The Duel After The Masquerade by Jean-Leon Gerome (1857).
Will Kenrith by Anna Steinbauer.
A while back, I wrote about my attempt to build a slightly more casual deck using Rith, the Awakener. As it turned out, Rith wasn’t particularly casual. In one game I was able to create 28 1/1 saprolings, drop a Coat of Arms and swing for a win. In another game I was able to create a field of 104 saprolings after giving Rith double-strike. My game plan for the deck worked better than I expected, but that leaves me still in search of a decent casual deck.
Last week’s Pir and Toothy deck certainly qualifies, though I have already swapped out Vigor and swapped in Deadeye Navigator. Going through and sorting cards, I was reminded that I have a pretty decent backbone for a Mono-Red deck just waiting to be used for a new project. I had pulled apart my Etali deck as I just wasn’t playing it, and that’s when I realized it was time to take another look at building a casual dragons deck.
A few weeks ago, I again tried my hand at a prerelease. As usual, I did badly, winning one game out of five, going 0-2 and dropping. I did manage to pick up not one but two copies of Lathliss, Dragon Queen in my sealed pool. I actually gave one copy to my round one opponent, as he was a good kid who played a lot of commander and was pleasant to play against. Also, I had two and didn’t need both, so I figured it’d be a nice gift along with my congratulations to him for kicking my butt. He was the opponent I won a game against, though I got the win while at 1 life, so the bright spot in my prerelease wasn’t particularly bright.
Lathliss is a 6/6 Red dragon with flying who costs and has a cute party trick. When another nontoken dragon you control enters the battlefield, you create a 5/5 Red dragon creature token with flying. In Mono-Red this is an ability that isn’t that easy to abuse.
Her second ability will let us pump all of our dragons +1/+0 for the cost of . This is where a Lathliss deck might wind up being a little overwhelming. We should have a decent number of dragons. If things go well, we’ll have a fair amount of mana. We should be able to turn a modest board into a win pretty quickly, but we’ll also be slow to rebuild after a boardwipe or a Cyclonic Rift.
Finding Our Angle
Every decent legendary creature has some angle — some way that you can approach building a deck that will be advantageous and will create synergy or a combo that can advance your position or even win the game on the spot.
For Rith, the Awakener, the angle I built around was double-strike. For Pir and Toothy you really want to flicker Toothy while Pir (or Hardened Scales) is on the field. For Lathliss, it’s painfully simple. We want to maximize the number of nontoken dragons we have entering the battlefield. I could play a few lower-cost Red changelings, as they have all creature types, but I’m going to stay true to my theme and only use real bona fide dragons.
There are a few ways we can try to abuse Lathliss’ ability over and above just running a ton of dragons. Conjurer's Closet will let us have a dragon leave and come back on our end step to give us an additional 5/5 Red dragon creature token with Lathliss on the field. Strionic Resonator will let us copy an activated ability, which includes Lathliss’ “whenever a nontoken . . . ” ability. Her ability also happens to be an “enter the battlefield” ability, so Panharmonicon will fit in nicely to give us additional tokens.
Making Enough Mana
Dragons are expensive.
We’re in Mono-Red so there aren’t a lot of ways to deal with this challenge. Fortunately, my old Etali, Primal Storm deck had a decent mana package for a Mono-Red deck so I had what I needed to try to make this work.
I’m not going to be running any traditional mana dorks but I’ve got a few creatures that will help out. Dragonlord's Servant and Dragonspeaker Shaman will both help cut the costs of our dragon spells. Generator Servant is a decent way to power out your commander with haste as early as possible. Grinning Ignus is like a little mana storage battery. You can play him and a turn later give yourself an extra two mana when you bounce him to your hand.
I’m also running some creatures to help get lands into my hand or directly onto the battlefield in the case of Solemn Simulacrum. These guys don’t just do a little work in the early game, they also give me a chance at having an early board presence. Some players don’t care about that but I like having blockers so that if someone is looking for an early but deadly shot with a Master of Cruelties or a creature equipped with something nasty like Quietus Spike, I’m not just wide open and waiting to get hit.
Mana rocks are also a key part of my ramp package. Sol Ring, Mind Stone, Worn Powerstone, Thran Dynamo, Dreamstone Hedron, Gilded Lotus, and even the obscure Foriysian Totem and lowly Fire Diamond found their way into my list. An overloaded Vandalblast will hit us pretty hard, and I’m running that little piece of artifact hate, so it might even by my own Vandalblast that gets used against me, but I think it’s a risk worth taking.
