Goldspan Dragon Isn’t Glorybringer 2.0 — It’s Much Much Better

Treasure Goldspan Dragon, says Bryan Gottlieb. He offers a wide suite of brews to take advantage of a Kaldheim Standard superstar in the making.

Goldspan Dragon, illustrated by Andrew Mar

In stark contrast to virtually all other aspects of my existence, when it comes to new Magic cards, I’ll always be an optimist. It’s just net positive to see the upside in a card rather than listing all the reasons that same card might not make it. Doing so means that, when something unexpected does hit, you’ll be ahead of the curve because you weren’t dismissing it out of hand.

It does decrease your overall “hit rate” when it comes to deckbuilding though. Efforts to maximize the potential of every card in a new set have often led me down twisted paths. Sadly, some of my most creative and exciting endeavors still get undone by format context and the cruel reality of a format’s power outliers (looking at you, Nahiri’s Lithoforming). If you’ve got to combine a card with twenty mediocre role-players in order to make it great, it’s unlikely the end product sets the world on fire.

It’s also rare that the most enticing cards to build around are at the extreme ends of the power spectrum. Cards like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Omnath, Locus of Creation do a lot of the work for you. The specifics matter of course, but often those cards brought packages of over twenty cards along with them. I prefer to leave the optimization of those decks to others.

This all means that I spend a lot of time working on ideas that I know will be discarded. Finding a gem that is high on raw power, has a ton of space to explore in deckbuilding, and naturally combines with many of the format’s best cards is a once-a-year type of occurrence.

But it seems like we’re getting it out of the way early in 2021.

Goldspan Dragon

When I did my Top 10 Kaldheim cards over on the Arena Decklists podcast, I had Goldspan Dragon as the eighth-best card in the set. After spending some time deckbuilding, I realized I was way off. I should have made it Number 1.

Sam Black did a great job introducing Goldspan Dragon a couple of weeks ago, but I think enough support for the card came out late in the preview window that it merits another look. One of the big gets was an innocuous little common.

Snakeskin Veil

Snakeskin Veil strikes me as the card destined to take Goldspan Dragon from “good finisher in a few decks” to “the next nightmare you’ll be angrily Tweeting about.” With a Snakeskin Veil in hand, you’ve virtually eliminated your opponent’s chances of profitably interacting with a Goldspan Dragon, regardless of the circumstances you found yourself in when it entered the battlefield.

Cast an instant targeting my Goldspan Dragon? Sorry, that fresh Treasure from the trigger is going to give me a chance to respond. Make another Treasure from Snakeskin Veil (yes, it somehow triggers from your own spells). Make another from my attack. Cast a four-drop. Did I mention it’s Turn 3?

Planning on waiting until your next turn to take it out with Elspeth Conquers Death or Binding the Old Gods? Sorry, that means I’ve already attacked and made my Treasure. Think Yorion, Sky Nomad can make a profitable block? Think again, +1/+1. Or, God forbid, Embercleave.

The opening sequences with Goldspan Dragon are so mind-blowingly powerful that it just creates non-games on the regular. And the best part is, there are a bevy of ways it can do so. I’ve got a lot of decks this week, so let’s get started.

Here’s an attempt to use all the parts of Goldspan Dragon while still keeping card quality absurdly high. The addition of Valki, God of Lies to a strategy like this is perfect. It can stunt opposing gameplans early, and both the activated ability and flipside of Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor give us a nice home for our mana when we get a Goldspan Dragon going. Even if that plan doesn’t come to fruition, we’ve still got the uber-powerful Binding the Old Gods as our catch-all removal spell/ramp hybrid card.

Binding the Old Gods Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider

Multiple ways to ramp really open options at the top of the curve, and for that reason I’ve got a couple of Vorinclex, Monstrous Raiders in this list as well. I initially wrote this card off as a Commander print, but as soon as I began regarding its counter-altering shenanigans as defensive as opposed to offensive, its worth came into focus.

Shutting down Sagas like Elspeth Conquers Death and Binding the Old Gods will matter a lot in this format, and you’ll always take some insurance against powerful planeswalkers. If I end up with some extra counters on my Tibalt, so be it, but you don’t need to work hard to make a 6/6 trampling hasty creature with a good defensive ability playable, especially with Binding the Old Gods and Embercleave in your deck.

Speaking of Embercleave, I didn’t go overboard on copies here, as this deck is designed to play more of a midrange style. Still, the ability to steal games out of nowhere is appreciated and the card is just so absurd with the mana production of Magda, Brazen Outlaw and Goldspan Dragon. Expect a lot of Turn 3 Embercleaves, even without super-wide battlefields.

Embercleave Magda, Brazen Outlaw

Speaking of Magda, let’s discuss the acceleration package played here. I am entirely aware that Jaspera Sentinel is a “bad” Magic card. I also just don’t think that’s a particularly meaningful assessment. In the right scenario, much worse cards have found homes. The sheer unbeatability of a Turn 3 Goldspan Dragon combined with a super-meaningful interaction with Magda has me willing to do the work to make Jaspera Sentinel reasonable. This includes playing Lovestruck Beast to produce additional bodies for Jaspera Sentinel even though the deck is extremely light on 1/1s. I think it’s completely fine to expect Lovestruck Beast to play more defense than offense, especially given how efficient and deadly the top of your curve is.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong and Jaspera Sentinel is completely unplayable. Along the same lines, maybe Magda is just a trap despite its synergies with both Embercleave and Goldspan Dragon. That’s fine. There’s more than one way to generate a bunch of mana in Standard.

