Mind Bend - Redless Dragons
(Dromoka, the Eternal | Art by Eric Deschamps)
Keep the Fire
“The dragon is a perfect marriage of power and the will to use it.”
Around the time I started writing this article series, I was sipping a few hard-earned post-Commander beers with a good friend (and even better Commander player) named Erik. Aware of the goal of Mind Bend, a series meant to break down conventional notions of the color pie to forge new ground outside the confines of the already established, he posited to me an idea that was too awesome to pass up: he asked, "How about a non-red Dragon deck?" And I thought "Oh, yeah. That's what I'm all about."
It's strange when and where inspiration can strike. I talked about this more in-depth in a previous article, where one card stuck with me until I had to build a deck to support it. For inspiration like this, you just have to be open to it. To be honest, I'm ashamed I didn't think of non-red Dragons first. Outside of possibly Elves or Goblins, what creature type is so defined by one color other than Dragons? They breathe fire, they have tons of fury; they are quintessentially red.
So I was floored when my quick Scryfall search found over 60 bonafide non-red Dragons. Surely, there are enough to build a flavorful and possibly powerful deck without the need for Mountains, right?
Well, to do that, let's look at the Dragoniest mono-red Dragon deck that ever Dragoned - Lathliss, Dragon Queen.
Lathliss wants you to play Dragons to make more Dragons, then lets you pump up those Dragons two mana at a time. Before you know it, your opponents have died from what might be called "being in the way of a hopeless amount of Dragons". Dragons!
Anatomy of a Dragon
A Lathliss Commander deck is overt in what its strategy is, but to be sure how the Dragon Queen's heart ticks, it's best to use the Average Deck feature on her EDHREC page. That way, we can get a full cross-section of this magnificent beast. In the decklist below, the only thing I've enhanced here is that I've separated out cards into categories how I saw them fit into the overall strategy, rather than the default of by card type.
The first thing that pops out to me is the set of creatures that I dubbed "Combat Dragons". It seems the average Lathliss deck is running ten creatures that care about combat in some way - either from declaring that creature an attacker, pumping up the power of the team, or when dealing combat damage.
Take Utvara Hellkite for example. This eight-mana monster encourages you to swing away at your opponents, promising you another set of Dragon tokens for each firebreather you fly into battle. New to the Commander scene, Drakuseth, Maw of Flames loves to burn away the board or your opponents when going into the red zone. Hellkite Tyrant, on the other hand, just wants to make sure it hits some face before it takes away an opponent's shiny toys.
Of course a deck chock full of beefy red fliers would want to attack. It'd be cruel to the Dragons to have them hover on your side of the board without seeing a ton of action.
Costly Air Support
These huge sky monsters come with a huge cost, however. Many of the best Dragons are above five mana, so to make sure the you can spam the skies with red threats, the average Lathliss deck contains 17 ramp spells.
These ramp spells can be broken down into a few smaller categories. First, you have the generally good mana rocks like Fire Diamond and Mind Stone. Next, you have the cost reducers, both in the generic (Ruby Medallion) and the particular (Urza's Incubator) forms.
What's interesting here is that the average deck favors many of the direct cost-reducers for Dragons, like Dragonlord's Servant and Dragonspeaker Shaman. This is a feature exclusive to red decks, as options like this do not exist for Dragons in other colors. Finally, you have a few mass-mana makers in Caged Sun and Mana Geyser.
In all, the deck is focused on reducing the costs of Dragons wherever possible and wants to set up big mana turns where many Dragons can hit the board all at once.
Outside of the specific-cost reducers, the average Lathliss deck is not too keen on direct tribal bonuses. Perhaps the commander seals up that hole, but I counted less than ten total in the deck. The best of these is probably Dragon Tempest, as it gives a deck like this so much velocity, clearing the board and allowing your Dragons to attack at will.
However, some of the best tribal role players are luckily available to all colors: Herald's Horn, Dragon's Hoard, and Vanquisher's Banner net the deck either cards, mana, or both. I would be a fool to not include them in the non-red build.
Average to Savage
All told, the average Lathliss deck is trying to do the following things:
- Build up a large amount of ramp, both via cost reductions and more traditional means.
