Sunday, 9 July 2017

Top 8 Dragons

Shivan Dragon
I promised this list a while back and have been a long time in the delivering. This list is hard even by the standards of angels and demons both of which struggle to reach significant numbers of cube mainstays. While there are a lot of dragons I have used, either back in the pre-Titan days or as part of some combo, there are incredibly few that still get used. Only the top 3 dragons on this list are actually in my drafting cube at present. I considered including honorary dragons such as Sarkhan Dragonspeaker and Kargan Dragonlord simply to increase the number of good dragons in the list. I decided against it with them being more awkward comparisons to the other dragons.

This list is just the most playable dragons in the present day cube that do what you expect a dragon to do rather than something else entirely. Draco for example has seen loads of play in magic history with my cube being no exception. He just doesn't do Dragon things, you never cast him, just abuse his casting cost. Runehorn Hellkite is similarly a niche card you are not playing for the dragon part of the card. At least with Runehorn you do play it now and against as a big flying creature is always nice and six isn't unobtainable amounts of mana. Worldgorger Dragon is another which has had some mild uses as part of combos. Even Eternal Dragon likely belongs in this group as it is mostly used as a (very very) slow Lanx Tax / Life from the Loam / Thawing Glacier type thing. When you are slow compared to Thawing Glaciers then things are pretty extreme. These cards are all a bit narrow to be good in drafting cubes but they are at least all still playable which made me consider them for it.

Broodmate DragonLastly before getting into the real list I have a group of dragons that have all been big names in the past. Things that have actually seen a lot of play in total and would be on the list if that was my only criteria. Sadly all these cards have now been outclassed, often significantly and more than once! Rorix Bladewing for example was one of the best top of curve finishers. He was exactly the sort of thing you wanted and was a huge amount of it all in one (just about) affordable card. Covertous Dragon was another hyper efficient old creature. In cube it was very easy to keep an artifact in play and as such an over statted flier with no effective drawback got a lot of work done. Boggarden Hellkite used to see play both as a top end control card and a Reanimate target. It offered a decent enough threat and gave great board control along with it. Broodmate Dragon lived a short time in the spotlight. There was less than two years between Broodmate getting printed and M11 and the Titans which rendered her rather below par and all sorts of clumsy at three colours. Broodmate was terrifying when she was good and made a decent name for herself in her short reign as a premium six drop. She has seen basically no play since M11, a dark day for dragons! Broodmate was in fact the new bar set high above the previous ten 3 colour dragons from Time Spiral and Invasion.

Yosei, the Morning StarThe other big dragon names in magic history are the Kamigawa legends, notably the Esper colour ones. Yosie was incredibly close to making this list as it happens. She has aged the best out of all of them and I think still has a decently high power level with a near Time Walk effect should she die.. Much as she is playable she has not seen any in longer than I can recall and so I couldn't bring myself to add her in. Kokusho has aged the worst somehow. Kaiga is still OK but none of them really cut it. There are more powerful, rounded, immediately impactful things at six mana on offer to all colours in the cube and a lot of decks don't even want to bother with that level of top end. The cube is faster than it used to be as well as more consistent. There is more redundancy in the cheaper cards and all this edges out the more expensive stuff which tends to include the dragons. There are a couple of cute four mana dragons (Avaricious and Moltensteel) which somewhat evaded this top end tightening. While they see a tiny bit of play it is as a supporting role only. You don't just play four mana 4/4s fliers in cube, they need to do a good amount more. These do a bit more but only in the right place do either of them become close to worth it. Hellkite Overlord can be used as a cheat in target, it is OK in that role. I see Niv-Mizzet a lot in cubes, he is far too narrow, slow and quirky to really deserve his slot. I appreciate he might be fun but if your cube is mostly good stuff Niv will be under performing. The other two dragons I still see a bit that didn't make my list are Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon and Steel Hellkite. The former is very potent stand alone but clunky and awkward and all round rather slow. It is that fact he has generally negative synergy with your other things that makes him bad rather than being nominally bad. If he was an 8/4 with wither or something I would be all over it! Steel Hellkite is the most playable and best of the bunch. I can see why a lot of people run it in their cubes. It ticks a lot of boxes. Big threat, problem solver, Tinkerable, Weldable, easy to just ramp into and all round quite playable. This card will win a bunch of games but I think it is very much one of those cards that has been squeezed out of the top end by power level rises below it and alongside it. It is super easy to kill a Hellkite and then it does nothing. It is small for the cost and unreliable at doing its various jobs. Basically, for a top end box tick card you need it to tick that box about as well as it can be, even if ticking several. You need your top end to be better if you are going to rely on it to win you games or save your life! Get your Steel Hellkite killed with even a three mana removal spell and you are super sad about it.

