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Budget Commander: $20 Draconic Domination Upgrade


After some delay (sorry!), I'm back at analyzing and upgrading all the Commander 2017 preconstructed decks. We started off with Feline Ferocity, and now we move on from the Cat Tribe to Dragons with Draconic Domination!

Draconic Domination is Sarkhan Vol's wet dream come true: this deck is all about Dragons! Dropping down big, flying firebreathing DRAGONS! Smashing the faces of your enemies with DRAGONS!

You might like the deck if ...

  • You want to cast huge, splashy creatures, and can swing for lethal damage
  • You want access to all five colors, giving you all the options
  • You want to play a super popular/deep tribe that is pretty much guaranteed new additions to the card pool every single set release
  • You want to cast mothertruckin' DRAAAAAAAGOOOOOONSSS!! This is really the only point that matters

You might NOT like the deck if ...

  • You don't want to play a deck focused on attacking with creatures
  • You want a deck fully committed to Go Tall or Go Wide strategies (this deck is somewhere in between)
  • You want a deck concept that you can fully upgrade/optimize without spending tons of cash (5C Dragon upgrades can get expensive!)
  • Blood Moon is a thing in your playgroup

If you like where this deck is going, then great! Let's check out the preconstructed list:

Right out of the box, Draconic Domination is a beatdown deck that's all about playing big splashy Dragons, usually casting one per turn, and swinging in for big damage. There are tons of heavy-hitting Dragons that get even deadlier with more of their brethren on the battlefield, such as Scourge of Valkas and Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury. If you manage to stick just a few of these Dragons on the board together and they don't get answered immediately, chances are you'll win the game in short order.

Since you'll be playing relatively few cards per turn and each card is a sizeable threat, Draconic Domination is well-suited to survive tables full of board wipes (e.g. Wrath of God) but may struggle with targeted removal (e.g. Swords to Plowshares) and sacrifice removal (e.g. Grave Pact). The deck does run Scalelord Reckoner and Monastery Siege to help protect against targeted removal and runs some graveyard recursion, but nonetheless it's a weakness to keep in mind.

 

Go Wide?

Unlike Feline Ferocity, which had three distinct strategies in the same deck -- Go Tall, Go Wide, and Equipment -- Draconic Domination only really has one out of the box, which is casting big Dragons and smashing with them. It's simple and cohesive.

What I found interesting, however, is that the Dragon support cards want you to Go Wide. There are ~11 cards that encourage a Go Wide strategy in the preconstructed list, such as the Fate Reforged cycle of legendary Dragons like Dromoka, the Eternal, other random cards like Crucible of Fire, and of course The Ur-Dragon itself. All these cards get dramatically better as you keep adding more Dragons to the battlefield. The problem is there aren't a lot of good cards capable of flooding the board with Dragons; Broodmate Dragon and Wasitora, Nekoru Queen are okay, but we have no way of flooding the board with Dragons the same way Edgar Markov is in decks that are primed to flood with Vampires.

Since Dragons has great payoffs for Going Wide, however, one interesting direction to take this deck is to add cards that drop tons of Dragons on the board cheaply and efficiently. There's very few cards that can flood the board specifically with Dragons (Dragon Broodmother was the only good one I found), but we can cheat with all-star token generators like Secure the Wastes and turn them into "Dragons" with Arcane Adaptation and Conspiracy! Since we're in Black, we have tons of ways to tutor up our key enchantments and get the ball rolling for an unorthodox but sweet Dragon Tokens deck!

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Other than Go Wide, yeah, all I see is straightforward Battlecruiser game plan. Play Dragons, smash with Dragons, profit.

