By Joseph A. Graves • October 25, 2017
Hello, again, my fellow planeswalkers! I'm back for more EDH/Commander shenanigans! This time, I'll be exploring Ixalan's saurian heroes and see if we can effectively build a Dinosaur tribal deck for Commander.
SINKING OUR TEETH INTO IT
I'm a sucker for one thing in Magic more so than any other: Tribal decks. I'm also a sucker for one thing more so than any other in my non-Magic life: Dinosaurs. So, it would come as no surprise that I was praying to the Three-Fold Sun as soon as Ixalan was announced that there would be a Dinosaur legendary and enough dinosaurs to field an EDH deck.
Once the set was spoiled, I was determined to make a themed tribal deck work. It was exciting to see that there was indeed a Legendary Dinosaur. This was going to work… It had to work.
But, with every legendary creature, you have to start with the pros and cons of using it as a commander. Did Gishath fit the bill as a - at minimum - serviceable commander? ...At the very least for casual play? Was the Dinosaur creature type worth building around. These are important questions. So, let's dive in, shall we?
A LOOK AT THE TRIBE - DINOSAUR EDITION
Let's start with Dinosaurs as a tribe.
First question: How many creatures carry the creature type? In Ixalan, there are a total of 38 creatures that are Dinosaurs. If you add the 14 cards that were added to the creature type through errata, We have a total of 52 cards that carry the creature type.
Second Question: How many cards are there that support the tribe (not counting cards that you can use to support any creature type you wish to field)? Well, the only dinosaur support cards are in Ixalan, as this is the only set thus far that has any theme for Dinosaurs. There are a total of 10 cards that support the creature type, doing everything from adding mana, providing removal, to getting bonuses from you having Dinosaurs.
Final Question: How many of these cards would actually have an important role in a Commander deck? This is a loaded question, but we will narrow it down as to whether or not each creature has some type of ability/usefulness that affects the board in some appreciable way when it is out.
Bellowing Aegisaur (Boosts other creatures - not just dinosaurs - whenever it takes damage)
Burning Sun's Avatar (Acts as a form of removal/burn)
Carnage Tyrant (This card is just amazing)
Charging Monstrosaur (A Pure Beatstick)
Colossal Dreadmaw (Another beatstick)
Goring Ceratops (Gives your Dinosaur army double strike)
Kinjalli's Sunwing (Weak form of control that can help slow opponent/clear path for attackers)
Raging Swordtooth (Beater that can trigger Enrage and act as a token sweeper)
Rampaging Ferocidon (A good card against token and life gain strategies)
Ranging Raptors (A smaller dino that can potentially get you some lands)
Raptor Hatchling (Potential token generator)
Ravenous Daggertooth (small, but can potentially gain you life)
Regisaur Alpha (Haste enabler for army and token maker… A must have)
Ripjaw Raptor (Potential card draw engine)
Sky Terror (Small Creature that is flying and hard to block)
Snapping Sailback (A flash creature that can block in a pinch and can grow bigger over time)
Spike-Tailed Ceratops (Another good blocker against smaller creatures)
Steadfast Armasaur (A Dinosaur with potential to act as weak removal)
Sun-Blessed Mount (Can fetch you a relevant support card for the tribe)
Sun Crowned Hunters (Enrage trigger that can give you some reach)
Territorial Hammerskull (Can lock down an opponent's blocker)
Thrash of Raptors (Another cheaper beatstick)
Thundering Spineback (Dinosaur tribal “lord” and token maker… Another must have)
Verdant Sun's Avatar (A life gain generator)
Wakening Sun's Avatar (A one-sided board-wipe in a Dinosaur tribal deck)
The rest of the dinosaurs are either vanilla or, in the case of all the errata'd Dinosaurs, have irrelevant abilities. The cards listed above are the actual Dinosaurs we will want to build around.
Effective/Relevant Support Cards:
Commune with Dinosaurs (A card that can help filter the top of your deck)
Drover of the Mighty (A mana dork that gets a buff from Dinosaurs)
Huatli, Dinosaur Knight (A Dino-centric planeswalker… a must have)
Huatli, Warrior Poet (Different version, same result… must have)
Kinjalli's Caller (Makes your Dinosaurs cost less to cast)
Otepec Huntmaster (Makes your Dinosaurs cost less to cast and acts as haste enabler)
Priest of the Wakening Sun (Life gain and Dinosaur tutor)
Savage Stomp (Dinosaur -centric removal)
Again, the other support cards are either too weak or are just non-Dinosaur creatures taking away from the available creature slots in your deck for Dinosaurs. Let's stick to these for our core. Now we can move on to the most important pick for our deck...
