Feature Article from Raphael Levy

Bigger and Redder at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir

Raphael Levy

4/16/2015 11:02:00 AM

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Team Revolution gathered in Fougères, a medieval city in Bretagne (Brittany), France, to prepare for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in Brussels. The line-up consisted in Timothée Simonot (the place belonged to his parents), Jérémy Dezani, Pierre Dagen, Patrick Dickmann, Valentin Mackl, Olle Rade, Joel Larsson, Magnus Lantto, Denniz Rachid, Mikael Rabie, and myself.

For once, I was not really worried about the Draft format. It was pretty a straight-forward format and I felt good with it, not like the old one (with Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged). My concern was a lot more about Constructed. A lot of new cards came out since I had last played standard at Worlds last December. It felt like I had a lot of catching up to do.

We quickly put together a gauntlet that consisted in what we thought were the decks that were going to be played:

Abzan Control
Abzan Aggro
Sultai Reanimator
Monored
GW Devotion
Jeskai Tokens
RG Dragons

I got my hands on most of these decks, just to get a first impression. I didn't like the manabases of all the three-color decks and had my eyes on the two-color/monocolor decks. It didn't take long till I played the Monored stock list and started tuning it.

I think the starting list looked something like that:

Red Deck Wins by Raphael Levy
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
3 Lightning Berserker
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Zurgo Bellstriker
Creatures [19]
4 Dragon Fodder
4 Hordeling Outburst
4 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames
4 Wild Slash
Spells [20]
21 Mountain (259)
Lands [21]
Deck Total [60]







Click for full deck stats & notes!

Our Monored list from Worlds got quite the upgrade with Dragons of Tarkir and it got me excited.

After playing the deck for a while, I wasn't satisfied with a number of things:

- Too many three-drops and not enough lands to support them.
- Not a big fan of the token Generators (Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst), they wouldn't do much on an empty board, weren't impactful enough in a long game; missing haste ability.
- Not enough impactful one-drops (not a big fan of Denniz ( Foundry Street Denizen) anymore).
- Not enough evasion.
- Courser and Rhinos were still a pain.

With these in mind, we worked the deck around, took out the Outbursts and Fodders, added some Roasts to take care of Centaurs and Rhinos, added Satyr Firedrinker and Goblin Heelcutter for a list that looked pretty much like this:

Red Deck Wins by Raphael Levy
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Goblin Heelcutter
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Lightning Berserker
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Zurgo Bellstriker
Creatures [24]
4 Lightning Strike
2 Roast
4 Stoke the Flames
4 Wild Slash
Spells [14]
22 Mountain (259)
Lands [22]
Deck Total [60]







Click for full deck stats & notes!

That list was quite impressive, very explosive and we were almost sold on it. We liked how the deck could sink its mana when it was a little flooded (into Firedrinker and Lightning Berserker) and also that it wasn't as vulnerable to mass removal thanks to all the dash creatures. Sideboarded games proved to be quite the challenge. Sylvan Caryatid was still a card we had a hard time against.

So Jérémy and I started changing the deck, we added Flamewake Phoenix. A 2/2 flying haste might just be what we needed to fly over the defences. We also loved Thunderbreak Regent, so we decided to run a few of them...

After hours of tuning the deck, we figured out that the deck would work better with heavier drops and more ways to bring back Flamewake Phoenix, so we went up to four Thunderbreak, tried out Dragon Whisperer (Evasion + four power and an early drop: exactly what we needed), and Ashcloud Phoenix. The deck needed 24 lands and we only kept the most efficient one-drops.

Eventually, that's what we ended up with:

Monored Devotion by Raphael Levy
Finished 17th - 32nd Place at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Ashcloud Phoenix
4 Dragon Whisperer
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Flamewake Phoenix
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
3 Lightning Berserker
4 Thunderbreak Regent
3 Zurgo Bellstriker
Creatures [30]
3 Roast
3 Wild Slash
Spells [6]
4 Bloodstained Mire
13 Mountain (259)
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Temple of Malice
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]


1 Harness by Force
3 Monastery Swiftspear
2 Seismic Rupture
3 Self-Inflicted Wound
1 Swamp (256)
3 Ultimate Price
2 Virulent Plague
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!

