Rolebuilding - Drizzt Do'Urden
(Drizzt and Guenhwyvar from The Companions  | Art by Tyler Jacobson)
Welcome back to Rolebuilding, the series where I combine characters from Dungeons & Dragons with Magic: The Gathering to create a spirited EDH deck. Last time we dove into the brutal world of the Drow, focusing on Lolth, Queen of Spiders. I put a poll on that article to determine the topic of my next Rolebuild, so let's take a look at the results:
It was a tight race between Drizzt and Acererak, but a late surge for Drizzt gave him a commanding lead. Offering a literal escape from Drow tyranny, this storied hero of the Forgotten Realms is our Rolebuilding challenge for today.
Drizzt Do'Urden was created by fantasy author R.A. Salvatore in the '80s as a side character for the Icewind Dale series. Drizzt quickly became the centerpiece of not only that trilogy but many other stories set in the Forgotten Realms published over the last 32 years. All of the 20+ novels featuring Drizzt have made the New York Times Best Seller list. He's made an appearance in every edition of D&D, going back to the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons supplements. Suffice it to say, Drizzt is one of the most beloved and famous characters in all of Dungeons & Dragons lore, and perhaps fantasy literature as a whole. No pressure here.
Pictured: Me, researching for Rolebuilding
Drizzt is a classic romantic hero, risking life and limb for his friends without an expectation of gratitude. After leaving the drow culture at an early age because he disagreed with their brutal, violent ideals, Drizzt began to construct his own code of honor. He learned the ways of the Ranger from the wise Montolio, traveled far and wide, and became a formidable fighter of legendary renown. Frequently misunderstood by drow and surface-dwellers alike, the friction between his past and present worlds rests at the core of many of his stories.
It's futile to summarize Drizzt's numerous stories in this article, so we will focus on specific aspects of his life, particularly what it means to be a well-traveled Ranger.
Choosing Our Hunter
One of the most challenging and rewarding parts of writing this series is finding the right commander for the deck. This is the most famous character I've written about, so it's a good time to briefly pause and discuss the sort of logic I use. Let's take a peek behind the curtain.
My first instinct for Drizzt led me to Rhys the Exiled and Rhys the Redeemed, and Ezuri, Renegade Leader also crossed my mind. These rebellious Elves have suitable art and flavor text, and the cards make sense at a superficial glance. In Rolebuilding, I don't want to make decks that simply look like a given character, though. The novelty wears off quickly once I realize that I've baked another frosting-covered deck with bland filling.
Frosting Sold Separately
Leading hordes of Elves into battle is actually counter-intuitive to the character of Drizzt, but that's precisely what those Elf renegades up above are built to do. I haven't read every Drizzt novel, but I'm confident in saying that he does not summon or sacrifice legions of Elves on a regular basis. He doesn't even have many Elf friends. Rhys and Ezuri are designed for Elf tribal, and trying to make them something that they're not in the name of Drizzt will lead to frustration.
Trying to Find an Elf as Cool as Drizzt
We want to feel like Drizzt every time we pick up the deck - a hardy, sometimes lonely traveler who fights for what he believes. Drizzt values empathy and experience, but is decidedly forward-looking. He's a leader who prizes individualism and achievement. A passionate lover and fierce defender of his friends, Drizzt enters a bestial rage when he sees they are in mortal danger.
These powerful emotions and precepts should be present in the mechanics of the commander, so that every time we cast them, attack with them, or use their abilities, we feel a connection to the character. This is why I prioritize mechanics first when choosing a commander for this series. This should not just look like a Drizzt deck when we first sit down at a table, it should feel like a Drizzt deck on our first, fifth, and fortieth game.
Too Many Options, or Too Few?
