Exclusive M11 Spoiler - Hoarding Dragon!
As a life-long fan of Shivan Dragon I am very excited to unveil its replacement in M11. While I have held on to the nostalgia of Shivan Dragon for a long time I agree that it is time to let her retire. She has had a good run. It's time for her to step down and let other younger more able-bodied creatures take the spotlight.
Nowadays expensive creatures usually need to have more going for them than just a sweet body. Baneslayer Angel and Sphinx of Jwar Isle are very good at hosing whole arrays of strategies with their board presence. Broodmate Dragon Sphinx of Lost Truth Sovereign of New Alara Avenger of Zendikar and the Eldrazi all provide card advantage in addition to a powerful board presence. Shivan can't dominate a board like Baneslayer or Shroud Sphinx nor does it produce the card advantage of any of those other creatures.
M11 has a new dragon... one offering card advantage. Presenting...
Obviously the artwork is beautiful and the card is dripping with flavor but let's talk brass tacks. How does Hoarding Dragon measure up? Will it see Constructed play? What are the best applications for such a card?
To begin what should 3RR buy you? The first thing that comes to mind is Siege-Gang Commander but the problem here is that these are such radically different cards that it may not be the best place to start comparing. One thing that should be kept in mind is that there are no five-mana "fatties" in Red right now which means there’s less competition for Hoarding Dragon. This is particularly relevant because when cool cards like Ob Nixilis the Fallen; Malakir Bloodwitch; Anowon the Ruin Sage; and Drana Kalastria Bloodchief all share a casting cost it makes it less likely that a creature at 3BB would make an impact. There are no good fatties at the five-spot for Red which certainly helps the case for Hording Dragon. Siege-Gang is a fine card but at the end of the day it does very different things meaning there are fewer times where you will need to really choose between them.
Let's break down the specific components of this card:
To begin with we have a 4/4 flier for 3RR. This is already enough to get our attention as a 4/4 flier for five with a good ability is generally "good enough" to see play. A 4/4 flier for 2RR would be a consideration to see play (think about Moroii). What about a 3RR for a 4/4 flier that draws you a card? That sounds so much better than Kavu Climber its absurd. How does Hoarding Dragon's ability compare to "Draw a card?"
To begin with you don't get the card immediately nor do you get it if the Dragon is Oblivion Ringed Pathed or Bant Charmed. Next we see that even when you do get the card all you get is an artifact. How many good artifacts are there really? Basilisk Collar? Behemoth Sledge? Lodestone Golem?
It should go without saying that this part of the equation is going to change radically this fall with the release of Scars of Mirrodin. In fact I am betting every single card that has the word "Artifact" in the text box is safe to list as "subject to change with the release of Scars of Mirrodin." In general I would think that an artifact is generally going to be better than a random card simply because it is assumed that a random card is land 40% of the time or so and that the artifact you get is always business. We need to take a look at just how valuable the selection is to evaluate just how much better than "draw a card" we are talking.
It is tempting to look at Fabricate for evaluating the value of searching up an artifact which would make Hoarding Dragon seem awesome (it’s like a 4/4 flier that Cascades into Fabricate!) but that is a little bit unfair. Fabricate is decent but certainly not that good. In addition Fabricate is at its best when you are getting a killer combo or a hoser that locks out the opponent. Fabricate is not really a "for value" kind of card.
Trying to use a Hoarding Dragon as a Fabricate will likely lead to disappointment in most Constructed formats as it is already two mana more and you have to "work" to get the card immediately. For the most part it would seem that Hoarding Dragon is much more of a "for value" type of thing as it is a pretty nice solid two-for-one that isn't about winning the game on the spot with a combo. It is about producing a 4/4 flier which is a pretty nice sized body and then if the opponent can deal with it you get paid a nice bonus that often be even better than the Dragon you started with.
Think about how much creature kill people play these days. Obviously Bituminous Blast Path to Exile and Bant Charm kind of make you frown but all three rotate out when Scars of Mirrodin rotate in this fall. If you and your opponent are involved in an attrition battle Hoarding Dragon will often be your MVP since it actually fights the card advantage battle on both fronts quantity and quality. Depending on what artifacts appear in M11 and Scars of Mirrodin it may even turn into a situation where some opponents can't afford to attack into it knowing they can't be the treasure its hoarding.
Does Hoarding Dragon have enough raw power to be a consideration? Absolutely. It is just a matter of context. How good will the artifacts be? How nice of a selection will you have to choose from? If there are cards like Nevinyrral's Disk Ensnaring Bridge or Vedalken Shackles the card obviously scales up quickly. Even if we just look at what is already available we find a surprising number of nice options such as Scourglass Sharuum Obelisk of Alara Executioner's Capsule Scepter of Dominance Tidehollow Sculler Sphinx Summoner Sphinx of the Steel Wind Platinum Angel and of course the above mentioned Eldrazi Monument which conveniently enough provides a natural sacrifice outlet if you want to trigger the Dragon. In fact the Sphinx Summoner chain does as well though it is likely not the direction to take such a strategy.
I am imagining a deck somewhat in the vein of the Sphinx decks we saw last year that use a number of solid support cards and then a little bit of a Sphinx toolbox to gain incremental advantage while establishing a nice board presence with all the flying fatties. The nice thing about Hoarding Dragon is that it gives you a much more exciting toolbox to choose from. If you just play a sort of mid-rangy good stuff deck with at least one copy of each of a bunch of good artifacts you can get a huge amount of value out of the Hoarding Dragon. It's not just about getting a good card it’s about getting the perfect card for this scenario. Behind on board? Maybe a Scourglass can catch you back up. Need creatures? What about the Sphinx Summoner chain? Opponent already killed your best artifact? Sharuum is the perfect follow up. Game has gone long? What about Sphinx of the Steel Wind? Need to kill your opponent's Baneslayer Angel? What about Executioner's Capsule as an answer? The answers are all there the trick is figuring out what tools to put in the toolbox. The main questions to ask beyond which artifacts to play include:
1) Do I have a way to kill/sacrifice my Dragon in response to a card like Oblivion Ring?
2) Will I be happy with a 4/4 flier if my opponent just ignores it? (Or have a "back-up plan?)
3) What colors will this deck be seeing as many of the good artifacts right now are Esper?
4) Just how much will change come Scars of Mirrodin?
Do I think Hoarding Dragon will define the format? Probably not. However I think that if a savvy deckbuilder can find answers to these questions it at least has the potential to be a cornerstone of a new archetype that's power will probably depend most heavily on what Scars of Mirrodin brings. I also have a feeling that there will be a number of fun scenarios that arise where the sort of sub-game of "If Hoarding Dragon dies the opponent is really screwed" takes on a thrilling feel. The “damned if you do damned if you don't” set-up can be more than just fun though... it can be very exploitable. One thing is for sure: this is exactly the type of card that deck builders will need to re-evaluate with each set to consider if "the time is right." Plus it is always going to be a reasonable option for someone that appreciates a good honest two-for-one.
Besides it’s a Dragon!