Pro Tour: Venice was big. There were 4/5 and 6/6 Angels, 13/13 Beasts, lots of six casting-cost legends… Heck, there were even 6/6 goblins. But all of these big boys were dwarfed by the Dragons. 17/17 Kilnmouths that can tap to do fourteen to target creature or player? Now that’s big.
I worked with Darwin Kastle to design the YMG Dragon deck. While I narrowly missed day 2 with a 4-3 record (playing against Goblins all seven rounds), Darwin kept the Your Move Games Constructed streak alive by piloting the Dragons straight into the top 8.
It’s unusual for a deck full of expensive monsters like the dragon deck to be viable in a Pro Tour. Professional Magic players are known more for wanting good mana curves and card advantage than for a love of big creatures. So what opened things up for big toys?
When Wizards of the Coast put together the Onslaught block, they decided to shake things up by not printing any good countermagic. For Pro Tour: Venice, this meant Blue decks were almost non-existent. That, in turn, opened the door for big, expensive spells. Due to the lack of counters, decks could get away with relatively few”threat” cards – as long as those threats were big enough.
In our preparation for the Pro Tour, the team Your Move Games metagame had 3 tier one decks: Astral Slide, Beast/Bidding, and Goblins.
Slide, the easiest deck to build, was the powerhouse we all expected it to be. It easily crushed”random” decks and had a fantastic game one matchup versus Goblins. It did lose to our Beast/Bidding deck, however.
Beast/Bidding took full advantage of the lack of counterspells in the field. It used cycling Beasts and Read the Runes to set up the perfect graveyard for Patriarch’s Bidding. The big drawback to this giant Bidding plan was that the deck did almost nothing while it was setting up, making it an easy mark for the fastest deck in the format, Goblins.
The Goblin deck’s curve ends where other decks in the field begin. The turn 4 (or sometimes turn 3 with the aid of a Skirk Prospector) Goblin Goon or Clickslither is meant to be the final pressure that pushes the opponent over the edge. It’s worth noting that the YMG version of Goblins (played by Tom Guevin) didn’t think big enough. Our main deck was fine for the field, but more of the big red men in the sideboard would have made the Slide matchup much better.
A few weeks before the Pro Tour, I was experimenting with different Red/Green Explosive Vegetation builds in an attempt to break up this Rock/ Paper/Scissors field. I started out with the Biorhythm deck from e-league. I also did some experimenting with a Kamahl, Fist of Krosa deck that used Slice and Dice or Starstorm to blow up the opponent’s land.
Both those builds were reasonable, but not dominant. Both decks had need for a lot of mana late in the game (for Biorhythm or Kamahl land tricks) so Explosive Vegetation was useful as a mana builder in addition to being a nice way to speed out the Legends. It did, however, seem inefficient to use the Explosive Vegetation to ramp to 6 mana spells like Silvos or Kamahl considering you would have seven mana available the turn after you cast it. I would play the fourth mana, Explosive Vegetation, next turn drop mana number seven… And cast a six-mana spell. That unused land was nagging at me…
Red Green was stuck at the decent but not good enough stage when I heard Seth Burn had a Red/Green deck he really liked for the format. I asked the team if anyone knew what was in it. Justin Gary said he didn’t know, but he heard it had lots of Dragons in it.
That’s all I needed to hear. I thought to myself,”Of course! Kilnmouth Dragon is seven to cast!” I threw the deck together in ten minutes over at Darwin’s apartment and tested it against the Gauntlet. This initial build did quite well, posting a winning record versus our big 3 in a brief testing session. When I got home, I posted the news to the YMG list:
I had heard rumors that there was a RG deck out there that used”lots of Dragons.”
As soon as I heard this, I thought of how perfect Kilnmouth Dragon was for a Vegetation deck.
Vegetation gets you to seven mana (four to cast it, gets two, lay one on your next turn.) The Kilnmouth is bigger and meaner then any of the six-drop legends, and fits the Exp. Veg. curve.
I threw together a quick dragon deck while playtesting at Darwin’s today. We only played about nine games with it, but it was very good. I think it was 3-1 vs. goblins, 3-1 vs. slide, and 1-0 vs. Darwin’s Bidding.
