Dragons of Tarkir is shaping up to be a blast of a time. The cards in the set seem intricately designed but balanced at the same time. There are many cards in this set that are all about the same in power level. This has been a trend in many recent sets and is definitely true for Dragons.
Because of this, the honorable mention list has more powerful cards on it than for most sets. Even though it’s the third set of the block, Dragons of Tarkir is another big set with many different cards that will be playable in Standard. Let out a dragon’s breath and let’s begin.
I’m extremely glad they brought back this concept and added the flavor of the new elder dragons with the template. The last time we had commands, Wizards nearly broke Standard with Cryptic Command. This time around, it’s clear that steps were taken to ensure that none of these cards would be overpowered. They all have good options to choose from but none of them are cards we need to worry about dominating Standard.
Each command has four options and all of the modes on this cycle react to situations that frequently come up in constructed magic. I think Wizards may have even been too cautious with this cycle and overcosted some of the cards just to be safe.
Silumgar's Command is one of the best examples. Negate, Boomerang, Last Gasp, and destroying a planeswalker are all great options but five mana is a lot for a removal spell. If this command was a mana cheaper, it may have been too good, but it feels like it won’t see much play because it costs five. Any deck that can cast it will likely play a singleton because it does offer a bit of flexibility. Also, any card that destroys a planeswalker as well as does something else is a step forward from the cards that have been made so far.
Ojutai's Command almost made it onto the top 10 list and if I had to pick an eleventh card, this would be it. The vast majority of the time, this command will be the same as casting Dismiss, but that’s a card we haven’t seen around competitive formats for a long time. This card is similar to what Cryptic Command probably should have looked like, but either way, depending on what the control decks look like, this card should see some play in Standard.
The biggest letdown of the cycle has to be Kolaghan's Command. This is another case where I think shaving a mana off the cost would not be a bad thing. If this cost two mana, I think we would start seeing it in deck lists but at three, I doubt players will use it much. All of the effects are reasonable but it’s tough to cast a removal spell that only does two damage on turn three. You need to be doing that on turn two against the fast decks.
Last up we have Atarka's Command which was originally my favorite of the cycle. Last week I talked about this card in some detail, but basically I think all the modes could come up and would be good for different strategies. This command is definitely Modern-playable but is more suited to that format than Standard. With that being said, I still think there are a lot of great combinations available on this card.
My hope is that I am underestimating the power level of the Dragonlords from this set. My current opinion is that none of them are particularly powerful, nor will they see much play. They all do something interesting, but I don’t think they are powerful enough to make a huge impact on Standard. Of the five, I would rate them as follows:
To me, these cards are more similar to Sire of Insanity, Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, or other big dumb beaters of the past than something like Baneslayer Angel or any of the titans. Basically, my assessment is that these are tier 2 finishers. They might be good enough to see fringe play and yes, if your opponent has nothing, you can finish them off with any of these elder dragons, but most of the time, they will feel underwhelming.
If Wizards wanted to make certain the metagame revolved around dragons, like it should, then all five of these mythics should be lowered by a mana. Think about Dromoka, Silumgar, and Kolaghan at five mana. That puts them on par with Stormbreath Dragon, but a bit more powerful. That’s what I’m looking for in an elder dragon. If Ojutai cost four or Atarka cost six, then we would all immediately be building decks with these creatures in them.
As they stand, they could all see play in some fashion or another, but I don’t think these elder dragons will be ruling the format anytime soon.
Some cards are interesting but they are hard to figure out what to do with. Take the new version of Sidisi for example. She is definitely powerful and some players have suggested that you could play her in a Whip of Erebos style deck, but how good would she really be? Yes you get to tutor your deck for any card, but what would you want to get and would that be better than just casting another powerful spell you have?
Corpseweft is in basically the same category as Sidisi. It’s a powerful card but does any deck really want it as part of their strategy?
I do quite like Icefall Regent, but I think other cards would be used instead of this card. If you are looking for this type of card in your deck, most likely you will be utilizing Silumgar so you can steal the creature or planeswalker rather than just tapping the creature down.
