I’m normally not a big fan of Constructed, but I’ve been enjoying the current Standard format. With fetchlands, tri-lands, and cards like Sylvan Caryatid and Satyr Wayfinder you can get away with pretty much anything, which brings an exciting element to the format and rewards brewing and attacking the metagame from new angles. It’s true that pretty much all the decks in the format are green, but it’s still better than having Caw-Blade or Jund put 7 copies into the Top 8 of every tournament.
I’ve managed to do well with Abzan Whip, Jeskai Aggro, Sultai Megamorph, Abzan Aggro, and now RG Dragons at Standard GPs in the last couple of months, and one thing these decks all have in common is that they are all proactive. I prefer attacking and putting pressure on my opponent rather than trying to answer everything they do. If you ever stumble on mana or keep a slow hand, you can be sure I’m going to take advantage of that and try to close the game as quickly as possible. This might not always be the correct strategy, but with Standard being so wide open you can usually find a good aggressive deck for every given weekend.
That’s the biggest problem for control decks in this format, there are just too many different decks attacking from too many angles and you have to choose which ones you want to beat. You want to have Drown in Sorrow and Pharika’s Cure for Mono-Red, Naturalize effects for UR Artifacts and Constellation, something like Silence the Believers or Perilous Vault to permanently get rid of cards like Deathmist Raptor, Negate or Duress for control mirrors, edict effects for Dragonlord Ojutai or other hexproof Dragons—but you just can’t have it all. Also black has a lot of conditional removal spells that can just get stuck in your hand if you draw it against the wrong opponent, because while Ultimate Price is your best card against RG Devotion, it will be useless against Abzan Aggro. Bile Blight is great against Hordeling Outburst, but horrible against Stormbreath Dragon—and so on.
For GP London I worked with Brad Nelson—the man, the myth, the legend. We talk about Standard a lot, but every tournament that we work together feels like a learning experience. I’m normally very conservative and slow with changes I make to a deck, but Brad isn’t afraid of showing up to a tournament with Abzan splashing for Chained to the Rocks. He can also explain to you why exactly it is correct in a very simple way and has a near-perfect read on how the metagame will shift for next weekend.
I played RG Devotion at PT Magic Origins and the week after in San Diego, but it just didn’t feel like that is what you want to be doing in this format, especially now that Tragic Arrogance is in everybody’s sideboard. I wanted to play Abzan Aggro or RG Dragons, because Stormbreath seemed well positioned. Brad suggested sort of a hybrid deck with acceleration, Xenagos, Dragonlord Atarka, and Dragons instead of the usual cards like Whisperwood Elemental and Polukranos, but it felt like you were trying to do too many things at once.
Eventually, we took Lukas Blohon’s deck from the PT, made a few changes, and went with that. The main idea was to move Xenagos to the sideboard and replace it with Wild Slash because we wanted to lower the curve a little and have more interactive spells.
I was super jet-lagged after coming back to Europe from the west coast, but at least that meant I could just stay in bed all day and play Magic Online. I managed to play about 30 matches at about a 75% win rate, which was good enough for me. This might actually be below Brad’s Standard win percentage, but he seemed to like the deck as well.
This is the 75 that I used at the GP.
The idea is simple: there were a lot of GW decks with cards like Valorous Stance, and random slow Constellation or UR Mill decks focusing on doing their own cute things, and this deck was very well positioned against that. If you can’t kill Stormbreath Dragon, odds are good that he is going to kill you. This deck is bad against Languish, but with the exception of Abzan, there are basically no other control decks in the format.
Our lists were a bit different. Brad went with Magma Spray and Unravel the Aether instead of Wild Slash and Destructive Revelry. Hangarback Walker is all over the place, so in theory it makes sense. You can also finish a Deathmist Raptor that blocked a Goblin token, and it makes their Den Protectors worse. But if you look at the decks that play Hangarback, those aren’t usually matchups where I would want to have a Shock or Naturalize effect in my deck anyway so I just chose to ignore it—fly over them and burn them out.
This deck is also very aggressive, and with cards like Draconic Roar you get your opponent low on life very fast, so those cards give you some extra reach. And with Den Protectors in your deck, the difference between getting back a Wild Slash or Magma Spray is actually 4 life.
