Before the RPTQ weekend, a lot of people asked me what decks to play, and I didn't have anything spicy for them. In general, I told them to test the Esper Dragons mirror or to rock Wescoe's Bant deck, which seemed like one of the few ways to be even with Dragons while not being cold to the rest of the field.
After seeing the results from the RPTQs and evaluating the shifting MTGO metagame, I'm convinced that there are a slew of different ways to build around Deathmist Raptor, which in turn gives you game against dragons.
Take this 4c Soul list:
Other people have tried out Raptor in Sidisi decks, but thanks to Casper Mulholland for getting me on it in 4c Soul. This list is pure value, and binning Deathmist Raptor off of a self-mill feels a lot like binning a Vengevine, and it makes me want to squeeze in a second Commune with the Gods.
When Den Protector isn't rebuying powerful threats or other Den Protectors, it has Murderous Cut to get back, which is often just Swords to Plowshares in this deck. Post-board, we also have Thoughtseize and Treasure Cruise, and with all of the Den Protectors it's possible that a Cruise is correct in the main deck since we can kind of mill-tutor for it.
In Chapin's book Next Level Deckbuilding, he describes every creature as a Mulldrifter (value creature) or a Baneslayer Angel (must-kill threat that gains value from being in play). Well, Sidisi is both, as you need to get it off the board ASAP but also lose value when you do so. Sidisi does it all, milling Soul of Theros while generating a pile of bodies for it to pump.
The biggest difference between this and earlier versions of the deck is the absence of Siege Rhino in favor of Raptors. I don't think the Rhino is terrible in a Dragonlord Ojutai and Surrak, the Hunt Caller metagame, but I don't think it's especially good with all of the Deathmist Raptors floating around either. In this deck, the first strike from Soul will eventually let you attack through deathtouch creatures, which is how it beats multiple Hornet Queens out of Sidisi Whip, but that takes a bit to come online and Siege Rhino is really there to patch up the early mid-game, which is something that our own Deathmist Raptors can do fairly well while also giving us loot value off of all the mill effects.
If I did go back to some Siege Rhinos, it'd be so to recur them with Den Protector for more reach.
It's possible that with way more 3-drops to gum up the ground early on, Courser of Kruphix is the card that should be cut, but I've had a lot of success with that card. Between Sidisi, Wayfinder, and Commune there are a ton of ways to get a fresh top of the library to hit a value land, gaining some of the life back from the mana base while making sure we reach Soul mana on time. Siege Rhino, on the other hand, was getting boarded out in almost every matchup. While powerful, it's not actually necessary for the deck to function, while a lot of slots are devoted to real engine pieces.
Without Rhino, it's possible that the mana base is a bit white-heavy, and one of the Sandsteppe Citadels could probably become a Llanowar Wastes. For the most part, I've been happy with the original mana base. It works really well, which makes me loath to change anything.
Den Protector is another card that can help buy tempo early on by rebuying Murderous Cut. One downside to the Den Protector/Raptor combo is that means the deck cares more about specific cards in the graveyard, which can be awkward when delving. Fortunately, Sidisi puts a ton of cards in the graveyard fast.
The sideboard is tuned for the online metagame. In the past, I haven't found Nylea's Disciple to be necessary, but there's a ton of Mono-Red online and we no longer have Siege Rhinos to help stabilize on turn 3ish. That said, Disciple does the job better than Rhino did, especially with Deathmists adding so much green devotion.
While the Souls are excellent for breaking through midrange mirrors, I wonder if they might end up being too many bad cards against control. Sometimes, having an uncounterable Overrun from the graveyard is sweet, but the current Esper lists will dominate anyone that doesn't either attack what they're doing specifically (like the Flores Dragons list) or apply a ton of pressure in the early game. Still, I really like value-milling Raptors as another form of card advantage.
Here's my attempt at applying more pressure:
So far, I think the deck plays smooth and powerful, and it's pretty good at overpowering other Raptor lists so long as either a Sidisi or a Den Protector gets going. The Undead Vizier package has been solid, and I like being able to tutor for a Torrent Elemental or a Whip to break through various late games.
Speaking of Torrent Elemental, that's another one the deck can value-mill, getting it back with a delve spell instead of a Den Protector.
Rakshasa Deathdealer has been sweet so far, applying the necessary early pressure while also dominating the late game.
My main concern with this deck is balancing the red/aggro matchup vs. the Esper Dragons matchup. You really need cards like Bile Blight to beat red, but drawing too much removal against Dragons is a good way to lose game one.
Sarkhan's name is a misnomer, and he is in fact an excellent planeswalker. It's hard to realize the power just looking at him on paper, but creating a 4/4 Dragon to block is an excellent defensive ability. Double downticking reminds me of Broodmate Dragon, and what puts it over the top is being able to draw a card in the middle and keep the sweet planeswalker around. Still, a lot of matchups will call for double downticking.
The only real downside to Sarkhan is that he takes up a Dragon's slot on the curve, meaning that a deck based around him is going to actually have fewer Dragon synergies since you can't exactly reveal him in the early game.
Both team Pantheon and team Ultra Pro considered RUG for the PT. Here's my take on the archetype:
Normally I hate Rattleclaw Mystic, and when your mono-red opponent kills it with a Searing Blood you will too. In a void, Sylvan Caryatid is a much stronger card. However, we're not playing in a void, and this deck gets a lot of value off of flipping cards up.
The Den Protectors have a lot of great targets in this deck, with efficient spot removal against aggro and some Fireballs/planeswalkers against control and midrange.
One of my favorite things about RUG is that it has a ton of sources of ferocious, and Crater's Claws functions as both a nutso Fireball and a shock. We don't have the full range of ferocious guys with Boon Satyrs and whatnot, so we don't have the full four Claws, but that's another way to go with the build.
With RG Bees, a lot of people asked me about why I ran Magma Spray over Wild Slash, and it was mostly to deal with Ashcloud Phoenix. This deck is much more aggressive, and the ability for Wild Slash to go to the face is very important.
Recently, Cuneo played a ramp version in the Standard Super League.
RUG Ramp, by Andrew Cuneo
This is quite a different take. I think Cuneo was expecting a field of Esper Dragons, because that's the only way the maindeck Stubborn Denials and no actual removal make sense. He got dusted by Owen Turtenwald with Abzan Aggro in the first round.
Of course, part of that is the pairings lottery, and Cuneo did have some good matchups in the League, but I do recommend tuning it for a more open metagame.
The Bees actually did fine at the PT. Out of the six people that played it, five Day 2'd, Sam Black 8-2'd Constructed, Justin Cohen locked up Gold, and there was another cash or two. I think it could've broken the Top 8 if CFB didn't come up with Esper Dragons, a control deck especially well positioned to destroy midrange.
If you're fine losing to Dragons while beating aggro and the midrange mirror, you're in luck because the Bees don't much care about Deathmist Raptor or cheap red dorks. However, the Dragons are still considered the top deck, and I'd wait for the format to shift somewhat before I sleeved up Hornet Nest for a big tournament.
If you do BEES it up, you can still do well, but you're rolling the dice in the pairings lottery a bit harder than I prefer to.