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Five-and-a-Half (Dragons) With Flores


Even if you don't know much about the lore of Dragons in "Dungeons and Dragons" by this point you've probably seen Tiamat:

We certainly wrote about her a few weeks ago :)

The full art version of the card gives you a pretty good look at the Dungeons and Dragons interpretation of this ancient Babylonian goddess... Five-headed Dragon... In particular representations of each of the "evil" DnD Dragons:

  • Red: Fire
  • Green: Poisonous Gas
  • White: Frost Breath
  • Blue: Lightning
  • Black: Acid

I'd say it's literally just coincidence that these are also the five primary colors of mana, but Garfield originally intended Magic: The Gathering to be played between DnD sessions (and incidentally, that's how I first started back in 1994), so who knows?

The uncommon evil Dragon cycle from Dungeons and Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is all pretty awkward. Who exactly is salivating at this implementation of an iconic Green Dragon in competitive Constructed:

Could you be less frightened of its breath weapon?

Red Dragon is going to get its money most of the time (or at least what you bargained for); Green Dragon? Not so much.

The Mythic Rare evil Dragon cycle on the other hand? We've got some winners here, and at least one nugget-slash-bone to pick on the lore side this week.

Caveat: I think I've read at least forty Forgotten Realms novels and I only have strong feelings about one of these Dragons lore-wise (unless you count "the half"). Let's start with the best one:

So, this card does a heck of a Dragonlord Ojutai impression, doesn't it?

The Five-color Mono-Blue Dragons deck that I used to win the Utah RPTQ back in 2015 was originally inspired by Bryan Raymer's Mono-Blue version from States:

Bryan only had Icefall Regent for Dragons and still made Haven of the Spirit Dragon and Silumgar's Scorn good. I am just trying to imagine how my world would have been different if I never had to splash a second color - let alone four other colors - to get such a high quality Dragon at five.

To begin with, Iymrith costs the same as Dragonlord Ojutai, total. It has the added flexibility of not requiring any second color (let alone a specific one). And on top of that, Iymrith gets a fifth toughness! If there is a Dragon in this cycle that is screaming "play me" on its face it's this one.

Ward 4 is worse than Hexproof (which is kinda sorta Ward infinity)... But it's not practically that much worse. You give opponents options, and many will take poor ones.

The card draw ability is deceptively different from Dragonlord Ojutai's though. Whereas the previous Azorius Legend was great at keeping a lead, Iymrith is only pretty good at that. It's greater strength is in the comeback. Empty-handed you can draw Iymrith and have a pretty rough to remove blocker. Then you can draw a card... Especially if it's a land (or maybe some kind of a one-for-one) you can play, you will have even more card drawing action!

My gut right now is, based on how Iymrith's card drawing ability works, Control decks that want this card will be more likely to err on the side of removal and bounce rather than permission. Drawing one extra card per turn is certainly welcome in a Counterspell deck, but you really get a lot of mileage out of this creature if you can keep your hand lower than three. Crafting that play pattern will require proactivity that playing a ton of permission fights almost deliberately.

Did I start out saying that Iymrith was going to be the best of the cycle?

Certainly, Iymrith is comfortable. We might not know 100% what we are going to get in a modern metagame, but we have a good context from Dragonlord Ojutai how a card like Iymrith will perform... We even get a fifth toughness as a kicker!

But for its comfort and obviousness, Iymrith doesn't give players what Ebon will: Inevitability.

Were you wondering why this card entered the battlefield tapped? It would be too easy to utterly destroy anyone going wide otherwise! Imagine someone coming in with two 1/1 creatures. You could spend a removal spell on one of them, fulfilling the re-buy condition on Ebon.

Then you could bring back the Dracolich and block the other poor 1/1. For the cost of a single removal spell (albeit accepting a four-mana tax) you would kill two creatures and have a 5 power flyer to show for it!

Now imagine someone coming in with two 5/5 creatures. You could run the same play: Doom Blade the first to get the trigger; re-buy Ebon and block the second. The downside here is that you don't get to keep Ebon. But Ebon was free! The upside is that you just splattered two 5/5 creatures for the cost of one Doom Blade (+4).

Too good, definitely.

So... Enters the battlefield tapped, it is.

