The Japan Metagame Diaries: Dinosaurs & Theros Game Day

Back in ancient times (of Magic), control decks were king. Then the giant mother F(@%@$% asteroid known as Cavern of Souls hit standard and control decks were pushed close to extinction.

A few survived, left to fend for themselves in a vast wasteland full of  midrange decks using power cards like Thragtusk or Thundermaw Hellkite and hyper aggressive aggro decks such as GR aggro with Hellrider and Burning Tree Emissary. Now we have Wizards of the Coast playing God like John Hammond from Jurrasic Park (or printing them at least), and pushing the envelope of control. They’ve resurrected Thoughtseize, Doom Blade . . . who knows what madness we’ll see in the next two sets. If the Pro Tour, Grand Prix Louisville, and Theros Game Day (here in Nagoya at least) are any indication of where the metagame is going, then aggro players better get their act together and begin to try and topple Mono black devotion, Esper control, GR midrange, and BW midrange decks. While unable to summon Godzilla to my aid here in Japan (believe me, I tried), I searched through layer upon layer of MTG expansions and found a rare, vicious beast to come to my aid. Once resurrected, I called it Selesnyasauras.

Selesnyasauras
75 cards, 15 sideboard
Plains
Forest
Selesnya Guildgate
Temple Garden


22 lands

Fleecemane Lion
Boon Satyr
Fiendslayer Paladin
Gladecover Scout
Voice of Resurgence
Soldier of the Pantheon


23 creatures

Rootborn Defenses
Ethereal Armor
Selesnya Charm
Spear of Heliod
Unflinching Courage


15 other spells

Sideboard
Glare of Heresy
Renounce the Guilds
Gift of Immortality
Pithing Needle
Fade into Antiquity
Heliod, God of the Sun
Pacifism


15 sideboard cards

Ever since Theros standard began, I have been playing aggro. My initial choice of deck was white weenie, and it won me 2 tournaments the first weekend due to its speed. One week passed and both UW and UB control saw heavy play. Jace, Architect of Thought and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver became commonplace. Suddenly white weenie wasn’t good anymore, so I switched over to GW weenie to give me access to big creatures like Loxodon Smiter and control’s bane, Voice of Resurgence. The deck did really well against control, but it had trouble handling mono black, RBW control (thanks to Anger of the Gods), and BW midrange. My greedy mana base of 20 lands also led to a lot of mulligans, so I went back to the drawing board.

Soldier of the Pantheon

Soldier of the Pantheon

We might have lost Bant Auras during rotation with the loss of Geist of Saint Traft and Invisible Stalker, but the archetype is far dead. You just have to rethink what it means to have “hexproof”. Of course cards like Gladecover Scout have it RIGHT THERE on the card, but having built in protection acts as a sort of semi-hexproof. Case in point, Soldier of the Pantheon. He has protection from multicolored. This is a great ability against cards like Azorius Charm and Detention Sphere, but he also sidesteps Boros Reckoner and other early multicolor creatures. Another card that I think is ABSOLUTELY necessary in standard at the moment is Selesnya Charm. Of course you want to be able to push through damage with trample, or against control you want to put more pressure on your opponent with a 2/2 Knight, but it’s last mode is the best one. Exiling a creature with power more than 5 means that ALL gods are fair targets (this is especially important against Erebos, God of the Dead since he stops life gain from Unflinching Courage and Fiendslayer), and the biggest pain for weenie decks, Desecration Demon is also dealt with handily by this card. 

When building this deck, I took into account the various forms of removal and popular creatures and came up with what I think is a very effective GW aura deck. A top 8 finish at my Game Day Theros on Saturday, and a 2-2 finish with some VERY close matches on Sunday lead me to believe I’m on to something. It’s not the better removal deck that’s going to win, it’s the sneakier aggro deck that will. On Saturday I faced some mono black devotion decks and a Naya Aura deck to go 3-1 in swiss before losing the eventual winner’s mono red deck, and on Sunday I went up against a gauntlet of control decks. I lost to Esper control and UW control for letting the games go too long, but then rebounded with wins against another Esper and a UWR control deck. Again, my first round Esper loss was to the eventual winner of the Game Day I attended. Cards like Sphinx’s Revelation are definitely tough to deal with, but after some closes matches I changed the deck to what you see above.

Ethereal Armor

Ethereal Armor

Now if you played with or played against an Auras deck in the past, then you know that the enchantments are the most important part of the deck. The big ones are there, Ethereal Armor and Unflinching Courage. The armor is great on a turn 1 creature to ensure your opponent doesn’t block, and Unflinching Courage will absolutely wreck mono red and other aggro strategies. Spear of Heliod was a holdover from my white weenie deck, but not as important it was before. It adds to the Etheral Armor total and creates a stall in the game so your opponent doesn’t attack if you have mana open. So far, 9 enchantments might not seem like a lot, but thankfully Theros blessed us with something called Enchantment Creatures. As seen in GP Louisville last weekend, Boon Satyr attached to an unblocked creature can be devastating. If you consider that he boosts the Armors power as well, then he becomes really dangerous. I was able to attach him to an unblocked Gladecover Scout on a number of turns to end the game against my opponent. Thirteen auras isn’t as insane as Bant auras was before with cards that gave your creatures more evasion, but this deck can also function pretty well as a GW aggro deck too.

