A custom brew brought you by Matt at LandSayGo. Enjoy!
So many cards fall between the cracks of Standard. Many of them are simply made for limited and were never intended to see the light of constructed. Cards like Grasping Thrull, Chillbringer, or Aeromunculus are good, but not great. Then we have others that have interesting effects but never quite find a home like Induced Amnesia. This week I tried to build a deck around a different type of card: one with a solid effect, but didn’t quite have the value of others in its slot. With Ranging Raptors, I hoped I could twist my deckbuilding a bit to give it a home in which it could really shine. Did it work? Let’s take a look.
The Star of the Show
Ranging Raptors is a creature that has the potential to pump out incredible amounts of value, but only under specific conditions. To make the most use of it, it needs to take damage repeatedly, but not enough to kill it on any one occurrence. This is at odds with the philosophy behind most damage spells in that they’re meant to kill the creature they target. Plus, if we’re using a card to target our Ranging Raptors with damage, isn’t it just more efficient to make that spell a ramp spell and remove the middleman? Four Ranging Raptors and four Shocks takes up eight slots in our deck. Why not just make it four Thunderherd Migration? So that leads us to look at another source of damage: incidental.
Incidental damage is incurred from any card that deals damage to all creatures, ideally less than three to allow our Ranging Raptors to live. The hard part is finding the right cards for this. Ixalan did show some support for this, with Raging Regisaur (damage on attack) and Raging Sworthtooth (damage on ETB), but both of those cards were otherwise unremarkable, especially for their casting cost. There are plenty of effects in Standard that deal a small amount of damage to each creature your opponents control, but not to all creatures. It wasn’t easy picking the cards to best go with Ranging Raptors, but from the decklist, you can see where I eventually ended up going with this.
With such a heavy emphasis on Ranging Raptors, it would’ve been foolish to exclude other Enrage dinos from this list. The first that came to mind and the best-fitting into our curve would be Ripjaw Raptor. This guy lets us draw whenever it takes damage, plus, in the current Standard, this guy is basically a wall at turn four. Only one other notable deck runs a creature that can out-do our Ripjaw on curve (Gatebreaker Ram), but to the rest, he’s difficult to attack past. Plus, the card draw trigger highly discourages damage-based removal. It feels amazing to case a Fiery Cannonade while we have both a Ranging and Ripjaw Raptor on the field.
Unfortunately, that was all the Enrage I could find room for in this deck. To stick to curve, I needed more solid two or three-drop dinos. You’d be hard-pressed to find a good dino at the two-drop slot, so grabbed a few Thrashing Brontodons to give us more turn three plays. It’s a good card all around, living through most burn, blocking well, and dealing with powerful enchantments like Wilderness Reclaimation and Guild Summit. We’re only running three because he’s there more to fill out the curve than anything else.
Next we get to the real meat of the deck and our first ramp payoff: Carnage Tyrant. He’s been popular for a while now, dodging most of what control tries to throw at him and really sticking it to other midrange creature-based decks like Sultai Krasis. The hexproof is nice in our deck, since we’re running some incidental damage, we don’t want our opponent taking the opportunity to finish our big ol’ 7/6 trampler off with a weaker burn spell. We’re happy to run four of him because getting to six mana is easy for us, plus he’s not legendary, so we can hit and cast multiple Tyrants off of a single Gishath hit.
Oh? What’s that? Gishath? Yup, he’s here too, and with so many dinos in our deck, we are looking to get 2-5 hits off any single Gishath damage trigger. Eight mana is quite a big ask, even for a deck with plenty of ramp, but we’ve got the tools to get it. Plus, this deck can have some problems with stalemates if our opponent clogs up the board with enough creatures, and Gishath is a great way to break those up. If the board is empty when we cast Gishath then God help our opponent.
Rounding out our creature collection are a few of the powerful legendaries. Zetalpa’s indestructibility makes him a resilient threat against board wipes like Kaya’s Wrath, which could really ruin our day after a solid Gishath attack. Plus, as a flier, he can get over creature walls or stall our mono-blue. Burning Sun’s Avatar gives us some instant value, likely destroying one of our opponent’s creatures and doing three to the face. Ghalta basically guarantees the game end next turn from the crazy amount of damage he represents. He’s also not that difficult to cast if we can get a creature or two to stick on the board. Zacama is crazy at nine mana, but we’re mostly just hoping to hit him off of Gishath or cast him very late game when either topdecking or looking for a way to end a stalemate.
Most of our arsenal is creature-based, but we’ve got a few things to back them up. First is Thunderherd Migration, a ramp spell we are pretty much always casting for two mana. Not much more to explain about it other than it gets us to our haymakers faster.
Commune with Dinosaurs is pretty important for our deck. It lets us fix our mana, find the right dinosaur for the situation, and gives us a turn one play. With a ramp deck like this, there’s always the possibility of drawing the wrong half of our deck, meaning we can draw all ramp and no payoffs or vice versa. Commune helps us avoid that.
