Dinosaurs have been around since Ixalan, but the tribe never made it into competitive Standard. Until Core Set 2020 that is, as Marauding Raptor changed everything. With a follow-up Raptor Hatchling—effectively a one-mana 3/3 that gives Marauding Raptor +4/+0—you can now even cast a turn-3 Ghalta in Standard.

Indeed, the deck I will cover today was created by Czech superstar Ondřej Stráský. I liked his build, took it for a spin myself, scored an encouraging 6-4 on MTG Arena, and made some updates based on my experience during those matches.

Gruul Dinosaurs in Standard

Frank Karsten

8 Forest (347)
5 Mountain (343)
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
2 Unclaimed Territory
4 Drover of the Mighty
4 Marauding Raptor
3 Otepec Huntmaster
3 Raptor Hatchling
4 Ripjaw Raptor
4 Shifting Ceratops
4 Regisaur Alpha
4 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
4 Commune with Dinosaurs
3 Savage Stomp

Sideboard
4 Veil of Summer
2 Nightpack Ambusher
2 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
2 Blood Sun
2 Fry
1 Flame Sweep
1 Thrashing Brontodon
1 Alpine Moon

This list emerged after making the following changes to Ondrej’s original build:

  • I cut one Raptor Hatchling and one Savage Stomp because they are bad against planeswalker-based decks. In those matchups, drawing multiples can lead to awkward draws.
  • I added an Otepec Huntmaster and a Shifting Ceratops because I wanted to maximize the curve-outs of a two-drop accelerant into a four-drop Dinosaur.
  • I replaced 2 Unclaimed Territory with 2 basics to cast non-creature spells more consistently.
  • I made a few tweaks in the sideboard, adding Fry, Thrashing Brontodon, and Flame Sweep to improve against the field.

Game plan and key cards

The basic game plan of Gruul Dinosaurs is simple: Ramp into huge creatures, then turn them sideways.

Marauding RaptorOtepec HuntmasterDrover of the Mighty

The two-drop accelerants enable the entire strategy, so I mulligan aggressively towards them. At least in Game 1, any hand without a two-drop accelerant or a Commune with Dinosaurs is an auto-mulligan for me.

After sideboard, I am a bit looser. For example, when I know I’m playing against an aggro deck, then Raptor Hatchling actually becomes an excellent two-drop. But I still mulligan relatively aggressively.

To support this aggressive mulligan strategy, my list includes 11 two-drop accelerants, which is more than most lists I’ve seen. Otepec Huntmaster is great in Jund Dinosaurs because you can give Rotting Regisaur haste, but in Gruul Dinosaurs I slightly prefer Drover of the Mighty, which is better in multiples and better at bringing out Ghalta.

Ghalta, Primal Hunger

At the moment, the metagame seems soft to Ghalta. The typical removal suite for Vampires (which dominated last weekend’s MPL Weekly) is 2 Legion’s End, 2 Cast Down, and 4 Sorin, and none of those can touch the legendary 12/12.

Four copies may seem like a lot, but in many matchups Ghalta is your best card and you want to maximize the probability of finding it. And against some opponents (for example, Esper with their Thought Erasure, Deputy of Detention, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and Despark) you are actually happy to have a backup copy.

Why play Gruul over Jund Dinosaurs?

I actually played quite a bit of Jund Dinosaurs. My version was already different than most in that I didn’t have Duress or Noxious Grasp in my sideboard. I simply didn’t like playing these cards with only 9 or 10 black sources. I was literally splashing for Rotting Regisaur only.

Rotting Regisaur

Rotting Regisaur obviously fits a deck with Otepec Huntmaster and Ghalta very well, but it did require a more painful and less consistent mana base, and it wasn’t great in every matchup. Especially against heaps of chump blockers or removal spells, the discard trigger was a major downside.

Also, the perfect draw is a two-drop accelerant into a four-drop Dinosaur. Often, I wished that Rotting Regisaur was either a mana dork or a beefier Dinosaur. A three-drop creature just doesn’t fit the ideal draws you want to achieve. I had been considering cutting the black already, and Ondřej’s version was the final push I needed.

Tips and tricks

  • Don’t play Otepec Huntmaster when you control Marauding Raptor. Drover of the Mighty survives, though. In any case, if you have a choice on turn two, play Huntmaster first.
  • With Unclaimed Territory, you sometimes need to name Humans for Huntmaster or Drover.
  • Both Ripjaw Raptor and Raptor Hatchling really like to take damage via Marauding Raptor or Savage Stomp.
  • Commune with Dinosaurs is reliable; you’ll find a land 92.5% of the time and a Dinosaur 92.5% of the time.
  • Playing a second Marauding Raptor before casting Ripjaw Raptor is great. Playing a second Marauding Raptor before casting Shifting Ceratops is something you will regret.
  • Sometimes, it’s better to not cast Commune with Dinosaurs on turn 1. This could be the case if you already have a play for turn 2 and turn 3 but don’t know if you need lands or creatures beyond that. Holding on to it until turn 4 gives you more information.

Sideboard plans

Against planeswalker decks, you often want to cut Savage Stomp and Raptor Hatchling. Against decks that will have lots of spot removal after sideboard—and many opponents will board those in against you—Ghalta and Ripjaw Raptor get worse, so shaving a few is fine. Apart from that, you can often shave a Shifting Ceratops against non-blue decks and an Otepec Huntmaster if you don’t know what else to cut. That said, when in doubt, it’s often better to not board at all so that you keep all synergies intact. Finally, I sometimes board out a land on the draw, which is not reflected in the sideboard plans below.

Vs Bant Scapeshift:

+2 Blood Sun +1 Alpine Moon +1 Flame Sweep +2 Fry

-2 Savage Stomp -3 Raptor Hatchling -1 Ghalta

Vs Vampires:

+4 Veil of Summer +1 Flame Sweep

-3 Shifting Ceratops -1 Ghalta -1 Otepec Huntmaster

Vs Esper Hero:

+2 Nightpack Ambusher +2 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds+4 Veil of Summer +2 Fry

-2 Ripjaw Raptor -4 Ghalta -1 Savage Stomp -3 Raptor Hatchling

Vs Jund Dinosaurs:

No changes

Vs Mono-Red:

+1 Thrashing Brontodon

-1 Ghalta

Vs Boros Feather:

+2 Fry

-1 Otepec Huntmaster -1 Shifting Ceratops

Vs Bant Ramp:

No changes

Vs Simic Nexus:

+1 Thrashing Brontodon +2 Blood Sun +2 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds

-3 Savage Stomp -1 Raptor Hatchling -1 Ghalta

Vs Jeskai Planeswalkers:

+2 Nightpack Ambusher +2 Vivien +2 Fry +1 Thrashing Brontodon

-2 Ghalta -3 Savage Stomp -1 Raptor Hatchling -1 Otepec Huntmaster

Conclusion

As it turns out, a two-mana 12/12 with trample (and sometimes even haste) is pretty good. If you want to live the dream of casting turn-3 Ghalta while standing a reasonable chance against the top decks in the format—I think we’re slightly favored against Vampires and slightly unfavored against Bant Scapeshift—then you should give Gruul Dinosaurs a try.