It's very far from the original Monored aggro list as it only has like 13 cards in common (plus the Mountains). It also felt a lot more stable, Monored aggro is capable of having almost unbeatable draws, but also unwinnable hands (without one-drops, without the second land, etc.), leading to very frustrating matches. The list we ended up with had more options and more game in the long run. It is able to have fast draws and put your opponent under a lot of pressure early and also has some of the best threats in the format.


The Creatures

3 Lightning Berserker
3 Zurgo Bellstriker

Lightning Berserker and Zurgo Bellstriker are the one-drops you want in the deck as they are the most likely to deal the most damage (compared to the other one-drops in the format). They both have the dash ability, meaning that you'll be able to sneak some damage in on the turn after your opponent swept the board.

Lightning Berserker is a huge threat in the midgame after you've traded most of your creatures for your opponent's. It's not rare to have it single-handedly deal the last seven to ten damage to close the game.

Zurgo allows you to deal the first damage. If played on turn one, he's likely to deal the first four or six damage and allow the rest of the cavalry to have an easier job. While he's not a top notch blocker, he's sometimes useful to buy you some turns against token deck or Goblin Rabblemaster to do some crowd control.

4 Dragon Whisperer

We thought of that card quite late in the process and she turned out to be a powerhouse (I'm now making sure I don't mess up with the genders!). We were looking for good evasion creatures, in the first playtest games we had (with quite a different version), she was able to fly over most of the defenses and be a threat to be dealt with quickly. While you won't be making dragons every game, her ability is far from irrelevant. In some control matchups, your opponent will force the trade for your dragons to keep you from reaching Formidable.

4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

This is not your average red aggro deck, so the eidolon is not going to work the same way here. You don't have as many early drops as Monored Aggro or any kind of weenie deck. However, this is probably the second best two-drop of the deck. Against aggro, it will probably just trade for an attacking creature on the next turn, meaning you basically just trade one-for-one. Against slower decks like Abzan (control), you will be engaged in a race where the Eidolon is going to deal two damage every time they play a removal spell (except for Murderous Cut), and then you'll be able to get them with flyers. The fact that it's RR to cast is important when it comes to using Nykthos.

4 Goblin Rabblemaster

The deck is a lot about creatures that will do the job on their own. Since Pro Tour M15, we've seen the potential of Rabblemaster and it would be a shame to keep it out of our red deck. The strength of a 24-land deck without card draw is the power of its threats and the Goblin does that job perfectly. Unchecked, it will go all the way in two or three turns.

4 Flamewake Phoenix

To me, the best card of the deck. When we added it to our Monored Aggro list, we were sold and we basically tuned the deck to find the best home for the fiery bird. When you draw one, you know it's going to be attacking for two every turn for the rest of the game, and unless it gets exiled by Anger of the Gods or Utter End (sometimes you have to keep a Wild Slash to kill it so it doesn't get exiled), it's going to come back. Keep in mind it has to attack every turn, so you might want to play it after combat to have it untapped to block on the following turn.

Mid
Low
 Thunderbreak Regent
$2.46
$1.30
Store QTY Price  
The DeeP 1 $1.00
Esshakkar 1 $1.38
crushingface cards 1 $1.50
LOUD Gaming 3 $1.50
Kyles Cards 3 $1.50
Zulus Games 1 $1.52
Chaos Games LLC 2 $1.52
Dork Den Mankato 2 $1.60
Golden Phoenix Games 1 $1.60
Esshakkar 1 $1.69
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Thunderbreak Regent Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

4 Thunderbreak Regent

Thunderbreak Regent was the card we wanted in pretty much all our decks. 4/4 flying with some protection was exactly what red decks needed. In our deck, it brings back the Phoenix, is quite the cheap threat (24 lands are enough to support him) and adds two to our devotion to red. Along with Eidolon of the Great Revel, it adds up to the “direct damage” package.

