Powering Through Dragons of Tarkir

Posted in The Week That Was on March 13, 2015

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

I love that as Magic players we get a gift-giving holiday (at least) four times a year. I snuck down the stairs early this morning to sit under the Dragon tree and shake the new cards to try and figure out what gifts they will be providing us in the various formats for the coming months. Sure, there are a couple of pairs of new socks in there—useful spells and critters that do the job that needs to get done—but there are also some exciting new toys just waiting to be broken. In a good way.

Whenever I look at a new set, like Dragons of Tarkir, I am mentally placing the cards into four buckets—or gift bags, if we want to extend last paragraph's analogy any further than it needs to go. I'm looking for the commons that I need to be drafting highly, the cards that will impact Standard, Commander cards I need to play with and around, and finally some cards that just excite me about building decks. Let's start off with 40-carders and work our way upward in deck size with a Top 5 cards for each category. All rankings are purely my own and I encourage you to tell me on Twitter (@Top8Games) where our opinions veer off in different directions.

Top 5 Limited Commons

#5 Zephyr Scribe

I love a Looter and historically they are always high picks in any Limited format unless they have a steep price for activation, like Bloodfire Mentor in Khans of Tarkir Limited—but even then you still see it played from time to time when the deck suits it. Not only does Zephyr Scribe have a relatively low cost to use its ability, but you can do it multiple times in a turn. And it's going to be super sweet with rebound cards like Ojutai's Breath, allowing you to loot, rebound, and untap your creature. Also, as a 2-power creature for three mana, you can trade with a face-down creature if need be or even ambush something in combat with an instant to untap your Scribe.

#4 Dromoka Dunecaster

Yes, I know it doesn't deal with Dragons, but a cheap tapper that gums up the best creature on the ground is going to be a slam-dunk common that won't make it very far around the table. You're just going to need to find something else that deals with their fliers, but white has that option a little higher up on the list.

#3 Flatten

In Khans, our two main black removal commons were Throttle and Debilitating Injury. Defeat is playing the role of the Aura in this set as a sorcery-speed removal spell that is uniquely suited to killing a face-down creature, but it can't "finish off" a creature post-combat like Injury. I picked Injury over Throttle in Khans. But I think I'm going in the opposite direction in this set with Flatten, which is a cheaper version of Throttle. When you get the removal-heavy deck, it won't clog up with Reach of Shadows from Fate Reforged at five mana. I could be completely flip-flopped here by the time the Prerelease rolls around though.

#2 Twin Bolt

I really love Tail Slash, but it requires a couple of things to be going right for you and can't kill a creature on an otherwise empty board. If you think about it as a one-sided fight—your creature is the only one that gets to land a sucker punch in this little brouhaha—it's much more appealing but it's rarely going to get cast early. On the other hand, you know exactly what you are getting out of Twin Bolt—you may even get two creatures—and that is generally going to be a dead face-down creature. It has the added bonus of getting in a point of damage to an opponent when you use this to kill a Zephyr Scribe or even two damage to an opponent when that happens to be their life total.

#1 Pacifism

Not a new card, but when the skies are darkened with Dragons, you can rely on this old favorite to nullify the vast majority of expensive-but-powerful creatures that your opponents are sure to have looming for turn six or seven.

Top 5 Cards for Standard

#5 Shorecrasher Elemental

This card could single-handedly bring back the Mono-Blue Devotion archetype, and that alone is worthy of inclusion on the list. The fact that it's hard to kill, gives you something to do with your mana in the mid- to late-game, and runs face-down interference to disguise your Stratus Dancers are all just bonuses to the precious UUU in the upper right hand corner.

#4 Ojutai's Command

I have gone back and forth over which of the two blue Commands I like the most. I expect both of them to be factors in Standard, but Silumgar's Command feels a little more like a one- or two-of in the existing blue-black shells that we've seen in Standard. The fact that you can just actively "cycle" your Ojutai's Command when you have nothing else to do gives this one a lot more play for me. I also think that there are plenty of new toys for the devotees of Ojutai to open at the Prerelease. Putting Soulfire Grand Masters right back into play while countering your opponent's big, dumb, green creature is nothing to sneeze at either.

#3 Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Worst-case scenario, you just get to play this, exploit itself, and tutor for your Crux of Fate for next turn. Best case? You sacrifice your Satyr Wayfinder and go and get your one-of copy of Whip of Erebos.

#2 Atarka's Command

Sam Black is the EF Hutton of Magic these days. To sum up what that means for the young whippersnapper portion of my audience: when Sam talks up a Magic card, I am going to listen. I was asking about the at-the-time three revealed Commands on Twitter, and Sam was so excited about this card that he was digitally sputtering.

