Alrighty, folks, I’ve got another list for you today. This one is sort of a Dragon Tribal list, in the Temur colors, led by my dear friend, Maelstrom Wanderer. Before I get into talking about this deck, let’s just go straight to the list.
Keiga, the Tide Star
Shaman of the Great Hunt
Scourge of Valkas
Scourge of the Throne
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Intet, the Dreamer
Atarka, World Render
Descent of the Dragons
See the Unwritten
Garruk, Caller of Beasts
Tooth and Nail
Temple of Epiphany
Temple of Abandon
Temple of Mystery
Simic Growth Chamber
Temple of the False God
And, I’m still not ready to delve into this list quite yet. First I want to talk about a topic that I have only barely touched upon before: Theme. That is, how I approach and view thematically-built decks. The term “theme deck” means different things to different players, and the above list represents what I consider to be a theme deck. But to many, this would barely qualify, if at all.
Let me back up a bit. I have, for a very, VERY long time been a devotee of the Bauhaus school of art, specifically their chief philosophical approach to art: form follows function. *Note: this phrase was actually coined by an American architect, Louis Sullivan, and often incorrectly attributed to the Bauhaus school, but though they did not coin the term, the works of the Bauhaus sure as hell exemplify that ideal in every way possible.
The Bauhaus combined craft with art. They were involved in fine art – that is, art for art’s sake, or decorative art. You know, paintings, pictures, that sort of thing. But they are more known for their functional art – everything from architecture to furniture to typography and font design. To explain what form “follows function means” in practice, let’s use the example of a chair. Now, in some circles it was thought that aesthetics were the ultimate ideal and if you were setting out to make a chair, your primary goal above all else was to make it beautiful. If the chair turned out to be uncomfortable, impractical or unable to support the weight of a full-grown human, then no big deal. As long as it was pretty to look at, you could sit it in a corner and call it “art”.
The Bauhaus took the opposite approach. First you had to make sure the chair fulfilled its functional purpose as a chair. It had to support the weight of someone sitting in it and had to be comfortable (but this was 1920’s Germany, so “comfortable” was defined quite differently than you or I might define it) to sit in. In short, a chair had to be useful as a chair first, and “pretty” second. A font that was eye-catching and flashy but not easy to read was absolutely worthless as a font. Now, I’m not actually a tremendous fan of the minimalist, modernist aesthetic this line of thinking produced, overall. A typical Bauhaus chair tends to be pretty ugly, in my opinion. But I absolutely admire and often live by the sentiment, nonetheless. For me, form must always follow function. My wife loves interior design and is constantly re-decorating our house. But I am constantly veto-ing some ideas she has on the grounds that they aren’t practical -
sure that thing would LOOK good over there in that corner, but I USE that thing and it’s going to be very impractical if it’s way over there!”
sure that thing would LOOK good over there in that corner, but I USE that thing and it’s going to be very impractical if it’s way over there!”
The frequency of use should directly correlate to its ease of use – if it’s something that is used every single day or multiple times a day, then it’s “place” should be out in the open and within reach. Take a TV Remote or a toothbrush for example – two items that, in the average household are very likely to be used on an extremely frequent basis. Declaring that the remote control should go into a basket, which in turn is shut away in one of the entertainment center’s cabinets is fine and dandy, but who the hell is actually going to put it there? And if my toothbrush is not someplace where I can reach for it while standing at the bathroom sink, but rather I have to open a cabinet or drawer or, heaven forbid, bend down to find it, then I’m likely to just stop brushing my teeth entirely. It’s not that I’m lazy… well, I am, but this particular point would still be true even if I weren’t… but I just think, at a functional level it is just insane to put something you use constantly in a place that is not extremely easy to access. However, if you rarely use something, or if it is strictly decorative and serves no other function, then where you put hardly matters.
Basically it comes down to the question “If I put this item in this place, will accessing this item from this place be of sufficient effort or annoyance that it will actively dissuade me from using this item?” If I feel that the answer is “Yes, if I put this item here, then I am pretty sure I will begin to use this item less frequently than I currently do.” If that item is something important – like, again, a toothbrush or remote control, or maybe a piece of exercise equipment then a “yes” answer to that question is simply unacceptable and putting that object in the proposed place is equally unacceptable. Example: I bought a stair-stepper so that I could get some exercise without having to go outside and get all hot and sweaty or subject myself to airborne allergens. I could just put it in front of the TV and let my mind atrophy instead of my muscles, for a change. But there was no good place to store the thing when I wasn’t using it. My wife kept putting it in increasingly more obscure and hard to reach spots, because it was, to be honest, and ugly-ass piece of plastic and rubber and was a bit of an eyesore. But the problem was, this was something I was already hard-pressed to find motivation to use, because I hate exercise. But as it grew progressively harder and harder for me to access the tool, the less and less diligent I was in using it. On the flip side, I often use this trick when I am using something too much. For example, if I buy a bag of candy and I find I’m eating it too quickly I will put the candy in a dish with a lid and then put that dish in a cabinet. Now, to get candy I have to open both the cabinet containing the dish and the dish itself. This increases the level of effort to get the candy enough that I will probably just forget the candy even exists for the rest of eternity, and, problem solved!
