Commander Showdown — The Ur-Dragon vs Scion of the Ur-Dragon
The Year of the Dragon
Commander 2017 Spoilers are going crazy, and in this week’s Showdown, we’re going to talk about the biggest and baddest of them: The Ur-Dragon!
Five colors, nine mana, and twenty combined power/toughness. The Ur-Dragon is here, and it means business. At the helm of the dragon-tribal preconstructed deck, this big baddy offers an immense reward for playing a surplus of these firebreathing, winged lizards: whenever you attack with your dragons, the Ur-Dragon draws you that many cards, then put any permanent from your hand onto the battlefield for free. For free! Any enchantment, land, artifact, or creature (preferably more dragons).
This is a great way to save on the cost of dragon spells, which are often very expensive, upwards of five or six mana. That’s not the only way to save mana, though; since the Ur-Dragon is so expensive to cast, it gives you a nice bonus before it even enters the battlefield. Eminence is a new ability, a static effect that applies even from the command zone (rather like Oloro, Ageless Ascetic). Each Eminence ability has different payoffs for their tribe, but the Ur-Dragon’s is very straightforward, reducing the cost of your dragons by one mana each. This should help you build up a firebreathing army before your commander even touches the battlefield. (Keep in mind that The Ur-Dragon’s mana-reduction ability doesn’t apply to itself.)
Of course, we’ve heard of The Ur-Dragon long before now, all the way back in Time Spiral, when we encountered its descendant, the Scion of the Ur-Dragon.
With over 1,100 decks here on EDHREC, Scion is the most popular five-color commander so far, and it too loves to play with dragons. Will the Ur-Dragon unseat its Scion as king of the five-color decks? How do these two dragon-loving commanders differ in strategy? It’s time for a Commander Showdown, dragon edition.
Let’s start with the commander we already know. Scion of the Ur-Dragon is a popular choice for dragon tribal decks, but with an added twist: it can shapeshift into any dragon card in your deck. For two mana, it can Entomb any dragon in your library, and then become a copy of it until the end of the turn. It’s a little like Lazav, Dimir Mastermind, constantly changing into a more suitable form.
This shapeshifting ability makes the Scion incredibly difficult to pin down, since it can be activated at instant speed. If an opponent targets your commander with a Path to Exile, you can immediately transform Scion into a Silumgar, the Drifting Death, which has hexproof, and fizzle the removal spell. Alternatively, you could turn it into a Quicksilver Dragon and redirect the spell to another creature.
Transforming into different dragons also makes Scion a remarkably dangerous fighter. No matter the creatures it encounters during combat, it can always shapeshift into whichever draconic body it needs to emerge victorious. Up against a 7/7? No problem, turn into a Hellkite Overlord. Is there a Baleful Strix in the way? Become a Tyrant's Familiar. Scion will then enable its own Lieutenant ability so you can take out the Strix en route. Creatures that try to block the Scion almost always lose the battle.
Even more dangerous is what happens when Scion isn’t blocked. Long before he brought the Hour of Devastation to Amonkhet, before he tried to extract power from the Maelstrom of Alara, Nicol Bolas had his own card, and it’s a perfect selection for the Scion’s ability. If Scion goes unblocked during combat, it can transform into the elder dragon and discard the defending player’s entire hand. If an opposing player has a dangerous-looking board, Scion can sneak in and become a copy of Balefire Dragon to wipe them out. Scion is basically a dragon ninja.
Let's Look Closer
Discarding an opponent’s hand is nice, but Scion can do much more than just a few parlor tricks. To really get a sense of how powerful Scion is, let’s take a look at its average decklist.
Average Scion Deck
There’s something sinister happening here, and I love it. Scion of the Ur-Dragon can indeed change forms, but it can only do so one at a time. The earlier comparison to Lazav is a little stretched, because Lazav actually retains its ability from one identity to the next. Scion, on the other hand, cannot change into a new dragon after it has already transformed that turn. Players running the new Mirage Mirror are probably familiar with this type of effect. Once it’s taken a new form, it remains in that form until the end of the turn.
Despite that restriction, Mirage Mirror and Scion of the Ur-Dragon players alike have found plenty of ways to take advantage of the ability’s timing. Scion can indeed transform from one dragon to another as long as you’re clever about it, and this decklist demonstrates just how clever you can be.
What is Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon doing in a deck like this? Transforming Scion into Skithiryx would only give an opponent four useless poison counters, right?