None of this will help that much with making tons of mana, but I am running Mana Geyser as a way to try to power our way through a really big turn. I’m also running a few other cards with a pretty high ceiling for generating mana.
Being in Mono-Red we’re likely to have a lot of Red mana symbols on our battlefield. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx will go a long way toward paying for both dragons and for pumping our dragons. I’m running Expedition Map as a way to tutor for Nykthos, though I’m also running Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Inventors' Fair, so if Nykthos is out I’ll have other potential lands to search for.
Extraplanar Lens requires you to exile a land, but will let all of our mountains tap for two mana instead of one. Caged Sun will let us pick a color (Red) and will both give us more mana and give our Red creatures +1/+1. Extraplanar Lens has the down-side of helping any of our opponents who happen to be playing Mountains. One solution to this is to run Snow Covered Mountains, but as yet I’m not going that far. If I had a bunch of Snow Covered Mountains available to me, I probably would run them, as it’s definitely the best option.
My last bit of ramp comes in the form of a planeswalker. Fortunately we’re in a decent position for protecting a planeswalker because we should have plenty of flyers. That’s not a foolproof plan, but Koth of the Hammer isn’t exactly a game-ending threat either. His +1 ability will give us an extra Red mana by untapping one of our lands. We can swing with it, but more than likely we’ll just tap it again. His -2 ability will give us one Red mana for each mountain we control. That is potentially huge in the late game. His final ability will let our mountains tap to do 1 damage to any target, but I can’t see that being more attractive than paying to play more dragons or Lathliss’ firebreathing ability.
I’m not going to show you all 20+ dragons but it’s worth sharing a few with you so you get a feel for the deck. I built this with dragons I had in my collection, and there are definitely a few in my The Ur-Dragon deck that I didn’t steal for this list. That mean there will be a few glaring omissions.
The low end of our tribe might seem pretty weak, but it’s important to remember that if Lathliss is on the battlefield each of these dragons will bring a 5/5 red dragon token creature with it to the party.
At the top end of our mana curve we’re going to see dragons costing 5, 6, 7 and even 8 mana. Many of them will throw some damage around when they enter the battlefield. Scourge of Valkas might be the best of the bunch, costing a relatively low () and allowing us to do damage to a creature or player for every dragon that enters the battlefield under our control, including those 5/5 tokens.
I included nearly every Red dragon I had sitting around, so there are a few stinkers in here, but there are also some fun ones.
Hellkite Tyrant will steal all of an opponent’s artifacts when it deals damage to a player, and at the beginning of our upkeep if we control twenty or more artifacts we win the game. It’s unlikely to ever happen, but it’s fun to imagine someday landing that wincon. Kilnmouth Dragon has Amplify 3, which means that for each Dragon we reveal in our hand as it enters the battlefield it gains three +1/+1 counters. It will usually wind up as an 8/8 but every so often we might be able to show two or three dragons and wind up with a pretty big threat. Thunder Dragon will make every token player sad. It does three damage to each creature without flying, so you may wind up clearing the board of a lot of saprolings, soldiers, zombies or other random little creatures.
There are some dragons I kept in my list just because they’re dragons and I want to maximize my chances of making lots of tokens, but there were a few that hit the cutting room floor. I know many of you don’t think I have any Standards at all, but Padric Dragon, Lightning Shrieker, and Lava-Field Overlord were all unworthy of inclusion. Padric’s suspend ability makes no sense in multiplayer, Shrieker isn’t worth the cost if he’ll be back in my library before the next player even starts their turn, and I don’t fancy my opponents laughing in my face as I try to convince them to help me cast Overlord using his Assist ability.
Spicing Things Up
So far this list doesn’t feel particularly novel or exciting to me. It’s a dragon deck with a healthy dose of ramp. So how can we spice things up a little?
This first card is one I love to put into dragon decks. The artwork alone is just perfect, but the ability to start blowing up lands each time the enchanted dragon does combat damage can really slow down an opponent without flyers. Divergent Transformations is an instant that can be a great way to cheat into play a couple of creatures (hopefully dragons) but you do run the risk of getting less than you were hoping for. The goal is to go from two little utility dorks to four hefty flying threats on the end step of the player to your right.
