Return of the Dragon: 32nd at SCG Baltimore

Written by Drake Sasser on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Legacy

Return of the Dragon: 32nd at SCG Baltimore

Drake Sasser

I am a competitive grinder that focuses primarily on the SCG Tour. I have a Legacy Open win and a Modern Open top 8 to my name. I am also currently on the SCGTour leaderboard.

Worldgorger Dragon. A card once banned in Legacy because its interaction with Animate Dead was too powerful for Legacy was finally unbanned in 2015 after an 11 year stay behind bars. This combo was not only powerful, allowing you to virtually flicker your permanents infinitely and generate infinite mana, but was also rather hard to understand and somewhat counterintuitive. To be fair, the fault of the complexity belongs to Animate Dead. Animate Dead has seen multiple erratas throughout its lifetime and even still is a card that can be quite challenging to understand when talking about more obscure interactions. The most recent iteration of the Animate Dead errata looks like this:

Yikes. That’s still pretty rough, and that is the best interpretation we currently have after 25 years of experimentation. There have been other, similar enchantments that have since been printed such as Necromancy and Dance of the Dead but Animate Dead was the first, and arguably the most powerful of the enchantment-based reanimation effects that are used in the Dragon combo.

The Combo
So what is the combo and how does it work? Glad you asked!

1. You start by casting Animate Dead enchanting a Worldgorger Dragon in any graveyard.
2. Animate Dead enters the battlefield and brings Worldgorger Dragon from the graveyard to the battlefield. (This is where you float mana from unused lands)
3. Worldgorger Dragon enters the battlefield and exiles all permanents you control.
4. Animate Dead leaves the battlefield and causes Worldgorger Dragon to be sacrificed.
5. Worldgorger Dragon leave the battlefield, returning all your permanents to play. Among those permanents is the previously exiled Animate dead, which now comes in enchanting the Worldgorger Dragon again.
6. Animate Dead enters the battlefield, and brings Worldgorger Dragon back into play, and we have established a loop!


Now this combo as stated simply cycles through exiling your permanents and reanimating the Dragon while you generate mana each time. You still need something to do with infinite mana, or something that cares about entering and/or leaving the battlefield, for this combo to win the game. Sounds pretty broken right? Not really. Hence why there was not much excitement around the card being unbanned and was generally seen as just a banned list clean up to bring Dragon back into Legacy.

Enter the Dragon

About a year ago, I went looking for why Worldgorger Dragon got banned in the first place and what was so busted about it after being inspired by its role in competitive EDH. I ended up stumbling across an article written for SCG by Carsten Kotter titled
Enter the Dragon. This article piqued my curiosity about playing Dragon in legacy and I felt Kotter’s assessment was sound and well thought out. Kotter made the following assumptions in his article:

1. Trying to reanimate Dragon ASAP just doesn’t make sense because Griselbrand is much better if you’re just trying to move in on turn 1 or 2 because it uses fewer cards. So you have to be planning to play a slower game than Reanimator or Tin Fins, or you’re just playing a worse deck.

2. The only two advantages of reanimating Dragon over some ridiculous legendary creature are that it wins on the spot when you do and that you’re immune to Karakas (but vulnerable to basically everything else, up to and including Erase).

3. Dragon is significantly more vulnerable than just about any other viable Reanimation target.

4. If you want to Dragon, you want a lot of incidental ways of making the Dragon-loop lethal, and you want some of those ways to be part of your manabase to move things as close to a two-card combo as possible.

5. The biggest draw to Worldgorger combo is how cheaply it can win the game – just three mana, split up in batches on 1 and 2.

6. You want as much library manipulation as possible – if feasible at instant speed – so as to find all three pieces as often as possible.

To me these were all very realistic and provided a foundation for me to pick up where he left off on the deck.


