The Mother of All Dragons

Posted in Serious Fun on April 14, 2009

By Kelly Digges

Kelly Digges has had many roles at Wizards over the years, including creative text writer, R&D editor, website copyeditor, lead website editor, Serious Fun column author, and design/development team member on multiple sets.

I hope all of you enjoyed our guest lecturer last week! I don't remember whatever Nicol Bolas had me do for him in return—all I can recall is a vague purplish glow—but I'm sure it was a small price to pay for the benefit of his wisdom, experience, and remorseless, world-crushing cruelty.

But that was last week. This is this week—and, more to the point, the first week of Alara Reborn previews! Alara Reborn features all kinds of golden goodies—in fact, as you've probably heard by now, every single card in the set is gold.

Flavor-wise, I can't help but goob out at cards like Ethercaste Knight (from the Visual Spoiler), which show the shards crashing together in ways beyond head-to-head conflict—in this case, a Bant knight accepting the etherium enhancements of Esper:

On the mechanical side, gold cards offer powerful rewards and interesting effects for mustering up the two or more specific colors required by their cost. Knight of New Alara from the Visual Spoiler is a great example:

Let's see what this week's Serious Fun preview has in store, shall we?

Each Upkeep

Once upon a time, Verdant Force was my very favorite card. It's not the first green creature I ever fell in love with—pretty sure that was Multani, Maro Sorcerer, or maybe Thallid if I'm being honest. I already loved Saprolings when they were a once-every-three-upkeeps event. You're telling me I get one every upkeep? Boffo! (People talked differently back then.)

Then I figured out that every upkeep meant every upkeep—yours, mine, my buddy Chris's, every single upkeep—and I was even more excited. I happily plunked down Verdant Force game after game, never really expecting to make it back around to my next turn with the 7/7 still in play, happy for whatever Saprolings I squeezed out of it while everyone else scrambled for a way to kill the darn thing.

Now, Verdant Force already got a recent homage of sorts (I feel) in Mycoloth—that's not quite what today's preview card does. Actually, today's preview also has something in common with the very first card I ever fell in love with: the Revised Edition Shivan Dragon I opened the first time I ever bought Magic cards, which still sits beside my desk at work like a picture of a beloved nephew I want to make proud. The resemblance there is a little more general; today I'm previewing the latest addition to a proud lineage that goes back to the game's beginnings, the dragons.

Feast your eyes on this bad mother:

Yes, that's a Dragon that makes more Dragons. And yes, that's every upkeep. It's also the first time a token has had devour. That means that the newly created Dragons' ready food source includes other newly created Dragons, and I absolutely love the mental image that creates: a snapping, squabbling brood of hatchling dragons, fighting to be the strongest and fiercest who survive to leave the nest. Dragons don't do sibling rivalry. They do cannibalism—which is what predation is called when you keep it in the family. Only the strongest survive. How red-green, how draconic, how perfectly Jundian! (Jundish? Jundese? Jundane?)

Let's take a look at what these vicious little monsters can do for us.

Devour of Reckoning

When working on the Jund deck that featured in my Shard Star article, my friend Nik opined that everything in the Jund deck should be either food or something that eats food. Cards like Dragon Fodder, Goblin Assault, Mogg War Marshal, and Elvish Visionary provide the food, while cards like Predator Dragon and Caldera Hellion show up to the buffet (saving a seat for Fleshbag Marauder, which often finds itself in the hot seat when it's time for seconds). Mycoloth even plays both sides, eating up food so that it can make more food later.

Dragon Broodmother, though, takes this a step further; it's a combo with itself. Tokens are great for being eaten. Devour creatures like to eat them. Here we have token creatures with devour, showing up on a regular schedule ... take your pick! If you have lots of other creatures lying around, you can hedge your bets, making each Dragon token a 3/3 or 5/5 to spread the power and toughness around.

Sometimes you don't have any other creatures you want to sacrifice, though. This is when Dragon Broodmother really shines in comparison with other devour creatures, especially in multiplayer.

Say I'm playing Star. There are five players total, but only two of them want to kill my Dragon Broodmother—that's just about perfect. There are four upkeeps before I take my next turn, barring shenanigans like Time Stretch or Paradox Haze, and any of the Dragon tokens can either come in as a 1/1 or eat any of the previous tokens. Assuming that I don't have any creatures I want to sacrifice besides Dragon tokens, that Dragon Broodmother survives, and that the tokens survive unless devoured, I can start my next turn with any of the following, untapped and ready to attack, with another Dragon on the way that upkeep:

  • Four 1/1 flyers
  • A 3/3 flyer and two 1/1 flyers
  • Two 3/3 flyers
  • A 5/5 flyer and a 1/1 flyer
  • One 7/7 flyer

To quote webcomic artist Jeph Jacques, "Math is delicious!"

Friends for Dinner

As I said, all of this is assuming that Dragon Broodmother is the only thing you've got going. Once we start building around this prolific matriarch, or marrying it to decks and strategies where it fits right in, things get even sicker.

As far as fitting right in goes, Dragon Broodmother is a natural inclusion in an existing devour deck. A deck like that will already include plenty of delicious food to eat, whether it comes courtesy of Mycoloth, Orochi Hatchery, Mudbutton Torchrunner, or Dragon Broodmother's own great grandfatty on its green side, Verdant Force. Tukatongue Thallid, Symbiotic Elf and friends from Onslaught block, and Sprouting Thrinax, among others, are food that leaves more food behind.

