Almost There: Dinosaurs

Posted in How to Build on October 27, 2017

By Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Paulo has been playing Magic since he was eight years old. At fifteen, he ventured outside of Brazil for his first international tournament, and he's been globetrotting as a professional player ever since.

Before we start, I want to talk about a concern that some people expressed with my first column about 4-1 lists from Magic Online now going public because of this column. That's understandable, and from now on it'll be explicitly stated that, if we get a list from Magic Online, only lists that go 4-0 and then lose the last round will be featured. It's also worth mentioning that I only get to see the lists I write about, and not the entire pool of 4-1 decks. R&D grabs some lists they find interesting, they send them to Blake, and then he sends only the ones I write about to me.

With that out of the way, let's move on to today's Almost There deck: Red-Green Dinosaurs!

Dinosaurs are different than the other tribes of Ixalan because, to me, they are already complete. As of right now, there aren't enough reasons to commit to Pirates, Merfolk, or Vampires, but with Dinosaurs the incentive to fully commit already exists. There are many cards like Regisaur Alpha, Otepec Huntmaster, Commune with Dinosaurs, and Savage Stomp that incentivize you to make sure that every other creature in your deck is a Dinosaur.

That said, the deck hasn't broken through. Why is that? Let's take a look at a 4-1 Magic Online list to find out.

4-1 Red-Green Dinosaurs

Theoretically, this list has it all. It has early plays with the mana creatures, it has removal, it has synergy, it has card selection, and it has haymakers. So, why does it not win? The answer can be found in two factors—one internal, and one external.

The internal problem is that a deck like this is overly reliant on its mana creatures. When you play seven to eight mana producers, as this deck does, you start having to skip the midgame with the intention of catapulting yourself to the late game instead. After all, if you're going to play a mana creature, you want to play a four-drop on turn three, not a three-drop.

The issue arises when you do not draw a mana creature, or when your mana creature is dealt with. Since your deck is made to account for the fact that you have several accelerants, it falls short when those accelerants aren't present. When almost every deck in the format plays either red or black, there are great numbers of Fatal Push, Shock, and Harnessed Lightning going around—which means your mana creatures are killed a huge portion of the time, and then the deck doesn't function nearly as well. That's not even mentioning these mana creatures' inherent weakness to sweepers, such as Fumigate or Bontu's Last Reckoning.

The external problem is that a lot of the threats in the current metagame are particularly well positioned against Red-Green Dinosaurs, which is a deck with damage-based removal that plans on dominating the ground. Glorybringer and Heart of Kiran fly right over you, Hazoret the Fervent and The Scarab God outclass anything you might be doing, and even something like a turn-two Longtusk Cub can quickly grow out of proportion.

Right now, I don't think there is much you can do about it if those cards continue to be heavily played, as there are just no efficient answers to them in red-green. You could potentially splash white for Ixalan's Binding or Cast Out, but even then, that's just adding another four-drop to a deck that's already taxed in the midgame.

To fix the internal problem, we might have to wait for Rivals of Ixalan. It would basically require more midrange Dinosaurs to be printed, so that you can actually have a good curve that doesn't rely on mana creatures. In an ideal world, I hope we get a great two-drop Dinosaur, because then we can Commune with Dinosaurs into it. If we adopt a more aggressive approach, then we can also make use of Rampaging Ferocidon as our three-drop. Alternatively, the metagame can shift in a direction that doesn't reward early spot removal as much as this one does, which would make the mana creatures more reliable.

Without a metagame shift or a new set, it seems unlikely to me that Dinosaurs will break the barrier to tier 1. It's still going to be a competitive deck, since there are a lot of powerful cards in it. If I were to play Dinosaurs, this is what I'd build:

Paulo's Red-Green Dinosaurs

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