Family Matters

Posted in Command Tower on March 5, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Khans of Tarkir was about the lack of Dragons. Khans, leading their clans, were the dominant force on the plane. Fate Reforged was about changing that. Sarkhan saw the Dragons of ancient Tarkir, and saved Ugin.

Dragons of Tarkir is about the abundance of Dragons: they won their tussle against the khans of yesteryear.

Dragonlord Dromoka | Art by Eric Deschamps

I couldn't be happier about this.

Step by Step

Dragons are a fickle lot, covering a range of power, utility, and colors. Fate Reforged showed us Dragons of all sorts, all contrasting with the khans of the era they faced, and set up a future where the dragons didn't fall. It's easy to imagine what happened after Ugin's rescue because we get to see the results of time at work.

Meet Dragonlord Dromoka.

When I saw her again I noticed several things:

Elder Dragons are back! The progenitor creature type of Commander has come again, and it makes sense: Dromoka has aged a millennium since the events of Fate Reforged. She's both literally and figuratively an Elder.

With a title like "Dragonlord" you know who's in charge. In addition to her aerial ability from before she's added lifelink, and as a 5/7 for just six mana it's an efficient package for beefing up life and battling against others' aerial forces. Many Dragons (and Demons and other flying fatties) across Magic's history are 5/5 or 6/6, putting her impressive 7 toughness up as both a way to make profitable blocking harder on opponents and easier for us.

One of my favorite lines of rules text appears on her as well. Spending six mana, on your commander no less, only to meet Cancel is a disappointing experience. Against some decks, namely those running mostly Islands, it can happen repeatedly and lead to absolutely frustrating efforts despite all the mana in the world.

Dragonlord Dromoka bows to no opponent here, and with the mana available you'll always muster her support. And it doesn't stop there:

Once she's on the battlefield, Dromoka goes further to stop opponents' spells altogether on your turn. Unlike Gaddock Teeg and Rule of Law, that limit everyone, or Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, that locks everyone but its controller into their own turns, Dromoka only protects your turn. It's still a powerful tool that can set up game-breaking plays (Dragonlord Dromoka into a Genesis Wave is going to happen somewhere soon!), but the idea is that once she's in—and she'll land thanks to her own ability—your other creatures and spells will resolve too.

She comes for you, and she won't be alone.

"Dromoka's followers forsake blood ties so that they may join a greater family." That piece of flavor text gives a little insight into what's going on in Dragons of Tarkir (The Dragons won. They rule!) and speaks to exactly what Commander is all about: taking disparate cards, mechanics, and ideas from across Magic's sets to create a greater collection for a larger deck.

It's been some time since I've built a Commander deck from scratch, but Dromoka demands I do so here.

The Facts of Life

Dragonlord Dromoka doesn't have any clear mechanical direction to follow. Her Fate Reforged form gave out +1/+1 counters with bolster, but here she protects our turns and spells. Protecting ourselves and setting up the rules of battle—definitive Abzan concepts—is where we'll go.

The first thing we'll want to handle is mana:

I like both Commander's Sphere and Solemn Simulacrum since, once they've done their job, they can transform into another card, but that's just my preference. Darksteel Ingot is a solid choice if you're worried about mana woes.

The reason we want so much mana is to take advantage of Dragonlord Dromoka's home-field advantage. If we can cast her first, every spell we want to resolve after her is protected. Getting to fourteen, fifteen, or more mana gives us plenty of one-two combo options.

What are those one-two hits? The first is putting protection into play:

We're not going to be an aggressive deck. What we want to do is sustain blows and sustain our attacks. Winning at attrition is the plan, which is tough without ways to draw piles of cards. We can fix that:

What I like about this set is the variety of ways we can draw. We don't need any creatures for some, a few work great if we're coming from behind, and others are repeatable. It's a mix of options to give us choices the longer games goes.

Setting up our victory takes a few moving piece, so we need powerful tools to draw into:

These are our offensive tools, giving us ways to demolish enemy resistance or pick apart their sources of power. These should give us opportunities to attack and set up a more favorable situation. More defensive tools work to give us time to create our walled fortress:

All of these cards are problematic for most opponents: Equipment that supports attacks while providing value every hit, untapping or growing during every opponent's turn, and locking away abilities and cards are all awesome ways to set up victory. These cards both set up defensive lines in the sand and give us ways to attack through everyone else. Righteous Aura is a quiet way to keep another enchantment around, since any deck planning to strike through with commander damage needs to get rid of it first: Righteous Aura doesn't target the source of the damage, making even well-shielded targets falter.

With our entire deck ready we should fill out a few lands:

Lands are always ways to squeeze in extra effects. Cards like Rogue's Passage and Homeward Path undo plenty of other effects, and the surprising utility of Treetop Village makes it a constant tool I use in Commander, since it can dodge most End Hostilities-type cards and pick up a piece of Equipment in a pinch.

Here's my first pass at pulling together the power of Dragonlord Dromoka:

Dragonlord Dromoka Commander

COMMANDER: Dragonlord Dromoka
99 Cards

It's defensive, it's strategic, it's enduring, and it's persistent in character. It chooses the battles it wants to fight and forces opponents to places they want to avoid. Without a way to test it out this is just a rough idea: Where it goes, and how you'd go about fulfilling the new will of the Abzan, is up to you.

Different Strokes

Pulling together a more powerful family from all of Magic is always tough. I use a "Commander Box" of preselected cards to make my process easier, but I'm also constantly adding cards to it. I add so many new cards, in fact, that I stopped trying to keep up a master list of everything I'd chosen.

There's always a new darling I discover and try out.

What makes a card "a Commander card" is a nebulous question, since we all have a different idea. I want to pull together all of your ideas: What is the most quintessential Commander card, and why?

  • Feedback via email, in English
  • 300-word limit to explain the card and reasons it represents the Commander format
  • Sample decklist, using your chosen card, is requested (does not count against word limit)
  • Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
  • Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)

I always find there's another card I didn't know about, or a different interaction I hadn't seen before. Even in the newest sets, where we prowl through every card on end looking for things, new uses pop up unexpectedly. Choosing just one card to represent that dizzying array of possibilities is tough, so I expect some interesting answers from you.

Join us next week when we discover more of the new future of Tarkir. See you then!

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