Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #69: Dragons!

At the risk of looking like a scrub (okay – more like a scrub), I am going to build dragon decks. This is partly because the new set is so dragon-friendly – and partly because I am getting some flak for playing too many combo decks. Even my beatdown decks generally have some”surprise, you all lose” elements. I’m trying to build something that only wins by beating down.

Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.

Older gamers know this proverb, and they avoid dragons. Younger players, though…

Their characters have mad combat skillz, a +5 sword of Mighty Hacking, +6 Armor of the M-1 Abrams, a Ring of Comfy Surroundings, a Fire Extinguisher of Super Spraying, and sundry other items of magic.

Their characters have a desire to fight dragons. And they act on that desire.

Shortly thereafter, their characters have third-degree burns, followed by cremation in situ… And the dragon has a +5 sword of Mighty Hacking, + 6 Armor of the M-1 Abrams, a Ring of Comfy Surroundings, a Fire Extinguisher of Super Spraying, and sundry other items of magic.

Even in Magic, fighting with dragons is generally shunned. Sure, Brian Kibler and Rob Dougherty did both play dragons once, but most dragon decks don’t do well at Pro Tours. Most dragon decks feature too little land and way too many high casting cost cards in multiple colors. These decks even have a theme song. It generally goes something like this:

“If I had had just one – or two – more {insert land type here},

my {insert name of dragon here} would have so wrecked you.

It’s a {insert size of dragon here}!”

At the risk of looking like a scrub (okay – more like a scrub), I am going to build dragon decks. This is partly because the new set is so dragon-friendly – and partly because I am getting some flak for playing too many combo decks. Even my beatdown decks generally have some”surprise, you all lose” elements. I’m trying to build something that only wins by beating down.

I may still include some basic answer to serious problems or bad board positions, like Apocalypse, but my goal is to avoid combos. I doubt I’ll make it – I can think of one real zinger already.

To make a dragons deck work, you need to make the mana work correctly. That’s critical – dragon decks rely on huge creatures, and failing to cast them is generally a fatal error. That means you have to play plenty of lands as well as some mana accelerators or land fetchers.

The obvious starting point is Mountains, and plenty of them. If you are playing just Mountains, I would be looking at twenty-six or twenty-seven, since the critical creatures are in the range of five to eight mana. (For basics on mana, see my primer.) Mana artifacts and land searchers can cut the number – I generally count two of these as equal to one land. I am going to play one Sol Ring, of course. Other artifacts include the Fire Diamonds, or even Grim Monolith. Ruby Medallions, which lower the casting cost of red spells instead of providing mana, are also useful, but are better if you are playing several spells a turn. Thran Dynamo is another possibility, although it is at the upper end of the affordable scale.

If you can play an artifact-heavy deck, running Thran Dynamo, Mana Vault, Grim Monolith, Voltaic Key and some other mana artifacts, then play Covetous Dragons and Teeka’s Dragons – although that is more of an artifacts deck. You can throw in a couple Phyrexian Colossi, Urza’s Blueprints, and a Wildfire or two and pound people into the ground, but that’s a different article.

The alternative to artifact mana acceleration is to play the accelerators in Scourge. The new Dragonspeaker Shaman makes dragons cheaper, and looks pretty good – if you can keep a two-toughness creature alive. The mountaincyclers also look interesting since they are not dead draws late in the game. They look especially good in multicolor decks since they can fetch dual lands.

The lands themselves don’t all have to be mountains. Shivan Gorge is a great multiplayer land, allowing you a method of pinging the opposition whenever you have spare mana. Forgotten Cave and Smoldering Crater cycle, which helps if you draw them late and have enough land in play. Ghitu Encampment animates. Other red producing lands are less exciting – Hammerheim removes landwalking abilities, which is a pretty narrow effect, but it has no real drawback. Finally, City of Traitors and Ancient Tomb can provide some acceleration, but at a cost.

For mono-red dragons, here’s my starting mana base.

15 Mountains

1 Shivan Gorge

3 Ghitu Encampment

4 Forgotten Cave

1 Sol Ring

4 Fire Diamonds

1 Grim Monolith

I would strongly consider the Shaman, but the people I play against are Lightning Bolt and Shock-happy and it would not survive.

