Hey there everybody, Unmistakable here with a new segment I would like to call Tribal Unity! Magic is full of vibrant, flavourful and varied tribes, and I’d love to put some under the microscope! This week, I’m on a mission. The new (tribal) commander decks are gracing us with their presence, and I’m eager to weigh them up! This week: Dragons!
Disclaimer: In this article I will be making references to official spoilers as they happen from Wizards. As they have not been fully released onto Gatherer or Deckbox.org (the site we use text links to), card hovers may come up blank for the first few days of publishing. I will try to compensate by talking in detail, but thank you in advance for your patience, and I hope you enjoy the article!
Now, this is a daunting proposition, to sum up the dragons of magic; indeed, they’ve been around since Alpha – for over two decades, new players and pros alike have been slamming dragons into one another, be they Shivan Dragons, Thundermaw Hellkites or Thunderbreak Regents.
It also is difficult to succinctly summarize dragons and they have their sharp talons in every segment of the colour pie. While primarily red (being red’s iconic creature), we’ve seen a steady radiation of dragons in other colours; from the 5 colour elder dragons from chronicles (featuring the OG Nicol Bolas, but also non red dragons such as Chromium) to recently (relatively speaking) on the plane of Tarkir, where some draconic factions also forgo the red splash, including impressive specimens such as Dragonlord Dromoka or Dragonlord Silumgar. Besides these 5 colour factions, dragons also lean heavily on the jund (black-red-green) side of the pie, with heavy investment from the Dragon dominated shard of Alara (see cards such as Hellkite Overlord). Indeed, quite the conundrum to somebody trying to evaluate the tribe as a whole.
So, we have a 5 colour tribe of scaled, fire breathing monstrosities. What do they do for us, exactly?
Elementary, my dear reader: Dragons stomp, and stomp well. Dragons as a tribe offer a number of plans of attack, to cover the main ones as succintly as possible:
1) they’re often hasty, and almost always (save for quirky examples like Elder Land Wurm or Dragon Egg) flying. This makes them incredibly bursty and daunting to fight in combat (pretty flavourful if I do say so). Mix in infamous Dragon commander Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund, and you’re looking at a tribe that can easily come out of nowhere to decimate a player who overextends. Or underextends. Or is just minding their own business.
2) a lot of dragons have a really nice synergy with tokens. These tokens can be as small as 1/1 with Dragon Broodmother (or 0/1 with Prossh, but I’m told I can’t gush about Prossh today), or as big as 6/6 flyers with Utvara Hellkite. This enables a very explosive (seeing a theme yet?) ‘Go wide’ strategy that even comes with a backup plan – a lot of Jund (Jundish? Jundian?) Dragons posses the keyword of Devour. Devour allows them to scoop up a whole heap of weenies to become superpowers monstrosities, ranging from a very powerful hasty Haymaker like Predator Dragon, to difficult-to-block, more-difficult-to-survive Preyseizer Dragon. This gives token strategies the rare opportunity to go over the heads of Propaganda effects, or Silent Arbiter effects.
3) you may look at me strangely, but fire breathing dragons are actually very good at delivering Victory through incremental burn. Whether It is directly through the dragons themselves (something like Bogardan Hellkite or Flameblast Dragon) or through supporting cards (like Dragon Tempest or associated Dragon Scourge of Valkas), a Dragon deck can often wear players down without making contact, ripe to take a target out with one or two dragons.
