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Respect Your Elder Dinosaurs

The Harem in a Kiosk by Jean-Léon Gerome (1870).

Pristine Skywise (Promo) by Adam Paquette.

With the spoiling of the first two Elder Dinosaurs, Mono-Black Tetzimoc, Primal Death and Mono-Green Ghalta, Primal Hunger, we were all left wondering whether or not we would be treated to a full five-card cycle of Elder Dinosaurs. The Dinosaur tribe had been Limited to Naya (wrg) colors, so Tetzimoc was something of a surprise.

As the Rivals of Ixalan previews rolled out, we soon discovered that we did have a full cycle of five Elder Dinosaurs. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to be given a five color Elder Dinosaur to build around if we wanted to throw them all into a deck together. We got a Naya Elder Dino instead, and while it looks like a fun and powerful midrange Commander, we simply can’t use it if we want to build with all five of the new Elder Dinosaurs.

One might argue that good deck-builders don’t just throw cycles of cards together for the sake of throwing cycles of cards together. I don’t much care what “good” deck-builders like to do. What I care about is having fun building Commander decks and playing Commander games. If your playgroup is sufficiently casual, or “midrange” as I like to say, to allow you to build decks that take a while to get rolling and have big dumb creatures in them, today’s article is for you. I’m going to explore some of the options you have available to you for building a Five-Color Elder Dino deck.

Meet the Team

Our first step in this process is to look over our six Elder Dinosaurs. They are in all five colors, they all have the ability to significantly impact the game, and they’re going to be a lot of fun to play with.

Zetalpa, Primal Dawn
Nezahal, Primal Tide
Tetzimoc, Primal Death

Zetalpa, Primal Dawn gives us a set of keywords that would make Atraxa, Praetors' Voice blush. Nezahal, Primal Tide helps us with draw and hand size, and would fit in nicely in a deck that wants to discard cards. Tetzimoc, Primal Death would be a bad commander, but in the 99 of a deck will give us removal and a nice deathtouch blocker. They’ve all got big bodies, but also cost from six to eight mana, so they aren’t cheap.

Etali, Primal Storm
Ghalta, Primal Hunger
Zacama, Primal Calamity

If Narset, Enlightened Master could play well with creatures, she’d love Etali, Primal Storm, as the two have somewhat similar abilities. Casting cards for free is highly abusable, though Etali grabs the top card from each player’s deck rather than just looking at your own cards. Ghalta, Primal Hunger was the focus of last week’s article, and is basically just a giant 12/12 beater with a huge CMC and some built-in cost reduction.

Zacama, Primal Calamity is our only multicolored Elder Dinosaur. She not only has vigilance, reach, and trample, but untaps your lands when cast and has a nice variety of abilities that don’t even require you to tap her. Zacama’s ability to facilitate creature removal, artifact or enchantment removal or lifegain should mean you’ll always have somewhere to put extra mana. Any deck running these fatties will need be able to make lots of mana anyways, so her abilities will make her a major threat as soon as she hits the battlefield.

Basic Considerations

Before we get to our options for a five-color legendary creature to lead a band of Elder Dinosaurs, we should go over some of the basics for a deck like this.

Our commander should bring something to the game above and beyond just giving us access to building in five colors. That means we’ll sometimes want to cast our commander, so we’ll need to build a decent five color mana base.

That means we want to run mana dorks and artifacts that tap for any color or that allow our lands to tap for any color. Five color mana bases can get very expensive, but you don’t have to break the bank to build this deck. Just understand that lands which enter tapped will make your deck both slower and cheaper. That’s a problem if your meta is really competitive, but you can always ask your friends to play their non-cEDH decks if you’re going to play five-color big dumb dinos for a game or two.

There are other things to consider for a deck like this. We could certainly build a Dinosaur Tribal deck, but there are other legendary creatures worth throwing into the mix.

Xenagos, God of Revels
Selvala, Heart of the Wilds
Odric, Lunarch Marshal

Xenagos, God of Revels will take our biggest threat and it hit with twice as much power. Our weakest Elder Dinosaur has four power but comes with double strike, so Xenagos should always have a good target for his ability. Selvala, Heart of the Wilds will give us both card draw and ramp. That extra mana can go into casting more big creatures; or, if Zacama is on the field, it can get poured into her abilities pretty nicely. The number of Elder Dinosaurs with multiple keyword abilities makes Odric, Lunarch Marshal another easy pick to throw into this deck. Imagine having all of our threats out and sharing all of their keywords and it’s easy to see why the King of Keyword Soup would put you in a great position to start killing off your opponents.

