So far, we’ve examined two synergistic archetypes in Merfolk and Pirates. Today, we’re going to shift gears and look into Dinosaurs, an archetype that relies less on synergy and more on stomping! Let’s start by looking at the Jurassic gold uncommons!
Raging Swordtooth is a powerful 5-drop, capable of swinging through a variety of board states and also clearing the board of small creatures. RG has access to both early aggressive threats and powerful late-game threats, and so will have flexibility in how it can be constructed.
Belligerent Brontodon represents a generally more ramp-oriented strategy, focused on early plays to preserve your life total that also allow you to deploy larger threats quickly. This deck will sometimes have the capacity for aggression, but this will depend primarily on how many Territorial Hammerskull you can pick up!
Sky Terror represents the most aggressive version of the archetype. A 2/2 for 2 with menace and flying is an excellent aggressive threat, and RW has access to a lot of other early threats as well. This deck will prioritize cheap threats and combat tricks.
Let’s look closer at each of these color combinations!
RG has considerable versatility, with plenty of early- and late-game creatures available. Consequently, when you draft you will want to be aware of which version of the deck you’re moving into. There are some creatures that you’ll want to prioritize for any version of the deck; Drover of the Mighty, Tilonalli’s Knight, Charging Monstrosaur, Snapping Sailback, Thrash of Raptors, and Ranging Raptors. Each of these cards performs well in a dinosaur-based deck, and will be a strong base regardless of your deck’s composition. Cards like New Horizons, Otepec Huntmaster, Commune with Dinosaurs, and Thundering Spineback increase in value as you move into the more ramp-oriented version of the deck, providing ramp, card selection, and top end respectively. Otepec Huntmaster also fits into the more aggressive version of the deck, which will also want Dinosaur Stampede, Crash the Ramparts and Deeproot Warrior. In this deck, pushing through damage becomes more important, so you need a higher density of 2- and 3-drops, as well as spells that allow you to attack through otherwise stable board states.
This deck also has the capacity to splash other colors, thanks to New Horizons and Ranging Raptors, as well as the plethora of explore creatures in green. The aggressive version of the deck will likely want to avoid splashing, however the ramp deck can reasonably splash a third color to include a bomb you pick up in another color.
GW has been one of the most difficult archetypes to evaluate in this format. I haven’t played or played against many good versions of this deck, and I think there are a few rules to follow when moving into the archetype. First, when you’re focused on ramping, Commune with Dinosaurs is a crucial card to include because it can smooth out your early land drops, and can find your large threats in the late game. This is the best option available to mitigate the flooding that often occurs in the deck, and is a card I would play 2-3 of in the deck. Additionally, you should prioritize large, expensive threats to ensure that you have enough late game to take advantage of the ramp you include. Finally, early plays that gum up the board and preserve your life total are a must, since you will struggle to win the damage race if you take 10 damage before deploying your top end. Let’s look at specific cards to prioritize!
For early plays, you’ll rely on Drover of the Mighty, Ranging Raptors, Blossom Dryad, Ixalli’s Diviner, Kinjalli’s Caller, and Ravenous Daggertooth. These creatures provide ramp and protect your life total, and are really important to bring out early in the game. Additionally, Slash of Talons is an excellent card for the deck, as it can hold off an aggressive start by your opponent and potentially blow out combat tricks! For the mid game, you’ll want Atzocan Archer, Grazing Whiptail, and Steadfast Armasaur. These creatures make it very difficult for your opponent to attack, holding off flying creatures and preventing attacks from any creature with 3 toughness or less. Finally, your top end will rely on creatures like Thundering Spineback, Colossal Dreadmaw, Bellowing Aegisaur, and Shining Aerosaur. These all provide excellent late-game threats, and become even better when you can play them a turn or two earlier!
Green and white also have access to a number of excellent removal spells, but you’ll want to prioritize cheap removal that allows you to remove relevant threats and preserve your life total. Pious Interdiction and Pounce are well-placed in the deck, as the life gain is important and you have access to a lot of large creatures in GW.
I didn’t include Territorial Hammerskull here because I don’t think it’s optimized in most versions of this deck, however it is still a card that you’ll be happy to include in the deck!
Last but not least, we have the most aggressive and least flexible version of dinosaurs! This deck relies heavily on having a high density of 2- and 3-drops, and doesn’t really have access to the ramp strategy we saw in RG and GW. Creatures like Territorial Hammerskull, Nest Robber, Fathom Fleet Firebrand, Adanto Vanguard, Raptor Companion, and Tilonalli’s Knight all provide excellent early plays. This is the ideal home for Territorial Hammerskull, as you will have a high density of threats on the board to take advantage of its ability. Creatures like Charging Monstrosaur, Thrash of Raptors, and Imperial Aerosaur will always be included in the deck as well, and should still be taken early despite their higher mana cost. Storm Fleet Pyromancer is a creature I’ve found strong in any aggressive deck, though you can pick this up later than the other 4- and 5-drops discussed here.
For noncreature spells, you still have access to premium removal spells in red and white, but you’ll want to focus on inexpensive combat tricks and burn spells. Lightning Strike and Unfriendly Fire allow you to remove a crucial blocker or deal the last points of damage to your opponent. Swashbuckling, Sure Strike, and Vampire’s Zeal are great options that allow you to push through extra damage and attack through board states you otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and additionally let you attack without trading off your creatures.
When drafting this version of dinosaurs, make sure to prioritize 2-drops very highly; cards like Pious Interdiction are powerful, however if you don’t have enough early creatures, your deck will not be able to consistently deal damage in the early game.
What do you think, is Ixalan just the stomping ground for dinosaurs, or do other archetypes give them a run for their dinner? Comment below!