4) Warning: spiky spike time ahead. If you’re looking to not one shot a player, feel free to continue perusing this bountiful collection of draconic knowledge. For those who don’t mind a few hurt feelings, here’s how Dragon commander favourite Scion of the Ur-Dragon combo kills a player using only Dragons. First off, activate Scion twice. Twice now is important, as he loses the ability to morph once this resolves. When the ability resolves the first time, morph him into Moltensteel Dragon. Any fire breathing (read: Dragon with R: this creature gains +1/+0 until end of turn) will do, but Moltensteel is unique in that it can be paid for solely through life payment thanks to the broken miracle of Phyrexian mana. Activate it’s fire breathing ability as many times as you please; usually this is 21 minus the power of the Dragon you’re going to morph into next, with a special case being 6 if you’re going to kill with infect. When those resolve and it’s just your second ability activation on the stack, morph into Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. This is usually the first port of call to combo out, as it requires the lowest life payment. But if you make his power into 11 and make him a double striking Dragon such as Dragon Tyrant, or 21 (warning: LOTS of mana/life loss) and literally any dragon, and he can kill with commander damage at any time. This technically makes one of the few tribal kill combos in the game, and is pretty awesome!
Other than that dragons are an incredibly flexible tribe. You have your midrange dragons, token dragons, even mill/control Dragons in a blue focused approach using Nicol Bolas or Crosis, the Purger. So, what do we do with all this?
Lords and Synergy Picks
Now, bear with me. There are a LOT. For smaller creature types, such as Treefolk (Coming Soon) or Cats (probably also coming soon maybe), there is a much narrower choice of what to put on a pedestal above all else. I would love to put Dragon Tempest or Scourge of Valkas on this list, though as I mentioned them above I shall leave them out. Same goes for obvious staples Utvara Hellkite; if I’ve talked about it before; nevertheless, there are still SO many dragon staples I feel deserve spots here:
Allow me to start with two great forces for the aggressive dragon player – First off, Atarka, World Render. The gruul dragonlord of Tarkir had a lot more dragon tribal going on back in the days of Fate Reforged (as did all of the Dragonlords, which strikes me as odd). Nevertheless, Atarka was one of the lords that stood head and shoulders above the rest because of that absolutely nuts ability. On a board full of scales and teeth, this is an easy damage doubler that can easily straight up delete a player (and make lethal very easy with a draconic commander, such as Scion of the Ur-Dragon)! While slightly less aggressive (ironically, considering the colour combination), Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury is also an essential lord for anybody looking to go with dragons. As soon as she comes down (with haste, if you make use of her Dash ability), all of your dragons – Kolaghan included – gain +x/+0 whenever they attack, x being the total number of attacking dragons. While Atarka doubles your damage output, Kolaghan can go above and beyond that on a decent board – and the two Dragonlords pair sickening well when on the field together, too.
Following a similar trend to the previous point, Fate Reforged brought a rare luxury to Dragons as a tribe; a tribal board wipe (Note: This was written before the printing of Kindred Dominance, but 7 mana has it in question for me). Crux of Fate is often used in non-tribal builds as a budget Damnation (I know I have in the past), but in the hands of a black-based Dragon build it is worth a LOT more than that, scouring all non-dragons from the field and paving the way for your brood to attack unhindered without fear of counterattack. In a more reanimation-focused Dragon build (making heavy utilisation of Bladewing the Risen or Patriarch’s Bidding, for example), It could also be a cheeky/flashy play to call dragons to nuke your board and opposing dragons, before reanimating them for value. This could be handy in more burn-focused build for the combo Dragon Tempest/Scourge of Valkas kill.
A pick that will have me looked at strangely no doubt, but Haven of the Spirit Dragon is a fantastic synergy pick with Dragons. With a tribe that takes up so much of the colour pie (all of it in fact, with cards such as Ramos, Dragon Engine or Draco making up the colourless portion), fixing is SUPER important. 5 colour builds weigh heavily on the land base in particular, and it can often be difficult to fit enough multicolour lands that you can guarantee you won’t colour screw yourself: Enter, the Haven. The haven offers an untapped, pentachromatic land option to dragon decks to supplement the usual City of Brass or Command Tower (New spoiler Path of Ancestry will no doubt also aid in reducing mana base strain)! In addition to this, that second ability is not irrelevant, as the Disentomb effect in the late game can bring back a key piece, a hasty finisher, or even Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, in order to grind out a stalled game state.
