Last week at Grand Prix São Paulo, I wrote about the Seven Ways to Beat Esper Dragons. That article remains relevant thanks to Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa's win, but there's more to Standard than Esper Dragons. The latest hot strategy revolves around megamorphs. Their rise was most evident at Grand Prix Toronto, where the Top 8 contained 25 Den Protectors and 16 Deathmist Raptors.
Den Protector is an acceptable 2-drop, especially after gaining a few counters from Anafenza, the Foremost or Abzan Charm so that it can sneak in evasive damage, but it is particularly powerful in the mid-to-late game. For a total of five mana, Den Protector will generate a ton of value by returning a Dromoka's Command, Thoughtseize, Windswept Heath, or... another Den Protector! By looping Den Protectors, you get a steady stream of creatures that even Mister Doom Blade cannot keep up with. It even allows you to beat Sorin, Solemn Visitor's ultimate!
Deathmist Raptor trades for almost every opposing creature, attacks for a reasonable amount, and can be brought back back from the graveyard too! Even manifests from Whisperwood Elemental or Mastery of the Unseen can recur it. Because of its recursive potential, a turn-three Deathmist Raptor is the last card any opponent who might be holding countermagic or removal spells want to see. And if the game goes long, then you can set up a recursive engine with two Deathmist Raptors by bringing them back face-down all the time.
All in all, the megamorphs are awesome. Although Den Protector doesn’t need Deathmist Raptor to be good, or vice versa, they certainly get better when they team up, and most of the dedicated megamorph decks include both. But how to beat them? Let's go over seven different approaches.
7. Exile Their Graveyard
Without a graveyard, your opponent won't be bringing back any Deathmist Raptors or cards with Den Protector. We lack Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace in Standard, so we'll have to do with less efficient cards like Burn Away, Agent of Erebos, Cranial Archive, Mardu Woe-Reaper, Pharika, God of Affliction, Rotfeaster Maggot, Tormod's Crypt, and Stain the Mind.
Some of these are better than others, but I like Pharika, God of Affliction. "I'd rather face a 1/1 Snake than a Deathmist Raptor or a creature returned with Den Protector," Gold level pro Fabrizio Anteri explained his inclusion of Pharika in his sideboard.
Mardu Woe-Reaper also isn't bad, and Burn Away might actually be one of the better things to cast when there are triggered abilities of both Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor on the stack. I would stay away from Tormod's Crypt or Stain the Mind, however, because they lead to card disadvantage and are terrible when your opponent draws the non-megamorph part of their deck.
6. Guess Their Morphs Correctly
Suppose that you're playing an Abzan Megamorph mirror. Your opponent Tim played Thoughtseize on turn two and saw that you had a relatively slow hand with multiple Hero's Downfalls. Now, on turn three, Tim taps Sandsteppe Citadel, Caves of Koilos, and Forest and plays a morph. What could it be, and does it warrant a removal spell?
There are several factors at work here. First, Tim had two green mana, so if he was holding Deathmist Raptor, then it would be more reasonable to play it face up rather than face down. After all, a 3/3 deathtouch is better than a 2/2. Second, if Tim was holding Den Protector, then it would make sense to play it face down because that would allow him to recur the Thoughtseize from his graveyard right away. So based on these factors, it would be reasonable to deduce that Tim's morph is Den Protector, and thus killing it with Hero's Downfall is sensible.
Then again, Tim may anticipate this reasoning, and since his Thoughtseize revealed that he wasn't under any pressure, he might be inclined to play Deathmist Raptor face down in the hope that it soaks up a removal spell before eventually returning from the graveyard anyway. So, maybe you shouldn't cast Hero's Downfall after all. But if Tim knows that you're not going to use your removal spell, then he can exploit that by playing a face down Den Protector on turn three!
As you can see, there are interesting guessing games and bluffing aspects at work here. There's no pure-strategy Nash equilibrium, but being aware of the considerations will help you navigate these decisions and come out ahead against the megamorph decks.