- Cast big, big Dragons turn after turn.
- Smack every opponent in your way.
- Occasionally get some bonuses for your tribe.
Now that the strategy is set, let's start turning all those red pips in the deck to all the other colors. First with some combat.
Lucky for us, the Khans of Tarkir block gave non-red decks so, so many awesome Dragons. Most notably are the Dragonlords and their non-Elder versions. The non-Elder leaders, three of which don't contain red, all give bonuses that scale with the number of attacking Dragons: Dromoka, the Eternal grows our weakest Dragons into potent threats, and Ojutai, Soul of Winter can lock down key pieces on an opponent's board. But probably the best of the three is Silumgar, the Drifting Death, which can Plague Wind an opponent's creatures with ease.
Of the Dragons with combat damage triggers, we have a slew of legendary Dragons from Invasion and Planar Chaos that all care about connecting with our enemies: Teneb, the Harvester can resurrect a creature from any graveyard; Dromar, the Banisher can keep us out of sticky situations, possibly bouncing an opponent's whole army at once; and Vorosh, the Hunter gets super big, super fast, melting our opponents' life totals in the process.
Of course, these legendaries require mana each to get their effects, which means we need to be ramping as hard as the average Lathliss build.
Double Your Mana, Double Your Fun
Not being mono-red means we get access to some of the best mana doublers in the game. Both Mirari's Wake and Zendikar Resurgent are powerhouses for decks looking to cast a lot of big things all the time. Less budget-friendly versions of this strategy can also slot in Mana Reflection for even more mana production.
On the lower mana cost side of things, we have all the ramp staples we could ever want, from Kodama's Reach to Farseek to the unbelievably strong Smothering Tithe. We should have little to worry about when it comes to making mana.
One advantage that the average Lathliss deck has is its powerful Dragons with swingy enter-the-battlefield effects. The red deck uses Thundermaw Hellkite and Scourge of Valkas to great effect. Outside red, I was only able to find a few key players; Dragonlord Silumgar is probably the best since it can yank a key creature or pesky planeswalker from the other side of the table.
Now, some of you might have wondered how much I would dip into Changelings to stretch out this deck, and I can proudly say that I only chose five to include in my suite of "Dragons". Modern Horizons provided some spicy Shapeshifters that deserve slots in this deck: Unsettled Mariner protects our board, Venomous Changeling is hard to block and harder to attack into, and Irregular Cohort gives us double the Dragons, which makes Silumgar, the Drifting Death happy.
Other notable non-shapeshifter Dragons include Scalelord Reckoner, which is an even more fierce Unsettled Mariner, and Dragonlord Dromoka, a fantastic way to make sure all your spells resolve and all your attacks remain un-Fogged.
Rounding it out, having access to both white and black means that we can play an all-star lineup of answers. Catchalls like Anguished Unmaking and Generous Gift make sure anything awful does not stick around for long. We also get three board wipes that won't touch our field in Harsh Mercy, Crux of Fate, and Kindred Dominance.
No More Dragon This On
This deck leans heavily towards white and green. Most of its ramp is obviously in green, whereas a large proportion of our Dragons are at least partially white. What this means is that the land base should skew towards these two colors and any dual lands in blue or black should support the key color pair.
In choosing to lead this deck, there are two options. First is the flavorful one, which sees Reyhan, Last of the Abzan partnered with Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker, as was initially suggested by my friend Erik those months ago. It's flavorful because both characters are from the plane of Tarkir, a very Dragon-centric world.
However, I chose Ravos, Soultender and Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix because they help fill in roles for the deck. Ravos provides us with a way to recover in the late game, while Kydele gives us an extra mana ramp option in the command zone.
Either way, here's the final list for when you want to Death by Dragons your enemies without ever tapping a single Mountain.
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Over Our Heads
If this build says anything, it's that inspiration is everywhere. Keep your eyes and ears open, and you'll be surprised how often it will strike you. Otherwise, I would have never guessed that there were really that many Dragons outside their typical Mountain homes. It makes me wonder what else is out there? What other little nuggets of Magic's seemingly endless card catalog are waiting to be dug up and put on display?
Perhaps I should head back to the bar to find out.
See you again for more color-bent insanity!