Conditions Allow – Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge

(Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge | Art by Daarken)

One Dragon’s Treasure

Welcome back to Conditions Allow, where I pick a legendary creature with a drawback and try to turn it into a strength. Core Set 2021 had a couple of powerful, exciting new commanders, like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose and Radha, Heart of Keld, but it also came with a few legendaries that are less streamlined. For this week, I’m excited to get to build around a new legendary Dragon who competes with Smaug himself for standing menacingly on a pile of gold: Gadrak, the Crown Scourge.

Gadrak is an efficient aggressive body with a major restriction on how you can use it: it can only attack if you have four or more artifacts, which you can think of as a more restrictive version of Metalcraft. Luckily, Gadrak has a second ability which produces a Treasure token for each creature that dies during your turn. Note that, unlike Pitiless Plunderer, Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge creates these tokens at the end of your turn, rather than as those creatures die, so you won’t be able to use that extra mana on your turn. This is a sneakier drawback than his restriction on attacking, and it’ll require a little more ingenuity to work with.

Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge sits in an interesting place between efficient, aggressive commanders, like Valduk, Keeper of the Flame, and other red commanders that utilize the graveyard, like Daretti, Scrap Savant. Gadrak’s focus on sending creatures to the graveyard makes him feel more like an Aristocrats deck than Daretti, who usually focuses on value and sneaking big artifacts into play early. But comparing Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge to Teysa Karlov or Judith, the Scourge Diva also feels wrong because of the delay between creatures dying and Gadrak generating Treasure. 

If we take a look at Gadrak’s EDHREC page, it’s easy to see that Gadrak isn’t usually being built like an Aristocrats deck, either. Despite only having 26 decks, there is a strong Dragon Tribal theme to this page, and I can see why this is tempting. Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge is a cheap Dragon, which helps smooth out the high curve that Dragon tribal can struggle with. He also helps produce mana as your Dragons devour blocking creatures so you can play more Dragons, or recover quickly after a board wipe. There are also plenty of Dragons that synergize with artifacts, like Hellkite Tyrant and Hoarding Dragon.

There are still, however, plenty of the more typical artifact cards on Gadrak’s page as well. Myr Retriever, Junk Diver, and Scrap Trawler all make an appearance, as does Foundry Inspector and Shimmer Myr. I’m most intrigued by Reckless Fireweaver though. Have enough creatures die during your turn, and this little guy could have each opponent lose a significant portion of their life as your Treasure tokens come into play. 

These two sets of cards hint that the data on Gadrak’s page is split between two distinct archetypes. One is focused around combat with Dragons, and the other leans more into the artifact synergy and sacrifice aspects of Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge. Most of the cards here lean towards the Dragon Tribal deck, so I’m going to see how you might build Gadrak as an Aristocrats style deck, focusing on artifacts and artifact creatures. We’ll start by exploring the groundwork laid by the cards on Gadrak’s page before exploring the Artifacts Theme page to fill out the list.

A Tour Through the Treasure Room

Like any good Aristocrats deck, we’re going to want to play creatures that generate extra value when we sacrifice them. Solemn Simulacrum and Filigree Familiar are classic examples, letting us draw cards and generating Treasures when they die with Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge in play. We’ll then bring them back with Workshop Assistant and keep the cycle going. This helps keep the deck moving and fuels extra draws from Hazoret’s Monument as we cast, recycle, and recast our creatures, and while Hazoret’s Monument won’t reduce the cost of our artifact creatures, Foundry Inspector and Ugin the Ineffable will. These cards will form the core engine of the deck, so we’ll include as many different versions of each effect as we can.

Of course, none of that fancy synergy can happen without sacrifice outlets. Workshop Assistant and Solemn Simulacrum only work when they die, and we’ll want to be able to control when that happens. Krark-Clan Ironworks is a signature spell in artifact decks, and this deck wouldn’t be complete without it. This deck also consists largely of creatures, so Ashnod’s Altar fills almost the same role as the Ironworks. I’m also including Altar of Dementia to help fuel our graveyard. Junk Diver effects let us pull all of our most important spells out of the graveyard, and milling ourselves by four or five cards a turn can often be the fastest way to put together a game-winning combo.

The final pieces of the puzzle are ways to convert all our sweet sweet Treasure tokens into damage. One of the tricky things about Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge is that he gives you all of this extra mana at the end of your turn, so you can’t spend it on creatures or sorceries. This means instant-speed win conditions are vital to ensure that our opponents don’t have an opportunity to Vandalblast all of our hard work away. Reckless Fireweaver isn’t an instant, but it does deal damage as the Treasures come into play while being cheap enough to easily cast. Comet Storm and Fault Line are classic burn spells that every Red player should be familiar with, and it’s also worth mentioning Shimmer Myr and Vedalken Orrery in this category since they let us play at instant speed. This is vital for a deck that creates a lot of mana in the end step, and I’ll be going over additional mana sinks later on as well.