As important as mechanics are, we still want the visuals and flavor to be in the realm of possibility. So we'll restrict ourselves to a legendary Elf for our commander spot, which gives us 43 options. Of those, there is only one Elf who can truly encapsulate everything it means to be Drizzt. After all this agonizing, without further ado, I give you our venerated commander:
Just kidding. But he does follow a strict philosophy, has rage in his heart (Rampage 1!), and wields a sword. He's also in the same colors as our actual commander, so if you're set on using Marhault Elsdragon as your Drizzt commander, please don't stop reading just because I poked fun at him.
It's a Ranger's World Out There
"There is a wide world out there, my friend, full of pain, but filled with joy as well. The former keeps you on the path of growth, and the latter makes the journey tolerable." - Montolio DeBrouchee, Drizzt's mentor
Hopefully the diversion into commander logic has been valuable. Now I present to you my actual commander choice:
Radha, Heart of Keld arrived just in time for this rolebuild. Her mechanics empower us to do some fun EDH things befitting Drizzt Do'Urden and his legacy. Plus, she has two swords!
Drizzt is the main character and hero in most of his stories, and he should be the hero of this deck. We'll build the deck in a Voltron style around Radha so that we can capture that decisive victory delivered by her twin blades.
Radha's first mechanic, the pseudo first strike, reflects the speed of Drizzt's strikes, which are flaunted at many a turn in his books. Her second ability reflects Drizzt's forward-looking nature and his prolific travels:
Hindsight, I think, is a useless tool. We, each of us, are at a place in our lives because of innumerable circumstances, and we, each of us, have a responsibility (if we do not like where we are) to move along life's road, to find a better path if this one does not suit, or to walk happily along this one if it is indeed our life's way. - Drizzt Do'Urden
Radha's final ability signifies the power Drizzt has accumulated from his wide-ranging excursions. Learning swordfighting from his father, a weapon master; spending years of exile in the Underdark; studying under Montolio the Ranger; and countless other experiences lend themselves to the battle-hardened hero we know and love. Activating Radha's last ability should be the culmination of Drizzt's story and our deck's strategy - it should win us the day, and the game.
The Ranger Code
One of the reasons Radha fits so well for Drizzt is that, in Magic, traversing and familiarizing one's self with the wilderness has been symbolized by pulling lands out of our library - either to our hand or the battlefield. Drizzt knows the land, particularly his adopted home in the North, like the back of his hand, and he's always finding ways to use the environment to his advantage.
We're including a few Sakura-Tribe Scout-style helpers. We're playing 44 lands in this deck, and we'll often be using our land drop to play lands from the top of our library with Radha's ability, so we're going to be stuck with lands in our hand. Firebrand Ranger, Llanowar Scout, and Skyshroud Ranger can help us push those lands onto the battlefield and ramp us into our endgame, when we turn them into a weapon for our commander.
We'll keep the lands theme going with Exploration and Burgeoning. In most EDH decks, these are just powerful ramp spells, but in our deck they double as delayed pump spells. Ranger's Path is perfect flavor, and we're playing just about every other four-mana ramp spell to boot. Ranger's Guile and Heroic Intervention help us protect our commander once things get dicey.
Drizzt is not a particularly religious fellow, but he is decidedly spiritual, following the teachings of Mielikki, the Forest Queen and god of Rangers. He often muses about the importance of faith and mystery.
No, I would not want to live in a world without dragons, as I would not want to live in a world without magic, for that is a world without mystery, and that is a world without faith. - Drizzt Do'Urden
Nylea, God of the Hunt works perfectly as Mielikki, giving our commander that all-important trample on a resilient body. Mirri's Guile has sneaky-good synergy with Radha, allowing us to both set up our draws and our land drops how we want. Into the Wilds and Sylvan Library provide us more of the same, accelerating us or setting up draws depending on the situation.
A Good Ranger Never Blames His Tools
Blackblade Reforged and Embercleave will play the roles of Twinkle and Icingdeath, Drizzt's favored swords. Icingdeath was his main hand weapon, a frosty blade that could absorb fire magic and repurpose flame. The Blackblade represents Drizzt's more defensive scimitar, Twinkle. Twinkle was at one point destroyed and had to be repaired just like the Blackblade, so we get +1 flavor point here.
