The more I dig into Core Set 2021, the more Commander cards I uncover that are so cool. Case in point is a new mono-red legendary creature with a big payoff if you build around it—Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge!
Looking at the art and the mechanics of the card, the first thing that came to mind was Smaug from The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
You know, “Smaug the Tremendous,” “Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities,” “Smaug the Mighty,” “Smaug the Unassessably Wealthy,” “Lord Smaug the Impenetrable,” “Smaug the Terrible,” and “Smaug the Dreadful.”
Gadrak, like Smaug, kills things and collects Treasures.
Anyway, let’s dig into the mechanics of this card that makes it so cool. First off, it’s a 5/4 flying Dragon for just three mana, so of course there needs to be a drawback: Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge can’t attack unless you control four or more artifacts. Since we’d be playing mono-red, chances are good we’d be playing a lot of artifacts anyway, so it’s a small leap to lean heavily in that direction. One thing to notice right away is the drawback doesn’t impact Gadrak’s ability to block, so it can hold down the fort quite admirably.
Gadrak’s second ability quite conveniently generates artifacts in the form of Treasure tokens, one for each nontoken creature that died this turn. It’s interesting that this trigger only happens during your own end step, which means that if you need those Treasure artifacts to be able to attack, you’ll need to wait a turn, and it also means you won’t accumulate Treasures on other players’ turns. Limiting this to your own end step is a brilliant design move since there are a lot of ways you could “go off” during your own main phase if you got Treasures right away, and if you got Treasures during your opponents’ turns it could discourage creature combat altogether. The way it’s worded now requires a few hoops to jump through, which makes the card less of an obnoxious, oppressive force and more of a nifty draconic cog in an artifact shenanigans machine.
Let’s get brewing!
1. Salvaging Station
The first order of business is artifact recursion. If we want Gadrak to be satisfied with enough artifacts to be able to go on the offensive, we’ll want to bring back artifacts that our opponents may have destroyed along the way. Salvaging Station is one of the best choices here since it doesn’t require mana to activate and only asks for a creature dying to rev up its engine, which is basically what Gadrak wants anyway (the nontoken variety of dying).
Salvaging Station’s recursion ability is limited to artifacts with converted mana cost of one or less, so we’ll want to load up with a fair number of those, which again aligns with our plan anyway—lots of cheap artifacts to ensure we can get at least four artifacts on the battlefield early enough for Gadrak to start rampaging on our opponents’ life totals.
I’m including some other ways to bring artifacts back from the graveyard, like Goblin Welder and Scrap Trawler. Feldon of the Third Path doesn’t bring artifacts back, but it does copy a creature from your graveyard and the copy is also an artifact, so that might just be enough artifacts to unleash our Dragon.
2. Dross Scorpion
It does my heart a lot of good to find a good home for Dross Scorpion. You see, a million years ago I used to write a column for Wizards of the Coast (WotC) called Single Card Strategy and in November of 2003 the card I featured was none other than Dross Scorpion from the recently released Mirrodin expansion! Much like Salvaging Station, Dross Scorpion triggers off creatures dying, but specifically artifact creatures. Its triggered ability lets you untap a target artifact, so we’ll want a fair number of artifacts that tap for value…such as Salvaging Station!
Since we’re rolling deep in artifacts, I’m including some other cards that get really good with lots of artifacts available:
Happily, a lot of these tap to do stuff, so Dross Scorpion triggers could let you get extra uses — who wouldn’t want to activate Trading Post multiple times? Or using Kuldotha Forgemaster to search out key artifacts for your engine? With enough Treasure tokens you have lots of fodder to feed Kuldotha Forgemaster. Speaking of lots of Treasure tokens, if you have them during your upkeep and happen to have a Hellkite Tyrant handy, you could just flat out win the game!
Speaking of Hellkite Tyrant, it’s a fantastic combo with Liquimetal Coating, turning a juicy permanent that your opponent controls into an artifact and then stealing it with Hellkite Tyrant’s combat damage trigger. With enough untap triggers from Dross Scorpion, you could turn a lot of permanents into artifacts to steal!
3. Walking Ballista
Since it’s possible that we’d have a variable amount of mana at various points of the game – occasionally quite a lot of mana – I want to include some XX mana artifact creatures and the best of the bunch is Walking Ballista. For one thing, with enough mana it can just kill players, and if you can give it deathtouch it can really mow down opposing armies. And if you really need a creature-death trigger for Salvaging Station or Dross Scorpion, you can always cast it for zero mana and have it die right away (which will also net you a Treasure during your end step if Gadrak is on the battlefield).
Hangarback Walker is particularly nice since it taps to make itself larger, so it can benefit from our engine cards that untap artifacts if we want.
4. Mystic Forge
Every Commander deck can benefit from card draw, but one with so many artifacts is really going to benefit from Mystic Forge, especially since we could potentially untap it and clear away lands or cards we don’t really want as we dig for more artifacts.
I’m including the usual card-drawing suspects you’d expect from a mono-red deck. Tome of Legends is particularly nice since we have a cheap and aggressive commander.
5. Chandra’s Ignition
While we’ll have ways of sacrificing our own creatures and recurring them to appease Gadrak, let’s not forget we can kill our opponents’ creatures to get the trigger too! One method I really love for this is Chandra’s Ignition targeting Gadrak; since Gadrak’s power is five, odds are pretty good that all but the biggest creatures will die while leaving Gadrak unharmed.