Our Commander: Gishath, Sun's Avatar
So, what are the pros and cons of our commander?
Pro: Gishath Is A Dinosaur
This is important. Being a Dinosaur himself means that he benefits from all tribal support cards and lends himself to aiding any cards that call for that creature type as a requirement. Having a commander for your tribal deck that is a member of that tribe him/her/itself is huge.
Pro: Gishath Has Impactful Size and Keyword Abilities
Gishath is one heck of a beatstick. It is large, being a 7/6, and is a threat to win with Commander damage. It also has three of the more powerful keyword abilities for a large creature: Vigilance, Trample, and Haste. It is going to be able to attack the turn it comes into play and still be able to block on your opponent's next turn. Plus, it is nigh guaranteed to get damage through in most situations due to that Trample it wears… which is relevant to its “tribal” ability.
Pro: Gishath Fetches You More Dinosaurs for “Free”
If you land damage on the opponent, Gishath has the potential to flood the board with even more members of the Dinosaur tribe. If you have enough Dinosaurs in your deck, Gishath is a huge issue for all of your opponents. Your army can get out of hand quickly if not dealt with.
Con: Gishath is Very, Very Restrictive… and Conflicting
Gishath almost entirely requires you to use a lot of dinosaurs in your deck to be effective. Yes, it is a beatstick. You could just “Voltron” your way to victory with it. But, there are far better commanders for that strategy (see: Zurgo Helmsmasher). Using Gishath to its full effectiveness means that you want a lot of dinosaurs in your deck just so you can reliably land more Dinos with its main ability. Plus, that same ability wants you to be able to pump and buff Gishath as much as possible. It creates an odd dichotomy. You want to be able to buff it to deal more damage and get more dinosaurs in play, but the more buffs you put in the deck, the less likely you are to reveal dinosaurs to put into play. And if you are buffing it a lot anyway, why not just go for the win with Commander damage. I'm sure you could see this duality as an upside... you could win either way… But, it is a burden on deck construction and requires either a precarious balance, or a heavy lean to one strategy or the other.
PIECING IT ALL TOGETHER
So, how do we process all of that information and start building our deck? First, we need to build around that core set of cards we set aside as the most meaningful for our tribal deck. Let's look at what we have so far.
As you can see, we have 29 creatures, with 26 of them being actual Dinosaurs. It's obvious we need more dinosaurs if we are going to effectively use Gishath's ability to gain an impressive board state. It is important that we get as close to 33 total Dinosaurs as we can. Why 33? Because 33 is a third of our 99 maindeck cards. Gishath is a 7-power creature. If it is able to land the full seven damage on an opponent, that means that it will, on average, reveal 2 Dinosaurs to put into play if we have 33 Dinos in our deck.. That's really the absolute minimum we want, otherwise we are gaining very little… especially with the low creature count and viability for this (essentially) new tribe.
So, we are going to need to re-evaluate some of those Dinosaurs we left out of our initial list as well as determine if the ones we already have are effective as a team.
First, how effective is our current list of Dinosaurs? Fairly cohesive with a glaring exception. Verdant Sun's Avatar and Rampaging Ferocidon work against each other. One gains you life and the other prevents you from gaining it. Which is better? That's extremely subjective in this case. If you are in a playgroup that sees a lot of decks with life gain and/or token strategies, the Ferocidon is the way to go. Otherwise, though, I would go with the Avatar. The potential to gain lots of life as you are flooding the board with relatively large creatures is a very powerful effect and can give you leeway to keep attacking all out while your opponents hardly make a dent in your ever replenishing life total. Plus, you can start to feel the pain from your own Ferocidon if you start flipping a lot of Dinosaurs with Gishath. Unfortunately, either way, this results in us having one less dinosaur to work with.
Now we know we need at least 7 more Dinosaurs to reach that threshold of 33. What other cards could we add back into the mix?
