Clever Tyrant

Posted in Serious Fun on January 8, 2013

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.

The most alluring piece of rules text is "you win the game." While there's an argument to be made for "target player loses the game," the truth is the former is much better than the latter.

Not all games are between just you and me.

Multiplayer games load a different set of rules. When you have more than one opponent, "you win" clearly has advantages over "player loses." Door to Nothingness is sweet, but an imaginary card like this is sweeter:

You get what it does, and it's clear where we're going. Let's round up artifacts, find some tricky ways to accumulate them quickly, and hold out until we can resolve the sweetest of triggers. There's no disagreement here.

Now imagine a very different card:

This doesn't have our favorite rules text on it, but it says something similar. Without anything else happening, it would take four hits from our pretend Dragon to kill an opponent. Between flying and trample, getting damage through is almost assured. Because each Dragon has this subtext of "you win the game," none are read with any subtlety.

So what would happen if we were to stitch together these two cards?

We have the same ways to win, with the same features about each. Between collecting trinkets and attacking head on we have two ways to win. While I believe just attacking is a much easier way to knock an opponent out, surprising the table with twenty artifacts on the battlefield takes guesswork out of attacking; Getting the job done all at once is still amazing.

While we've stapled an interesting card onto an ordinary card, we haven't made something intrinsically cooler. The disconnect exists because attacking with a Dragon is as cool as winning with a pile of artifact, but there's no reason to do one if you have the other.

That changes everything. This is Hellkite Tyrant.

>> Click to Show

It's far more than the sum of its parts.

Invasion of the Artifact Snatchers

Let's start with that compelling piece of rules text.

What Hellkite Tyrant does is something a little unusual for red: permanent thievery. While Traitorous Instinct has led to the end of many games in Return to Ravnica Limited, its effect is temporary. Like Threaten and the entire lineage it spawned, red merely borrows cards from opponents only when the moment is right, because they have to go back. (Blue mages laugh at this notion of going back.)

Not so with our mythic rare Dragon.

As an aficionado of the confirmed best format in the world [citation needed], stealing artifacts is one of the most devilish things you can do in Commander. Here's a short list of artifacts that are a hoot to steal:

While there are plenty of everyday decks that don't even look at artifacts, the color-and-number-restricted nature of Commander nudges us to include colorless options in our pile of ninety-nine. Even a deck using all five colors will gladly include Coalition Relic and Chromatic Lantern.

Commander also happens to be where peculiar combinations of cards can make this triggered ability a nightmare for opponents without artifacts:

Mycosynth Lattice

It doesn't matter whether artifacts feature or lack in decks since Mycosynth Lattice makes everything eligible for theft. There are other ways to make this happen:

Making things artifacts just to steal them is a narrow application of Hellkite Tyrant. But there's a good reason to show opponents that's what you're planning, and it's right from the Dimir playbook: Deception.

A Dragon, an Ability, and a Theme Walk Into a Deck

Let's go back to our Tyrant without the connective rules text.

What's scarier about this imaginary Dragon, that it's a flying fatty or that it has a way to win the game without attacking? It's not a trick question, but the answer will vary from an opponent's perspective:

  • How many artifacts do you have? How many can you make?
  • How much life do I have? How many hits can I take?
  • What else does the deck do? Is the upkeep or combat more important?

It isn't stealing artifacts that makes Hellkite Tyrant something cool, since anyone who likes blue can show you a deck packed with ways to take things from opponents. Hellkite Tyrant's awesome is hidden in the way we can shape the game to present what you want opponents to think.

Bull in a China Shop

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What does this deck do?

  • Makes creatures that kill artifacts
  • Makes other things into artifacts
  • Wash, rinse, repeat.

It seems straightforward, but it presents a dilemma to opponents. We can run out our creatures and follow up with ways to make the artifact destruction matter with Argent Mutation and Liquimetal Coating. Inaction Injunction will help slow things down, and Thoughtflare should keep us with more of what we need later in the game.