Iterating on Grixis Dragon

This is the list I used as a starting point and the list that Kotter posted in Enter the Dragon. Kotter used the assumptions I outlined above to determine that Dragon combo needed to be built like Splinter Twin decks in Modern used to be: Combo decks with a control finish. Kotter used Desolate Lighthouse as a catalyst to both enable the combo by looting large creates into the yard as well as allowing you to loot through your deck by generating infinite mana and flickering the Desolate Lighthouse to activate it repeatedly. The win condition used to kill the opponent was generally either Stroke of Genius grabbed from a Cunning Wish or Oona, Queen of the Fae getting reanimated by the Animate Dead being used to combo with the Dragon. Animating Oona does break the combo, but you use the infinite mana to exile your opponent’s deck then you simply pass the turn. The deck looked very messy and unfocused to me however, so I made a few cuts immediately. Dig Through Time was banned and the Cunning Wish package looked very clunky and disorganized, even for a control deck.

Most importantly for me however was the lack of Baleful Strix. This card seemed to me like it was the literal perfect card for this deck, so I started my lists with 4. Baleful Strix allows you to draw your entire deck when looping through your combo by allowing you to stack your “enter the battlefield” triggers of your enchantment and Strix such that you can make infinite mana then draw your entire deck. Given that control decks in Legacy were beginning to maindeck high numbers of Strix as well it clearly fit the control gameplan seamlessly as well. Fatal Push is another card that had been printed that was a perfect include in our deck. We want to be as light on red as possible to make our mana better so being able to swap the Lightning Bolts for Fatal Pushes I felt was a very good change.

Lastly, once I had removed the need for a Cunning Wish friendly sideboard, I decided I wanted the tools to have a transformational sideboard to have the flexibility to become a control deck after sideboarding to invalidate some of the graveyard hate people would be bringing in. My very first iteration looked like this:

This list kept a lot of the ideas from the original list while being a slightly more tuned and focused deck. The addition of Thirst for Knowledge I felt would play well with the deck since it could be card advantage when discarding Strix or it could enable the combo by discarding demons and dragons. The sideboard I felt we needed flexible large creatures, so I included the default Elesh-Norn, Grand Cenobite and a Wurmcoil Engine. The Wurmcoil was designed to be castable as well as a target for reanimation that can win the game against more fair decks.

During my initial testing of the deck, it felt like there was something there, but the deck could not realistically beat a Deathrite Shaman. Given we did not really have room to put more removal for Deathrite in the deck, I put the deck on hold. When Deathrite and Probe were banned, I was excited to see how the deck fared in the new Legacy meta. I updated the deck to include Vendilion Clique as another reanimation target and value fair creature since Thirst for Knowledge felt pretty clunky, cut the second copy of Worldgorger Dragon as I felt it was often unnecessary and without Thirst as another way to put Dragon in the graveyard the second Dragon felt clunky, and added a Rise//Fall to the deck as another card good in fair and combo matchups to try and make the decks two game plans a little more seamless. Lastly I updated the sideboard with Massacre Wurm over Elesh-Norn since it is castable, cut Wurmcoil Engine for Grave Titan since Grave Titan is better against Swords to Plowshares and I expected less Kolaghan’s Commands with Deathrite banned, and I cut the Jace, the Mind Sculptors for cards better in other matchups since Grixis Dragon had proven to be quite good against the fair and grindy decks in Legacy. I tested this list in the Legacy Classic at SCG Dallas after the ban:

This list felt solid. I punted my first and third games on my win and in to top 16 simply from inexperience. The deck was much harder to pilot than I had envisioned and there were multiple points in time I could have won the game cleanly and I missed the lines. I also found a critical flaw in the deck in that there was no answer to any number of Leylines in the 75. Given that both Leyline of Sanctity and Leyline of the Void were good against us, I realized that needed to change. Lastly, the deck was very clunky and mana hungry, the Cliques felt underpowered, and some of the numbers on cards in the deck were nonsense.

SCG Baltimore

I skipped SCG Syracuse, so after the SCG Baltimore Modern Open I had about a month before I had to be back for the SCG Legacy Open. I decided to take this time to figure out what was good in the new Legacy format. I put every tiered deck through at least a league on Magic Online but generally 2-3 and tested in paper with my travel mates. Every deck felt underpowered. None of the decks I played stood out as something powerful to be doing, so I decided it might be time to realistically look at the Grixis Dragon project I had now been working on for about 10 months as a potential option. I made changes to the deck based on some paper testing and played the deck at a local legacy tournament series paper tournament the weekend before Baltimore. I went 5-1 in played matches and split the top 4 of the event. I was sold on the deck since it felt on the same power level as the rest of the format but was way more fun and had surprise factor. I locked in the following list for SCG Baltimore:

I finished 10-5 at SCG Baltimore good for 32nd place.