But what on earth does this have to do with Magic?
Well, when it comes to theme decks, there are basically two schools of thought – theme follows function and vice versa. Theme is basically aesthetical deckbuilding. The more you devote your attention toward theme, the less functional the deck becomes. We’ve all seen those really crazy theme decks like “nothing but old people in the art”, or a Marvel Comics deck where every creature represents a specific superhero or comic book character, and all the spells represent specific powers they use. And then there are those tribal decks where every last creature HAS to be that one creature type. Decks like this are, to me, a lot like a chair that is ridiculously ornate and beautiful but terribly uncomfortable and thus largely useless as chair. I have to ask, if all you wanted was a pretty-to-look at chair, why didn’t you just paint a picture of a pretty chair? Why did you have to make an actual chair that cannot be used, practically, as a chair? But, getting back to Magic… what is a deck’s purpose? A deck of Magic cards has exactly one purpose: to play and (try to) win a game of Magic. Everything else is secondary to that purpose.
But those theme decks that are such slaves to their theme that the abandon all pretense of function are like a chair that can’t be sat in, or, you know at your grandma’s house how she has all these towels hanging up in the bathroom, but some of them are for actually drying your hands but others are never, ever to be used as towels? Yeah, those. Towels that cannot be used to dry things, candles that are never lit but just gather dust for years, and couches with plastic covers over the cushions just piss me off. You are robing that thing of it’s very purpose! And theme decks that are unwilling to make concessions to playability are basically the same thing.
Now, that all said, taking my view to the extreme will often lead to the kind of staple-laden Good Stuff builds that I used to be prone to building. I have definitely allowed my creative pendulum to swing more toward the thematic side of the spectrum of late, and I definitely get tired of 50% of my slots in every list going towards “auto-includes”. Point is, taking either view too far to one side or the other is just bad Magic. You end up will a “cool in concept” deck that is terrible, or a really good deck that wins a lot but is boring as shit to look at, talk about or play.
There is, as with all things, a happy medium and I’m trying to find that sweet spot where my decks have some individuality and offer a variety of card choices, but still manage to actually hold their own as decks one would actually want to play and possibly win a few games with.
All of this is just to explain why, when I call this a “dragon tribal” list and you see a Mulldrifter and an Eternal Witness and your first impulse is to take me to task for those “boring old good-stuff cards” or scorn some my choices for being “off theme”…. well, frankly, I don’t want to hear it. I want this deck to actually win games, sir and/or ma’am. I want this deck to be fun to play, and having at least a plausible chance at winning is a firm requirement for a deck to be fun, to me.
Anyway, right now my approach to thematic building could best be described thusly: I tend to start out at like 99% pure theme, then slowly add in “good” cards until the deck feels like it works. That’s a bit oversimplified, but it suffices. For this deck, actually, it’s actually pretty close to how I actually built it. I started with about 2x as many dragon and dragon-related cards, but every deck needs certain things – ramp, draw, removal. There aren’t a lot of dragons that draw cards, basically only one that ramps, and a few expensive ones that double as removal. So, for the deck to actually work as a Magic deck, it needs stuff like Wood Elves, Mulldrifter and Spitebellows, to do the things that Dragons just don’t do well, or at all.
If you really, really wanted to go fully tribal – no creatures except those with Dragon on their type line – you could cheat and run all your utility stuff as spells. But ultimately, that is a distinction without a difference. If I literally just replaced Wood Elves with Rampant Growth, Mulldrifter with Deep Analysis and so on, until all my utility spells were non-creatures, and all my creatures were Dragons, how is that actually better, even thematically? If I’m not replacing Wood Elves with a DRAGON, then is Wood Elves actually diluting the theme in any way? And how does Wood Elves ruin the theme, but Cultivate doesn’t?
Ultimately these questions and arguments are interesting to ponder, but mean little to me – I’m going to run whatever I think will make my deck work, period, end of story.
So, moving on, how does this deck work? Excellent question! I’m glad I asked me that.
