Here There Be Dragons

How does one of the most prolific rogue deckbuilders on the ‘net create a deck for each legendary Dragon? And how do they fare?

If you want to read a long article that is sorta about strategy but will give you no competitive advantage whatsoever, then please proceed. Mostly, this is just an example of how Magic for me has become WAY too much about having fun and WAY too little about competition.

You see, I want to talk about dragons.

Personally, those winged beasts are the reasons I began reading fantasy novels and what first lured me to fantasy-themed games like Magic. Well, I thought the idea of spell-casting was cool too. And elf maidens… Oh, elf maidens…

Ahem. Back to the dragons.

I have recently been thinking about those 6/6 monstrosities someone slipped into Invasion. The idea of winning with something so multicolor and so big and so – draconian – appeals to the Timmy, Power Gamer in me. I decided, deep in those twisted places in my mind that still echo songs of deckbuilding while I’m trying to work, that it would be fun to build some dragon decks for Type 2.

My quest was thus: Can I build one deck around each dragon in which the dragon is the centerpiece and Main Threat? Moreover, can I make the decks playable enough so as not to be embarrassing? I scratched my chin a bit, scowled in the way I do when listening to that warped echo of the deckbuilding song, and nodded tentatively.

I think I can. Maybe.

Armed with my ambivalent confidence, I downloaded Apprentice for the first time. Aha. I feel a tangent coming on.

Wow is it easier to play virtual Magic with Apprentice than Magic Encyclopedia. No wonder so few people play on Encyclopedia. The drawback, and it’s not an insignificant one, is that Apprentice lacks all of the pretty pictures. As someone who owns no cards, those pretty pictures are darned important. Still, I quickly realized that Apprentice kicked the Encyclopedia’s picturesque tuckus in things like…

– Number of available opponents
– Skill level of available opponents
– Ease of use
– Reliability (The Encyclopedia is awfully buggy)
– The ability to sideboard

So fine. I’m on Apprentice now. Lest anyone decide it’s time to show Jay how we beat up Apprentice newbies as a rite of passage, let me remind you:

I am making Dragon Decks!

Actually, I don’t know why that should save me any hazing – but it almost rings of a peculiar logic, does it not? No? Well screw you, then.

Despite my recent dragon fever, I thought long and hard about whether or not to post these decks. Or even whether to write an article at all. They are reasonably competitive decks to be sure (it was one of my two design criteria, after all), and I’ve playtested them against the current vogue decks. But my criteria for making the decks was so limiting that I don’t think I’m going to transform your thinking about the viability of dragons in Type 2. Brian Kibler did that all on his own, methinks.

And I’ll let my conclusion out of the bag now so you don’t feel cheated after reading this whole thing. My conclusion is: Type 2 isn’t quite ready for dragon decks. I know this is no revelation for you, but I’ve decided after some tinkering to agree with you.

So why do it? Why write incomplete analysis (in case you haven’t read some of my earlier articles, what I really like to do is break decks apart card by card… I’m like a poor man’s Zvi. Or maybe a poorer man’s Zvi) on five decks no one will play?

The first and most obvious answer, of course, is because I had fun building and playing these decks and you should have fun playing Magic too. Consider this article a Reminder of Fun, as it were.

There’s another reason, though.

You see, I have decided I have a niche in this Magic community of ours. For better or for worse, I am going to keep posting odd Type 2 monstrosities from my far-off virtual outpost. Lest you think a metagame has crystallized and pushed all creativity from your bones, I hope to remind you that there are a lot of unused cards that can be both fun and effective in today’s environment.

I may not think of decks you’ll copy. But I might push you to think of decks other people will copy. I’ve decided that kind of vicarious living is acceptable for me.

Dragons may not fall into the category of "unused" to you, but despite their obvious power they show up in very few tournament-quality decks. And in a game called Magic, shouldn’t dragons abound? Shouldn’t they be the centerpieces of the most powerful planeswalkers’ arsenal?

