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What Kind of Bat Can?t Fly?

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A COMbat! Get it, get it, get it.

I don't have to impress you.

When I initially talked about this set, I wrote our cloven-hoof'd friend off as "Great in the 99 but I'm not sure how I feel about this card in the command zone" which is disrespectful a bit, but I ultimately thought it was a fair assessment. This series forces me to confront my own lack of imagination, though, and I think that's fortunate for me. The cycle of a Magic set for me personally is cards are previewed and I go through them like a financier, trying to see if the entire set is worth buying cases of and popping to sell singles of early, determining if anything is bound to be underpriced as a presale and stocking up and figuring out how the value of the set will be spread out among the various cards. I can really like a card as a card but not like it from a finance perspective and I can like things from a finance perspective I'm not wild about as a player. When I take a second pass through, I look at cards I personally want to buy or open for my existing decks and look to see if I want to build any new ones. I'm building about one new deck a set, which isn't the most I have seen, but which is a sustainable pace. Finally, this series forces me to look at every commander through the lens of "How can I do something novel with this" and while I have fallen into a few patterns, ultimately, I have come up with some fairly creative decks over the years.

Is Moraug better in the 99 than in the command zone? Indubitably. Being in Mono-Red hurts in a deck like this because you don't have Green to throw down extra lands, Blue to pick extra lands up, or White to... give you access to Ruin Ghost? Look, I'm happy with my Omnath deck and White is pulling its weight, but realistically that is only a few cards. Moruag lacks a lot of the flexibility of a deck like Omnath with its many colors. How are we going to make sure this isn't just another boring Mono-Red deck that I'll play twice and tear apart, wishing it was Neheb (or Chandler)? Simply put, I want to cheat at Magic, and Moraug could actually contribute to a lot of cheating.

Moraug, Fury of Akoum

It takes six mana to play this monster just once and more each time someone looks at it, screams "KILL IT WITH FIRE" and then kills it, possibly with fire. That's a lot of mana, and while Red has some ways to make a lot of mana, some of them are more cute than good. Is Braid of Fire into Leyline Tyrant on the cute side? Yes. Are we playing those 2 cards in this deck? Also yes, this is a cute stuff zone where I get to play pet cards and you, reading, just get to sit there and say "I guess I shouldn't argue with Jason about what is and isn't 75%" and shrug.

Do we want the deck to be good? Yes, of course. Playing good cards is a large component of that, to be sure. However, doing what the deck wants to do is the most important thing, and this deck wants to cheat. I mean, I want this deck to cheat. I want it to want to cheat but that's not a thing, but if it were, I'd like to think this deck would want to cheat. It's how we break parity, either by preparing for something that affects everyone negatively better than they prepare for it so you recover better or by doing something that is advantageous but one-sided so they don't benefit and we do. I am going to suggest that it's possible this deck could do both of those things, breaking parity but also kicking parity while it's down which is too bad for parity but great for us. If our deck that contains a non-zero number of cute effects and pet cards is cheating, it should reach our equilibrium state of "1 out of every n games where n is the number of players in the pod." Don't ask me how we reach equilibrium by unbalancing parity, the metaphors really got away from me at the end there.

Moraug cheats by letting you attack with your creatures an extra time per land drop and that's pretty cool, but what about when you have creatures whose abilities trigger when you attack? Suddenly you're not just swinging with generic creatures a bunch of times - you're stacking triggers. Etali, Primal Storm and Ilharg the Raze-Boar are obvious candidates, but if I am not going to just copy my Ilharg deck which was very similar to my Etali deck, slap Moraug at the top and call it a day (I'm not going to do that), why play with Moraug at all? Are there any other Red creatures whose abilities trigger when we attack? What about other permanents?

Impulsive Maneuvers

That's cute, could that be a thing?

Clamor Shaman

Is a three mana 1/1 good enough if it can keep them from blocking with a deathtouch snake or something?

Backdraft Hellkite

If I were a more sadistic builder, I would stop right here, play every Wildfire, cast it until there were no more lands in play and call it a day. However, if we're going to play with an unknown pod, we don't want to be razing all of the lands, especially since we're not guaranteed to win if we do that and Wildfiring our own creatures isn't always ideal.

It got really frustrated at this point and left to go get an empty Kobayashi porcelain coffee mug to calm my nerves. I suddenly saw Backdraft Hellkite in a whole new light. The mug fell from my hands.

DRAGONS.

There are enough Dragons to make the deck a lot of fun, the rest of the Dragon deck infrastructure means we can cast a bunch of dragons early and often and amass an army before we bother to run out Moraug and do a bunch of landfall shenanigans, and Moraug untapped all of our creatures, not just the ones that attacked.

Zirilan of the Claw

This means we can keep re-activating Zirilan. What other cheaty shenanigans can we get up to if we're a Dragon deck?

Stock Moraug decks run a ton of Dragons already - Drakuseth, Maw of Flames, Leyline Tyrant, Scourge of the Throne, Utvara Hellkite, Hellkite Tyrant, Nesting Dragon, Steel Hellkite. Would it be so bad to add Terror of the Peaks, Lathliss, Dragon Queen, Hellkite Charger, and Tyrant's Familiar? POSSIBLY! Every creature in the deck costs six mana or more at that point. Yet, Dragon decks somehow make their mana work, so why don't we see how those decks are mitigating the high cost of their creatures and see if we can rip them off sample them?

