Building a Better Dinosaur and Other Ixalan Brews

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
9/28/2017 11:00:00 AM
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Dinosaurs are the most powerful tribe to come out of Ixalan, so I figured I should try my hand at cracking their code. There is no one clear way to build a deck for the tribe, because their tools range from massive high-end creatures like Gisath, Sun's Avatar all the way down to Imperial Lancer. My instinct is that the best way to approach the deck is somewhere in the middle, an aggressively-oriented midrange deck in the same vein as Temur Energy or the successful Abzan Aggro deck from Khans of Tarkir-era Standard.

The best Dinosaur of all looks to be the fittingly named Regisaur Alpha, which offers a very efficient rate. It's a creature reminiscent of Siege Rhino and Thragtusk in terms of its impact and value. It will be strong in all variety of Dinosaur decks, and it's among the best reasons to be playing a Dinosaur deck in the first place.

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At the bottom of the curve, Dinosaurs has no true one-drop but does have access to Imperial Lancer. I could imagine some sort of very aggressive green-white build including it, but I have a slightly bigger deck in mind. Instead, the deck can use the first turn to cast tapped dual lands or Commune with Dinosaurs. In any dedicated Dinosaur deck, Commune with Dinosaurs will offer the meaningful decision between land or Dinosaur, so it adds consistency to the deck and allows it to play fewer land.

Drover of the Mighty is an ideal two-drop for a midrange Dinosaur deck. It fills the dual role of being a great mana producer/fixer and an efficient threat. It will often start attacking on turn three and put the opponent under pressure, and then transition to accelerating into Power Plays, and then back to aggression on an alpha strike. This fluidity and versatility is one of the most compelling reasons to approach Dinosaurs as an aggressive midrange deck that can take full advantage of both sides.

Otepec Huntmaster doesn't offer the same versatility as Drover of the Mighty, but the mana accelerator is aggressive in its own right with its ability to give a Dinosaur haste, which is capable of sneaking in a ton of extra damage over the course of the game. Reducing the cost of Dinosaurs essentially makes it a mana creature, but occasionally will lead to two mana in a turn, like casting two three-drop Dinosaurs on turn four.

Otepec Huntmaster's haste ability gets worse in multiples, and the mana ability doesn't fix colors, so I am splitting the numbers with another mana source that transitions into a threat, Channeler Initiate. It's easier to cast and is a mana fixer, which helps support a white splash.

At three mana, I'm a huge fan of Kinjalli's Sunwing, which I think is being underappreciated. The card seems great because its ability is particularly strong in the current metagame. The metagame frontrunner going into rotation is Ramunap Red, and the majority of its creatures have haste and are hosed by Kinjalli's Sunwing. One of the best creatures in the metagame is Glorybringer, which is used in the sideboard of Red and is a main deck staple of the other top deck, Temur Energy. I see Kinjalli's Sunwing as being a key component to the success of Dinosaur decks, and it would be great in an aggressive build where it can fly over blockers as a steady clock.

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Another stellar three-drop is Rampaging Ferocidon. It comes with its own form of evasion in menace, and it punishes the opponent's creatures, in this case by dealing the opponent damage for each of them. This has major implications against nearly every deck, and it turns the Dinosaur into a fantastic aggressive card that the opponent will be compelled to destroy. The passive ability of hosing life gain is icing on the cake and a great way to counteract Approach of the Second Sun.

Ripjaw Raptor is the best Dinosaur at four mana, and it offers a solid rate with a creature that generates value in combat and against burn spells. The card is strong enough that it doesn't need any dedicated enrage synergies to make it playable, and I don't intend to warp my deck to take advantage of it, but it does work quite well with Savage Stomp, which is the deck's premier removal spell.

At five mana comes Regisaur Alpha, which can offer immediate damage with its hasted 3/3 token. It's the perfect way to curve into Carnage Tyrant, which is one of the most powerful pieces of cardboard printed in recent memory, and with hexproof is impressive for how difficult it will be for opponents to interact with. Since the deck is already dipping into white for Kinjalli's Sunwing, and has plenty of mana acceleration, it seems like a mistake not to start with a couple copies of Gishath, Sun's Avatar for good measure.