I hereby promise to show you cards from your trade binder I’ve used to beat Rebels, Fires, and U/W alike. Making decks around the new dragon legends might be an extreme way of making my point – but frankly, I can’t help the tune of my freaky little deckbuilding song.


There are some inherent problems with building decks around creatures (or spells, for that matter) as big and mean as the new dragon legends. There are nagging design limitations that poke you in the eye when you don’t pay attention to them. Here are my notes on some of these bugaboos:

1) Dragons are expensive. Each of them costs six mana. That’s an awful lot of mana to play for a card that is supposed to be the primary threat. Using dragons as a centerpiece means automatically that the other cards in the deck a) are skewed towards mana acceleration, and/or b) have a low mana curve to balance out the dragons. As much as I would like to use Rout in my Treva deck, I just can’t (or at least shouldn’t).

2) Dragons are slow. I know, I know… isn’t this the same thing as expensive? Not in my mind. Not only are the dragons expensive at six mana, but they don’t show their scaly heads until the mid-game. Swinging for six points of damage on turn 7 just isn’t as impressive as you would think. This means that other cards in the deck either have to find a way to build an early game or defend against an opponent’s. Casting Crosis isn’t all that helpful if you are at two life or if your opponent is holding seven counterspells.

3) Dragons are tri-colored. Each of the dragons costs mana of three different colors to cast. Not only does this mean that finding the mana to cast them is often difficult (especially for the non-green dragons), but it also means that any deck you make will inherently use at least three colors. This is actually an advantage when it comes to sideboarding, but it can be a real headache when creating the main deck.

4) Dragons must attack. If a dragon is going to be a centerpiece in a deck, then you must ensure it will be able to do damage and take over the game once it hits the table. Story Circle is always a worry in dragon deck design, for example.

5) Dragons are legends. You can only have one of each dragon in play at any one time. Especially when the dragon is your main threat, deciding how many to use in a deck can be a bit tricky. I’ve used either three or four copies just because I figure the first dragon is likely to be countered, killed or milled in some way. But their legendary status can be particularly annoying when thinking of how to combat spells like Parallax Wave.

Depressed yet? Well lift your head up, bucko! These are dragons I’m talking about! They are 6/6 flying monstrosities! They can all block Blinding Angel! Opponents’ eyes will pop and roll when Dromar hits the table – trust me. Besides, there is no more noble a cause than figuring out a way to use dragons in a Magic deck. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I lose to Counterspell.

Enough babble and ballyhoo! On to the dragon decks!



Quick aside:

I’m naming each deck after the dragon’s title for two reasons. First, "Crosis Deck" just sounds boring. Second, I don’t really know how those R&D people came up with the names for their dragons. After being married to an avid conspiracy theorist for years now, I tend to think they’re anagrams for some personal joke we all don’t understand. I will not be party to their incessant snickering! I won’t!

End aside.

Crosis (stop snickering!) is an interesting dragon because his discard ability makes it very difficult to amass ways to remove him if he ever reaches the table. That and, like his "D"-named brothers, he’s black and so inherently difficult to kill (although let’s be honest… black removal is not something to fear nearly as much as it once was). Having black as a primary color also allows for Dark Ritual, meaning a fourth-turn dragon is possible.

Sadly, his picture is by far the worst of the dragons (although Rith is fairly dumb looking). Crosis looks a lot more like a flying slug than a dragon. I did not start reading fantasy novels because of flying slugs.

Anyway, here’s the deck:

4x Duskwalker
4x Ravenous Rats
4x Crosis, the Purger
3x Chilling Apparition

4x Dark Ritual
4x Addle
4x Rhystic Lightning
4x Urza’s Rage
4x Fact or Fiction

4x Salt Marsh
4x Sulfurous Springs
4x Underground River
6x Mountain
7x Swamp

4x Perish
4x Rebel Informer
4x Stupor
3x Recoil

Originally, I built my Crosis deck as a B/u/r control deck with Crosis and Urza’s Rage as the only offensive threats and loads of discard, color hosers, and Tutors. My reasoning was that Crosis could mop up creature decks, and against control I could just amass mana for a couple of big Rages. It was a horrible strategy and I lost a lot of games before I realized I needed SOME kind of threat in the early game to make my opponent sweat a little. Especially against Counterspell, the best strategy for a dragon deck is to make every spell in the deck something worth countering. This strategy messes up their "do-crazy-card-drawing-things-at-the-end-of-your-turn" thing and maximizes the chance they won’t have a counter for your first or second dragon.