Maybe we want both so we can play Silumgar's Scorn. I would love to see a creature-based control deck with a ton of dragons. That would not only give us actual Counterspell most of the time, but also it would be awesome!
Lastly, we have the new draw spell Damnable Pact which is definitely a high power level card. The problem is that it doesn’t have a home. Maybe we want that type of effect in this theoretical dragon control deck, but that is a lot of ifs.
All of these cards are interesting and good but none of them were good enough to make the top 10.
While Rending Volley may not see much play in Standard, in Modern it will start showing up in sideboards immediately as a strict upgrade to Combust. Self-Inflicted Wound, on the other hand, is almost good enough to see maindeck play in Standard right now. I don’t think we are to that point where the format is that warped around green cards yet, but it’s close.
Surge of Righteousness is like Pharika's Cure or Douse in Gloom but easier to cast and better as well because it kills the creature instead of just doing two damage to it. Encase in Ice and Display of Dominance are unlikely to see play because of how narrow they are.
I also added Roast to this list because it feels like the same type of card. I’ve seen a lot of authors trying to include this card as a main deck four-of, but I don’t think it’s as good as it seems. First of all, against some decks this will seem like a red Doom Blade, but that won’t happen all of the time.
Sometimes when you have this card in hand it will feel like it’s part of this hate cycle because you can never kill a creature with flying with it. That means things like Wingmate Roc, Stormbreath Dragon, and even the new Aven Sunstriker, which I think is pretty decent , can never be dealt with by casting Roast. This removal spell is good, but you cannot rely on it as your only way to deal with creatures otherwise you will die to their flyers.
Anticipate is the next attempt to make a balanced way for players to fix their draws. In the past we have had a lot of high-powered versions of this effect make their way through Standard. Both Ponder and Preordain were so powerful that they jumped over to the Modern banned list rather quickly. If we look back further, we see that Wizards did try to make two-mana versions though with cards like Telling Time.
The problem is that basically any version of this type of spell that costs one mana is likely to be overpowered. At two mana though, it is likely to be underpowered. There is a giant difference between one and two mana on this type of card. The reason is because with one mana, you are able to set up your game plan but with two mana, the spell is getting in the way of your ability to interact with your opponent.
Wizards sees this dilemma and rather than risk another Ponder or Preordain, they made a playable version of the two-mana spell. Anticipate’s most important feature is that it’s an instant. This is key because it lets you cast it at any point where you don’t have to interact with your opponent on their turn.
As a player who has cast Telling Time before on multiple occasions, I can tell you that it is frustrating to have to stack the top of your deck with a card that you don’t want to draw. Once in a while, it is convenient because there are two of the three cards that you actually need, but most of the time, just getting the one card you want is all the spell needed to do. With Anticipate, that is the exact effect we get.
So Anticipate is like a smaller Impulse rather than a new version of Telling Time. I would have much rather had access to Impulse but Anticipate will do for now. I don’t think Impulse would be overpowered in Standard or Modern but would have made an interesting addition to both formats.
Anticipate should see tons of play, and likely in both formats. Think Twice has seen some play in Modern and saw a decent bit of play in Standard and I think Anticipate is better than it. There are a lot of interesting cards that this one beat out for the number ten spot, but for good reason. This is a solid way to fix your draw and you can do it any time since it’s an instant.
When I first saw this card I was astounded at the power level. It will take a deck dedicated to casting noncreature spells to make this powerful enough, but that should not be too difficult.
The part that surprised me the most was the one-mana activation to make it a creature. By costing this part so cheaply, it allows for multiple things to be done in the same turn. You can both attack with your monk avatar as well as defend it, interact with your opponent, or expand your board state. Being able to add counters for three mana is amazing as well.
Think about this card in R/W Aggro in Standard right now. You are already playing one or two creatures with prowess so Myth Realized fits right in and it adds a powerful threat that your opponent doesn’t want to deal with because it’s not threatening them right away. Think of Myth Realized as more of a Shrine of Loyal Legions type effect. You play the game normally and then at some point, you have a giant threat that is hard to deal with.
