The Decks Of Dragons Standard

Two-time Pro Tour Finalist Shaun McLaren talks about the big pillars of the format for #SCGCLE! Then he touches on the archetypes you should put on the shelf for this weekend!

Standard is so complicated we need a Sherpa to navigate it.

So vast and wide open we need a cartographer to keep track of everything.

Evolving so quickly we need legislation banning it from being taught in school.

So many archetypes, variations within archetypes, and just options in general. Choice overload.

If you’re like me though, you’re lovin’ it. Anyone out there wishing for a Mono-Black, Mono-Blue, Sphinx’s Revelation Control Metagame? Didn’t think so. My
nightmares of being eaten by Pack Rats are only now starting to reduce in frequency and realism.

The format is in flux, and if the recent past is any indication, it’s not going to settle any time soon. It can be hard enough just keeping track of the
viable decks out there. Let me be your guide, and I’ll show you a whole new world.

The Dragons are winning. It’s starting to not even look close.

Of course the insatiable, unstoppable Alexander Hayne won his fourth GP in Krakow (keeping the race to become Canadian National Champion nice and
exciting). You might find it odd that I say Standard is wide open when the GP Krakow Top 8 had five copies of Esper Dragons, all
of them very similar. But it feels beatable, it feels fair, and most importantly, it feels new and interesting right now.

On the other hand,

the SCG Open in
Providence was noticeably less well stocked in the Dragon department.

I think this is partially a little bit of lag from people not adopting Esper Dragons as quickly as they should be. The deck is quite good.

My first impression of Esper Dragons was that it looked clunky. The splash for Dragonlord Ojutai while still wanting to cast Bile Blight or Silumgar’s
Scorn early can lead to some mana issues.

Silumgar’s Scorn is worth it though. Turns out Counterspell is good in the metagame right now (and every metagame ever). Even when you aren’t holding a
Dragon, Silumgar’s Scorn can be just as effective as though you were. It is a binary card, either you are countering their spell or you aren’t, with no
middle ground (unless you really want to tap one of their lands or have to double Force Spike something), and it is countering spells a majority of the
time. It also reduces the biggest weak points of Force Spike, which is that you can play around it, and it becomes dead in the lategame since it becomes
great once you’ve drawn a Dragon, which becomes more likely the longer the game goes.

It’s hard to punish Dragonlord Ojutai. It effectively fills the role of Jace’s Ingenuity and Pearl Lake Ancient and even does a damn fine impression of a
brick wall from time to time. There are a few really good answers at a cost advantage, like Rending Volley or Self-Inflicted Wound, but they don’t do much
elsewhere. Foul-Tongue Invocation is a great answer, but it’s really a card for the Dragon decks themselves, and a three-mana edict isn’t exciting

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is a good counter, play it and minus to clean up, but it is completely dominated by the other Dragon in the deck, Silumgar, the
Drifting Death. Ban hexproof!

You really need something that works effectively against both Dragons that doesn’t cost a million mana, so Foul-Tongue Invocation is looking to be the card
here, but Perilous Vault and any Wrath effect works in a pinch as well.

Overall, the deck just works. Disruption in the earlygame, and Dragons and/or card draw in the lategame, with Haven of the Spirit Dragon making sure you
never lose your Dragons.

A big question for Esper Dragons is how hard you can metagame against other control decks. Is Pearl Lake Ancient or Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver worth it, or
is just sticking to the solid Dragon plan the way to go?


There is no way to remove a resolved artifact or enchantment in the entire list. Mastery of the Unseen, Whip of Erebos, and Jeskai Ascendancy are all free
to do their things once they hit the board.

Red aggro is going to win most game 1s and still be decent postboard. The deck isn’t well-equipped to stop an all-out offensive swarm or creatures backed
up with burn.

Right now, I think it’s the deck to beat, and many people are going to be gunning for Esper Dragons.

Many archetypes come with Dragon or Non-Dragon flavoring. Dragon decks tend to lend themselves to uniform builds, whereas Adrian Sullivan decks don’t. You
want as many Dragons and Dragon synergy cards as possible once you are committed to the strategy.

Adrian Sullivan’s U/B Control is anything but normal and just goes to show that good things happen when you light some candles, turn on some music, and get
to intimately tuning your decklist.

