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Esper Dragons and GW Tokens After Innistrad

Written by Tim Bachmann on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Esper Dragons and GW Tokens After Innistrad

Tim Bachmann

Hailing from northeast Pennsylvania, Tim has been playing since Mirrodin, and has been playing competitively since Dragons of Tarkir. With aspirations of playing on the Pro Tour, Tim plays in as many PPTQs and GPs as he can.

So last week I went over some cards that could be added to Collected Company decks.  We went over some sweet creatures last week that worked really well with Collected Company.  This week I’d like to go over some Shadows over Innistrad cards that could be added to Esper Dragons and G/W Tokens decks.

I’d like to reiterate from last week, I’m really poor at building decks from scratch.  I do feel though that given a base or starting point of a deck, I can make changes to the deck that put it over the top or improve the deck overall, and I also think that there is a lot of hype over some of the cards in this set, but I think a lot of this hype is unfounded.  I think that the general power level of this set is slightly lower than the other sets in Standard, so building a brand new deck revolving around a strategy found in the Shadows over Innistrad cards probably isn’t the best idea, at least for week one.

So, I’d like to start this week with Esper Dragons.  I would like to preface my discussion of Esper Dragons cards with the following: mana is awful.  Holy geeze, it’s super bad.  Sure the new Shadowlands work in a cute way with the Battle lands, but boy howdy is mana ugly.  Even for two colors, there are situations where mana can be really awkward.  Like when you have an opening hand of Sunken Hollow, Swamp, and Choked Estuary.  This seems pretty easy.  common intuition would say 85% of the time, you play Sunken Hollow tapped into turn 2 Choked Estuary revealing Swamp, and then Swamp on turn three.

And while that let’s you be mana efficient, you can draw cards like…Evolving Wilds…or Sunken Hollow…or Choked Estuary…all of which would effectively be a tapped land on turn four, busting your curve.  While Standard is not Modern or Legacy, and we have been spoiled for the past eighteen months, six in particular, I think that a lot of people are assuming the mana in Standard will be “fine.”  The mana is not fine, and is less than ideal.  I think once people start realizing this, and accept this as true, we will see a lot less talk about three mana decks in general.

With all that being said, I think Esper Dragons, or Dragons decks in general, have the best mana for three colors thanks to Haven of the Spirit Dragon.  The concession you have to make to deckbuilding though when focusing on a three color Dragons strategy is that the third color is almost always a splash.  While it is not impossible to go three colors, I think the reasons you want a third color have to heavily outweigh the detriments of the mana.  Again, I think Esper Dragons is the deck that sees this benefit the most.

The first thing to do when building your new Esper Dragons decks is decide what your primary colors will be.  I think that blue is the most obvious main color because of cards like Silumgar’s Scorn, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and Dragonlord’s Prerogative.  The Prerogative is the most important card here because of the absence of Dig Through Time moving forward.  The instant speed draw is highly necessary, and always plays well with counterspells.

If your secondary color is white, you get access to cards like Reflector Mage and Ojutai’s Command, as well as potential additions from Shadows over Innistrad:

Declaration in Stone

While it’s a sorcery, and that doesn’t play well with your counterspells and prerogative, and the naturally reactive playstyle Dragonlord Ojutai provides, it does play very well with Jace, Telepath Unbound, and is a great maindeck answer to not only most problem creatures with indestructible and Hangarback Walkers and Deathmist Raptors, but also tokens.  While giving your opponent the ability to draw cards is poor, you can get multiple creatures with this, and your opponent does have to use his or her mana to draw those cards.

Archangel Avacyn

Avacyn is the obvious inclusion into any white deck going forward.  While the double white in the casting cost is a concern, she plays very well with Dragonlord Ojutai.  You can cast Dragonlord Ojutai on five, attack on six, and have Avacyn up to protect your Dragonlord Ojutai, or even just flip if your Ojutai would die.  Avacyn is a very strong creature, especially in this type of strategy, where you can cast her at the end of your opponent’s turn after you’ve had a chance to counter their sorcery speed spells.

