The Kitchen Table #396 – Dragon Commander

Which Dragon is best to use as your commander? Find out why Abe chose to build his Dragon-themed deck around Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund.

Commander is a format initially named after Dragons. There are dozens of legendary Dragons. Which one is the best to use as your commander? After looking at every legendary Dragon, I think it’s a small list. Partly, that list is based on color. If you want to play Esper colors (blue, white, and black), then Dragons such as Chromium and Dromar, the Banisher are eligible. If you are not tied to a specific color combination, which are the best?

I think that Bladewing the Risen is in the conversation for the best. Since you can bring it to the battlefield over and over again as your commander, being able to recur a Dragon right into play multiple times in the game has to be backbreaking. Bladewing the Risen might be the best Dragon Commander.

Scion of the Ur-Dragon might be a bit hard on the mana, but he opens up all colors and is another contender for the top spots. A deck that has him can play great Dragons such as Yosei, the Morning Star and Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. It also has a pretty strong ability on its own.

While those are both great choices, my favorite that we are going to build around today is Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund. After all, it’s in Commander’s Arsenal! Plus, not only do I gain access to green, which enables me to strongly ramp my mana for a deck that needs it, but it opens up some green Dragons and support cards that I think will really rock. Karrthus also has haste, which is really strong in multiplayer. His gain control ability is really cool too, and opponents who draw Dragons are going to have to decide whether they should risk playing them or not. Let’s start with the deck.

The single best card for Karrthus is Death by Dragons. Imagine you are playing a five way game. You cast DbD and give out three 5/5 Dragon tokens while making one for yourself. Then, on the next turn, you drop Karrthus, steal all of those Dragons, give them haste, and swing for a bunch of damage to someone’s face. You can imagine how powerful it would be late game if you play both DbD and Karrthus in the same turn. That’s 27 damage to the grill!

Karrthus works similarly with Sarkhan the Mad’s second ability, which forces someone to sacrifice a creature but gives them a 5/5 as compensation. You often use it on yourself to make nice guys, but when you need to use it on an opposing creature such as Avacyn or Darksteel Colossus, you can take that Dragon right back for your team. And let’s not ignore Sarkhan’s massively painful game ending ability in a Dragon deck.

Then I added various Dragons, shored up the deck with spells and lands, and called it a day. It’s interesting how decks can veer from your initial idea. In a recent article, I began with Lord of Tresserhorn and ended with three major hosers: graveyard (Planar Void), nonbasics (Magus of the Moon), and enters the battlefield abilities (Torpor Orb). That’s just where my deck went. Well, this time, my deck went for artifact hate. I love Hoard-Smelter Dragon. It’s a card that’s underappreciated by others. You can blow up artifact after artifact, and it went in easily.

Then I looked at Furnace Dragon, but instead of going past it like we all usually do (why it has both affinity for artifacts and exiles them is beyond me), I just pretended that it didn’t have affinity. Now it looked like an interesting card for a format that sees a lot of artifacts played, so I tossed it in. Later, in the spells, I included Shatterstorm and Creeping Corrosion. I made sure that my deck didn’t have any major artifacts, and suddenly I had a deck that’s very powerful versus artifacts.

Subthemes aside, Dragons are cool. I knew that I wanted some powerful top end Dragons. The very first Dragon that made the cut was Hellkite Overlord. It’s perfect here and is one of the reasons I wanted to use Karrthus so I could add green to the deck. He’s a perfect beater for Dragons. He’s the Akroma of Dragons, if that makes sense. The next Dragon is the aforementioned Bladewing the Risen. This Zombie Dragon works perfectly in a deck with more than twenty Dragons in it.

The last auto-include were a pair of Dragon enablers named Imperial Hellkite and Kilnmouth Dragon. With so many Dragons, you can easily drop a Kilnmouth, amplify it a few times, and then use it to stab creatures or players for damage each turn. Finally, Imperial Hellkite can be played early with morph, and when you morph it up, you Tutor your deck for a Dragon while also netting a solid creature for your efforts. Finally, Utvara Hellkite helps the team by spitting out Dragons for free.

The next Dragons that made my cut are those with repeatable effects that are quite good in multiplayer. This is when I looked at Hoard-Smelter Dragon. I love Scourge of Kher Ridges and its repeatable effects. Let’s take a closer look at this underplayed card. For an investment of eight mana, we acquire a 6/6 flyer, which seems a bit behind the curve mana-wise, but for our efforts, we can do two things.