Verdant Force—or the Verdant Force Halloween costume, Verdant Embrace—seems especially exciting to me. It creates a new token as often as Dragon Broodmother does, so you can make a stream of 3/3s, or a multitude of other combinations. The math here gets ridiculous, but it's the good kind of math, sort of like figuring out how much damage you do with a double-exalted, double-doubled Chameleon Colossus with double strike.

In and Out Burger

With all of these opportunities for creatures entering and leaving play, some fun options emerge. Essence Warden, Hissing Iguanar, Kresh the Bloodbraided, Deathgreeter, Stalking Vengeance, Vicious Shadows (oh, gross), or even something like Fecundity (which does, I happily discovered those many years ago, trigger when tokens go to the graveyard) are all fine options, and there are plenty of others.

Vicious Shadows

Pandemonium is a dangerous (but compounding) option to take advantage of this that might make it hard to keep your Dragon Broodmother (or yourself) alive; Where Ancients Tread is a safer way to go, and any of the tokens can trigger it by devouring two creatures.

Twilight Drover deserves a special mention, despite adding a third color, as a source of tokens that makes more tokens as more tokens die. As the French say, le nom nom nom.

Staying Power

As always, keeping the source of this cornucopia in play, or getting it into play in the first place, may be a challenge at some tables. A lot of these should be familiar by now—Vexing Shusher, Guttural Response, or Leyline of Lifeforce to help Dragon Broodmother resolve; Shield of the Oversoul, Shield of Kaldra, Lightning Greaves, or Avoid Fate to keep it in play. These aren't necessities—just nice things to keep in mind if you play in a removal-happy group.

Leyline of Lifeforce
Lightning Greaves

If your Dragon Broodmother makes it a few turns, you'll hopefully have some tokens left on the board even if it dies to spot removal. Board-sweepers are another matter, but if you can play one card to produce an army that forces a Wrath of God out of someone's hand (which Dragon Broodmother will, given a little bit of time), you're doing fine.

Biggering and Biggering

Any time I see an army of creatures, I get tempted to make them bigger and better, or at least more numerous. Our Broodmother-born tokens have a few factors we can work with to do that.

They're red and green, as is Dragon Broodmother, so Boartusk Liege lets them start at 3/3 and go from there. They have devour, so unlike most tokens, they're no friends of Muraganda Petroglyphs. As tokens, though, they'd be happy to see Leyline of the Meek (although I'd probably rather play Gaea's Anthem, to keep it in color).

Furthermore, they're Dragons—in fact, Dragon Broodmother produces the steadiest stream of Dragons we've ever seen—so Crucible of Fire starts to sound really good. One Crucible would make Dragon Broodmother a 7/7 and each token a 4/4 minimum. Throw in Broodmate Dragon (which, by the way, was called "Double Dragon" in playtesting), cheap(ish) Dragons like Dragon Whelp and fellow devourer Hellkite Hatchling, and maybe a little changeling support, and you have a bunch of heavy hitters, most of which are actually Dragons. Mosstodon or Brawn could come in as a non-Dragon to let all these giant flyers trample over any opposing air force, and Roughshod Mentor could do the same for your green Dragons. That sounds like a really fun deck.

Crucible of Fire
Hellkite Hatchling

If you're really serious about making these tokens bigger, there's always Coat of Arms. Now the Star game example above gives you four 6/6s and a 9/9 ready to attack on your next turn if you don't sacrifice anything. Your unusual proliferation of what is usually a pretty rare creature type opens up other avenues as well; how often do you see someone play Roar of the Crowd naming Dragon?

Guildpact Hydra Hellion Ulasht, the Hate Seed does good work here, getting double counters for Dragon Broodmother and any Dragon tokens you've accumulated while creating a feast for Dragons to come.

Ulasht, the Hate Seed
Parallel Evolution

As for making them more numerous, Parallel Evolution comes to mind, with the second generation of Dragons feasting on the first (though not on each other, since they're all entering play at the same time).

But one card in this category outshines the rest, and that's Doubling Season. Tokens? Check! Counters? Check! Now you get two Dragons every upkeep, which effectively have devour 4. In fact, Doubling Season is a perfect match for devour decks in general, since they deal with +1/+1 counters by definition and usually include tokens to increase the available food. Actually, a lot of the cards I've already mentioned work wonders with Doubling Season.

Let's pull all that together into a theoretical deck that you can bet I'll build as soon as I get my hands on a Dragon Broodmother or two:

Home Brood

Download Arena Decklist

Hands On

Oh, and speaking of getting your hands on Dragon Broodmother ... did I mention it's the Prerelease participation card? Head down to your local Prerelease in a week and a half and sign up for a Sealed Deck flight, and while supplies last, you'll get a foil Dragon Broodmother stamped with the date. Check out next Tuesday's Magic Arcana for a look at the alternate art! And speaking of Magic Arcana, check out today’s tidbit about a dragon and its mother.

Even if you're not usually a tournament player, the Prerelease is a laid-back environment where most people are there primarily to drool on the new cards rather than play cutthroat Sealed Deck. At most Prereleases, there's also Two-Headed Giant Sealed Deck—as I've said, possibly my favorite format of all time—and while any Dragon Broodmothers you're lucky enough to open will "only" make tokens on each team's upkeep, there's plenty of stuff in the set that gets exciting in 2HG.

And if all that isn't incentive enough, there's still that foil Dragon Broodmother you can take home just for playing.

You'd better be careful, though ...

... She looks hungry.

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