Why Not Two-Headed Dragon?

One of the things that strikes me as odd in Constructed decks — and Standard decks in particular — is the lack of Two-Headed Dragons. I often consider different cards to be “good” than most players, but Two-Headed Dragon seems like an obvious omission to me. So why aren’t more people playing it… and more importantly, why should you be playing it?

One of the things that strikes me as odd in Constructed decks — and Standard decks in particular — is the lack of Two-Headed Dragons. I often consider different cards to be “good” than most players, but Two-Headed Dragon seems like an obvious omission to me.

Now Two-Headed Dragon doesn’t belong in all Red Decks, but it can be a powerful finisher in any Red Deck capable of generating sufficient mana. I am pretty sure that the only reason that it isn’t being widely played is that the good Dragon is simply being overlooked right now. The evidence?

Kumano, Master Yamabushi.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the old man; in fact, Kumano is quite a powerful creature, and almost perfectly costed to make him not only a Limited bomb, but an attractive Constructed creature. Is he Arc-Slogger? No. Arc-Slogger is quite simply the best creature in Standard, Red or not, and in a sense, Kumano fits all right as a fifth Arc-Slogger. I can’t say that I agree with Red Decks that don’t run four Arc-Sloggers and do run a Kumano or more, because Kumano lacks many of the features that make Arc-Slogger so good… but that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong or bad about him, other than he’s not the best creature available.

In testing Green against Red for Champs, I found Arc-Slogger to be a nightmare for any “regular” green deck (that is, not one based on Tooth and Nail as the high end). If the green player didn’t get a lethal Rude Awakening, no non-Red green deck could compete with the dangerous beast. Because Arc-Slogger has that fifth point of toughness, he can get in a fight with big creatures like Molder Slug and walk away, usually ending it for the creature that blocked him. As an Arc-Slogger replacement, Kumano can’t make the same claim.

Secondly, Kumano’s “Masticore” ability costs twice as much mana as Arc-Slogger’s, for half the damage. The second half of Kumano’s ability will probably be relevant somewhere down the line — but compared to Arc-Slogger, he’s just nowhere near as efficient. But as another big guy for the high end of the curve? I think Kumano only gets the nod only because he’s flashy and new, and players don’t remember that Two-Headed Dragon is in Eighth Edition.

Let’s consider Two-Headed Dragon against Kumano in a Tale of the Tape.


In arguably the most important metric, Kumano’s cost is one less than Two-Headed Dragon’s. This is a huge deal… but let’s not forget that many Red Decks have exactly the mana acceleration to set up Two-Headed Dragon on turn 4.

Going into turn 3, the Red Deck can set up either Wayfarer’s Bauble or one of the Mirrodin Talismans for Solemn Simulacrum. The Simulacrum goes looking for another Mountain so that for turn 4, a land in hand equals six lands in play. With Arc-Slogger, this is great (you should especially check out the deck I posted last week), because Arc-Slogger’s ability only requires a single mana. On the other hand, you can tap all six for Two-Headed Dragon, but if you play Kumano, you don’t necessarily have anything to do with the mana.


If you watched the Pro Tour: Philadelphia webcast last week, you probably already know how long popular Legendary creatures stick around. Because Red Decks are so prevalent in Standard right now, and because Kumano shows up in many Red listings, his Legendary status can end up being a liability. It’s bad enough having Kumano when the other guy has Arc-Slogger, but what is worse is if the other guy can 187 your Legendary Human Shaman and crash in with his Mirrodin Beast without thinking about it.

Kumano’s disadvantage isn’t quite as steep as Two-Headed Dragon’s extra mana cost, but it is still something significant that you can’t ultimately discount when trying to build the best decks.


Connect Four This is the part where Two-Headed Dragon really overtakes the Master Yamabushi for deck space. First of all, Two-Headed Dragon can fly. He races. He just connects. In a world where Beacon of Creation is one of the format’s most popular threats, the ability to run past a board bogged down by 1/1 creatures is pretty significant, especially when attached to a body that can end the game before the Beacon tokens can go lethal.

But Two-Headed Dragon’s advantages in attacking and blocking don’t stop there! The fact that the opponent needs two creatures to block it will come up at times — but it isn’t that much of a selling point for a creature that already has flying. On the other hand, the fact that Two-Headed Dragon can block two creatures with flying is a huge benefit.

A few weeks ago, when I was testing a lot of White Weenie, the same thought kept coming up in my mind: these decks don’t have any flying defense. Today’s players expect to hit you with Lantern Kami and Suntail Hawk. They will sometimes attach cards like Bonesplitter and Umezawa’s Jitte to such creatures. The ability to hold off and even take out tiny flyers (especially those that have their toughness enhanced past easy Kumano range via Glorious Anthem) with your giant Dragon will often be the difference between losing to White Weenie and blowing it out of the water.

But it is pointless to dwell on a stack of abilities that Kumano just doesn’t have. If we consider both creatures to be relatively efficient, then maybe it is a bargain to gain flying, double-blocking, and additional evasion all via one mana’s worth in cost. Ultimately, the abilities comparison is going to come down to the lines starting with those “1R” bits. Kumano does one damage for two mana; Two-Headed Dragon does twice as much.

In one sense, Kumano’s ability is more versatile. On the other hand, Two-Headed Dragon does twice as much damage. Remember all that business about the flying and requiring two blockers? Two-Headed Dragon also connects.

When you have six mana for Two-Headed Dragon, that automatically implies a two-turn clock, even if you don’t play another land for the rest of the game. Two-Headed Dragon has four power on his own, and six mana translates into six more damage, or ten total. 10 + 10 = 20 in the sky, or mate in two… as long as you don’t walk into a Shining Shoal or something.