The next step is to play some defensive creatures – something to stop the bleeding until the dragons show up. These fall into three basic categories: Walls, stallers, and utility creatures. Walls are pretty obvious – they simply block. In red, the best cheap, big wall is probably Wall of Earth from Legends – a 0/6 for 1R. Assuming you also want to threaten attackers, Wall of Heat (also from Legends) or Pitchstone Wall will encourage weenies to go elsewhere. Stallers are smaller creatures that merely hold the fort for a turn or so; Bottle Gnomes are a good example and Flametongue Kavu is in the same category. The final category includes some small, semi-defensive creatures that provide some advantages in themselves. Viashino Heretic and Battle Rampart are examples of this type of creature.

The people I play with love artifacts like Forcefield, so I’m partial to Viashino Heretics. However you split it, though, I would play a half-dozen or more cheap creatures to slow up early beats. If I were building mono-red, I would play three Wall of Earth, three Wall of Heat and two Viashino Heretics. I tend to end up playing large games, so the two-for-one effect of Flametongue is not as good as a really big wall.

The next step is spells and non-mana artifacts. I want to play some removal spells – and my first thought is direct damage. For pinpoint removal, I want either Lightning Bolt or Incinerate. Since I should have lots of mana, I will play Incinerate – the ability to kill regenerators is too good to pass up. Most commonly, I can kill a regenerator after it blocks by casting Incinerate before damage. In this deck, if I am playing the big walls, I would consider some form of mass removal, like Slice and Dice or Starstorm. In both these cases, the ability to hit fliers and cycling give them the edge over cards like Earthquake, Fireball, or Fault Line. My call would be four Incinerates, two Slice and Dices, and a Starstorm.

I also want to include some card drawing, to keep me going late game. Artifact card drawing, like Jayemdae Tome or Urza’s Blueprints is probably better than Wheel of Fortune. J-Tome also gives me an end of turn mana sink if I am not using it all on my main phase to play dragons. Urza’s Blueprints is nuts, once it hits play, but it is expensive for two straight turns. Wheel is great – but my opponents will probably able to play the extra cards they draw before I get all of mine in play. I’ll play two J-Tomes.

And, as I mentioned, I will play one copy of Apocalypse, since it can deal with annoying problems, like Meekstone and Circle of Protection: Red. I don’t expect to need it very often, but when I do…

Okay, twenty-nine land and mana artifacts, eight blockers, and twelve spells leaves room for eleven dragons. Here’s a list of our options.

Some comments are in order: First, I won’t be playing the Portal Dragons – mainly because I don’t have them. I’m not playing enough artifacts for Covetous, but he is pretty amazing. Dragon Roost is worth considering, but then I would probably cut the cycling lands, because you will play all the lands you draw. Fledgling is small; this deck does not power up to threshold unless you use the mountaincyclers. Shivan Hellkite has a Masticore effect, which I have often found quite useful. Two-Headed Dragon has extra evasion, which is good. Dragon Tyrant is way too expensive – but it wins the game in one unblocked hit. Kilnmouth’s Amplify is great, but may not work that well with only eleven dragons in the deck. Worldgorger is used, and rightly so, only in combo decks.

My eleven dragons would probably be:

2 Lightning Dragon

2 Two-Headed Dragon

2 Shivan Hellkite

2 Rorix

2 Kilnmouth Dragon

1 Dragon Tyrant or Teeka’s Dragon

Short and simple. However, the deck really doesn’t have much in the way of card drawing or ways of finding the dragons. Mirage has one card that handles that easily: Zirilan of the Claw. I’ll talk about Zirilan in a bit, but first I want to talk about splashes.

Splashes are a lot easier with the landcycling creatures from Scourge. They fetch certain types of lands – like, say, Mountains – and not only basic lands. They can get dual lands. Late game, they are reasonable creatures. They are even better if you have some method of returning cards in your graveyard to your hand or deck, like Volrath’s Stronghold or Regrowth.

Splashing White:

Adding white to the mix adds three new Dragons. Alabaster Dragon is nice, but not amazing. Pearl Dragon is boring. However, Eternal Dragon is pretty good: It is a plainscycler, getting you one plains easily. If you then use Mana Flare as mana acceleration, that one plains will allow you to get Eternal Dragon back to hand and cast it fairly easily. Mana Flare and the Noble Templar could also give you some simple defenses fairly quickly, and let you dump some of the walls and defenses for more dragons. Mana Flare should also let you cast even Dragon Tyrant fairly easily.