When I'm looking for specific pieces of a specific card type like Equipment, the combined powers of Scryfall and EDHREC really shine. I first searched for Equipment that fit into my commander's colors, which yields 247 options - too many to scroll through. But then I can sort the results by EDHREC rank, which brings more commonly used and, generally speaking, more powerful options to the top.
We're all familiar with Swiftfoot Boots, but the flavor actually works great for Drizzt because he wore his Bracers of the Blinding Strike around his ankles instead of his forearms. This made him incredibly quick on his feet, and also solved his issue of his sword strikes being so fast that he couldn't keep track of them. Don't you hate it when that happens?
Haunted Cloak was the best option I could find for Drizzt's sweet mithral armor. Sword of the Animist fits our strategy remarkably well, and it's a symbolic catchall for the other weapons Drizzt uses during his wide-ranging adventures.
Icingdeath is named for the white dragon of the same name that Wulfgar and Drizzt slew. Drizzt pulled the scimitar from the dead dragon's icy hoard. Hoarding Dragon gives us a story-driven piece of tech that lets us search up Embercleave and obtain it if the Dragon is slain. Sweet!
The Lone Wolf and His Friends
Due to his checkered past with the drow, Drizzt finds trust hard to come by. Once he does form a friendship with someone, he values that relationship very highly and will fight to protect those he loves.
Drizzt's oldest friend and closest companion for most of his travels is Guenhwyvar, his magical panther that can be summoned from a figurine of wondrous power. I chose Canopy Stalker because I thought the mechanics and flavor fit well. The Stalker provides us some solid lifegain after a board wipe, and during the endgame it can help our commander get through if our opponent only has one blocker.
Vivien Reid is our Catti-brie, adopted daughter of Bruenor and longtime friend of Wulfgar and Drizzt. A Human Ranger, Catti-brie favored the bow, so Vivien seems like a suitably badass avatar for her. She provides much-needed removal, acceleration, and a devastating ultimate that works nicely with our commander.
With our Equipment sub-theme, Godo, Bandit Warlord felt right for the barbarian Wulfgar.
The world of Magic doesn't exactly have halflings, so for Regis we'll use Kithkin Daggerdare. Torbran, Thane of Red Fell lives up to Bruenor Battlehammer's noble heritage and trademark red beard. Both of these friends give our commander Drizzt a boost and increase our damage output towards the endgame.
Every Adventure Comes to an End
Voltron strategies don't often bring about an easy win, so we need to get creative with how we finish the game.
Remember, we can activate Radha's ability more than once. In the late game when we have tons of lands or a Dictate of Karametra on the battlefield, we can make her impossibly large and win sans combat step with a Chandra's Ignition or an ultimate from Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast. Lukka has some Drizzt vibes all his own, being both a social pariah and a Cat friend, just like our main drow.
Boundless Realms is almost a finisher in this deck, overwhelming our opponents with lands that we can quickly turn into a stream of commander damage. Even if they remove Radha, we have plenty of haste options at our disposal, and we won't care much about the commander tax when we have 20+ lands on the battlefield.
Temur Battle Rage can make for a surprise kill on the cheap while also representing Drizzt's instinctive Hunter rage that he slips into from time to time. One of my favorite EDH combat tricks, Strength of Cedars, was made for this deck. I don't think Drizzt is much of a party animal, but Xenagos, God of Revels works really well with Radha, so we'll permit him.
The rest of the deck is card draw, some Ranger-themed removal and ramp, monsters that Drizzt might have met on his travels, and then some more ramp. Here is our final list, take a look!
Grab At The Stars
The End of a Long Road
I'll admit that this was one of my most challenging rolebuilds to date. Taking on such an iconic character really puts every choice under the microscope. I hope I did Drizzt justice while also making a deck that's fun to pilot with replay value. Who would you choose for a Drizzt rolebuild? What do you think of the choices for his friends? What Magic mechanics would fulfill that romantic hero vision for you? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!