The mana base is pretty straightforward, with Haven of the Spirit Dragon working both as a mana source and a way to prevent flooding by returning your fallen Dragons later in the game. Mana Confluence was a concession to all the double-red and double-green cards, and an extra way to curve Elvish Mystic into Goblin Rabblemaster. Curving out with this deck is very important and is the reason why I didn’t play any Rugged Highlands. Of course you also need to make sure you have the right mana to cast your spells, but with Rattleclaw Mystic and all the morphs in your deck you can usually work with only one color for some time fairly easily.
Wild Slash isn’t a card you want to have in your hand when your opponent casts a Siege Rhino, but there are still a lot of decks like Mono-Red and RG Devotion where being able to kill their turn-1 creature is the difference between winning and losing. This format is all about board presence and RG Dragons has a lot of 3-drops, so being able to kill something on turn 4 for one mana and add another creature to the board is very important.
Draconic Roar is obviously great with 8 Dragons in your deck, and is especially good against cards like Xenagos and Mantis Rider. Even against the blue deck it often finds a good target in Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and Abzan Control has Nissa and Den Protector that you can kill with it.
Crater’s Claws is basically good against everything, it’s a great way to use all the mana guys later in the game and gives your deck a lot of reach. In one of my matches against Abzan Control on Day 1 I was in a pretty bad position. I was at 4 life to my opponent’s 25, with a Thunderbreak Regent, Xenagos, and a bunch of mana dorks and Satyr tokens facing Elspeth, multiple Coursers and Siege Rhinos.
There was another Siege Rhino at the top of my opponent’s deck and he had more creatures than I did, so I knew this was my last turn. I drew another Xenagos which didn’t seem very helpful at first, but my last card was Crater’s Claws, so I was able to use Xenagos’s mana ability to produce 8 mana, use the second one as a ritual for 4 more, unmorph 2 Rattleclaw Mystic and tap my remaining 6 lands to Crater’s Claws my opponent for 23, which let Thunderbreak Regent put the game away.
Goblin Rabblemaster isn’t great, but it’s still better than the other available 3s. Nissa doesn’t add anything to your game plan and Boon Satyr and Courser of Kruphix are just additional targets for Dromoka’s Command. It’s also a solid card against Abzan Control and a good follow-up play after Languish.
There are only 2 Den Protectors in the main deck because if the game goes according to plan and you curve out perfectly, you never really have anything to bring back. There are still some games that go long, and it’s a good value card that brings back Deathmist Raptors, so having 2 copies is fine.
This sideboard was built mainly with Abzan Control and Abzan Aggro in mind. I’m glad Brad made me cut Destructive Revelry to only 2 copies, because it made sense not to expect Ensoul Artifacts after everyone showed up overprepared for the deck in San Diego.
I still prefer to have a few copies rather than zero, because you can also use it against Constellation and Heroic, where having an answer for Aqueous Form and Encase in Ice for your Stormbreath Dragon is important. We thought more people would play Stormbreath Dragon decks and expected more mirror matches, which is what the 1 Plummet and 2 Arbor Colossus are for, but we were wrong on that and I basically never used those cards all tournament.
Rending Volley is a very versatile card that you can use not only against Jeskai and Heroic, but also against Abzan Aggro, where it kills Fleecemane Lion and Anafenza, and even Esper Control because it’s an uncounterable way to kill Dragonlord Ojutai.
Other cards I considered for the sideboard but ultimately didn’t make the cut:
Harness by Force – Very good against Devotion where it makes sure you can still win the game even after a resolved Atarka, but not really useful against anything else.
Outpost Siege – Too many Dromoka’s Commands, and the fact that you sometimes exile a card you can’t use can be a problem, like getting a Roast when your opponent doesn’t have a creature in play. Xenagos is just better.
Seismic Rupture – A fine card against Mono-Red, especially the Atarka Red variant, but it also kills your guys and you would rather have something cheap like another Wild Slash.
Hornet Nest – If Goblin Rabblemaster starts seeing more play, this card should get more popular, but right now the red decks can just ignore it and burn you out.