You’ll want to time things right to leverage Chain Reaction and Blasphemous Act – it’s fine to cast Gadrak after these spells has resolved, since Gadrak’s ability looks back to any creature that died during your turn, including ones that died before you cast Gadrak.
6. Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
Vandalblast is a very popular removal spell in Commander, and we’ll want to include ways to help ensure we don’t get blown away by it. Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer can sacrifice half of our artifacts to save the most important half.
And if you have Liquimetal Coating, you could either use Slobad to save any permanent from destruction by turning it into an artifact or turn something you don’t really need (such as an excess land) into an artifact you can sacrifice to Slobad and save something else. Also, since Gadrak can potentially generate a ton of Treasure tokens, you could have tons of extra artifact fodder to save your vital artifacts. Like Trading Post!
I’m also including a few indestructible artifacts that are just naturally more resilient to artifact destruction, like Darksteel Axe!
7. Pyrite Spellbomb
I want to include some more artifacts I could get back with Salvaging Station, and one I definitely wanted to find room for was Pyrite Spellbomb. Early on it can just be cycled for a card. If there’s a small engine going, you could potentially draw quite a few cards. If you’ve got a large engine going it could potentially be a win condition.
Witch’s Oven seems cool here since Food tokens are actually artifacts, and if someone tries to kill Gadrak, you can pop it in the Oven and get two Food tokens!
8. Neheb, the Eternal
Since Gadrak hits the battlefield early and has significant power, odds are pretty good you’d be able to recoup your mana investment from casting Neheb, the Eternal right away. With the various engines in the deck, having the extra mana that Neheb provides will be very, very useful.
I’m also including many of the mana ramp cards you’d expect in mono-red:
9. Blackblade Reforged
Blackblade Reforged is already a must-include for any deck where you have a creature as a commander, but it’s even better in a Gadrak deck since Gadrak comes out early and already has five power. If you have five lands on the battlefield, you could cast Blackblade and equip Gadrak and attack for ten points of damage! Assuming you have three other artifacts, of course.
I’m also including these other very popular and powerful Equipment cards. I especially like Shadowspear since Gadrak is already sizable, so the lifegain and trample will be high-impact.
As a mono-red deck, it can sometimes be difficult to interact with your opponents, especially ones that are playing multicolor decks stuffed with great utility spells, so being able to copy those spells is the next-best thing. I really like Reiterate here since it’s entirely possible you’d have a whole bunch of Treasure tokens on tap, which means you could cast Reiterate with buyback multiple times to copy the same spell if you wanted to. How much fun would that be if you got to copy Sublime Epiphany several times?
Here are some other cards to round out the deck:
I’m looking forward to seeing just how antsy my opponents get when I cast Fiery Emancipation. If Gadrak is equipped with Darksteel Axe when you cast Fiery Emancipation, that’s lethal commander damage right there!
Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:
- 1 Myr Retriever
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Karn, Silver Golem
- 1 Anger
- 1 Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
- 1 Goblin Welder
- 1 Arcbound Reclaimer
- 1 Dross Scorpion
- 1 Steel Hellkite
- 1 Kuldotha Forgemaster
- 1 Hellkite Tyrant
- 1 Burnished Hart
- 1 Feldon of the Third Path
- 1 Hangarback Walker
- 1 Magus of the Wheel
- 1 Metalwork Colossus
- 1 Scrap Trawler
- 1 Walking Ballista
- 1 Neheb, the Eternal
- 1 Goblin Engineer
- 1 Dockside Extortionist
- 1 Stonecoil Serpent
- 24 Mountain
- 1 Smoldering Crater
- 1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
- 1 Dust Bowl
- 1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
- 1 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
- 1 Myriad Landscape
- 1 Crucible of the Spirit Dragon
- 1 Haven of the Spirit Dragon
- 1 Mirrorpool
- 1 Desert of the Fervent
- 1 Scavenger Grounds
- 1 Endless Sands
- 1 Emergence Zone
- 1 Castle Embereth
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Wayfarer's Bauble
- 1 Salvaging Station
- 1 Pyrite Spellbomb
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Shattering Pulse
- 1 Urza's Bauble
- 1 Welding Jar
- 1 Reiterate
- 1 Cauldron of Souls
- 1 Basilisk Collar
- 1 Chain Reaction
- 1 Darksteel Axe
- 1 Liquimetal Coating
- 1 Darksteel Plate
- 1 Chaos Warp
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Blasphemous Act
- 1 Reforge the Soul
- 1 Magmaquake
- 1 Trading Post
- 1 Vandalblast
- 1 Chandra's Ignition
- 1 Sword of the Animist
- 1 Inspiring Statuary
- 1 Mirage Mirror
- 1 Blackblade Reforged
- 1 Spit Flame
- 1 Dragon's Hoard
- 1 Enchanter's Bane
- 1 Mystic Forge
- 1 Arcane Signet
- 1 Tome of Legends
- 1 Witch's Oven
- 1 Soul-Guide Lantern
- 1 Shadowspear
- 1 Fiery Emancipation
Here’s how the deck looks graphically, thanks to our friends at Archidekt:
What do you think? Are there any cards I’ve overlooked? If you see any new cards from Core Set 2021 that should find a home here, let me know!
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And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy.
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