Skipping ahead to the end, I’d say beating down with dragons is probably very obviously this deck’s main objective. And, to me, that is all that is required of a “theme”. It doesn’t matter how many cards you run “on theme” or what creature types you include. The theme is nothing more than what the deck wants to DO and how well it supports DOING that thing. So rather than focus an trivialities like how many dragons do you need to run before you can call it a dragon deck, let’s just ask a more practical question – does the deck produce lots of dragons and does its main path to victory involve swinging with lots of dragons? Yes it does, Other Barry, yes it does!
Now, superficially, this deck looks a lot like my old Maelstrom Wanderer deck. But it’s really quite different. My old MW list, if it could be said to have a theme at all (a stretch even I wouldn’t make), it would be a “Maelstrom Wanderer” theme. That list’s main goal was to cast MW as fast and as often as possible. Everything in the deck was in service to this goal, to some degree. Utlimately the deck just wanted to 1) ramp into MW, 2) cascade into good stuff 3) repeat until opponents are mush. There was a very tiny subtheme of top-deck manipulation so I could set up my cascades instead of cascading blindly. Mostly, though, it was ramp and generically-good bombs.
With this list, though, MW is really a secondary plan. He’s there to provide card advantage if we fall behind, or put the final nail in the coffin when we’re ahead. But he supports the dragons. In fact, the very first game I played with this list, I won without ever casting MW at all. My old list basically had NO plan other than to cast MW so this would have been virtually impossible. Here, MW is still insanely powerful, but he isn’t the central focus of the deck and he isn’t always basically the single best thing you can be doing at any given moment. In other respects, though, this does still do a lot of typical MW things. Largely, it revolves around ramping into bombs, powering out massive threats and gaining overwhelming card advantage and sometimes bombarding your opponents with “free” Tooth and Nails, etc. It’s still Battlecruiser Magic at its finest, but most of our battlecruisers happen to be dragons, and as such, there’s actually a fair amount of synergy here.
While most of our dragons are just dragons – big flyers with some abilities, some have tribal synergies. Utvara Hellkite is probably the pinnacle of dragon synergy. The more dragons you have, the more dragons it makes. Simple, but effective. Then there’s Scourge of Valkas and Dragon Tempest, for some synergistic face-murdering. Atarka gives the whole team Double Strike, which is insane, by the way, and we get to run a couple of versions of Sarkhan, the ultimate dragon fan-boy.
I especially like Scourge of Valkas and Dragon Tempest because they require a critical mass of dragons to be effective. This, in turn, encourages us to play more… questionable… dragons, like Quicksliver Dragon, Dragon Broodmother, etc. over more generic-but-way-better cards. Basically they keep us from drifting too far into the good-stuff realm. Now, in the past, I’m the type of player that would immediately question the “wisdom” of stacking your deck with janky dragons just to make Scourge/Tempest playable, being fairly questionable themselves, especially. But, again, I’m trying to lean more toward theme these days, and so far Scourge of Valkas, at least, has proven powerful enough that he more than makes up for a few weaksauce dragons.
Oh, and one more note about running non-Dragon utility guys… if we didn’t have a bunch of little dorks in the deck, we’d have no reason to run Descent of the Dragons, which is an awesome card. I think this card alone justifies the “cheat” in running off-tribe creatures, because those creatures can become dragons later.
I’m also trying to avoid running almost all mono-red Dragons. So I could easily cut, say, Quicksilver Dragon for almost any red dragon and it’d probably be at least a slight upgrade. But there are so few blue or green dragons, and I really wanted this to be a TEMUR dragon deck, not a virtual mono-red deck splashing green for some ramp and blue for Keiga. So, again, I am certainly making some power-level concessions to theme, but at the same time, I am careful to make those concessions intelligently and within reason. I don’t love playing Destructor Dragon over Indrik Stomphowler, but at least I’m not completely forgoing my ability to kill a Mirari’s Wake or Nevinyrral’s Disk. And, again, cutting the weaker Dragon cards for better non-Dragons weakens not only my theme, but also my synergy.
Which is not a new concept – cards that are weak in a vacuum can become strong enough to be playable when they have particular synergies with other cards in your deck. I’ve been playing EDH for about 10 years, almost, now, and I don’t think I have EVER included Soul Warden in and EDH deck until I built Karlov a few weeks ago. Now, suddenly, almost any hand with a Soul Warden in it, I snap keep. So I’m still light years away from building that deck where every card has to have someone slouching in a chair in the artwork. I’m not building drawf tribal, and I’m not building a “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” theme deck. My themes still have at least some synergistic, strategic or mechanical through-line guiding them.
