Standard is wide open. The recent round of bannings eliminated the decks that stood out as clear bests, and Rivals of Ixalan offered up some role players to slot into existing decks, as well as plenty of goodies for brewers to salivate over. Among these are creatures and payoff cards for the four tribes of Ixalan. Vampires, Pirates, Merfolk, and Dinosaurs weren’t good enough to be tournament mainstays before Rivals, but since tribal decks rely on reaching a critical mass of on-theme cards, it’s a good idea to revisit them in the face of a new set.
Dinosaurs strikes me as an underexplored tribe. Part of the reason why I see potential is that a Dinosaur theme can slot into a normal shell that’s already balanced and effective. To make a Pirate aggro deck, for example, you might have to choose a weaker card like Captain Lannery Storm over a stronger card like Ahn-Crop Crasher. On the other hand, Dinosaurs like Ripjaw Raptor and Carnage Tyrant are individually strong cards that can thrive alongside removal spells and non-Dino creatures. In other words, the Dinosaur tribe doesn’t preclude you from playing with the best non-Dinosaur cards in Standard.
What’s the Payoff?
That said, I’m not just going to build a Dinosaur deck because my eight-year-old self had fun on his Natural History Museum field trip. There needs to be some payoff for incorporating Dinos into my creature base.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with a variety of G/B Winding Constrictor decks. There’s much to like about green midrange decks, but the biggest problem that needs solving is mana flood. These decks need 4 and 5 lands to operate smoothly, but they lack the power and card advantage necessary to feel good about playing a very large number of mana sources.
One possible solution is to build these green midrange decks to make use of Commune with Dinosaurs. Commune can find you lands when you need them early, and powerful threats in the late game. It’s a way to effectively increase your density of mana and threats at the same time, and therefore greatly improve the chances that your deck will operate as you want it to. Add a little bit of utility in finding roleplayer cards like Deathgorge Scavenger and Thrashing Brontodon, and you have something quite appealing. Commune with Dinosaurs is reminiscent of cards like Oath of Nissa and Traverse the Ulvenwald, which were secrets behind the success of green midrange decks in recent years.
The other important payoff is Thunderherd Migration, reminiscent of Farseek or Rampant Growth. These days, cards scale in power level so rapidly with each additional mana that you’re typically happier ramping to a 4-drop on turn 3 than casting two smaller spells in the early turns. Granted, you can do the same thing with mana creatures, but then you become very vulnerable to board sweepers, and even a well-placed Shock can ruin your plans. Land-based ramp for less than 3 mana is as good as gold.
Speaking of mana creatures, Drover of the Mighty is a nice upgrade over Servant of the Conduit, Channeler Initiate, or whatever you might otherwise be playing in a green midrange deck. It produces any color of mana and doesn’t come with any risk of “running out.” Later in the game, a 3/3 body can speed up your clock, help you pressure a planeswalker, or trade off with a midrange creature on your opponent’s side.
Savage Stomp is a powerful and efficient removal spell, but likely can’t be played in high numbers due to the setup required.
What Are the Good Dinosaurs?
While a W/R Dinosaur deck might be possible, Commune with Dinosaurs and Thunderherd Migration are going to be a major focus of this article. For that reason, I’ll focus on the Standard-playable green Dinosaurs.
As a 4/3 attacker, Deathgorge Scavenger has the stats you’re looking for in a 3-drop. The life gain is fantastic against aggressive red decks, and can come in handy in any close race. Eating graveyards makes this a dedicated hate card against God-Pharaoh’s Gift, and useful against anyone playing with embalm, eternalize, The Scarab God, or Torrential Gearhulk. Your green decks would probably be sideboarding Scavenger anyway, and it’s a perfectly reasonable main-deck card.
Similarly, the Brontodon has good stats for holding the ground, and doesn’t die to Lightning Strike, Abrade, or Sweltering Suns. In a format where Cast Out is a premier removal spell, and where entire decks revolve around Heart of Kiran, God-Pharaoh’s Gift, or Anointed Procession, having an incidental Naturalize effect built into your deck is as good as gold.
I’ve seen players put Ranging Raptors to good use, but it’s generally overshadowed by the 3-drops listed above. You’d consider this if you were playing with a large number of Walking Ballistas and Savage Stomps.
An exciting card when Ixalan was first spoiled, Ripjaw Raptor wound up competing for a slot with Bristling Hydra. Now that energy is largely nerfed, it might be time for the Raptor to come into its own. This creature is big, aggressively costed, and a nightmare for anyone playing with damage-based removal. In particular, it matches up very well against Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer—something not many creatures in Standard can claim.
Ripjaw Raptor will probably be one of the premier creatures of any green Dinosaur deck, particularly because you’ll be able to cast it on turn 3. Like Ranging Raptors, it pairs well with Savage Stomp and Walking Ballista.