The matchups I won were: Grixis Delver, Enchantress, Sneak and Show, Turbo Depths, Death’s Shadow, Miracles, Infect, and Death and Taxes.

The matchups I lost were: Eldrazi Post, Death’s Shadow, Goblins, Miracles, and Affinity.

Overall, I felt good about the deck and I would play the deck again. I feel the deck might need another answer to a True-Name Nemesis and a manabase tweak or two with Assassin’s Trophy coming out.

Tips on Playing the Deck

1. The decision on whether to grab Griselbrand or Worldgorger Dragon with the first Entomb is very matchup dependent and something to look out for. Against Death and Taxes for instance, the Dragon is often much better but against fair decks I find Griselbrand to be generally always correct.

2. When comboing with Dragon, you can win with Snapcaster Mage if there is an Entomb in the graveyard. You cast the Snapcaster during the Dragon combo and it gets flickered along with the rest of your permanents. This allows you to flashback Entomb grabbing the Stroke of Genius then flashback the Stroke of Genius.

3. When comboing with Dragon, if there is another creature that was reanimated by one of the enchantments, both it and the enchantment come back as new instances of a permanent, so the enchantment is free to animate another creature and the previously reanimated creature is now permanently in play under its owner’s control. This means you can keep an extra Animate Dead floating during the combo by stacking its trigger below the relevant Dragon Combo triggered abilities, just in case you need to reanimate something else during the combo (like a Snapcaster Mage).

4. If there are no other creatures in the graveyards and you are about to lose but cannot win with the Dragon combo, you can reanimate the Dragon anyway and draw the game. Since the combo cannot actually be broken up, the game ends in a draw. This works the same way triple Oblivion Ring with no other targets in play works.

5. When sideboarding, shuffle your sideboard in after every game so your opponent does not know if you are going to come out as a combo/control deck or just a control deck afterboard. This allows you to play a mental game and try and get percentage points in matchups from your opponent incorrectly sideboarding. Keep in mind what cards they have seen or not seen out of the deck during this process.

6. In fair matchups and especially after sideboarding, it is often correct to reanimate your opponent’s creatures with your enchantments. This is particularly effective in matchups like Death and Taxes where Recruiter of the Guard can find your Snapcasters, Strixes, and Grim Lavamancer and reanimating their Palace Jailer gives you monarch. Be aware of Flickerwisp when taking this strategy however since it will return the creature under their control.

7. Often you can cut the combo by cutting the Entombs and the large creatures but can leave Stroke of Genius and/or the enchantments in the deck since they fit seamlessly with the focused control plan.

8. Baleful Strix is the glue that holds this deck together. Getting them Surgically Extracted is bad for us in a lot of matchups even though Surgical Extraction is not terribly good against our control plan post board.

Sideboard Guide

The sideboard guide is too long to include within this article but the sideboard guide I used at Baltimore is available at this link if you want to check it out:

Since I shuffle my entire sideboard into my deck when sideboarding, I have each sideboarding section listed as the 15/75 cards that should be in the sideboard going into the game instead of the traditional ins/outs model.

Conclusion

Overall SCG Baltimore was a lot of fun. I got a feature match playing my deck in round 4 and got to have my hard work payoff with a top 32 finish with a brew I have been working on for almost a year now. The deck has changed a lot since Kotter’s list and I feel the deck is finally at the point that it is on par with most of the tiered decks in Legacy right now. I have gotten a lot of questions about the deck since the tournament and I hope this article sheds some light on the deck and how it works. There is a lot to unpack in the decklist and some of the card choices that seem obscure and random have a very niche, important roles in the deck.

Thanks for reading! Any questions, comments, or feedback is always welcome in the comments section and I would love to hear more about directions you think I should go with the deck there as well!

Works Cited

Enter the Dragon by Carsten Kotter

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