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Week One: Dragons of Tarkir By the Numbers

This past weekend hearkened the release of Dragons of Tarkir on the Standard format with a slew of StarCityGames events. The most prestigious of these was the quarterly Invitational, which was originally going to be the focus of this article. Unfortunately, gleaning much information from this invitational in specific was difficult. Not only was it two held a mere two weeks before the Pro Tour, which means the handful of pros that were in attendance likely didn't bring their "A" deck, but the combination of a split format (8 rounds Legacy, 8 rounds Standard) and the fact that we only got 16 Standard decklists makes discussing the impact DTK had on the format tricky, if not downright foolish.

Probably the biggest news from the Invitational is that two pros (Reid Duke and Jacob Wilson) met in the finals with decks more or less unscathed by Dragons of Tarkir. Wilson ran two Sidisi, Undead Vizier in his Abzan Control list, along with a Virulent Plague in the board. Duke was on the two Sidisi, Undead Vizier plan in his Sultai Reanimator deck as well, along with a singleton copy of Dragonlord Silumgar. Michael Braverman ran the table in the Standard swiss rounds, putting up a perfect 8-0 record with his Mono-Red Aggro list that featured the full four copies of Zurgo Bellstriker and only one Goblin Rabblemaster. Braverman met his match in the first round of the top eight where he was defeated by a G/W Devotion list running four Deathmist Raptors. 

So, while the impact that Dragons of Tarkir had on the Invitational can be summed up neatly in a paragraph, thankfully SCG also ran a Standard open, which not only managed to draw 555 players (despite the Invitational siphoning off a few of the most well known), but also published the top 64 deck lists, which actually gives us some data to work with. The bad news is they didn't release a day one or day to metagame breakdown, so it's pretty difficult to accurately compare one deck to another (I mean, 15 Abzan lists in the top 64 sounds like a lot, but if 400 players were on Abzan it's not that impressive).

Of course, analyzing week one data comes with two big "buts." First, as I mentioned before, the Invitational siphoned off some players, while the upcoming Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir may have kept others away (or at least prevented them from playing their best decks). There is no way of knowing how big of an impact this had, but it's worth being aware of at the very least. Second, card availability can be a real issue for a tournament that starts 24 hours after a set is officially released. As a result, I would suspect a few players jammed decks with no Dragons of Tarkir cards, not necessarily because they wanted to, but because they didn't have their Narset Transcendents or Dragonlord Ojutais quite yet. 

Finally, all of this is preliminary. Like always, it will be the Pro Tour in two weekends that will set the metagame going forward. At the same time, gone are the days when you could wait until Friday morning, listen to the rumblings from the floor, and buy the cards the pros are playing to take advantage of the PT spikes. So if you think Collected Company is going to break the format and make the Top 8 at #PTDTK, you want to be buying it this week, or the beginning of next. This way, you not only miss all the frantic clicking and buyouts that come along with Pro Tour weekends, but since your order will already be in the mail by the time the craziness begins, you'll actually get your cards rather than seeing your last-minute orders canceled. Anyway, onto the decks.

G/R Monsters

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G/R Monsters

Top 8 Top 17- 32 Top 33-64 Total
2 0 4 6

Most Played DTK Cards Maindeck

Card Number Average in Deck
Thunderbreak Regent 24 4
Surrak, the Hunt Caller 12 2
Draconic Roar 11 1.83
Roast 8 1.33

I'm not sure if this deck should be called G/R Monsers or G/R Aggro. The difference between the two decks is similar to the differences between Abzan Aggro and Abzan Control — only a handful of cards. What I do know is that Thunderbreak Regent is one of the big winners of week one. All six of these decks ran the full four copies of the new dragon, and some even ran a singleton Haven of the Spirit Dragon for the "return a dragon" synergy. Although the future of Thunderbreak Regent is clouded by its inclusion in the DTK event deck, it gained a couple more dollars over the weekend and is the most expensive rare in the set for the time being. Despite all of this, I'm not convinced buying in now is a great plan, even with the Pro Tour on the horizon. Most of the cards that spiked during the last two Pro Tours were rares in the $3-$5 range that jumped to $6-$12. Thunderbreak Regent is already hanging in this post-spike price range, and even forgetting the event deck for a minute, I'm not sure this is a Snapcaster Mage or [[Mutavault] — the type rare that can maintain $15 or $20 while in print. 

