Magic: The Gathering’s current standard rotation has opened the door for some relatively cheap tier-1 decks. We previously covered Mono-Blue Tempo and how to obtain success through slapping Curious Obsession on a host of cheap, evasive creatures, and today, we’re going to see how a trio of uncommon drakes is pulling off upset wins against multi-hundred dollar mythic decks.
Izzet Drakes has been an upstart deck since Guilds of Ravnica after being backed by the recurring threat of Arclight Phoenix. Pushed out of the limelight by Black/Green Golgari Midrange for an entire season, Ravnica Allegiance’s additions to the deck have only made it stronger and have it lurking behind Mono-Blue Tempo and an overpowered Sultai deck as one of the most played decks in Standard.
It’s also the most fun!
Some might remember that when I’m not hammering it in with brutal Mono-Green decks, I have a fondness for Blue/Red Izzet “spells matter” decks. Prowess is awesome, Stormchaser Mage, Elusive Spellfist, and Monastery Swiftspear are some of my favorite Magic cards, and part of me wants to move on from my Red/Green Gruul foundations as a Magic player and just accept this newer, more diverse, more satisfying brand of Magic.
Sometimes, just jamming with creatures isn’t the answer. Izzet Drakes is the deck I’ve been wanting to make for quite some time, and now that it’s at the top of the Magic world, I’m pretty pleased. Not as pleased as I was when Steel Lead Stompy was running the show, but close enough.
At the head of this deck, we have three Drakes, all of which become stronger and more efficient as the game drags on.
Enigma Drake remains a favorite of mine ever since it first came out in Amonkhet, and I was beyond thrilled when Wizards decided to reprint it in Magic 2019. At its base, it’s a 0/4 flyer for three mana, which isn’t that bad. Hopefully, if you’ve drawn a decent hand with a turn-1 and turn-2 spell to cast, it will be a 2/4 or a 3/4 flyer when it comes down on turn-3, which will should be a presence on any battlefield in Magic.
As the game drags on, it only becomes stronger with the more cards you cast. Direct damage, bounce, counters, card draw, everything that helps gives you an advantage in the game doubles in value as it acts as a means of increasing Enigma Drake’s power. The ability acts in a similar manner to prowess, but that power boost sticks around throughout the game rather than disappears at the end of the turn.
It’s not uncommon to see this as a 10/4 or an 11/4 by the end of the game.
And Crackling Drake is even better! For the additional mana and the slightly harder casting cost, you’re getting two added benefits to what is otherwise the exact same card. One, if spells are exiled from your graveyard, Crackling Drake still benefits from them, whereas Enigma Drake loses that power. Normally, this matters in Limited Magic and decks that use the jump-start mechanic, since those cards become exiled the second time you use them.
In our deck, we only use a single jump-start card, so this line of text can be ignored.
Two, the benefit of drawing a card when you cast Crackling Drake is huge and easily worth the additional mana on top of what we pay for Enigma Drake.
These two cards alone are nice, but they are not enough to build an entire deck around. Eight creatures isn’t going to get it done. We need a playset of one more creature to secure wins on a consistent basis. Otherwise, our deck is too slow or lacks the ability to find the Drakes often enough to win.
And this is where we have Pteramander. Previous decks used Arclight Phoenix to great effect, but even in Standard, the card’s ability to recur never quite got the deck there. A recurring barrage of 3-power eventually runs out if your hand stalls, and you’d need multiples to close the game.
And with Lava Coil as the most popular means of removal in Standard, it’s very likely that those Phoenix’s never hit the board twice since they get exiled.
Instead, Pteramander is a much more efficient way to close the game. Coming down on turn-1, it gets in for early damage, which is huge for this deck. A turn-1 Pteramander also curves as a great way to ensure you draw two cards off of Chart a Course on turn-2 without having to discard.
And as the game drags on, it’s very easy to get your graveyard into a state where Pteramander can become a 5/5 flyer for minimal mana, sometimes as low as a single Island. 5/5 survives both Lava Coil and most combat with any other flyers in Standard. It also closes down enemy Drakes, if you’re in a mirror match.
With these three creatures, you’ll be able to finish most games with the backing of enough cheap removal spells, draw spells, counterspells, and cantrips.
Bzzzt. Shock is cheap enough to make the deck, and it takes care of Standard’s smallest threats. Merfolk Branchwalker, Kruul Harpooner, Ghitu Lavarunner, and all of the White Weenies. And even if your opponent isn’t playing small creatures, throwing it in their face for 2 direct damage is still a viable option since you’re getting in damage and powering up your Drakes.
We also definitely run a playset of Lava Coils. This is the best removal option in Standard right now, exiling any pesky recurring threats and taking out rival Izzet Drakes, as well. Just be sure to sideboard it out against any of the many non-creature decks you’ll find in Standard these days.