As for the list above, I’m pretty happy with it so far, but as always I try to talk about flaws or weaknesses, as I see them. First of all, I think you’re about 5% to beat any Karrthus deck. Your only real hope is to sandbag a clone effect, wait until they jam Karrthus, pray to God you survive that first onslaught, and then try to get them with that clone. Protip: when the legend rule happens, sac the clone, so you keep their original Karrthus.
Second, I am very unsure how this deck would perform outside of groups that use the Gis Mulligan. For those that don’t know, that means you basically just mulligan to 7 until you get something playable. DO NOT ABUSE THIS. My playgroup also happens to be my closest circle of friends, so we have ample reason to trust each other, and ample reason not to abuse said trust. It’s pretty easy to get a hand of three lands, three 6-drops and an 8-drop or something absurdly terrible along those lines. I really haven’t had to lean too heavily on our generous mulligan policies, but it could be an issue in groups with “real” mulligan rules. And, for the record, I think it would be very scummy to use the Gis Mulligan as a crutch, so don’t think I built this deck to take advantage – it just worked out that way. Even though I can get away with it, I am still trying to tune the deck a bit better so that if I were forced to use “real” mulligans, I wouldn’t be completely screwed.
Third, everyone HATES Maelstrom Wanderer. Well, not me, I friggin’ love him, but everyone not playing Maelstrom Wanderer hates him. He’s absurdly overpowered. That’s a big reason I built this deck the way I did. It’s theme-y, not too good-stuff-y. Dragons are awesome! Everyone loves dragons! It plays janky cards, but makes up for weak card choices with overall strong synergy. And it isn’t built in such a way that all you ever do is cast MW over and over. It actually has a real game plan. That all said, MW is so stupid good that people will probably try to kill you before you hit 8 mana just in case. This version definitely hasn’t drawn the same level of hate my old MW list did, but I’ve still been playing it very sparingly, very cautiously. If it continues to do as well as it has so far, it’ll probably start to get hated on again. My old list had no trouble being the archenemy and could easily handle a 3-on-1 game, but I’m not so sure this version is as resilient. It’s possible that this deck is in that terrible place that all decks hate to be: good enough to draw hate, but not quite good enough to handle it!
As for specific card choices, there’s certainly a lot of room for customization. I only have one clear dud in Garruk, Caller of Beasts. He was a holdover from my previous Temur build, a Surrak deck, but so far I haven’t liked him much. I actually don’t want to draw 3 or 4 giant, expensive dragons every turn, as it turns out. And most of them don’t have green in their CI and cannot be cheated into play with his -3. Finally, the one and only time I have ever gotten his emblem was in this deck and I still managed to lose that game.
Another dud (sort of) is Foe-Razer Regent. The only reason this guy hasn’t been performing, though is because he doesn’t have his BFF, Gruul Ragebeast. I cut Ragebeast because I was trying to minimize the off-theme stuff, but without him, the Regent is not stellar. I did include a few fight-based spells but that has not been enough to really kick Regent into gear.
So, I’ve been considering cutting Garruk for Ragebeast, which makes sense and is a fair swap. However, I really think what I want in Garruk’s place is… Elvish Piper. Okay, Elvish Piper is one of those “noob” cards – you know, the kind new players gravitate toward and insist on playing constantly even when you explain to them, rationally, why it’s not good, but eventually you realize they are just going to have to find out the hard way. We all played Elvish Piper decks at one point, and we all eventually realized the error of our ways and abandoned those decks.
But, while playing this deck, I have had numerous situations come up where I thought “I really with this Garruk was an Elvish Piper right now”. Okay, I say numerous, really it was like two or three times, but the fact that Elvish Piper popped into my head at all, let alone THREE separate times, is not something I can just ignore. It’s probably as janky now as it has ever been, but at the same time, I think this might be its moment to shine, finally! Basically of the times I have had Garruk in play his -3 was the most relevant, or would have been if it didn’t specify “green” creatures. Elvish Piper does exactly what I want Garruk to do, but without that green-only restriction. Plus, MW gives him haste, so he’s likely to get at least one activation before biting it.
Yeah, so I think I have convinced myself. Gonna cut Garruk in favor of Elvish Piper (God, I still can’t believe I just typed that!), and try to find something else for Gruul Ragebeast, but I’d rather not cut a dragon for it, obviously.
Other questionable things:
Dragon Broodmother. A fine card in the right deck, but this deck just doesn’t make use of her abilities particularly well; not a lot of fodder for Devour, no token or counter synergies to speak of. Could easily be replaced with another, better dragon.
