Too-Specific Top 10 - Spirit of the Dragon
(Art by Billy Christian)
We've Got Spirit, Yes We Do
Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Eternal Dragon is the only Spirit Dragon with Cycling?)
With the upcoming release of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, there's been a ton of controversy over the introduction of Cyberpunk elements to the Magic: The Gathering multiverse, and thus, like any other content creator would, I've decided to completely avoid that juicy clickbait and focus on something else entirely: Dragon Spirits!
In the original Champions of Kamigawa, hidden among what used to pass for a horde of legends, was a full cycle of rare and legendary Dragon Spirits, one for each color: Yosei, the Morning Star, Keiga, the Tide Star, Kokusho, the Evening Star, Ryusei, the Falling Star, and Jugan, the Rising Star
These were the Titans before the Titans, a cycle of six-mana 5/5 fliers that busted right onto the Standard scene, spawning a mono-white control build with Yosei and a midrange deck that won a significant amount of its games by casting two Kokushos and having them both die simultaneously to the old legend rule to drain an opponent for 10. It really comes as no surprise, then, that the popular cycle was one of the first things to be revisited when it came to Neon Dynasty spoilers: Ao, the Dawn Sky, Kairi, the Swirling Sky, Junji, the Midnight Sky, Atsushi, the Blazing Sky, and Kura, the Boundless Sky.
While it's not quite as tight a cycle as the last one was, overall I'm still totally in love. Atsushi is a flying trampling Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Junji is an absolute threat no matter which mode you choose, and you know that it's not just gonna die once, being a black Dragon with a Reanimator effect stapled to it. Kairi is absolutely worth the six-mana cost, being huge, difficult to kill, and providing either the return of two key spells or all of your opponents' best stuff whenever it does finally die. Kura is easily the weirdest of the bunch, being a 4/4 deathtouching Dragon in green, but it does let you choose between drawing three cards or making a huge creature whenever it dies, so there's really not much to be upset about there. Even Ao, surprisingly, doesn't disappoint as the white piece of the cycle, being a strictly better Serra Angel that can play out a horde of weenie permanents or just pump your whole board when it shuffles off this mortal coil. Hatebear decks, take note!
In short, I would not be surprised at all to see most of these showing up in some Commander decks, so why not see where things currently stand among Spirit Dragons before our newest crop arrives on the scene?
Top 10 Dragon Spirits
Of course, the original Kamigawa Dragon Spirits are not the only cards to have ever graced this particular creature type combination. The
elephant Spirit Dragon in the room, however, isn't a creature at all.
While Ugin was probably not even a solidified character when the Kamigawa Dragon Spirits were printed, he is technically the oldest Spirit Dragon in Magic lore, being Nicol Bolas's twin brother. While I can't wait to someday get a flip planeswalker of him in similar fashion to Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, I still think that for now we should do the non-obvious thing and allow the most legendary Spirit Dragon to compete, despite technically not being a Dragon or a Spirit. We only have 16 technical Dragon Spirits to choose from in the history of the game, after all, so what's wrong with allowing a bit more competition?
Criteria: Non-Changeling creatures that have both the creature type Dragon and Spirit, or are Ugin, who is well known for being a Spirit Dragon. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.
10. Jugan, the Rising Star
(Helms 10 Decks, Rank #1697; 1,395 Inclusions, 0% of 447,886 Decks)
Jugan, the Rising Star was easily the most underwhelming of the original Dragon Spirits. That's not to say that it didn't or doesn't see play; a 5/5 flier that still leaves you with five more power and toughness after it dies is nothing to scoff at. In fact, in the early days of EDH, when all of these Dragons were more or less considered staples, Jugan was a routine addition to any sort of aggro or +1/+1 counter deck, with its current 1,395 inclusions mostly still falling along that latter line. The fact is, five +1/+1 counters goes a long way, as does the rare flier in green.