Here is the list… It’s at 61, which is wrong for this deck, so a card will need to be trimmed.
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Contested Cliffs
4 Wirewood Elf
4 Slice And Dice
4 Ravenous Baloth
4 Krosan Tusker
4 Imperial Hellkite
4 Kilnmouth Dragon
Silklash Spider (3-4)
4 Nantuko Vigilante
1 Steely Resolve
don’t know what else…
With eleven dragons in the deck, OMG is Kilnmouth big. He was never smaller than an 8/8 and was as big as 14/14.
Against Slide, the creatures are so big they have to slide them every turn. Slice and Dice doesn’t cut it, and even Starstorm has trouble. If you get a E.V. heavy hand, the Hellkite works like an Avarax on crack. The flyers being larger than Angels is also nice.
In the limited number of games, it felt like the dragons have an edge without main deck enchantment removal. This needs to be tested more, of course.
Those not committed to their decks: try it out, see if it’s good.
By the way, no cycling lands because your spells are slow enough you can’t afford to wait on a”comes into play” tapped land.
Tom Guevin did some brainstorming and came up with a great idea that brought the deck up to the next level of consistency: Goblin Clearcutter. The old build was powerful but erratic: If you drew Explosive Vegetation, the deck was great, but otherwise it was a bit slow. Adding the Clearcutter doubles the chances for a quick Dragon, and is occasionally useful as a 3/3 beater.
Bad idea, but funny: Add Blue to the deck for Quicksilver Dragon and Mistform Ultimus and really see your Kilnmouths get big.
Better idea: what about Goblin Clearcutter? It seems like Vegetation is so key, that this guy could be a backup, to allow you to explode to seven on turn 5 almost every game. Plus it’s a three-defense guy against Slide, and a blocker against beatdown.
Unfortunately, my playtesting time was running out. I had to fly out to Las Vegas to give a talk on running Prereleases at the Wizards of the Coast Event Organizer meeting.
I posted the updated version of the deck to our list, and left it up to my teammates to test the deck and determine if it was good enough to run at the Tour. I had decided that I would place my fate in Darwin’s hands. He and I both liked the Bidding deck, but were intrigued by the Dragons. I knew Darwin would give the Dragon deck a solid test, so I would trust his judgement and play whatever he was playing at the Tour.
I tried Tom’s Clearcutter idea and it seems great. Here is the updated list. Trying 25 land (no cyclers). Don’t know if this is correct. Let me know…
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Contested Cliffs
4 Explosive Vegetation
4 Wirewood Elf
4 Goblin Clearcutter
4 Ravenous Baloth
4 Krosan Tusker
4 Imperial Hellkite
4 Kilnmouth Dragon
For many on the team, this deck just came too late. Only of a few of us are willing to switch decks last minute. Nevertheless, the team put in a lot of testing – with wildly mixed results.
These all-over-the-map results led many on the team to feel the deck was just not consistent. Darwin, however, was continually posting good results and was going to run the Dragons.
When I got back from Vegas, I did some more testing myself and was having poor results. I was considering abandoning the Dragons in favor of Beasts. Then, in discussions and playtesting with Darwin, I realized it wasn’t that the deck wasn’t consistent – it was that I (and others on my team) were playing it wrong in certain matchups.
Darwin also had come up with a sideboard that gave the deck an edge in all the matchups we were worried about. With corrected play and this new sideboard my results came back in line – and the deck that came in 6th place at Venice finally crystallized.
How to Play Dragons
The key to victory with the Dragon deck is to know when to rush a Dragon into play, and when to”slow roll it.” The following is a breakdown of how to play and sideboard the Dragon Deck against the popular decks in the field.
Versus Astral Slide
Unless they get a dream draw in game one, you’re in pretty good shape. Generally speaking, you want to slow roll this matchup. Because of the Slides and Akroma’s Vengeance, it’s usually not worth Clearcutting to get a dragon out fast.
You’ll want to get out a big Kilnmouth and some beasts and hold dragons in your hand (so every time the Kilnmouth slides back into play, he’s big). Force them to Slide multiple times a turn until they run out of cyclers and have to Vengeance… And then the Dragons you have been saving come out to play.