First of all, those decks run on-curve Dragons as well. We have Leyline lower in the curve, but options like Avaricious Dragon, Territorial Hellkite, Opportunistic Dragon, and Skyship Stalker frequently make the grade in Dragon decks. If we're a landfall deck, we'll want to hit our land drops which means Dragonmaster Outcast is even better in our build.

We can also mitigate the high cost of Dragons by reducing their cost. Dragonspeaker Shaman and Dragonlord's Servant come to mind immediately, Red decks should be running Ruby Medallion and maybe Hazoret's Monument and we could even get NUTS and run cards like Semblance Anvil. Paying the full mana cost is for suckers.

On that note, Zirilian is spicy with a deck like this since every Moraug trigger makes a combat step that untaps him, but Zirilian isn't the only cheater. Feldon of the Third Path doesn't make you pay mana costs, either. Even Dragonstorm could cheat a bunch of Dargons out if we played a bunch of mana-generating spells to get enough mana to go off and also crank up the Storm count. Instants are good in a deck like this where you get an extra combat phase but not another main phase, meaning you have to play spells like Seething Song to keep the party going if you're doing it with mana and cards like Battle Hymn keep getting better if you're adding more creatures with Zirilian and Utvara Hellkite triggers. It's not just Instants, though - we can build up some mana to make sure we can fund a big alpha strike with spells like Geosurge and Mana Geyser before the big swing. Backdraft Hellkite does nothing but reward you for playing spell-generated mana by re-buying it for you so you can string some big turns together. Belbe's Portal and Quicksilver Amulet cheat a ton as well. How about Fires of Invention - seems good in a deck where we're hitting every land drop.

Dragon decks have been functioning just fine for years and Moraug just makes it so they only have to try attacking once to wipe out every player on the board. You shouldn't need to swing more than 2 or 3 times, especially with Etali (it looks like a Dragon so it stays) and Zirilian swelling your ranks as you go. Dragons fly so they're less likely to be able to block, meaning they can't thin your ranks through attrition meaning we'll rule the skies and rule combat for the one turn we're swinging hard. However, one or two extra landfall triggers is easy given we have access to a ton of fetchlands. But wouldn't it be nice to have Scapeshift? We (kind of) do!

Nahiri's Lithoforming

When this card was printed, I couldn't wait to throw it in my new Omnath deck and... I sort of hate it. You don't always get enough lands when you draw a bunch off the top and you can fill your hand with expensive spells you're too tapped out to play. Scapeshift is usually better in Omnath - all 3 Omnaths, that play Red, honestly. However, in a deck like this, Lithoforming can really shine. The lands coming into play tapped is irrelevant because we won't need the mana, just the triggers. Iron Myr, Palladium Myr, and the nature of Dragons to end things quickly ensure we can tap out on our "big" turn. Lithoforming not only gives us a ton of triggers like Scapeshift would, it fills our hand with big creatures Ilharg can cheat into play. Ilharg stays, too, Dragons are super expensive, it would be insane not to cheat in any way we can.

I feel good about this. We're using Dragon tribal synergy to deal a lot of damage in a small number of attacks, we're using the existing Dragon tribal infrastructure to keep the deck from being unplayable because everything costs too much mana, we're cheating creatures into play, and, in the case of Zirilian, we're doing it more efficiently than the Dragon deck could on its own. Adding landfall rewards the deck by smoothing out its early game by ensuring we hit all of our land drops while also giving it some explosivity that allows us to win the turn we put a lot of dragons out so we don't get beaten by board wipes before we get set up. This is absolutely an improvement on the typical Dragon deck and since most of the time the commander in those decks doesn't matter, no one has to tear anything apart. Here's the list I'd go with.

Mess with the Bull, get the Dragons | Commander | Jason Alt


There are probably too many Dragons in this deck. Cutting up to 3 or 4 seems like it wouldn't damage the deck too much. Another option, though, is trying to find a cut elsewhere since we want to make sure we have a ton of Dragons.

One possibility I discussed prior to building was Dragonstorm but it became impossible to include it. It would have been good, but we're not chaining enough mana spells together to get it for more than 2 or 3 and while that is still fine, the other ways we have to cheat are better and drawing too many mana spells with no payoff kills us. I'd rather have Dragons stranded in our hand than draw a bunch of Pyretic Rituals and die with an empty board. The deck has better ways to play spells than Dragonstorm.

That's not to say we don't benefit a ton from Instants and Sorceries. Backdraft Hellkite is going to do some work in here and we'll be able to wreak some real havoc. I like the number of loot effects we have because they turn on Feldon and keep our hand stocked. Feldon isn't the only way to cheat but if we throw a big Dragon in the 'yard and never get it back, it's fine because the deck has so many big Dragons and doesn't need all of them. It's better to draw deeply to get a Zirilan or Lithoforming.

We could consider Purphoros, the Bronze-Blooded on top of Sneak Attack as a way to cheat since the game ideally ends at the end of combat so there's no need to worry about the creature dying after we cheat it out. Etali and Ilharg are fun but we want some redundancy. We also run Flameshadow Conjuring and Molten Echoes in case we do need to go off and only drew 2 or 3 big dragons we can play. Getting more mileage from each one is better than having to play more Dragons, and you can play the enchantments on the turns we're setting up, ensuring we have plenty of mana free when we do decide to lay waste to the entire board.

What do we think? Too Dragony? Too like a stock Moraug list? Did I leave out your pet card? Leave it for me in the comments below and have a great week. Until next time!

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