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Week One Standard – Red Deck Wins and Atarka Ramp

As I said last week, there’s a huge quantity of potential playables and tournament staples in Dragons of Tarkir. They may not all work out and some will have to wait until rotation for their time to shine, but on the whole I’m impressed with just how many Constructed-playable cards Khans block has given us.

Atarka’s Command

Here’s the level-one deck everyone should be prepared to battle against at their local Standard tournament for Release weekend.

The Searing Bloods in the sideboard could be replaced by Roast.

Nothing about this deck should really surprise anyone, it’s just a combination of all the fast red creatures and efficient burn into a streamlined goldfish machine. Well, almost, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The key synergies are all damage-based, to take advantage of your opponents’ lack of early game interaction. It just does not take a lot of cards to produce a ton of early-game damage with this range of threats. Here are two sample hands:

Turn 1 – Mountain, Monastery Swiftspear, swing (19)
Turn 2 – Mana Confluence, Dragon Fodder, swing (17)
Turn 3 – Swing, Atarka’s Command in deal 3 and +1/+1 mode (7)

Three cards for 13 damage and you have Swiftspear and pair of 1/1s in play. This isn’t Magical Christmas land either—only the Command is truly required. Swiftspear can be Denizen for 1 less damage or Dragon Fodder a pair of 1-drops, or even a Mardu Scout in a pinch. Even with only two creatures cleanly attacking that’s still a +6 swing from Command.

Here’s a relatively slow and out-of-sequence start with the deck:

Turn 1 – Mountain, Zurgo Bellstriker
Turn 2 – Temple of Abandon, Foundry Street Denizen, swing (18)
Turn 3 – Mountain, Hordeling Outburst, Stoke the Flames tapping tokens + Zurgo, swing with pumped Denizen (10)

If you go deep in the tank then there are tons of hands that’ll put the opponent into single digits on turn three. The kicker here is that many decks don’t even have a guaranteed turn-2 removal spell, though Ultimate Price will certainly help Abzan and UB in that regard. As it stands, Bile Blight is great against the token generators, but the BB cost can cost a turn.

Even if players do move to Price, the fact remains that many decks only have 3-6 early interaction spells on the draw. On the play this number may increase to 10 because of Hero’s Downfall and Dissolve (to name a few), but it’s difficult for many slower midrange and control decks to keep up.

As for the particular card choices, most of them are self-explanatory with the exception of Ire Shaman. Ire Shaman is definitely not the best 2-drop for a goldfish-style red deck. However the games you lose are ones where you need to eek out damage against early interaction or you flood out. Ire Shaman is a passable 2-drop in games where you’re advantaged and one of the only ways to recoup some value later in the game when you lose the ability to attack effectively.

Ire Shaman also works nicely with your sideboard plan of upping the removal count, bringing in Outpost Siege, and playing for a longer game against other creature decks. Your creatures lose a ton of value in post-board games and people know what to keep against you, which is why Outpost Siege has gained so much traction. Sure your threats may be misaligned, but your burn suite is still very deadly and it doesn’t matter if you win with mono-Grizzly Bear beatdown. This is no time for the Danger of Cool Plays, you just want to burn all their creatures, sneak damage through and end the game when you can.

Mulligan strategy is deceptively simple in game one and yet people will screw it up. Mulligan everything without a 1-drop creature on the play. On the draw I’m a little more open to deviating since you can hit 12 on the first draw step, but even then you lose one of the primary benefits of the deck. That 1-drop is at worst 3-4 damage against everything except the mirror. Giving it up means more opportunities for your cards to match up with your opponents on the same turn cycle. Without this damage buffer it forces you to play a longer game of Magic by default.

Hint: The guy casting Jeskai Ascendancy, Courser of Kruphix, or Dissolve is less impressed by your plays when he’s still at double-digit life.

Despite the obviousness of the red deck people typically underestimate the impact of the deck in the first few weeks.

Dragonlord Atarka and Dragonlord Dromoka

Ramping the Dragonlords out is easily one of the strongest things you can be doing right now. Dromoka forces an immediate answer or races the red decks pretty easily barring something like a Jeskai Ascendancy. Against control she does a nice job of shutting down an entire angle of their game plan, and only common removal she dies to is Hero’s Downfall or Crux of Fate on Dragons.

Dragonlord Atarka has been talked about and hyped up quite a bit more and brings up fond memories of Bogardan Hellkite. As one of the few large creatures that makes a major impact on the game as soon as she hits the field it’s worth taking a look at how we can best use her. In this case she competes with Hornet Queen so it comes down to whether having an all-encompassing board presence trumps a 5-point burn spell and quicker clock.

Here’s a sample ramp deck:

What’s nice about this iteration of the deck over the previous Frontier Siege models is that you have more ways to draw cards and better threats in general. Atarka has the bonus of trumping Hornet Queen straight-up in a ramp war and shares much of the resiliency to common removal that Dromoka does. Still, I could easily see adding 1-2 Hornet Queen or non-Dragon threat to push the Crux of Fate issue a bit harder if UB, Sultai, or Esper Control make a major push.

Hornet Nest is almost a necessary evil considering the buffs all the red decks receive from Dragons. Even Jeskai decks are incredibly scary with even more token generators and ways to trigger Jeskai Ascendancy in such a low removal deck. With Dromoka’s Command providing a playable maindeck fight spell you have the best of both worlds, you don’t need to load up on situational cards and you have a naturally good blocker against aggro.

I’m less excited to go back to Eidolon of Blossoms despite the high density of enchantments and can’t imagine it’ll live very long in real games of Magic. Still, it’s worth a shot before throwing it back into the bulk bin. Otherwise the board is just your basic anti-aggression package with some more draw engines against control decks. Surge of Righteousness may not be Celestial Purge, but I’ll take it considering the alternative options.

All right, these are just a few of the level-zero options to start from for this weekend. Next week we’ll be back to looking at the metagame after the first results start to roll in.

Josh Silvestri

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