I’ve played BR-based Dragon decks, mostly focused on Stormbreath Dragon before the rotation, to a reasonable amount of success. The deck always felt a little underpowered to me, but I did win with it and lose against it. Losing Stormbreath is a big hit for a deck that feels nearly all-in on the powerful hasty Dragon, but there are so many decks in Standard still that struggle with flying creatures.
Thunderbreak Regent and Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury are the current backbone of the deck. I would expect any BR Dragon deck to be playing 4 of each and be happy they did. Crackling Doom is a popular removal spell and likely the most effective against a card like Thunderbreak, but not much else deals with these Dragons effectively. Thunderbreak's triggered ability presents a quick clock. Kolaghan completely ignores sorcery-speed removal, sweepers, and most blockers. With no other help, they threaten to attack for 12 on turn 5.
Hangarback Walker is a great early creature that scales later in the game. You’re generally happy to trade the Walker off for any number of Thopter tokens, especially when Kolaghan will help pump them on offense later in the game. Hangarback also plays well with any other artifact synergies you happen to have in your deck, which starts with Pia and Kiran Nalaar.
Pia and Kiran is likely the best token maker in Standard. Three bodies, 4 power, half of which is evasive, is a real steal at 4 mana. This is another perfect combination with Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury and isn’t easy for any deck to work around. Pia and Kiran give you a stream of chump-blockers while you attack in the air, throw Thopters or any other artifacts, and help to keep the board clear or finish the opponent off.
Thopter Engineer and Hordeling Outburst are the biggest contenders for the 3-drop slot in this deck, and each has its own advantages. Outburst is great at flooding the board, provides a bit more power and an extra attacker to combine with Kolaghan. Thopter Engineer has some great synergy with Hangarback and Pia, giving the artifacts haste to either attack or to grow the Walker. It’s debatable which one is actually the better card against opposing Hordeling Outbursts, but I would take the 1/3 body of Thopter Engineer, especially against decks with Atarka’s Command. An additional flier is appreciated, and in matchups where 3 toughness matters, like against opposing Catacomb Sifters, Reflector Mages, or Sylvan Advocates, I would prefer the Engineer.
Flamewake Phoenix has become a staple in these decks, but I don’t like it. Being forced to attack takes away so many lines, but I also haven’t found a better option. You need a 3-drop and Phoenix does the best job of fitting the evasion theme. There’s quite a bit of removal that exiles, and both Anafenza, the Foremost and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet are popular in Standard. When they’re forced to use a removal spell, or hold up a blocker, and you’re able to reincarnate the Phoenix, Flamewake is incredible, but I don’t expect that to be a common occurrence. Maybe there’s a better option out there, and if you have one, post in the comments, but for now this seems like the unfortunate necessity.
Removal suites always vary. That’s the way Magic works. Very rarely is it correct to play the exact same removal spells across various metagames. For a deck like Esper Dragons, whether you wanted access to Bile Blight, Ultimate Price, Foul-Tongue Invocation, Drown in Sorrow, Languish, Crux of Fate, etc. varied dramatically based on the expected field. The best of the best removal spells, however, tend to remain consistent.
In an aggressive damage-based deck like BR Dragons, it’s going to be really tough to top a card like Draconic Roar. It just does it all. You would love to be able to play cards that deal 3 damage to your opponent, they just aren’t worth a full card in a deck that isn’t playing that much burn. We can’t spend a card on Lava Spike. But playing a spell you would already be happy with and getting Lava Spike for free? That’s incredible. Draconic Roar is an easy 4-of in any metagame where it has targets.
From there, things get trickier. Having enough early removal to kill Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Soulfire Grand Master is great, but you also want your early removal spells to scale so they aren’t dead late in the game. Fiery Impulse and Grasp of Darkness are the best options at the moment. They can both kill a Jace before it gets activated while killing a Warden of the First Tree or Mantis Rider in the midgame. Grasp is more restrictive on the mana base, but taking down a Thunderbreak Regent or Kalitas is worth the extra effort.
