Strixhaven hasn’t had much impact on Standard. It looks like we’re in for another season dominated by Emergent Ultimatum, Edgewall Innkeeper, Dimir Rogues, and various aggro decks. However, there is one new player in the metagame, though it certainly looks familiar.
That newcomer is Izzet Dragons❄️. You may remember a similar deck that was popular in the early days of Kaldheim Standard. That version quickly proved to lack staying power and the metagame developed further. But with some new additions and a more focused strategy, I think the deck can now become a contender. In particular, these new additions solve the problems that caused the deck to fall off last season.
Poor Role Assessment
Last season’s builds were inspired by how well Goldspan Dragon plays with interactive spells with mana value two. Any spell that protects the Dragon or lets you interact with your opponent’s battlefield on the same turn creates a major tempo swing in your favor. Stomp and Petty Theft were obvious pairings, as was Saw It Coming. But those builds went too far with this scheme by including a lot of counterspells and instant-speed card draw in the form of Behold the Multiverse.
This construction moved the deck in a reactive, controlling direction, which isn’t what Goldspan Dragon is best at. Goldspan wants to play proactively and press your advantage with the extra mana you get from Treasures. It’s really just the turn you cast it that you’re interested in protecting it. After that, there are better ways to press your advantage that will end the game or put you ahead enough that killing Goldspan Dragon won’t get your opponent back to even.
Behold the Multiverse has little impact on pressing your advantage. It will give your opponent the opportunity to get back into the game. Magma Opus sure won’t. And when you pair it with Alrund’s Epiphany, you now have a full suite of haymakers to build towards, rather than trying to play an awkward control strategy that needs to find a window where they can safely tap out for Goldspan Dragon.
The new version of the deck has a fully realized midrange game where it can interact early before using Goldspan Dragon to turn the corner and ramp to its powerful haymakers to end the game. That’s a much better use for the card and ultimately an easier gameplan to implement in current Standard. Dimir Rogues has the market cornered on reactive control decks because of the power of Drown in the Loch and Into the Story, so at best you could aspire to be a worse version of that deck.
The other issue this deck had last season was when Goldspan Dragon was answered quickly or never showed up. You had to win the game with Brazen Borrowers and Bonecrusher Giants, minus the Edgewall Innkeepers they usually come with.
In those games, you were supposed to operate like a control deck with your counters and card draw. But as I noted earlier, that plan wasn’t particularly successful. You would often run out of answers before establishing a sufficient clock. If you’re pivoting to a midrange gameplan, you’ll need another threat that can carry some of the load when Goldspan Dragon can’t.
Galazeth Prismari is no Goldspan Dragon, but it’s another solid threat that helps get you to your high-end cards. And it certainly fits better into this new version that is more willing to tap out. Casting it with a Frost Bite or Mystical Dispute back will feel a lot like playing Goldspan Dragon. This added threat density gives the deck a much-needed consistency boost. It also ensures that you won’t often be stuck with too many expensive spells in your hand.
Set Up for Success
With two of its major issues mitigated, Izzet Dragons❄️ is prepared to take on the Standard metagame. I quite like it against the current top decks because of its combination of early interaction and late-game power. In Standard these days you must interact early or risk losing a quick game to Edgewall Innkeeper or Luminarch Aspirant. But if you go overboard on that interaction, you leave yourself vulnerable to powerful spells like Emergent Ultimatum and Into the Story. Izzet Dragons❄️ is set up to answer both sides of the metagame.
Frost Bite and Bonecrusher Giant are among the best cheap removal spells in the format. Our combination of pressure and counterspells is a great plan for stopping opposing haymakers. Most importantly, Goldpsan Dragon and Alrund’s Epiphany are great at ending the game quickly. This doesn’t give your opponents much time to steal the game with a timely topdeck.
Here’s my current list:
The lists around are pretty consistent at this point, but I made a few deviations. First is utilizing five counterspells in the maindeck instead of the typical four. I lean slightly towards preparing for Emergent Ultimatum, since you absolutely must counter it or you’ll likely lose the game. The sideboard has plenty of anti-aggro cards, so you shouldn’t have issues replacing the counterspells.
I’m also playing a single copy of Shatterskull Smashing. This deck hates missing land drops with so many mana sinks between the haymakers, Faceless Haven, and Adventure creatures. Smashing is great as a 26th land since it’s yet another mana sink for when you have plenty of Treasures. It also gives you a maindeck card that can potentially kill bigger creatures like Lovestruck Beast and Elder Gargaroth that this color combination historically struggles to do.
In the sideboard I added a third Ox of Agonas. The Dimir Rogues matchups is one of your toughest in the field. They are great at punishing you for tapping out for expensive spells, so you need the help. And lastly, I went with Negate over the more common Test of Talents. The Titans’ Nest deck is gaining popularity and recently got a strong endorsement from our own Gerry Thompson. Negate can also counter a few important cards that Test doesn’t, like Binding the Old Gods. That said, if Titans’ Nest proves to be short-lived, I’d likely go back to Test of Talents because of how good it is against Emergent Ultimatum and Into the Story.
