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In What Universe?


In what universe is Drizzt Do'Urden a playable card?

I want to say... A lot of them?

First off, there is a lot that can simply go wrong with this card. I literally read The Crystal Shard in 1989, the year after it came out. A bunch of us had read the Dragonlance novels by Hickman and Weiss in sixth grade and a kid called Dan Plottner bought The Crystal Shard for my birthday in seventh. Forgotten Realms... novels? I read it because I read everything, but my thirteen year old know-it-all expectations were not high. At the time no one knew how cool - or certainly, how lasting - a hero the Dark Elf Ranger was going to be. There was a lot not-perfect about The Crystal Shard but even then - even some twenty Drizzt novels back - R. A. Salvatore could write a fight scene.

Clot Sliver
Syphon Sliver

Personally, I didn't understand the venom over the visually redesigned Slivers a few years back; I was just more interested in thinking about the game play implications of 8-12 Muscle Slivers, you know?

Muscle Sliver
Predatory Sliver
Sinew Sliver

... But this Selesnya implementation of Drizzt has my buried Vorthos instincts suddenly activated. Why is he Green and White? Why can't a Ranger-hero be Black? Even as a surface dweller Drizzt uses darkness magic and is an excellent sneak-thief. Why is Guenhwyvar Green? A Green Cat even? Guen presents as a panther but I could easily have seen her as a White Spirit (her character is properly a denizen of the Astral Plane).

Drizzt Do'Urden is the Forgotten Realms equivalent of Wolverine. He's the kind of zen philosopher samurai woodsman of the group with a brutal past. He's got extraordinarily signature bladed weapons and is over and over depicted as the best there is at what he does. He's so popular it's dumb. So, from a fan perspective, expectations have got to be commensurately high when committing him to cardboard. You don't just have to get past forty-five year old Michael J on this card... It's teenage Michael J whose heartstrings are being plucked.

On paper, Drizzt Do'Urden can be an attractive card. Like most playable mid-range or expensive creature cards these days, Drizzt Do'Urden is a "Mulldrifter" rather than a "Baneslayer Angel". He enters the battlefield with trusty Figurine of Wondrous Power Guen as a second body. Seven power - sorry the equivalent of 10 power - over two bodies, for five mana, looks to be a heck of a deal. Spot removal is expressly bad against Drizzt Do'Urden. Kill the [Dark] Elf Ranger and they're left with Guen. Kill the comparatively fragile 1 toughness Cat creature token and not only do they keep Drizzt Do'Urden himself... He jumps to four-slash-eight power and a little more toughness to boot.

On a rate basis the card is actually kind of bonkers. Would you pay two mana for Guenhwyvar? No? Maybe? I'd probably have more questions, too. But is she worth two mana? We've all played 3/1 creatures for two mana and Guen is a 4/1.

Breaking the card apart, that would leave Drizzt as a 3/3 for three mana... And you know how I feel about those. I'll go down on the 3/3 VANILLA hill for three mana and Drizzt's body is clearly a lot more powerful than a vanilla 3/3.

On a rate basis, Drizzt Do'Urden is potentially aggressive at five. Yet, I have reservations.

Why don't I love the card, a childhood hero, expressly, more?

Before I was famous for pretending to be a one-dimensional Red Deck guy, I was famous for stabilizing battlefield positions by playing a bigger creature than anything that was actually in the opponent's deck. Or, I was making it unattractive for them to try to get past my blockers. A long chain of fives and sixes served this purpose from at least 2005 to 2009 or so. Meloku, the Clouded Mirror; Keiga, the Tide Star; even Broodmate Dragon (before it was cool!) got in the way of Skyknight Legionnaire, Hand of Cruelty, or whatever Spectral Procession tokens. I'm thinking about the ability of Drizzt Do'Urden - as a value-5-drop - to gum up a potential future Red Zone.

In what universe is he good at that?