The answer I came up with for an early threat was to throw black weenies and some added burn (Rhystic Lightning turned out to be a fine answer for both Chimeric Idol and Blinding Angel) in the deck and make it more aggro-control. A lot of the discard from the original deck disappeared, but the deck won a lot more games. The problem was – and continues to be – that black has truly horrible weenies right now. I could either use mercenaries, which for some reason never seemed to work, or I could use a lot of crap.

Eventually I decided a little crap pressure was better than nothing and used Duskwalker – who turned out to be the best one-drop in black’s arsenal, if you can believe it – and Ravenous Rats. These two, combined with Chilling Apparition, gave the deck some early pressure without sacrificing the disruptive nature of my original concept.

It’s a successful enough deck to have people ask me to send them the decklist after I play them. It’s a weird deck too, and opponents have a horrible time figuring out what strategy to best use against it. Dropping a Salt Marsh turn 1, then Mountain-Rats on turn 2 will raise quite a few eyebrows.

One thing still bugs me about this deck, although I think I have met my design criteria here. There must be some way to make Fact or Fiction even more powerful in a primarily black deck by using recursion. Heck, Ravenous Rats are in the deck, also begging for some life-after-death action. I bet Duskwalker would like to come back with some Kicker flavor once it has died a horrible 1/1 death. I’m stumped how, but I know there’s something really clever in there that would be cool to uncover and scream "Voila!"

Maybe I could… no, nope. Can’t think of how to do it.



Darigaaz provides the highest damage-dealing potential of the mighty dragons, although Rith is close. The trick is that for Darigaaz to really try and tear off an opponent’s head, said opponent should have a fairly full hand.

Originally, my thought was to make a primarily green deck where red and black mana were easy to grab in the mid-game. The problem was that a deck like this quickly drifts into a Fires-looking build. Since Fires has gone through enough testing to be a tight decklist on its own, it’s silly to try and slant its cards towards casting Darigaaz. Besides, the other decks all use the dragon’s main color as the deck’s core, and I would have felt bad for Mountains around the world if I didn’t at least try to make Darigaaz work with red.

So I wandered down the following road…

4x Veteran Brawlers
4x Chimeric Idol
3x Darigaaz, the Igniter

4x Seal of Fire
4x Assault/Battery
4x Tsabo’s Web
4x Stone Rain
4x Pillage
3x AEther Flash
2x Earthquake

4x Karplusan Forest
4x Sulfurous Springs
2x Geothermal Crevice
2x Forest
12x Mountain

4x Perish
4x Boil
3x Tranquility
2x Earthquake
1x Urza’s Rage
1x AEther Flash

The idea here is to keep an opponent’s hand full by using either land destruction or AEther Flash. This kind of deck has a lot less reliability for being able to cast Darigaaz on the sixth turn, but it also has a more useful early game and alternate strategy. AEther Flash is a fun card to drop against things like Rebels, Blue Skies, and especially anything with Nether Spirit, although most decks are packing enough enchantment hate now to make it only a temporary diversion.

Tsabo’s Web serves a really interesting role in the deck… it both protects the deck’s mana and, in an environment fraught with Rishadan Port and Dust Bowl, furthers the deck’s mana-denial strategy. Sorta like metagamed land destruction. I don’t actually have to use Port in my three-color deck as long everyone else is using it! Keen. Of course, with only eight LD spells in the deck (and Pillage is as much an anti-Idol card as land destruction), you aren’t going to make a living with mana denial. Rather, the goal should be to disrupt an opponent long enough to let Darigaaz come out and play.