The inclusion of Surrak, the Hunt Caller over Shaman of the Great Hunt and especially Polukranos, World Eater came as a shock to me. I assumed this was more of a post-rotation replacement for the hydra rather than a card that is good enough to push it out of the format. Sure, devotion-based decks will still want Polukranos, World Eater, but is appears that Surrak, the Hunt Caller is real competition in the four-drop slot for more aggressive builds. I would tell you to sell your Polukranos, World Eaters if you're not using them, but since they have already dropped from $15 in November to $5 currently, I'm not sure it even matters that much any more. Buylists are already down to $2.50, so you will likely need to find a trade partner to get decent value at this point. The same goes for Surrak, the Hunt Caller, while it was attractive a week ago at $2, buying in now at $5 has much less appeal.

Jeskai (Aggro/Heroic/Tokens)

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Jeskai (Aggro/Heroic/Tokens)

Top 8 Top 9-32 Top 33-64 Total
3 3 7 13

Most Played DTK Cards Maindeck

Card Number Average in Deck
Anticipate 15 1.15
Thunderbreak Regent 8 0.62
Dragon Fodder 8 0.62
Center Soul 6 0.46

First off, the averages listed above are a little wacky because I lumped all the Jeskai builds together, so I should probably clarify a bit. There were two Jeskai Heroic decks in the top 64 (including one played by Joe Lossett who won the whole thing), and each played three copies of Center Soul in their main deck, while none of the other Jeskai builds played the card. Anticipate, on the other hand, showed up in all forms of Jeskai builds, but not in every deck. Of the decks that did run the card, it was generally a two- or three-of in the maindeck. Thunderbreak Regent was a four-of in two of the Jeskai Aggro lists, but considering there were seven T64 players playing the deck, it actually isn't that impressive and far from universally adopted. There were also four Jeskai Tokens decks; two of them featured four copies of Dragon Fodder and zero copies of Hordeling Outburst. The other two took the opposite path and played four Hordeling Outburst and no Dragon Fodders



Despite Shaheen's assertion, Narset Transcendent is, at least by the numbers, one of the biggest disappointments of the weekend. While it looked good on paper, it only managed to put five copies in the top 64. On paper, token focused Jeskai builds looked like her most natural homes, but only three decks played her and this was only as a one- or two-of. While it isn't surprising that people didn't figure out the best Narset Transcendent deck on week one, her lack of play is further confirmation that her price tag is unsustainable. While there could be short term spike back towards $50 with a huge Pro Tour performance, the mid-term trajectory on the new planeswalker is likely down into the $15 to $25 range. I don't have any copies at the moment, but if I did I would wait until the Pro Tour weekend and plan to sell them regardless of her performance at the event. If she hits the Top 8, you might be able to cash out for $45. If she misses, you shouldn't get too much less than you would today, considering that supply will still be low and Magic Online redemption is still a couple weeks away. 

Abzan (Aggro/Mid)

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Abzan Aggro/Mid

Top 8 Top 9-32 Top 33-64 Total
1 5 9 15

Most Played DTK Cards Maindeck

Card Number Average in Deck
Dromoka's Command 29 1.93
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit 5 0.33
Collected Company 3 0.2
Pitiless Horde 2 0.13

For Abzan of all flavors, it is basically Dromoka's Command and then everything else. Every single one of the fifteen Abzan builds in the top 64 played the card, and only one didn't have it in the maindeck. While utility cards aren't all that splashy, and it takes a lot more work for a two-for-one removal spell to spike than it does for a planeswalker, this card is clearly absurdly powerful. It allows you to play maindeck enchantment hate without having to do ye' olde embarrassment mulligan when you find an Erase in your opening seven against UB Control. Considering that most of Dromoka's Commands competition for highest value rare in the set are either horrible cards or found in intro packs or event decks, I wouldn't be surprised if one of the two-mana commands are the most valuable rares from DTK when Battle for Zendikar hits the shelves this fall. My only question is how much people will be willing to pay for what is basically a rare charm, but I get the feeling there is still room for Dromoka's Command to grow, even though it has doubled in price over the past couple of weeks. The set is low enough in value to give it room in the short-term, and over the long-term anything that sees a sniff of eternal play should be gold since supply should be comparatively low.

The rest of the cards don't really mean much financially. Two players tried a couple Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirits and two tried Collected Company. While the former doesn't excite me, especially in a deck like Abzan Aggro which already has mana problems from playing too many enter-the-battlefield tapped lands, there could be potential in Collected Company. A lot of people seem excited for the card in Modern, which is fine, but short of format breaking cards like Deathrite Shaman, seeing a bit of Modern play usually isn't enough to cause an in-print rare to maintain significant value in the short term. The card really needs to see at least some Standard play to fight the commands for the title of the most valuable rare in the set. This seems doubtful considering the math suggests you need 22 creatures with a CMC of three or less to make Collected Company work. This weekend suggested that at least some people are going to try to make it work, which is a good thing for the card's financial future. If you think this card is going to top 8 the Pro Tour, buy in now, but if you are looking at it as a long-term Modern play, I would wait a few months for the floor.