One, we can spend two mana to Pyroclasm ground creatures. As this is a repeatable effect, we can do it over and over again to kill larger creatures or creatures in later turns. The second ability is one I suspect we’ll normally skip, and that’s to spend six mana and sweep all flying creatures for six mana. It’s there if you need it, but in a deck with so many flying Dragons, it seems like it won’t be harnessed often. You can imagine how good the Pyroclasm is for ground pounders though.

The last Dragon in this section is the quite valuable Steel Hellkite. When you swing through the air, you spend some mana and sweep all nonland permanents with that casting cost. It’s so good that I’m playing it even in my artifact-hate the deck. Why? Well, I only have two artifacts in the deck, this and Solemn Simulacrum. The likelihood is that neither will be out when I need to use one of my three sweeping effects. But if it is, oh well, it’s not a big deal. You don’t worry about having out a creature when you need to Wrath of God the table, and the same is true here.

The next place I looked were Dragons with strong abilities that could help the deck at a multiplayer table. Dragon Broodmother is another creature in the Verdant Force’s oeuvre that spits out token creatures during upkeeps. It makes 1/1 flyers. They have devour, but I doubt you’ll use that much. Still, making creatures is very strong in any format. Another easy choice was Darigaaz, the Igniter. He’s a solid 6/6 flyer for a six-mana investment, and when you hit a player, you can spend just three mana to burn someone for extra damage while also seeing their hand. (Seeing their hand alone often is worth the three mana, let alone the extra damage that comes with it).

Joining my ground-based damage from Scourge of Kher Ridges are Thunder Dragon, which shoots the ground for three damage to each creature when it arrives, and Ryusei, which shoots the ground for five damage when it dies. Both can sweep enemies we won’t have. I ended up with eight creatures on the ground, so you won’t have many objections to clearing that space out. Vampiric Dragon should have been in the previous section because its effect is repeatable and strong, but I didn’t recall it until now. Remember to shoot something just before it dies so you can nab that +1/+1 counter. Its ability to dole out damage to creatures can add to the damage-based removal of many of the above creatures to finish something.

I felt that Thundermaw Hellkite was good enough to warrant play in a deck with many flyers. It can open up the skies for an alpha strike by your team, and that’s very strong. And let’s not forget that it’s a 5/5 flyer with haste for just five mana. Mana-Charged Dragon allows anyone to pump your guy, and you can use green and black mana to Firebreathe your Dragon. It’s better than Shivan Dragon in almost every way, save you have to spend all of your mana at once and only when the ability triggers. In most cases, it’s far better, and in a deck with three colors of mana, there’s no doubt about that.

Joining my modest removal suite in my Dragon deck are two of my favorites for multiplayer. One is Flameblast Dragon. You attack and then Blaze someone or something for a nasty amount of damage. You can Blaze and slay a crucial blocker or swing at Bob and smash Jerry for twelve damage off the Blaze trigger. This is especially funny if Bob can easily block it with something like Wall of Denial. Another great Dragon is Bogardan Hellkite. The flash ability enables it to be played and used as a surprise blocker, and you can fan out five damage as you choose. Again, with such damage-based removal in the deck, it works very well to finish off something after Ryusei dies.

Knollspine Dragon can draw you a ton of cards. Play it after combat or after burn hits a player and then discard your hand and draw cards equal to the damage you dealt. With a combination of flyers, creatures of size, and damage to the dome, you can see how this can net you a ton of cards. And don’t forget that you also produce a seven-power flyer for seven mana—which is fairly uncommon. Broodmate Dragon enters the battlefield and spits out a twin. It has a powerful tournament pedigree and joins us here.

The rest of my creatures support the Dragon theme. All of my creatures make or fetch mana, Tutor for a dragon, or help me drop the cost of Dragons save one. That one is Spearbreaker Behemoth. Almost every Dragon is five power, so you can activate the Behemoth for a mana to make a Dragon indestructible. As it is indestructible as well, it will survive all of the removal in the deck (save one spell, which we’ll examine later). To find lands, both Solemn Simulacrum and Yavimaya Elder are in the deck. Both don’t mind dying for the cause. Fierce Empath will Tutor for any of the larger Dragons for whatever the situation requires. Only a handful of creatures aren’t at the six-drop level.

Both Dragonspeaker Shaman and Krosan Drover will drop the price of our guys by two each. They are very good for the early and midgame, but if they die, they die. The deck doesn’t rely on them. The last two critters are Drumhunter and Exuberant Firestoker. One will draw you cards pretty regularly and tap for mana, while the other taps for mana and shoots for one damage with regularity. Again, they help, but they aren’t necessary. That wraps up the creature section.