Murderous Cut is one of the best removal spells you can play in a deck that will put some number of cards in the graveyard. The tempo generated from killing a large creature for 1 mana at instant speed can’t be overlooked in a deck that’s looking to play expensive Dragons and race.
Some amount of discard is good in Standard as every deck is loaded up with powerful spells right now that go beyond creatures. Duress is the most efficient, and so it tends to get the nod as the main-deck card of choice, but Transgress the Mind isn’t far behind. I would rather have Transgress in a metagame with lots of Eldrazi Ramp and Rally the Ancestors decks since it offers so much more flexibility,
One of the biggest draws to any deck for me in Standard is going to be what kind of lands it can play. This applies to many decks right now, except for the Rally deck that many feel is the best deck in the format and doesn’t actually need the late-game power. For all the other decks, fighting more of a fair fight, creaturelands are invaluable. Having a land that can fix your mana and turn into a powerful creature later in the game is much bigger than many players realize. It is a huge reason for the success of decks like Jund in Modern.
For Standard, we have lots of land creatures that can fill this role. Shambling Vents and Wandering Fumarole are some of the most powerful, but Haven of the Spirit Dragon functions similarly. Some players don’t recognize that this is a creatureland, but it absolutely is. Being able to fix your mana and then transform into a Dragon later in the game is what makes the Dragon decks so powerful.
Before the last rotation, Hall-of-Famer Ben Stark was tilting off to me about how there were people on his team who wanted to cut Haven of the Spirit Dragon from his Mardu Dragons deck, saying the card didn’t do enough. He felt that Haven was likely the most important card in the deck. Your curve gets pretty high, so the need for 26 lands is there, but if you don’t have lands that do something late in the game, your risk of flooding is astronomically higher. Haven does a great job of mitigating this by helping you cast your spells early and then winning the game late.
Marcel Strautz took his version of BR Dragons to the Top 8 of a Standard Open in Atlanta:
Marcel Strautz, Top 8 in a Standard Open
Marcel went with Hordeling Outburst and all 4 copies of Flamewake Phoenix as his 3-drops. Playing Outburst enables a card like Goblin Dark-Dwellers in the sideboard to do so much more, but I’m still not sold that it does quite enough. It’s slow and it’s a ground creature, which despite having menace, turns on your opponent’s ground creatures as potential blockers.
Tom Ross didn’t make many changes in his version of the deck that he also took into the Top 8 of a Standard Open the very next weekend, but I like the direction he moved the deck:
Tom Ross, Top 4 in a Standard Open
Tom shaved a copy of Flamewake Phoenix and swapped out Hordeling Outbursts for Thopter Engineers, changes I can support. The deck was a little mana light with only 25 lands in the original version, so Ross added an additional land, but really made it count. I discussed earlier why Haven is so good in this deck, and adding a third copy is going to help the late game with access to additional Dragons while also helping to cast spells on curve early on.
Looking at their sideboards, the biggest standout is that both went with 4 copies of Transgress the Mind. This looks like exactly what this deck wants. You are going to be boarding out some of the cheap removal in matchups where Transgress is excellent, so having an early-turn play is already a good start. Being able to take out big threats, especially from a deck like Eldrazi Ramp, is huge. You can also just take their Collected Company, Dig Through Time, Painful Truths, any sweeper, any planeswalker, Siege Rhino, etc. This card does so much work in a deck like this that I’m happy to have as many of this effect as I can.
Kozilek’s Return is so good against any red decks. They are going to be looking to go wide, and cards like Hordeling Outburst need to be answered. The instant speed is a nice bonus, even if we can’t ever bring it back from the graveyard. I would want to find room for the third copy, as Marcel has done, with so many red decks and token decks in the format.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a powerful card, but I can’t possibly see it as enough to beat a deck like Rally the Ancestors. I don’t know how bad that matchup is, and having so many flying threats is fantastic against them, but Reflector Mage seems like a huge addition against a deck that is quite a bit clunkier like this one. They have so many answers to Kalitas that I’m not super high on it, although I do like that it has applications in other matchups.