Same is true of Quicksilver Dragon, though, honestly, this guy isn’t all that bad. It just sucks that he’s the only Morph so it won’t take long before your opponents will always know exactly what your face-down guy is. Good news, though, is they likely won’t be all that afraid of it. I am just partial to him because he’s a semi-playable Dragon in mono-blue.
Verdant Confluence. Exceptional when you cascade into it, but less so when you have to cast it. My expectation was having lots of dead dragons and this thing getting them all back for me, or maybe a Temur Ascendency or Dragon Tempest. It’s also perfectly fine if you have nothing better to do than triple-Rampant-Growth, as this deck is very, very capable of using mana. You basically can’t have too much mana. Actually that brings me to a point in favor of keeping Confluence – Mana Reflection and Zendikar Resurgent are huge, HUGE targets for removal, but they’re also very worth getting back if you can. One might question having both of those enchantments, but they’re so damn good the redundancy is warranted. Plus, like I said, they’re huge removal bait, so the first one you cast is very likely to die. Hopefully the second one sticks.
I’m not 100% sold on Bloom Tender in this deck. She’s awesome, usually, but I tend to run her in decks with very cheap commanders like Darevi, Marath or Anafenza, so I can go, T2 Bloom Tender, T3 cast commander, and on turn 4 have 6 or 7 mana to do… whatever. This deck, there seems to be a higher chance of Bloom Tender just tapping for G until turn 5 or 6 or so. But, thus far, she hasn’t given me any clear reason to cut her, so these are just speculative concerns for now.
And finally, Nissa, Vastwood Seer is a card I just kinda threw in ‘cause I had one. I probably have another card that would be better here, and I probably have other decks that want Nissa more, but until I figure out where she’d be better served and what should replace her, she seems to be a perfectly fine inclusion. A bit on the good-stuff side, sure, and not particularly thematic, but acceptable. Perhaps I ought to try Dragonspeaker Shaman instead?
Obviously the specific dragons you run are highly customizable. The ones I consider absolute must-haves are: Keiga, Utvara Hellkite, Scourge of Valkas, both Atarkas, Thunderbreak Regent, Stormbreath Dragon, Scourge of the Throne, Thundermaw Hellkite, Tyrant’s Familiar, and Balefire Dragon. All of these have been extremely high performers, with Utvara and Valkas being the decks most reliable and effective win-conditions. The utility dragons, Destructor Dragon and Icefall Regent have actually been quite good, as well, but not complete bombs. All the other dragons in my list are just the result of my wanting to have a broad and diverse selection of colors and abilities. I didn’t want just a bunch of red dragons with damage and attacking abilities. I’ve yet to see Intet, Niv-Mizzet or Broodmother do anything spectacular, but the potential is there.
There are a lot of dragon-themed cards that aren’t dragons, too – stuff like Crucible of Fire, Day of Dragons, etc. but I didn’t include most of those because they just didn’t seem good. Crucible came the closest, but ultimately felt win-more. Day of Dragons just makes me nervous because it says “Sacrifice all dragons you control” which could backfire quite easily. Also turning my actual dragons into vanilla 5/5 dragons seems boring and lame. Death By Dragons is just dumb unless you’re playing Karrthus, which we aren’t. I kinda just forgot about Sarkhan's Triumph which probably should be in the deck somewhere, but once I noticed I'd overlooked it, I then realized I didn't really need it much. There aren't many "silver bullet" dragons, but I guess being able to find the really good ones when I want them is okay.
Finally, to keep the focus on Dragons and not make the deck too Maelstrom-Wanderer-centric, I cut pretty much ALL of the library manipulation. So when you do cascade x2, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be doing it blind. There’s enough beef in here that that’s okay, but it does slightly disincentivize being on the MW plan all the time. Usually you’ll want to prioritize casting stuff from your hand, and only fall back on MW when you run out of better options. The downside is you sometimes get stuck with a bunch of big, hard-to-cast things in your hand, and that slows you down a bit. But it was still an important concession to theme, and the downside is not crippling, so far at least.
The one really big advantage going Jund instead of Temur has, aside from Karrthus himself (which is mighty), is access to something like Living Death or Twilight’s Call. The lack of a mass-reanimation spell really stings, especially when we end up forced to discard a bunch of dragons to Greater Good, or get hit with multiple Wrath effects in a game. But despite all that, my admittedly-limited experience with this deck has given me the distinct impression that this deck is actually noticeably better than the Karrthus verison (against most of the deck in my meta, at least, other than the fact that we probably auto-lose 9 out of 10 games to the Karrthus deck. That’s probably down to MW being a far stronger commander, and this version just having better card advantage options.
And that pretty well covers everything I can think of in regards to this list, so I guess I’ll end it here. Enjoy!