by Cameron Pryde
In my circle of friends, the thing that counts for the most isn’t winning – it’s how you win. We play with casual restrictions, but the dangers an aspiring player can face are far from modest; a turn-six Day of Judgement paves the way for a Silverblade Paladins, two Knight Exemplars and a Knight of the White Orchid smacking you in the face for lethal damage.
Alternatively, a lucky turn seven Primal Surge into two Worldspine Worms, a Gaea’s Revenge and an Akroma’s Memorial can put an abrupt end to match. So what does one do when the most spectacular win is the most prized?
Unleash the dragons, of course!
The story behind this deck begins the night of the release of Return to Ravnica. Myself and two other friends each bought a booster box and opened them simultaneously. As the post-trading dust settled, I was left with three Utvara Hellkites and no idea what to do with them.
Fast forward two weeks. >>>
I’d just taken apart a few decks in favour of building new ones. With enough sleeves for a final deck, I decided to put the Hellkites to use. I decided to build (surprise surprise) a dragon deck. I went looking online for anything with “dragon” in its name (original, I know) and happened upon an unexpected sorcery – Dragonstorm.
For nine mana (what a price tag!), Dragonstorm allows you to search your library for a dragon card and put it into play. A little expensive for a tutor, but not unmanageable. What turns Dragonstorm into the foundation of a tournament-winning deck (2006 world championships, to be precise) is the keyword Storm.
For those unfamiliar with the mechanic, a card with Storm gets copied for each spell anyone cast before it on a particular turn. Back in the Time Spiral block, Storm was generally used with th Suspend mechanic. This allowed you to cast multiple spells for little mana on a single turn. Let’s take a look at one of the top decks from the 2007 world championships courtesy of Patrick Chapin, for a little demonstration of storm’s power:
The aim of the deck, which is listed here without sideboard, was to Dragonstorm into enough Bogardan Hellkites to instantly kill the opponent. Backed by suspended cards that were set-up prior to the Dragonstorm itself, like Lotus Bloom and Rift Bolt, and the mana-ramping Rite of Flame, the deck exploded in a mass of scalding Lava Axes to win the match.
Lacking many of the cards that make up the deck and wanting a certain amount of originality, I chose a different route than suspend: Mono-red Ramp. While red doesn’t focus quite as much on mana acceleration, falling far behind green, there is still enough to comfortably ramp into a Dragonstorm. After several hours of fiddling around with my collection and adding in few cards that I traded for, I had the core of the deck:
A 50-card skeleton of a deck. I settled on 22 Mountains, since the deck will need plenty of land in case of dire straits (i.e. actually hard-casting one of the dragons) and to get the Dragonstorm going. Splashing another colour might seem tempting (oh hello there, Day of the Dragons),
but due to the very red-intensive costs involved in the ramp, I decided against it.
In terms of racking up the storm count, M11’s Pyretic Ritual makes a fine starting point, turning two red mana into three. This leads into the original Mirrodin’s Seething Song, which brings it up to five. A Geosurge, so generously printed in New Phyrexia, deducts four but adds seven, bringing the grand total to eight, just one short of a Dragonstorm. Not to worry – the versatile Simian Spirit Guide from Planar Chaos can be exiled from your hand to get that final push. Once you hit the requisite nine red, it’s time for a Dragonstorm.
But why have the Return to Ravnica mythic dragon as the win condition? Well, unlike its direct-damage cousin, the Utvara Hellkite has the neat ability that plops out a 6/6 Dragon token each time a dragon of your attacks. Doesn’t matter if it’s a 0/1 flier or a 10/6 double-striker (Dragon Tyrant) – you get the token either way. Even the tokens themselves make more dragons!
Sure, it doesn’t have the raw instant power of Bogardan Hellkites. But there’s something to be said for getting nine flying beatsticks just for swinging with three creatures.
However, this deck has a pretty big weakness: it’s extremely fragile.
A well-placed Negate or Silence after several ramp spells can mean a pretty embarrassing loss. The solution? More dragons! If you can’t pull off a Dragonstorm, then you need other stuff to play.If two of the Hellkites are in your hand when you have to search your library, you’re out of luck.
I settled on three dragons more to put into the deck. The first, armed with a prohibitive mana cost and some awesome flavour text, is Ancient Hellkite.
You have to shell out seven mana to get it onto the battlefield, where it sits around with a 6/6 flying body.
Its value, however, comes from the ability to deal one damage to a creature when it attacks for one red mana. This clears the skies of spiders, spirits and – though I wish I was kidding, birds. There are some strange tribal decks in out playgroup.
As a note, I’d ideally throw a playset of Thundermaw Hellkites into the deck to serve much the same purpose. However, since I wasn’t willing to spend $116 on four cards, I gave it a pass.
Anyway, the second dragon serves much the same use: to wipe out any creatures they may have on the board. Introducing more fantastic flavour text in the form of Balefire Dragon, another flying 6/6.
Another standard-legal scaled scourge, the Moonveil adds a generous twist to your typical Firebreathing. Instead of simply pumping itself, it pumps everything you control. Sort of like a Super Shivan Dragon.
Even if your opponent has managed to get a couple Wall of Denials out on the field, or other big reach/flying blockers, the Moonveil turns even the smallest of dragons into a huge threat. As for the bigger dragons, it gives them the final boost they need to finish off your opponent. At the absolute worse, it’s a 5/5 flier that you can hit your opponent with repeatedly.
At the time I built it, I threw in four Iron Myr and called it a day. More mana accel and chump blockers against aggro couldn’t hurt right? I then proceeded to test the deck out.
My victory was assured…. Right?
The bugger miracled a Devastation Tide.
This leads me to one of the bigger flaws with the deck:
After the huge combo has been pulled off, your opponent gets a turn to react. A friend of mine playing mono-black vampires tossed out two Hideous Ends and effectively neutralized my board. A Planar Cleansing left me with nothing but a couple of Geosurges in the graveyard.
If only there was some way of attacking with the dragons the turn they came into play.
Hmmmm…. Maybe a keyword associated with red?
Though it’s a bit of double-edged sword, giving haste to all creatures for one mana is too good a deal to pass up. The advantage of such a low cost is that you don’t even need to play it turn one – if you have a tenth red mana floating around turn five, you can ramp the storm count even higher, swinging for a sudden but lethal swarm of dragons. As Balefire Dragon says, “Die boldly or die swiftly – for die you will.”
Those of you who have been keeping track may have noticed that I took out four creatures and added three enchantments. The 60th card?
What’s not to like?
His +1 gives you a creature that can serves as an attacker or the last little bit of ramp you need.
His -2 can easily give you enough to cast a dragon (or a storm of them), even potentially paying for himself to rack up the storm count.
Finally, his emblem allows you to put extra mana to good use, killing their creatures and burning the opponent until they’re extra-crispy.
The final decklist, with some tweaking:
A Dance of Dragons
This deck is certainly not invulnerable. A Counterspell, a Duress, a boardwipe, a Riders of Gavony and a Levitation – the deck is extremely fragile. A lack of Dragonstorms or even dragons can easily lead to defeat, as can a hand with no acceleration. However, though it may not always win, the deck provides a memorable, fun, and impressive victory when it does.
It’s not how many times you win that matters in casual. After all – it’s the stories that you get to tell later and the memories of crazy combos and bizarre beatdowns that make it all worthwhile. So leave the lightning and legends, the counterspells and changelings, the fireballs and faeries, the elementals and Eldrazi to your opponents. You’re winning with dragons!