The Pro Tour Test Decks

Brian Kibler had a huge swath of creature decks built to take apart the Pro Tour! See his exact lists, notes, and what he feels they need to make a run at tier one during #SCGPROV!

Let’s get this out of the way first: I didn’t play any Dragons at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. I certainly didn’t plan things that way. It just kind of

The very first deck I built for the new Standard format was jam packed with Dragons. It was a Temur Midrange deck with a dozen or so mana creatures
alongside Stormbreath Dragon and Dragonlord Atarka, as well as Xenagos the Reveler, Sarkhan Unbroken, and a smattering of removal. My thought was that the
printing of Roast gave Temur the way to deal with Siege Rhino that it was previously lacking, and that cheap removal paired well with powerful
Planeswalkers that were no longer almost certain to die to 4/5 tramplers stomping all over them.

The deck looked something like this:

It turned out my theory was right, and the package of Planeswalkers plus Dragons and Roasts was quite powerful against Abzan. Both Xenagos and Sarkhan are
hard for them to keep up with once they get going, and Roast is the perfect removal spell against midrange creatures. However, the deck struggled against
both dedicated aggressive and control decks. Against aggro, it spent too much time setting up and didn’t have great tools to deal with any kind of token
strategy, and against control it just had far too many low impact cards thanks to all of the mana creatures and removal. It also performed poorly against
opposing Dragons since it relied heavily on Roast for removal, which can’t hit fliers.

I decided to focus on a more aggressive direction, ditching the blue for a faster, more consistent manabase. I’d played a lot with G/R in the previous
Standard format, and it got some exciting new tools. Thunderbreak Regent and Draconic Roar were among the most attractive cards from Dragons of Tarkir, and
they clearly worked well together.

Here’s what I posted to our team Facebook group while I was en route to the Pro Tour:

“I’m on the first leg of my flight to Brussels right now, and while I still have wi-fi over the US, here’s some thoughts on a deck:

The last Standard event I really played was GP Denver, where I played G/R Aggro, and I was really unimpressed by Goblin Rabblemaster throughout that
entire tournament. It was consistently terrible on the draw, and could frequently just get brickwalled on the play by something like a Fleecemane Lion
or Siege Rhino very easily.

I’ve always liked Heir of the Wilds in G/R and Temur because it can attack through anything as well as block big guys, and Deathmist Raptor seems like
a more expensive Heir with big upside if you play a significant number of morphs. G/R already wants Rattleclaw Mystic to ramp, and Ashcloud Phoenix is
also a fine card. This basically just looks to add Den Protector as a potential value card and Raptor enabler to help win games against removal heavy

Little did I know what I was setting into motion at the time.

Once I actually got to Brussels, where our group had rented a conference room in a hotel to use for testing, I started testing G/R decks like the one from
my post. They seemed reasonably strong, but not amazing. Much like any creature-based ramp deck, they were heavily reliant on drawing the right mix of
components – lands, mana creatures, and big threats, along with removal spells in the right matchups.

I was very impressed by Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector, however. As I had mentioned in my post, I was not a big fan of Goblin Rabblemaster because it
was so easy for so many decks to essentially ignore, especially if you ever fell behind. Rabblemaster is a great card in decks like Jeskai or R/W Aggro
that have a lot of spells they can use to clear the way for it, but it isn’t nearly as impressive when it’s surrounded by a bunch of other creatures.

Raptor, on the other hand, was never outclassed, and could represent a never-ending string of threats in matchups that came down to attrition. For a while,
I was trying out Ire Shaman as well, both because it was a reasonable threat to play on turn 2 against a lot of decks and because it flipped up so cheaply,
making it the best pure Raptor enabler. Ultimately, though, the consistent value from Den Protector won me over.

I started adjusting my deck to better take advantage of Den Protector by lowering the curve and fitting in more cheap spells, replacing cards like Crater’s
Claws with Wild Slash. That made the deck stronger against small creature decks, but weaker against other G/R decks with Dragons, which I expected to be

Then I started wondering if G/R was really where I wanted to be at all. Chris VanMeter had just won the Syracuse Standard Open with G/R Dragons, with G/R
Aggro proving to be the most successful and popular deck in the tournament overall. It was clear that it would be the deck most immediately on everyone’s
mind heading into the Pro Tour – did I want to be playing exactly what everyone was sure to have tested against the most? Sure, playing G/R meant playing
with Dragons, and I do love me some Dragons. But I made my name playing Dragons in the past when they were trumps to what everyone else was playing. When
everyone’s playing Dragons, everyone is ready for Dragons. I certainly wasn’t going to take anyone by surprise like I did with Rith, the Awakener almost
fifteen years ago.