Belligerent Brontodon is a definite no as it makes a lot of your dinosaurs, including Gishath, deal less damage. Ancient Brontodon on the other hand is a large body. Yes, it is a vanilla creature, but he fits the dinosaur strategy of getting large beaters into play. We'll add it back.
Bonded Horncrest has a potentially significant downside, but with as many creatures as we want in the deck, it hopefully won't be a glaring issue. It's in. Frenzied Raptor is a smaller creature, but has decent power. It's in as well.
Grazing Whiptail is a good blocker for our mostly ground-based tribe due to it having Reach. Back In. Huatli's Snubhorn is simply too small a tribal member to be effective enough. It remains on the outside looking in.
Imperial Aerosaur is a decent flier itself and can make one of your plodding monstrosities a large flier as well. In. Looming Altisaur is essentially a wall. It would be better with that Belligerent Brontodon, but we'll give it the benefit of the doubt for now.
How about the errata'd Dinosaurs? Most of them just aren't going to work. The two that stand out are Deathmist Raptor and Imperiosaur. The Raptor would simply be a 3/3 deathtouch since we have no tie to the morph mechanic. The Imperiosaur is a nice 5/5 for only 4 mana, but he can only be cast using mana from basic lands. That's a HUGE downside in a three-color deck. Let's wait on adding either of these guys in.
But, there is one errata'd card that is super-secret tech: Frenetic Raptor. Why is it special. It has a “downside” that isn't really a downside for our deck and can actually be an upside: “Beasts can't block.” Considering he would be the only creature with type “Beast” in our deck, he would essentially be a 6/6 that can't block with the added bonus of making any opponent's creatures that are Beasts unable to block your creatures. A very situational advantage, yes, but with Green being the most likely color to want to get into a creature battle with you and beasts being the one of the larger creature types in the color, it potentially makes your greatest combat threat less threatening. Not a bad deal. He's gets added to our list!
With the dinosaurs we are adding again, we are up to 33 total Dinosaur creature cards. With the options we have at hand and the need for relevant support, we'll view this number as acceptable… for now.
Let's move on to support cards.
We had 9 support cards to fit the tribe. We need to fill out more support slots. Now is when we can start looking outside the tribe to fit the deck mechanically. We'll want to find cards that fit multiple strategies.
Evasion/Beatdown and Board Presence
We want as many ways to punch through the enemy's defenses as we can fit in without compromising our creature count. Evasion and pumps should be a primary inclusion. Dinosaur Stampede is already in our deck for both flavor and combat reasons, so let's look for similar cards. Also of concern is the permanence of our buffs and evasion. Too many of those one off stampede effects is a bad move. So, what are some of our options?
One card I have in a couple of my Commander decks that is a surprising budget option for evasion is Gruul War Chant It gives a slight buff to your attackers while also making them harder to block. I feel this is high on the list for inclusion, especially if you have budgetary constraints.
Another card with high potential is Xenagos, God of Revels. He is a haste enabler and can double the damage one of your creatures can deal each turn. This is a perfect pairing with Gishath.
The key is to search for more of these effects, and this search brings me to the next category…
Planeswalkers can be powerful in Commander and several of them fit what we are trying to do very well. We have already mentioned Huatli, Warrior Poet and Huatli, Dinosaur Knight, so let's move on to others.
Garruk Wildspeaker is a great option here, as he can act as either ramp or a pump/evasion source. Plus, he can throw a token out if you really need a creature. Yes, it's not a Dinosaur. It can still be useful.
Domri Rade can act as pseudo-card draw and provides us with a means of removal with his second ability acting as a repeatable “fight” mechanic. If you are able to use his ultimate, your opponents are going to be in Dinosaur-sized trouble.
An inclusion I would suggest that may surprise you is Samut, the Tested. She may seem underwhelming, but she is value in this deck. Her first ability gives you a very relevant buff to a dinosaur each turn. Her second ability is deceivingly good. It seems to be nigh useless in the context of the big creatures present in the format, but we're not here to use it as removal. Where this ability shines is the fact that it can act as a way to trigger the Enrage ability of some of your Dinosaurs. Being able to trigger the abilities of two cards like Ripjaw Raptor or Ranging Raptors in a single turn can be powerful. Plus, her ultimate can be timely and powerful in this deck considering the number of creatures and the number of potential planeswalkers.