I’ll just drop this here because it’s almost like direct damage. This card falls way short of Expedite, which would be drop dead amazing in this deck, but having a way to cheaply attack with a Drake the turn it comes into the battlefield is a huge way to catch your opponent off guard. If a Drake hits the board later in the game as a 6/4, the addition of Maximize Velocity into your graveyard plus the +1/+1 bonus allows it to attack as an 8/5. Not bad.
If you jump-start it the turn it comes into play, Crackling Drake benefits from the exiled Maximize Velocity, the spell you discard, and the second +1/+1 you get from it, making it a 10/6 from out of nowhere! Enigma Drake is a 9/6, which is almost as good.
That’s best case scenario, but even if you are forced to play this awkwardly, a single one in your deck is never a bad idea.
Direct damage to take care of creatures is nice, but the Drakes are often tough enough to stand up to whatever opponents throw at us. The best way to power them up, and not to mention find companions, is to sift through our deck with cheap draw spells. Each draw spell makes our Drakes that much more powerful and loads us up with more cheap spells, which in turn, make our Drakes that much more powerful.
You want an 11/4 flyer for three mana? You’ll have to dig for one!
Opt is an easy inclusion. It’s cheap, it gives us card advantage, and it loads up our graveyard at instant speed. The most satisfying move with this deck is sending in a Drake that is 1-power shy of winning the game, and then powering it up with Opt to put it over the top.
Efficient, cheap cantrips don’t come any better. Well, they do, but not in Standard. Play four of these, no question.
Chart a Course is like a better Tormenting Voice in that you don’t have to discard until after you draw your two cards. Sometimes you don’t even have to discard!
It’s already the best card draw spell in Standard, but what makes it special in Izzet Drakes is that, sometimes, you’ll actually want to discard that extra card. Discarding a dead Lava Coil or counterspell that’s just sitting uselessly in your hand powers up your Drakes, turning nothing into something. Chart a Course and the discarded spell add two power to your Drakes and make your Pteramander cheaper to adapt by two mana, and you draw two cards off of the transaction.
Bonuses all around!
Likewise, here is another card that acts as more than just a card draw spell. Because of this card, we’re actually running a Grixis deck, but the value here is just too much to overlook. 99 percent of the time, you’re casting the Discovery half of this card to greater effect in Izzet Drakes than in other decks.
Why is that? Well, on its base level, surveil does let us find the cards we’re looking for, as its supposed to do. But in Izzet Drakes, if we surveil up enough spells, we can toss them into our graveyard and potentially give our Drakes an additional 3-power for the mere price of two mana! On top of that, we also get to draw a card. Pure value!
That’s best case scenario, but even if we don’t hit that 3-power, it still helps us fix our deck, filter through lands, and ensure we get the spells we need to win the game.
In Izzet Drakes, we also run a single Black mana source for the rare occasion that we need Dispersal.
Our last style of card aims to help us control our opponent by countering their threats, protecting our Drakes, and even stealing their creatures.
Dive Down once again fulfills our need to protect vital creatures. Hexproof is important against removal, +0/+3 saves our Drakes in combat and even from board wipes like Finality, and yes, we get the added bonus of powering up our Drakes, just like every other card in the deck does.
Spell Pierce also rocks since its really cheap, protects our Drakes early, and counters non-creature threats later in the game. The most satisfying win I’ve have with Izzet Drakes came after I cast an Engima Drake for three mana and used my remaining mana to blast a turn-4 Wilderness Reclamation with a Spell Pierce.
That one mana makes all the difference, making this slightly better than Negate in most cases.
Our final card is one that has never seen serious play in Standard. However, Izzet Drakes does get some value out of this card since stealing an opponent’s blocker opens the way for our Drakes to close the game while also adding a point of power on top. Later in the game, it can help steal a larger threat if the charade goes on for too long.
It’s not the most efficient way to close out a match, but in the current meta-game, it might be a good idea to put at least one of these in your deck.
Sideboarding for Izzet Drakes is much more fun that most decks. In fact, our sideboard is the only place we find true rare or mythic threats!
Niv-Mizzet is boss against control decks. He can’t be countered, which is a plus, and even if a player has to cast a spell to remove him, he’ll replace himself with a card draw and a point of damage anywhere. If you untap with him on the board, unload your spells, and he’ll slowly drain your opponent while putting more and more cards in your hand… and then attack for 5 damage.
Ral isn’t quite as solid as Niv-Mizzet, but he is better aligned to deal with decks that heavily target creatures. The Gates deck has a hard time hitting him since Gates Ablaze doesn’t hurt him. Jeskai Control misses with Deafening Clarion Cleansing Nova, and Golgari can’t target him with Finality.
