Day of the Dragons
- Sancho Napora
If you check the right calendar, you might find January 16 marked as "Appreciate a Dragon Day." What does it take for a Dragon to win appreciation in the world of Magic? Let's celebrate with a look at some of the most expensive, most ancient, most legendary, and most playable Dragon cards.
I'd like to tell you that Appreciate a Dragon Day traces its history back to times immemorial. That it's mentioned everywhere from the rune-inscribed stones of northern Europe to the scriptures of some of the earliest Chinese dynasties. That Pyramid hieroglyphs speak of a yearly day when the mighty creatures are showered with appreciation, and that even cave paintings from far-flung places in the Americas and Australia allude to this annual celebration, cleverly placed as to be struck by the rising sun on exactly the 16th of January each year. I'd like to share fond childhood memories of celebrating with loved ones, of eating juicy dragon fruit, of schools and businesses closing down for the holiday, of jolly Father Bolas …
I'd like to write about all of this and more. Alas, none of it is true. Appreciate a Dragon Day is about as ancient as Facebook.
This is just another made-up holiday, and your boss or teacher most likely won't buy it if you try to argue otherwise. The day was created as a marketing stunt by some author you probably never heard of, but it has somehow made its way into various calendars.
And some places such as children's libraries have picked up on the idea. So, who knows, perhaps it will eventually catch on and in a hundred years grownups will not have to take their flying cars and jetpacks to work and kids won't have to go to school on their hoverboards on this date.
Puff, the Magic-Dragon
Anyway, this is 2021, and January 16 falls on a Saturday, so a lot of us can at least pretend that it's truly a day off. And what better way to spend a day off than with some good games of Magic. A game with such a name must be just teeming with such creatures, right? Players probably value their Dragons quite highly, yes? Well, looking at the prices of the Dragons printed so far, a lot of them are not and have not appreciated much since they were first printed.
Nine out of ten dragons can be yours for less than a single euro, and many of them only cost pennies. So, if you decided to begin Hoarding Dragons, it would be a really cheap hobby. Unless you chose to expose your wallet to Death by Dragons with such purchases as Zodiac Dragon from Portal: Three Kingdoms where prices for a near-mint English language version begin at €230.
When I first started playing, anyone who liked Dragons had an easy choice of which member of the flying, firebreathing tribe to appreciate. They could go with the cute little Dragon Whelp or with the mighty Shivan Dragon. Shivan Dragons used to be one of the most expensive creatures back in those times. But having been handed out for free in starter decks, it is one of the least valued dragons these days. You would have to sell 50 copies to make a buck. Unless of course if it happens to be an Alpha version (which were also once handed out for free) in which case you are now looking at a highly appreciated card with a starting price of around €2,000.
Enter the Dragon … Day
In any case Appreciate a Dragon Day wasn't invented until ten years after I began playing. And even when it comes to creatures often associated with Greed, appreciation is hopefully about more than monetary value. In the past quarter of a century they have proliferated, and you now have more than 200 Dragons to choose from when deciding upon which specimen to heap a day's worth of appreciation.
There is everything from single mana Slumbering Dragon to the most expensive non-silver-bordered Magic card printed, Draco. You can go with one of the 99 Dragons who are on-brand in monored or with one of the five weirdly monogreen ones that have been printed beginning with Mirage's Canopy Dragon. Across time, you get to choose between wise old bookworm Nicol Bolas, the one with the nipples, or the Goblin-faced comic book villain that someone sadly chose to turn him into when he became a planeswalker. Speaking of planeswalkers, you can also choose a dragon planeswalker that actually sees play, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
A Band of Elder Dragon Legends
The obvious choice for me would indeed have been Shivan Dragon or Nicol Bolas or perhaps some other legendary Dragon. My own Dragon tribal Commander deck has enough legends in it that I threw in a Mountain Stronghold. This would also be in line with Wikipedia, which claims that, "A dragon is a large, serpentine legendary creature," even though any Magic player knows that many Dragons are not legendary at all.
With Commander a bit stale to my tastes after being fed an entire year dedicated to the format, I have chosen to look elsewhere for my Dragon of choice. And the Magic content I consume online is for a great part YouTube videos of Modern and Legacy …
A Dragon Makes for the Perfect Pet
Looking at those formats—and taking into consideration the only Magic that I have been playing lately: two-player Sealed with my own cube—narrows down the choices a lot. My cube would actually bring the choices down to just Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Glorybringer, and Sprite Dragon. So why not pour all my love into a Dragon that might not be the first to come to mind when thinking of Dragons in Magic: The Gathering. A humble and unassuming little creature that turns out to be one of the most played among dragonkind these days.
Even though Sprite Dragon is legal in Standard, it sees too little play there to make any waves. Also Pioneer, if that's still a thing, has no appreciation for Sprite Dragon. The most popular Dragon in that format is Niv-Mizzet Reborn in a deck that bears the name of the former Izzet leader that since his rebirth mostly seems to hang out with Omnath, Uro, and that crowd.
However, some of Magic's most powerful formats have discovered that the puny and unassuming Sprite Dragon is indeed worthy of appreciation. The card sees play in Modern, Legacy, and—believe it or not—in Vintage. In all these formats the little flier with growth potential is actually the most played Dragon creature. Of course, that doesn't mean that it is in any way dominating any meta. In Modern and Legacy it sat in somewhere between three and four percent of all registered decks for the last two months, and you can find it in just above four percent of registered Vintage decks for the same period.
For instance, take a look at the following deck, with which the player Aylett won third place in Magic Online's Vintage Challenge on November 30. It features two Sprite Dragons as the only main-deck creatures and two more as a backup in the sideboard. This, in the most powerful format known to Magic, must mean that Sprite Dragon is the most powerful creature, no?
|Underworld Breach by Aylett, 3rd at Vintage Challenge, November 30|
Modern players may well be familiar with the blue-red aggro deck featuring Sprite Dragon alongside more established creatures such as Soul-Scar Mage and Monastery Swiftspear as well as fellow newcomer Stormwing Entity. In Legacy its companions (not to be confused with the mechanic) in the ever popular Delver decks are Delver of Secrets / Insectile Aberration and Dreadhorde Arcanist. However, when it comes to the format originally named after the first five legendary Magic Dragons, "Elder Dragon Highlander," Sprite Dragon is no match for Korvold, Fae-Cursed King or even for Ramos, Dragon Engine.
In cubes, Glorybringer is king of the Dragons according to CubeCobra.com. The card has a presence in more than 4,200 self-designed Limited environments against the less than 3,000 cubes that include Sprite Dragon. When it comes to a measurement of how often a card is picked over another in cubes, the humble Sprite Dragon must see itself relegated to number 45 among Dragons, picked later than both Korvold and Shivan Dragon. But today I make Sprite Dragon my first pick.
And how about you? Which Dragon do you appreciate today and why is that? Let us hear the story of your Dragon Appreciation Day pick in the comments below!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.