Once you have eleven mana on the table (and you get there in this matchup), the Imperial Hellkites are ridiculous. You play them and morph them in the same turn, fetching another Hellkite. This gives you five turns of consecutive dragon plays, which is usually enough to overwhelm them.
-4 Starstorm, -4 Clearcutter, – 4 Wirewood Elf
+4 Shock, + 4 Naturalize, +4 Silklash Spider.
After sideboarding, this matchup is fantastic. With this boarding plan, it doesn’t matter if they stay with the normal plan or try and go aggro with Stoic Champions.
You have Shocks to keep early (morphed) Angels or Champions at bay. If they put you under pressure with multiple Rifts, you can Naturalize them; otherwise, save the Naturalizes for the Astral Slides.
Spiders are good versus the aggro creature plan, and just amazing versus any of the Angels. Even with Slide out, the Hurricane ability can give them fits.
To summarize, the post-sideboarded game plan is: Stay alive with Shocks and Spiders. Keep Slide off the table with Naturalize, then make short work of them with a Dragon.
Game one is tough. While Elves and Ravenous Baloths are good in this matchup, things often revolve around whether or not you have a Starstorm. With the exception of Morphed Hellkites, the dragons themselves are usually too slow. There is rarely time to cast Explosive Vegetation, given the pressure that Goblins puts out, so the only way you tend to get a fast Dragon is if the Goblin Clearcutter lives through the turn.
If you know you are facing Goblins, aggressively mulligan away your slow hands.
-4 Explosive Vegetation, -1 Rorix, – 4 Kilnmouth
+4 Shock, +1 Slice and Dice, + 4 Silklash Spider
If they are going big after boarding, you can take out another Rorix for an Insurrection.
Sadly, the Dragon deck doesn’t get to play like the Dragon deck against Goblins. They are just too fast! You have to up the removal and lower the curve. The good news is this makes your post-sideboarded games fairly advantageous.
Use the Shocks, Starstorms, and Slice and Dice to keep their team under control (you also want to leave their Goons without buddies). The Spiders basically serve as big Walls and Threaten insurance. You have to be very wary of Threaten. It’s usually a good idea to leave an extra Spider back to block your own Dragons or Tuskers or their hasty Clicks or Avaraxes.
Defensive play should allow you to get to the late game where your Dragons and Tuskers can finish them off.
Versus Beast Bidding
In this matchup, you need to go for the throat. Get out a Dragon as fast as you can and start serving in the air. It doesn’t matter if you have to Clearcutter away your Forests and leave yourself with uncastable Baloths in hand; you can’t allow them time to set up a good bidding.
If you play a fast Dragon against them, more often than not they will have to Bidding before they are ready just to stay alive (by getting some Beasts to sacrifice to Baloth). These weak Biddings buy them some time, but rarely are enough to save them.
The plan doesn’t change much after boarding. You’re still on the fast Big Dragon plan. The biggest difference is they will probably be packing Head Games, so it’s a good idea to play a Imperial Hellkite morphed just to get him out of your hand.
The Insurrections are a great finisher if they don’t have Baloth, and clears their board if they do.
They have Vengeance and Pacifisms, so this is another matchup where it’s not worth Clearcutting to rush a Dragon onto the table. The good news is that Kilnmouths trump everything they have (you can shoot your opponent if Akroma hits play).
Sideboarding: -4 Starstorm, -4 Clearcutter
+2 Insurrection, +2 Naturalize, +4 Spider
The only creature they have that you’re really scared of is Akroma, Angel of Wrath – and Spiders deal with her nicely. Insurrection can snatch games away from them, and a couple Naturalizes are nice to deal with Pacifisms and any other enchantment surprises they might bring in.
If they get out a Spider of their own, try to save up your dragons to make a really big Kilnmouth. Keep in mind the Kilnmouth can still tap to do direct damage even if he is Pacified.
Versus the rest
The general rules of the other match-ups hold. If they don’t have an easy answer for the big flyers, rush a Dragon into play and ride him to victory. If they can answer the fast threat, use your Starstorms and Baloths to get you to the late game where you can overpower them with your eleven Dragons and four Tuskers.
As I’m sure you’ll discover when the Block PTQ season comes around, Dragons are a blast to play. May your Kilnmouths be greatly amplified!