Skarrgan Hellkite Is Real. Pay Attention.

When did we start sleeping on Dragons of all things?! Gottlieb says this card is insane, and he has some decks to prove it! If you’ve been waiting on the right way to use Sarkhan or you just want to relive some Glorybringer glory, here you go!

What is it about red flyers that leads them to be habitually underrated in
preview season? It’s like these cards have protection from hype.

Glorybringer Rekindling Phoenix Arclight Phoenix

It’s not that these cards go completely ignored. They just get a collective
“nice” from the Magic community and we go about discussing every other card
in the set. Then Week 4 of the format rolls around, and we’re all left
saying “I sure wish I ordered this card before it was $30.” Let’s break the

This card is the truth. For some reason, it seems like every discussion
about Skarrgan Hellkite starts with “worse than Glorybringer.” This just
isn’t useful. Context is everything in evaluating Magic cards, and Skarrgan
Hellkite is contemplating entirely different interactions than Glorybringer
was. What removal is being played now? What support spells are enabling
Skarrgan Hellkite? What is the pace of gameplay? What types of creatures do
I expect my opponent to be playing? The answer to all these questions
influences the viability of Skarrgan Hellkite. It doesn’t have to clear the
incredibly high bar set by Glorybringer in order to be a major part of Ravnica Allegiance Standard.

But it might just do so anyway. Sure, there are a ton of situations where
Skarrgan Hellkite doesn’t snowball the game quite as effectively. Move to
the lategame though, and we can really see where Skarrgan Hellkite can
outshine its brethren. I suppose it isn’t shocking that the card with the
mana intensive ability gets better as the game goes on, but it is worth
noting that at only eight mana, a non-hasty Skarrgan Hellkite starts out
damaging a hasty one. Add on the capability to produce a fifth point of
power in a world where people will be routinely attempting to stabilize
behind a Niv-Mizzet, Parun, and you start to see more potential upside in
the riot keyword.

Skarrgan Hellkite also does a better job of playing “pure defense” than
your typical red Dragon. A 5/5 blocker with additional removal stapled on
after untapping is going to stall a lot of opposing offenses. While
Glorybringer only reached its true potential through aggression, Skarrgan
Hellkite is a purer reflection of midrange sensibilities.

And while Skarrgan Hellkite almost certainly gets there solely on rate, the
synergies are what have me completely over the moon. Let’s start with the
deck that I’ve been waiting to build for what feels like forever.

Opinions are very split on whether Status plus Goblin Chainwhirler is
suitable for top-tier Standard play. Personally, I’m a believer. Having a
trump card that can break battlefield stalls is incredibly important in
midrange mirrors, and Statue is just a fine, versatile card that a midrange
deck should be happy to have access to. The printing of Skarrgan Hellkite
gives us a level of redundancy in our Status “combo” that previous sketches
of this style of deck were sorely lacking. The fact that your opponent is
generally incentivized to main phase any removal targeting Skarrgan
Hellkite is a huge boon in setting up Status plays, since you’re apt to
feel just a little safer. Whether you’ve curved out and taken an aggressive
stance or are seeking to blunt your opponent’s aggression and deploy a big
flying threat, Hellkite is ready to be your haymaker.

I love including Find in a deck like this. You’re doubling down on your
ability to prevent your opponents from going wide while simultaneously
gaining access to attrition-based long games. Rix Maadi Reveler provides
another burst of card advantage that “mono-red” decks are just not supposed
to have access to reliably.

Fanatical Firebrand might be the glue that can hold all this together.
Acting as a suitable recipient for a deathtouch upgrade or as an enabler
for Rix Maadi Reveler has earned the little Pirate the honors of filling my
one-drop slot for the time being. It’s possible we’re just supposed to stay
larger and add more Legion Warbosses to our maindeck, or possibly Risk
Factors to synergize with our non-spectacle Rix Maadi Revelers.

We can also take a much larger approach to Mono-Red similar to what
Ben Weitz was doing earlier in the format

Changes from pre-Ravnica Allegiance Big Red are minimal, but
substantial. Hellkite is at home in a four Treasure Map deck that is happy
going long. The small black addition for Rix Maadi Reveler is encouraging
some experimentation in the sideboard, and I want to give Theater of
Horrors a look. Against control, a persistent source of damage, no matter
how expensive, is a pretty key thing for Big Red to gain access to. The
fact that this source comes with a boatload of card advantage potentially
stapled on is just icing on the cake.

Finally, we have to discuss Skarrgan Hellkite’s creature type. As I’ve been
repeatedly saying for months now, it feels like Sarkhan, Fireblood should
be good enough to matter in Standard. Did Hellkite finally get us there?

The manabase upgrades combined with the printing of Skarrgan Hellkite have
bestowed the “Turbo-Niv” strategy with enough creatures that are actually
worth protecting. Creating a Nicol Bolas, the Arisen or untapping with
Niv-Mizzet, Parun feel like easily achievable goals with plenty of maindeck
Dive Downs. I’d put Skarrgan Hellkite a step below both threats, but
there’s a point where you gain access to enough mana to make Hellkite the
best thing you can possibly be doing.

Look at the card quality in this deck! If you can find the right tools to
bridge into the lategame, it’s very clear that your spells will quickly
outclass whatever your opponents are doing. Plaguecrafter is probably the
scariest possible card against us, and sideboard Rix Maadi Revelers are an
effort to shore up this weakness while enabling a grindy card
advantage-based approach against the control decks (with an assist from
Theater of Horrors, of course).

It’s very hard for me to envision a Standard “Red” deck that doesn’t want
to top its curve with Skarrgan Hellkite. It’s modal while being powerful,
and flexibility is the order of the day in current Standard. While things
like Ravenous Chupacabra and Plaguecrafter continue to be a problem, haste
can mitigate these concerns to some extent.

A couple words about Skarrgan Hellkite’s viability in Modern:

Probably not.

All right, a couple more words.

There is a very small opening for Skarrgan Hellkite to potentially see
fringe play. Skarrgan Hellkite could shine in a deck that was
simultaneously attempting to present an aggressive “Plan A” with a
potential backdoor combo kill utilizing infinite mana. While most infinite
mana setups presently use Devoted Druid (and are therefore lacking access
to infinite red mana), the printing of Rhythm of the Wild and Prime Speaker
Vannifar has opened up a host of new creature-combo options. These decks
are still congealing, and it’s hard to say if infinite mana will end up on
the table. Existing setups like Necrotic Ooze/Devoted Druid/Morselhorder
might want access to Skarrgan Hellkite as a Chord of Calling/Eldritch
Evolution target, or maybe there’s some goofy Intruder Alarm deck. It’s all
speculative at this point, but it’s always worth keeping track of potential
combo payoffs that can provide utility to a deck in non-combo modes as

Even if Skarrgan Hellkite completely misses the boat in Modern, don’t
worry. I have a feeling that by the end of its time in Standard, we’ll all
be ready to see this card go.