In the wake of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, a more defined Standard metagame has started to develop. While I’m sure new decks will continue to break out in the weeks to come, we can at least start to look at a list of the most commonly played threats (and how to beat them).
Dragonlord Ojutai has established itself as a force of be reckoned with. He is most commonly found in Esper (which is really UB with Ojutai) Control, but also in the sideboard of Jeskai Tokens and even in Craig Wescoe’s Bant deck from the Pro Tour. Ojutai is dangerous because the hexproof ability helps buy you time to protect him—which the Esper decks are great at doing. Ojutai also snowballs out of control very quickly—each hit increases the likelihood that he will live to attack again.
The obvious best answers to Ojutai are cards like Crackling Doom and Disdainful Stroke, but you also need to be able to attack through it. Tricks like Abzan Charm or Boon Satyr are great for this, as are creatures like Stormbreath Dragon on Deathmist Raptor that just ignore the 5/4.
Fleecemane Lion saw a bit of play in Theros–Return to Ravnica Standard, but it has really come into its own in recent months. The Lion sees play in everything from Abzan Aggro to permanent-heavy GW Devotion decks—and even as one of the lone threats in Abzan Control. The Lion is great against both aggressive and controlling decks—providing early defense and sneaking under counterspells.
Cards like Lightning Strike and Bile Blight are great at dealing with the Lion before it comes online—but they don’t exactly prevent it from being a good topdeck on turn 10. Another way to deal with the Lion is to outclass it with bigger creatures or stall the board with Elspeth tokens.
Dragonlord Atarka is ironically similar to Ugin—a ridiculously powerful effect that gets 1-for-1’d easily—so it is really only worth the mana when the trigger provides value. To that end, Atarka is the queen of midrange—great at breaking board stalls at parity or playing from slightly behind. The way to beat Atarka is by going very far under, or by being so far ahead on card advantage that you can lose a bit of value while answering her. Atarka’s likely effect on the format will be to push out the slightly smaller GR decks that aren’t capable of racing or answering her.
Hordeling Outburst is included on this list both as an actual card that sees play in red aggro decks and Jeskai Tokens decks, but also to represent that you need to be able to beat an early rush of small creatures. The red aggro decks are so potent that you need specific answers to beat them—things like Drown in Sorrow or Arc Lightning. You can’t just show up with some Ultimate Prices and Coursers and expect that to be good enough. Outburst also represents a threat that is resilient against 1-for-1 removal—putting strain on decks like Jeskai that don’t have access to Bile Blight.
Thunderbreak Regent is one of the defining cards to come out of Dragons of Tarkir. The Regent has a dangerous Siege Rhino-like property of being devastating in multiples. The first one is a threat that must be answered and provides some value. The second one takes advantage of that incremental damage—and getting two in play at once basically demands a wrath effect of some sort. We’ve seen Regent show up in green ramp decks, at the top end of aggressive decks, and as a solid threat in Jeskai strategies.
The best answers to Thunderbreak Regent are ones that avoid the trigger: Crux of Fate, Elspeth, Foul-Tongue Invocation, or Silumgar, the Drifting Death. In my experience the best ways to beat the RG Dragon decks are to race them back—hopefully avoiding the Thunderbreak entirely.
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Aside from a few short Hornet Queen dominated weeks, Elspeth has been a fixture of the Standard metagame since she was printed in Theros. Elspeth does it all: stabilizes a board when you are behind, provides card advantage in attrition matchups, and ends the game quickly to cut down on opposing outs.
Elspeth was the original midrange trump before the printing of Ugin, a card she really struggles with. That said, any green deck needs to have a plan to get around her, and decks that intend to answer her with Hero’s Downfall should make sure that they don’t lose to the army of tokens she leaves behind.
Courser of Kruphix
I almost didn’t include Courser on this list because essentially every Standard deck has had a plan for this card since it was printed last year. If you are trying to kill quickly, you can’t ignore a 2/4 body with life gain attached. If you are playing for the long game, Courser is a must-kill source of card advantage.
Courser’s stock does go down a bit in the face of Dromoka’s Command, which makes playing enchantments a bit of a liability. To that end Courser is also at its worst against green decks that aren’t removal heavy, like Devotion or GW Mastery of the Unseen decks.
While Courser can be a kill-on-sight type of card, letting it live for one or two turns while you use your mana in other ways isn’t the end of the world. There is a huge risk/reward swing associated with this based on whether or not they hit, but it is definitely a strategy worth considering.
In a world dominated by Hero’s Downfall, haste is a really important ability because it lets your creatures still get some damage in before they die. Hero’s Downfall pushes cards like Polukranos out of the metagame, but Dragon has survived that phenomenon.
Dragon is naturally great against a decent subset of the removal spells that see play to kill bigger creatures, notably Valorous Stance, Abzan Charm, Utter End, and half of Crux of Fate. Dragon also attacks through Ojutai and Wingmate Roc which are good against other fliers.
Stormbreath Dragon is the most common card that I have a weak spot against when building new Standard decks. It is both very restrictive and very punishing. The printing of Ultimate Price has driven down Stormbreath Dragon’s stock—but most decks that play it have plenty of other targets.
Stormbreath, similar to Thunderbreak Regent, is often great in multiples. Decks with 4 of each of these Dragons will often just keep playing them until the last one lives and kills you. As a result, I like trying to race Stormbreath Dragon decks back rather than playing defensively, unless you are a pure control deck.
Mastery of the Unseen
Mastery originally started seeing play in Standard as an anti-control, anti-Ugin card. It has now been featured in the main deck of many successful Standard decks, from GW Devotion to Craig Wescoe’s impressive looking Bant deck from Pro Tour DTK. Mastery is a good trump in green mirrors, where the life gain and string of creatures are tough to beat. Combine it with a package of Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector and you have a dominant card advantage engine that usually provides complete inevitability. Aside from using removal like Utter End or Dromoka’s Command on the enchantment itself, individually powerful threats are good against Mastery of the Unseen.
Mastery provides a huge advantage in the long run but a weak return on your mana in the short term. If you are casting Dragons and Rhinos while they are making 2/2s, you can usually overrun a Mastery player before things get too out of hand.
Another option is simply using wrath effects to deal with a full board—but you eventually need an answer to Mastery in order for this to be effective.
Deathmist Raptor is another of the most exciting cards to come out of Dragons of Tarkir. At this point it is basically a package deal with Den Protector, and sometimes alongside Rattleclaw Mystic or Mastery of the Unseen. Raptor fights well on the ground and provides good pressure against both life totals and planeswalkers. In the long game, these threats returning turn after turn is great against decks that use 1-for-1s and don’t kill quickly. Elspeth is great against Deathmist Raptor in green mirrors—but watch out for the Den Protectors that usually come along, because of how good they are at attacking through tokens.
Hopefully this gives you a good sense of what you have to contend with in Standard. Dragons, resilient green creatures, and quick floods of tokens.