need synergies that give them card advantage, plenty of removal, and bombs to finish the game, and if they’re
missing any of those, I think they end up being substantially below average. U/R Tempo is fine, especially if you can get a reasonable amount of red
removal, but I think you’re a little short on really good two and three mana creatures, and you often have to settle for creatures with one liability or
another, like creatures with one toughness, or creatures like Elusive Spellfist and Palace Familiar that are good but sometimes just won’t hit hard enough.

B/R is another one of my favorite decks, but it’s almost better to describe it as two of my favorite decks. This is another pair that’s conflicted, in that
it can be drafted as an aggro deck or a control deck, but I think both colors are deep enough that that plays well here, and both decks are good. For the
aggressive deck, I really like to prioritize dash, and Warbringer and Ambuscade Shaman are both outstanding. For the control deck I just want a lot of
removal, and I’ll only try to do this if I’ve started with some bombs. Seismic Rupture, it’s worth noting, is particularly great in both of these decks
(thanks to dash in the aggressive deck) and in many other decks.

G/B and G/U are both decks I’d rather avoid, though I think I like both of them just a little more than U/W. G/B basically has to be a “dinosaur” style
control deck, using all sorts of removal and any random big creature you see, and G/U is a tempo deck, but I just think the card quality is low since blue
has so few cards you really want.

G/R is solid. I think I like it a little less than the white aggro decks, but it’s pretty close. It can be drafted in a style like G/B, prioritizing
removal and big guys, but I prefer to draft it based on two- and three-drops with cheap tricks and removal since I prefer G/W to G/B, and I’m looking to
play up that kind of game.

The major lessons in this format for me, the things that I do now that are very different from what I was doing in my first drafts, have been that cards
like the megamorph Dragons are pretty bad, and cards like Dromoka Warrior and Herald of Dromoka are good. Rebound usually adds a lot of bonus damage to
your trick, as does Tread Upon, and even Epic Confrontation or Temur Battle Rage. Bolster lets your early creatures stay relevant longer. Dash is an
aggressive mechanic that often turns games into races. I think you’ll be a lot more successful if you approach this format more like Zendikar than like
Rise of the Eldrazi (for those of you who may not have been playing then, landfall meant that creatures were bigger on their controllers turn, which,
combined with a lot of cheap evasion, meant blocking was almost impossible and games ended quickly, while Rise of the Eldrazi was the introduction of
“Battlecruiser Magic,” where players could try to turtle and ramp into eight mana commons to win the game). On its surface, you’d think the Dragon set
would be another Battlecruiser set, but I don’t think that’s the deeper reality.