The card can obviously find an easy home in Modern, where it can play multiple roles in Burn and Zoo decks, but it should also shine in Standard. Imagine for a moment playing with your Standard deck against a draw where your opponent opens on Monastery Swiftspear, follows up with Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst on the next two turns. On turn four, the opponent dashes in Zurgo Bellstriker and plays Atarka's Command. How dead are you exactly?

#1 Narset Transcendent

I love this card, and it's a big part of why I have Ojutai's Command moving up the charts. I'm excited to build a creature-light deck that rebounds End Hostilities as a build-your-own Time Walk, digs for cards with Anticipate and Narset's +1 ability, and possibly mops things up with sweeper-dodging Myth Realized.

Top 5 Commander Cards

#5 Clone Legion

This card is gonna get messy and I love it. For the cost of one—admittedly very expensive to cast—card, you can ape the cumulative work of your opponent with all the "enters the battlefield" triggers and abilities he or she has tried so hard to develop while you were just playing lands and countering the occasional spell. I wish this wasn't a sorcery, but that's barely a speed bump in Commander, where there are plenty of cards that let you do this at the end of an opponent's turn. And you thought you already hated that person playing the Teferi deck as much as you would ever hate anyone.

#4 Dragonlord Silumgar

I really need to start playing Commander decks that don't have blue in them. (Almost) all of the Dragonlords are going to be fun in Commander—a format that has shown some historical romance for an Elder Dragon—but Dragonlord Silumgar is going to be a looming threat from the command zone to playing any premium creature or, heaven's forbid, a Planeswalker.

#3 Hedonist's Trove

I have taken to playing with Empty the Pits in my Sidisi, Brood Tyrant deck just so Nate Holt can't just steal my whole graveyard with a couple of different spells, of which this is the latest and perhaps most likely version. It would be just like Nate to play this to slowly and inexorably use my own cards against me. I hate this card so much. In a good way.

#2 Volcanic Vision

If Hedonist's Trove is a Nate Holt card then Volcanic Vision is a Sheldon Menery card—and a sweet board sweeper at that. Except it doesn't sweep up your creatures. This is a big, splashy card that will sit in your hand…but when you cast it, you are going to devastate your opponents—perhaps by returning a Devastation to your hand—and have a clear field of vision into the red zone.

#1 Sarkhan Unbroken

What better way to play Commander, than by deploying a wing of Dragons onto the battlefield when you ultimate this ironically named card. I know I said I was going to stop playing blue Commander decks, but this really makes me want to build a Temur Commander deck that will play and ultimate this with a Doubling Season in play.

Top 5 Cards I Want to Play With

I don't know what impact these cards will have on Standard or local metagames, but they just get me excited about playing Magic and make me want to build a deck around them.

#5 Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit

I love cards that interact with other mechanics, and I've wanted to play with the outlast cards from Khans in a Constructed deck for a while now. Abzan Falconers, Ainok Bond-Kins, and even Abzan Battle Priests all play well with this little legend that is a steady stream of free +1/+1 counters.

#4 Assault Formation

Gavin Verhey hooked me on this card as soon as he mentioned it in combination with the sacrifice ability on Mardu Ascendancy. I want this to happen.

#3 Commune with Lava

I am just going to get out ahead of this and call it the red Sphinx's Revelation. This is one of the few cards I've seen that can let a Storm deck win from an empty hand. You can just cast this at the end of your opponent's turn and net a fistful of spells that you can play UNTIL THE END OF YOUR NEXT TURN. That is such a long time. You don't even need to be playing combo. Just tapping out of this at the end of your opponent's turn into a couple of burn spells is going to be brutal.

#2 Deathmist Raptor

This card exists at the intersection of two things I love the most in Magic: face-down creatures and graveyard shenanigans. I am already thinking about playing Commune with Nature to find my Trail of Mystery/Secret Plans/Mastery of the Unseen and dumping a Raptor or two into my graveyard.

#1 Myth Realized

I already talked about this card above, when discussing Narset, but this is a card that could see play in formats going all the way back to Vintage. I love the idea of playing a creature-less deck and killing my opponents with this enchantment and with cheap cantrips and countermagic in Modern. I want to try playing this alongside Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage. I don't know if it can get enough traction in Standard without the copious amount of cheap library manipulation in older formats, but I am going to give it a try.

February Player of the Month: Antonio Del Moral León

Pro Tour Fate Reforged Champion Antonio Del Moral León

Congratulations to Spain's Antonio Del Moral León, the Pro Tour Fate Reforged Champion, on becoming the February Player of the Month. Del Moral León played a Blue-Red Splinter Twin deck through a stacked Top 8, including a mirror match against Pro Tour Hall of Famer Jelger Wiegersma, to become the first ever Pro Tour Champion from his country. Del Moral León will have plenty of additional chances to appear here with Platinum status, a seat at the World Championship, and currently leading the race to be the Spanish National Champion at the World Magic Cup, taking place this year in Spain.

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