Dealing with Dragons

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The other week Worldgorger Dragon was unbanned. Honestly, I'm not quite sure how I feel about the unbanning with regards to the health of the format, but while it's unbanned, I want to take advantage! That said, I really don't like the standard Animate Dead infinite combo with the dragon; I'd much rather see if there are more interesting things to be done with it. Thinking about it, if you can sacrifice him at will he blinks all your guys and untaps all your lands, which is an obviously broken effect, especially in red! There is a lot we can do with that!

Conveniently enough one of my favorite cards in Magic is Dragonstorm. We all know that just about each storm card ever printed has been unfair in one format or another. Consider also that Tooth and Nail is considered a staple of Commander , and is responsible for winning many games. Isn't Dragonstorm just Tooth and Nail with storm? Sure, you’re restricted to dragons but aren’t most of the best red creatures Dragons anyway? That seems like all upside in a format where people derive just as much enjoyment from flavor and “epicness” as from powerful and efficient plays.

So how does one go about breaking Dragonstorm? It’s always a mistake to build around a single card in this format, since you’re going to be completely reliant on tutors to give you any kind of redundancy. The first step for building a deck like this is to look for similar effects that you can build into the deck without changing the fundamental purpose. Here’s what I want to start with as a basis:

The Gameplan

Commander: Bladewing the Risen

Warp World
Where Ancients Tread

Buried Alive
Patriarch's Bidding
Twilight's Call
Balthor the Defiled

Using this as gives us Dragonstorm as a primary plan, with a strong reanimation plan to back it up, and Warp World to recycle Dragons. The part of this that I’m most excited about is Where Ancients Tread: with all the Dragons that will be going in and out of play, I think it seems really powerful to make them all Bogardan Hellkites.

From here, it’s important to note that any one of these game-breaking sorceries isn’t going to win the game on its own and that you have to have ways to rebuy your win conditions, especially in decks that are built around doing one or two very specifics things. You also have to have ways to tutor up those win conditions. Tutors and recursion combined give you a sort of consistency and resiliency that are really important to the success of a deck in any format, especially a singleton format like Commander.

Tutors, Recursion, Card Drawing

Yawgmoth's Will

Demonic Tutor
Vampiric Tutor
Beseech the Queen
Diabolic Tutor

Ancient Craving
Ambition's Cost
Phyrexian Arena

So now that we can consistently dump dragons into play, it’s time to decide which dragons are worth playing and which are a little under the curve. Honestly, I probably want to be playing about 10 Dragons, since you already have a number of expensive sorceries and don’t want your hand to be full of miscellaneous expensive spells. Here be Dragons!


Bogardan Hellkite
Vampiric Dragon
Knollspine Dragon
Hellkite Charger
Dragon Tyrant
Balefire Dragon
Mordant Dragon
Steel Hellkite
Rorix Bladewing
Worldgorger Dragon

There are a couple of important interactions here that affect what you Dragonstorm for. First, Bogardan Hellkite plus Knollspine Dragon is a one-sided Wheel of Fortune, which is obviously awesome. Second, hasty Dragons plus Hellkite Charger get in for a ton of damage if you can activate the Charger that turn. Rorix Bladewing has haste to start with, but we'll be giving other Dragons haste too.

The other interesting point of discussion is the role of Worldgorger Dragon in the deck. There aren't terribly many dragons with "enters the battlefield" abilities that I want to play, but blinking Bogardan Hellkite and Knollspine Dragon is no joke, and adding Where Ancients Tread to the mix is downright nasty!

At this point, the deck’s late game is all but figured out. What I really want to do here is to figure out how the deck is going to function in the early to midgame; make sure you don't get steamrolled by early Rafiq of the Many beatdown, and can interact with the engines of other decks:


All Is Dust
Nevinyrral's Disk
Oblivion Stone

Go for the Throat
Death-Mask Duplicant
Helm of Possession

Nihil Spellbomb

The purpose of these spells is always to buy time until you can start casting “real” spells. The artifact-Wraths backed by a small suite of spot removal will get you there most of the time. Helm of Possession is particularly good because it lets you recast your general for value later in the game!

Now we need to make sure that the deck can cast it's spells in a reasonable time-frame. The mana acceleration in red--black is typically artifact-based, but because of the reliance on artifact-Wraths, I want to avoid those if possible. There's nothing worse than having to blow up your own mana rocks.

Solemn Simulacrum
Darksteel Ingot
Wayfarer's Bauble
Expedition Map
Thawing Glaciers

Caged Sun
Coalition Relic
Cabal Coffers
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

There are a few cards here that might seem questionable. Expedition Map and Thawing Glaciers aren’t really acceleration, but they lend consistency to your land drops that red-black is typically lacking. Besides, Deserted Temple makes Thawing Glaciers almost like acceleration, running that doesn’t cost you anything, and it interacts positively with Cabal Coffers, which is as always a powerhouse mana producer (thanks, Urborg!).

At this point, the skeleton is mostly finished, and I'm mostly looking for things to tie the deck together. What I’d like are some ways to give my guys haste, some more early creatures, some more creature removal, and a few more flavorful cards. The haste will make your “combo” turns infinitely more impressive. The early creatures will give you more to do with your Helm of Possession, might make more recursion worthwhile, and will hopefully give the deck some way to abuse ‘enters the battlefield’ effects.


