Tarkir has been changed forever thanks to the revival of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon by Sarkhan Vol. The Khans have fallen, and the dragons have taken over the plane. While the dragons of Tarkir bask in their glory, it’s up to us to find out just how powerful they are in our current Constructed metagame. Now that we’ve all had a chance to try out these cards at the prerelease weekend, it’s time to break down what I believe to be the breakout stars of the upcoming Standard, Modern, Legacy, and Commander metagames.
Of all the formats, Standard benefits the greatest from this new influx of cards. It appears that Wizards of the Coast has printed a little something to support every kind of archetype in Standard. Everything from control to midrange to aggro received new toys to play with, and there are even cards that revive old format staples from the previous year. As diverse as the current Standard is, with Dragons of Tarkir we should expect to see the metagame grow even wider.
Control players everywhere rejoiced when Ojutai’s Command was first spoiled. Not since the original Command cycle in Lorwyn have we had such versatile spells, and while not as powerful as the OG Cryptic Command, Ojutai’s Command does a pretty good impression. While the first mode is better suited for Jeskai tempo decks, the other three modes on Ojutai’s Command do wonders against the various aggressive Red and Green strategies in the format. Conversely, Silumgar’s Command offers control players a far better tool for winning control mirrors. This card is always a 2-for-1, doing everything from countering noncreature spells while destroying opposing planeswalkers to bouncing permanents while killing smaller creatures. This spell is a combination of so many control staples that it will probably be used to save slots and diversify the answers in your deck. The power level and versatility of these two spells are a boon for existing Blue/White and Blue/Black control decks, and while the emphasis on Clans and the mana-intensity of current format answers have edged Esper out of Standard, these two spells in tandem are more than enough reason to bring it back.
Big Green and Red decks received a massive power boost in this set with Dragonlord Atarka, Surrak, the Hunt Caller, Roast, and Thunderbreak Regent. Let’s start with the elephant-devouring dragon in the room. Dragonlord Atarka is massive. Back in the day, Bogardan Hellkite was the top dragon, but not only is Atarka a full 3/3 bigger, she also has trample and costs one mana less. As evidenced by Hornet Queen’s popularity, seven mana in Standard is simple to pull off for Green decks, and she can be utterly backbreaking in Reanimator-style Whip of Erebos decks. Further complimenting Atarka is Surrak, the Hunt Caller. Polukranos, World Eater has established that five power for 2GG is strong, and Surrak is no slouch himself. Surrak only needs three other power on your side of the table, so a Courser of Kruphix and an Elvish Mystic will be enough to trigger him. Giving haste to whatever subsequent monsters you play allows you to continue pressuring your opponent until they’ve run out of answers, much like Xenagos, God of Revels.
Roast is one of the most hyped removal spells in recent memory, as it gives Red decks something they’ve needed for the past six months: a way to deal with Siege Rhino. So far, Standard has predominantly been battles on the ground, with really only Wingmate Roc and Stormbreath Dragon taking to the air, which means that Roast has a plethora of potential targets.Everything from Goblin Rabblemaster to Courser of Kruphix; even Tasigur, the Golden Fang can be picked off by Roast, and I feel like it may cause a dramatic shift in what creatures start seeing play. If the ground game continues the way it has so far, then Roast will be a dominant force. However, one creature that has nothing to fear from Roast is Thunderbreak Regent. Ashcloud Phoenix paved the way for 4-power fliers for four mana in this Standard, and while Thunderbreak Regent doesn’t force the opponent to spend two removal spells like the Phoenix does, the Regent has an ability that is considerably better for more aggressive decks. Whenever your opponent targets a dragon, not just Thunderbreak Regent, they take three damage, giving all of your dragons the ability to punish the opponent for having the audacity to try to kill your creatrues. Thunderbreak Regent is most likely going to be competing with Ashcloud Phoenix for slots due to their similar stats, but the Regent’s synergy with Stormbreath Dragon should cement its place in the upcoming meta.
Dragons of Tarkir has several cards that could bring certain archetypes up to competitive status. Mono-Blue Devotion was a powerhouse last year, mostly due to the synergy between Master of Waves and Nightveil Spectre. However, when the Spectre rotated Mono-Blue faded into obscurity. Shorecrasher Elemental had many speculating that it would be enough to revive the archetype. After all, it curves perfectly into Master of Waves, and while it lacks the long-term card advantage Nightveil Spectre had, Shorecrasher Elemental is far more resilient. Not only can the Elemental alter its power and toughness at will, it can also blink itself to protect against spot removal, which also lets it set up to unmorph to come back even bigger. If Mono-Blue sees any kind of resurgence, it will be solely because of Shorecrasher Elemental.
