Ikoria Spotlight: Sprite Dragon in Legacy
- Andreas Reling
Previews for Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths are in full swing! Andifeated is a Legacy aficionado at heart and therefore checks new cards for their potential playability in his favorite format first. One little Faerie has caught his interest this time. Let's see if Sprite Dragon can make it big in the Eternal world!
Spoiler Season Speculations
Evaluating new cards is hard. Whenever brand new Magic cards are shown to the community for the first time, we tend to overhype the wrong cards and overlook the very powerful ones. Turns out one needs to build decks and play with cards to fully grasp their strengths and weaknesses. As we cannot do this before Ikoria hits Magic Arena and Magic Online, we can't do a thing but imagine decks and games with the new cards and speculate together what we think will be true. Also, this time around, the tabletop release has been pushed back and with missing paper tournaments, data will be even harder to get than usual.
I've adopted some habits and techniques to help me understand how new cards will play out in practice. The first thing I do when I see a card that excites me is comparing it to related cards and their impact on previous formats. The card I want to talk about today is Sprite Dragon. Let's compare it to similar cards that have seen play in Legacy!
The first thing that comes to mind is that this card looks like a more powerful version of Stormchaser Mage. That card itself had seen play before War of the Spark introduced the powerful Dreadhorde Arcanist to the Blue-Red Delver archetype. The Delver versions that made use of the Wizard also played Monastery Swiftspear and generally took a more aggressive approach than the versions we know today. Since counterspells are so much worse than burnspells alongside creatures featuring the prowess keyword, Stormchaser Mage required a nontraditional shell to shine.
Sprite Dragon, however, does work very well alongside counterspells and other forms of disruption, as the creature simply keeps its boosted stats from casting many noncreature spells. While Stormchaser Mage needs you to one-shot kill the opponent with a flurry of spells in a single turn to maximize its potential, Sprite Dragon can play both roles: as a super aggressive threat backed up by Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning to finish a game quickly, but also next to a plethora of cantrips like Ponder, Brainstorm, and Preordain that find you the perfect answer to their threat or cards to protect your Dragon turn after turn while it grows and grows.
The fact that it has less toughness from the start shouldn't be a big deal as Wrenn and Six has been banned for good. There aren't that many effects left that punish fragile toughness 1 creatures in Legacy main decks right now. It may miss a block sometimes and you may need to consider playing it later to avoid some effect that deals small amounts of damage. But generally, adding +1/+1 counters to the creature makes up for that disadvantage by far.
Eliminate the Competition
Since Sprite Dragon fits nicely into the Delver shells for the above-stated reasons, we need to compare it to the 2-drops that are being played at the moment. I talked about in previous articles already: whenever we want to incorporate a new card into an existing deck, we need to try to cut something similar, something that's generally weaker or replaceable, or push the deck in a new direction. Currently, successful Delver lists run a mix of Young Pyromancer and Dreadhorde Arcanist. While those two cards don't share much with Sprite Dragon — except for their converted mana cost and occupied space in the Delver deck — we still try to find differences and see if Sprite Dragon outperforms the status quo in any or some ways.
The scary thing about Young Pyromancer and Dreadhorde Arcanist is not their big body or that they're winning quickly – it's their snowballing abilities that create card advantage. Leave them unchecked for only a few turns and the damage is done: the Pyromancer creates an army of 1/1 Elemental tokens and even if you find and resolve a removal spell now, you'll simply lose to its leftovers. Similar is true for the Arcanist. After attacking only a handful of times, so many cantrips and removal spells have been cast from the graveyard that the advantage generated for the Delver player will be hard to dismantle.
Not leaving behind any form of resource when dying is a big disadvantage, but Sprite Dragon will have dealt more damage in the meantime which can be relevant in a tempo deck as well. Looking at the removal that is popular in Legacy, Sprite Dragon will be able to grow out of Lightning Bolt's reach and therefore be able to dodge more spells than its rivals. It may be true that it falls to Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast, which is a relevant downside. But Elks that keep their +1/+1 counters are great versus opposing Oko, Thief of Crowns on the other hand. Haste is another big advantage over the two creatures being used; you can save some cantrips and counterspells in the late game to aim for a one-shot kill with Sprite Dragon, whereas Pyromancer and Arcanist always need to survive a full turn cycle before they can work on the opponent's life total.
It may look as if Sprite Dragon just doesn't cut it against its competition, but I want to compare it to another famous card. Do you know what all Delver decks with a green splash have in common? They all run the mighty Tarmogoyf. Do you know which creature was a popular finisher for tempo decks when Future Sight wasn't printed yet? Quirion Dryad. It was outclassed by Tarmogoyf because the Lhurgoyf is also a big beater when you draw it off the top of your deck and have no gas left. Goyf also is immediately bolt-proof in most game states and therefore became the premier vanilla beater in all of Legacy quickly.
What if Quirion Dryad gets haste and flying and doesn't require you to splash though? Suddenly, the card sounds quite promising, if you're asking me. Sprite Dragon adds a whole new dimension to Blue-Red Delver: It gets a roadblock. Grixis Delver incorporates Gurmag Angler and green variants can stall the ground and ignore opposing blockers with the big Goyf, but Blue-Red is lacking this flexibility with its current creature suite.
Moving into Another Direction
Today's Blue-Red Delver decks are very good at generating card advantage with their threats. When we think about maximizing Sprite Dragon's potential, we need to take another direction. If we're talking about big bodies instead of card advantage, Pteramander also comes to mind. You can play it for cheap and start applying pressure, while leaving mana up, cantripping and preparing to activate its ability when the time is right to receive a 5/5 flier — which is pretty terrifying. I don't think Pteramander is better than Sprite Dragon, but it may fit in better alongside the Dragon than Pyromancer or Arcanist. After all, this version of the deck should capitalize on quick and big flying creatures and the more you have, the more dangerous they become.
I have played a lot of Blue-Red Delver myself and quickly made this list which I hope to try out soon:
|Blue-Red Sprite Dragon Delver|
I don't know if this version is better than existing lists. It's possible we have to push more for an aggressive take and include Monastery Swiftspear, Stormchaser Mage, and Fireblast if we want to maximize Sprite Dragon's potential. It could also be that Sprite Dragon should simply replace True-Name Nemesis or Young Pyromancer depending on the expected metagame and leave the rest of the shell as it was. Only exploration and practice will tell us.
How would you build a deck featuring Sprite Dragon? Do you think it has a place in Legacy or will only be playable in Modern or even just Pioneer? Tell me about your thoughts in the comments!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.