4 Ashcloud Phoenix

Probably the most underrated card of the deck. A lot of people asked me why we weren't playing Stormbreath Dragon instead of the Phoenix. I actually like the Phoenix more than the Dragon for a lot of reasons:

- It only costs four. The difference between four and five mana in a 24 land deck without card draw is huge. You'll be casting the Phoenix quite reliably on turn four while it's unlikely you'll be casting Stormbreath Dragon before turn six or seven. A lot of times, you wait to have five mana, so you can play your four-power creature to bring back a dead Flamewake Phoenix; it just costs too much with a Dragon.
- It's much more resilient. In a format where red decks have access to Thunderbreak Regent, you want something that matches with it. There's no card in red that allow you to kill a dragon right away (except for Crater's Claws) and we wanted something that could trade for it. Sure, they can have Draconic Roar for it, but at least you have something in return (a morph). Stormbreath just arrives too late.
- Playing it as a morph is extremely useful against Heroic. Unless they run Temur Battle Rage, they won't be able to have an unlockable creature as it's colorless, they‘ll have to kill it first (Dromoka's Command usually works); otherwise, it can just fill the curve in case you have too many four-drops in your hand.
- You can play it just to trade for an attacking creature and not worry too much about it. It is quite painful to play a Stormbreath just to chump.
- Its unmorph ability is very relevant in a race.


The Spells

3 Wild Slash
3 Roast

This is probably where the deck can be improved. The Wild Slash are necessary to fight all the aggro decks (Monored and Red/Green Aggro), as well as to take care of Seeker of the Way, Soulfire Grand Master and Goblin Rabblemaster. It's cheap and fits the curve. It can be fairly useless against Abzan, RG Dragons (the version with Caryatids), and UB Control.

Roast is also one of the cards that can also be useless, however you need an answer to both Siege Rhino and Courser of Kruphix.

The sideboard is mostly there to make up for the lack of versatility of these spells.


The Manabase

13 Mountains

Yeah well, they make red mana...

4 Temple of Malice

Before we added the black splash in the sideboard, we weighed up the pros and cons of playing scry lands. In a deck where you kinda want to curve your threats, having a land come into play tapped isn't ideal. However, they helped a lot finding the third or fourth land, or avoiding being flooded. In most of the games I played, I lost because I was overpowered, not because I was short on lands or flooded, mostly thanks to the scry lands. When we added black in the sideboard, they became necessary.

4 Bloodstained Mire

Pretty useless in the main deck (they just fetch for Mountains), they become necessary for the sideboard. They don't really hurt that much (it's a mountain that costs you one life), but their upside is definitely worth it.

Having nine sources for a couple of sideboard cards is usually enough, so we don't want to have extra black sources (especially with the double red in the cards we pay). Mana Confluence is definitely not an option (I hate this card).

3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

In our playtest games, before we had Nykthos, we joked about it: “haha, look how awesome drawing Nykthos here would be.” Then we seriously considered playing one...then two...then three. We adjusted the two-drops (added the Eidolon of the Great Revel) to add to our devotion to red and make Nykthos a real player in this deck. What it does is help you get to six mana to make a dragon with Dragon Whisper, unmorph your Ashcloud Phoenix, help you play more spells in the same turn or pump your Lightning Berserker...a lot. I never really had a problem with it being legendary, and 21 red sources along with it should make up for the fact it doesn't naturally cast your red drops.


Sideboard

Our options when the deck was only red were extremely limited. The addition of black made the deck improve a lot in some matchups.

1 Swamp

Since we're not running any Swamps in the maindeck, we need to have one in the board to fetch it with Bloodstained Mires.

3 Self-Inflicted Wound

A great card that destroys Heroic decks (even if they didn't really show up in mass), and also extremely good against all kind of Abzan decks. Being able to destroy a Caryatid or a Courser early, while helping you in the race is great.