As is, Ebon is ridiculously accommodating when it comes to coming back. You don't need to play with any other creatures (as long as your opponent plays with any). Flash gives this card insane flexibility and card advantage potential. If the opponent doesn't start specialty interaction, they will struggle against Ebon in long games, provided they have any creatures and you've built your deck with this signature creature in mind. Even better? With a little mana and the right opening, Ebon can dodge cards like Cling to Dust thanks to Flash.

You can play this in a Control / removal deck and grind the opponent out with it... But you don't have to. Ebon is a Zombie and would probably be right at home in some kind of a sacrifice deck. Why rely on the opponent having creatures when you can set up Ebon yourself?

I can think of no more appropriate deterrent to some kind of Millstone shenanigans than a somewhat free 5 power flyer. Can you?

I feel a little bad not being more excited about the Mythic Rare version of Red Dragon.

After all, "two sets of wings" is the most direct point of comparison:

Rorix Bladewing

Rorix wasn't only really good, it was much loved and used variously by almost as many decks as could string together rrr. Sometimes it was an off-Tribe finisher in a Goblins sideboard; it could give the cycling Astral Slide deck a completely different dimension (again out of the sideboard). It was a Big Red or All-in Red heavy hitter. But Rorix's greatest contribution was probably as a reanimation target. What it lacked in lifelink or resistance to removal was earned back in hasting the game to a conclusion inside of four turns.

On its face, Inferno of the Star Mounts simply adds a toughness to Rorix Bladewing... At a slightly less prohibitive cost, color-wise. That's good and good.

The firebreathing is a nice touch; even just for fair play. I think if you've got the Inferno in play, it is going to represent 90% of your plan and 95% of your offensive lineup. So... You're likely to have some Red mana open! Why settle for six when you can have seven or even twelve?

On that note I think there are a wide variety of decks that might want to try this card. Mid-range Gruul decks; "big" Red or Ramp decks; it's kind of a nice hit off of a Genesis Ultimatum, don't you think?

But a tried-and-true role for bigger creatures - and will be especially reinvigorated due to that un-counter-able clause - is as a sideboard card for smaller, more conventional, offenses. If you're up against Red removal, the Inferno will soak up multiple spells. If you've exhausted the opponent of spot removal with your little guys, it is a heck of a way to force them to have the next one. Two swings will do it before getting unfair, much of the time. And in a deck with other creatures? You can find yourself there if you just play for it.

But what about unfair?

If you are starting out with the Inferno in play, fourteen mana will do it. If not? Twenty. Twenty BTW is still a deal versus any traditional Fireball-type that would require twenty-one mana or more. These Fireball-types have been the solo finishers in a ton of decks, from Yawgmoth's Bargain to Heartbeat of Spring, over the decades.

Maga, Traitor to Mortals
Invoke the Firemind

Rather than work yourself up to 20 Red, a deck with a powerful mana engine could just get to twenty total, cast Inferno of the Star Mounts, and pump its power from 6 to 20 in order to hit that trigger. For a combo deck this has the huge bonus of being un-counter-able. They can't counter the Dragon itself, and it's not super common to be able to counter the pump activations. Again, you can save yourself six mana by starting out with the Dragon in play; you only have to get the 20th power specifically byr: Firebreathing pump, so you can theoretically save yourself a bunch of Red in the middle with Giant Growth-type effects (though I don't see that being really common in an unfair implementation).

There is the small point that sixteen of the twenty mana has to actually be Red, but for a deck that is designed to generate upward of twenty mana in a single turn, that doesn't seem like the most out there ask.

At six mana, Inferno of the Star Mounts is probably not going to outstrip Iymrith in main line, fair, play. It doesn't exceed Ebon's inevitability; but, man will it kill you quick! Great, great card.

Let's get the elephant - or rather the seven-mana Dragon - in the room out of the way first: Wow that special ability. This isn't just Old Gnawbone hitting an opponent. It's anything. So, if you had six power in play prior to Old Gnawbone (maybe for some Pack Tactics), you'd exit the next combat with six Treasure. Old Gnawbone itself is an engine. Cast it; somehow untap with it; hit with it... Boom, seven Treasure. That is amazing if they let you do it.

... Which they won't.

Or, I mean, they'll try not to. The difference between Inferno's haste and Old Gnawbone's not haste is only one of the things that make this Dragon so prohibitive. The seven mana - highest of any in this evil Dragon cycle - is prohibitive enough. On some level the fact that you can get paid by prior creatures mitigates Old Gnawbones's non-haste... Only the opponent can just kill or bounce it prior to combat damage and go about their day.