Infinite Obliteration has been the sideboard card of choice to try to beat Rally decks and also have an impact against Ramp, but I don’t think that card has any merit in a deck like this. We already have a fast and evasive clock against Ramp and enough discard to hopefully clear the way for the win. If I’m looking for the best silver bullet against only the Rally deck, I would definitely choose Cranial Archive. I love the Archive right now as a way to get around having a card like Hallowed Moonlight run into Duress or Dispel. You can leave it on the board and just let it take over. Archive in conjunction with sweepers is an excellent way to fight against Rally, just make sure they can’t Rally in response to activating the Archive!
Each version of BR Dragons had their own sort of late game, pull-ahead-with-card-advantage card. One played Outpost Siege, the other Ob Nixilis, Reignited. I’m not high on either card. Your deck is already clunky with a high curve, and you have cards like Haven of the Spirit Dragon for the late game to keep the pressure coming. I don’t really want to tap out on turns 4 or 5, or perhaps later, for a card that doesn’t necessarily impact the game. If I were going to play a big tap-out card, I would be more inclined to play Chandra, Flamecaller, but I don’t think that’s necessary. I do like Kolaghan’s Command as a card that can be both early and late game value, so perhaps more copies of something like that or Read the Bones would be my preference.
As far as additional removal spells, that’s going to be metagame dependent. Both Roast and Self-Inflicted Wound are quite good against Abzan, with the Wound being better. If you have more sweepers for small creatures in your sideboard, it will help to determine which removal spells make the most sense. I would lean toward Self-Inflicted Wound just because the 2 points really add up, especially in a deck where you are casting Draconic Roar and dealing huge chunks of damage with Thunderbreak Regent and Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury, but that will be dictated by your local metagame. If Jeskai continues moving in the direction of their creature base being Seeker of the Way and Mantis Rider, then Self-Inflicted Wound moves from being good to actively great, and I would want all 4 copies.
Coming up with a sideboard guide besides just describing which cards are good vs. what and when is going to be tough with the metagame still evolving. Oath of the Gatewatch hasn’t been around very long, so knowing how to sideboard against a deck like Jeskai when it could easily be aggro, midrange, or control will make no sense.
I’m looking to board in Transgress in any slow matchup, as I think it’s strong against control decks and ramp decks.
Archive is solely for Rally and nothing else.
Self-Inflicted Wound comes in for any matchup where it kills most of their creatures. Shocking, I know!
Kozilek’s Return is for the red aggro decks, the token decks, and is fine against Rally if they have enough creatures that don’t have 3 toughness and you have ways to clear their graveyard before they Rally.
Read the Bones is a pure value card for attrition matchups and any deck that looks to take the game long.
The cuts are generally pretty easy. I’m not cutting Dragons from my deck. The 3-drops are generally mediocre and there are plenty of matchups in which you can consider cutting them. Hangarback Walker can come out when they have removal for it post-sideboard. Walker and Phoenix both look pretty sad against a deck that leaves in Silkwrap, since they have no other reasonable targets for it.
Duress is still fine against red and is only really mediocre against a deck like Abzan Aggro. It’s surprisingly mediocre against Rally, despite hitting their best cards, but it’s still OK. I would look to shave against midrange decks where Transgress is just better, since hitting Siege Rhino and Gideon is much better than just Gideon.
It’s clear when Fiery Impulse and Grasp of Darkness aren’t at their peak. Replace them with better cards as needed. Murderous Cut tends to be solid against everything, but there are versions of Ramp against which it’s just bad, too. Draconic Roar is tough to cut, since it’s a burn spell, but against control decks without Jace it becomes actively bad (and you can hedge if you aren’t sure about Jace with Kolaghan’s Command that can kill it and not cost you value to have in your deck).
I don’t currently have BR Dragons as the best deck in the format, but it has enough game across the board that it can easily be the correct choice in a diverse metagame. There’s so much power here that the Dragons will certainly be around for as long as Dragons of Tarkir remains in Standard!
Have any great suggestions for main-deck 3-drops, ways you would change the deck, or sideboard tech? Sound off in the comments below!