Now that you know what Draconic Domination is set to do, let's look at the possible commanders for the deck:

 

Cast Dragons

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

I can't help but grin like an idiot when I look at The Ur-Dragon; this card is just plain epic! Huge mana cost for a huge, flashy as hell card, the epitome of Battlecruiser Magic in my eyes. The Ur-Dragon would've instantly been my top pick for a commander back when I was a wide-eyed Timmy new to Magic, and even now as a crotchety old man this card warms my cold, pessimistic heart. The Ur-Dragon is the ideal leader for a Dragon deck that wants to cast Dragons, which is a stark contrast to how Scion of the Ur-Dragon wants to play.

Is The Ur-Dragon a good commander for Draconic Domination? Yeah, absolutely! Dragons are a high-cmc tribe, so unsurprisingly the deck has a whopping average 4.37 converted mana cost! For reference, my decks generally have a 3.5 average cmc. That's insane! Because of the crazy high cmc of your spells, The Ur-Dragon's mana cost reduction is a huge help, reducing the cost of 28 cards in the deck. The mana reduction is honestly the main draw of The Ur-Dragon; it will sit in your command zone for the vast majority of your game, passively helping ramp out your big Dragons. Yeah, it has a huge powerful effect when it enters the battlefield, but at a whopping 9 cmc, The Ur-Dragon won't spend much time on the battlefield.

If you're looking to upgrade the deck and building specifically around The Ur-Dragon, the goal remains the same: casting big Dragons and winning with them. You're playing The Ur-Dragon for its eminence; casting it is just the cherry on top.

 

Cheat Dragons

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

While far less flashy than its big brother, Scion of the Ur-Dragon remains the most competitive Dragon commander available. Unlike The Ur-Dragon, which rewards you for casting Dragons, Scion's ability to repeatedly turn into any Dragon in your library while dropping it into your graveyard lends itself to a Voltron/Combo game with a Reanimator subtheme.

Scion of the Ur-Dragon is an absolute powerhouse. When attacking, it can tutor + discard Balefire Dragon to wipe a board, Nicol Bolas to wipe a hand, Hellkite Tyrant to steal all artifacts, and so on. And that's just the "fair" ways of using Scion! You can also just 1-shot opponents by pitching Moltensteel Dragon, pumping Scion's power, and then swinging for lethal with Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon or Atarka, World Render. Or win the game without even attacking with Bladewing the Risen + Shapesharer + Scourge of Valkas, infinitely recurring Bladewing with his own ETB trigger while Scourge kills everyone.

And remember, as you're pitching all these game-ending Dragons to activate Scion's shenanigans, you can always Animate Dead them to put 6+ cmc Dragons into play for a fraction of the cost.

So you can see why Scion of the Ur-Dragon is an objectively stronger commander than The Ur-Dragon. However, the biggest downside to playing Scion of the Ur-Dragon -- at least personally -- is the deck is very consistent, and therefore very repetitive. All the games play out the same way: you end up tutoring up the exact same Dragons and winning the exact same way. After a couple games of winning like this, I got bored of the deck. But that's just me.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

 

Lucky Charms!

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Ramos, Dragon Engine is probably my favorite new legendary creature from all of Commander 2017. We don't have a lot of 5C commander options, my favorite color combination because I want all the things, so getting a new one -- and an amazing one at that! -- is super exciting for me. 

Ramos doesn't care about Dragons. It cares about colors! The more colors your spells are, the faster Ramos grows, and it rewards you with tons of +1/+1 counters to play with. The most obvious use / best use is cashing in those counters for that sweet sweet mana generation. The payout is absolutely absurd; if you cast Maelstrom Nexus, for example, Ramos gains five +1/+1 counters and can give you back ten mana! Or most ridiculous example: cast Conflux for eight mana and Ramos will give you ten mana to immediately cast the spells you tutored up! Holy moly!

Ramos, Dragon Engine is silly, silly ramp. I don't know what the best ways to use all that ramp will be, or what combos people will brew with it, but I'm personally excited to run a Lucky Charms deck around Ramos. For those that don't know, Lucky Charms is a silly archetype that runs a ton of the "Charm" cards, modular instants like Jund Charm and Abzan Charm. Having so many modes on each spell means that chances are you'll have the answer for any given situation. It's not a super powerful deck, but I find it incredibly fun. The best charms are 2-3 colors, which is great for Ramos. You can up the fun by going full-blown Multicolor Tribal and run cards like Pyroconvergence and Cloven Casting!