The destination on this card is lovely. I just worry that the journey to get there is too perilous.

In the first Drizzt Do'Urden book, The Crystal Shard, Drizzt and Wulfgar best Icingdeath and do what you do when you slay a Dragon: raid the poor corpse's treasure trove. Drizzt claims a magical scimitar with frost powers for himself, which is super convenient. Not only is the weapon a scimitar (Drizzt's specialty, but a little exotic for a Vikings-esqe geographical setting), it even has a hunting cat pommel decoration, reminiscent of Guen.

I love how this card kind of tells that story. It is not for many, many books that the frosty scimitar (sometimes called the "fire-hating sword") is itself called Icingdeath, but kids like me had been nicknaming it that on our own and the nice people publishing Forgotten Realms novels just kind of went with it.

Beyond that storytelling, this card is a little eh as a card. When was the last time you looked at your starting sixty and said that what it really needed was a 4/3 vigilance? Getting more than 75% of a Serra Angel for one less mana and the Frost Tongue to help mitigate the downside is not a bad rate package... But I'm also a little hesitant at the idea I'd want to be defending myself with 3 toughness.

I imagine that if this becomes popular, it'll slot in where people are playing Legion Angels or Gods of Battle right now... Icingdeath is in the same zone size- and mana-wise; and the decks that like those cards - full already with creatures who could loot the body of a dead Dragon for a magic sword - all appreciate a tiny bit of card advantage.

So... Is this the actual white Dragon entry?

Grand Master of Flowers has a lot interplaying on it. It's kind of an ingenious way to bring the concept of Planeswalkers to a DnD card actually.

Bahamut first appeared in Greyhawk, which is an older, but far less popular, D&D setting than Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance. While Greyhawk's cast of wizards is iconically powerful, as a consumer setting it never had Raistlin Majere or Eliminster of Shadowdale to sell a lot of books or video games. So, they built a Planeswalking bridge to get their iconic Dragon god to the universe at hand. Bahamut is the god of good Dragons and the enemy of Tiamat. On Krynn (the world of Dragonlance) Bahamut is called Paladine and is the brother of Takhisis (Tiamat's analogue). Of these major campaign settings, Forgotten Realms is the one Bahamut is least associated with. He has to kind of come to the setting from a faraway planet.

I was initially a little side-eye that he would come via a Monk. On Krynn, he is a charming but very bumbling Wizard. I kind of get that after noodling on it for a day. Monks are all about reaching enlightenment, right? The Grand Master of Flowers is the most powerful Monk in the DnD world. There is only one at the top of the pecking order.

This one reaches enlightenment by out-fighting opponents to the point that they can't fight at all. OR, he does so by training the next generation of Monks. That's kind of cool Vorthos-wise. At seven loyalty he achieves godhood. But it is fleeting! Losing a loyalty will bust him back to mortality. I do kind of hate that they chose this god for such a cool representation, but they probably just wanted to get Bahamut into the set and this was a cool justification for Planeswalking.

Okay... What does Spike think?

The knock on many Planeswalkers is the inability to protect themselves. Kind of tongue-in-cheek all Grand Master of Flowers can do is protect himself! I love that you can search your graveyard for Monk of the Open Hand. That will allow you to keep ramping the Grand Master up even after earlier acolytes have died defending him.

I'd say that the fact that you can buff this on the opponent's turn is a nice touch; but I'm guessing this guy and Bahamut - or Grand Master of Flowers, rather - are going to spend a lot of time in White Weenie decks, so that might not come up as often. Being surrounded by 1-drops, though? Lots of triggers.

In case you missed it, play Monk of the Open Hand first. Or go find a Monk with Bahamut and play it. Ideally, you'll have multiple Monks in play when you cast your second spell. All will be buffed! You don't want your second spell to be Monk of the Open Hand if you can avoid it, as that Monk will not receive the +1/+1 buff.

Some of these cards are really good. Many - many - are really cool. I've never in close to thirty years been all that excited by the Vorthos aspect of an upcoming set... Before. I have to admit that this one is tugging at all the thirteen-year-old heartstrings. It's summoning up a nine year old boy in the library, asking why a DnD sourcebook would be in the nonfiction section if Dragons aren't real as much as any 7/7 indestructible god. And I love it.



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