Now even if you don’t buy Two-Headed Dragon in the Red Deck, what about in R/G? There is a card that sees almost universal play in green decks, U/G, R/G, all of them, even B/G decks that blow up their own lands… and this threat costs eight. Sure, Rude Awakening can win the game in a single swing, but Two-Headed Dragon can do the same… and end the game two turns before you even have enough lands to go lethal on Rude Awakening!

I’m still tuning Two-Headed Dragon in my Standard decks, but right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if I showed up with Mercadian Masques’s proudest son dragon come Regionals. He’s just so big and swings for twenty so quickly, I just can’t keep him in the binder.

Here are some deck springboards utilizing Two-Headed Dragon to get your creative juices flowing:

This one is just my Kuroda-Style deck with Two-Headed Dragon in the Sowing Salt slot. I actually don’t know if it’s better… it’s probably worse, but I like Two-Headed Dragon.

Gregg Weiss actually questioned the presence of Molten Rain in the Kuroda-style deck (“You wouldn’t just dedicate four slots to play Stone Rain, would you?”). If we bias against Tooth and Nail by doubling up on Sowing Salts, the deck instead looks like this:

4 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Wayfarer’s Bauble

4 Arc-Slogger
3 Beacon of Destruction
4 Magma Jet
4 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
4 Shrapnel Blast
2 Sowing Salt
3 Two-Headed Dragon

4 Blinkmoth Nexus
20 Mountain

I would probably just play the original, but the Kuroda-style deck does need a little oomph against Umezawa’s Jitte sometimes, and no one likes losing to Lantern Kami. Running some Dragons takes care of both problems due to its enormous power and the relative weakness of random land destruction. By the same token, I could see your Black and Tooth and Nail matchups getting worse.

I include these variations just because of the natural mana progression noted above. Consider:

Turn 1: M, Wayfarer’s Bauble; R
Turn 2: M, use Wayfarer’s Bauble; RRR
Turn 3: M, Solemn Simulacrum; RRRRR
Turn 4: M, Two-Headed Dragon

Besides a reasonably fast 4/4 flyer on defense, you have a conceivable turn 6 kill without playing a single burn spell.

Contrast with my pre-bannings G/R test deck (very “eh”):

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Eternal Witness
4 Oxidize
4 Plow Under
2 Rude Awakening
4 Viridian Shaman

4 Arc-Slogger
4 Electrostatic Bolt
2 Kumano, Master Yamabushi
4 Magma Jet

11 Forest
9 Mountain
4 Shivan Oasis

You really do get a lot of slots back when you don’t have to waste eight of them main deck on Oxidize and Viridian Shaman – or twelve including Electrostatic Bolt.

One of the things that I realized working on various decks against Tooth and Nail the past couple of months is that Creeping Mold isn’t as bad as it initially seems. It’s a bad Stone Rain and a worse Naturalize, but the fact that it’s one ratty card or another and not locked into either mode actually comes up a lot.

First of all, Plow Under is surprisingly blah against Tooth and Nail. One Plow doesn’t really end them — though I guess with Two-Headed Dragon in the mix, they are on a significant clock. What I find happening a lot, though, is that Tooth and Nail flips one UrzaTron piece from off the top and then just flips the next one and goes off if you don’t either kill it or hit it with another Plow Under. I’ve actually lost games in testing where I Plowed for five straight turns (though obviously with just some Eternal Witnesses running into Vine Trellises). Creeping Mold gives Tooth different outs, but at least it has to draw them in order to set up the win.

The natural curve of Bird or Tribe Elder into Creeping Mold, Plow Under, and Two-Headed Dragon should be pretty obvious. That draw is hard for Tooth and Nail to beat, because it is down three lands and only has two turns to live. What Two-Headed Dragon gives to this mana-hungry setup is a legitimate finisher that can take advantage of the deck’s critical mass of mana. Many decks run twenty-three to twenty-six lands and a ton of acceleration and fetch, but they lack a way to win; it’s all well and good when you’re beating down with Arc-Slogger, but even the best creature in Standard has to work within limits; it can’t, for example, race a Pristine Angel. Two-Headed Dragon turns mana into damage – and because green decks so often have an extra land here or there, these decks can power up blocker elimination or play extra creatures to stall the ground without having to sacrifice the clock.

Any kind of symmetrical fight (U/G, G5C, other G/R) usually comes down to who Plows first. Creeping Mold gives you an extra pre-emptive strike for games where you are on the draw, as well as a disruptive element that lets you buy time going into the other guy’s Plow Under. Like, if he doesn’t have a sixth mana — which is entirely possible — you’re going to avalanche him and play Two-Headed Dragon even if he’s otherwise got the draw. It’s not like you want to play against other Plow Under decks all day, but the subtle advantage of two Creeping Molds gives you a little bit of leeway in an otherwise draw-dependent “mirror.”

Like I said, these decks are mostly springboards at present, to illustrate ramping up to Two-Headed Dragon, and now that I think about it, the non-terribleness of Creeping Mold. More testing is going to come in down the line — provided Saviors of Kamigawa doesn’t throw too big a wrench in the mix.

Just for kicks, the most famous deck to run Two-Headed Dragon:

10 Forest
5 Mountain
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Chimeric Idol
4 Fires of Yavimaya
4 Blastoderm
4 Saproling Burst

4 Assault / Battery
4 Karplusan Forest
4 Rishadan Port
3 Jade Leech
3 Two-Headed Dragon
2 Dust Bowl
1 Earthquake

4 Kavu Chameleon
3 Earthquake
3 Flashfires
2 Reverent Silence
2 Tangle
1 Obliterate