Icefall Regent8.   Icefall Regent

So this is a very unassuming little dragon to steal the last spot. It is midway between a Dungeon Giest and a Frost Titan. Certainly the Frost Titan is more powerful but it isn't much more effective or playable if at all. Frost Titan is a little more resilient with his higher toughness but only really against red. Where the Titan falls down is how often it is unable to attack and which point it is just a 6/6 wall. Icefall will usually be able to attack and offer great planeswalker control or pressurize life totals. Even if it can't it will still apply its lock down effect. On the flip side, the Giest is a more cost effective way of getting what Regent offers. The issue with the Giest is that it is so weak to spot removal specifically in tempo terms. Most one or two mana removal will deal with Giests and so when that happens you fall behind. Icefall Regent however commands at least 3 mana to kill, often four and sometimes the full five! When it takes them their whole turn to deal with Icefall Regent it has bought you time and been a positive tempo play for you. When they can't kill it then it is a huge tempo play! It is to Tamiyo, the Moon Sage what Glorybringer is to Sarkhan the Dragonspeaker. Less utility for more immediate impact and safety against being attacked to death! Iecfall Regent is very well suited to its role. It does what you want a card like that to do more reliably and effectively than the alternatives. It is not as bomb like power level as most cube five drops but it is much better and more playable than given credit for.

Dragonlord Ojutai7.   Dragonlord Ojutai

This is a great card that only isn't in my cube due to being a relatively high CMC gold card. So as to up draft consistency and stop the three colour midrange decks dominating cards like this all had to go. This caveat applies to most other gold cards on this list. Ojutai is a well rounded and high power level card. It is very well statted considering it is a flying hexproof when you make it. You can lay it into the threat of a lot of potential removal without risk of getting blown out as you do with so many high cost cards with no immediate impact or value. Ojutai will be a decent blocker if you need or a great source of value and damage. As a threat I much prefer it to Consecrated Sphinx. It is also somewhat safer at getting draw triggers. The Sphinx relies a lot on 6 toughness which is far less helpful than hexproof and 4 toughness, not to mention coming down a turn sooner! This is slightly slower more conservative draw than Sphinx but it is great selection allowing you to have the answers you need. Well rounded and high power. Arguably better than the various white and blue cards that compete with it such as Baneslayer Angel, the previously mentioned Consecrated Sphinx, Torrential Gearhulk and potentially even Archangel Avacyn. The latter two are both probably more powerful, flash goes a really long way in blue! But still, Ojutai keeps good company. It is at least less linear than these other big dorks.

Dragonlord Dromoka6.   Dragonlord Dromoka

I thought this card was pretty laughable until I played against it. I gained a whole new respect for it after facing it a couple of times. The subtle combination of stats and abilities actually make Dromoka an all round beating. First up, she destroys aggressive decks without good spot removal. Seven toughness is huge to get through, very few aggressive fatties get past Dromoka and most die trying to the five power. You can't go wide versus Dromoka due to the lifelink nor can you hope to burn them out after the first combat. Dromoka handles aggression super well in all the many forms it takes. Against control and midrange Dromoka is a must kill threat. Uncounterable taxes the options many control players have and will lead to some more desperate plays. Should they not have the answer to hand you can devastate them without fear of tricks or countermagic. You probably don't want to over extend with more creatures but planeswalkers backing up Dromoka or something tasty like an Armageddon is game. Another lovely perk of Dromoka is you can pseudo Time Walk players leaning on countermagic. If they pass the turn holding removal and countermagic aiming to negate your turn they will either have to blow the removal in response to Dromoka on something else (and then potentially have no answer for Dromoka) or just waste all their mana and tap down in their turn to kill her thus giving you a potential window to play things past the countermagic. Dromoka is immensely big. She is like three burn spells to take down. She is killed by little in combat and kills most things foolish enough to tangle with her. She is like the Baneslayer that is also good against control decks. Even being a six drop matters less as in green she is normally coming out just as quick as a Baneslayer courtesy of ramp. What makes Dromoka good is how deceptively well rounded she is and effective at dealing with the cube meta. Only combo decks don't care about her on the whole.

Dragonlord Silumgar5.   Draonlord Silumgar

Another deceptively good card with quite the brutal ceiling. The ideal with Silumgar is to take a planeswalker who has just reached their ultimate loyalty count. Steal a walker, get the ultimate and put it in the bin with a 3/5 flying deathtouch in the mix as well. Very hard to lose from that kind of a swing but very rare that kind of thing will happen. Wise players won't even let it happen if they suspect this card is a possibility. Perhaps I should stick it back in my cube for a bit just to rip some people off who are not up to speed on the subtle ongoing tweaks! While this at first glance just seems like an over cost Sower of Temptation your extra mana goes a long way even if you are just stealing a medium dork as is often done with the faeries. Being black and having five toughness compared to blue with two is huge. Silumgar is immune to so much spot removal in cube. Burn is always a two for one and most black things miss all together. You have to be white or blue to deal with Silumgar effectively, often green and black can't at all. If you can't deal with it then it is super super bad. The value of stealing even a two drop is huge. They get a free 2 mana card and you lose a 2 mana card meaning on top of that two for one they also get a 2 mana 3/5 flying deathtouch. Value and tempo in swathes! Much as this is fantastic power it is also polar and that isn't great design. It hoses black and green while being a high risk card in other places. Certainly powerful enough for cubes but not a card I miss having at all.

