With the release of Dragons of Tarkir right around the corner it’s time to dive deep into the design of the latest Magic expansion. We’ll be looking at the set’s design holistically while breaking down the design goals that Wizards R&D put together and then grading them based on how well they executed on those goals. Please note that this is not looking at the set’s development, meaning we’re not interested in power level or how playable cards are in constructed or limited environments.

Designing Dragons

When Wizards first announced Tarkir block, way back at some Pro Tour in 2014, and then revealed more information at San Diego Comic Con that year, things were very confusing. We soon learned that the first set, Khans of Tarkir, would be a wedge-themed set and would take place on Sarkhan Vol’s home plane. We knew dragons were dead but that there was going to be a time travel element to this story in order to explain the draft formats. Mark Rosewater, around the time Khans of Tarkir released, also told us that this was not a wedge-themed block, just a wedge-themed set. So what would the theme of the block be?

When Fate Reforged came out, many keen observers figured out what Dragons of Tarkir would be about. There were many hints between Uncharted Realms and the cards themselves. On an episode of Doomed Travelers, Dave, Matt, and I talked about drafting FRF/KTK/KTK and I mentioned that it looked like Fate Reforged was pushing people to draft only two colors and that it likely meant that Dragons of Tarkir would be a two-color set to go with it. Too bad there isn’t a prize for guessing that sort of thing.

I was close but I wasn’t really 100% correct. DTK isn’t really a two-color set. There are only 21 multi-color cards and none of them are at common. Really DTK is a set about the conflicts between colors. Tarkir is a world in which five dragon broods are in constant conflict with each other. Although each brood is represented by two colors, it is centered in a single color (this is the same color edge of the Khans of Tarkir wedge clans was centered in). So the conflict for each brood is with the two broods centered in the enemy colors of your own brood’s central color.

Dromoka is the white-centered brood which is represented by green and white and in direct conflict with Silumgar and Kolaghan.
Ojutai is the blue-centered brood which is represented by white and blue and in direct conflict with Kolaghan and Atarka.
Silumgar is the black-centered brood which is represented by blue and black and in direct conflict with Atarka and Dromoka.
Kolaghan is the red-centered brood which is represented by black and red and in direct conflict with Dromoka and Ojutai.
Atarka is the green-centered brood which is represented by red and green and in direct conflict with Ojutai and Silumgar.

This conflict of colors isn’t the only theme of the set but it is one of the more prevalent ones and one of the important ones when considering the design of the set. In total the design team tackled four major themes which we’ll break down over the course of two weeks.

  • Conflicts between enemy colors
  • Dragons, lots and lots of dragons
  • Parallel Timelines
  • Megamorph

This week we’re going to take a look at the conflicts between enemy colors and the dragon broods because they go hand-in-hand. Next week we’ll take another look at two themes which go hand-in-hand: the megamorph mechanic and the parallel timeline design, both of which play into the theme of time travel over-arching the entire block.

Designing Color Conflicts

Color conflicts are as old as the game of Magic itself. Ever since the original Alpha release of the game, Richard Garfield was intrigued by the interactions between specific colors. Plenty of cards from those old sets and throughout Magic’s history involved the expectations of direct conflict between two of the game’s colors. In what is one of the most important aspects of Magic design, Dr. Garfield invented the color pie and gave each of the five colors two enemies to conflict with.


Over the past twenty years, the fine folks designing Magic have learned a lot of things and among them are new ways to put the enemy colors in conflict with each other. In Dragons of Tarkir this is sometimes subtle and sometimes overt. One such cycle of cards is a very overt display of the conflict between enemy colors. Surge of Righteousness is a white instant that destroys an attacking or blocking black or red creature. Encase in Ice is a blue enchantment that freezes a red or green creature. Self-Inflicted Wound is a black sorcery that forces a player to sacrifice a white or green creature. Rending Volley is a red instant that can’t be countered and deals four damage to a white or blue creature. Display of Dominance is a green instant that can destroy a blue or black non-creature permanent or can protect your permanents from blue and black spells.