3 Ultimate Price

We were a little low on instant-speed removal. We needed something able to take care of as many creatures as possible, including Dragons. Ultimate Price was the best option for Courser of Kruphix, Thunderbreak Regent, Stormbreath Dragon, Arbor Colossus... Unfortunately, it doesn't kill Dragonlord Atarka or Siege Rhino. There's a chance we can cut one or two Ultimate Price for Murderous Cut. The Bloodstained Mire would help with the Delve and you'd be able to kill everything.

2 Virulent Plague

A trump card against Token Strategies. We first had it to fight Jeskai Tokens and Monored, but we found it to be relevant in the Sultai Reanimator matchup as it kills the Zombies and the Hornets from Hornet Queen, both of these cards being their real threats to us.

Talking of Hornets, we want to bring it in against Hornet Nest strategies as well, as the bugs totally destroy our plan to fly over defenses.

2 Seismic Rupture

Our deck is sometimes mislabelled as Monored Aggro with flyers. Most aggressive decks don't expect sweepers from us. Seismic Rupture is a great card against Monored and other token decks and it doesn't really kill many of our creatures. Dragon Whisperer can fly and so can the Phoenixes and Dragons while Monastery Swiftspear gets the pump from prowess.

3 Monastery Swiftspear

We were missing cards we could board against a few decks to adjust our strategy. We don't have enough spells to trigger prowess in the maindeck for the Swiftspear to be relevant enough, but we do after board. They block just fine in the early game, to buy us time against aggressive strategies, and are extra threats against decks you'll try to play the control game. You'll need some early pressure while you take control of the game and the Swiftspears do that just fine.

1 Harness by Force

A trump card against RG Dragons. You're likely to race every game and it often comes down to one attack. Harness by Force gives you the last four to eight damage you need to win the race.


Sideboard and Matchups


Vs. Abzan Aggro

+3 Self-Inflicted Wound
+1 Harness by Force
+2 Monastery Swiftspear
+1 Swamp

-2 Wild Slash
-4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
-1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Abzan Aggro is a fine matchup, but also very dependent on who plays first. After board, you should have enough removal to take care of the most important threats.

You also want to take out your Eidolon of the Great Revel to not give them a two-for-one with their Dromoka's Command.


Vs. Abzan Control

+1 Swamp
+3 Self-Inflicted Wound

-3 Wild Slash
-1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

The deck is pretty much designed to beat Abzan Control. They can't really block your creatures and have to use their Abzan Charms wisely (and try to hit an Ashcloud Phoenix). The games you lose to Abzan Control usually involve a lot of Rhinos.


Vs. Jeskai Tokens

+3 Monastery Swiftspear
+2 Virulent Plague
+2 Seismic Rupture
+1 Ultimate Price
+1 Swamp

-3 Roast
-3 Lightning Berserker
-2 Ashcloud Phoenix
-1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

I have played this matchup over and over again on Magic Online and I have yet to lose it. The sweepers and Virulent Plague are very hard to overcome for them. You take out your Lightning Berserker as they would only trade for a goblin or a Soldier Token.


Vs. Jeskai Ascendency

+3 Monastery Swiftspear
+3 Self-Inflicted Wound
+1 Swamp

-3 Roast
-3 Ashcloud Phoenix
-1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

It's tough but you could be fast enough to beat them before they go off. You have a good way to interact with them in the main (four Eidolon of the Great Revel) and three Self-Inflicted Wound in the board to kill the Caryatid.


Vs. Monored / RG Aggro

+3 Monastery Swiftspear
+2 Virulent Plague
+2 Seismic Rupture
+1 Swamp
+2 Ultimate Price

-3 Roast
-2 Ashcloud Phoenix
-4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
-1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

This matchup is pretty even. You have sweepers just like control decks, and fast threats to make sure they don't recover too fast (the problem with control decks, they can't really follow up after their sweeper).