Because Ramos doesn't actually care about Dragons, I won't show how to upgrade Draconic Domination around the dragon engine, since you're better off starting from scratch with that one. Ramos does generate a good deal of mana for the preconstructed deck, which is important when the deck's average cmc is so damn high, so it's still good as part of the 99.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

 

Vengeful Pillowfort

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami joins the ranks of Ulrich of the Krallenholde and Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist for disappointing legendary creatures that deserved way better. O-Kagachi was arguably the single most powerful entity in the plane of Kamigawa, a spirit whose heart/divinity (That Which Was Taken) was stolen from it, who then led the kami on a war against humanity to get it back. You would think the leader of the kami would have abilities that would synergize with kami, but nope, we got this instead.

At least O-Kagachi has nice stats: 6 cmc for a 6/6 flying trampler. Not bad. The kami lord is one giant rattlesnake, deterring opponents from attacking you while its on the field or else you get to exile one of their things on the crackback. That's alright, but being stapled on a 6 cmc 6/6 flyer is kind of wasted, as in reality it's a glorified vigilance keyword. O-Kagachi also has no innate protection to creature removal, so chances are people are just going to kill it and continue attacking you.

The card isn't completely useless, of course, and there's a few ways to make it function better. The biggest things O-Kagachi wants are protection from removal and ways to get haste so even if O-Kagachi isn't on the battlefield when you get attacked, you can still threaten to re-cast it and immediately exile on the crackback. Cards like Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots are staples to the deck.

Despite my disappointment in what the card could've been, I'm interested in running O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami as the leader of a Pillowfort deck that forces your opponents to attack you in order to inflict terrible things to them. Imagine setting up defenses like No Mercy and Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts. Then entice them to attack you with monarchy cards like Queen Marchesa, or literally force them to attack you with Trove of Temptation. Then you crack back with O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami and exile their stuff. It's not a competitive deck, but it should be viable and fun.

Of course, you can still run O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami as the Kami commander for a Kamigawa Spirits deck. Despite having no synergy outside of a shared creature type, it's still the lord of all kami and opens up 5C to let you run all the spirits.

Since O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami doesn't care about Dragons, I won't show how to tweak Draconic Domination around it as your commander, but if you like the idea of a Vengeful Pillowfort I might make a Budget Commander around O-Kagachi in the future.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

 

What Is The Deck Lacking?

As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp; usually a 38-12 split
  • 10 sources of "card advantage;" I use this term loosely, but mostly looking for card draw or any spell that nets me 2+ nonland cards in hand / directly into play
  • 6 targeted removal split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal
  • 3 board wipes
  • 2 recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy, and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question. Let's see what the rough ratios are for Draconic Domination and how it compares:

It looks like Draconic Domination covers most of the ratios very well. It has above-average mana/ramp, which makes sense given its high average cmc. It has a good deal of interaction, including particularly good ones like Crux of Fate leading to one-sided board wipes. Even the mana-fixing is pretty solid, which is surprising considering how many people were complaining about the "poor fixing" the deck comes with. The deck covers its bases well, even if some of the card choices are subpar, like Dreamstone Hedron and Fist of Suns in the role of ramp.

The biggest weakness in the deck would be the lack of tutoring. The deck runs a lot of situationally great cards, from Nihil Spellbomb to ruin Reanimator decks to Silumgar, the Drifting Death locking down Go Wide strategies. However, you really need tutors to make sure you find those cards at the right times. Scion of the Ur-Dragon is fantastic at temporarily becoming a Dragon answer to a problem, but that's only one card in the deck.

