A while ago, I wrote an article about what each tribe would need to compete in Standard. Now, with the full Rivals of Ixalan spoiler already out, we get to see how they fared. This will be a series of four articles, one on each tribe, where I go over the tribal cards from Rivals of Ixalan and try to analyze what the best build of that tribe will be, and whether it can compete in Standard.
Today, I reach the fourth and last tribe: Dinosaurs.
On power level alone, Dinosaurs were by far the strongest tribe coming into this set. They already had strong individual cards and good payoffs for committing to a tribe, and they also had good mana. Its biggest issues were that it was hard to deal with some individual cards (The Scarab God, Glorybringer, Heart of Kiran, Hazoret) and that you were too reliant on mana accelerants.
Rivals of Ixalan wasn’t as kind to Dinosaurs as it was to the other tribes, but given that it needed less help to begin with, maybe that’s OK. Let’s take a look at the Dinosaurs:
This is a new Dinosaur that actually answers Hazoret and The Scarab God (and, well, any other creature). It is not a permanent answer, though, and while decks like Mono-Red might have trouble with a 5/5, black decks certainly won’t. It’ll be great when they play Scarab God and you play Trapjaw Tyrant and ping it somehow, but what happens when they follow it up with Vraska’s Contempt, Hostage Taker or Lurking Chupacabra? Then you’re right back where you started. That said, if you have ways of triggering it yourself, then it can quickly dominate the board against decks that aren’t black, so it has some potential at least.
The new Akroma! Instead of hitting for 6 with haste, she hits for 8 without it—it’s almost the same thing. 8 mana is a lot, but this card can dominate any battlefield it finds itself in. Unfortunately, she’s still vulnerable to counterspells, Vraska’s Contempt, Cast Out, Settle the Wreckage, Hostage Taker and a variety of other Standard cards that see play because The Scarab God and Hazoret must be dealt with. In a different world perhaps it would be worth paying 8 mana for a creature this powerful, but in this world, that’s not likely.
Though this can work with Dinosaurs, it’s not really a Dinosaurs card. They are not a swarmy tribe, and their members are already big—you’re paying 3 mana for a 25% increase on their size, as opposed to the 100% increase that you get with Vampires.
Also not a Dinosaur, but perhaps the most important card to come out for the deck in Rivals. At only 1 mana and instant speed, 4 damage is the perfect number to kill Glorybringer and Heart of Kiran—two of the biggest threats against a deck that had otherwise no way of defending itself from flyers.
There is a requirement—2 damage to your own creature—but that’s easy to turn it into an advantage. Of course, sometimes you’ll have Reckless Rage and nothing to use it on, but other times you’ll target your own Ripjaw Raptor or Ranging Raptors and then the card will be outstanding. Even if you don’t have a “good” target, you can always target a bigger creature, such as Regisaur Alpha, its token, or a powered up Drover of the Mighty. I expect this card to be heavily played in Dinosaur builds.
12/12 is BIG. It attacks through anything, and is virtually unkillable by red removal. Even Harnessed Lightning, which in theory can kill anything, will in practice never kill Ghalta, especially without Attune and Rogue Refiner.
Ghalta originally costs 12, which is obviously a prohibitive number, but it’s not easy to get it in play relatively early. Imagine, for example, this curve:
This is a very powerful board, and not hard to obtain—all you need is 4 lands and 3 different cards by turn 4. Of course, sometimes you won’t have one piece, and a lot of the time they’ll disrupt you, but this is just to show that you don’t need everything to align to get this card in play early. It’s actually doable with just a normal draw.
Another card that is great with Ghalta is Regisaur Alpha. If you go turn 5 Regisaur, you can play a turn 6 attacking Ghalta even if you don’t have a land. That’s even easier than the previous draw!
The main problem with Ghalta is that when it doesn’t work, it’s really bad, especially in multiples. You can try to just play 4 to maximize your chances of getting it, but every copy of it that you draw will make it harder to cast the other copies since it’s always going to be a card that doesn’t add to the power you have in play. That said, it’s a very powerful effect, so 2-3 could definitely be right.
Even though the Forerunner of the Empire/Polyraptor combo is very cute, it’s almost not good enough for Limited (and I say almost only because I actually did it at the GP), so I doubt it’s good for Constructed. Polyraptor is effectively immune to damage, but it’s still a 5/5 for 8 with no evasive abilities, and that’s not good enough.
I love this card. I thought Dinosaur decks were kind of lacking on the 3-drop department, and at 3/4, Thrashing Brontodon is the perfect size to block anything from Mono-Red and survive (except for Hazoret, that is), while also living through any burn spell. It’s unfortunate that it dies to Chandra and Glorybringer, but hey, it’s a 3-drop—it’d probably be too good if it survived everything.
The effect is also not small because there are tons of playable artifacts and enchantments right now. The best target is probably God-Pharaoh’s Gift, but you can also hit Heart of Kiran, Cast Out, Drake Haven, Search for Azcanta, Anointed Procession and even Bomat Courier if you’re desperate. It’s also worth a lot to be able to find artifact/enchantment hate with your Commune with Dinosaurs.