This enchantment could also see play in every other format as well. Even if there is not enough support for it in Standard, look for it in other formats.
I think Secure the Wastes is the most efficient token producer we’ve seen in years. I think the closest comparison would be to that of White Sun's Zenith. Instead of making a cat army, you get a relevant creature type with the warrior tokens. Let’s look at a breakdown of the two cards together based on how much mana we would spend.
Cats vs Warriors
3 mana 0 – 2
4 mana 2 – 3
5 mana 4 – 4
6 mana 6 – 5
7 mana 8 – 6
In the sweet spot of four mana, Secure the Wastes gives us three creatures with three total power when we would have only gotten two power from the one cat token. At five mana, which I think would be another common spot to cast this spell, both cards grant four power worth of creatures.
The difference is that Secure the Wastes makes more creatures so if you have a way to pump them up, then you would be netting a significant power increase. Take a card like Spear of Heliod. If you curve Spear into Secure, then you would have six power on turn four or eight on turn five! More creature equals more power in combination with your pump spells. We can also combo nicely with Chief of the Edge as well if we are willing to play more warriors in our deck.
A control deck could use this as a finisher as well so the card is very versatile. I doubt this is what control decks want to be doing in Standard right now, but it is definitely an option. Being able to have your finisher cast at instant speed is always a huge benefit.
I think this is one of the best dragons in the set. Not only is it aggressively costed, but it also deters opponents from trying to remove it. There will be times when you can lock your opponent out of the game too. When they are at three life, with no blocker, they won’t be able to kill it or survive the attack. I think this situation will come up frequently and is a major plus to playing this dragon.
The only issue I see with this card is that it competes with a very similar card for a spot in a deck. I think there is room for both cards in Standard, but if I had to pick one, I would probably still go with Ashcloud Phoenix. A deck like Temur Midrange could easily support both creatures and put them to great use though.
Another thing to consider here is that we may have reached a critical mass of four-power creatures. At this point, we should be able to create a deck that only has four power creatures and so then any ferocious spell we want to play would be automatically turned on. Stubborn Denial, for instance, seems great in this type of deck.
When I started writing about this new aggressive red creature, I didn’t realize I had so much to say about Dragon Whisperer. Then I found myself going on and on about all of its abilities and how they are good no matter what stage of the game you are in.
Basically, this is a cheap creature that is also very good in the late game. It reminds me of Warden of the First Tree because you will always have something to do with your mana. Even though this card can do a ton for a mere two mana investment, it is still quite balanced. There is a huge requirement in order to be able to start making your 4/4 dragons.
A 2/2 for two mana isn’t going to break the format anytime soon, but it will be an excellent addition to any deck that needs a well-rounded threat. There are not many good two-cost creatures in the format and this will give us another option to work with. Check out my article from last week for a more detailed breakdown of this card.
New Anafenza has impressed me quite a bit so far. She has inspired players to start brewing their white weenie decks again and she may be able to fit in other archetypes as well. I think she compares well to Dragon Whisperer that took the number six slot because she is a solid threat that gives you an advantage as the game progresses.
My favorite interaction so far is following her up with Aven Sunstriker. I mentioned earlier that I think Sunstriker is decent and Anafenza is a big reason why. Getting a 2/2 instead of a 1/1 with flying and double strike is a huge upgrade. Then if you play another creature, you might even be able to bolster another time onto it making it a 3/3!
Wizards made sure to balance her by not triggering off of tokens, but she might bring a white aggressive deck back into the format on her own. You can play her in a devotion shell too and use that Nykthos mana to make a huge army of warriors from Secure the Wastes and that seems very appealing. There are a lot of possibilities with Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and I’m looking forward to brewing with her.