Nissa, Worldwaker – This card was very good before Magic Origins, but Languish means you pretty much have to go all in on it and that’s not a good spot to be in.
Brad played a couple copies of Trail of Mystery for the long grindy games against control, but I’d never played with the card and didn’t like it in theory, so I decided to go with what I knew.
The reason RG Dragons is a better choice than RB is strictly that you have access to Xenagos, the Reveler, one of your best cards against Abzan Control and other decks with Languish. Also, Foul-Tongue Invocation doesn’t seem great in a heavy-Hangarback Walker metagame.
I went 13-2 in the Swiss, beating Abzan Control four times, Heroic twice, Jeskai Midrange twice, Abzan Aggro, something I don’t remember, and I lost to RG Devotion and Mono-Red. In the Top 8 I lost to GW, which should be a very good matchup, but I probably sideboarded incorrectly and only drew 1 Stormbreath Dragon in all three games.
Brad started 11-0 before losing the last 4, and another friend of mine playing the deck finished with 3 losses, so overall not a bad showing for our deck. Going forward I think this will continue being a good choice for the metagame, mainly because with the dominance of Abzan Aggro Ultimate Price seems pretty much unplayable now, at least in the main deck.
With red decks losing popularity and Abzan variants rising, I would make a few changes to adjust for the new metagame.
RG Dragons, Updated
I’ll let you decide if you want Wild Slash or Magma Spray, both have their pros and cons. Either way it’s the best card you can have against red and other decks with Elvish Mystic. Arbor Colossus is the best card for the mirror and Plummet is a card you can use against Jeskai decks, which I feel like are going to start playing the full set of Stormbreath Dragons now.
I want to try Outpost Siege against Abzan Control. I would rather have another planeswalker, but there just aren’t any good options. I would cut the Mana Confluence from the deck but I feel like it’s still better than Rugged Highlands and you need a 12th untapped green source that also produces red.
Unless you have Rabblemaster on turn 2 or 3, its usually going to be too slow and the ground will be full of creatures you can’t or don’t want to kill (Hangarback). It’s better to just fly over them and ignore it. You take out Xenagos for the same reason. A lot of people also bring in Drown in Sorrow against you. Crater’s Claws is a little too slow and can get prevented by Dromoka’s Command, but I like to keep them in for the games where they bring in expensive stuff like Tragic Arrogance and Elspeth because it gives you reach.
Here you keep the mana guys, because even though they still die to Languish, they can usually attack uncontested, which is not always true against Abzan full of Coursers and Rhinos, so you don’t need to over-extend.
Killing their creatures is always your first priority. Roasting their prowess guy on turn 3 is always better than playing a Rabblemaster even if it is less mana efficient, because they will always kill it and swing back. Play Den Protector face up on turn 2 if you have no other play.
If they have Seismic Rupture you board out Rabblemaster instead of Raptor on the draw. All you need to do is kill their mana-producing creatures and prevent them from ever casting Dragonlord Atarka. Roast is your best card because otherwise turn-3 Polukranos can be a problem. Arbor Colossus isn’t good, because even though it kills Atarka, it just never happens and if they resolve an Atarka you will most likely lose anyway.
Thunderbreak, Xenagos, and Crater’s Claws are too slow. All you need to do is kill their heroic creatures, so you should mulligan hands with no removal. I board out 2 Rattleclaws because I usually spend turn 2 Roasting their guy or keeping mana up on their turn. It’s worth noting that morphs are colorless which lets you play around Gods Willing. Stormbreath Dragon is your best card, but keep in mind they can get rid of it with Encase in Ice.
This matchup is only about killing their mana guys and making sure you are the first one to start attacking with Dragons, because you don’t want to be the one who has to leave them back hoping you get to block.
This is very generic, but it all depends on their version. Plummet and Arbor Colossus are only good if they have a full set of Stormbreath Dragons and very few Ojutai’s Commands. Xenagos is actually good if they are more controlling without Mantis Rider and board in Angers and End Hostilities. Magma Spray is good if they have more than 8 creatures with 2 toughness (Jace, Grand Master, Rabblemaster, Seeker).
That’s all for today, good luck at your next event!