Sprite Dragon Is The Tarmogoyf Izzet Always Wanted

Todd Anderson has his eye on Sprite Dragon for Pioneer and Modern! Is this Izzet two-drop the key to revitalizing long-dormant archetypes?

Sprite Dragon, illustrated by Simon Dominic

SCG Advertisement

Sprite Dragon is one of the coolest cards I’ve seen in a long time. It might seem simple on its face, but I can assure you that this little critter is going to be something fierce given time and the right build. It’s good on the second turn. It’s good on the fifth turn. It’s a threat that grows as the game progresses. It just rewards you for playing the game of Magic: The Gathering.

I love Sprite Dragon like my child. I would do anything for it.

But how exactly is Sprite Dragon going to fit into Standard? Modern? Pioneer? Legacy? Hell, this could see Vintage play if we’re being honest. This is Delver of Secrets’s new best friend. This is going to make Serum Visions good in Modern again. This is going to make Treasure Cruise and all the rest of the Izzet Phoenix decks good again. Or maybe it’ll be the catalyst that helps spawn a bunch of new tempo-based Izzet archetypes.

Regardless, this style of card is something we’ve seen before, but not quite like this.

Stormchaser Mage

I would argue that Stormchaser Mage was great when it was in Standard, and only limited by the number of playable noncreature spells at the time. Cards like Stormchaser Mage and Sprite Dragon are only as powerful as the supporting cast. It doesn’t seem too hard to actually kill your opponent with one of these things so long as you can keep casting stuff and your opponent doesn’t kill your creature!

Stormchaser Mage, while similar, was often spoken of as inefficient. I agree, which is why both Soul-Scar Mage and Monastery Swiftspear have become the go-to Prowess creatures in most decks. But that might change with Sprite Dragon. It doesn’t necessarily hit hard the turn it enters the battlefield, but it scales so much better than Stormchaser Mage in the long run.

The comparisons between the two are disingenuous, because they are implying that these cards are similar in any other way than they share a large amount of abilities, casting cost, card type, etc. But that’s like saying Serum Visions and Ancestral Recall are similar. That’s like trying to compare Ponder and Sleight of Hand. Sure, they function on the same wavelength, and do mostly similar things, but one is clearly better than the other in a way that is hard to quantify.

A creature keeping its buffs versus them dissipating at the end of turn is huge. It’s especially gross on a creature that’s this efficient, has evasion, and even has haste to boot. Sprite Dragon might just be getting my hopes up, but I feel like this is the Tarmogoyf that Izzet always wanted. Obviously, being vulnerable to burn spells in the early turns is rough, but that’s something that changes almost immediately if you get to untap. Sometimes, given the state of the game and turn, you can cast it and get it above most burn spells immediately.

Depending on the format, you can also do some stuff to actually keep Sprite Dragon alive long enough to kill your opponent.

Mutagenic Growth

You never see Mutagenic Growth in Prowess decks, and I think that’s because protecting your creature just means you get to untap with a small creature with one less card in hand to pump it. Mutagenic Growth can protect Sprite Dragon from Lightning Bolt, just like most of the other prowess creatures that see play. The only difference is that it keeps the initial buff, which means you spent two mana for a 2/2 flyer with haste, which doesn’t seem like a bad deal.

Free spells in general are quite good with Sprite Dragon, giving you ways to pump it without spending mana, all while interacting with the opponent. Mutagenic Growth can allow for burst damage while giving you protection from burn spells, but what about some other free things?

Gut Shot

I know I’m like the only person who plays Gut Shot anymore, but why? I guess there aren’t a ton of one-toughness creatures running around Modern right now, but that could change. And if it does, something like Gut Shot is a sick tool for an Izzet deck that wants to cast some free spells.

Gut Shot is great when the format revolves around Noble Hierarch, or at least has it as one of its pillars. With Karn, Primeval Titan, graveyard decks, and Uro being all the rage at the moment, I feel like Gut Shot just doesn’t do enough.

The Modern implications for this card likely rely on it functioning as a two-drop in a Prowess deck, which I’m not sure is actually desirable. Perhaps we could use it alongside Delver of Secrets in some Izzet strategy instead. Regardless, the card is powerful, more powerful than a lot of threats of this nature we’ve seen in some time. I’d argue that this card is on par with Tarmogoyf as far as power level is concerned, and could very well be better in decks that would actually splash for Tarmogoyf in the past!

This is further pushed with the ebb and flow of Lightning Bolt’s popularity in the format. If burn removal isn’t seeing much play, stuff like Tarmogoyf is mediocre. If Bolt is one of the most-played cards, then Tarmogoyf has a ton of value. It is my assessment that Lightning Bolt is pretty bad at the moment, which might mean Sprite Dragon has a chance right when it enters the format!