Ancestral Anger
Mass Hysteria

Mid-Game Engines
Kik-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Zirilan of the Claw
Sneak Attack

Basilisk Collar
Hoarding Dragon

Krovikan Horror
Mogg War Marshal
Undead Gladiator

Now, there’s actually a lot that’s been added to the deck with these cards that hopefully shores up the problems of the deck, and adds another layer of synergy. First, you can give your dragons haste, which is always awesome. Second, you have Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Zirilan of the Claw, and Sneak Attack to generate some card advantage, cheat on the costs of dragons, and generally make your deck relevant in the midgame.

Next, I added Basilisk Collar since it makes any early creatures into pseudo-removal, it combos really well with Vampiric Dragon, and could potentially be part of a creature-control engine that helps the deck’s mid-game. Enter Hoarding Dragon! Now you can Dragonstorm for Hoarding Dragon and Vampiric Dragon to set up the Basilisk Collar plus Vampiric Dragon engine.

Krovikan Horror is a creature that doesn’t get much love, but is deceptively powerful. It recurs itself for some card advantage mid to late game, it’s a sacrifice outlet, which is good for various Dragons, and it loves to be given a Basilisk Collar. Mogg War Marshal and other low cc creatures give the Krovikan Horror some ammunition, chump blockers, and card advantage from Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker.

Finally, Undead Gladiator gives you a recursive guy who gets dragons into your graveyard and helps you dig for the spells you’re missing. It's also worth noting that Undead Gladiator plus Krovikan Horror is a slow but reasonable draw engine, since the Gladiator can always be directly over the Horror in your graveyard.

Now with the leftover slots we can really see what the deck is missing, and look for ways to tie the mid- and late-game engines together. This will hopefully let the deck transition smoothly from surviving the mid game to dropping Dragons and taking control of during the later turns. Here’s what I’ve got:

More Tutors
Sarkhan the Mad
Dimir House Guard

More Artifact Ramp
Mind Stone
Everflowing Chalice
Crucible of Worlds

More Recursion
Nim Deathmantle
Strands of Night

Sarkhan the Mad is the nuts in this deck. He turns your Mogg War Marshal into dragons. Kiki-Jiki tokens? Dragons. Steal your opponent’s guy with Helm of Possession? Dragon. Oh, you drew it late? Just fireball everyone with the dragons you already have in play. Or draw cards, that’s an option too, I guess.

Dimir House Guard is a reasonable blocker, a sacrifice outlet, and serves the purpose of tutoring up important cards, like Solemn Simulacrum and Sneak Attack. It’s a solid role-player, and does what it needs to pretty well.

Because the deck has such a powerful late game, and such mana intensive mid-game engines, I wanted more artifact acceleration. Mind Stone and Everflowing Chalice are my two favorite cheap accelerants, and while Crucible of Worlds doesn’t accelerate you exactly, it provides consistency and utility to your mana base that no other card does.

Next, I added a few more recursion engines that are more attrition-based and not as explosive or combo-tastic. Nim Deathmantle and Strands of Night are both powerful late game cards that are reminiscent of Recurring Nightmare. You get to recycle your Dragons with powerful effects, like Bogardan Hellkite, but also get to protect your Dragon Tyrant from spot removal. I really can’t oversell how powerful these cards are; once you have the resources to invest in them they just take over games.

Finally, let's take a look at the mana base. Like I've said before, the mana base is something a lot of people gloss over but it really is a place where you can make a significant number of improvements to your deck's functionality.

Deserted Temple
Isle of Vesuva
Spinerock Knoll
Scrying Sheets
Molten Slagheap
Bojuka Bog

Miren, the Moaning Well
High Market

Tectonic Edge
Mouth of Ronom

Terramorphic Expanse
Evolving Wilds

9 Snow-Covered Swamp
15 Snow-Covered Mountain

There’s a couple of things I want to point out about this. Firstly, the snow engine gives a ton of utility, including repeatable creature removal in Mouth of Ronom, as well as Scrying Sheets helping you hit land drops and draw gas.

Deserted Temple is stellar in this deck, and would be even better if you wanted to make space for a Maze of Ith. This deck loves untapping Thawing Glaciers, Scrying Sheets and Cabal Coffers, and even Molten Slagheap.

Beyond these superstars, you have some card advantage and utility in Spinerock Knoll, Bojuka Bog, and your Strip Mine effects to help make the deck more spell-dense while still hitting land drops.

The mana base here provides a lot of utility and power, and is one of the reasons such a top-heavy deck functions reasonably well.

[deckbox did="a88" size="small" width="560"]

Now, the important question is, what exactly does Worldgorger Dragon do for this deck? Well, that depends on how easy it is to sacrifice once you've exiled all your permanents. High Market and Miren, the Moaning Well are fine if you save your land drop. Sneak Attack is really good at killing it, as is Krovikan Horror and Dimir House Guard if you can float the mana.

Really, if you resolve a Worldgorger Dragon you're either going to win the game, or lose to spot removal in response to his trigger. It's one of the swingiest cards I've played with in a long time, and I still can't decide if that's a good thing or not. Only time will tell if unbanning him was a good idea, but my initial impression is generally positive.

As always, I'm glad to hear any feedback and constructive criticism. Feel free to get in touch with me to talk about my articles, your decks, or any ideas you want to talk about. I'm especially interested in any applications for Worldgorger Dragon you see in the coming weeks!

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