Twenty-four land is probably too little for the deck since it has no inherent mana acceleration other than Geothermal Crevice (shudder). I am not even entirely sure that the mana mix is correct (it’s the part of the deck I have most changed). The problem is that I really don’t know what to take out to make room for more land or something like Fire Diamond. I have stared and stared at the decklist trying to decide what is non-essential… and none of the cards volunteer. Well, Goblin Spy volunteered early on but he shouldn’t have been in there anyway.

That’s a joke, you know. I didn’t actually try Goblin Spy in the deck. As a Magic Encyclopedia user, I still don’t know what Goblin Spy looks like. Does anyone own Encyclopedia and understand that last sentence?



Dromar is an interesting little dragon not only because of its cool art. Dromar is almost – not quite, but almost – the dragon most designed to hose Fires. It has a built-in Wash Out ability, which would just be way too peachy if it didn’t require combat damage to be dealt. Oh well, I still think I like Dromar the best of the new dragon army (although my favorite deck is around Treva… I am a strange and unpredictable fellow, I tell you).

Check out this crazy crap…

4x Waterfront Bouncer
4x Vodalian Zombie
3x Dromar, the Banisher

4x Accumulated Knowledge
4x Counterspell
4x Fact or Fiction
4x Wash Out
3x Distorting Lens
2x Mystical Tutor
2x Dismantling Blow
1x Armageddon

4x Adarkar Wastes
4x Underground River
2x Coastal Tower
4x Swamp
11x Island

4x Chill
4x Perish
2x Massacre
2x Misdirection

It’s probably too confusing to understand the synergies in the deck by just looking at the decklist. The Bouncer, Wash Out, and Dromar all make an opponent’s permanents jump away from the table. Distorting Lens is helpful with Dromar on the table (it is particularly satisfying to make Dromar immune to its own ability), but also works well in conjunction with Vodalian Zombies, Wash Out and against Story Circle. The lone Armageddon is there as a reset button and on the off chance Dromar has made it to the table. Fact or Fiction, Accumulated Knowledge and Mystical Tutor help sift through the deck to find the right cards at the right time. The card-drawing also helps out the little Bouncer dude, who can single-handedly frustrate an opponent’s offense and tempo.

I am fascinated by the fact that Counterspell is my least favorite card in the deck. It is obviously too good not to use, however, and a single Counterspell will change the way an opponent plays against you. I’m sure some savvy deckbuilders are scowling and saying that Counterspell is probably the only card that DOES fit into the deck. Those people kick small puppies for a living, and clearly shouldn’t have read this far into a dragon article in the first place.

Of all the dragon decks, this one has the most tentative offense. Vodalian Zombie is not quite what you would call a beatdown powerhouse, and the Bouncer is really there for defense. This means the deck relies fairly heavily on stall tactics like Wash Out and the Banishinator Dromar. Particularly notice the vulnerability to mono-blue or U/W control decks, and the subsequent lack of answers for these decks in the sideboard. It’s really brilliant; you just don’t quite understand my genius.



Ah, Rith – the most famous of the new dragon legends. Thanks to Brian
Kibler (and read his tournament report here if you haven’t done so), Rith has become somewhat of a pop star these days. Indeed, it feels a little silly to try and build a deck around Rith when it’s already been done with great success. But then I remember that Brian’s deck wasn’t actually built AROUND Rith… it just included two copies of the fella.

Most decks I’ve tried to build drift quickly towards a deck like the Red Zone. Armageddon is so good with Rith that it should be in there. So should some burn. And mana acceleration is green’s strength… you get the idea. Instead, I have been forced to think creatively and do something different than a general utility deck. It still looks a bit like Brian’s deck, but there are some key differences that make it play very differently.

Uh oh… "Creative" and "dragon" usually mean "good game, can we switch decks so I can stop losing?"

4x Birds of Paradise
4x River Boa
4x Utopia Tree
4x Chimeric Idol
4x Blastoderm
3x Rith, the Awakener

4x Aura Mutation
4x Saproling Burst
3x Armageddon
3x Kyren Negotiations

4x Brushland
4x City of Brass
4x Karplusan Forest
11x Forest

4x Sunweb
4x Kavu Chameleon
3x Artifact Mutation
3x Tsabo’s Web
1x Kyren Negotiations

There are two win conditions here. First and most obvious is to win by overwhelming an opponent with (sometimes annoyingly small) critters. Overall, there are 23 offensive threats in the deck and Armageddon to ensure that board control lasts.