It seems like a targeted U/B Control deck could have a good matchup against Dragon control decks since the Dragons themselves probably aren’t as effective
as win conditions in the control on control matchup. Losing out on Silumgar’s Scorn does hurt though.

Leo Schulhof’s Top 8 deck from GP Krakow bridges the gap between Esper Dragons and mostly creatureless U/B Control, which are actually very similar in a
lot of ways. In the future I wouldn’t be surprised to see more decks cutting some Dragons and Silumgar’s Scorns and lightly touching on the Dragon theme
since it works just fine without overloading on too many overlapping cards.


No Dragonlord Ojutai, which is one heck of a card that fills a lot of roles and holes; it just plain boosts the power of the archetype.

Still no efficient Wrath effect. It’s hard to fight off an aggro swarm with limited spot removal, and once you pack too much in, you’re in trouble against
other control decks.

You still need a lot of mana and can stall out in the earlygame without it. Stumbling early can mean a swift death since the creatures are incredible
killing machines nowadays.

You don’t have the “I Win Very Easily Now” card that was Sphinx’s Revelation in the lategame.

Red Aggro. The eternal and undying. It seems like it will show up and be good in every format. Martin Dang sliced through three control decks on his way to
winning Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, which is what you would expect.

Dash gives a great defense against Drown in Sorrow, or any sorcery-speed sweeper. Dashing early and often has been effective (or at least effective against
me). Atarka’s Command can be ridiculously efficient, often dealing eight+ damage for two mana.


There is plenty of cheap removal in the format to mop up red creatures.

You can live or die by your matchups, whereas with Esper Dragons or Abzan Control you have the feeling of more power over your destiny since you have the
potential to beat everything.

Little to do when you flood out and might require taking some risks keeping speculative hands.

Mono-Red never ends up winning the whole thing, right? Wait…

Check out BBD’s thoughts for qualified and
up to date info on the deck.

As for my opinion, I think the deck has always been the place for fantastic beats and where to find them. The deck’s tiny creatures tend to go into hulk
mode if you leave them alone for a few turns.

You are giving up explosive starts and risking clunky openers by having earlygame creatures that are excellent in the lategame.

The removal in the format is always going to be awkward against parts of the deck, so if a control deck draws the wrong answers, the game will just be


Abzan Control has traditionally been a trump thanks to Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and being a touch bigger in general while packing effective removal.

You can expect to have some awkward draws since you’re trying to cast many zoo animals quickly with Temples.

You can read my thoughts on classic Abzan Control here.

I’ll focus on some of the interesting additions.

Den Protector seems like a great way to keep up with the technology appearing in this new format. It is great in particular against control and the mirror,
being able to rebuy your best card while providing a great clock. If you morph it before you can immediately megamorph it and your opponent kills it, then
you haven’t lost mana efficiency. Once you’ve reached the lategame, it is essentially a mini Sidisi, Undead Vizier, since rebuying your best card is just
as good as tutoring for it. Obviously it would be much better to outright tutor for a card since you may not have drawn your silver bullet, but it can also
be better in certain situations, since it doesn’t thin your deck of a good card and your graveyard will never run out of goodies when the game goes long,
whereas your deck full of silver bullets will. Den Protector recursion, and running it out as a two-drop speed bump are very real things as well.

I like the Mastery of the Unseen and Deathmist Raptor angle as well. They are great to pair with the deck since Abzan Control is basically one big giant
ball of disruption that needs a few unstoppable win conditions to pressure the opponent.


Points against Den Protector are that five mana is a lot, even when split up into two payments.

The format is diverse, and it’s difficult to answer everything, so keeping the deck proactive and midrangey with Fleecemane Lion and more creatures in
general is probably the way to go.

G/R Dragons has been simmering at a slow burn for a while since it didn’t have a great weekend or perform astronomically well at the Pro Tour. I like the
aggressive direction Lukas Parsons takes the deck since pressuring the control decks fast and hard is going to be what it takes to succeed. Therefore,
Goblin Rabblemaster is going to be a bit better than Courser of Kruphix at the moment. The deck has a bunch of raw smashing power, and I think you want to
push that aspect.


The deck is a known entity at this point. Everyone will expect Thunderbreak Regent followed by a Stormbreath Dragon, and they might just have enough time
to get their shields up.