Argent Mutation
Liquimetal Coating

In between, however, our goal is to attack. As the game progresses, our focus should be to kill opposing creatures by making them artifacts. If our opponents don't stop us they will lose. We can hold back on playing Hellkite Tyrant until they've spent their efforts stopping our Shattering Spree.

But if we get desperate and play our Dragon early, our ways to make things into artifacts can be used for theft instead. This is a great way to switch in a multiplayer game, where we can focus on killing someone powerful but still have ways to fight another player.

But this isn't really tricky.

Boros? Blitz

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This is a deck that attacks. No parlor tricks with artifact destruction, but plenty of reasons to declare attackers as often as possible.

And that's the deception.

Those four copies of Shrine of Loyal Legions serve a two-fold purpose:

  • Give us inevitability in making a mass of attackers, and turning on battalion on Firemane Avenger or another new Boros baddie.
  • Give us an out when an opponent locks down combat.

Almost all of our spells are white, which means we can quickly rack up the charge counters on the Shrine. The other spells that aren't white are:

  • Boros Keyrune, an artifact that helps pull our mana along.
  • Rummaging Goblin, a way to filter out things we don't need.
  • Volt Charge, which adds a counter anyway with proliferate.
  • Precursor Golem, one way to make tokens in a hurry.
  • Hellkite Tyrant, the Dragon that can win the game without attacking.

There's no doubt we'll have creatures that want to attack, with counters flying onto Shrine of Loyal Legions. But there are plenty of ways for opponents to stymie an all-out attack, and keep the battlefield otherwise clear of things that kill. When we can play Hellkite Tyrant and not attack, but instead wait to use a Shrine of Loyal Legions or two at the end of one of our turns, we force a difficult choice for opponents.

In fact, we can play our spells fast and loose, accumulating counters while knowing our opponents will kill most of what we've played. If they have artifact destruction, our Golem tokens will be appealing targets. By the end of the game, we'll have an army of Myr tokens, fearsome Golem tokens, and a formidable Dragon—choose two.

Of course, we can just go to town if we're playing Commander.

Bosh, Iron Golem and Hellkite Tyrant are as good as friends can be. Bosh wants to throw things around, and the Tyrant can find extra things. Hoard-Smelter Dragon or Hellkite Igniter feel at home here too. A quick Internet search found a power-packed Bosh deck ready to be updated:

brunhill's Bosh, Iron Golem Commander

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Where would you put Hellkite Tyrant?

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius is an awesome leader for a blue and red deck. Drawing cards and killing things is always nice when we can do it for as much mana as we have, and the ability to steal just about anything opponents can play feels right with the nigh-omniscient Dragon guildleader.

When Return to Ravnica was new, fellow format lover Bennie Smith shared a "starter" Commander deck based around the latest version of Niv-Mizzet:

Bennie Smith's Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius Commander

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99 Cards

Adding Memnarch and Hellkite Tyrant would be two ways to amp up how strong this deck would play. Of course, there are a lot of other upgrades you might want to make but you don't need to begin at the top to do it; Utvara Hellkite and Izzet Staticaster are both creatures I would replace.

You don't have to be fancy to plan theft. While Bribery, Acquire, and Desertion may be more renown ways to take what doesn't belong to us, we can still go hunting with less common components.

Domineer was a Limited powerhouse during the original Mirrodin block, and Kukemssa Pirates hasn't been seen on tables in ages. Both work in concert by bringing home artifacts opponents control. The same tricks may be needed, such as Ashnod's Transmogrant, so the results will be convoluted.

But for an excuse to build a wacky deck of underused theft effects I think Hellkite Tyrant stands above the others.

How to Train Your Dragon

Hellkite Tyrant is, ultimately, what you want it to be. It can be a ferocious Dragon that maims opponents. It can be a clever card to build your entire deck around. It can be a deceptive twist, somewhere between thematic attraction and lethal force.

Hellkite Tyrant | Art by Aleksi Briclot

It's much more interesting than just the components that create it.

If you're as excited for Gatecrash as I am, make sure you keep checking the Card Image Gallery to see the previewed cards you may have missed. It's what I do!

Join us next week when we head back to Return to Ravnica for another way to overwhelm opponents. See you then!

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