Well, no. Not if you stack Scion’s ability correctly. Scion may not be able to activate its own ability after its transforms, but it can activate that ability multiple times before it transforms. Even if it’s already taken a new shape, each ability resolves, and your commander will flit from one dragon to the next in rapid succession. So here’s the plan: activate Scion’s ability twice in a row. Resolve one of those activations to transform Scion into Moltensteel Dragon. Then, with the other Scion ability still on the stack, activate Moltensteel’s firebreathing ability to give your commander +6/+0 until end of turn. (You’ll most likely have to pay life for the phyrexian mana cost, but that’s okay.) Then, once your commander is buffed up, allow the other Scion ability on the stack to resolve. Scion transforms again, from Moltensteel to Skithiryx, but it remembers the +6/+0. You now have a 10/4 flying commander with infect, able to take an opponent out with a single swipe.
You don’t need to confine this just to Skithiryx, either. Plenty of dragons, such as Atarka, World Render, can double-strike an opponent. Double-activating Scion for a firebreathing buff on a double-striker can one-shot an opponent with commander damage too. As I said before, Scion is downright terrifying if it goes unblocked.
Not Your Average Dragon
Truly, in looking over Scion’s average decklist, we find that this commander has an enormous propensity for combos. Here’s another:
With either Savage Ventmaw or Hellkite Charger on the battlefield, Scion can transform into the other. Once you move to combat, things get out of hand. The Ventmaw grants you six mana for free, while the Charger asks a payment of seven. For only one extra mana, you can take an extra combat step… and another… and another… and another…. For added redundancy and efficiency, you can even throw in Aggravated Assault and Bear Umbra. A commander that tutors is always ideal for crazy combos, even if it puts those combo pieces into your graveyard.
Wait a minute—putting cards into your graveyard? That’s not a negative thing at all! Graveyards are rife with potential, and that’s exactly why we see so many reanimator spells here in Scion’s average list. Animate Dead, Fearsome Awakening, Unburial Rites... resurrecting your dragons is much cheaper than paying full price, that’s for sure. Scion’s ability can be abused like a Buried Alive, pulling tons of creatures into your graveyard, where you can get them all back with a well-timed Living Death or Patriarch's Bidding.
In fact, Scion can even run and fetch Teneb, the Harvester to revive an already-used dragon. There’s a lot of shenanigans going on here, and they’re all insane.
In short, Scion is not the kind of thing you’d expect when you hear the phrase “dragon tribal deck.” It likes dragons, but only on the surface. Scion is actually a trickster, capable of so many sneaky ploys that it can’t be trusted. It is dragon tribal, to be sure, but it’s not your run-of-the-mill aggressive strategy.
Knowing all of this helps us interpret our new Ur-Dragon friend. With The Ur-Dragon, we transition from a commander that tutors to a commander that plays cards for free. This changes the dynamic a lot. A lot lot. Frankly, I find these commanders to be as different as Timmy, Power Gamer and Johnny, Combo Player.
These are silver-bordered cards from the original Un-Sets, made to demonstrate the different player psychographics coined by Mark Rosewater. Each enjoys the game in a different way, one by finding neat card interactions, the other by bashing their opponent’s face with huge stompy powerhouses. Scion was a font of combo-tastic fortune because it was a tutor on a stick. The Ur-Dragon doesn’t tutor. It just plays huge creatures. The Ur-Dragon is, for lack of a better term, honest. No shapeshifting, no trickery. It’s not playing mind games. It just wants to eat you.
Still, there are a few shenanigans you can pull, if you like. For example, The Ur-Dragon’s Eminence ability applies to all your dragons, including changelings. Mirror Entity and Taurean Mauler seem excellent for two mana. In fact, even a card like Crib Swap is reduced, making it a very impressive removal spell.
Additionally, The Ur-Dragon doesn’t particularly care what permanent you put onto the battlefield with its ability. It could be another dragon, sure… but it could also be a Progenitus or an Omniscience.
Of course, The Ur-Dragon is nine mana, so it’s not the most intuitive candidate for a free-spells engine. Nine is a lot of mana, and if it’s the only dragon you’re running, it won’t dig very far into your library to find you those big fatties to cheat into play.
There might be a solution, though: changing creature types. Stack the deck full of cheap mana dorks like Birds of Paradise to ramp out The Ur-Dragon as fast as possible. Then, tutor out your Conspiracy.
By changing your mana dorks to dragons and attacking with them, The Ur-Dragon can refill your hand and start dropping crazy bombs for free. It’s a little tricky to make this strategy work, but it’s definitely an option. After all, who doesn’t like free stuff?
Reign of Fire
Those options are clever, but I’m not sure they get at the real heart of The Ur-Dragon’s strategy. This is a Timmy/Tammy commander, through and through. I often hear Timmy/Tammy cards get ridiculed as ‘simple,’ as if they’re too basic to be powerful, but that hasn’t always been my experience. Xenagos, God of Revels is a very Timmy/Tammy commander, and it can take a player out in one swing.
