Achievement Unlocked - Building a Literal Elder Dragon Highlander Deck

(Chromium | Art by Edward Beard Jr.)

"The" Elder Dragon Highlander Deck

Have you ever made a Commander bucket list? Welcome to Achievement Unlocked, where we take a look at the cool and unique things you can do in this format other than just winning.

Most of you likely know that EDH stands for Elder Dragon Highlander. The format was formed on the back of the original five Elder Dragons. This is even why the commander damage rule is 21 damage: each of these Dragons has seven power.

These Dragons received a facelift in Magic 2019, and each of these new versions are more popular than their original counterpart. This is in large part due to the originals requiring a repeatable tax just to not sacrifice themselves. A riff on this original design came in Modern Horizons 2 with Piru, the Volatile, who, although being an original Elder Dragon canonically, did not appear in the original cycle. This iteration of the effect had a useful death trigger stapled on, making it a good option to allow the creature to die on your upkeep.

The deck I'm going to share with you today has long been on my Commander bucket list. It originally was set to be a Golos, Tireless Pilgrim deck (RIP), but with the banning, I put this one on the back burner. However, it's now time to bring this idea back into the light. I want to build a deck built around each of the original Elder Dragons as well as their Magic 2021 counterparts. A true Elder Dragon Highlander deck. I just needed to find the right commander.

A Legend to Lead?

I considered a variety of generals to lead this deck. The first and most obvious pick was The Ur-Dragon. However, not only did I find that to be the least interesting, but the commander's abilities lend itself to playing much more powerful and efficient Dragons, and the commander itself does little to help you cast these color-intensive Dragons.

Next, I turned to Morophon, the Boundless, as it makes these Dragons much cheaper and buffs them up. I almost picked Morophon as a commander because it makes the rate on these creatures actually somewhat reasonable. However, if I'm trying to design a true Dragon deck, it felt wrong to use a Changeling as the commander. Ramos, Dragon Engine offers another opportunity to potentially reduce costs, and it synergizes well if we need to hard cast one of the Elder Dragons for eight mana. However, with only enough room in the deck for my 11 other Elder Dragons, I didn't think I would find my Dragons enough to even be able to consistently use the second ability. Luckily, there are some Dragons that can find our creatures for us.

I loved how simply Tiamat worked for this strategy. I can even find all five original Elder Dragons just by casting my commander. It even works on-curve to cast Tiamat on turn seven and an Elder Dragon on turn eight. However, Tiamat is expensive on her own, and the card doesn't do anything to reduce the cost of these Dragons or mitigate the downside of their upkeep abilities.

Finally, that brings me to Scion of the Ur-Dragon. This commander is cheaper and can search for the Dragons we need, and it also cleverly skirts around both the casting cost and upkeep abilities, but let's see what else we can do with it.

An Elder Dragon's Toolbox

Scion of the Ur-Dragon lets us find exactly which Elder Dragon we need at the time we need it, allowing us to essentially use these Dragons as a toolbox.

One of the best creatures in our deck to search up is Chromium, the Mutable. This allows us to protect our commander, giving it hexproof. It also allows us to discard cards. Our big Dragons will often end up in our hand, and this deck does not generally want to cast them. This discard outlet allows us to dump them into our graveyard where we can reanimate them later or shuffle them back into our library.

Nicol Bolas is the most well known of the Elder Dragons, and he even shares a name with me! The original Nicol Bolas is the most deadly of the original cycle and can effectively knock a player out of the game with a single hit. The newer version, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, is probably the best option to hardcast in our deck. Its ability doesn't function with our commander, and the best way to use it is to flip it into a planeswalker that can take over the game on its own.

Sometimes we have to clear off our opponents' boards, and two Elder Dragons do a great job of this. Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire can take care of our opponents' biggest threats and even has a chance of trading in something small for one of our biggest creatures. Piru, the Volatile needs to die, but if you're desperate for a board wipe, searching this up can clear the board minus legends. If you cast or reanimate any of your Elder Dragons, they'll dodge this effect.

Sometimes you just need to close out a game, and the original Vaevictis Asmadi can dole out tons of damage with the fire-breathing effect that can even be activated with colors beyond just red.

Some of the best support cards in Magic are defenders. Orator of Ojutai helps us go through our deck and even synergizes with our deck full of Dragons. It can help us stay alive long enough to cast our real threats. Sylvan Caryatid can help us ramp into our threats, and both Arcades Sabboth and Arcades, the Strategist work well if we fill out our deck with support cards that happen to be defenders. This is definitely the Dragon that asks the most of our deckbuilding, but by dedicating even a few slots, we can create a draw engine with Arcades that keeps our deck going.

Supporting Our Dragons

First, though, we need to stock our deck with ramp because there are so many color pips and high mana costs in our decklist.

The classics, like Rampant Growth and Farseek, work well, but for five-color decks I love Bloom Tender and Faeburrow Elder. Dragon's Hoard is another strong ramp card that is on-theme with the deck. I opted against Dragonspeaker Shaman and similar cards as this deck's main strategy is to cheat Dragons into play, and this card can't even reduce our commander's cost.

We're throwing Dragons into our graveyard, so it helps to have a plan to get them back. If we want to keep using our commander's ability, we can shuffle cards back into our graveyard. Blessed Respite is an awesome excuse to use a Fog effect that also restocks our Dragon toolbox. Gaea's Blessing only grabs a few cards back, but that should be more than enough, and it's a cantrip. Memory's Journey and Krosan Reclamation are repeatable effects if we really want redundancy, but we can also focus on reanimation spells instead.

Reanimate is hyper-efficient and the best bang for our buck, but I really love that Unburial Rites gives us two uses. If we want to mass reanimate, Patriarch's Bidding and Living Death are great win conditions once we've packed our graveyard with our best Dragons.

In Conclusion

Dragons are an iconic part of Magic: the Gathering and are the foundation of our favorite format, so it felt fitting to build a deck that was able to support and play all of them. Is the deck particularly strong? No, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't build decks like this. Commander is about making your wacky visions a reality and playing how you want to regardless of the competitive level of your deck. Don't let power level hold back your ideas, and remember: you don't always have to optimize.

Build with the intent to optimize fun rather than competitiveness. This creates a better experience for both your playgroup and yourself.

Check out the full deck below!

Elder Dragons Highlander

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Commander (1)
Creatures (23)
Instants (18)
Sorceries (13)
Enchantments (4)
Artifacts (5)
Lands (37)

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Ben is a Michigan native who fell in love with Magic just a few years ago in 2019. He loves making big splashy plays in Commander as well as crunching the number to optimize his decks. Outside of Magic, he works in marketing and loves a great cup of coffee to start each morning… maybe with a splash of hot chocolate for his sweet tooth.

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