Expanding your Hoard

These sets of cards form the core of the deck’s strategy, but it’s also about as far as Gadrak’s EDHREC page can take us. Luckily, EDHREC still has plenty of data for us to consider on the Artifact Theme page. Specifically, we’re going to look at the Mono-Red section of this page, and at Bosh, Iron Golem‘s page in particular.

I like comparing Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge to Bosh, Iron Golem because neither commander has recursion built in the way that Daretti, Scrap Savant does. This means that they share a similar overall strategy, and each has to solve similar problems in order to succeed. Bosh has many more decks, though, so we’ll find cards that haven’t shown up for Gadrak yet.

Indeed, we can find three great cards right away. Mycosynth Golem is perfect for Gadrak, acting as a powerful cost-reducer for all of our artifact creatures and is easy to cast thanks to its Affinity for Treasure tokens. Pia’s Revolution is yet another way to recur artifacts, doubling the power of Junk Diver type creatures. Just like Athreos, God of Passage, Pia’s Revolution will always return the card to our hand as long as an opponent is at a low enough life total, which should be easy to ensure thanks to Gadrak and Ghirapur Aether Grid. This enchantment feels a lot like Reckless Fireweaver, dealing one damage for every two Treasures we create, and even though we can’t use our Treasure for mana if they’re tapped, the Aether Grid lets us use them even if we don’t have spells to cast or other abilities to activate before we untap on our next turn.

Rather unsurprisingly, Bosh, Iron Golem also likes to play big, expensive artifact creatures. I’m going to throw a couple in with Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge, too. They offer a synergistic secondary gameplan of attacking for a lot of damage. These are often much easier to cast than their mana costs would suggest thanks to Goblin Welder or their own effects. I’m also throwing Wurmcoil Engine and Bosh, Iron Golem, itself, into this deck to put as much pressure as we can on opponents’ life totals.

Bosh’s page is also where I found Quicksmith Genius, which is a fantastic card for Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge. Looting is an incredibly useful mechanic for this deck, and Quicksmith Genius can power us through a lot of cards if it’s allowed to stay on the battlefield. This isn’t technically card advantage on its own, but if we’re recurring a majority of our spells from the graveyard, that isn’t much of a problem.

The Real Treasure was Synergy

Speaking of recurring spells from the graveyard, these two creatures act as extra copies of Quicksmith Genius. These, along with Endless Atlas, Arch of Orazca and Bonders’ Enclave, will also mean that we always have a use for extra mana on other player’s turns. I’m going to throw Idol of Oblivion into this category as well. Treasure tokens are tokens, and we can activate the Idol to draw a card before moving to our clean-up step after the end phase. The final instant-speed draw effect is Commune with Lava. This spell lets us see a lot of extra cards, and there are enough redundant pieces in the deck that we shouldn’t have to worry too much about key cards getting stuck in exile.

Red has access to a surprising number of instant-speed tricks, and more of them should show up on Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge‘s page. Dualcaster Mage and Reverberate have great utility, and Gadrak makes it easy to leave up the mana to cast them. Embercleave is normally an aggressive card, and we can play it that way, but it can also be a surprising defensive combat trick as well.

Before going to the full deck list, I want to briefly mention some utility lands. This deck is mostly colorless, which opens up the option to play a lot of colorless lands. In particular, I’m interested in lands that help us draw cards, like Bonders’ Enclave, or search directly for what we need. Sequestered Stash falls somewhere in the middle, but the extra selection it provides could give us the card that we need when we need it. Inventors’ Fair is obviously much stronger, but I think we’ve crafted a deck where Sanctum of Ugin works as well. There aren’t a ton of artifacts which cost seven or more in the deck, but we can easily cast any of them more than once. This will then let us search for any artifact creatures that we want. With the help of Crucible of Worlds, we can even do this more than once. This could easily be more cute than good, but it’s an interaction that I’d like to experiment with.

Add in the requisite ramp and a couple more staple artifact cards, and we have ourselves a deck.

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Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge is a really interesting commander. He can shift easily between playing for value and attacking for huge chunks of damage, something most Aristocrat decks can’t do. This particular list may just be a starting point, but I think that this Dragon has some real potential as we continue to see what is possible and what works best.

Do you find Gadrak interesting? And if you’ve had the chance to play with him, what worked and what didn’t? Let me know what you think down in the comments, and thanks for reading.

Ben was introduced to Magic during Seventh Edition and has played on and off ever since. A Simic mage at heart, he loves being given a problem to solve. When not shuffling cards, Ben can be found lost in a book or skiing in the mountains of Vermont.