What even is this deck? It appears to be some form of G/W Aggro that didn’t realize it was supposed to be an aggro deck. It look like it can attack from
every single angle as long as it’s attacking. It’s just jam packed with recursion and seems like it would be nearly impossible to run out of gas. A control
deck’s nightmare. Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor, and Mastery of the Unseen are the combination value dreams are made of.

It seems like Dragonlord Ojutai is the present and the future of Standard unless Doc Brown and Marty go back to yet again change the timeline by
assassinating the Dragonlords before they take over Tarkir.


Elspeth, Sun’s Champion should do good work against the deck and shuts down most angles the deck attacks from.

Having options against the rest of the field is nice, but I imagine a classic G/W Devotion deck would be very effective at outclassing what the Bant deck

Dragonlord Atarka is showing up as a splash in plenty of decks and with good reason. There is no better feeling than Whipping back a hasty trampley 8/8
that also fires lifelink bullets. Hornet Queen was once the ultimate lategame creature trump, but I think it is heavily outclassed by the Dragon Queen.


Part of what’s holding back Whip of Erebos decks is the rise of control. You can see Abzan Reanimator won the tournament with no Esper Dragons in the Top
8. Investing a bunch of mana to cast a clunky spell and getting it Silumgar’s Scorned means you never get your engine going.

Jeskai Ascendancy is still one of the most powerful things you can be doing in this format. The good draws feel really, really good, and it’s hard to beat
Treasure Cruise in the lategame.

Ojutai Exemplars is a card I expect to pick up a little steam since it can attack through Dragonlord Ojutai and shrug off spot removal while attacking in a
different way than the rest of the deck.


Without Jeskai Ascendancy, the deck is a pile of 1/1’s.

Mantis Rider and Thunderbreak Regent just feel right together. Maybe because even when they get answered with removal, they usually deal three points of
damage to the face first. I like the idea of pushing the burn control aspect, maybe throw in a few Dragonlord Ojutais and see where it takes me.


Might not have enough speed or gas in the tank to fight through the control decks of the format.


Esper Dragons will be the focal point of Standard. All of the above decks should have decent game against Esper Dragons or can be modified to have decent
game against it.

This was just scratching the surface of the potential decks that Standard contains right now.

There are archetypes within archetypes and plenty of room to dig deeper. I skipped over a few notable archetypes, and here’s why I would not be inclined to
recommend them right now.

Green Devotion
– G/W and G/R didn’t have very good weekends. I still think G/W in particular has lots of potential, but for whatever reason, it didn’t perform. Counters,
removal, and Dragonlord Ojutai might be too much for it to handle.

U/W Control
– I don’t think this is a metagame where U/W will shine since control decks with black, and therefore Thoughtseize, should have a natural advantage over

– There is less incentive to try building an indestructible lifelinking Demon when it can just get Foul-Tongue Invocationed or countered.

G/R Bees
– 0/2 Defenders are not going to fare well against Dragons, and it’s basically a flavor fail to have bees be able to take down a Dragon with one sting.

Jeskai Ascendancy
– Nope. Now is not the time to use that deck.

– The cheap spot removal is a little too plentiful and prevalent methinks.

These decks are powerful and could easily breakout if the metagame is favorable or the right builds are discovered.

Is it hard to innovate because anything and everything is viable and on the table, or easy to innovate because anything and everything is viable and on the
table? A question for the Wandering Philosophers I suppose.

So what are the best deck choices in the immediate future?

If we tried to boil such a complicated format down into a rock-paper-scissors style cheat sheet, I think it would fall into the classic pattern of aggro
beats control, midrange beats aggro, control beats midrange.

I would recommend Red Aggro or Esper Dragons. Aggro if you want to beat the “best deck,” and Esper Dragons if you want to play it. Bant Midrange also looks
like it has plenty of potential as a trump to the top decks of the current metagame.

Of course, pretty much anything is viable, so make sure you know your deck and that it’s tuned to fit your preferences.

It really feels like this Standard format could stay fresh for years, or at least stay fresh longer than any other, even without any changes. Let’s hope
it’s just the dawn of a new age of diversity for Standard metagames. Dragons of Tarkir has not disappointed. I, for one, welcome our new Dragon overlords.