How you fill out the rest of your deck is up to you. You could go Dino Tribal. You could build five-color goodstuff. Your choices are yours to make, but they shouldn’t be made without looking at who your commander will be. You might be happy to never cast the five-color legendary creature you’ve got heading up your deck, but since you’ll always have access to it you might as well try to build some synergy into the 99.

Before we dive into my best suggestions for your five-color legendary generals for Elder Dinosaurs, let’s take a quick look at the ones we can easily rule out.

Unfit for Command

This might seem obvious but there are a number of five color legendaries that are only concerned with their own kind. These “tribes matter” commanders will do very little for your Elder Dinosaurs unless you build the deck with a way to get around that issue.

Atogatog cares about sacrificing Atogs. Cromat only cares about Cromat — at least in terms of the abilities on the card. Horde of Notions provides recursion for Elementals. Reaper King is solely focused on Scarecrows. Scion of the Ur-Dragon can turn into other Dragons. The Sliver legendaries only have Slivers on their minds. You get the idea — lots of these legendaries do nothing for our Elder Dinosaurs. You could build a tribal deck and throw our guys into the mix and have good results, but I don’t have the space or the expertise to explore each of those options in today’s article.

There are a two more that I’m going to pass over even though they aren’t tribal in nature. O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami will let you exile a permanent controlled by a player who attacked you during their last turn. That’s not nothing, but it also doesn’t play particularly well with our Elder Dinosaurs. Progenitus is a huge threat but doesn’t bring anything to our strategy other than being big and awesome. He’d make for an impressive general for this deck but brings nothing to the party but himself. Both of these aren’t going to make our cut today.

That leaves us with four options. Let’s take a closer look at them and explore what you might do to build around each one to make the most of our six Elder Dinosaurs.

Child of Alara

You might not think of Child of Alara as a natural pick to lead a band of Elder Dinosaurs, but there is something to be said for having a boardwipe right there in your command zone.

Child of Alara
Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Heroic Intervention

Building around Child of Alara means building your deck with ways to sacrifice or kill your commander. You have to be careful though — if you have Avacyn, Angel of Hope on the field, your commander will be indestructible. You’ll have to sacrifice Child, so you’ll want to include Ashnod's Altar and a few other sac outlets. Running cards like Heroic Intervention and other ways to dodge boardwipes will keep your Elder Dinosaurs safe from your opponents’ wraths as well as the one you’re keeping in the command zone. You will want to build recursion with creatures like Eternal Witness, which can help you bring Child of Alara back or can help you bring an Elder Dinosaur back if one finds its way to the graveyard.

There are two really important things to know about building around this commander. The first is that you have to let Child go to the graveyard for it to actually die. If you return your commander to the command zone, the death trigger doesn’t happen and you don’t get your boardwipe. The second is that the single most fun thing about this option is truly unique. You now have an excuse to stand up in the middle of the game, look at your opponents with as deranged an expression as possible, and say “Don’t make me KILL THE BABY!!! I will! Don’t make me do it!” during an EDH game.

At this point, I’m not even sure what point there is in presenting other options, but we should probably move on.

Karona, False God

This is an old legendary creature who presents a unique set of challenges. If you abhor the idea of being killed by your own commander, Karona might not be for you, but if you really want to build five-color Dinosaur Tribal she’s definitely worth a look.

Karona, False God
Gishath, Sun's Avatar
Assault Suit

Karona, False God is a 5/5 Avatar who gets passed around the table like a party favor. She has haste; and, when she attacks, creatures of the type of your choice get +3/+3 until end of turn. With enough dinosaurs that could present a serious challenge for your opponents.

If you’re going with Karona, it makes sense to go with all the best Dinosaurs you can find, including the very powerful Gishath, Sun's Avatar. It’s embarrassing to be killed by your own commander so you’ll want the five-color cycle of “Vow” auras that prevent the enchanted creature from attacking you. It’s worth running Assault Suit as well. You’ll probably only cast Karona when you’re ready for an alpha strike. You’ll need to be ready to deal with the possibility that your opponents will either swing at you with her or just feed her to a sac outlet.