This approach was suggested to me by Gerry Thompson and I see the appeal of just skipping the one-drop slot and heading straight to Lotus Cobra. This shell is light on card advantage and making sure every spell in the deck is high-impact and has a lot of appeal. Of course we can shift further to the other side of the spectrum and devote even more resources to making our opponent dead as soon as possible.

Dropping black and moving to a snow package means we’re able to take advantage of Jorn, God of Winter. Jorn is a way to potentially double your mana. If you played any Standard over the last two years, I don’t have to explain just how impactful that ability can be. Moving the ability to a creature introduces some fragility, but that’s where our Snakeskin Veils really get to shine since now we’ve got multiple targets worth protecting. I wonder how often you’ll end up casting Kaldring, the Rimestaff with the help of a Treasure or Lotus Cobra.

As exciting as I find this take on Gruul, I’ll note that it’s entirely reasonable to just take the default pre-Kaldheim Gruul Adventures lists and add a few Goldspan Dragons at the top of the curve. It’s not really a card you have to work to make good, since it doesn’t really have a fail state.

Snakeskin Veil is an incredible way to protect Goldspan Dragon, but it’s far from the only way to go about things.

Sejiri Shelter

Sejiri Shelter may not be quite as lean as Snakeskin Veil, but its capacity to protect and function as an additional mana source for your five-mana Dragon has some appeal. This deck also answers some of the card advantage complaints I had about the previous decks by playing Showdown of the Skalds. I don’t think that this Saga is at its best in the midrange-style approach, but there’s no question that sometimes you’ll be mana-rich on account of Goldspan Dragon.

Much like Gruul approaches, this deck shifts along the aggro/midrange spectrum very nicely. If Reidane, God of the Worthy proves to be an important part of the format, I like settling towards the middle. If it isn’t, we should be getting more aggressive.

I admit, it’s odd to shift away from Embercleave given how well it plays with Goldspan Dragon, but Maul of the Skyclaves has its own appeal. Its ability to make Magda evasive on-curve does a lot for its consistency as a mana engine. The card also plays beautifully with Halvar, God of Battle. Sometimes Seasoned Hallowblade, Maul of the Skyclaves, and Halvar grating double strike will be enough.

I like the combination of Fireblade Charger and Showdown of the Skalds, and I think you’ll be able to force your opponent into some really impossible scenarios going long. The increased focus on Showdown and more aggressive slant had me wanting Shock over Frost Bite, but this question will depend on the specifics of the format.

Goldspan Dragon does feel a little extra here, only really interacting with Sejiri Shelter; Magda, Brazen Outlaw; and Showdown of the Skalds, but I just don’t think it matters. Worst-case scenario you get a 4/4 haste flyer, best-case you generate a ton of mana and fire off counters all over the place with Showdown of the Skalds. Either one is acceptable.

Why stop at protecting your Goldspan Dragon when you can just prevent your opponent from doing anything? I am extremely skeptical of the foretell cards in general but foretelling Saw It Coming prior to your eventual Goldspan Dragon seems like one of the few spots where I can really get behind the idea.

Given the way these lists have turned out, you might expect that I’m super-high on Magda. I’m really somewhere in the middle on the card and don’t think you need it to enable Goldspan Dragon at all, but in most instances I’ve found other really nice synergies that push Magda into my decks. Here, we’re happily sending Magda on a voyage on The Omenkeel.

Flip over The Omenkeel, and now I get to talk about how much I love Cosima, God of the Voyage. I think it’s facially powerful and plays well in most scenarios. My blue decks have just defaulted to including copies at this point. We’ll see if that sticks long-term.

When I was discussing Izzet Goldspan Dragon decks on Twitter, Luis Scott-Vargas commented that he felt like the strategy is going to have a hard time playing from behind. I completely agree and this is the reason I went so hard on Alrund’s Epiphany. My hope is that an extra turn of mana generation on the back of Goldspan Dragon lets you push into a realm where you can just close most games upon resolution of the hasty 4/4. It’s speculative, but I like it better than expecting to just always have the counterspell for your opponent’s meaningful plays.

Of course, we don’t always have to protect our Goldspan Dragon. Sometimes it’s enough for it to just be a bridge to our late-game.

Look, I realize I propose a new Big Red list every preview season, and they all end up being awful. But this one really looks pretty good. You’ve got a lot of fast Ugin, the Spirit Dragons. Your removal ranges from tolerable to basically free. I think this deck really needs the format to end up at a certain size. If there are too mana 5/5s, you’re just going to have a bad time in the spots where you don’t get to Ugin way ahead of schedule.

I do like the additional of Tibalt’s Trickery to the sideboard though. Again, I’m under no illusions that this is a good card when played fairly, but if I get to shut down a Genesis Ultimatum, I think I’m willing to roll the dice and see what comes out the other side. I also love that I can just throw Tibalt’s Trickery at one of my own spells and hope to get lucky in a tight spot. If nothing else, it should make for some good stories.

This final list comes heavily inspired by Yoman5 and Gerry Thompson, and by “inspired” I mean completely built by them and then stolen and made worse by me. I have no idea if this deck does anything, but some of the synergies here look incredible. Are you going to be able to routinely make dozens of mana and take a bunch of turns or will you sit there and die with a bunch of duplicative legends in your hand? I can’t wait to find out.

Truly, I could keep going with Goldspan Dragon. Jeskai Control. Rakdos Midrange. Pure Combo. All these decks deserve at least a look. The card does so many things so well while just being a nice combination of stats and abilities. I’m telling you, stop looking at Goldspan Dragon as Glorybringer 2.0.

It’s much, much, better.