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Around the Wheel: Drakuseth, Maw of Flames

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Ah, Red, the most maligned color in our beloved EDH. Damage-based removal? Terrible! Underpowered creatures that can't block? Bleh! Sure, they have Goblins, but that deck is always the same, right? Dragons are a cool top-end, too, but you're going to want another way to support them, certainly!

I'll admit: it's a problem. Red decks have difficulty destroying enchantments, getting rid of large creatures, drawing cards, and ramping, all things important to Commander. Lightning Bolt may be one of the strongest cards in Magic, but in EDH it takes an awful lot of them to matter. The first time around, we solved this problem by going with Godo, Bandit Warlord. Ramp to him, cast him, stick something silly on him, and win the game with Infect damage or infinite attack steps. It's fun, and different from Goblins or whatever.

This time, let's think a little bigger.

Drakuseth, Maw of Flames

This guy has some things going for him, you might say. 7/7 for seven mana is a fine deal; flying to boot makes it excellent stats. He's a 3-hit killer! The damage he throws around isn't a ton, but it's not nothing, and we can work with that. So there are a few things we can do. The most obvious is to ramp to him and start hitting with haste-enablers, using his ability to soften the ground. That's a perfectly reasonable approach. There's surely a Dragon tribal deck with him at the helm, using Sarkhan in his various Mono-Red iterations. But I think I'd like to try something a little different: let's slow roll.

We're going to draw rather than ramp, and while we're going to focus on our Commander, we're not going to Voltron so much as make him more lethal in other ways. He attacks and we get to throw a Flame Javelin and two Lightning Bolts. That's pretty good. But with the new Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, we throw 6 and two 5s! Dictate of the Twin Gods? Eight and two 6s. That's some real damage, plus it makes him hit for 9 or 14 commander damage, depending. It's a shame the non-combat damage can't be doubled or tripled up on a single target, but we should be able to make it work.

42 lands may seem like a lot, but we have a very high converted mana cost and plenty of ways to use the mana. Drawing cards in Mono-Red costs mana, plus we've got X spells and other high casting costs, so it's going to be worth it to hit our drops every turn. Plus we occasionally need to discard, and having excess lands helps us do that without costing too much. Because we're playing Blood Moon, we're mostly running Mountains, but we've got a Rogue's Passage to sneak Drakuseth through, Homeward Path because every deck should have Homeward Path, Encroaching Wastes as a fail-safe, and Arch of Orazca for the draw. We've also got a couple of ways to pull lands into our hands, just in case we need to keep playing them. Pilgrim's Eye doubles as a chump blocker.

To draw, we've included most of the repeatable ways of drawing available to us. Arcane Encyclopedia and it's more expensive cousin Jaemdae Tome are both here. Endless Atlas. Illuminated Folio, which is super-solid in a mono-colored deck. Mind's Eye. Rogue's Gloves. Heck, even Tower of Fortunes is here; using our turn to effectively refill our hand is worth it. There are lots of ways to keep cards flowing, and the majority of them don't require a discard, which is good. Staff of Nin is great, and Tamiyo's Journal gives us constant card draw but also allows us to search out a piece if we really need it.

And here we are, having the tutor discussion again. This deck runs tutors. We've got Planar Portal as the most obvious one, along with the Journal and Gamble. They're expensive, difficult, or risky; no Demonic Tutors here. We're running them because we have very few ways to double damage, and we really want that to happen in order to keep the board relatively clear and eventually deal enough damage to win. Take those cards out if your playgroup doesn't like them. A couple of ways to grant Drakuseth more evasion like Trample or something like Haste (or even just a power bump) wouldn't be bad here, and would be a reasonable replacement. Sword of Fire and Ice would be great if you've got one laying around. War and Peace, too, because the most common threatening blockers will be Angels and Dragons.

We're probably going to kill our opponents with Drakuseth. With Fireshrieker and Furnace of Rath, we deal 28 damage in one hit, which kills anyone no matter what their life total (we'll also be throwing 20 extra damage about just for fun). We've got four ways to double damage, and any two of them makes Drakuseth a one-hit kill. Savage Beating is a one-shot deal, but if we have Angrath's Marauders out and cast the Beating Entwined, we hit for 14 Double-Strike, then untap and hit again, meanwhile throwing out two 8s and four 6s of damage, which should clear the sky pretty well for that second attack. That should kill two opponents. We can make him unblockable with Whispersilk Cloak or Rogue's Passage, too, in the event of some annoying Luminarch Ascension deck or something.

In order to stay alive to get to this point, though, we're probably going to have to defend ourselves. So we'll add some point removal and some mass removal. Blasphemous Act is a great way to get rid of a lot of things, as is Vandalblast. Perilous Vault is a complete reset; we probably want to use it before we start playing our own enchantments, but you never know. We've also got some creature-based mass removal like Steel Hellkite and Balefire Dragon (which is another lovely target for Whispersilk Cloak). Bloodfire Colossus does a nice job of killing off a lot of stuff, too.

Much of the point removal come from the Planeswalker decks so we can search up the various Chandras. Turns out Chandra likes to do things like "deal 2 damage to target player" or whatever; that's fun when the damage gets doubled. Plus, planeswalkers still have this strange effect at Commander tables. People panic and focus all their attention on them. If we can get them to swing their dudes at Chandra instead of us, that's good, because it's one more turn we'll be able to work toward our goal of massive damage in a single turn. We've also got a Jaya, Venerated Firemage, because the static ability just adds to our damage total.

Finally, we're running a few little guys that make Thopters. Why Thopters? Because they make great chump-blockers. If someone plays an Eldrazi Monument with a fleet of Angels, we're not stopping that, but we're in trouble if that's happening anyway. But someone trying to get in with another Dragon or a Demon or something? A steady stream of Thopters can really get in the way. Besides, we want stuff to do with all this mana, and Whirlermaker seems like as good an option as any.


There are a number of directions to take this deck. Going in on multiple attack steps would be one; Aggravated Assault and Sword of Feast and Famine would make quick work of a table, once you assembled the combo. Even just having a few more ways to get an extra attack step would make a difference. Power boosting is another; by getting Drakuseth's power up to 11, a simple damage doubler would be a one-hit kill. That could be done with some Dragon support (Crucible of Fire?) or more equipment. There are a few more ways to give Double-Strike, of course. And Haste is something this deck avoids completely, but adding in a few ways to have him attack the turn he comes into play could be pretty potent. Finally, swapping out Armillary Sphere for Burnished Hart and a few more ways to actually ramp, rather than just hit drops, could speed up the deck a fair bit and make Drakuseth more difficult to deal with.

A key thing to understand, though: "faster", "stronger", "more difficult to deal with". All these things mean exactly what they say. They do not, however, necessarily mean "better" or "more fun." I like long games of Commander where big swings occur and everyone feels like they could win at some point in the game. Built the way it is, there are multiple paths to victory, each of them surprising but not fast, and there will always be a turn where Drakuseth is sitting there, summoning sick, waiting to attack. We're not going to roll over to every other deck unless they leave us alone, but we're going to give everyone a chance. I like that style, so I'd play it as-is: a bit winding, not super-focused, but fun and capable of great explosive power. Want to do something different? You do you, but don't assume that "faster" or "stronger" necessarily means this deck is the beginner version.

How do you want to build Drakuseth? Heck, how do you build Mono-Red? What would you do to make this deck more fun for you?

Green is next week. What do you think? Creatureless?

Thanks for reading.