In my life there have been a handful of deeply meaningful days: moving from my parent’s house, meeting my wife, buying a house, my wedding day, and the birth of my son to name the easy ones. But there is one day that predates all of those, one of those eerie life-altering days, from September of 2005. On that seemingly normal Wednesday, I met three individuals who would sculpt major events of my life. I would like to highlight one of them today: one of my best friends, Jesse.

That actual day is unimportant to my story. It was a computer programming class. In over my head, I went to talk to the three people in the back corner that seemed like they knew what was going on. From there a bond started that brought me back into Magic after a summer away—I had carried the torch of the game without anyone to play with for the entire Kamigawa block and thought I had quit as Saviors of Kamigawa was being released. These friendships would afford me endless rewards over the coming decade, including discovering Commander through Jesse.

A Minor Detour

Jesse has been a friend, roommate, and mentor since I met him. He taught me a lot of important skills for playing Magic—teaching me tempo and mana curves, showing me that even casual decks don’t need 74 main deck cards, and demonstrating how a skilled player approaches game decisions.

We hosted weekly Magic nights at our apartment, went to prereleases together, played a few mental games of Magic using deck building apps to track our cards waiting in line for hours at a convention, all while stumbling into adulthood at similar but contrasting paces. He was in my wedding two years ago. When he asked me to be in his wedding party, I didn’t hesitate to return the favor.

As a wedding gift I wanted to get him something truly special, this all eluded me for much of this past summer until it was rumored and officially confirmed that Commander 2017 would include a deck built around dragons. Among our friends, Jesse has been well known for dragons. Even though he took a break from the game around Theros, if there was one deck that Jesse would want, Draconic Domination would be it. With that started a series of white lies.

Just after the release of Commander 2017 I went into a bit of a scramble. Like always, these decks have always proven to be worth their MSRP costs and very popular year after year. I knew procuring the Draconic Domination was not going to be as simple as the rest. So when it came time to wave Jesse off of buying the one deck he had his eyes on, I did the one thing that came naturally: I lied. I made up a story that sounded realistic—especially since my article on the recent Commander release had made Wizards’ Daily Magic Update—saying that Hipsters had been given decks from Wizards and as one of the Commander writers, I was going to get one to review.

“Jesse, don’t worry about it,” I told him at a recent game night, “I’m going to review it and then I can just give it to you.”

In reality, fellow Hipsters Aaron Gazzaniga pointed me towards his store—Gaming ETC—to order the deck and have it shipped to me. From there I did a number of upgrades to the deck—looking to emulate his play style and create something worthy of him—before ultimately presenting it to him as a wedding gift. So, without further ado, let’s talk about re-facing The Ur-Dragon.

More than Meets the Eye

To start out, there was one design restriction on this deck that made it distinct from the rest of the decks in this mold. Wherever possible, I was going to include cards from Jesse’s actual collection. Jesse had already collected many of the dragons that existed in Magic up through Theros block, and I had a read that Jesse was going to be floored by this. So, I worked with his soon-to-be wife to smuggle his collection out of his house and into my hands. From there I did my best “Dear Azami” impression and made a series of alterations to the pre-constructed deck.

First off, the mana base was going to need an overhaul to support five colors. I dislike the vivid lands and the tri-lands that didn’t make red or green. To scale back the deck’s power level with room to grow, I took a cue from a General Tazri Allies deck I had built last year. By pairing ally fetchlands with enemy shocklands and Amonkhet typed-duals, the deck can cover the colors while leaving room to customize and grow. For more redundancy, I added Skyshroud Claim and Nature’s Lore as additional ways to find the duals, plus Ancient Excavation, Grave Upheaval, and Sylvan Reclamation as good utility spells that also mana fix early in the game.