Soldier of the Pantheon has really surprised me with its versatility so far. It gets in early damage, gains me life, and usually sucks up removal. Gladecover Scout is untouched against removal heavy decks and can eat away at control player’s life totals before they draw a Devour Flesh or Celestial Flare to deal with it. Fleecemane Lion is an absolute MUST against the increased field of control decks in standard (and becomes an unbeatable monster once you make him monstrous). Voice of Resurgence stalls opponents, making them think twice about using a Doom Blade or countering a spell, and also gives you an attacker the turn after a Supreme Verdict. Lastly, I think Fiendslayer Paladin can really shine in the current metagame. Not only is he a great defender in mono red match ups, but he’ll also handle mono black devotion/control decks well and any other deck heavy in black removal. He can handle green creatures if you give him some auras, and his first strike will put your opponent off from blocking him. 

One of the reason I don’t have more enchantments in this deck (in the main board at least) is that I need to address this decks biggest weakness, board wipes. Supreme Verdict, Mizzium Mortars, and Anger of the Gods can really ruin your day. Therefore, you need to main deck Rootborn Defenses (or Ready//Willing, though I like Defenses cause it can make another Voice token). Having one in your opening hand against Esper, UW, or UWR control can mean an automatic win once they tap out on turn 4 to play a Verdict. 

 

SIdeboard

The sideboard needed some work, but after heavy play against both mono black and control this weekend, I think I have the right cards. Board wipes are going to continue to be your biggest threat, so shoring up your defenses against them is important. Gift of Immortality on a Fleecemane Lion or Voice of Resurgence can be an incredible headache for your opponent, and it’s typing also adds to Etheral Armor’s bonus. Heliod, God of the Sun also gives you more reach against control opponents, and the typing of him and his Enchantment Cleric tokens also add to Etheral Armor’s bonus.

Pithing Needle

Pithing Needle

I originally had 2 Pithing Needle in this deck, but the combo of Jace, Architect of Thought, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion has been too much for me lately. You also have to take into account that the needles will be the target of Detention Sphere’s, so it’s not a sure bet. Upping the count to three also helps against GR strategies playing Domri Rade, Xenaganos, the Reveler, and Garruk, Caller of Beasts (not to mention stopping monstrous from Polukranos, World Eater). Fade into Antiquity is extra insurance against Gods and other troublesome enchantments (especially in a mirror match), Pacifism is the perfect card against aggro and midrange decks sporting huge creatures because it adds to your Armor count and removes the most dangerous blocker, and Glare of Heresy is an alternative way to get rid of cards like Detention Sphere or Elspeth. The last card, Renounce the Guilds, is pretty much the ONLY way you will be able to get rid of a Blood Baron of Vizkopa. Without it, you lose the ability to attack freely and your defensive capabilities greatly suffer. 

But Wait, There’s more!

After brewing this deck last week, I got to thinking there might be more than one way to run an Auras deck. Being the overzealous person that I am, I worked for hours brewing 3 more decks to complete other “Dinosaur” decks based around auras. While I think GW is the best deck to go with because of Fleecemane Lion and Voice of Resurgence, the other decks aren’t too bad either. 

Borosauras

 

Boroauras
75 cards, 15 sideboard
Sacred Foundry
Mountain
Temple of Triumph
Plains


22 lands

Legion Loyalist
Ash Zealot
Anax and Cymede
Boros Reckoner
Phalanx Leader
Fiendslayer Paladin
Soldier of the Pantheon


23 creatures

Gods Willing
Ethereal Armor
Madcap Skills
Boros Charm
Spear of Heliod


15 other spells

Sideboard
Wear // Tear
Skull Crack
Chained to the Rocks
Glare of Heresy
Renounce the Guilds
Pithing Needle


15 sideboard cards

The RW deck is a little more aggressive, and uses combat tricks like Heroic to add damage to your attacks. You get Temple of Triumph to help with your draws, and Madcap Skills is an amazing supplement to Ethereal Armor. Boros Charm protects you from board wipes effectively, and also lets you push a lot of damage through on one creature, not to mention hitting your opponent for those last 4 points of damage after they stabilize their board. It’s sideboard is pretty damn good too. Chained to the Rocks takes out Desecration Demons, gods, or other huge creatures (plus adding to Etheral Armor’s bonus), Wear//Tear deals with Detention Spheres or Whip of Erebos, and Skull Crack is an absolute must against control decks playing Sphinx’s Revelation. 