Let's think about the opposite ends of today's Standard metagame. Is he good at playing stop sign against a conventional Red Deck? Theoretically, as long as you had other tools to slow down their offense to five, yes. The problem is, if you're tapped out for Drizzt, they're liable to have a combination of Torbran, Thane of Red Fell and more importantly Embercleave. This is going to allow them to trade at only a slight loss while probably maintaining a killer battlefield position (not to mention forcing through damage). Embercleave in particular is going to counter Drizzt's most immediate value on the battlefield.

What about the opposite end? The big spell Ultimatum decks aren't going to care about Drizzt at all. They might have to use a removal spell on one half of the card or the other, but neither is going to be actually fast enough to kill them before they Cultivate their way to critical mass.

How about straight up? Mulldrifter Drizzt Do'Urden against an actual, in-print Baneslayer Angel?

Either side is obviously going to be able to break parity with a removal spell (or maybe even a pump spell) but neither Drizzt nor Guen is in a very good position to challenge a battlefield against an incumbent midrange creature.

So... Is there a universe?

I hope yes. Thirteen-year-old me hopes to live in one of them!

If Standard becomes much less tempo-oriented, that could be good for Drizzt. Like it chops back down to the brass tacks fundamentals of competitive Magic: attacking and blocking; card advantage. He's good at those things on rate. He doesn't punch up well, but he punches down great. He can counter go-wide as long as no one drops an Embercleave.

If Standard is about spot removal, he can be good... But it kind of depends which spot removal. I think Drizzt's worst feature is the toughness of his cardboard. Yes, you will be theoretically up a card when they Frost Bite the hero of some two dozen Icewind Dale and Underdark novels... But they're up four mana. All manner of Scorching Dragonfire and Terror variants are effective, even if they impose a tax. That's not all bad, though! A midrange deck full of all Drizzts; all "Mulldrifter" types... All making a Food like Prosperous Innkeeper or digging up a land like every Borderland Ranger variant I've ever loved chaining up to Drizzt will absolutely ruin Spot Removal Guy's day. They might be out by the time you hit five; or you might just have another to follow up.

I think Drizzt might also be good in a world where he has time to get buffed. I mean he already has an ability to get buff; but I mean the space to untap and equip him with Twinkle or Icingdeath, his legendary blades. Any kind of power increase is going to be magnified by not only Drizzt's double strike but the increased distance provided to the self-buffing ability. This implies a world where creature combat matters, but again, is not so tempo-oriented he won't have time to strap on his Bracers of Blinding Strike or un-sheath a scimitar.

Amazingly, if you wanted to un-sheath your own Twinkle or Icingdeath, you get them at the same place Cameron Grimes gets his stock tips.

Those are some of the universes where beloved Drizzt Do'Urden might be good enough to play. But if we're talking about the cornering kind of aggro decks of today's Standard, or a prevalence of sweeper-rich Control? I'm as skeptical as any surface dweller as to the moral character of a Dark Elf quote-Ranger-end quote.

One of the things we talked about was a world where players had time (and presumably deck-building space) for equipment to be good. Which brings us to Drizzt's best friend and liege lord:

Before we say too much about Bruenor, I'll remind you all that the card Juggernaut - sharing Bruenor's total casting cost, power, and toughness (but with a far inferior text box) - was initially banned in Extended back in 1997. Extended! You can Demonic Consultation for a Necropotence but a 5/3 for 4 mana is too good.

In what universe is Bruenor Battlehammer good?

It's easy!

If you can effectively cheat mana - especially if you can get more than four mana of value out of Bruenor Battlehammer - he becomes immediately efficient. It doesn't even matter if they kill him.

The simplest implementation would be some kind of a Colossus Hammer deck.

Colossus Hammer

There've been all manner of decks designed to simply get Colossus Hammer onto an attacking creature and hope for the best. Colossus Hammer is itself very cheap at one mana. You can presumably sneak it out there at some point, right? But it costs almost as much as a Colossus of Sardia to actually get onto a creature.