5. Out-Raptor Them
If both you and your opponent are playing Deathmist Raptor, then the player who finds multiple Raptors will hold an advantage. "Sidisi, Brood Tyrant is good in the Raptor mirror because you mill yourself more than your opponent, so you find more Raptors than them," Platinum level pro Martin Jůza told me.
Since it doesn't really matter whether you draw or mill Deathmist Raptor, cards like Satyr Wayfinder, Commune with the Gods, and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant can help tremendously. Collected Company is another card that can help find multiple Raptors, and having these cards in your deck may give you an edge.
4. Have Suitable Creatures
Deathmist Raptor may have deathtouch, but if the deathtoucher falls to a creature with first strike before it gets to deal damage, then the deathtouch ability won't help. In Standard, the best cards that have or provide first strike are Soul of Theros, Chromanticore, Ajani Steadfast, Archetype of Courage, Alesha, Who Smiles at Death, Battle Brawler, and Ainok Bond-Kin. They beat Deathmist Raptor in combat both on offense and defense, and they are big enough to take down Den Protector in combat too.
An honorable mention goes out to Favored Hoplite. Although it doesn't have first strike, the damage prevention shield from its heroic trigger will allow it to ignore the deathtouch damage and survive combat.
3. Big Planeswalkers
Most creatures die to Deathmist Raptor in combat. Planeswalkers, however, are unaffected by deathtouch, and a 3/3 for three mana is not the most aggressive creature to pressure planeswalkers. Hence, a good way to combat Deathmist Raptor is Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver (which comes down early, ticks up, and steals a green creature before the opponent has a chance to get rid of Ashiok), Elspeth, Sun's Champion (because the steady stream of 1/1 chump-blockers is a good way to contain the attacker), and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon (because he exiles the dinosaur).
Elspeth can be beaten by Den Protector's evasion ability, but generally speaking, the bigger planeswalkers are a good way to go over the top of the midrange-y green cards. "I cut 2-mana instants from my deck for 6-mana Planeswalkers," Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Lukas Blohon told me when I asked him how he is planning to beat Deathmist Raptor.
2. Exile or Incapacitate Their Raptor
If you trade a creature or a Hero's Downfall for Deathmist Raptor, then it'll just come back from the dead. It's much better to exile the dinosaur (with Perilous Vault, Abzan Charm, Utter End, Burn Away, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Anafenza, the Foremost, Anger of the Gods, Silence the Believers, or Dissipate) or to incapacitate it (with Pacifism, Encase in Ice, Icefall Regent, or Kiora, the Crashing Wave).
Abzan Charm and Anger of the Gods are probably the best of the removal options. "The four copies of Anger of the Gods in my sideboard are so amazing," Platinum pro Patrick Dickmann said when we talked about his Mardu Dragons deck. And Singapore's Chapman Sim said that "Abzan decks have the best chance of not being destroyed by attrition because of Abzan Charm and Anafenza, the Foremost." Many players have been shaving more versatile removal spells like Hero's Downfall from their decks in order to gain access to the exile effects, and that might be a good choice for the current Standard metagame.
1. Fly Over
If you can fly over Deathmist Raptor, then you can keep up the pressure. Platinum pro Patrick Dickmann knew what's up and registered a deck with Thunderbreak Regent and Stormbreath Dragons. "They are very well-positioned right now because they can fly over the ground guys," he said. Other good flyers in Standard include Mantis Rider, Torrent Elemental, Icefall Regent, Wingmate Roc, all the Dragonlords, and Hornet Queen.
But Stormbreath Dragon may be the next step in Standard. It's aggressive, soars over megamorphs, and is immune to Dromoka's Command. Several of the top players in attendance have chosen to go with Mardu Dragons and/or feared that it would be popular this weekend, and this metagame shift may just eventually cause Deathmist Raptor to go the way of the dinosaur.