Mana Fixing and Ramp
In a three-color deck with lots of high costed creatures and spells, it is important to have a sufficient mana fixing and ramp package. We already have support cards that help us ramp into dinosaurs. What can we use to really make this deck consistent?
Low-costing, mana-producing artifacts are a must in my opinion. Sol Ring is auto-include in any Commander deck, but we need colored mana fixing/ ramp if we want consistency. I suggest cards like Selesnya Signet and Gruul Signet along with Talisman of Unity and Talisman of Impulse. They are cheap and can help you get into your more heavy ramp spells early.
More small creatures that help us ramp can be beneficial, too. Zhur-Taa Druid is a nice mana dork that can plink away at our opponents' life totals while adding mana. Drumhunter can help ramp and potentially draw us some cards for our troubles. You can throw in others if you like.
What are some of the higher-end ramp spells we want to reach? I feel Mirari's Wake is a definite include here. It acts as a buff and doubles our mana output. Verdant Confluence is another good option, as it can pull three more basic lands from our deck to help with ramp and color-fixing, while also giving us two other relevant options for our deck. And why not throw in New Horizons for more Ixalan Dinosaur flavor? Oh, let's not forget the potential addition of Growing Rites of Itlimoc. It can flip into Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun - a ”poor man's” Gaea's Cradle.
With this deck being in Naya colors and a mostly creature-heavy deck, most of our removal options are going to be limited. We have two Planeswalkers picked out that give removal in the form of the fight mechanic and we have Savage Stomp listed in the support cards. Red's burn and White's exiling are our best options for spot removal beyond the fight mechanic. Mass removal is tricky for this deck. We run the risk of hurting ourselves more than our opponent if we are not careful. That's why the only mass removal I'm running here is Star of Extinction, because if we are going to wipe out our dinosaurs too, it might as well be in flavor.
Every Commander deck needs at least some amount of card draw. It's a difficult inclusion in a creature heavy deck that isn't running ETB's, but its an obstacle that must be overcome. Ripjaw Raptor isn't a reliable card draw engine, but throwing in a card like Elemental Bond can be very useful. The cycling lands like Tranquil Thicket can help you dig further into your deck if you draw them later in the game and already have your mana sorted out.
If you noticed, there is a small sub-theme of tokens and +1/+1 counters with our tribe. Huatli, Warrior Poet and Regisaur Alpha add Dinosaur tokens to our army, while cards like Huatli, Dinosaur Knight, Savage Stomp, and Bellowing Aegisaur add +1/+1 counters to our Dinos. Why not add more to this theme? The aforementioned Verdant Confluence can add the buffing counters if need be, as does New Horizons. Llanowar Reborn is a land option that can give us counters. Another good source of counters would be Increasing Savagery, which can be used to dramatically increase the size of one of our creatures.
Doubling Season is another auto-include to flesh out this theme. Not only does it double your creature tokens and +1/+1 counters, but it also doubles the number of loyalty counters your planeswalkers enter the battlefield with! That enables several of your Planeswalkers to enter the battlefield with enough loyalty to use their powerful ultimates the turn they come into play! With us having several Planewalkers in our deck, this is a potentially overwhelming effect on the game.
You will instantly win any and all Commander games with pure flavor if you start a game with Triassic Egg in your deck. It has been decreed by the voice of the Sun's Avatar!
IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!!!
So, with all of these potential inclusions, what could our potential spell count look like?
I kept the non-land count to 61 in order to facilitate the use of 38 lands. This is a decent base to start with, as it accentuates the tribes desire to grind it out on the ground. This list should give you some consistent board presence and offer a means to remove pesky blockers with our fight mechanics.
Now we just need to iron out our mana base.
We have a three-color deck. It's obvious that with the more colors you add it then becomes more difficult to get a consistent mana base. But, three colors shouldn't be too hard to deal with, especially since we are dealing with an allied-color wedge. There are more allied color duals and mana combinations than there are enemy-colored combinations. Thus, our White-Green and Green-Red mana combinations will not be that hard to tackle. Our Red-White color combination need not have a significant presence, as we will want Green to be heavier in our deck for mana fixing concerns.
The biggest concerns are utility and tribal supporting lands. We don't want too many of them as a lot of those types of lands only tap for colorless mana. That's a hard downside to carry in a three-color deck. Still, we need them. What are some good options?