Finally, of all the archetypes that have been printed since Khans of Tarkir, there are none that have been more subtly pushed than Black/White Warriors. While cards like Bloodsoaked Champion and Chief of the Edge have tried their hand at breaking into Standard before, Black/White Warriors lacked two things to really make it competitive: reach, and the ability to push through damage. Thankfully, Dragons of Tarkir brings three powerful tools for the Warriors deck in Blood-Chin Rager, Blood-Chin Fanatic, and Arashin Foremost. Blood-Chin Fanatic gives you the ability to sacrifice your Warriors to get in those last point of damage, which the deck previously lacked. Once the opponent was able to stabilize with Courser of Kruphix, Hornet Queen, or End Hostilities, the Warriors deck was often brick walled and would run out of steam. Thanks to Fanatic you can now fling your Warriors at the opponent’s face to finish the job and prevent them from stabilizing. Blood-Chin Rager is great for pushing past opposing defenses, especially against Green midrange decks, as this pseudo-evasion is often enough to make combat math a nightmare. The third and most backbreaking Warrior is Arashin Foremost, who can grant double strike when it or another Warrior enters the battlefield. This lets you do massive damage with your creatures, and you can even use fallen Bloodsoaked Champions mid-combat for a sweet combat trick. Warriors have been pushed this block even more than dragons, and I feel like we finally have enough pieces to make it into a cohesive, competitive archetype.
Modern could benefit from a lot of things. More answers to combo, more control cards, bringing back Dread Return, and Dragons of Tarkir has brought about several new tools to help out the current metagame. First and foremost, we have Anticipate. Can I just say how nice it is to have more card filtering a format that has typically deemed those effects as too powerful? While Dig Through Time has been declared far too powerful for Modern, this miniature Impulse is sure to have an impact for the various combo decks like Scapeshift and Splinter Twin. While Telling Time has occasionally seen Modern play, I think Anticipate is just better more often than not since it gets rid of the worst cards on top of your deck rather than forcing you to keep one on top.
Rending Volley is pretty much the best anti-Splinter Twin card printed since Rakdos Charm, and I believe this is a direct response to Twin’s newfound dominance in the wake of Birthing Pod’s banning. Four damage is conveniently enough to kill Deceiver Exarch, Village Bell-Ringer, and Restoration Angel, and costing one less than Combust makes it even easier to keep Twin in check. When compared to Combust, Rending Volley feels like a strict upgrade, since adding “this damage can’t be prevented” for an additional mana was almost never enough payoff to justify the extra cost. Rending Volley is sleek, efficient, and a card I expect to be a staple in Modern sideboards.
Finally, we have Atarka’s gift to Modern Burn: Atarka’s Command. Burn decks have been splashing Green for some time now for Destructive Revelry as a means to combat Leyline of Sanctity. With Atarka’s Command, Burn decks not only get a Skullcrack that gets around Leyline, you also get a mini-anthem effect for when you have a creature-heavy opener. While putting a land into play isn’t the strongest mode, it does allow you to speed up your clock by putting down a land and casting an additional Lightning Bolt on their end step. Overall, every mode on Atarka’s Command is usable in Burn, and I predict this seeing at least three copies in every Burn deck in the near future.
It takes a lot for a new card to make it in Legacy. You need something seriously powerful, like Treasure Cruise or Abrupt Decay or Griselbrand to really have an impact in a format teeming with haymakers. While not overtly overpowered, I feel that Dragonlord Silumgar, Narset Enlightened, and Dromoka’s Command are strong enough to carve out a niche in Legacy. Dragonlord Silumgar is essentially a larger Sower of Temptation that can steal the occasional Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Liliana of the Veil, but while Sower of Temptation dies to virtually every removal spell under the sun, Silumgar’s whopping five toughness means only Swords to Plowshares stands in his way. I feel like Silumgar has a home in Reanimator as a trump to Show and Tell and Exhume in place of something like Ashen Rider which currently holds those slots. The real distinction is that while Ashen Rider exiles the opponent’s creature, Silumgar steals it which, considering the usual target is a Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, gives you a sizeable advantage on board.
Narset Enlightened is something of a counterpoint to Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Miracles. This is about as glacial a control deck as you can get in Legacy, and the way her +1 interacts with Jace’s Brainstorm ability is a tremendous source of card advantage. As well, giving spells like Entreat the Angels, Dig Through Time, and Terminus rebound with her -2 ability is backbreaking, netting you a major advantage over the opponent, be it extra angel tokens, netting two free cards from Dig Through Time, or threatening a second Terminus for a virtual Time Walk against creature decks.
While Narset is likely to compliment an existing archetype, Dromoka’s Command is my pick for reviving a long-forgotten archetype. Green/White Maverick hasn’t seen tournament play in a very long time, partly because of the rise of Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer. With Dromoka’s Command, the deck gets get a versatile tool for not only killing opposing creatures with the +1/+1 counter and fight modes, but preventing Red sweepers like Pyroclasm and Rough/ Tumble from clearing away your creatures and wiping out your board presence. Of all the modes, even the more narrow “sacrifice an enchantment” effect has its applications, as getting rid of Rest in Peace lets you get more value out of your Knight of the Reliquary. It might take some time to really get going, but Dromoka’s Command is multifaceted enough to bring it back to the competitive scene.
Dragons of Tarkir is a fantastic set for competitive Magic, with enough power spread out along each colour and for each Constructed format. It’s refreshing to see Wizards of the Coast put so many powerful, competitive cards into a third set, especially after duds like Dragon’s Maze and Avacyn Restored. Dragons of Tarkir offers a little something for everyone, and I predict that these powerhouses will have an impressive impact on the competitive Magic scene.
- Tyler, the Fro Priemer