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Dino-Sized Standard

Dino-Sized Standard

With Ixalan on the horizon, Standard is in a state of flux. We’re set to lose everything from Battle for Zendikar through Eldritch Moon, which so far makes up a sizeable chunk of Standard. However, Ixalan brings us tribal synergies to likes of which haven’t been seen since the original Innistrad. With Dinosaurs, Pirates, Merfolk, and Vampires as the touted creature types with plenty of tribe-specific support, we’re looking at a set teeming with awesome interactions.

I, like many children of the 90s, grew up loving dinosaurs. Between Jurassic Park, The Land Before Time, and ABC’s sitcom Dinosaurs, it was impossible to not see these behemoths on screens both big and small. Imagine my utter delight when it was revealed that Ixalan’s main tribe for Naya (Green, Red, and White) would be dinosaurs. It’s very difficult to balance a tribe that are supposed to be huge and make them Constructed playable. Giants in Lorwyn and most werewolves from Innistrad suffered this problem so I was wary about these new dinosaurs, but as more and more cards were spoiled, it became apparent that these cards weren’t just going to be Limited fodder like so many “big” tribes before them.

This time around WotC knew the appeal of dinosaurs to their player base, so they decided that dinosaurs were going to have more than enough support in the set. There are some seriously powerful dinosaurs all along the mana curve, ensuring that in some way, shape, or form dinosaurs were going to see Constructed play. From the aggressively costed Ripjaw Raptor to the nigh-unkillable Carnage Tyrant, these dinosaurs aren’t joking around.

HOLY CRAP WE HAVE DINOSAURS

  • 4 Regisaur Alpha 
  • 4 Ripjaw Raptor
  • 3 Carnage Tyrant
  • 4 Ranging Raptors
  • 4 Charging Monstrosaur
  • 4 Rampaging Ferocidon
  • 3 Otepec Huntmaster
  • 4 Drover of the Mighty
  • 4 Commune with Dinosaurs
  • 4 Lightning Strike
  • 4 Rootbound Crag
  • 4 Unclaimed Territory
  • 9 Forest
  • 5 Mountain
  • 3 Abrade
  • 1 Carnage Tyrant
  • 2 Sorcerous Spyglass
  • 2 Prowling Serpopard
  • 2 Sentinel Totem
  • 2 Burning Sun’s Avatar
  • 3 Heroic Intervention

One of the hardest decisions for building this deck was what direction I wanted to go with it. The dinosaur tribe was designed with Naya in mind, and while there are several powerful White cards that could fit, I ultimately feel like going Green/Red streamlines the process and eliminates some of the clunkiness of playing three colours. One of the biggest deciding factors was that with Battle for Zendikar and Shadows Over Innistrad leaving, we lose access to a lot of colour-fixing lands, such as Fortified Town and Cinder Glade. While we gain reprints of the M10 duals as well as a sweet new tribal land in Unclaimed Territory, the fact that these duals require basic land types in order to enter the battlefield untapped makes it far less palatable to run the full eight slots required to truly fix our mana. As such, I believe it’s far safer to keep the deck to two colours to maximize the odds of hitting our curve.

With the colours out of the way, we have to pick which dinosaurs we are going to be running. There are several powerful options, but I feel like there are three that are absolutely automatic inclusions. Ripjaw Raptor, Carnage Tyrant, and Regisaur Alpha are easily the most appealing dinosaurs, to the point where I almost seriously considered eschewing the tribal synergies and instead opting for a GR Monsters-style deck. The raw power of these stats and abilities make them all incredibly dangerous to face. Ripjaw Raptor can be curved into play as early as turn 3, and having a 4/5 that can also draw you cards when dealt damage makes blocking it a difficult decision.

Carnage Tyrant is an absolute nightmare for control decks since it can’t be countered or targeted by removal, and with a 7/6 body it’s a three turn clock if they can’t find a board wipe. Finally, we have Regisaur Alpha, a card so strong that it made me drop all hope of building anything else. For 3RG we get a total seven power, three of which has haste and trample. This card immediately brought comparisons to Huntmaster of the Fells in my mind, and that card was a beating in its own Standard. At just a single mana more, I see no reason why Regisaur Alpha won’t be as strong, if not stronger than Huntmaster since it also grants haste to your other dinosaurs. Play this guy on turn 4 and you can start firing off dinosaurs without hesitation.

