It doesn't look quite like ramp—there's eight total ramp cards; it doesn't look quite like dragons—there's only five actual dragons (joined by Draconic Roar and Haven of the Spirit Dragons); it doesn't look quite like traditional green-based Shadows over Innistrad Standard decks (there's no Tireless Tracker to be found). It's Team East West Bowl Ben Friedman's 4 1/2-Color Dragons.
Well, it's not really his, and he's the first to point that out. “It's all Chris Fennell ... he just said, ‘Oh, this is a brew I've been working on,'” and Friedman bit hard.
The deck looks like a common green deck, with Duskwatch Recruiter and Sylvan Advocate, but has a crazy top end with multiples of cards like Reality Smasher, Dragonlord Atarka, Dragonlord Silumgar, Woodland Bellower, and Woodland Wanderer.
“Yeah, it's a Woodland-themed deck,” Friedman said. He commented to Oliver Tiu that he was looking for a Blighted Woodland to continue the trend. Certainly a joke, but Friedman's having a lot of fun with the deck, and that's what brought him to it in the first place.
“I didn't really like any of the decks in Standard, and I don't have enough experience for the mirror matches either.” So he took a unturned deck (as Friedman made sure I pointed out), and shuffled it up. You can hear the exuberance in his voice. “Woodland Bellower getting Sylvan Advocate is like a Broodmate Dragon ... it's really just like a Broodmate Dragon. Except it doesn't fly.”
Friedman's intent in playing the deck, and Fennell's with creating it was to thrash Green-White Tokens. “All your cards are good against it—Dragonlord Atarka, Dragonlord Silumgar, Woodland Wanderer...” He expounded on why the Wanderer was good against the big Standard menace, saying, “This card plays defense and kills their Planeswalkers. They have some tokens and you're like, ‘OK, here's a 6/6 Trample.” Maxing out the stats on the Wanderer is pretty easy in this deck. And even a 5/5 is nothing to sneeze at.
The ability to play quality two-drops and continue a ramping curve into a giant top end goes a long way against a lot of decks. But Friedman admits freely that he hasn't mastered the deck yet, and knows it can use some tuning. When I asked about whether it was full four copies of Explosive Vegetation, he said, “Yeah,” shrugging, “Fennell said it was important.”
Even though he qualified the unfinished nature of the deck—“The numbers are super unturned”—he also defended many of the twos and threes found within. “That's really the way Magic is going nowadays. There are so many good threats; you don't always have to play four of all your things.”
The theory of “threat diversity” certainly dates back in the Magic community, but now with the generally higher quality of the threats, you don't have to worry about a dip in power to mix up the maindeck. Additionally, with cards like Oath of Nissa and Duskwatch Recruiter, he has ways to find better cards for specific situations. Though Friedman really wants people to iterate it and streamline it, he also enjoys the deck how it is now.
As far as the matchups go, Friedman knows where his trouble spots are: “White Weenie Game 1 is not very good.” He continued, “You have to have a turn-three Woodland Wanderer; unless you can ramp into Atarka.”
That second sequence is Friedman's favorite opening of the deck, and it's easy to see why. Deathcap Cultivator, into Explosive Vegetation casts Dragonlord Atarka right on time—turn four. That line can trump almost any aggressive start, and threaten to end the game quickly from there. But you can't always rely on that dream, so Friedman devoted a bevy of red cards in the sideboard to shore up the fast aggro trouble spots. Cards like Radiant Flames, Roast, and even Chandra, Flamecaller can do good things for him.
And against Black-Green, he also has ways to make that match better post-board. “Atarka and even Draconic Roar aren't very good against them, so you need a better angle.” That's when he flashed the Thought-Knot Seers and Negates. With those in the mix, the deck looks even stranger, but still undoubtedly powerful.
Ben Friedman's already having the time of his life piloting the deck. “Last round, I just beat Green-White Tokens, and he was like, ‘Nice Brew...'” Friedman imitated and exaggerated the sarcastic tone of his opponent. Then he just chuckled to himself about it.
4 1/2-Color Dragons is a strong, fun deck that explodes on the battlefield like few others in the format. And it's a great deck to take out for a spin and find some new avenues to explore. To help with some inspiration on potential changes, Friedman said that in previous versions, both Shaman of Forgotten Ways and Tireless Tracker held prominent spots. Shaman in particular seems curry-level spice, and is searchable with Woodland Bellower.
Maybe some number should be changed, but just how it is makes for an incredible fun Friday night. For Team East West Bowl's Ben Friedman, it's making for an entire weekend's worth.