Each of these spells has an effect which is normally in the color pie for the spell’s color. White can destroy attackers and blockers. Blue can freeze creatures. Black can force opponents to sacrifice creatures. Red can deal direct damage and make it uncounterable. Green can destroy non-creature permanents and can give hexproof/shroud. But this cycle of spells is very aggressively costed at the trade-off of only affecting enemy colors. This cycle is just a microcosm of the greater color conflict happening in Dragons of Tarkir, which is embodied by the dragon broods.

Designing Dragon Broods

The design team introduced us to the dragon broods in Fate Reforged. That set had a cycle of rare dragons who would grow up to be dragonlords (more on that next week). It also had a cycle of uncommon dragons and a single common dragon to flesh out the presence of dragonkind in Tarkir’s past. Now, in the alternate future, dragons are literally everywhere. There are dozens of dragon cards between the actual dragon creatures and the non-dragons that care about the existence of dragons. This is an important aspect of the design but not as important as the colors of the broods and their interactions with each other.


The broods are designed to highlight the strength of their primary colors (see above) but also dabble into their allied color. The Dromoka brood (green/white) revolves around strengthening an army of creatures. The Ojutai brood (white/blue) revolves around non-creature spells. The Silumgar brood (black/blue) revolves around sacrificing creatures (yours and your opponents). The Kolaghan brood (red/black) revolves around speed above all else. The Atarka brood (green/red) revolves around having the largest and fiercest creatures. These are some of the core abilities in the color pie of white, blue, black, red, and green respectively, and also appear in the allied color to an extent.


Virtually all of the cards in the primary color of each brood helps to further the cause of that allied color combination and help it to battle its enemies. When white builds a wide army with many creatures it can survive black forcing it to sacrifice individuals and red using direct damage as spot removal because the army remains strong. When blue wields strong non-creature magic it is able to counteract red’s speed and green’s strength. When black forces opponents to give up their powerful creatures it is able to remove green and white’s biggest threats. When red deals direct damage it is able to act quick enough to outpace white and blue’s often slow pace. Finally, when green builds up large powerful creatures quickly it becomes difficult for blue to respond and for red to remove it with direct damage.


These conflicts are designed to play out in limited and constructed environments by encouraging players to focus on the allied color combinations. While it has yet to be seen if this will be fruitful in Dragons of Tarkir limited, the opportunities for constructed decks are wide open. Dragons clearly matter in this world and the dragon broods are the lens through which the rest of the set has been designed. Next week we’ll take a look at how that compares to Khans of Tarkir’s wedge design when we dive into the design of the parallel timeline of Dragons of Tarkir.


The Quick Hits

  • A.E. Marling kicks off our collection of interesting DTK set reviews with a review of the flavor [Gathering Magic]
  • Corbin Hosler wants to help you avoid panic the next time a banning announcement comes along [Empeopled]
  • The topic of cheating once again rises to the surface in this recent incident reported here by Ryan Overturf [Quiet Speculation]
  • Mark Nestico expresses is love for the hatred of our favorite game [Star City Games]
  • Usman Jamil reviews the cube-playable cards from Dragons of Tarkir [Gathering Magic]
  • John Dale Beety also has a flavor review of Dragons of Tarkir [Star City Games]
  • Danny Brown shares Luis Scott-Vargas’s sentiment on how we behave with respect to making toxic environments for women and minorities [Quiet Speculation]
  • Josh Silvestri shares his personal favorite cards from Dragons of Tarkir [Channel Fireball]
  • Matt Sperling counters with a list of the most overrated cards from Dragons of Tarkir [Channel Fireball]

Wallpaper of the Week

Dragon Whisperer seems like he would actually be quite loud, and the opposite of whispering. Maybe a literal representation would be less interesting and would likely make for a worse wallpaper but it’s my initial observation of this card art. My second observation is how bad-ass it looks, so it’s got that going for it.

Grade: B

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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