Vs. Sultai Reanimator

+2 Self-Inflicted Wound
+2 Virulent Plague
+1 Swamp
+2 Ultimate Price

-3 Wild Slash
-3 Zurgo Bellstriker
-1 Mountain

One of the hardest matchups. Fortunately, this deck lost a lot of popularity. Sidisi herself brings too much pressure on the table and it becomes hard to race as you tap out to Roast it. Add to that, the fact that they run Hornet Queen and Whip of Erebos and it becomes even harder. Virulent Plague is a good answer to both Sidisi and Hornet Queen. You're behind but it's not completely unwinnable.


Vs. Heroic

+3 Self-Inflicted Wound
+3 Ultimate Price
+3 Monastery Swiftspear
+1 Swamp

-1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
-4 Dragon Whisperer
-4 Thunderbreak Regent

We talked about Ashcloud Phoenix being able to block a lethal attack; add to that the fact that you'll be running a lot more removal, including Self-Inflicted Wound that they won't be able to fizzle with Gods Willing, and you have a fine matchup.


Vs. RG Dragons

On the Play:

+3 Ultimate Price
+2 Self-Inflicted Wound
+1 Harness by Force
+1 Swamp

-3 Wild Slash
-3 Roast
-1 Mountain

On the Draw:

+3 Ultimate Price
+3 Self-Inflicted Wound
+1 Harness by Force
+1 Swamp
+3 Monastery Swiftspear

-4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
-3 Zurgo Bellstriker
-3 Roast
-1 Mountain

A really tough matchup that plays differently whether you are on the play or on the draw. You want to bring the race but it's tough against a turn-three Dragon. You don't have any answer to Dragonlord Atarka either so as soon as this one hits the battlefield, you're pretty much dead.


Vs. UB Control

+3 Monastery Swiftspear
-3 Roast

This is probably the easiest matchup. Your game one is very hard to lose as your threats will be too fast and too resilient to their removal spells. You might want to adjust your strategy and add some Ultimate Price if they run Master of Waves or Icefall Regent.


Vs. GW Devotion

+3 Ultimate Price
+1 Self-Inflicted Wound
+1 Swamp

-1 Mountain
-4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

This is a difficult matchup. The games are usually fine as long as don't have Nykthos and Mastery of the Unseen active. They usually have that together at some point and it's often the turn before they're dead. They start gaining a lot of life every turn and there's no way you can come back from this. During the tournament, I was able to make two dragons a turn with Dragon Whisperer, but that wasn't enough. After Board, you try to do some crowd control while attacking in the air. Just like against Abzan Aggro, you take out your Eidolon so you don't give them a two-for-one with their Dromoka's Commands.

I discussed last time about bringing your own brew to a tournament. This is definitely a case of a brew I brought to a tournament. It does have bad matchups but also has very good ones. While I'm 100% this deck can be improved and that I didn't bring the optimal version to the PT, it was good enough for this tournament, and I'm happy I ran it.

I posted a 6-4 record with the deck, winning against:

- Mardu Aggro
- Jeskai Tokens
- GR Devotion
- UB Control
- Abzan Control x2

And losing to

- GW Devotion x2
- GR Bees
- Abzan Aggro

GP Krakow is coming up next and I don't know if I'll have a lot of time to tune it or if I'll play something else.

If I had to change something right now though, I would seriously consider thinking about:

- Adding a Murderous Cut somewhere in the 75.
- Taking out one Nykthos and adding a Swamp in the main deck, and maybe moving Ultimate Price to the main and some of the Roasts to the sideboard.
- Changing the sideboard to adapt to the emerging decks, not quite sure yet how though...

I ended up 31st at the PT, after posting a 5-1 record in draft. I didn't play very well during the week-end (as in-I gave away a whole match and made countless play mistakes); that's something I'll have to work on for the next tourneys, as it seems to happen more and more often. That finish locks me for Gold for next year, which was the primary goal of the season. We'll see what happens in the next tournaments and if I can make a run for Platinum. (I will definitely have to improve my game if I want to do that...)

In the meantime, I'm sure you guys will find ways to make this deck even more awesome!

I'd like to give huge props to Fantasy Sphere Toulouse, who lent me the cards for the Pro Tour. Thanks guys!

Cheers,

Raph

Twitter : @hahamoud
Twitch : raphaellevy