Playing the Deck
Your plan is to use your mana efficiently up the curve and take over the game with your haymakers. There will be plenty of games where you gain an early advantage and keep widening it until the game ends. The tricky games are ones where you fall behind or remain at parity through the early turns. In those games you have to devise a clear plan for when and how you will turn the corner.
Often that comes on the turn you cast Goldspan Dragon with protection or enough mana after attacking to cast Alrund’s Epiphany. You don’t necessarily have to rush to this turn and cast Goldspan Dragon as early as possible. The important thing is that you do it safely, since once you take control your opponent will be too busy answering your battlefield to stop your haymakers.
Without Goldspan Dragon, things get much trickier. You’ll be playing from a defensive position for much longer in the game, and planning your Alrund’s Epiphany becomes important. You should look for any chip-shot damage you can, even if you have to use your life total as a resource, because Epiphany can end the game out of nowhere. Knowing that, your opponent will be forced into a tough spot because they want to press their advantage, but if they get too aggressive, they may leave themselves exposed. Any extra time you gain from their timidity is valuable.
VS Sultai Ramp (Yorion)
The gameplan here is straightforward. Put pressure on them and stop their haymakers. Emergent Ultimatum is the top priority but their companion and large green creatures are also problematic. Plan out your turns so you maximize your clock with the constraint that you have counters up on critical turns. You don’t have to win as quickly as possible, but you have to stop their powerful spells.
VS Dimir Rogues (Lurrus)
This is the one matchup where you want to play less of a tap-out style. Dimir Rogues is excellent at countering that with their wealth of cheap interaction. I trim on the most expensive sorcery in the deck, Alrund’s Epiphany, and Expressive Iteration, which encourages you to tap out if you exile a spell with it. I also cut Saw It Coming since it’s inefficient in counter wars against Drown in the Loch and Mystical Dispute.
Your goal here is to pick a fight on their turn with Magma Opus or Brazen Borrower so that you have a window to resolve a threat. You can also force a threat through with your Mystical Disputes, especially an escaped Ox of Agonas. Ox can keep you in games against their card advantage so it’s important to keep their threats off the table so they’re always in a defensive position. Don’t let them turn the corner, make their mana awkward, and you can run them out of answers. Still, this matchup is tough.
VS Mono-Red Aggro❄️
You’re hugely advantaged in the late-game so you want to play less aggressively. Save your Brazen Borrowers until you can get good value from Petty Theft or you have a line to safely close the game. You have enough cheap disruption that you rarely lose to their cheap creatures, so it’s important to play to mitigate their powerful cards as much as possible. Those are Embercleave; Torbran, Thane of Red Fell; and Anax, Hardened in the Forge.
VS Mono-White Aggro❄️
Another matchup where you want to play defensively, you’ll also want to keep your options open as much as possible. Their disruptive elements can force you to pivot away from building to Magma Opus or take a key removal spell, and you need to have a plan for when that happens. Each turn you should consider what disruption they could have. Make sure you have a good backup plan for their best plays.
They’re also better going long than Mono-Red Aggro❄️ but with little in the way of reach, so you should be a little more aggressive here, but you can still rely on your end-game to carry the day unless you fall far behind on the early turns.
VS Temur Adventures (Obosh)
This is the trickiest matchup to prepare for since they have so many different elements. You need removal for small creatures, removal for big creatures, enough top-end to compete with their strong end-game, and your own Mystical Disputes to combat their own. I found myself cutting Expressive Iteration initially out of lacking a better option, but it can also be a liability since you don’t want to fall behind on the battlefield to cast it. If they get to untap with a lead it becomes nearly impossible to play around their counterspells.
Saw It Coming is similarly inefficient so it also gets the axe. And finally I trim the cards that are the best targets for their Mystical Disputes. This matchup is a midrange mirror, so you want to maximize the value from all of your spells. Contain their card advantage engines as well as Goldspan Dragons above anything else.
VS Naya Adventures (Jegantha)
I treat Naya Adventures like an aggro deck, but one with a fairly robust end-game because of Toski, Bearer of Secrets and Showdown of the Skalds. You’ll want to turn the corner rather quickly to minimize their topdecks. Lovestruck Beast is tricky to answer and one of the main reasons The Akroan War is in the sideboard. Redcap Melee doesn’t have enough targets to warrant its inclusion but you should consider it against builds with Goldspan Dragon.
Petty Theft is rather weak in the matchup and Brazen Borrower lines up poorly against Clarion Spirit, so I cut them here. I also like leaving in more of the high-end even if they are aggressive because of their solid end-game. Sometimes you need a little more power to overcome their card advantage.
VS Gruul Adventures
Gruul is the most aggressive Adventures variant, so all the removal comes in. I also like to leave in some Brazen Borrowers because they can help against bigger green creatures, Embercleave, and The Great Henge. Instead, some of the high-end comes out since they don’t have the card advantage that Naya does. Don’t be afraid to use two removal spells to kill a bigger creature. You can recoup the card later on. Just get to your powerful end-game.