Building a Better Monument

Oketra's Monument decks had a brief period of dominance after the banning of Aetherworks Marvel opened up the metagame to their value-driven game plan. The deck soon fell into obscurity with the printing of Hour of Devastation and the rise of Ramunap Red, and the vast majority of its staple creatures rotating out of Standard has been the death knell for the deck. That being said, the deck's namesake is still legal, and Ixalan brings a rather impressive new card to the deck, Legion Conquistador, which makes it worth another look.

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Like Squadron Hawk before it, Legion Conquistador brings with it a ton of value when cast, and history shows that it could be a great Standard card. Comparing the two cards, Legion Conquistador is more expensive and doesn't come with evasion, but it does offer a better rate in terms of power/toughness. Oketra's Monument brings the cost down to a Bargain when taking the attached 1/1 token into account. The action provided by three additional copies of Legion Conquistador is exactly what the deck needs after losing Bygone Bishop. The 2/2 bodies will help the deck to assemble a meaningful offense, especially when bolstered by Shefet Dunes as a very meaningful addition to the deck that has yet to really shine since the deck was knocked down from the top-tier metagame after its printing.

Building the rest of the deck means filling in the curve with the best white creatures available, which is a tall order given that all of the best white creatures the deck relied on have left the format. There are some playable tools left, and luckily Ixalan has provided another white creature that looks excellent for the deck.

Kinjalli's Sunwing is just as effective here as it is in Dinosaurs for shutting down haste creatures like Glorybringer, Ahn-Crop Crasher, Hazoret, the Fervent, and Captain Lannery Storm. It provides the deck with some sort of disruption in the same slot once occupied by Spell Queller, and it's especially useful here for turning off blockers and helping the deck keep an aggressive stance. Players using the strategy in the Red era caught onto Thalia, Heretic Cathar to fight back, and Kinjalli's Sunwing now gives the deck even more reliable access to its effect.

Glory-Bound Initiate made its way into some builds in the past, and it's important now with the rise of Red and the aggressive orientation that the Burgeoning Pirate, Dinosaur and Merfolk tribes will take. Another surviving card that has precedence in the deck is Fairgrounds Warden, and it looks like an ideal tool for a metagame moving to the tribal world of Ixalan that will surely be defined by creatures.

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Aviary Mechanic was used in the very first iterations of the Oketra's Monument deck when it appeared, and the deck can now turn to it again to fill its ranks. Aviary Mechanic can bounce other creatures to be recast for value, but the card is ideal when two copies are assembled and are used to bounce one another and turn Oketra's Monument into an engine that generates 1/1 tokens for one mana, which is in some ways comparable to the Thopter Foundry-Sword of the Meek combo and will definitely be a good way to win Standard games.

Aviary Mechanic isn't impressive on its own, especially because the deck loses Thraben Inspector to bounce, but it is quite strong when bouncing Cloudblazer, which I'm confident that the deck wants to be in blue to gain access to for some much-needed card drawing. Blue also provides Trophy Mage, which isn't a white creature but can dig for Oketra's Monument.

A key component of the Oketra's Monument deck has always been Dusk // Dawn, and it looks like it has returned to being a top card in the metagame. The rise of Temur Energy provides plenty of good cards to hit like Bristling Hydra and Glorybringer, and Dinosaurs is especially vulnerable to the sweeper.

The deck has lost Stasis Snare, but it can easily be replaced by Cast Away. Another possibility is the new Ixalan's Binding, which doesn't offer the flexibility of cycling or flash but can shut down the opponent's plays. This Meddling Mage-style effect can be incredibly powerful, and I suspect the impact that it will have in Standard is being underestimated.

Metallic Rebuke has seen play in the deck, but it much worse now without Thraben Inspector around.

The deck has used Sunscourge Champion to combat Red, and Ixalan provides another excellent tool against aggressive decks with Inspiring Cleric. It is clear to me that the graveyard value and higher total life gain of Sunscourge Champion makes it superior, but I am fully in favor of playing both together to really punish the Red decks if they assume the top position in the metagame as they are expected to.

Another approach to the deck could be to focus on Angel of Invention at the top end. It's a very powerful card on its own, and it's very useful in the deck for its anthem ability, which benefits all the tokens from Oketra's Monument. Between this effect and Shefet Monument, the deck would be capable of some impressive aggressive draws, so I thought it would be interesting to look at a more token-focused build.