I also feel the deck's card advantage department needs restructuring. The deck is built so you won't be casting more than one or two spells per turn, so you typically won't have an empty hand but you still want some raw card draw to make sure you're hitting your land drops and have options on what you can cast. Big cards like Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius draws cards, sure, but you're paying a lot of mana for that 5/5 body; you'll want a couple more mana-efficient ways to draw cards like Painful Truths.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

 

$20 The Ur-Dragon Upgrade

Draconic Domination fully supports The Ur-Dragon's goal of casting Dragons and smashing face, so we're pretty much going to stay the course on what the preconstructed deck wants to do, with some better cards being swapped in for the worse ones. We're going to try and improve the deck in all aspects: manabase, interaction, card advantage, recursion, tutors, random utility, and of course, Dragons!

Here's a budget list (each card is less than $5) of recommendations that you can add to the deck that fits with what the Ur-Dragon wants to do. I used to make a long list of cards divided into categories, but feedback has told me that it might not be the best way to present them. Instead, I'll post them in "deck list" form so you can easily see their current prices. Let me know if you prefer this method!

 

Now let's make room for the upgrades with some cuts. Here's the first cards I'd remove. Some are good cards that work better in others decks (Ramos, Dragon Engine), some are good but I feel the replacements can offer more (Territorial Hellkite), and some are just bad here (Dreamstone Hedron).

 

Now that we've made space, here's a sample $20 upgrade to start bringing Draconic Domination up to its full potential:

 

And here's the final list with the removals/additions made. The deck is a little lighter on creatures but with the addition of tutors, better card draw, and recursion, you should have more than enough Dragons to cast. We also have way better interaction now due to cheap instant speed removal, which balances out our big beefy removal spells attached to dragons like Silumgar, the Drifting Death. Temur Ascendancy is just nuts in this deck, and Crib Swap is particularly sweet because it counts as a Dragon spell, so it will always cost 2 mana instead of 3 due to The Ur-Dragon:

 

$20 Go Wide Upgrade

Alright, so I'm going to suggest doing something I haven't seen anyone else discuss on the internet with my Google-fu skills, and that's turning Draconic Domination into a Go Wide Dragon deck. As mentioned previously, this involves playing Arcane Adaptation or similar cards to turn all creatures into Dragons, then flooding the board with creatures as quickly and efficiently as possible to take the most advantage of the sweet Dragon anthems available to us, like Scourge of Valkas and Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury.

The most important cards to this deck concept are Arcane Adaptation and Conspiracy. Xenograft is the worst because it only works on creatures on the battlefield, so we don't get the benefit of The Ur-Dragon's eminence mana cost reduction, for example. So we tutor up our key enchantments, flood the board with "Dragons," and then swing for lethal! Here's a brain dump of good options I found for this concept:

 

Now let's make room for our Go Wide Dragons concept. Basically all cards that don't scale up in power based on how many Dragons we have on the field are candidates to be cut. There's a lot of cards that don't fit this goal, but since we're restricted on how many cards we can add due to the $20 budget, I've only cut 22 cards.

 

And here's a sample $20 upgrade to start turning Draconic Domination into a Go Wide Dragon Tribal deck. We have Lim-Dul's Vault, Diabolic Tutor, and Bring to Light (tutoring Diabolic Tutor) to find our Arcane Adaptation or Conspiracy. Creatures that produce tokens get slightly better in this deck due to The Ur-Dragon, Dragonlord's Servant, Dragonspeaker Shaman, and Herald's Horn offering mana discounts, but I've found that the best token-producing cards are ones that can flood the board and attack immediately, which is why cards like Secure the Wastes (on the end step before your turn) and Tempt with Vengeance are my favorites. Prossh, Skyraider of Kher and Rith, the Awakener are phenomenal additions here, because they benefit from creature synergies and can dump a truckload of "Dragons" on the board quickly.

Also note that cards producing tokens "tapped and attacking" during the combat phase miss out on the Fate Reforged legendary Dragon triggers (e.g. Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury), making them a little worse in this particular build.