Azoriusauras

 

Azoriusauras
75 cards, 15 sideboard
Island
Hallowed Fountain
Azorius Guildgate
Plains


22 lands

Lyev Skyknight
Judge’s Familiar
Precinct Captain
Fiendslayer Paladin
Soldier of the Pantheon


20 creatures

Azorius Charm
Detention Sphere
Aqueous Form
Rootborn Defenses
Ethereal Armor
Spear of Heliod


18 other spells

Sideboard
Brave the Elements
Azorius Charm
Swan Song
Rapid Hybridization
Glare of Heresy
Pithing Needle


15 sideboard cards

Aqueous Form

Aqueous Form

The Azorius build might have the least amount of creatures, but it has the best evasion. Lyev Skyknight gets the nod in the 3 spot thanks to 3 power and its detain ability, Judge’s Familiar makes it hard to play early removal, and Precinct Captain helps to put more creatures into play so that you’ll be able to continue to put pressure on an opponent. Aqueous Form can VERY quickly end the game against opponents without any form of removal if you put an Ethereal Armor on the same creature, and Detention Sphere main in an aggro deck is almost unheard of. However, it has good synergy with the deck and is very powerful against devotion and control decks. 

Azorius Charm acts as life gain if you need it, removes their ginormous attacking creature, or even draws you a card. It’s definitely never bad to have removal in the main board, but without trample in this deck, it will probably be used more as a defensive card. I also like the sideboard a lot in this deck. Brave the Elements would come in against removal heavy decks and protect everybody, a 4th Azorius Charm would come in against aggro to disrupt their strategy, Rapid Hybridization would remove unbeatable obstacles such as Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but what I like the most in this deck is Swan Song. I originally planned to have Dispel in the sideboard to deal with Sphinx’s Revelation, but with the number of gods in play, as well as nasty cards like Anger of the Gods or Mizzium Mortars, Swan Song just seemed like a better fit. I’m sure one of your flyers with an Ethereal Armor can deal with the 2/2 swan easily.

 

Orzhovsauras

 

Orzhovsauras
75 cards, 15 sideboard
Plains
Temple of Silence
Swamp
Godless Shrine


22 lands

Fiendslayer Paladin
Cartel Aristocrat
Precinct Captain
Lifebane Zombie
Soldier of the Pantheon
Tormented Hero


23 creatures

Spear of Heliod
Ethereal Armor
Orzhov Charm
Hero’s Downfall
Gift of Orzhova
Gift of Immortality


15 other spells

Sideboard
Thoughtseize
Illness in the Ranks
Sin Collector
Merciless Eviction
Xathrid Necromancer
Immortal Servitude


15 sideboard cards

I was really surprised that each color combination could work well. With Orzhov colors, you get a lot of powerful cards to work with. Lifebane Zombie gives you evasion against everybody except for black decks, Cartel Aristocrat will eat your soldier tokens happily from Precinct Captain and push damage through, and I think even Tormented Hero would work well in this deck. While not as powerful as Unflinching Courage, Gift of Orzhova pumps your creature and gives it flying. Put that on a Fiendslayer Paladin or Lifebane Zombie, and they become pretty damn scary. Also, did you ever notice Orzhov Charms 1st mode? Return target creature you control and all auras you control to owner’s hand. Hmmm, seems like the perfect card for this deck, plus it kills opponents creatures or returns one of your one drops to the battlefield. I would have liked to play more removal in this deck, but considering I’m trying to keep with the theme of auras, Hero’s Downfall is probably the best choice to have. Gift of Immortality gives you almost unlimited peeks at your opponent’s hand if you put it on a Lifebane Zombie, but it also works really well with Cartel Arisocrat. Sacrifice a creature with it on it to give the Aristocrat protection to deal damage with, then it comes back at the end step to do it again next turn. Not bad. 

I also think the sideboard is incredibly punishing against control decks. Thoughtseize and Sin Collector take care of a player’s win conditions, while Xatrhid Necromancer puts in TONS of zombie tokens after a board wipe thanks to the deck being human heavy. While Illness in the Ranks will hurt your soldier tokens a little, it will make Elspeth almost worthless. Being a cheap enchantment, it will also add to Ethereal Armor’s bonus. Merciless Eviction is for those horrible situations where gods are overrunning you or your opponent has 5 planeswalkers on the board, and I thought Immortal Servitude would be a good card to have against board wipes or decks heavy in removal. Not sure if I’d be better served with a Rootborn Defenses here, but bringing all your humans back to die again and make more zombies with the Necromancer seems like a good idea to me. 

A Good Start

As I said before, the GW deck is probably the best one at the moment, but if the enchantment theme of Theros holds true through the next 2 sets, these decks could add quite a few powerful cards to the mix and become top tier (well, maybe one or two of them). I wish I had the cards to put all of these decks together and to test them out, but due to my limited time I’ll be sticking with GW for the foreseeable future. If you would help me to play test these and collect some data on how they play against the metagame, I’d be extremely happy. I’ll eventually put another deck together to test, but until then, I hope you try one out and have fun! Thanks for reading. 

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