Welcome back to Shattered Perceptions, a weekly series where I will be looking for the overlooked gems through the lens of a general of the week. This week’s commander is Dragonlord Kolaghan, a much maligned legendary creature of the Commander format.
In case you were wondering from the opening or the title, you didn’t read anything wrong. It isn’t a typo: I’m jumping the Giant Shark and doing the most ignored Rakdos general post-Legends. Kolaghan is pretty costly to cast and the way the card reads, its unique ability just doesn’t work in the format, unless your metagame is full of Shadowborn Apostle decks. On the bright side, Kolaghan is the only Rakdos legendary creature that supplies haste unconditionally. So in truth, the kinds of cards I am outlining could be in a poorly optimized Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch or Olivia, Mobilized for War decks that are prepared to use slots jumping through some hoops.
Because of Kolaghan’s haste-enabling ability, I believe we need to be looking for strong creature-based control elements and efficient ways to go wide whenever possible. This could likely be a challenge in Red-Black, but let’s accept the challenge!
Onslaught & Uphill Battle
The first two cards on the list fill a similar role towards the theme I’m basing most of the cards on this list around—mono-red tap down. Taking a cue from Urabrask the Hidden (who I viewed as a little too high profile to include on the list), I wanted to use the haste element of Kolaghan to aggressively take down my opponents while making them stumble to defend from my attacks.
Onslaught is an effect they don’t really give to Red anymore. Repeatable tapping is left more to White and Blue—oddly enough, Red’s enemies. As such, this pushes the deck to make tokens so you are always ready to tap down your target’s board.
Uphill Battle has the upside of taking some of the work out of your hands, but since it only affects the first turn each creature comes out, it feels a little more fair for the victory I have drawn up in my head. Though, completely blanking other players’ haste creatures is very attractive. Either way, enchantment removal is criminally underplayed in many metagames, so the power of these choices may vary from audience member to audience member.
Backlash + Deadshot + Traitor’s Roar
Following up on the theme set before us, all three of these cards play in the same space and do what we want to be doing. The ability to not only removes blockers, but also inflicts damage, something Red is very good at, but doesn’t normally scale well in multiplayer.
I think Backlash and Deadshot are the better of the trio, but since Backlash is cheaper, an instant, and damages a player, it is the version of the effect that is the most attractive to me. Deadshot on the other hand could likely be a two-for-one and leave an unsuspecting player very open to attacks from the whole table. These cards should help the game progress. But be aware, just like the previous group of cards, these can be a double-edged sword, setting a very powerful precedent. The table will know you don’t mess around, but they also indicate that you’re not one to be left unchecked, easily making you the “archenemy” of the table.
As with just about every card on this list, I am working under the presumption that Kolaghan is ever-present on the board. I know, magical Christmas land. But in my eyes, Preyseizer Dragon is perfect example of how our game play could go right. Mixing haste with a medium to large board of creatures to wipe players off the table. Even devouring one creature allows for eight damage to be dealt out the turn it comes into play when enabled with haste.
I suppose this is another aspect of the deck that I am looking to avoid: a heavy dragon theme. This may be another factor that deceives those who attempt to build around Dragonlord Kolaghan, they want to play into the dragon theme, when nothing on the card explicitly screams “large flying creatures”. I love dragons—I absolutely understand why they are popular—but I don’t think they are exactly what you want to be doing in this deck. I feel this is precisely why Preyseizer doesn’t make the list in many of the builds archived on EDHrec, but in the right build, this could be your finisher.
I remember Lavacore Elemental coming onto my radar during that very brief period where everyone was into Tiny Leaders. 2015 was a different time. But in my Feldon of the Third Path deck, the name of the game was trying to discover hidden gems that had disproportionate bodies for their costs, knowing full well you were never going to deal with the drawbacks built into the cards.
This card feels like a great include in our skeleton, especially since we’re building towards playing a super aggressive game and because—when enabled—it fuels itself. The biggest knock against this card for me is that I don’t feel it will always have a good place on the curve, as you might not always be able to connect with a player on turn three. This can make the Elemental’s casting cost a bit deceiving. But, in the event that you do start to lose forward motion, this card can be eaten by Preyseizer Dragon and give it the benefit of more staying power and a little extra burn.
Moving into the back half of my list, I thought it was probably a sound decision to give some solid examples of forgotten gems that can fuel our token making. Rakshasa Gravecaller is probably a little too new to be calling “forgotten,” but since it’s coming out of the same set as Dragonlord Kolaghan, I feel like it is a great companion to our esteemed leader. Whether this is coming down before Kolaghan or after, seven power for five mana doesn’t seem too bad, and if you have Hall of Triumph set to black, all the better!
To round out the zombie token package cards like Grave Titan or From Under the Floorboards are the clearly better picks for the cost or effort, but they are played everywhere and don’t include a Cat Demon. Rakshasa Gravecaller also offers a sacrifice outlet upon entering the battlefield, so not only will you get the tokens, but you might also get a Grave Pact trigger or two this turn!
Honest moment, this card grabbed my attention for the art and flavor long before I began to grasp the strategic implications of this card.
What we have is a card that could be used on the offensive—the desired effect, generating you eight to twelve power in hasted creatures—or defensively as an opponent has to either play around your token generator or allow you to generate even three 2/2s. We’re likely not talking about Standstill levels of board lockdown, but certainly no one wants to skip a key turn of dropping their Craterhoof Behemoth with exact mana. Though they might have to.
The one word of warning I would have: if you happen to find yourself in a game with a big token generator on the field, have a plan for how to activate this at instant speed. If you don’t you will find yourself with one order of Disappointment Supreme.
Devotion can be a hard thing to gauge, especially as we are far enough away from Theros block (where the mechanic debuted). It is completely possible that there are healthy groups of Commander players who have discovered Magic since then and thus haven’t played with devotion outside of Grey Merchant of Asphodel. But in a black decklist, it only takes a Phyrexian Arena, Whip of Erebos, or Underworld Connections to help build to a reliable four or six devotion as this demon comes into play. Those are all cards you were likely playing anyway, so they can be all part of the master plan without raising flags.
Suddenly Abhorrent Overlord can take a near-empty board state and become a possible finisher filling the sky and not to be underestimated. For bonus points, I recommend following this up with a Preyseizer Dragon after you’ve swung with your new army. It just feels so good.
Descent of the Dragons
I cap my list off with another card I would deem worthy of calling a finisher, extra points for also being a selective board wipe. Descent of the Dragons is a hard nut to crack sometimes. It works great for mowing down the giant Bane of Progress or Forgotten Ancient your opponents have amassed and upgrading that swarm of Zada acolytes you have stalling the board.
This tremendous upside all comes at the cost of possibly being a dead card when you have everything to lose and your opponents have everything to gain, because often the dumb utility creatures that stuff up the board are tiny and Descent of the Dragons does a great job of enabling some bad beats to your face. I would like to think that the upside of making turning our own weenie creatures into 4/4 fliers, possibly with haste, completely outweighs the last point. But it cannot be overlooked.
All-in-all, I think this is a great pick for both strategic and flavor reasons. This whole list going to show that just because 100% of a general doesn’t seem viable in the best format, that doesn’t mean it can’t do wonders with the rest of it’s printed text.
Until next time, may you find few new routes to victory and thanks for your time.