That night, I couldn’t sleep, so I did what any self-respecting Magic player does when they find themselves with an abundance of unexpected free time: I
built decks. A lot of them. And I kept posting to our team Facebook group.

“So I can’t sleep and I’ve been brewing a bunch of Den Protector/Deathmist Raptor decks, because I think the cards are very powerful. Den Protector
feels like it’s at its best in a deck with cheap interaction, since it lets you leverage the low mana cost multiple times. It’s been very good in the
G/R deck with Roar and Wild Slash against decks like Jeskai, but those cards may be too narrow – I like the idea of the very aggressive G/R list Shuhei
had with them with something like Wild Slash/Stoke the Flames, since Stoke kills dragons and you can always just go to the face.

I also liked Paulo’s G/B deck that used the interaction, but felt like it lacked higher impact cards – it just kind of ground out the game. I think
either an Abzan deck with Siege Rhino (which is great to bring back) or a Jund deck with something like Xenagos and Atarka would be a better direction.
Gerard’s Jund list from the SCGOpen was actually somewhat similar to the idea I had talked to PV about, except with Outpost Siege and a bunch of
toolbox cards for Sidisi rather than the Raptor package.

Xenagos is a great tool to pressure control decks and to produce guys to sac to Sidisi or generate mana for Atarka. Maybe White is better – Rhino is
clearly very powerful, as is Elspeth.

Basically, I think the Den Protector package feels like it offers strong proactive tools that make all of your other good cards better. It’s a lot like
Snapcaster in that it magnifies the impact of sideboard cards, especially alongside Sidisi to tutor for them. It feels like it lets you play a more
proactive take on something like Abzan, which otherwise doesn’t really excite me.

Here’s what these kinds of deck might look like:

Possible sideboard options:

Dark Betrayal

Hunt the Hunter

Ultimate Price

Pharika’s Cure

Boon Satyr



Nylea’s Disciple

Heir of the Wilds

Self-Inflicted Wound

Naturalize/Reclamation Sage/Ainok Survivalist/Back to Nature


I even also built a base G/U based Temur Den Protector/Deathmist Raptor deck along with Martell once he woke up that morning, but I never did write it
down. It didn’t survive more than a few games in testing since it basically fell over and died against any opponent who played a Goblin Rabblemaster at any
point. I just as quickly dismissed the Jund control deck once I thought about just how weak Xenagos was to Draconic Roar, which I expected to be a very
common card in the tournament. That left me with G/W, G/B, and Abzan as the Den Protector decks that I wanted to explore. I decided to work on the G/W
version while Martell took over the development of Abzan.

I spent the day jamming games with G/W against pretty much all comers, tweaking and tuning the deck as I went. I quickly found that I wasn’t impressed by
Avatar of the Resolute or Polukranos and replaced them with more copies of Whisperwood Elemental, and then with Wingmate Roc once I lost enough games to
Elspeth. I was, however, very much impressed by Den Protector, especially in a shell that could take advantage of not only its flip trigger and synergy
with Raptor, but also its pseudo-unblockability. Den Protector paired especially well with Boon Satyr, winning games out of nowhere on boards that were
absolutely full of creatures.

The deck performed extremely well against opposing aggressive decks, like G/R and Mono-Red Aggro, thanks to the combination of big cheap creatures and
Dromoka’s Command. Dromoka’s Command was incredible in any matchup where it had multiple useful modes. If you could ever counter a burn spell and fight a
creature, or kill an enchantment and a mana creature, it was such a backbreaking swing that it was almost impossible to lose – let alone if you could
return it with Den Protector and do it again.

The deck was much stronger against decks like Abzan Control than I had anticipated. Thanks to the speed of Elvish Mystic, you were often able to get out on
the board under their removal spells, and you could pressure them hard and fast. Their best card against you, by far, was Elspeth, just to repeatedly make
blockers, but between Wingmate Roc and Den Protector, you had a number of ways to punch through.

After a full day of testing, I was pretty happy with the direction the deck was going, though I kept trying to find ways to trim more expensive cards and
lower the curve. That was when Paul Cheon suggested that I should be playing with Warden of the First Tree, which I had somehow just totally forgotten
about when I was building the deck despite including it elsewhere in the days before. It was an incredibly obvious inclusion since it was not only another
cheap creature to help with the curve, but it also offered a mana sink that could provide additional power in games that went long.

At this point, it was already Tuesday before the Pro Tour since I’d only put all of my Den Protector decks together on Monday. I was running out of time. I
spent much of Tuesday re-testing some of the matchups I’d played on Monday with the new configuration of the deck featuring Warden of the First Tree, as
well as starting to play sideboarded games in some matchups.