So what does an Izzet Delver list look like in Modern with Sprite Dragon? Let’s find out!

I tried to include a few singletons that I think might deserve a bit more spotlight. Vapor Snag, for example, has been a huge part of my success with all forms of Delver decks in the past, giving you a way to interact with larger creatures that you might not necessarily be able to beat. And with Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath being one of the bigger threats in the format, we need to counter it or put it in a place where it can’t attack consistently.

I can’t quite decide if I want to rely heavily on Spirebluff Canal or potentially switch to a Mystic Sanctuary build. I don’t believe we have enough lands, or a reason to play more lands, so Mystic Sanctuary doesn’t feel all that necessary. Plus, we aren’t playing Deprive or Cryptic Command for the soft lock.

Izzet Delver has been around in Pioneer for a while now, but it hasn’t really broken through into the top tier. I’m curious if Sprite Dragon has enough strength to elevate the archetype. I’m definitely looking forward to giving this list a whirl.

Building with Sprite Dragon in Pioneer

But enough about Sprite Dragon. What about Pioneer, aka the only format where you can play four copies of Treasure Cruise alongside Sprite Dragon? There is already an existing Izzet Phoenix deck that has been looking for a two-mana threat for quite some time. I’ve thought Thing in the Ice was pretty mediocre for a while now, and this seems like the perfect replacement. You get a hard-hitting punch for your money, but you also get to sneak in damage before it dies.

The downside of Thing in the Ice in Pioneer is that everyone is playing Fatal Push and you don’t get anything for your investment until you cast four instants and/or sorceries. Not only does Sprite Dragon trigger on any nonland spell, it also actually does something before casting that game-changing fourth spell.

Izzet doesn’t necessarily want to cast its entire hand on the third and fourth turn. What if you want to hold up Izzet Charm to counter an opposing planeswalker? What if you want to Censor or Supreme Will your opponent’s spell? But in a pinch, yeah, you can cast a slew of stuff and just decimate your opponent in a two-turn alpha strike. That’s the power of flexibility that Sprite Dragon brings to the table.

It happens often in Izzet Phoenix that you draw a second, third, or even fourth copy of Thing in the Ice that just doesn’t do anything. While the excess copies of Sprite Dragon might also be mediocre, I can’t imagine that a 2/2 flyer with haste for two mana is all that bad, assuming you can cast one or two spells while it’s on the battlefield. That isn’t all that tough to do, though drawing the fourth while flooding on creatures is difficult.

But the real star here alongside Sprite Dragon is, of course, Treasure Cruise.

Treasure Cruise

Pioneer is the only format in Magic where you can play four copies of this card in your deck. It often gets overlooked in Pioneer thanks to the raw power of Dig Through Time in a combo deck, but Treasure Cruise is still an absurdly powerful card that is just begging to be broken. Maybe Sprite Dragon is the threat that helps put Treasure Cruise back on the map!

Treasure Cruise, at its heart, rewards you for playing Magic. Much like Tarmogoyf or Sprite Dragon, it just gets better the more you cast spells or interact with the opponent. In most formats, fetchlands helped turn Treasure Cruise into a monster. That isn’t exactly possible in Pioneer, but Izzet Phoenix seems to be the deck most excited to put Treasure Cruise to good use. Why don’t we try building a version without Thing in the Ice?

Izzet Phoenix has a pretty mediocre combo matchup, as it relies on interacting via creature removal. However, when one of the biggest combo decks relies on Inverter of Truth, it’s possible to steal games with the likes of Merfolk Secretkeeper! We could go harder than we already are and also play Tome Scour to self-mill, but I feel like we’ll end up running out of steam too often. Merfolk Secretkeeper does that job well, yet also ends up being a blocker in the right situation!

I haven’t gotten to play much with Izzet Phoenix since the release of Theros Beyond Death. Mostly I just put my focus on other archetypes, assuming that the lack of combo interaction made this deck bad in a field full of Heliod combos, Dimir Inverter, and Lotus Field. Maybe we just needed a better threat and the right type of interaction. Maybe we just need Inverter of Truth to get banned!

There are a lot of ways to take Sprite Dragon in a number of formats. I think it could be completely busted in Legacy, which might potentially make a comeback if everyone gets to play it on Magic Online! The power of Brainstorm just seems so absurd with a creature like this. In the past, we’ve had Quirion Dryad fill this role, albeit poorly. We’ve had Tarmogoyf fit into the likes of Temur Delver forever. Is this what finally gives Izzet it’s own identity?

I’ll be keeping a close eye on this card for the next few weeks. It has so much potential, and just so happens to be in my favorite color combination sporting my favorite mana cost! Let’s see if it lives up to the hype.

SCG Advertisement