I suspect Dinosaur Tribal would be one of the most fun ways to approach this challenge, but there are two others that I think are worth exploring.

Ramos, Dragon Engine

When you search for five color legendary creatures this next option won’t even come up, but Ramos, Dragon Engine definitely has all five colors in its color identity. It is one of the most flexible five color legendary creatures Wizards has ever created and will go a long way toward helping pay for the big, mana-intensive Elder Dinosaurs.

Ramos, Dragon Engine

When you cast spells, Ramos, Dragon Engine will get +1/+1 counters for each color in each spell you cast. You can cast Ramos with any colors, but the deck will work better if you favor a strategy that helps with +1/+1 counters and that involves casting multicolored spells. Once per turn you can pull five +1/+1 counters off of Ramos and make “Progenitus Mana”, otherwise known as 2 mana of every color, or wwuubbrrgg.

While you can build Ramos in almost any way, you’ll definitely want to consider including Conflux. This high CMC super-tutor will get you all five Elder Dinosaurs, if that’s what you want. It will also put another 5 +1/+1 counters on Ramos so on your next turn you can make more mana. Casting your Elder Dinosaurs will be expensive, but for 10 mana you could cast Omniscience and cast them and anything else in your hand for free.

A Ramos, Dragon Engine deck that is trying to play with all of the Elder Dinosaurs will probably want to run Mana Geyser so that you can power out big spells if Omniscience is eluding you. You will probably want to play lots of tutors, you may want to run Door to Nothingness and Progenitus, and from there you can pretty much do what you like. Cascade is a very successful approach to building Ramos, as all those extra castings really pile the +1/+1 counters on him.

The ability to produce crazy amounts of mana would work really well with Zacama, Primal Calamity, so Ramos might be my first pick. There is one more option I was going to suggest and it is one you probably wouldn’t think of.

The Ur-Dragon

This might seem like a strange suggestion. The Ur-Dragon is from the 2017 Commander precon deck that was Dragon Tribal. It cares about dragons. Elder Dinosaurs aren’t Dragons, right?

The Ur-Dragon
Dragon Broodmother
Utvara Hellkite

You’re right, but there’s an angle. If we go with The Ur-Dragon we are going to build the deck with a lot of dragons, but not just because our commander makes them cost less. If The Ur-Dragon is on the battlefield and one or more Dragons you control attack, you get to put a permanent card from your hand onto the battlefield. That permanent can be a Dragon but it can also be an Elder Dinosaur!

We’ll want to ramp an awful lot and we’ll need to include lots of small, cheap Dragons so that we have options for attacking. Dragons that produce offspring like Dragon Broodmother and Utvara Hellkite are both more expensive than a Furnace Whelp, but they will create more Dragons to give us more chances to cheat our Elder Dinosaurs onto the battlefield.

I could understand if you aren’t interested in building a Dragons deck as an excuse to play your Elder Dinosaurs. You might as well just leave them out and play six more Dragons, but it’s an option and an easy one if you’ve already got a copy of Draconic Domination. It’s a mana-intensive option that will probably result in a slower deck, but if your Dragon precon deck is getting stale this might be a way to change it up a little.

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure which of these options I’d go with, but Karona is probably the most tempting. If I were to build around these six Elders Dinosaurs I would want to go with Dino tribal even if it meant the deck would be a little slower. If I were going for sheer competitiveness I’d go with Ramos because he is a fantastic way to power out big spells.

In other news, I’m a content creator but I also run and play in an EDH league. You can follow my misadventures over on my old blog site where Commanderruminations started in 2017. It’s at Lately I’ve been in a bit of a rut, but I’ll post about my good games and my bad games and following me there will give you another window on my thoughts as I play with and as I work on my decks.

Last December, I had the honor of being interviewed on the oldest EDH podcast on the internet - CommanderCast. We talked about my art, my writing and about running an EDH league. If you’ve enjoyed my work here, have ever thought about running a league, or just wonder what I sound like, feel free to check it out. I think it came out pretty well.

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