The new Legion's Landing could be a perfect fit here. It doesn't work with Oketra's Monument, but it has its own synergies in the deck. It's great for providing Aviary Mechanic a one-drop to bounce for value, and once flipped it turns into a token engine that will help the deck play into the late game and make up for the loss of Westvale Abbey. Keep in mind that often the best part of flipping Legion's Landing will be the mana acceleration that it provides. Four seems like a bit much, so I'm splitting the numbers with Sacred Cat, which works with Oketra's Monument while providing its own form of value. Both cards have lifelink and thus fight back against Red when combined with anthems.

Invoking the Sunbird

When I was playing in my first Ixalan sealed deck event, I ran into Sunbird's Invocation, and I was soundly smashed by it after everything my opponent cast yielded him another card. I originally thought the card only triggered on non-creature spells, so I had to sheepishly turn to my sideboard to include my own copy of the card, which I now realized was a Sealed bomb. In Prereleases and Magic Online leagues you can rebuild your deck between rounds, so I immediately started trying other builds of my pool to take advantage of the card, and I was not disappointed.

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The power of Sunbird's Invocation in Limited leads me to believe it could be outstanding in Standard as the centerpiece of a deck. I have seen it discussed in control builds and with Approach to the Second Sun, but I imagine the card could excellent alongside other red cards without dipping into another color. Red is arguably the best color in Standard, and I want to approach building it bigger as more of a midrange Big Red strategy as opposed to the aggressive red decks that are so popular.

In the same Sealed event that I had Sunbird's Invocation I also had Rowdy Crew, which I included in my deck. I was immediately spoiled by discarding two lands both times I cast Rowdy Crew, so it turned into a 5/5 and allowed me to take over the game. I already thought the card was being underrated, and now I am hooked, so I want to start the Big Red deck with four copies. It's not ideal in a deck with powerful plays higher on the curve that it can discard, but it always produces raw card advantage, and that's always desirable, especially when looking to accumulate the lands necessary to cast a six-drop.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance is among the very best red cards in Standard, and it's perfect in a midrange deck where it can accelerate up the curve into something like Sunbird's Invocation. Playing cards with its +1 ability unfortunately doesn't trigger the enchantment since Sunbird's Inovcation specifies the card be cast from hand, but if anything that might be evidence that Sunbird's Invocation was too good without that clause and thus good enough to play. The value of Chandra, Torch of Defiance helps to fuel the deck as an alternative source of card advantage, and this concept can be taken further with Vance's Blasting Cannons, which generates a stream of value and is excellent when flipped as a repeatable source of damage.

One way to accelerate into Sunbird's Invocation is Captain Lannery Storm. Its Treasure Tokens are valuable acceleration, and if it can get through combat on turn three, it can attack again to accelerate into Sunbird's Invocation on turn four. A Big Red deck is very mana hungry, and it's full of disruption to help it to control the game, so Captain Lannery Storm is the perfect fit here.

Another form of acceleration is Wily Goblin, which always converts to a Treasure token while leaving behind a body that can chip in for damage or chump block. It's not a ton of value from the card, but it's a great exchange in a deck that's using it to accelerate into cards that Recoup this value if they hit play a turn early.

The deck will want some ways to destroy blockers and threats, so a set of Lightning Strike is a given, and Abrade doubles up on the effect while hosing artifacts. I'm intrigued by the new removal spell Repeating Barrage. With creatures to trigger raid to return it to hand, this is essentially a reprint of Hammer of Bogardan, a classic red Standard card and something a Big Red deck could make great use of.

Glorybringer is, of course, a perfect card here as a threat and source of battlefield control, but the deck may want to go even bigger with an additional threat higher up on the curve. Burning Sun's Avatar is a big threat and an immediate source of value, and it provides a massive Sunbird's Invocation trigger capable even of hitting another copy of the enchantment, so it's a nice fit.

Like the Ramunap Red deck, the Big Red gets access to the package of Ramunap Ruins and Sunscorched Desert to help finish off opponents. This deck can go even further by including a set of Desert of the Fervent, which can be sacrificed for extra damage or cycled to dig for action.

What Ixalan Standard brews are you working on?




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