Sowing Salt – The top 3 Dragon Commanders
Surprise! When drawing up a tribal article series, it made a lot of sense to incorporate one of my other series – Sowing Salt, where I rank commanders based on criteria, into it! I’ve always wanted to get around to doing Tribal top commanders, but it feels like its own article isn’t the place for that. So here it is, my official weigh in on the Top 3 Dragon commanders!
3) O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami – A newcomer coming straight in at number 3, the most powerful Kami in the entirety of Kamigawa ticks a lot of boxes. It’s 5 colour, it’s a Dragon (a pretty large one at that!), and it’s got an appropriately splashy effect. Combined with a haste enabler, it can provide a large rattlesnake effect even from the command zone. The things that hold it back from striving higher though: first, his effect is incredibly conditional. It’s not ‘dealt damage to you’, it’s ‘attacked you’ in particular. Lots of decks in EDH don’t even have to attack to kill (Control decks, stax, combo, mill, to name a few), and that I can see that leading to a game without a single trigger, and that seems a bit sad for a 5 colour legendary. Second, compared to the other 2 on this list, it doesn’t provide a clear path to victory. No combo, no way to put yourself massively ahead, just ‘beat face until they die’, and in my mind this holds it back, and puts it behind the other choices by being, Well, less exciting than the others.
2) Scion of the Ur-Dragon – despite us as a community being spoiled with a plethora of new Dragon themed legendaries, it would be remiss of me to discount to original favourite, Scion of the Ur-Dragon. In a time before development resources were set aside explicitly for edh, Scion has been a powerful, splashy favourite for people wanting a 5 colour deck, let alone a Dragon deck (being a Dragon himself definitely aided that, however). Scion pushes his way above O-kagachi by being incredibly flexible and granting his pilot many different ways to victory (even in Dragon tribal!); first of all, he allows the combo package (the kill for which is detailed above as point #4 in Tribal Focus), which helps your commander chew through the aggro game and delete players like browser history. Secondly, he lends himself to the reanimator strategy; repeated activations of scion can effectively Entomb a ton of your dragons, allowing you to setup cataclysmic reanimation turns through Patriarch’s bidding, or Rise of the dark Realms. This flexibility also allows him to work like a reanimation toolbox a la Karador. Things holding him back as a tribal commander as follows; first, as a one man combo, he often doesn’t need the deck to go off. You could play nothing but lands and his combo pieces and he’d still do his thing. As such, he has a lot of dissonance with a grindy tribal deck, as you use him and combo off, or use him as a colour enabler and not really use him; neither are really what we want. Second, this reputation as a combo commander carries a LOT of stigma, similar to Narset, Enlightened Master. No matter how much you insist it might be a janky fun deck, some players just won’t be able to shake his reputation and you’ll have a massive target on your deck from the get go, which is hardly ideal.
1) The Ur-Dragon – an easy favourite at the top of the food chain is the avatar of all Dragondom. Above all dragons, the Ur-Dragon stands proud over all of them, and there is nobody better to lead a brood into battle in my mind. What drew me to this card when it was spoiled was just how over the top LITERALLY everything on the card is (except maybe flying); His Eminence ability gifts dragons one thing they have sorely lacked, and that is acceleration in a tribal build. This gives dragons a Dragonlord’s Servant from the get go, reducing the need to lean on Urza’s Incubator and friends (though they are still more than welcome). His second incredibly destructive ability doesn’t even require the commander himself to attack; you can simply cast him as the harbinger of doom before an alpha strike, quickly leading to a vomiting of your hand and a quickly ended game. All strapped to a 9 cmc, 5 colour, 10/10 flyer. It took a long time to get my inner timmy so worked up, and this may have been the card to do it.
Alright guys that just about wraps up the first segment of Tribal Unity! What do you think of the format? The tribe? Dragons will always be alpha predators of course, but we love hearing what you think. If you have thoughts, suggestions or requests for future articles, feel free to hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit or even the comments on this article! For now though guys, Thank you for reading, and Unmistakable out.