Lastly, we have the eight cards I chose to support our dinos and trigger their Enrage. As this deck is built mainly around Ranging Raptors, it’s very important to devote at least some of the deck to this. The first card I chose, and the easier one to pick out, was Fiery Cannonade. Two damage to everything will help us catch up from the early turns we took off to Commune or ramp, plus it triggers both Ranging and Ripjaw without killing them. Pretty useful, huh? But, even better than Fiery Cannonade, I think, is the next card: Justice Strike.
It’s so versatile in this deck. Most of the time, it’s an efficient kill spell that’ll get rid of just about anything. Against control or other creature-light matchups, it’s a cantrip or a ramp spell once we have a Raptor out, since both of them have more toughness than power! It’s perfect! I was really glad I was able to find a card like this.
Manabase is a little tricky for us for a few reasons. One, since we have Thunderherd Migration, Ranging Raptors, and Commune with Dinosaurs in our deck, we’ve got a good amount of fixing, so our color requirements are a bit more flexible. Two, green is our primary color and gives us access to all that fixing, so we need to make sure we have green. Third, Ranging Raptors and Thunderherd Migration require basic lands to be useful, so we need to have some number of those, but running a three-color deck typically leads us to wanting fewer basics are more duals. What I ended up with I think worked out pretty well, with six basics and the rest duals, giving us 16 sources of green, 14 sources of red, and 10 sources of white.
To deal with more aggressive matchups, we’ve got three copies of Deafening Clairon and two copies of Deathgorge Scavenger. The Clarion does kill our Ranging Raptors, but giving a Ripjaw or Carnage Tyrant lifelink can really flip the game in our favor. The Scavengers make a decent blocker while providing lifegain, plus they can get rid of a Risk Factor.
Against combo decks, we have Cindervines, which will whittle them down as they find combo pieces and may outright kill them if they try to go off.
For control, we’re running a lot of anti-wrath stuff like Unbreakable Formation and Zetalpa, as well as Rhythm of the Wild to keep our creatures from getting countered. The two Banefire give us some reach there as well.
Overall, the deck did fine. I think I ended up somewhere around a forty-percent winrate, playing against mostly aggro (red/boros/orzhov) with a mono-blue and a esper control match in there as well. Mono-blue absolutely crushed me as I expected. Fiery Cannonade is awful against them since Trickster and Stormtamer are both pirates and Tempest Djinn has four toughness. With Justice Strike being my only other interaction, the few copies of Dive Down plus Wizard’s Retort is plenty to deal with me.
The aggro matches went much better, since they generally relied on combat and burn to win and those are exactly what my dinos want. Ranging Raptors, even if he didn’t get to block, always grabbed me a land. Ripjaw was much more difficult to get past with five toughness, often drawing me two cards before dying. If I ever hit with Gishath, the game was over right there, as I usually hit a Carnage Tyrant or another Ripjaw off the trigger. Plus, using both modes of Deafening Clarion out of the sideboard was devastating. Of course, there were games were my deck stumbled, drawing too much ramp or not enough and leaving me dead before I could stabilize.
The esper control match was entirely dependent on Kaya’s Wrath. If they found one or two copies, they won. If they didn’t, I won. However, this deck isn’t necessarily fast, since it wants to spend the first few turns digging and ramping. This gave the control player an edge, as they had more time to find the right counterspells or wraths.
The philosophy I had with this deck was to play more controlling in the early turns, then hit the opponent with powerful plays turn four and beyond. Generally, if you’re looking at an aggro strategy, you’re going to have a lot more one and two drops to establish a presence and start chipping away at your opponent’s life total. Here, though, with four copies of Cannonade and three copies of Clarion in the side, if I tried playing creatures early, they’d like get swept up by these cards and really diminish the value I’d be getting off of my Raptors. Plus, with all the huge dinos at the top of the curve, this deck isn’t really looking to end a game fast.
Therefore, if I was to make changes to this deck, I’d probably switch to a more curve-focused aggro deck. Drop off some of the high-end creatures like Gishath and Zacama, bring in cheaper creatures like Llanowar Elves and Drover of the Mighty, and keep the curve smooth with a five-drop like Regisaur Alpha.
This does turn the deck into a more traditional dino deck like you’ve probably seen around before. Nothing all that exciting. I did, however, have a thought about the Path of Mettle card, which deals one to all creatures and could couple well with Ranging Raptors in a much more aggro deck that doesn’t focus on dinosaurs. There are options out there, I just didn’t have the time to test them all.
The problem with building dinos and Ranging Raptors is that I felt like Raptors was the weakest card in the deck. It’s not a bad card, but it’s just not the right power level or at the right spot in the curve. I do think there’s some good decks out there that can make good use of Ranging Raptors. I don’t think they’ll ever be at peak power level, but they can offer some fun games and powerful turn sequences. That’s all I’ve got for this week. Go out there and tear ‘em up!