The Ixalan addition of Unclaimed Territory is a good option as it acts as color-fixing for our tribe. Ancient Ziggurat is a good option for our creature-heavy deck. A good - and thematic - utility land is Tectonic Edge for removing pesky non-basics, as is Field of Ruin.
Here's a list presenting a possible land count for our deck.
As you can see, this list has a decent balance in the color distribution while still leaning toward Green. Why Green? Well, Green is the most common color in the mana costs of our spells. It is also the best color for mana acceleration like Rampant Growth, Explosive Vegetation, and the like. While, I did not add them to my initial list, these are options you could use in place of the Signets or Talismans, though you only have so many basics because of the 3-color identity of the deck.
There are several cards that carry multiple basic land types and cards that search for those specific types, so you should have no problems getting the proper colors into play. Krosan Verge is especially good here, as it can get you two lands and be able to get you any color you need. You could put even more color fixing in your lands, but you will be spending a lot more money.
CALLING ALL CARDS!!! CALLING ALL CARDS!!!
Let's throw this all together for a complete decklist!
Ta-Da! We have our first brew for Gishath, Sun's Avatar in Commander!
This is an extremely casual list. Even as a casual deck, it can be considered sub-optimal. It goes for straight aggro and remaining true to a dinosaur theme. Thus, it forgoes powerful options for removal and support that you might see in more competitive decks.
What are some of our options for improving this list if you want the deck to be more than just a Dinosaur showcase? Let's discuss.
In the removal category, cards like Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares are definite and powerful options. You could always throw in Chaos Warp, but, with better creature and permanent removal in this color combination, you might be better off just going with the spot removal for creatures and including some good Enchantment and Artifact removal. Krosan Grip tops the list there, while Sundering Growth can also add to your potential token output.
Mana ramp options like the aforementioned Explosive Vegetation can be added alongside cards like Cultivate or Harrow. You could always add more fetches like Arid Mesa and some of the original dual lands like Savannah but you will be spending a LOT of money to do so. Cheaper options such as mana dorks like Skyshroud Elf can help your color-fixing.
There are a plethora of good options to add to the tribal theme of the deck. Ixalan's Vanquisher's Banner can buff your Dinosaurs while also adding some much needed card draw. Door of Destinies and Coat of Arms can dramatically increase the power of your army. Adaptive Automaton and Metallic Mimic can act as more “lords” for your army, with the latter adding to the +1/+1 counter theme. If you want another tribal land, Cavern of Souls is as powerful as you can have.
Another possible buff to your tribal needs can be gained by exploring the cards with the Changeling mechanic. These cards have ALL creature types. So, they count as a Human, Wolf, Kraken... and even - you guessed it - Dinosaur! Chameleon Colossus can help add to your theme of big beaters. Mirror Entity can act as a pseudo-Overrun effect at instant speed, enlarging all of your creatures to enormous proportions. Taurean Mauler starts off small, but can grow very fast in a multiplayer match. Crib Swap is removal you can search up with Priest of the Wakening Sun if need be. Even Mutavault can become a surprise Dinosaur for you.
A good idea would be to add search effects like Worldly Tutor or Eladamri's Call, which can fetch a crucial creature like Wakening Sun's Avatar. Congregation at Dawn can stack your deck for that next Gishath trigger!
If you don't mind dipping on the Dinosaur count, you can remove some of the Vanilla creatures we added and smaller creatures like the Raptor Hatchling or Priest of the Wakening Sun. This might open up your slots for more powerful cards.
...Besides, you have to make room for that Triassic Egg somehow. Right?
There are many, many paths to take this deck. Whether you are making it even more Dinosaur-themed by adding cards like Triassic Egg or more competitive with cards like Mana Crypt, don't forget to do some searching here at MTGAssist! You'll be surprised by just how many cards there are that can really add something to this deck!
END OF THE AGE
I hope you liked this delve into trying to construct a tribal deck for Dinosaurs. It was fun to outline a process for trying to fill out what is thus far a very small tribe. Hopefully we get more powerful options when Explorers of Ixalan debuts! Dinosaurs may be few so far, but they are definitely not extinct!
Until next time, my friends! As always, remember and respect who you are as a player and who others are as well.
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