White also gives you access to some very good accessories. It has solid removal, in the form of Swords to Plowshares, plus Exile and its relatives (think Chastise). Dragon Scales is obviously playable in a deck with a lot of high casting cost creatures, and the”does not tap to attack” ability is much better in multiplayer. In fact, I would consider playing Serra’s Blessing in any deck with white mana and large creatures. White also provides some solid Disenchant effects, including Orim’s Thunder. Finally, if you are lucky enough to own them, a couple of Moats would be amazing in a dragons deck.

Splashing Blue:

The blue dragons are a lot less interesting. Cloud Dragon (from Portal) is just an overgrown Cloud Spirit. Mist Dragon lets you confuse people with phasing, but that’s about it. Quicksilver Dragon is pretty good, if your opponents use targeted removal and if you can keep enough mana untapped. (That can be a real problem in multiplayer games.)

The other downside to blue is that the landcyclers are not that interesting. Sure, once you get six mana, Shoreline Raider gives you a 3/4 flier – but you should have plenty of bigger six-mana fliers in this deck.

Blue does have one interesting enchantment – Day of the Dragon. It works better if you have a bunch of non-dragons in play, however. I would be more likely to play it in a Squirrel-Opposition deck than a real Dragons deck.

The biggest advantage that blue could bring is cheap card drawing. You could include some early card drawing in place of some mana acceleration – something like Impulse, Brainstorm, or Accumulated Knowledge. The best blue card drawer for this deck, though? That has to be Rush of Knowledge. In mid-game, once you have a single dragon in play, Rush of Knowledge should give you a half-dozen new cards.

Splashing Black:

Black does give you a few more interesting dragons. Ebon Dragon is okay if you have and can play Portal cards, but he’s not better than the alternatives. Catacomb Dragon makes a hash of blockers. Bladewing the Risen is pretty good – and amazing if you can get other dragons into play. Vampiric Dragon is another machinegun that can shoot down opposing creatures, but gets to keep the bodies. I would only consider playing the last two.

Black also has some useful non-dragon creatures. Bladewing’s Thrall is a passable blocker, if you can reliably get double-black early in the game. Twisted Abomination is a great regenerator, and a swampcycler to boot. I would unquestionably play four, plus four Badlands and maybe some swamps to boot. He gets even better with a method of putting creatures back into the library or hand: I would probably start with a Living Death or two, plus Volrath’s Stronghold. Patriarch’s Desire also has some possibilities – sure, the opponents get some other creatures into play, but you will probably get a flight of dragons.

Black also has tutors and useful removal. I would probably start with Decree of Pain – you should get the mana, and that card is nuts in multiplayer. As a fallback, a dragon deck should have the mana to handle Dregs of Sorrow.

Splashing Green:

Green gives you mana acceleration, and access to other colors. Explosive Vegetation will get two basic lands of any type and put them into play, albeit tapped. Skyshroud Claim will get you two forests, and put them into play untapped. That is pretty good for deck thinning and mana acceleration, and very good when the forests are on dual lands. Nature’s Lore, from Ice Ages, is basically half a Skyshroud Claim.

Green also provides some solid disenchant effects. Naturalize is cheap, and works at instant speed. Creeping Mold is more expensive, and not an instant, but it can also kill Maze of Ith and other problem lands.

Green doesn’t add much in the way of straight green or green/red Dragons, but green does allow the mana acceleration to build five-color green decks. And that will allow you to play all the Invasion dragons. Those are worth considering.

Playing five-color green with cards like Nature’s Lore and Skyshroud Claim would also allow you to play Pernicious Deed. In a deck full of dragons, Pernicious Deed could easily destroy everything on the board except for lands and your creatures. Unless your opponents tend to play fast beatdown decks, you should be able to use four Deeds instead of walls to control the opposition until you can drop the fatties. If you do need some defenses against fast rushes, Wall of Roots or Wall of Blossoms are always very good.

If you want to play artifact mana acceleration in a five-color green deck, try Mox Diamond and Fellwar Stone. The Fellwar Stone is pretty decent in multiplayer. Putting land directly into play can be just as good, however.

If you want to play with multicolored Dragons, Dragon Arch can work reasonably well. It is a bit pricey, and it is vulnerable to Disenchant effects, but if it stays in play, it does produce dragons.

Zirilan of the Claw

Zirilan provides tutoring and, effectively, card drawing for the deck. He can be very useful when combined with Scroll Rack or Sylvan Library, because of his shuffle effect.

