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The Return of the Elder Dragon

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Khans of Tarkir was easily one of my favorite Magic sets. I even made the Top 8 of a Khans of Tarkir Sealed Grand Prix. (You guys remember Grands Prix, right?) Considering another one of my favorite Magic sets was the original Ravnica block, it stands to reason that I love sets centered around multicolored cards and strategies. I'm not sure Strixhaven falls under that category just yet, but if you peruse the previews that have been unveiled so far, there are definitely a reasonable number of gold cards in the set, along with a very good common cycle of dual lands.

There seem to be two particular cycles of gold cards that specifically harken back the Khans of Tarkir block: there is a set of enemy-colored Commands, similar and in opposition to the ones present in Dragons of Tarkir, and there also seems to be a cycle of Elder Dragons. This is exciting to me because I absolutely love when Wizards finally decides to finish cycles. (I'm looking at you, Triomes, and the three remaining Mirrodin-era Swords...)

This is also exciting because two card cycles that were hugely popular in their day - and even presently, truth be told - were the Command cycle and the Elder Dragon cycle. Pretty much every Command and every Elder Dragon saw play in Constructed at some point, so I'm hoping the same will hold true with the Strixhaven counterparts. Today, I want to talk about the Elder Dragons we've seen so far, with the plan to possibly talk about the Commands next week.

As of writing this, only two of the Elder Dragons have been previewed - Shadrix Silverquill and Velomachus Lorehold - and I'm going to cross my fingers that we see all five in this set. Now that Magic doesn't release three-set blocks anymore, if we don't see all five in Strixhaven, I don't know when we'll see any remaining dragons. It feels like it will be a few years at the very least, whenever we revisit Strixhaven.

Let's take a look at these two beauties.

Shadrix Silverquill

Shadrix Silverquill

Shadrix Silverquill reminds me a lot of other low-power, high-toughness creatures that buff their power by other means, such as double strike! One of my favorite creatures of this kind was Drogskol Reaver, but cards like Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and Dream Trawler also fit into this mold. All that being said, Shadrix is essentially a 4/5

I mentioned in a tweet last week how, if R&D designed cards with Commander in mind first, and made designs for competitive Constructed formats secondary, I'd probably be completely okay with it, and that kind of feels like what happened here. Shadrix's main ability states "At the beginning of combat on your turn, you may choose two. Each mode must target a different player," and that has Commander written all over it, because you likely never want to target your opponent with these in a two-player game, unless of course they have one life. But let's take a closer look at what they are.

  • Target player creates a 2/1 white and black Inkling creature token with flying.
  • Target player draws a card and loses 1 life.
  • Target player puts a +1/+1 counter on each creature they control.

These are all pretty decent. Making a 2/1 flier every turn really adds up, and feels like a better Bitterblossom in that the creatures are larger, you have other options you can choose if needed, and you don't lose life. This is a strong ability and I wouldn't be surprised if it was picked frequently. The next ability is just Phyrexian Arena, which is, needless to say, also good. As I mentioned earlier, you can also kill your opponent with this if they're at one, so don't sleep on the "Sign in Blood" aspect here. Finally, all those 2/1 Inkling creatures you made, along with Shadrix itself, get +1/+1 counters. Depending on how wide you've gone, this could be a big deal. The fact that they're counters and not a temporary buff makes a world of difference.

All in all, this card feels a lot like Rankle, only it doesn't have to deal damage to trigger, and you don't have to choose an effect that benefits the opponent. Heck, Shadrix doesn't even have to attack for these abilities to trigger. You can simply sit back and amass an army, or draw cards, while keeping your 2/5 flying double striker home. Another bonus is that, since it doesn't have to attack to trigger, you'll be getting the bonus the turn they enter the battlefield, which is huge. This card has a lot of potential. With bw Control being one of my favorite archetypes, I'm hoping there are enough support cards to complete the archetype.

Velomachus Lorehold

Velomachus Lorehold

As the names have suggested, there should be an Elder Dragon for each house, so the ones we're missing would include Prismari, Quandrix, and Witherbloom. As for Lorehold, we have some serious stats, including flying, vigilance, and haste on a 5/5 body. There aren't as many decisions attached to Velomachus as there are on Shadrix, as most of the decisions here take place during deck-building.

Just like Shadrix, Velomachus is able to take advantage of his ability the turn he enters the battlefield thanks to haste, however it does require an attack. Regardless, if your opponent can kill your dragon at instant speed, neither of these dragons are going to trigger anyway. So long as you can make it to combat and turn this guy sideways, however, you're going to get a sweet ability. Whenever Velomachus attacks, you can look at the top seven (!) cards of your library, then find an instant or sorcery among them to cast, so long as its cost is less than or equal to his power. I mean, the dream is obviously getting his power to seven for Cruel Ultimatum in older formats, Inspired or Genesis Ultimatum in current Standard, or eight for the newly previewed Magma Opus (which we will definitely talk about at some point). But even at only five power, this is a very strong ability.

As you have likely gathered, Strixhaven is looking like it could be an extremely spell-centric set, and we've already seen no shortage of powerful spells to hit here in the Commands alone. It's also no coincidence that the Lorehold Command (coincidentally called Lorehold Command) costs exactly five mana.

Unfortunately, Velomachus, already costing seven-mana, is a card that also requires a good deal of expensive spells in your deck to really shine, and its ability is only going to be as good as the spells that are present in the format. Don't get me wrong though: even hitting something like a Behold the Multiverse every turn for free is a pretty great deal. Ultimately, you really want to play cards that a) are good enough to cast when drawn on their own, and b) you can still cast on their own if you don't hit a Velomachus or are unable to turn it sideways. Like I said, though, even hitting something simple like a removal spell is still good value, turning Velomachus into a sort of Glorybringer. The caveat? It is a seven-mana investment.

Upside? Super high! Downside? Mostly cost related. Unlike Shadrix, which has all of its abilities built in and self-contained, Velomachus is much more of a build around. Will this see play? I kind of hope so. I think it really depends on the kind of options Strixhaven gives us, both in terms of good instants and sorceries, as well as efficient ways to potentially pump Velomachus's power.

But what do you guys think? Are these dragons on par with counterparts like Dragonlord Silumgar or Dragonlord Ojutai? Will they see as much Constructed play as their predecessors did? I'm really eager to find out, and to hear what you all think. Be sure and let me know in the comments!

Strixhaven is looking pretty exciting so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing the full set and sleeving it up eventually. What are some of your favorite cards so far? Let me know, so I can get some other ideas in terms of what cards to go over in the coming weeks. As always, thanks a ton for reading, stay safe, and I'll catch you all next week!

Frank Lepore

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