         

To fill out the roster, I’ve included Ranging Raptor, Charging Monstrosaur, and Rampaging Ferocidon. Ranging Raptor is a terrific body for cheap, and it does double duty by ramping us up into our threats when it takes damage. This makes a powerful blocker against aggro decks and an early threat that’s very difficult to chump. As well, since enrage doesn’t care about how the creature gets damaged, any kind of Red removal like Lightning Strike or Abrade will still get us that basic land. Charging Monstrosaur, on the other hand, is the epitome of a “beatstick”, a big dumb creature you turn sideways to win. At a whopping 5/5 for five mana, it’s already on par with the rest of our finishers, but because it has both trample and haste, it comes out of the gate right away and starts swinging. This is important since one of the main weaknesses of our dinosaurs is that they have to wait around a turn. It feels real bad tapping out for a dinosaur only for it to get picked off by a sorcery like Walk the Plank, so Monstrosaur having haste gives it at least a chance at getting in for some damage. Trample is just icing on the cake, as it forces our opponents to throw several creatures under the bus just to trade with it, and since it conveniently ignores Fatal Push and most burn spells, our opponents will likely have to block with a decent amount of creatures just to not take five damage every turn. Reality Smasher was a staple beater for a reason, and having access to tribal synergies and cost reducers in Standard makes Charging Monstrosaur all the more enticing.

Rampaging Ferocidon also does a great job of punishing creature-heavy decks and defensive control decks alike. Whenever another creature enters the battlefield, Rampaging Ferocidon deals one damage to that creature’s controller, which puts a serious price to pay on smaller aggro decks since it can quickly rack up damage, and we can typically outmuscle them after turn 4. Players not gaining life is also a huge tempo swing against Approach of the Second Sun decks since they often need that seven life to stabilize against aggressive decks. By shutting off that avenue of defense, they’ve effectively spent their turn setting up their win condition while we can just swing in and kill them on our turn. This ability is also promising given that the Vampires of Ixalan skew toward life draining effects like Sanguine Sacrament and Sanctum Seeker.

         

Fortunately for us, in addition to these powerful threats we also gain several support cards to fill out the rest of the deck and balance our thunder lizards. Among the most powerful are Otepec Huntmaster and Drover of the Mighty. Otepec Huntmaster not only decreases the mana cost of our dinosaurs, it can also grant one haste each turn. This can create some devastating tempo swings by curving a turn 2 Huntmaster into a turn 3 hasted Ripjaw Raptor, or even just giving haste to our larger threats like Regisaur Alpha. This creature takes two of the biggest weaknesses of dinosaurs, a lack of haste and midrange mana costs, and helps speed up our deck and keep the pressure on. Drover of the Mighty performs two valuable roles in this deck. By acting as an early game mana dork it can help ramp us into our dinosaurs, and then when we don’t need the mana it can swing in as a 3/3 attacker. It takes the downside most mana creatures have in the late game of being dead draws and turns it into a two mana beatstick.

Since this deck requires such an emphasis on the creatures we play we don’t have much room to fit that many spells. For this reason I’ve opted to keep the spell package to a minimum, only including a set of Commune with Dinosaurs and Lightning Strikes. Commune with Dinosaurs is a huge card for keeping the deck consistent. At just one mana it can help improve sketchy opening hands by finding lands in the early game or even dig down five cards for more gas in the late game. Its only fault is that we can only get dinosaurs if we want a nonland card, but with 23 dinosaurs in the deck this should hit more often than not. Lightning Strike is an incredibly important reprint for Standard since it gives Red decks a cheap answer to smaller creatures that can also be used to go to the face and finish off an opponent.

The sideboard is designed to handle what I perceive to be the more dominant decks at the beginning of rotation. For example, Sentinel Totem is a must-have for handling God-Pharaoh’s Gifts decks as it’s the cheapest graveyard hate card in Standard, and being able to activate it at instant-speed is a necessity for keeping a 6/6 Angel of Invention from entering play. With the new change to planeswalkers, being able to interact with them is incredibly important, so I’ve included a pair of Sorcerous Spyglass to look at the opponent’s hand and shut off any activated abilities that might be incoming. With yet another block with Vehicles, the need for destroying artifacts is just as high as ever. As such, I’ve included three copies as a flexible answer to most Vehicle decks, either by destroying their artifacts or picking off the creatures they would crew with. I’ve also elected to include a pair of Burning Sun’s Avatar to handle smaller creature decks. While you only get to kill one creature with its ability, the 6/6 body is hard to ignore and unlike Skysovereign, Consul Flagship you don’t have to keep another creature back to crew.

Surprisingly enough, actually resolving our dinosaurs is important for winning, so I’ve opted for a pair of Prowling Serpopard and a fourth Carnage Tyrant to fight off any Blue control decks that might pop up. Heroic Intervention is also a necessary evil since it helps fight off Fumigate. While it doesn’t stop Hour of Devastation, it does also put in some serious work against targeted removal. I feel like UW Approach of the Second Sun decks are going to see more play as a counter to the aggressive decks that always pop up early in rotation, so being able to blank a board wipe is integral.

I’m incredibly excited with how powerful the dinosaurs that have been spoiled so far are. While I was initially concerned they would just be big dumb monsters topping a mana curve like so many dragons and wurms before them, having support and bodies all along the curve makes them so much more competitive than I anticipated. There are still about 130 cards left to spoil at the time of writing this article, but if the dinosaurs that come out are anywhere close to the power level we’ve seen so far, we’ll have more than enough options to work with to make this a top tier contender in Standard.