I asked for a good 2-drop, and I guess I got one? Thunderherd Migration doesn’t impact the board, but it offers a way to ramp that cannot be disrupted by most opponents. One of the biggest problems with Dinosaurs before was that you’d have a hand like this:
Then you’d play your creature turn 2, and they’d kill it. Once they did, your turn 3 would just be “land, go”, which is horrible—you’d almost never win after that. If you replace the 2 mana creature with Thunderherd Migration, however, then suddenly you can guarantee that you’re going to curve out, making your 4- and 5-drops more reliable.
Of course, there are downsides to Thunderherd Migration compared to mana creatures—it doesn’t attack or block. Drover of the Mighty is a 3/3. Otepec Huntmaster gives your Dinosaurs haste. If you have Ghalta, they both help casting it as well. Whether you want the potential upside of a creature or the consistency of a sorcery will depend on how aggressive you are. If you’re a deck that’s interested in attacking, then my guess is that you’ll want the creatures. If you want to play bigger creatures and dominate the board, then Thunderherd Migration will be better. In practice, I think most decks will adopt 2 of the 3, so either Drover + Migration or Drover + Huntmaster.
This card is… weird. 5/5 for 3 is big, and it can ramp you, but it can also do nothing. It’s very good with Ghalta, and it also turns on stuff like Vehicles or Rhonas. I’m sure it can be good, but I don’t really know what the right build for it is yet.
2/2 for 2 is horrible, but ping this once and it becomes a 4/4, and that’s already a great rate, especially considering it can grow a lot more.
I think that if this card cost R/G, it would be heavily played. At G/W, it’s harder, because most things that will incidentally ping it are red, so it’ll demand a mana base that wants to have all 3 colors early on. If that can be accomplished, then this can be quite powerful.
For cards that easily trigger enrage in an aggressive shell, there are four that potentially come to mind. The first is Savage Stomp, which is just a good card for a Dinosaurs deck. If you play turn 2 Ceratops, you can play a turn 3 Savage Stomp for 1 mana, and then you’ll have a 5/5 attacker. You can even play an extra Savage Stomp that turn, getting an 8/8!
The other aggressive card is Tilonalli’s Crown. +3/+0 and trample is kind of a lot, and add +2/+2 on top of that and you’re attacking for 7. If you pair Crown with Savage Stomp, that’s a 10 power attacker on turn 3.
The other two options are a bit more suspicious. There’s Reckless Rage, which works but it needs to be pumped once already, and then there’s Rile, which isn’t a great card but can work if you have enough enrage effects.
Also known as the “Danish Magic Dino” (for those who are unaware, Danish Magic is a Magic variant where you open a pack, shuffle it, and play with infinite mana, but you’re always required to do anything you can—attack, block, play your spells. All your choices are only about what you target, or which creature you’re blocking), Relentless Raptor packs a decent body and can be quite good on a race, especially if you pump it somehow. It’s very awkward, though, because if they play something like a Hazoret you’re just forced to jump in front of it. I can see this being played if there’s a Dinosaur deck that supports the R/W cost.
Overall, I think there are two potential ways to build Dinosaurs. Either you want to be a 3-color aggro deck, or an R/G-based midrange deck.
Naya Aggro will be based around Siegehorn Ceratops. I’d start with something like this:
The goal of this deck is to just aggro people out, and it happens to have Dinosaurs in it. The mana base might be lacking a bit (there are currently only 9 sources for non-Dinosaur red cards), but you have 4 Drovers and 4 Communes, so I think it should work.
The other way of building it is more midrange. Splashing a third color in those decks is very easy, but I think this third color should be used as a way to deal with white sweepers, which are a nightmare for R/G Dinosaurs, which means either blue for counterspells or black for discard. White, even though it’s a Dinosaur color, simply doesn’t offer much that you can’t already find in R/G, unless you’re looking for an answer to Scarab God and Hazoret specifically (then you can play Cast Out or Thopter Arrest).
Once you’re in midrange territory, I think we can build two lists: one trying to maximize Ghalta, and another more controllish. Here’s Ghalta:
If you want, you can play Negates in the sideboard. Then you can add an Island and some Botanical Sanctums/Spirebluff Canals.
This deck is also aggressive, and focuses on being able to quickly attack with a Ghalta, with eight ways of giving it haste. The next option is an even slower deck, which doesn’t play the creature accelerants and instead plays Sweltering Suns, in an attempt to beat other tribal decks, such as Merfolk and Vampire. This deck plays Thunderherd Migration and then can even more easily splash a third color:
Verdict: Dinosaurs gained some new tools, some of which can completely change how the deck operates, such as Ghalta and Thunderherd Migration. Unfortunately, every build of Dinosaurs I can think of still has trouble with white sweepers, and there still aren’t many super effective ways of dealing with Hazoret and The Scarab God (though you have new ways of dealing with Glorybringer and Heart of Kiran, at least). The aggro version of Dinosaurs is interesting to me, but it’s not clear what advantages it has over the already played red aggro decks.
If people play a lot of white sweepers (Fumigate, Settle the Wreckage), then you should probably not play Dinosaurs. If those cards aren’t very popular, then Dinosaurs can be good, though I still don’t think they’ll be tier 1. I’d guess that they’re probably going to settle around tier 2, because other people’s threats are usually equally powerful without requiring any synergy or setup.
See you soon,