Fusion Dance

After ensuring that the deck would be able to run at a solid pace, I turned my attention towards integrating Jesse’s collection of dragons into the deck. I have not been shy in saying that I believe The Ur-Dragon is a potentially powerful general that enables very explosive games. As such, I didn’t view the power level of the dragons being as important as the supporting spells around them, so the choices for alterations more came from capturing Jesse’s collection instead of raw power level. Of the on-theme spells, here were the notable changes:

Out: Territorial Hellkite, Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury, Spellbound Dragon, Wasitora, Nekoru Queen, Crosis, the Purger, Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius, Silumgar, the Drifting Death, Deathbringer Regent, Tyrant’s Familiar, Taigam, Ojutai Master

In: Thunderbreak Regent, Dragon Broodmother, Stormbreath Dragon, Scourge of the Throne, Keiga, the Tide Star, Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund, Sarkhan’s Triumph, Sarkhan Unbroken

The biggest sacred cow I cut was Wasitora, Nekoru Queen. Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund is a worthy replacement, both on game plan and tribal strategies. In Wasitora’s own deck, I believe she has a lot of potential, but I saw her inclusion as a distraction in this deck.

Additionally, the general consensus on Taigam, Ojutai Master was that while he has a place in some decks, a five-color Dragons deck may not be it. This allowed me to make room for Jesse’s copy of Keiga, the Tide Star to bring back some nostalgia.

The Heavy Lifting, Bro

One of my other focuses of the redesign involved including a suite of cards with the early game specifically in mind. I added Temur Ascendancy to allow for more immediate aggressive plays, and the overlooked Bower Passage as secret tech. I cut Sol Ring and Painful Truths in favor of Urza’s Incubator and Phyrexian Arena.

I upgraded the removal by cutting Fortunate Few and Fractured Identity for Utter End, Where Ancients Tread, Consume the Meek, Harsh Mercy, and the obligatory Cyclonic Rift. Since the plan is to be the aggressor, I viewed countermagic as required at a minimum—sometimes you only need to stop one spell on your way to victory. Thus I added Silumgar’s Scorn and Evasive Action as on-theme counters.

The Ur-Dragon can cheat permanents into play, so I had little fear of including harder-to-cast spells like Privileged Position and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. I included Aggravated Assault, True Conviction, Seize the Day, Rage Reflection, and Relentless Assault to help win the game. And ultimately, we already had Ramos, Dragon Engine, so we might as well play Door to Nothingness. From there, with very limited playtesting, I handed off the deck as impressive without being oppressive.

Getting Lengthy

In the month between passing the deck off and finally writing this article, Jesse got to play with it and made a few tweaks. He removed Aggravated Assault, Evasive Action, and Dragonspeaker Shaman, as they were pushing in a direction he didn’t want the deck to go. He also reported that while he hasn’t taken it out, Scion of the Ur-Dragon doesn’t feel great in the deck thus far. Having now played against the deck , it works well and is very resilient—to the point of instilling some fear. I will admit that I was wrong to pack the deck with too many extra-attack-step cards, and Jesse was right to remove the Evasive Action, because he truly only needs one counter.

Jesse considers it one of best gift he’s gotten thus far for the wedding and the exact kind of deck he wants to play in Commander, though I give a lot of credit to Wizards constructing a fairly tuned skeleton for the deck. The Ur-Dragon is the real deal, reducing the cost of his marquee creatures even by one mana smooths out gameplay substantially and often he doesn’t need to overcommit the board to stay in a winning position.

My intention was to be build a deck that not only honored Jesse, but also keyed in on my perception of his play style. Hopefully he can play the deck without having to keep up with further maintenance as each new set comes out. At the end of day, my hopes or intentions don’t matter as long as he has fun with it. That is a sign of personal growth for me: not prioritizing my own motives in order to allow someone else’s talents and passions to really shine bright. And that’s a lesson I’ve learned since that unremarkable day in 2005, through my friends and Magic. Jesse cannot take all the credit for making me a better person, but he certainly was there for many of the defining moments. The least I could do was thank him in some small way.

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH, the story of Magic and the EDH community in his down time. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks.
Pet Deck – Shattergang Eldrazi

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.