Descend upon the Sinful

With Crux of Fate leaving the format, black has lost the power of having its true sweeper.  While Languish is positioned to do well in the format, the extra mana for a Planar Outburst has spots where a sweeper is better than Languish.  Adding one more mana to exile all creatures, and have the potential upside to add your own creatures to the battlefield as an additional win condition makes Descend upon the Sinful something to seriously consider as a one or two of moving forward in control style decks.

Now, if we instead go in the direction of black as our secondary color, we get some of the following options:

To the Slaughter

While the Dragons deck still has access to Foul-Tongue Invocation, which might be a better card without Delirium, if Delirium is something that is easily achievable for Dragons decks, To the Slaughter allows for not only a two for one, but an instant way to deal with planeswalkers.  This is something we’ve been without for a while, at least a playable version of instant speed interaction for planeswalkers.  When building your deck, if you plan to run this card over Foul-Tongue Invocation, you should actively try to get Delirium as quickly as possible.  This card improves much more with Delirium than something like Descend upon the Sinful.

Elusive Tormentor

This is more of a stretch than an actual card to consider for the deck, but it looks a lot like a Morphling.  Killing this with enough cards in your hand is nigh-impossible.  It plays ok on defense…once.  While it probably is much weaker than other creatures, and doesn’t provide synergies with Dragons cards, it’s something to remember for your sideboard against cards that might be able to easily handle your Dragon creatures.

Dead Weight

If we’re building our deck for Delirium, this card is a very effective way to try and get Delirium.  Not only is it an enchantment that counts toward Delirium, it helps the Esper Dragons deck somewhere it’s always had issues, the early game.  For B, you get to kill or at least make ineffective a lot of the earlier drops in the format.

This might be more metagame dependent than other inclusions, because if you’re not killing a lot of creatures with this card, then it just sits on a guy.  If it’s just sitting on a guy, cards like To the Slaughter and Foul-Tongue Invocation become a lot worse, so you actively want to be killing creatures with Dead Weight.

Now, enough about attacking over things with Dragonlord Ojutai.  What if we want to go wide and play a strategy with cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Oath of Gideon, Secure the Wastes, and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar?  There’s a decent amount of support for the G/W Token deck, which was absolutely a viable strategy pre-Shadows over Innistrad.

Second Harvest

This is pretty obvious.  Just doubling your guys is really good, especially at instant speed.  It’s almost like Secure the Wastes numbers 5-8.  Not much else to say about this card, it’s a solid token generator in a token strategy.

Sigarda, Heron’s Grace

The new Sigarda is pretty good in a token strategy.  While the hexproof text doesn’t really matter in terms of protecting your creatures, you’re playing a token strategy anyway, so if your opponent wants to Ultimate Price a token, more power to him/her.  Being able to slam a big dude like Sigarda down, and have it start making tokens out of all of the cards you used to create tokens seems pretty good.  The only thing is that this guy is a curve topper, and isn’t too impactful, but Sigarda is something to work toward before a huge Secure the Wastes but after your Gideon.

Hanweir Militia Captain

Hanweir Militia Captain is a turn 2 play in a deck that is really aching for some.  Let’s face it, a Secure the Wastes for 1 is really not exciting, and probably not what you want to be doing.  Outside of Hangarback Walker, there isn’t much for a tokens strategy to do on turn 2.

While his upfront rate is just fine, bears have been around forever, he’s pretty easy for us to flip on turn five.  Once he’s flipped, he just gets bigger and bigger, and so does our board.  Along with Second Harvest, there’s a really nice synergy.  It allows you to attack for a ton with the Westvale Cult Leader, as well as with a ton of your tokens.

Well, I’m very excited for the new Standard format.  I played in my last PPTQ of the season, and didn’t do too well.  I went 2-2 drop after dropping 2 matches to Rally with Bant Company.  I can’t wait for the Rally deck to not exist going forward.  I wish you all luck at your prereleases!  Have fun out there in zombieland!

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