 

Finally, here's the deck with the swaps made:

 

$20 Scion of the Ur-Dragon Upgrade

Alright, time to take off the kid's gloves: Scion of the Ur-Dragon is our commander now! As I've said before, the difference between The Ur-Dragon and Scion of the Ur-Dragon is that The Ur-Dragon encourages you to cast lots of Dragons, while Scion of the Ur-Dragon wants to cheat dragons into play. The end result is that The Ur-Dragon plays a "fair" game of Magic, winning all sorts of ways with lots of variety, while Scion of the Ur-Dragon is a hyper-consistent "unfair" deck looking to 1-shot opponents, combo off, or cheat tons of Dragons on to the battlefield. If you want a hyper-consistent (and therefore repetitive) and more competitive Dragon deck, Scion of the Ur-Dragon is the commander for you.

When building around Scion of the Ur-Dragon, we're focusing more on building around the commander itself. We want to cast our commander, then swing in, usually 1-shotting an opponent by activating Scion's ability twice to find a lethal combo. We want to protect our commander from instant speed targeted removal like Swords to Plowshares so our combos aren't stopped. Finally, since we're going to be pitching Dragons into our graveyard, we're going to run more graveyard recursion than normal. We care less about Dragons with powerful ETB triggers (e.g. Dragonlord Atarka) because they don't synergize with Scion.

 

Now let's make some room for additions. We can safely cut anything that doesn't help us combo off or 1-shot people with Scion of the Ur-Dragon. Yes, it's that kind of deck!

 

Here's a sample $20 list showing the intended direction. Our 1-shot combos usually involve activating Scion of the Ur-Dragon's ability twice before letting the abilities resolve. For example, you can activate Scion twice, first transforming it into Moltensteel Dragon to pump its power 5 times, then resolve the second activation, turning into Atarka, World Render, swinging for a lethal 22 commander damage. We also have ways to shuffle Dragons back into our library with cards like See Beyond and Vessel of Endless Rest so Scion can tutor them up.

I didn't manage to get Living Death in there, but that card would be super sweet once we have a graveyard full of Dragons.

Finally, here's the deck with the swaps made:

 

Here we go! We can 1-shot opponents with Scion of the Ur-Dragon pitching Moltensteel Dragon plus Atarka, World Render or Dragon Tyrant; replace either piece with Tainted Strike to win with poison. We can take a bunch of extra combat steps with Hellkite Charger combined with Savage Ventmaw or Curse of Bounty. We can combo out the entire table with Worldgorger Dragon enchanted by Animate Dead or Dance of Dead, performing an infinite loop that turns lethal with Scourge of Valkas or Dragon Tempest. If someone tries to stop us by targeted Scion of the Ur-Dragon with removal, we can turn it into Quicksilver Dragon and swap targets. Finally, if our Scion gameplan falls through, we can always smash face by reanimating our Dragons!

 

Further Upgrades

If you want to upgrade any version of Draconic Domination, the easiest way is to improve the lands. For every 5C deck looking to optimize their lands, I always recommend running as many dual lands and fetch lands as you're willing to spend, and supplement the gaps with City of Brass, Mana Confluence, Reflecting Pool, checklands, and some basic lands. If you're playing Tribal, Cavern of Souls is a nice pickup as well. For an in-depth look at all your options, I suggest checking out Manabase Crafter.

Here's a quick brain dump for pricey upgrades:

 

Two Down, Two To Go!

That's it for Draconic Domination! Next is Wizard Tribal, since the Vampire deck under Edgar Markov got a bunch of goodies from Ixalan and I'd like to give more time for those card prices to settle. Apologies for the delay on this one; I promise the next two precons will not take as long! Though I'm starting to think going over three different archetypes is a bit too much for a single article. Maybe just go over the main one for these articles and then select one or two secondary commanders for future articles based on interest? Let me know in the comments section!


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