Our last fun card here is a sorcery that might just win the game on the spot. Kindred Charge will create a token copy of each creature you control of the type you choose. While that might seem like a decent plan, if you happen to have Scourge of Valkas out, you’ll probably be able to kill at least one or two opponents. Those tokens don’t create new 5/5 dragons, but you can sure swing with them and if you had enough of a board presence when you cast Kindred Charge this could win you the game.
Sunbird's Invocation is a fantastic way to cheat out additional spells. It’s expensive, but if you have the mana to get this out it could easily see you cast a dragon, cheat another dragon into play off of Sunbird's Invocation and then get a pair of 5/5 token dragons from Lathliss. If you’re super lucky, you might just be able to do that twice in a turn to go from a board of just this and Lathliss to a board of four regular dragons and four tokens. My luck is rarely that good, but Sunbird's Invocation has a ton of potential in a deck like this.
Urabrask the Hidden is a Praetor, not a Dragon, but he will let us swing with our 5/5 token dragons on the same turn they enter the battlefield. That lets us turn a big turn into immediate damage, rather than having to wait and hope nobody wipes the board before our turn comes around again.
The last fun card I’ll share is Red Elemental Blast. It’s a way to say no to an opponent’s Cyclonic Rift. You can also save this to deal with a counterspell at a key spot in the game. I’m currently only running this and not its brethren, Pyroblast and Burnout, so you likely won’t be winning many counterspell battles with serious control decks. Blast can also kill a pesky Blue wincon like Laboratory Maniac, although players who like to draw their decks usually have ample counterspell backup when they go for their Labman win.
As I explained earlier, this deck is not meant to be optimized — this build is for playing in the relatively casual environment of our LGS’ weekly casual night.
There’s no Aggravated Assault or Hellkite Charger. I’m not running Utvara Hellkite or even Steel Hellkite. Dragonstorm is also missing from this list. The reason these fantastic cards weren’t included is simple. I have them but they’re all in other decks and many of them happen to be in my The Ur-Dragon build.
The other missing cards are planeswalkers and cards with the name “Sarkhan” on them. It’s probably malpractice to have a Red dragon deck with no Sarkhan planeswalkers, but I just don’t currently own any. I did open up Sarkhan's Unsealing from a Magic 2019 booster but I’m torn about running it. Sarkhan's Unsealing is an enchantment that cares about casting creature spells, and while we will do that, we’re also focusing a lot on our token production. I was actually quite tempted to run Mirage Mirror, as token doublers like Doubling Season, Anointed Procession, and Parallel Lives would be wonderful things to copy, if only for a turn.
So I’m not pulling out all the stops this time around, I want to have fun, compete for wins but not combo off out of nowhere or do anything too overpowered. I definitely don’t want to pull good cards out of other decks to make this one as strong as possible. There’s a place in every player’s deck collection for a combat-focused deck that isn’t trying to go infinite or combo off to win the game. This is that deck for me.
As some of you know, I write about the games I play both casually and in my Commander league on my old blog site (http://commanderruminations.wixsite.com/commanderruminations). This weekend I’ll have a fairly personal installment of the weekly rundown, but I can share part of that here without spoiling anything.
For once I’ve actually had the chance to play this deck before completing my write-up of it.
I was able to get both Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Extraplanar Lens out, though an opponent playing Muldrotha bounced the artifact to my hand before I could get much use out of it. That didn’t feel great, as I had to exile a land to play it, but I persevered and played it again many turns later.
Early in the game I was able to get Lathliss out and on the next turn play Divergent Transformations to exile Dragonlord's Servant and Solemn Simulacrum to cheat two creatures into play from my library. I happened to hit Grinning Ignus and Kilnmouth Dragon (that Red dragon with Amplify 3). I showed a dragon from my hand and suddenly had both a 8/8 dragon (5/5 with three +1/+1 counters) and a second 5/5 dragon token (I already had one from a few turns before).
My game plan was slowed down by the Will & Rowan player as well. They used Will to turn two of my dragons into 0/3 creatures with no abilities until their next turn. I had enough dragons to still pose a threat and I was able to play and equip Whispersilk Cloak to my Kilnmouth Dragon and swing at Will Kenrith as payback.
In the end I was able to swing for the win with my dragons after using Lathliss’ firebreathing ability to give them all +6/+0. It felt nice to see my new dragons deck do what it's supposed to do. At a better or larger table it might have had issues, but I was able to make good decisions at key points in the game to position myself for a win. I probably also lucked out and didn't have to rebuild from any boardwipes, as the deck is seriously lacking in draw and will probably struggle against control strategies.