GW Devotion

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GW Devotion

Top 8 Top 9-32 Top 33-64 Total
1 1 3 5

Most Played DTK Cards Maindeck

Card Number Average
Deathmist Raptor 9 1.8
Dromoka's Command 7 1.4
Den Protector 4 0.8
Hidden Dragonslayer 1 0.2

Nothing super interesting or surprising here. People have been warming to Deathmist Raptor since Chapin and the Channel Fireball crew have been talking about its potential, but I'm still not convinced GW Devotion needs it. Is a recursive 3/3 really that exciting when you can just monstrous Polukranos, World Eater every turn thanks to Temur Sabertooth? It's probably a fine filler card, but overall I'm not sure that the dinosaur fixes a glaring problem with the deck. Maybe this is the chase mythic from the set and I'm just missing the boat, but unless you think it's the next Voice of Resurgence, I won't want to pay $15 per.

We've already talked about Dromoka's Command. Basically, if your deck includes lands that tap for green and white you are going to be playing it. However, the inclusion of Den Protector and Hidden Dragonslayer in a Mastery of the Unseen deck seems pretty sweet. When your plan is to manifest about a million cards from the top of your library, having a few that can flip for value is nice. Plus, with Dromoka's Command being the real deal, you can't expect that your Mastery of the Unseen will make it through the game uncontested. As such, unmorphing a Den Protector to return a recently destroyed Mastery of the Unseen does actually seem to solve a real problem for the deck. 

I wrote about the entire cycle of megamorphs last week, and I still think they are underrated except for the black one (which might be Garza's Assassin level bad). I'm not expecting these cards to be chase rares, but they are hanging just above bulk at the moment, and doubling up to the $3+ at some point in their 18 months in Standard isn't out of the question.

Mono-Red (and Green/Red) Aggro

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Mono-Red (and G/R) Aggro

Top 8 Top 9-32 Top 33-63 Total
1 5 2 8

Most Played DTK Cards Maindeck

Card Number Average Per Deck
Zurgo Bellstriker 19 2.38
Dragon Fodder 19 2.38
Atarka's Command 12 1.5
Lightning Berserker 5 0.6

The big question for red aggro pilots on week one was "should I splash green?" Out of the eight player who made the top 64, four decided yes and the other four decided no. The reason to splash green, apart from Destructive Revelry in the sideboard, is Atarka's Command. In fact, apart from a singleton Become Immense in one list, the instant was the only maindeck green card in any of these lists and every list that splashed green played it as a four-of. For now, I'm withholding my judgment about which build is better (although the average finish for the 'splash green' lists was 13.5 while the average finish for the mono-red lists was 32.5). I would expect at least a few pros to show up with red aggro at the Pro Tour, and whatever build is most popular in Brussels will likely be the default build heading forward. Either way, Atarka's Command is Modern playable, and there is a chance that it's more than just a Skullcrack with the key being the instant-speed land drop, but that's for greater minds than me to figure out.

Zurgo Bellstriker was represented in every single list, but pretty much no one played all four copies. The most popular number was two, although a handful of players ran three. I figured that three was the correct number based on the math. At four, you're going to have multiples in your opener some percentage of games, which is pretty much a mulligan from a deck that dosen't mulligan very well to begin with. At two, you may or may not ever see one, and the odds are definitely not in favor of you having one in your opening seven. At three, you have an reasonable shot of playing your Zurgo Bellstriker on turn one, but you are also not too likely to draw multiples. This said, I wouldn't be caught dead playing mono-red, no matter how good or powerful it might be in a format, so I'm probably not the right person to determine how many Zurgo Bellstrikers are correct. 

On another note, not a single person played Dragon Whisperer. I figured the card would be good enough after rotation, but it isn't even getting a sniff at the moment. Maybe it will break out at the Pro Tour, or maybe Mono-Red Devotion can be a thing again before Theros leaves the format; but for week one, the result aren't good. At this point I'm holding, at least until after the Pro Tour.