It doesn't have to be exactly Colossus Hammer; after all Colossus Hammer and Bruenor Battlehammer are going to be two Core Sets removed from one another. But just think about the model rather than the specific implementation: If you can get more than four mana out of the equip savings, Bruenor is your guy. AND you get to keep the Extended-bannable body AND you get even more buff text. I haven't seen any more of Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms than you have, but I'm expecting a little Mjolnir pastiche that I bet makes Bruenor a deservedly proud papa.

Tiamat is the card that I really wanted to write about.

Tiamat initially rubbed me the wrong way. For anyone who grew up watching the 1985 Dungeons & Dragons cartoon... That's Tiamat there:

She was one of the series's two main villains. She has a long history for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons players in-game and adapted from mythologies that make Mercury or Pluto look like spring chickens.

I couldn't get past Tiamat's text box. I mean this was the alpha villain of the tv show! The villain the other villain was terrified of! She had the potential to be so cool. Why did she have a cast restriction? I mean even if she had an enters the battlefield trigger you would still have to cast the other five Dragons! Not to mention you would have to put the other five Dragons IN YOUR DECK! Inside, I hated Tiamat more than I was apprehensive about Drizzt.

Then I asked myself in what universe...

Oh shoot.

It's this one.

You might have to time travel a little (and the wrong way) but it's this actual universe. Shoot.

Let me tell you a story.

On one side of the table there is a bunch of lands. We'll get back to that, though. On the other side of the table there are lands; but there is also a tapped Tasigur, the Golden Fang. The player on side B has been attacking with Tasigur; has been using Tasigur. He has a grip full of cards... And you can bet your bottom dollar they are Blue. The player on side A is effed.

But he has a bunch of lands.

Some of those lands are these:

Crucible of the Spirit Dragon
Crucible of the Spirit Dragon

So, Player A takes some hits. Player B swings and draws cards and swings again.

Player A just puts counters on his Crucible of the Spirit Dragon.

Until it looks like he's about to lose. Then he takes a ton of counters off. First he makes this:

Dragonlord Dromoka

Then he makes this:

Dragonlord Kolaghan

I don't remember exactly what he does next because the stream was on Twitch and it's not actually archived anywhere anymore. But man was it devastating what he did next. Basically, Player B - who on most traditional metrics was a mile ahead for several turns in a Blue mirror - gripping, again, innumerable Blue spells - was absolutely paralyzed by Dragonlord Dromoka.

Player A - friend of all my podcasts Brendan Hurst - had modified the Utah-winning RPTQ deck to include Dragonlord Kolaghan, and the result was a one-shot kill in the Top 8, on the way to his eventual PPTQ win. The Finals you can still watch.

Tiamat would have been an insane card to play in my 2015 Dragons deck from the Utah RPTQ. If there is a universe where Crucible of the Spirit Dragon is playable and Tiamat is legal... Peanut butter, chocolate... You're done. Not only does Tiamat synergize with other powerful Dragons, she emphasizes the value of individual Dragon bullets. Go ahead and play exactly one Dragonlord Kolaghan. Don't worry, big momma five-heads will set that up for the one turn where haste matters.

That's the Legendary Creature - Dragon God-damned universe. That's the one.

How about a more immediate one? You know, where Crucible of the Spirit Dragon isn't necessarily legal? Tiamat is a big spell. She's a big spell like an Ultimatum. We have Cultivates and numerous Explosive Vegetation Variants currently legal. The problem? She also has big competition. Not just in big spells, but in seven-mana spells; not just in seven-mana spells, but in seven-mana Dragons. This is who she's up against specifically at seven:

Velomachus Lorehold

Velomachus Lorehold has a lot of haste and a lot of mana saving (if not a lot of card advantage) on the villainous Dragon God[dess]. Might they work together? I actually think it's pretty cute that Tiamat can summon up a full house of Strixhaven Elder Dragon Legends by herself! But man... Presuming Tiamat is the center, the engine, the presumptive four-of? That's a lot of Legendary Creature - Dragon God-damned sevens.



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