The Undead Dragon

Posted in Latest Developments on May 2, 2003

By Randy Buehler

When the Scourge design team handed the set off to development there was no Dragon theme and the card I am previewing this week did not yet exist. Scourge did have a “size matters” theme and it was very much the "Big Stuff Set," so when the development team suggested making it also a "Dragon Set," lead designer Brian Tinsman very quickly embraced the idea. There were already several cool dragon cards so there was no huge overhaul. Dragons have always been always been among Magic’s iconic fatties so making them into the new tribe that matters at the end of the creature block seemed to quite nicely tie Scourge (and its Big Stuff theme) into the rest of the Onslaught block.

Around the time we made this decision, the set had a red-green “Beast Lord” as one of a handful of multicolored cards. No one had come up with any really good abilities for the Beast Lord so we were generally discontent with it. For a while we considered making it a Dragon Lord of some kind and suggestions included making it the first 5-color Dragon and/or having it give all Dragons +2/+2 or maybe even +4/+4. Well, the set already had a different creature with all five colors in its mana cost that we liked better, and Dragons already start out big so it seemed like the Dragon Lord should do something more special than just making them bigger. But the basic idea of a Dragon Lord still sounded cool to us, especially as the dragon theme took root.

Eventually the inspiration came from our creative team. Brady Dommermuth (the creative director for Magic) suggested that a skeletal dragon would look really cool and so we tried to start from the image of a flying dragon skeleton and then figure out what it would do. Skeletons often regenerate, but that’s not very exciting and we wanted this card to be something really saucy. It didn’t take long for someone to suggest that our skeletal dragon lord could bring other dragons back from the dead.

Our first attempt was a 4/4 that returned all Dragons from all graveyards to play when it came into play. By the end of that week, we already had a Dragon-reanimation deck running rampant in the Future Future League. It was pretty easy to fill your graveyard up with Dragons and it was also reasonably easy to reanimate this particular one, which would then reanimate the rest of them. While on one hand it was pretty obvious that this combo was too easy to pull off, on the other hand it was really cool. Commanding a horde of undead dragons was lots of fun to imagine and we didn’t really mind if this turned out to be the best way to build a Reanimator deck.

The obvious fix was to add the phrase “if it came into play from your hand” to the comes-into-play ability. However, we knew that would weaken the deck out of existence so we looked for other ways that we could control that deck without eliminating it. We basically just wanted to make it a turn slower. Another seemingly obvious fix is to just let it reanimate one Dragon. However, that doesn’t really fix the problem because you can just chain together up to four Skeletal Dragons, having each one get another, and then the last one gets some other Dragon. That’s still well over 20-power worth of Dragons and the combo was still too good and too easy.

Once again it was a member of the creative team that came to the rescue. Brandon Bozzi (Creative Coordinator for Magic) pointed out that if Skeletal Dragon was a Legend then you wouldn’t be able to chain out multiples. He had already been looking for an opportunity to revisit Rorix somehow, and Kev Walker had been assigned the Skeletal Dragon commission so we all knew it was going to look great. Thus Bladewing the Risen was born.

Bladewing the Risen

It worked out really well that we got to explore more of the life (and death) of everybody’s favorite Pit Fighter Dragon and at the same time we got to use the legend mechanic to prevent this card from being abused. The only change we made to the card after Brandon solved our puzzle was to add the words “you may”; that way the ability was optional and you wouldn’t get trapped in an infinite loop (and a drawn game) if one Bladewing the Risen came into play and another was the only Dragon in your graveyard.

I’m actually really happy with Scourge. I think the “size matters” theme (which we’ll be showing you more of over the next couple of weeks) worked out well and the Dragon theme is a nice way to bring the creature block to a grand finale. I hope you like it too…

Last Week’s Poll Question:

Did you play in the Magic Online
Worlds qualifiers?
Yes 277 6.5%
No 4012 93.5%
Total 4289 100.0%

It’s always interesting to be reminded how small a portion of Magic’s audience is made up of hardcore tournament players.

Randy may be reached at

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