The deck had lost a game earlier in the night at a four player table where everyone was just ridiculously overmatched by a spike who decided they wanted to do a little pubstomping with a seriously tricked out Padeem combo deck, so Lathliss isn’t undefeated. I do think it’s probably going to serve me well as a decent combat-focused casual deck that will make for a great loaner deck as it’s very, very straightforward.
This list may not be budget but it isn’t going to put too much of a dent in your wallet. If you have higher standards or higher goals than me, you can definitely use this as a starting point and swap in Mana Crypt for Foriysian Totem, Utvara Hellkite for Shivan Dragon and make any number of other upgrades. You’ll still be playing a Mono-Red dragon tribal deck, but you should be able to make a much stronger version if that’s what you need for your meta.
A Whole Lot of Lathliss — Commander | Stephen Johnson
- Commander (1)
- 1 Lathliss, Dragon Queen
- Creatures (31)
- 1 Akoum Hellkite
- 1 Bogardan Hellkite
- 1 Demanding Dragon
- 1 Dragon Egg
- 1 Dragon Hatchling
- 1 Dragon Whelp
- 1 Dragonlord's Servant
- 1 Dragonspeaker Shaman
- 1 Freejam Regent
- 1 Furnace Whelp
- 1 Generator Servant
- 1 Grinning Ignus
- 1 Hellkite Tyrant
- 1 Hoarding Dragon
- 1 Hunted Dragon
- 1 Kilnmouth Dragon
- 1 Pilgrim's Eye
- 1 Scourge of Valkas
- 1 Shivan Dragon
- 1 Shockmaw Dragon
- 1 Skittering Surveyor
- 1 Skyship Stalker
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Spawn of Thraxes
- 1 Stormwing Dragon
- 1 Thunder Dragon
- 1 Thunderbreak Regent
- 1 Tyrant of Valakut
- 1 Urabrask the Hidden
- 1 Verix Bladewing
- 1 Volcanic Dragon
- Planeswalkers (1)
- 1 Koth of the Hammer
- Artifacts (23)
- 1 Arcane Encyclopedia
- 1 Caged Sun
- 1 Conjurer's Closet
- 1 Dreamstone Hedron
- 1 Expedition Map
- 1 Extraplanar Lens
- 1 Fire Diamond
- 1 Foriysian Totem
- 1 Gilded Lotus
- 1 Herald's Horn
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Mind Stone
- 1 Mind's Eye
- 1 Panharmonicon
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Staff of the Flame Magus
- 1 Strata Scythe
- 1 Strionic Resonator
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Sword of the Animist
- 1 Thran Dynamo
- 1 Whispersilk Cloak
- 1 Worn Powerstone
My mana base is clearly something that could also be tweaked a lot. Cavern of Souls might fit in nicely, along with Path of Ancestry, Homeward Path, Maze of Ith, and any number of other great utility lands. You might also want to throw in some staples like Chaos Orb. This list is admittedly a little light on “answers”.
I’m actually really happy with this list. So far it’s been able to do what it was built to do — play a straightforward game that wins or loses on the battlefield. It will never out-race a fast combo deck. It may have a heck of a time beating a control strategy that leans heavily on boardwipes or counterspells. It’s not a super strong build, but it will be nice to have a deck to pull out that can pack a punch, compete at casual tables and get loaned out to anyone new to the game and interested in getting a taste of what a game of Commander might be like.
Lathliss will also be a nice fallback to play if I’m in a casual environment and wind up playing a deck that does wind up blowing away a table. Combos aren’t forbidden on casual night, nor is playing strong decks. We just try to mix it up a little, and Lathliss should give me the ability to do that. If I win a game on casual night with a less-than-casual wincon that I unexpectedly drew into and decided to play, I can switch gears and play Lathliss to guarantee that if nothing else I won’t combo out two games in a row. Sure, I could just sit on the wincon and not play it, but where’s the fun in that?
There’s one last thing I’m excited about. All those Mono-Red cards I was going through when building this deck included a copy of Purphoros, God of the Forge. If I’m going to accept that Rith, the Awakener might not be as casual as I had hoped, maybe “Big Red” would make for a sensible addition to a deck that seems to be ridiculously good at churning out saprolings.
That’s all I’ve got for you today. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week!