Playing the Ur-Dragon is the dream, but I’m not convinced it even needs to enter play to shake up the game. Shaving a mana off of every dragon you cast is much more powerful than it looks, and it already looks pretty good. Five mana for an Intet, the Dreamer sounds fantastic. Four mana for Dragonlord Ojutai just seems bonkers. Players have grown accustomed to certain decks operating at specific paces, and they all expect dragons to be big and powerful, but slow. Speeding that clock up by just one turn is a real curveball, and could be just the edge you need to get in and destroy your opponents before they find an answer to your reign of fire.
So while The Ur-Dragon may not be as sly or clever as its Scion, I don’t think it really needs to be. It’s a 10/10 after all. A single strike is nearly half the quota for commander damage, and a full fourth of a player’s life total. Decks piloting The Ur-Dragon will probably bear a strong resemblance to green-based, creature-heavy strategies, such as Animar, Soul of Elements or Mayael the Anima. These decks can often be undone by a well-timed Cyclonic Rift or Wrath of God, it’s true. But if they’re prepared--if they Heroic Intervention to survive the Wrath, for example--then they’re the most unstoppable force on the table.
In short, The Ur-Dragon is a sharp contrast from the Scion. It’s a proper dragon tribal deck, swarming opponents with creatures instead of combos. It does have potential for some alternative styles, but for the most part, this commander is designed to be the biggest beatstick possible, the EDH-est of EDH cards, and I think it will accomplish its mission very well.
Cards to Consider
Let’s wrap up with a few cards that deserve some extra attention for these two decks.
Scion of the Ur-Dragon
- Belltoll Dragon. This little guy is underwhelming, but it has natural hexproof. As mentioned before with Silumgar, the Drifting Death, dragons with hexproof can be used to fizzle removal spells that target Scion. This is just one more option.
- Brainstorm and See Beyond. Scion can only transform into a dragon if it’s in your library. If the dragon you need gets trapped in your hand, it could ruin your strategy. It’s counterintuitive, but by taking your dragons out of your hand, you put them within closer reach.
- Aggravated Assault. As mentioned before, this little number can go infinite with cards like Savage Ventmaw, yet it only sees play in 11% of Scion decks. Even if you’re not trying to combo out, extra combat steps seem pretty awesome in a deck filled with dragons, so I think that number could stand to be a bit higher.
- Elixir of Immortality. Need to reset your graveyard to get those dragons back into your library? This is a great way to do it. It can save you from a rogue Bojuka Bog too.
- Wheel of Sun and Moon. Speaking of resetting your graveyard, this card’s a doozy. Not only can it stop a Meren of Clan Nel Toth deck in its tracks, it can also be used to put your dragons right back into your library instead of your graveyard, so Scion can transform into them again and again. True, you’ll lose some graveyard synergies, but in exchange, you’ll always have every dragon in your deck available at a moment’s notice, even if you’ve used them up already.
- Selvala's Stampede. Free dragons? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. No matter what the votes are here, you’re going to end up with a scary board.
- Lurking Predators. Did I mention how good free dragons are? This is my favorite underplayed green enchantment. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen Sliver decks abuse this card. If this enchantment doesn’t get destroyed, your opponents do.
- Boros Charm and Heroic Intervention. This is a stompy deck, which means your creatures are your key to victory. You need to protect them as much as possible. Use the extra mana you save with Ur-Dragon’s ability to keep up protection from board wipes and removal spells.
- Prismatic Geoscope. Who needs Gilded Lotus? You’re playing five colors. Plus, you need a lot more ramp in this deck than usual, and I do mean a lot. Your commander is Eldrazi-levels of expensive, and the other creatures in your deck aren't exactly cheap either.
- Somberwald Sage isn’t a dragon, but it will get your Ur-Dragon onto the battlefield a full three turns faster than normal. This card is dangerously powerful, and definitely deserves to see play in a deck with such an expensive suite of creature spells.
The previews for Commander 2017 are insane. In just a few weeks we’ll be seeing Wizards, Cats, Vampires, and Dragons all fighting for the crown in an all-out tribal war. Established tribal decks should watch their backs; I think Scion’s crown as the most popular five-color commander could be in danger.
Before now, Timmy/Tammy and Johnny/Jenny players only had one option for a rainbow dragon commander. Scion was the choice for dragon tribal sort of by default, even though its abilities push it toward tutor-combo-graveyard shenanigans. Now there’s a new competitor on the horizon, one that encourages you to play your dragons instead of putting them into the graveyard. Resident Jennies will probably stick with their trusty Scion, but I expect Timmies might flock to their new dragon overlord.
So make some room, Scion. The Ur-Daddy’s home.
Til next time!