Sometimes, though, a River Boa needs to block an onslaught of Blastoderms or Rith needs to be anti-Angel and the deck turns defensive. Then the win strategy becomes Kyren Negotiations. With the Negotiations on the table, there are suddenly 31 offensive threats, because both the Birds and Utopia Tree can begin pinging to their heart’s delight. And let me tell you, those zero-power creatures looooove the chance to deal damage. It’s like a sickness. Anyway, the Negotiations is a particularly satisfying answer to a Blinding Angel.

In my opinion, any deck using Saproling Burst should be using Aura Mutation instead of Wax/Wane. They are very different spells to be sure, and certainly the pumpability of Wax has its benefits for saving a Shocked Birds. But Aura Mutation provides an awful lot of offense to go with enchantment kill, and a Burst with no counters can suddenly be turned into five 1/1s. Doesn’t that make you smile? Doesn’t it???

The sideboard looks a little odd. Oh, I guess Tsabo’s Web and Kavu Chameleon make sense, and Artifact Mutation is a great anti-Idol tactic. But Sunweb? Who uses Sunweb? It was my original intent to have a wall to block Blinding Angel like Wall of Swords. With the Negotiations, though, I found that Blinding Angel was less of a bummer than usual. The idea of hiding behind a wall for the Negotiations was still appealing, and I eventually rediscovered Sunweb. Sunweb blocks Blastoderm. And Jade Leech. And a pumped Kavu Titan. And Troublesome Spirit. And most Burst tokens. And… And… well, a whole lot of other crap. In an environment with big monsters roaming the planes, Sunweb is an awfully nifty spell.

The deck still has a terrible time with Rebels. I know you were going to play Brian’s deck anyway, but I would have felt funny not mentioning it.



Treva is definitely the kid brother of the dragons who gets taunted as too puny and worthless to play with the big boys. Rith has practically disowned him given his newfound fame. At some point, every competitive Magic player has to realize that life-gain is no good by building a deck whose sole strategy relies on gaining life and then losing with said deck. Over and over and over again. Treva also isn’t black, and so easily removed by a single black removal spell. Poor puny Treva.

But aha! Wizards has been making some better life gain these days, and even an enchantment with which you can WIN by having a lot of life. Combine Celestial Convergence and Treva into the same deck and you have… well… you have a concoction of…

Here’s the deck:

4x Birds of Paradise
4x Verduran Enchantress
4x Treva, the Renewer

4x Fertile Ground
4x Sterling Grove
4x Parallax Wave
3x Dueling Grounds
2x Enlightened Tutor
2x Heroes’ Reunion
2x Story Circle
2x Celestial Convergence
1x Ancestral Mask

4x Brushland
4x Elfhame Palace
1x Kor Haven
8x Forest
7x Plains

I may have lied when I said each deck holds as its primary color the dragon’s core color. This deck is decisively G/W. In my defense, there are a lot of spells with double-white casting costs, which makes it FEEL more heavily weighted towards white. Ahem. Anyway.

Personally, this deck is fantastically silly to play. Oh, I’m not saying it’s even in the Tier 7 of decks, but even fairly early into the game both you and your opponent will know there are Fun Things happening on your side of the table. If an opponent can’t appreciate the Treva-Convergence combo, then he or she should take their Counterspells and get on with the puppy-kicking.

Most Celestial Convergence decks (and there have been oh so many… frankly, I’m sick of them) have a paradoxical dilemma. They need to be up on life after seven turns, which means dedicating a lot of space to life-gain and defense. Unfortunately, this makes the deck way too reliant on Convergence itself, which is difficult to protect. And if you can protect one permanent so well, why not make it a Blinding Angel, Mageta, or Air Elemental? If they decide the way to be up on life is to whittle an opponent’s down close to zero, then they sacrifice defense, make the Convergence more vulnerable and eventually cause the Convergence to be unnecessary. So one version drifts towards classic control, while the other drifts towards classic white weenie. Problem.