His main drawback is that the dragons do not stay around – in fact, removed from the game is pretty harsh. If you have some form of recursion, then you can get around the remove by sacrificing the dragons before the end of turn effects resolve. Altar of Dementia is annoying for opponents. Greener Pastures is pretty good card drawing. Rashida Scalebane lets you trade dragons for life – which is pretty good, except that she has double-white in the casting cost. The best option, however, might be Rishadan Pawnshop, which puts the dragon back into your deck. Of course, if you search out (or play) Bladewing the Risen, you can put one of those dragons back into play.

Of course, if you can get the double white mana, and can keep the creatures on the table, Zirilan, Rashida, and Reya, Dawnbringer are a pretty sweet combination. It can easily win the game – which is not surprising. If you can get three expensive legends with special powers in play and keep them out there, you should win.

Zirilan is also the heart of the one stupid combo I will allow myself to include: You need nine mana (including at least one mountain) available, Zirilan in play and Anger in the graveyard. It is better to do this when you are reasonably sure no one has instant counters or speed creature removal. Here goes.

  • Cast Upheaval.

  • In response, and before passing priority, activate Zirilan.

  • Search out Worldgorger Dragon.

  • Worldgorger removes all your other permanents from the game.

  • Upheaval resolves – Worldgorger and all of everyone else’s permanents return to their owner’s hands

  • All your permanents return to play, since Worldgorger is gone, untapped.

  • If anyone floated mana, declare your attack phase.

  • In the attack phase, but before declaration of attackers, activate Zirilan

  • Search out Dragon Mage.

  • Attack with Dragon Mage – everyone discards their hands, including all the permanents they just picked up in the Upheaval.

  • During your second main phase you will have at least six mana, plus a new hand of seven cards. Every one else will also have seven new cards, but nothing else in play.

Zirilan also lets you play with the original dragons – Nicol Bolas, Chromium, Palladia-Mors and the other Legends legends. The black-bordered versions are pretty expensive, but the Chronicles versions are affordable. The old dragons are fun – who wouldn’t want to attack a flying 7/7 trampler that makes you discard your hand? (That’s Nicol Bolas, for those of you who haven’t been on the receiving end of that particular card. If you have been, you remember.)

I have been pulling together a dragons deck, but haven’t had a chance to actually play it yet. However, here’s the initial build.


3 Bayou

3 Tropical Island

4 Savannah

4 Taiga

2 Shivan Oasis

1 Rith’s Grove

2 Wooded Foothills

1 Volrath’s Stronghold

4 Nature’s Lore

4 Skyshroud Claim

28 total

Spells and Enchantments

3 Rush of Knowledge

2 Pernicious Deed

1 Creeping Mold

1 Reverent Silence (mainly for Emperor or Back to Basics/Blood Moon)

35 total cards

Utility Creatures:

2 Dragonspeaker Shaman (worth a try)

2 Wall of Roots

2 Zirilan of the Claw

1 Rashida Scalebane

1 Reya, Dawnbringer (yes, it’s way too slow and unlikely, but it will be fun.)

1 Viashino Heretic

44 total cards

Dragons (I’m going with the variety approach)

1 Shivan Dragon (it’s a classic, after all)

1 Shivan Hellkite

1 Dragon Tyrant

1 Vampiric Dragon

1 Dromar, the Banisher

1 Darigaaz, the Igniter

1 Treva, the Renewer

1 Crosis, the Purger

1 Rith, the Awakener

1 Eternal Dragon

1 Rorix Bladewing

1 Bladewing the Risen

1 Nicol Bolas

1 Palladia-Mors

1 Two-Headed Dragon

1 Kilnmouth Dragon

16 dragons – and I cannot fit in Teeka’s Dragon or Draco!

Obviously, I need to play around with this a touch, but it sounds okay. Some goldfishing will check the mana. Nearly any hand should get me two lands, which should let me cast Wall of Roots or Nature’s Lore, which should let me cast Skyshroud Claim – and that should get most of the dragons into play.

I’m nervous about the amount of removal I don’t have. I would love to pack some – but I don’t know quite where. Deed, Dromar, Kilnmouth, Vampiric, and Shivan Hellkite will, hopefully, be enough.

I’m tempted to play a Sol Ring, but I’m not sure how many self-inflicted wounds I want Deed to cause me. I have also thought about playing Akroma’s Vengeance. And Swords to Plowshares. And a dozen other utility cards – but it’s time to play a beatdown deck. We’ll see if this works.