9. O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami
(Helms 704 Decks, Rank #384; 2,290 Inclusions, 3% of 67,668 Decks)
Man, talk about a swing and a miss when it comes to backup commanders. O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami was originally printed in Commander 2017, and it never really caught on. On the surface, it does look like a fun sort of pillowfort commander that incentivizes your opponents to attack elsewhere, but the fact is, WUBRG mana is hard, and six mana is a lot. With that much effort put in, most players are looking to get more out of it than a 6/6 flample that might or might not remove something. Even for those hipsters that wanted to play it regardless of this, most of them got dissuaded fairly quickly when they cast it for the first time just to have it immediately removed and ticked up to the eight-mana bracket.
Ironically, if it weren't for the existence of all of the five-color commanders that weren't truly five colors, O-Kagachi might see a bit more play. As it is, though, I think that the failure of this particular commander is part of the reason that Wizards felt they had to start creating five-color commanders without WUBRG in their mana costs, which I kind of get from that perspective, even if I disagree in hindsight.
8. Yosei, the Morning Star
(Helms 42 Decks, Rank #1,209; 3,261 Inclusions, 1% of 414,066 Decks)
Yosei, Yosei, Yosei.... You were so close! Sure, your designers had no idea what Commander was when they made you, and you did have your time in the limelight in Standard, but it's just so difficult not to wonder what would have happened if you, like your opposing cousin, had ended up with the "each opponent" wording instead of "target player". Sure, you would have been an absolutely annoying mono-white staple, but you would have been a staple!
Instead, we sit here in a universe with Yosei at #8 on our list. Alas.
7. Eternal Dragon
(3,489 Inclusions, 1% of 414,066 Decks)
Much like Yosei, the Morning Star, Eternal Dragon was the keystone of a standard mono-white control deck. Unlike Yosei, that success transferred fairly directly to early EDH play. Those numbers have since dropped off, but you can definitely still find the odd nostalgia inclusion for this Dragon, which can go and find you a Plains every turn for the low, low cost of seven mana. You also still see this Dragon Spirit in more than a couple Cycling builds, although even an old fogey like me has to admit that there're definitely better options out there. Still, you could do worse than a 5/5 flying nostalgia pick!
6. Vengeful Ancestor
(3,642 Inclusions, 2% of 238,429 Decks)
Unlike all the ancient Spirit Dragons we've seen thus far, Vengeful Ancestor was printed relatively recently, in the Forgotten Realms Commander precons. What's surprising here is that it flies at all, given that the artwork clearly depicts a Dragonborn, rather than a true Dragon. With that said, it's one of the best "attacks matter" creatures out there, being able to Goad a creature every turn while flying over them, then stacking extra damage on top of that whenever a Goaded creature attacks. Even better, if you're playing a blink deck that includes red (like Pramikon, Sky Rampart), this thing was made for you!
5. Keiga, the Tide Star
(Helms 125 Decks, Rank #889; 4,645 Inclusions, 1% of 470,175 Decks)
Keiga, the Tide Star easily eclipses most of the original Kamigawa Dragon Spirits in commander numbers, and at first glance, it's difficult to see why. A six-mana creature that Control Magics when it dies seems pretty underwhelming. However, this is mono-blue, which means you always have to consider what would happen if you went all in on a Clone theme. With Keiga, unlike most legends, you don't mind at all when you Clone it and the copy immediately dies!
4. Ryusei, the Falling Star
(Helms 17 Decks, Rank #1,489; 6,358 Inclusions, 1% of 448,938 Decks)
Ryusei, the Falling Star isn't even close to the most unique commander out there, but there's a lot to be said for it in the 99. The reason? Well, there's an entire spectrum of decks centered around Sneak Attack and cards like it. A board wipe on hand for a single mana? That also swings for five before it blows up the board? There's a lot to be said for it.
3. Kokusho, the Evening Star
(Helms 233 Decks, Rank #692; 15,637 Inclusions, 3% of 478,789 Decks)
Many folks may not even remember the quaint old days where Kokusho, the Evening Star was banned, but believe it or not, this thing was the boogeyman of the format at one point. Cabal Coffers isn't exactly a new card itself, and neither are several of the black mana-doublers, so getting to the point where you could afford to repeatedly pay Kokusho's commander tax and immediately sacrifice it to a Phyrexian Plaguelord wasn't difficult. As such, when 'Banned as Commander' was a thing, Kokusho and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary were public enemy #1 (not that Rofellos should be legal in the 99, either).