Stormbreath Dragon
4.   Stormbreath Dragon

A four power flying haste for five is a good starting point. It is a useful and efficient body. It is initially like direct damage and then threatens ongoing damage should in not finish the job on the spot. These kinds of cards often pan out like Sulphuric Vortex damage. Stormbreath is only two red and has four toughness unlike many other four power flying haste dorks on offer. Stormbreath also gets some free bonus attributes which do wind up being relevant. Protection from white is a good thing to be with so much premium spot removal in the colour. It isn't as oppressive as protection from red or green either as those colours struggle far more against protection effects. White is just restricted a bit rather than entirely owned by a decent pro white card. The monstrous ability is also a thing. Despite being very expensive and coming at a stage where you don't expect them to have many cards in hand it does get used and it is a threat. I have never seen the ability hit for more than three but that still means it gets in six extra damage that turn on top of the four it was going to do anyway and the four it presumably did the previous turn. This can do 14 over two turns and can be hard to prevent from doing so. A 7/7 flier is a serious thing. It outclasses some of the things you see cheated into play! A very robust card that is well rounded and high power. Only really edged out of the cube by more rounded cards that are very comparable. If red were a little more midrange Stormbreath would rise in power level somewhat.

Glorybringer3.   Glorybringer

The new Stormbreath Dragon! This thing trades narrow pro white and late game monstrous silliness for a far more useful option on exerting to Flame Slash things. This option gives you far more initial tempo and control. It is a better problem solver, a better racing tool, a better source of value and it gets all these things without becoming that much less of a threat. If they just made a Sublime Archangel I would absolutely rather have a Glorybringer than the pro white of Stormbreath. Power wise this new dragon feels like it packs the most on this list relative to cost. The only reason it sits at three rather than the top is that it is yet to fully find its ideal setting. Due to the control, value and cost the card is more suited to midrange lists yet not many midrange red decks exist. Glorybringer is so potent you are happy enough running it in aggro or control but it is a little clunkier and awkward in them compared to what it can be. As more midrange decks emerge I anticipate this rising in the ranks. Flametongue Kavu is weak for two reasons, a 4/2 body is pretty low value and you have to have things to kill else it is a dead card. Glorybringer has none of these issues, it is basically a Stormbreath Dragon when there is nothing to kill.

Dragonlord Atarka2.   Dragonlord Atarka

The biggest and baddest of the Dragonlords of Tarkir. Also the reason Bogardan Hellkite is no longer seen in the cube. Atarka ticks the boxes you want from your top end very well. He is a massive threat that is hard to stop and ends games fast. He also has a fantastic EtB which gives great survivability, an immediate tempo swing and solves many problems. Atarka is so good it is one of those few cards you see both cheated into play with various cards and also hard cast. It is the 2nd best reason to splash red into green ramp decks after Kessig Wolf Run. A seven mana 8/8 flying trample is already bigger than most things. Throw in two and a half Forked Bolts and you have a very streamlined above curve card. It is more immediate impact and control than any Titan and while it doesn't gain value when attacking the fact it is such a big flying trample means you don't much care as he is just directly winning you the game instead.

Thundermaw Hellkite1.   Thundermaw Hellkite

No big surprise here. I can't seem to shut up about this card, it is the bench mark for so many things. Despite being outclassed now in power terms by other five drops, probably even other five drops on this list the Hellkite just seems to keep outperforming the competition. Everything the Hellkite does in on theme, it doesn't waste an ounce of its power of which it has lots. While the EtB trigger is often irrelevant it greatly increases the value of the card. You cannot stop this hitting you at least once if you are planning on using flying blockers. That means if you can't afford to take five and they have five mana you have to hold instant removal or countermagic up else it will get you. Hellkite is about as reliable at dealing damage as a Lava Axe, it costs the same and yet it leaves you with a 5/5 flier. It sometimes even kills all their Lingering Souls, a random BoP or annoying Baleful Strix. It is reach, tempo and value all in a package any red deck can get behind. Mostly it comes down to the stats, this is just an example of a dork that is good enough at just key words, cost and stats. Stormbreath would be a much better card if you traded the monstrous and the pro white for a mere +1/+1 but it still wouldn't be quite the Thundermaw!

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