The sideboard matchup that had me the most concerned was against G/R. One of the most popular sideboard cards there was Hornet Nest, which is a card that
has caused me a lot of trouble in the past. Hornet Nest is extremely powerful against any ground-based attacking deck without black removal, and this deck
was no exception. It was particularly troublesome coming out of the G/R Dragon decks, because Thunderbreak Regent and Stormbreath Dragon can largely
invalidate Wingmate Roc, making it hard to get damage through at all if it comes down early.

Thankfully, I had a plan. I decided to try out a mix of Plummets to kill the Dragons themselves, and Windstorms to sweep up the air entirely. If I didn’t
have Dragons, no one could have them. And Windstorm had the added benefit of being able to clear out a swarm of angry bees from a Hornet Nest, allowing you
to attack with impunity.

The plan worked. Both Windstorm and Plummet were great, giving me the tools to deal with both Stormbreath Dragon and Hornet Nest alike. But Hornet Nest was
so powerful against me that if I didn’t have a Windstorm when my opponent drew it, I was really hard pressed to find a way to win the game. I tried playing
even more of them, but drawing multiple Windstorms was really bad in most spots since it was so expensive to use to clear out opposing Dragons, especially
on the draw. I felt like I wanted more tools to be able to handle Nest, but I didn’t want to devote too many cards to that matchup specifically.

I was looking for answers and running out of time. Most of the rest of the team was playing Esper Dragons, and they felt like it was a strong deck that
would be heavily represented in the tournament as well. Largely creatureless blue control decks were a tough matchup in game 1 for my deck, thanks to
Dromoka’s Command being a near blank, and Wingmate Roc being expensive and low impact against them. I knew that I wanted to be able to swap all seven of
those cards out of my deck after sideboarding, and that my best cards in the matchup were creature protection spells and instant speed threats.

Without much time to actually test them, I decided on Mastery of the Unseen and Collected Company for my dedicated anti-control slots, along with
additional copies of Valorous Stance and Gods Willing. I liked these over something like Nissa, Worldwaker because they let me keep mana up on my
opponent’s turn to protect my creatures with Gods Willing or Valorous Stance, and they let me deploy threats at instant speed rather than tap out into
countermagic. A similar last minute rush to find more ways to handle Hornet Nest led me to remove both copies of Glare of Heresy from my sideboard for two
copies of Banishing Light, with the thought that Banishing Light was at worse a small downgrade from Glare and Banishing Light offered me more flexibility.

Ultimately, this is the list that I played.

While I was happy with the core of the deck, it suffered from not having enough time to iron out some of the details, particularly in sideboarded games.
Despite a 4-2 record in Draft, I dropped from the Pro Tour before the final rounds thanks to picking up only a single win in Constructed. I lost quite a
few close games that could have gone either way with different draws, but I definitely felt like I misbuilt my deck as well.

I was very much wrong about Banishing Light being a minor downgrade from Glare of Heresy in the matchups where it mattered. I played against Abzan Control
twice and lost in three games both times. In one of those matches, I lost a close game 3 in which I drew both of my Banishing Lights. I stalled on two
lands, which saved my opponent lots of damage since I could not remove his Fleecemane Lion with the Banishing Light in my hand, and then ended up having to
remove a Siege Rhino and an Elspeth later on – both of which returned to play when my opponent swept the board with Ugin. If I’d had Glare of Heresy, not
only would I have been protected from Ugin rebuying my opponent’s threats, but I might have been able to kill the Lion, and thus, my opponent earlier on.
And if that had failed, I could have at least returned Glare with Den Protector for another shot. If I’d actually played sideboarded games against Abzan
Control prior to the tournament, I might have realized that Banishing Light was not a viable replacement for Glare and had a better plan.

Ironically, while having Banishing Light over Glare of Heresy definitely lost me at least one match, I never even had a Hornet Nest played against me in
the entire tournament.

Beyond my sideboard snafus, I think I likely built my maindeck incorrectly, too. I was paranoid about trying to keep my deck largely resilient to opposing
Dromoka’s Commands, and I didn’t want to play any expensive enchantments – which was a big part of why I only included three copies of Boon Satyr, despite
it being one of the best cards in a number of different matchups. As a result, I never even really tried Citadel Siege despite it having excellent synergy
with Den Protector and Warden of the First Tree. I have since experimented with the card and been really impressed by it, especially how powerful it is in
a stalemate situation – which can come up a lot against decks like Abzan Control, especially after they sideboard in their own Fleecemane Lions.

If I had a chance to play the tournament over again, this is what I would play:

There’s a part of me that really wants to head to Grand Prix Toronto in a couple of weeks to give the deck another shot, but realistically, I don’t think
I’m going to make it. I’ll have to redeem myself in the upcoming Standard Super Series that starts later this month on Twitch. I definitely think G/W has
what it takes to be a competitor in this Standard format – it just needs more attention than I was able to give it prior to the Pro Tour by myself.