The more interesting way to build the deck? Play it as Reanimator, and recur Kokusho repeatedly instead of cast it. Say what you like about old-school EDH, but this ban was deserved at the time. As for now? Kokusho is a fine finisher in just about any black deck. Combine it with some Clone effects, though, and you've got some real spice.
2. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
(24,585 Inclusions, 3% of 932,639 Decks)
Eight mana seems like a whole lot of mana for a planeswalker, but the nice thing about planeswalkers as a card type is that they are very scalable. Eight mana for 7 loyalty that can become 9 on the turn it comes into play (while bolting something along the way) is a pretty great return, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon's -X is good enough to make an eight-mana splash. Combine all that with the fact that it only takes two untouched turns for Ugin to ult, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon absolutely passes the "eight-mana spells should more or less win you the game" test.
1. Ugin, the Ineffable
(27,102 Inclusions, 3% of 932,639 Decks)
After all that, I was a surprised to see Ugin, the Ineffable pull out the top spot! Don't get me wrong, it's a fine card in artifact and Eldrazi decks, and both of its loyalty abilities are excellent, but it comes down a bit late to be considered a ramp option, and creating a 2/2 that later draws you a card isn't anything I would ever pay six mana for. Where Ugin, the Spirit Dragon shines on every letter and number of rules text, Ugin, the Ineffable barely meets the price of admission.
However, that "price" word is the reason this Ugin is on top, when all is said and done. While Ugin, the Spirit Dragon has dropped in price quite a bit since being reprinted in Core Set 2021, it's still a $20 card, as opposed to Ugin, the Ineffable's $3 price tag. So give it a few more reprints, folks, and we'll see who really comes out on top.
There aren't too many more Dragon Spirits in all of Magic, to the point where of the eight of the nine remaining are all coming out in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty (assuming more haven't been spoiled as of the publishing of this article). With that said, there are a couple of cards which make Dragon Spirits, which seems worth noting:
Hailing fromthe Forgotten Realms Commander Precons, Vrondiss, Rage of Ancients is likely to make you quite a few Dragon Spirits! He may act more like a Dinosaur than a Dragonborn, but there's no doubting that when he hits the battlefield, the table takes notice.
That is less true when it comes to Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang. Even in the olden days of EDH, this Equipment was a bit too slow and bumbling to see much play, and that has not changed as time has passed. There's no doubt that +5/+5 is a lot, but it takes you nine mana to get there, which is just a terrible rate. Being able to turn the whole thing into a Dragon in the late game is a bonus, but at the same time, it's not really anything to get that excited about, either.
Finally, there has been one Dragon Spirit token-generator in the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty spoilers we've seen as of the writing of this article, and it's a fun one! Goro-Goro, Disciple of Ryusei is more than just an economical haste-enabler for your team! If you throw in an Equipment or Aura, he's also a heck of a mana sink! Five mana to make a 5/5 flier is a great deal, and the fact that he doesn't have to tap to do it means that if you find yourself with infinite or even just a lot of mana, you can keep doing it over and over again. If you're the Gruul deck that constantly finds itself ramping into nothing, then this is exactly the mana sink you want as a backup plan in your deck. I mean, the worst that can happen is all the other beef you're playing gets hastey, right?
Nuts and Bolts
There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Scryfall search.
What Do You Think?
Death triggers have always been a thing in Magic, so maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that the original Dragon Spirits still see quite a lot of play 18 years later, even though they were made to take advantage of a legend rule that no longer works the way it did upon their release. It does make me wonder if Wizards got it right, however....
Finally, which is your favorite Dragon Spirit? Is it from old Kamigawa, or new Kamigawa? Or is it a non-affiliated Spirit Dragon, such as Ugin himself?
Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the giant glass table on the glass floor of the swanky new-age mall, where it's hard to focus on playing because you can see people at the fountain two floors down.