Shorecrasher Elemental is another card poised to revamp an old archetype. I’m quite excited about playing Mono-Blue Devotion again and Shorecrasher adds an interesting aspect to the deck. The more I’ve been thinking about it, this card seems more like Ashcloud Phoenix than Morphling. You can only dodge one removal spell per turn, and then if you want to do it two turns in a row, you need six mana to be able to flip and blink in the same turn.
Still, I think this card is an awesome weapon to have access to in Standard. I think Shorecrasher is enough to make Mono-Blue playable once more and add a new angle of attack with the deck as well. We don’t normally get creatures that cost three with four power in blue let along ones that can pump up to seven power. Seven power lets you trade with any creature in Standard except the new Dragonlord Atarka. Against a control deck, this could be the only threat you need to win the game. Overall it’s a solid threat and should see play. I’m interested to see how good Mono-Blue will be in the new format.
Who thought that the green-white command would be the best of the five!? I doubt many players would have put their faith in that outcome. I was joking with some friends before it was spoiled about the card having the following modes.
- Search your library for two lands and put them into play.
- Destroy target noncreature permanent.
- Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to you this turn.
- Whine in a corner about why this is the only command that costs six mana.
This is the power level we have come to expect from these types of cards in green and white. Normally blue gets all the goodies, but this time around both red-green and green-white are strong and it’s the other color combinations that are overcosted.
As it’s printed, Dromoka's Command has four great modes. Here are the actual modes.
- Prevent all damage target instant or sorcery spell would do this turn.
- Target player sacrifices an enchantment.
- Put a +1/+1 counter on target creature.
- Target creature you control fights target creature you don’t control.
Any of these modes could come up in your Standard games. You can protect yourself or one of your creatures from a burn spell. Making your opponent sacrifice their Courser of Kruphix or Mastery of the Unseen seems great. Boosting your creatures is always a good thing, but it’s even better in combination with the last mode of fighting your opponent’s creature.
With so many similar power and toughness creatures, I assume the +1/+1 and fight mode will be one of the most chosen modes on the card. There are a variety of modes that could work very well together depending on the game state. Overall, this makes for an extremely versatile card.
Planeswalkers that don’t protect themselves are bad…except when they have almost double their mana in loyalty! Seven is an incredible amount of loyalty to end up with after one turn. That’s one less than Gideon Jura, and he had high loyalty because creatures had to attack him!
This planeswalker will be tremendously difficult to deal with by attacking alone. You will need a burn spell on top of your attack or Hero's Downfall to take care of it. So, not only is it hard to remove, but it also provides continuous advantage over the course of the game. Now, all we need are some sweet spells in the deck to copy with the rebound ability, and we have the makings of a strong deck.
I have no idea what that deck will be. Maybe Jeskai Control will make a comeback due to this card or perhaps Esper, but we need another color to take advantage of the ability to copy spells.
Always save the best for last. One of my favorite characters has made a comeback in a big way in this block. Our friendly neighborhood dragon expert started off as Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker but now he has transformed into Sarkhan Unbroken.
I think the best explanation of why Temur Sarkhan is so good is that he is always a two-for-one. If you play and tick up, then you are up a card and they’ve used a card to get him off the board. If you tick down, then they have to use two spells to clear him off the board. Perilous Vault can remove both the dragon and the planeswalker, but that’s true of Vault and any combination of cards.
Sarkhan is just good at what he does best, making dragons. You can even make two dragons two turns in a row if you want to, but most of the time, you’ll just draw an extra card. Adding a mana when you draw that extra card is also deceptively good.
The hardest piece of the puzzle is where he will fit in the metagame. That seems to be a common theme with cards from this set. That implies that we will see some new deck archetypes filtering into the meta once these cards are legal to play with.
Overall, Dragons is a deep set filled with playable cards at all rarities. Some of them may be good later even if they aren’t positioned well right now. My favorite thing about this set is that it’s a brewer's paradise.
Hope you liked my top 10 list for the set. Which spots would you change? There are a ton of good cards in this set. Are there any that you think should be on the list that I don’t have on there? Am I underestimating the elder dragons too much? Post your thoughts in the comments.
Until next time,
Unleash the Force!
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