Commander Focus: Kolaghan, A dash of Fire

Credit: Jaime Jones, Wizards of the Coast

Dragons are cool, big flying, nigh-invulnerable creatures that breath fire, and appear to have some sort of fetish for non-fiat assets. Maybe they’re all a bunch of libertarians, or maybe it has some weird thing to do with their skin being so tough. Like a lot of monsters that are very old, their origin story is a bit confused and they don’t make a lot of sense in most settings and tend to have a bunch of powers just glommed together, kind of like Superman. Creatures designed in more modern times tend to make more sense and have more going on thematically, or at least more cogently. Likewise for superheroes, where there’s a kind of logic to the origin of heroes and villains – someone may be struck repeatedly by lightning but had consumed a special chemical concoction so it didn’t kill him and now he can run as fast as lightning, hack computers, and shoot electricity. Or maybe he’s just a really good car thief and can jump-start any car. In fantasy a creature might be hurt by exposure to acid, but it somehow survived and grew a thick skin that’s impervious to acid and now it can also spit acid. Or something like that. There’s often a kind of Lamarckian element to this, but given that the principles of evolution are so widely (mis)understood, there’s also some kind of “if the creature lives in XX environment, that influenced it some way” effect going on. You see this a lot in things like fantasy literature, where attempts are made to explain why dragons have things like scale armor and flight and firebreathing.

Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Magic has followed suit in many ways; the first few sets were all over the place, and creatures just had random abilities (see? I was going somewhere with this). Reach was associated with webs, and first strike with arrows, but also lances, which makes a kind of sense, though later reach sort of became the arrow thing… sort of. But lots of random creatures just had abilities; sure there were a few tribes and what not but not a lot of overarching logic to the plane of Dominaria. By the time Ikoria was released 25 years later we can see the stark differences in design, where clearly some thought has gone into why creatures on Ikoria are the way they are, the Mutate mechanic, giant creatures, the organized humans living in cities, and the whole bonder thing as an adaptation. But dragons are one of the few creature types that haven’t really changed much since those initial sets. Shivan Dragon wouldn’t be that out of place in a set printed today – it’s a big, flying creature with the firebreathing ability. And it’s still an iconic creature – so much so that it was used for Garth One-Eye’s ability.

Also it’s kind of a bad card. There’ve been some quite playable dragons at times (and the Shivan Dragon was playable once upon a time) – in fact, Commander’s lineage is traced to the elder dragon legends from the Legends expansion – but dragons tend to fall into two camps flavor-wise: Either they’re weird legendary dragons that can talk and and might even be planeswalkers and not creatures at all, because sure, why wouldn’t the giant, armored, flying, fire-breathing creature need to evolve to have the intelligence to use magic in order to survive (and in a lot of ways, Niv-Mizzet, Parun isn’t really a dragon at all, and you often don’t really use him as a dragon, just a combo piece), or they’re overcosted beaters that fly. Most of the dragons shown in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms expansion fall into this category. There have been some decent ones creatured lately, Terror of the Peaks and Goldspan Dragon are both pretty amazing, actually. These are decently costed creatures with a good ability but still very much function to hit people (okay well you can definitely combo terror of the peaks).

Ok, enough rambling, let’s get to the point: Making a midlevel dragon deck seems like a lot of fun. There’s also a number of red cards that revolve around creatures entering the battlefield that we can put to use with the right Commander – in this case, Kolaghan.

Terror of the peaks  Scourge of Valkas Purphoros, God of the Forge Impact Tremors Pandamonium and Warstorm Surge all deal damage when a creature enters the battlefield under your control.

Sneak attack and Purphoros Bronze Blooded will let you cheat out big huge creatures and create ETBs, and Reanimate Animate Dead Dance of the Dead and Necromancy, as well as Chainer, Nightmare Adept will let you bring creatures back from the grave, and all this with Molten Echoes and Flameshadow Conjuring to make token copies of your giant creatures.

Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury‘s dash ability means you can hold him in reserve and swing him out, dash style, generating your enters-the-battlefield effects, and more tokens generating more enters-the-battlefield effects.

Here’s the thing though about a deck like this: It’s mostly to play at a slow table, without a lot of interaction. This is a battlecruiser deck, and by battlecruiser deck standards it’s fairly mean because it has a cogent game plan with a lot of internal synergies.  But it will let you swing out big huge dragons and go wide.  It has the potential to go really berserk, because of cards like Mana Echoes you can easily generate huge amounts of mana off dragons, and especially leftover dragon tokens. But all these things mean the deck is very threatening without being that actually powerful. It can easily do 30 or 40 damage to a player on turn 5 or 6, and potentially generate extra combat steps and such, but it can’t protect those things that well and doesn’t pack much non-creature based interaction (your terror of the peaks triggers and other deal damage triggers should largely be used for control purposes not dealing face damage)

Kolaghan’s dash means he should be mostly safely hiding in the command zone or in your hand on other players’ turns because this deck is vulnerable to board clears like Wrath of God. Dash is an alternate casting cost, and commander tax does affect it, so you’ll mostly want to dash him and pack him back into your hand.

If your opponents let you ramp up then drop some huge enchantments, then your dragons hitting the board should end the game fairly quickly by swinging with pumped up creatures with tokens and etb deals damage effects going on everywhere, and additionally should let you clear our things like utility creatures and mana dorks.


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