Finally, I come to the big momma. Carnage Tyrant is the number one card in the format that U/B Control decks do not want to see. Not every green deck is comfortable getting to 6 mana, but a Dinosaur deck will be, due to Thunderherd Migration. This is a perfect example of a roleplayer card that you can find with Commune with Dinosaurs in the spots where you really want it.
Rounding out the playable mono-green Dinosaurs are Ghalta, Primal Hunger, Verdant Sun’s Avatar, and Wayward Swordtooth. Of the three, Ghalta seems to hold the most potential, and could fit nicely as a 1-of in a deck with Commune.
Red is the second-best color for Dinosaurs in Standard, with the standouts being Regisaur Alpha, Raging Swordtooth, and Burning Sun’s Avatar. Sadly, as good as these creatures are, they’re overshadowed by the power of Glorybringer and Rekindling Phoenix. If I didn’t want to play Lannery Storm over Ahn-Crop Crasher, I don’t want to play Regisaur Alpha over Glorybringer.
Additionally, the G/R color pair lacks answers to Hazoret and The Scarab God, which is a big problem for the medium-speed creature deck that Dinosaurs is sure to be. As natural as it seems to build G/R Dinos, I don’t think it can be successful without a splash color.
White and black are good midrange colors that provide answers to the troublesome Gods. They also offer powerful top-end Dinosaurs in Wakening Sun’s Avatar and Zacama, Primal Calamity, and Tetzimoc, Primal Death respectively.
Quick Commune Guidelines
What does a deck need to support Commune With Dinosaurs?
To completely miss (find neither a Dino nor a land) would be a complete and utter disaster. This cannot happen regularly if you’re to have a playable deck. To make the chances of bricking below one percent, you should play with a minimum of 35 hits (Dinos and lands).
Casting Commune and being forced to take a land isn’t a disaster, but it isn’t great. If that’s happening more than half of the time, then this whole tribal idea probably isn’t worth your while. To make the chances of seeing a Dino in five cards roughly sixty percent, you should play a minimum of 10 Dinos.
Note that these are minimums, not optimums—the more hits you can pack in, the better your Communes are going to be. Also think ahead about how you’re going to sideboard, and make sure to either preserve the structure of your deck, or trim on Communes when you board out a bunch of creatures.
In a perfect world, you should be able to Commune on turn 1 in order to help ensure that you have a Dinosaur to reveal to Thunderherd Migration on turn 2. Keep this in mind when constructing mana bases with too many enters-the-battlefield tapped lands.
A natural place to start is the Naya color combination. You get exile-based removal from white, and cheap burn spells from red. You also get to diversify your top-end with the ultra-powerful 4- and 5-mana spells from red. In particular, Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a control killer that gives you game against Fumigate, and is amazing to cast on turn 3 after a Thunderherd Migration.
For reference, you can check out Ari Lax’s 12th place “Naya Monsters” deck list from GP Memphis. Here’s a deck with a similar shell, but a Dinosaur-based threat suite.
White and red are the easiest colors to pair with green because Sunpetal Grove and Rootbound Crag are dual lands that will usually enter the battlefield untapped. Scattered Groves and Sheltered Thicket pair with Commune and Thunderherd Migration to ensure that this deck has a very high concentration of mana, while also being resistant to flood in the late game.
Tetzimoc, Primal Death is one of the most underappreciated cards in Standard right now, and the power level is through the roof. If Plague Wind wasn’t enough for you, he also represents a 6/6 body that matches up well against much of the removal and most of the creatures in the format. Tetzimoc is one of the only ways for a midrange deck to claw back into a game where The Scarab God has been activated on the opponent’s side of the battlefield.
A third option is to go even bigger, with Wakening Sun’s Avatar and Zacama, Primal Calamity to go way over the top. These are cards that win you the game when cast, but are so expensive that you don’t want to risk drawing them in your opening hand. Commune with Dinosaurs is the perfect solution to this problem, as it dramatically increases your ability to find late-game 1-ofs.
This is a dedicated ramp deck that capitalizes on the strength of Carnage Tyrant against control decks, and the ability to ramp into Fumigate against creature-based decks. My proposed version is white and green, with a tiny bit of red mana to support a 1-of Zacama. Endless Sands is great for saving Carnage Tyrant from the precious few cards—like Fumigate—that can actually kill it.
I hope this article has given you some food for thought. If it’s not the Dinosaurs themselves that interest you, the consistency you gain from Commune with Dinosaurs and Thunderherd Migration ought to be something to chew on. Many of these Dinosaurs are among the best creatures in Standard anyway, and the fact that you can slot them into a variety of midrange shells makes them very appealing.