If you recall, green was to give me mana making, so in went Cultivate, Kodama’s Reach, Explosive Vegetation, Far Wanderings, and Journey of Discovery. Four of these five cards are always card advantage, netting you more lands than just one. Far Wanderings usually grabs you three lands later but just one land early. Since it scales up for the late game, it’s in here.

I added some cards to help the Dragons. Crucible of Fire is an essential inclusion since it pumps all of my Dragons. I also really like the Dragon aura trilogy from Scourge that are in my colors: Dragon Breath, Dragon Shadow, and Dragon Fangs. When one is in the ‘yard, whenever a creature with at least a six cost arrives, you can put the aura right on that creature.

A Dragon that adds Dragon Breath rocks both Firebreathing and haste so you can hit now. A Dragon with Dragon Shadow adds an extra power and fear. A Dragon with Dragon Fangs gets +1/+1 and trample (very few Dragons have trample naturally). Since these are mana and card free after playing them the first time, it’s really nice. The Breath, in particular, is a great way to come back after a Wrath of God effect clears out your board. Play your Dragon (usually with a cost of six or more), give it haste, and swing!

I adore haste, so I’m also running In the Web of War, a great enchantment from Kamigawa block. Whenever a creature enters your battlefield, it gets +2/+0 and haste for that turn. Giving all of your Dragons a bit of extra juice can deal a ton of damage turn after turn after turn. Since I have a lot of beef, Cream of the Crop was also deemed important. With CotC, you are essentially trading card advantage for incredible card quality because the Cream does not replace itself. Instead, you arrange your cards regularly, and with creatures of size, you dig deep to find the right card for your situation.

The deck also includes Descendants’ Path. With so many Dragons in the deck, there is a good chance that you will flip a Dragon and put it right into play. It’s very dangerous to folks, especially with a way to give the body haste in play (such as Karrthus, In the Web of War, and Dragon Breath).

With this deck packing so much beef, I tossed in a quartet of ways to Tutor for said beef and throw it right on to the battlefield. That’s something else green is known for, of course. Tooth and Nail was the first stop on the train. The next stop was Pattern of Rebirth, and the final green one was Defense of the Heart. The last card is not. The red Dragonstorm puts a Dragon right into play, and if you have an elevated storm count, it can win the game by itself. You usually won’t, but this ability is so strong that it’ll still be worth it. All of these cards will grab some nasties and put them into the fray. You can grab what you need immediately. Imagine finding both Thunder Dragon and Bogardan Hellkite or Furnace Dragon and Hellkite Overlord. You can really push the awesome.

I wanted a bit more removal in the deck than the creature base offered. I decided to add one X spell in Banefire. I like that it’s not stopped by counters or damage prevention. For mass removal, in went Damnation, Black Sun’s Zenith, and Death Wind. One won’t harm your creatures, once can be scaled to leave your creatures in play if needed (although a bit weakened by the experience), and the last is an emergency measure to keep yourself alive. Then in went Terminate and Murder to off at the speed of sound.

Card drawing is nice. I didn’t have room for a lot of card drawing, so I just added what I could. Four green cards give nice card drawing en masse: Harmonize, Momentous Fall, Hunter’s Insight, and Soul’s Majesty. The first just draws three cards, while the other trio all harness the power of the creatures in my deck to increase the size of my hand.

The last element for this deck was recursion. Since I’m in black already, it would seem a shame to have Bladewing the Risen be my sole representative of Reanimation. With the deck being mostly one tribe, Patriarch’s Bidding seemed like a strong choice. It enables one to live past mass removal or to give that late game push needed for victory. Beacon of Unrest Reanimates any creature or artifact from any graveyard into your control. With so much artifact removal in your deck, you might prefer a tasty artifact target, but I suspect you’ll mainly use it to bring back a dead Dragon. Lastly, Rise from the Grave puts one a creature from a graveyard into my control.

A couple of cards still need to be discussed. Suffer the Past can hose a graveyard while draining life at instant speed. In some cases, it acts like an instant Blaze that gains you life. It gives the deck some game against graveyards. Lastly, in addition to Sarkhan the Mad mentioned above (who is amazing with some Dragons out), this deck also includes the more tempered Sarkhan Vol. He can pump your team (and give haste) as a +1, which is really strong. If you can fire off his ultimate, then Dragongeddon may commence.

For lands, I went with those that help our mana such as Command Tower and Savage Lands. Every single land makes mana or fetches to make mana in our colors. The only land included for its ability was Bojuka Bog, which adds a tool to the graveyard hosing theme often required at the Commander table. Here’s the deck:

The last few cards cut included Taurean Mauler, Decree of Pain, Boundless Realms, and Dragon Roost. Anyway, I hope that you enjoyed today’s deck. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Until later,
Abe Sargent