Other Decks

Deck Number in Top 64 DTK Cards of Note
Ascendency Combo 2 1 Den Protector
G/W Aggro 2 8 Avatar of the Resolute,  4 Den protector, 4 Deathmist Raptor
Mono-U Devotion 1 2 Icefall Regent, 4 Shorecrasher Elemental, 4 Silumgar's Sorcerer
Naya Mid 1 4 Dragonlord Atarka, 2 Dragonlord Dromoka,  4 Explosive Vegetation
U/B Control 3 11 Anticipate, 1 Silumgar's Command, 1 [[Dragonlord's Prerogative
Mardu Mid 2 2 Kolaghan's Command, 2 Roast
Sidisi Whip 1 2 Sidisi, Undead Vizier
W/U Heroic 1  
Mono-G Devotion 1  
G/R Devotion 3 6 Dragonlord Atarka, 1 Haven of the Spirit Dragon


Based on its universal adoption as a two-of in G/R Devotion and the crazy, crazy Naya Midrange deck I'm going to highlight momentarily, Dragonlord Atarka pushed past Dragonlord Ojutai (who got a lot more hype over the weekend) as the most played Elder Dragon of week one. Whether or not this continues remains to be seen — the pros seem to be very high on the UW Dragon — but given the choice between buying Dragonlord Atarka at $7 or Dragonlord Ojutai at $15, I'm taking the GR dragon every time. The other exciting revelation from the "other decks" category is Green/White aggro, which managed to jam more DTK cards than just about any other deck at the event. I have no idea if either of these decks are good, but they are interesting enough that I want to highlight the lists, along with a U/R Dragons list that killed the Standard portion of the SCG Invitational, but just missed Top 8 due to Jeff Hooglan (who was apparently playing Brainstorm for the first time in his life) making some misplays in the Legacy portion of the event. 

Putting it All Together

As always, we'll wrap up our Week One: By the Numbers article with a complete list of Dragons of Tarkir cards that saw play in the Standard Open this weekend. Since we are dealing with 64 deck lists, if a card was played as a four-of in every single deck at the tournament, this would amount to 256 copies. While none of our Dragons of Tarkir cards come close, this does provide a sort of baseline. Also, if you are interested in comparing Dragons of Tarkir to Fate Reforged, you can jump over an read my Week One: Fate Reforged by the Number article from a couple months ago.

Most Played DTK Cards Maindeck

Card Copies From All Decks
Dromoka's Command 46
Thunderbreak Regent 32
Dragon Fodder 27
Anticipate 26
Surrak, the Hunt Caller 23
Zurgo Bellstriker 19
Deathmist Raptor 17
Atarka's Command 16
Draconic Roar 13
Roast 12
Dragonlord Atarka 10
Den Protector 9
Secure the Wastes 7
Center Soul 6
Haven of the Spirit Dragon 6
Narset Transcendent 5
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit 5
Lightning Berserker 5
Avatar of the Resolute 4
Shorecrasher Elemental 4
Silumgar's Sorcerer 4
Explosive Vegetation 4
Collected Company 3
Pitiless Horde 2
Twin Bolt 2
Icefall Regent 2
Sidisi, Undead Vizier 2
Kolaghan's Command 2
Hidden Dragonslayer 1
Dragonlord Ojutai 1
Dragonlord's Prerogative 1
Silumgar's Command 1

Basically, Dromoka's Command was — by far — the most played DTK card at the Open this weekend, with a handful of usual suspects coming in behind. The bigger news is what didn't see much play. Who would have guess that Dragonlord's Prerogative would see just as much maindeck play as Dragonlord Ojutai? Or that Sidisi, Undead Vizier, which was being bought in droves by financiers as recently as last night, would tie with Pitiless Horde as far as level of play on week one? Not me, that's for sure.

To me, these number just confirm that this set isn't geared for constructed play. When Fate Reforged released, I was raving about the number of low-CMC, tournament focused mythics and rares and that was backed up by having 273 cards show up in the top 64 on its release weekend.  By the raw numbers, Dragons of Tarkir managed to put more cards in the top 64 with 315, but if you take into account set size, Dragons of Tarkir saw 24 percent less play than Fate Reforged on release weekend.

Most Played DTK Cards in Sideboards

Card Copies From All Decks
Roast 42
Surge of Righteousness 12
Dromoka's Command 11
Self-Inflicted Wound 8
Display of Dominance 8
Virulent Wound 6
Secure the Wastes 5
Dragonlord Ojutai 5
Seismic Rupture 5
Magmatic Chamber 5
Twin Bolt 4
Dragonlord Dromoka 4
Ojutai Exemplar 3
Encase in Ice 3
Draconic Roar 2
Rending Volley 2
Surrak, the Hunt Caller 2
Ainok Survivalist 2
Dragon Fodder 2
Ire Shaman 2
Profainer of the Dead 2
Stratus Dancer 2
Atarka's Command 1
Collected Company 1
Haven of the Spirit Dragon 1
Profound Journey 1
Dragonlord Silumgar 1
Radiant Purge 1


Anyway, that's all for today. What do you make of this data? Which Dragons of Tarkir cards saw more play than you expected? Which saw less? Does this tournament have any impact on what cards (if any) you are buying in preparation of the upcoming Pro Tour? As always, leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments, or you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive. 

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