The Dinosaurs of Ixalan are so big and powerful that they don’t need a tribal deck to excel. G/R isn’t the only way to build Dinosaurs—combined with a certain Snake friend, they can take you to the promised land.
Winding Constrictor was already one of the most powerful cards in Standard, and as several sets rotate out and only one comes in to replace them, the Snake is sure to remain near the top of the power rankings. A 2/3 for 2 is already a great rate, and the counter synergies are too tempting to pass up.
The best synergy with the Snake going forward will continue to be Walking Ballista. A Ballista with extra counters can machine-gun down an opponent’s board or their life total. Spending 4 mana to add a single extra counter isn’t an amazing rate, but to add multiple counters is quite strong. Ballista also happens to combo well with enrage out of Ixalan.
The best enrage card in the set has to be Ripjaw Raptor. Not only does this thing have pushed stats as a 4/5 for 4, but you’re likely to get some extra cards just out of normal game play. They can’t use any red removal spells without giving you 1-2 cards, and if that needs to combine with a block in combat to take down the 5 toughness, that’s just more card advantage. Where things get out of hand is when you start using your Walking Ballista counters to draw extra cards. Even without a Snake, Ballista and Raptor function like a Jayemdae Tome, drawing an extra card for every 4 mana. With a Snake, that combo gets out of control fast.
The only limiting factor to Ballista being able to ping your own creatures for enrage value is in the amount of mana at your disposal. Luckily, you have another enrage creature with Ranging Raptors that can completely change that. Pinging the Raptors allows you to search your library and put a basic into play, giving you a great way to accelerate out your mana to start putting tons of extra counters on your Ballista, or to cast your other powerful spells.
Deathgorge Scavenger is another new Dinosaur with reasonable base stats and a little bit of value attached. Exiling cards from an opposing graveyard can mess with some strategies in Standard, and gaining life or dealing extra damage along the way is a nice bonus.
Verdurous Gearhulk is your top end, and you’re going with all 4 copies. It’s incredible in conjunction with Ballista and Snake, while putting counters on several different creatures, creating a large trampler, and further accelerating your machine gun all help end the game. Rishkar, Peema Renegade functions as a smaller, cheaper Gearhulk with bonus of accelerating your mana. Putting counter on creatures also allows them to tap for mana, and with a mana sink as strong as Ballista, that goes a long way.
Kitesail Freebooter is a great addition to black aggressive and tempo decks. It has evasion for just 2 mana and it can take a powerful removal spell or planeswalker from an opponent’s hand. Duress on a flying creature happens to be good!
Fatal Push is still a pushed removal spell, so you’ll continue to lean on it. Vraska’s Contempt is a new removal spell from Ixalan that will give you the Hero’s Downfall replacement we’ve sorely been missing. It’s more expensive, but you gain some life out of the deal, likening the Contempt to Fumigate vs. Wrath of God. Savage Stomp plays well with Winding Constrictor to add extra counters, and playing it on either of your Raptors gives you enrage value as icing on the cake. Finally, you have Blossoming Defenses to help win combat or protect your huge creatures from removal for just a single mana. As if double-blocking a Ripjaw Raptor wasn’t bad enough, the pain of Blossoming Defense saving the Dinosaur while you’re still drawing a card will really sting!
The Dinosaurs are proving to be a powerful tribe in the first week of Ixalan Standard, and seeing some of the best cards already featured in previously established archetypes is exciting!