The one-two punch of Ral and Niv make a nice tag team against control decks and give some actual value to our sideboard. Izzet Drakes is all common and uncommon cards, so having a few exciting rares boosts the appeal.
But they aren’t the only exciting combination.
Raptor Hatching has been dying to find a home for some time in Standard, and here it helps us take down nasty aggressive decks. Enigma Drake is a bit slow to help us stabilize against White and Red decks and their cheap creatures, but against one-toughness creatures, Raptor Hatching trades nicely and it even leaves us behind a 3/3 Dinosaur!
Alone, that’s a sweet deal since not many creatures in those decks can tangle with those stats, but Raptor Hatchling combines with two other spells in our deck nicely. One, Deep Dive gives it the +0/+3 toughness to survive combat, live to block another day, and still create that 3/3 dinosaur. Aggro decks will cringe when this unfortunate trade happens.
The other card is this nice sideboard option…
Not only does this wipe the board of Red and White’s tiny weenies, if we can hit one or two of our Raptor Hatchlings, we end up on top with 3/3 Dinosaurs against an empty battlefield! Again, Dive Down might allow our Raptor Hatchling to survive while still getting that Dinosaur, and Fiery Cannonade also fails to kill any of our Drakes.
Absolutely brutal against opposing White Weenie and Red Aggro decks.
Yeah, against control decks, you’ll want to play one of these to ensure better draws, get pure card advantage, and load up our graveyard with useless spells to power our Drakes. This card is everywhere in Magic, and it adds double benefit by giving us an additional Blue mana to easily cast Niv-Mizzet.
In case you run into a deck with something BIG, this is the best option for removal. 11 direct damage for three mana… not even Green decks can stand up to that! I love taking down Ghalta with one of these.
The ability to cast it twice also means you can use it early, take out a cheap threat like Steel Leaf Champion, then sit on it and wait for something bigger to come down.
Sometimes, you just need to double down on those non-creature threats. Spell Pierce is fine but not always enough to get the job done. Later in this game, especially against control decks, this is always the better option.
As is this. This can be used against the creatures that Negate and Spell Pierce miss. True, they must be big creatures, but sometimes, this will be the only option Izzet Drakes has against those big, nasty Green monsters.
Shock is infinitely better in this deck since you’ll always want to have a target for your spells and a guaranteed way to cast them. However, against cheap creature decks, extra firepower is never a bad thing.
Another obvious choice against control decks, this one comes at no threat to your mana pool. Cast it, filter through your decks, flip it, gain free extra mana and card draw off of it. This appears in sideboards in almost every deck in Magic for a reason, and it can carry even the most aggressive decks into a longer gameplan.
If you’re looking to make the games REALLY long, this could be an option. Stealing a single creature for six mana is a heavy price to pay, but it would be worth it to snatch a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in the later game. That all but ensures victory… if you can get there.
Stealing two creatures for eight mana is also a bit more appealing, opening the road for your Drakes and leaving up two blockers in the process. This card allows for massive swings in momentum, but you better hunker down for the long game if you want it to.
- 4x Pteramander
- 4x Enigma Drake
- 4x Crackling Drake
- 2x Dive Down
- 4x Opt
- 3x Spell Pierce
- 1x Maximize Velocity
- 4x Shock
- 4x Chart a Course
- 1x Entrancing Melody
- 4x Lava Coil
- 4x Discovery//Dispersal
- 1x Blood Crypt
- 8x Island
- 4x Mountain
- 4x Steam Vents
- 4x Sulfur Falls
As with most Blue/Red decks, our cheap, common and uncommon creatures don’t cost too much, and our dual mana sources will be the most expensive card in the deck. Mono-Blue Tempo is a much better budget option in this regard, but those two don’t mind sinking a few dollars into Sulfur Falls and Steam Vents might want to do so since those cards are used in Modern and Legacy and never lose value.
Blue/Red dual lands are always the most expensive, but even those on a budget need some form of dual lands to consistently cast Niv-Mizzet. In that case, both Highland Lake and Izzet Guildgate are a fine substitute.
And with that, this is my favorite competitive deck in Standard at the moment. The versatility of your spells, the constant value you get from liberal and conservative play, and the ability to switch between aggressive and control tactics on the fly make this one of Magic’s most exciting decks of the Standard rotation. I love switching up the deck between Niv-Mizzet/Ral and Raptor Hatchling/Fiery Cannonade. Normally, I hate sideboarding, but these two combos are just perfect.
Load up your graveyard, cast a few Drakes, and let them close out the game with ease.
Just be sure to handle Hydroid Krasis if it gets cast… yikes. If you do, you can revel in the fact that you didn’t need to spend $100 on your 10-power flyers.
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