Treva, however, gives a great balance of both doing damage and gaining life. Treva makes Convergence better (or even possible) while being a fine threat on its own. With such a complete package, the rest of the deck can concentrate on tutors and defense. Dueling Grounds is just terrific with Treva on the table, and the Grounds get loads better with Story Circle and/or Kor Haven. Parallax Wave is gravy, and generally makes the deck look a lot more like a "real" deck.

Of course, the deck can also just fly over for the win with Treva and ignore everything having to do with angelic conventions. Ancestral Mask can get plopped on a Birds or Enchantress for some big beats too. In fact, I can argue that the two Heroes’ Reunions and Convergences can be swapped for two more Masks and another Story Circle. Of course, that would be less fun, and arguing with myself is what got me spending hours working on dragon decks in the first place.

There is no sideboard for this deck yet because it’s the newest of my dragon creations (yes, I went in alphabetical order… I am nothing if not a nerd). I imagine Chill and Seal of Cleansing will make an appearance, as will a single copy of Light of Day and two more Story Circles. After that, I’m fairly stumped.

Keep in mind that if your opponent has somehow figured out that Tranquility is a good sideboard card against the many dominant enchantments in the environment, you will lose. Again, just something I felt I should mention.


If you were reading closely at the beginning of this marathon dragon-fest of an article, you already know the conclusion I drew after this deckbuilding experiment. In short, I have decided that dragon decks, while a lot of fun, have a ways to go to be viable in Type 2. Hey, stop laughing – it’s not cool to make fun of the slow learners in the crowd.

The fact that Rith and Two-Headed Dragon showed their scaly faces in PT: Chicago is cause for some hope, however. The Type 2 environment has slowed dramatically since a year ago. Air Elemental is a viable kill card now. There is not a deck around that wins on the third turn. So while dragon decks may not be completely feasible today, it is conceivable to think of them being viable in the near future.

Uh oh… I can’t believe I’m going to throw in an aside right here at the end. Sigh…

I hear a lot of complaining about Type 2’s stagnation. And it’s true: Fires, Rebels and U/W control are currently head and shoulders above the rest of the competition. What people fail to talk about, however, is that all three decks are highly interactive with their opponent and all involve something akin to creature combat. Notice that Blinding Angel is soooooo powerful because it TAKES AWAY COMBAT.

These are extreme changes from the previous years. In my book, the format is headed in the right direction. What we need to do now is breathe some life into our own creativity and find ways to take advantage of turn 10 kills. If Millstone is a viable win strategy now, why can’t you start working on an Avatar of Woe deck?

Sorry about that digression. I may have mentioned I’m on a Creativity and Innovation crusade these days. Back to dragons.

On the horizon is Planeshift, and we already know that five of its cards involve dragon "lairs." If you haven’t heard, check out


for the most current Planeshift spoiler. The lairs provide a nice way of making non-green dragon decks possible. (They also pave the way for Master and Apprentice decks… Mwoo ha ha). Meteor Crater and Forsaken City may also make three-color decks possible. Maybe as soon as this Spring, we will see dragons taking to the air at a Type 2 table near you.

Right now I think dragon decks are best left to the casual playgroups that got us all enamoured with the game in the first place. Maybe you can even bring The Igniter to a Friday Night Magic some time and watch people smile. I am not suggesting with this article that dragon decks are going to win the next big Type 2 tourney. It’s best I’m clear about that point.

But I do think it’s darned interesting that I initially questioned whether dragon decks were viable or not. I think it’s even more darned interesting that I won a lot of games during my playtesting with these decks. Most interesting of all were my opponents asking to see my decklists and brainstorming with me how to make Crosis playable.

Dragons are on the rise. The most renowned mages in the land may, indeed, someday soon be looking to harness the power of dragons.

Maybe – and I know this is a radical idea here – you should beat them to it.

Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar
"doctorjay" on mIRC and Magic Encyclopedia