Stroke of Dracogenius

Today marks the beginning of Izzet week, and seeing as much on my calendar gave me pause. You see, I’ve never built an Izzet-colored Commander deck. Every other guild has had its chance, but none of Izzet’s options inspired me. First of all, there’s Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, who seems to do cool things, but in reality, you’re just drawing cards until you kill the table, whether that happens to be via infinite combo or not. The other Izzet option from Guildpact was Tibor and Lumia, but ultimately, Basilisk Collar only takes you so far, and the twins don’t really do anything else. Then, along came Magic: The Gathering Commander with Nin, the Pain Artist. Using Nin on your own indestructible guys is pretty sweet, but a few different people in my playgroup were hot on the idea, and I didn’t want to oversaturate the table with Nins. And that brings us to Return to Ravnica and Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius.

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius

Initially, I wrote the guild leader’s new incarnation off as more of the same. Sure, it’s nice that you can now play a Niv-Mizzet deck without being targeted because it’s so easy for you to combo, but it was still the whole card-draw-plus-burn thing. Dejected, I contemplated taking this theme week off or saving my Ink-Treader Nephilim deck to show off, but I took one more look at the Dracogenius.

Niv-Mizzet 2.0 allows you to convert mana into cards, and due to these “casting cost” things in the cards’ upper-right-hand corners, mana also allows you to convert those cards in hand into effects. Where Mr. Firemind requires dedicated draw spells, all that his bulked-up version asks for is lots and lots of mana.

We’re not in green, but normally, artifact mana would mitigate that problem pretty effectively. Unfortunately, our draconic overlord demands colored mana, so the usual suspects like Sol Ring, Thran Dynamo, and Everflowing Chalice aren’t going to do much.

Another Way

If only there were a way to make cards do something without having to spend mana—then, you could just keep drawing more cards . . . And then inspiration struck.

Mogg Salvage
Commandeer

But what about all of these useless lands that are going to clog up your hand?

Seismic Assault

Still, there aren’t enough of these cards to fill an entire deck, and even if there were, who wants to miss out on sweet spells such as Mind's Desire and Magmatic Force? If only they had alternate costs, too . . . 

Dream Halls
Jhoira of the Ghitu

Under Niv-Mizzet’s tutelage, I eventually learned everything, at which point, the answer seemed trivial.

Omniscience

Add in some big spells and cards that synergize with Niv’s ability, and you have yourself a deck:

"Pure Dracogenius"

Commander (1)
Removal (13)
Countermagic (5)
Draw (7)
Burn (4)
Threats (16)
Survival (3)
Freebies (6)
Ramp (11)
Lands (34)
Buy This Deck From CoolStuffInc.com

Something to note here: While I normally exclude infinite combos from my Commander decks, too many of the cool cards in this one could go infinite, so I’ve instead decided to just never go for the combos even if I draw them. I’ll note a few here so that those of you with playgroups that enjoy such things can combo off and so that the rest of you can avoid doing so accidentally.

Glad that’s out of the way. Now, I could sit here and try to tell you that you haven’t lived until you’ve paired Tandem Lookout with Lobber Crew (and I would be telling the truth), but instead, how’s about you watch a game?

The Most Dangerous Game

I sit down at a table with three people I don’t know, and after shuffling, the commanders are flipped up.

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius
Maelstrom Wanderer
Sen Triplets
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

I begin to suspect that this group might be a little bit more competitive than I anticipated, but it’s too late to do much about it now—we’re off to the races. Since I don’t know these people very well and don’t want to offend them or impinge upon their privacy, for the remainder of the description, I’m going to refer to them by their commanders’ names.

Sen Triplets wins the die roll and starts things off with a Snow-Covered Island. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV seems unimpressed, draws for the turn, and plays a Flooded Strand and Mana Crypt . . . and Talisman of Progress . . . and sacrifices Flooded Strand for Tundra to play Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. “Seems good,” the table courses in unison (okay, so maybe this part is taking a bit of an artistic license). I immediately forget about Thalia and try to cast an Expedition Map off my first land drop before embarrassedly picking it back up and passing, and Maelstrom Wanderer’s lone Forest is no more impressive. Turn two sees the Grand Arbiter himself join the fray and more “land, go”-ing from the rest of the table, and all of a sudden, it doesn’t look like a whole lot of spells are going to be cast this game.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

In an attempt to stem the bleeding, Maelstrom Wanderer Wastelands Augustin’s Tundra, and after the Ravnican bureaucrat Fabricates a Winter Orb, I follow up with a “free,” 2-mana Mogg Salvage on his Mana Crypt. Finally, Sen Triplets Force of Wills the incoming Winter Orb. Teamwork!

With The Threat now under control, a lot of lands hit the board while the Arbiter’s 2-power dudes beat down. Then, the Sen Triplets take some time to Brainstorm before their turn, and by some miracle, they reveal Terminus on the following draw step!

Terminus

What are the chances?

With the tax collectors out of the way, Wanderer goes to Cultivate next year’s crop, as do I, if you count Darksteel Ingots and Chromatic Lanterns as crops. The next turn, I have the genius idea of casting the Dracogenius, but the Triplets offer some Arcane Denial involving the marginal value of bionic pigeon feathers. I tell you: The old guard just doesn’t understand the potential revenues associated with putting a Dragon onto the board.

Maelstrom Wanderer’s Trinket Mage finds a Sol Ring, but like my Darksteel Ingot, its fate is to Return to Dust. Luckily, I still have enough mana to recast my commander, and while the Triplets’ Intuition finds them a way to Hinder me, a bit of well-timed Misdirection ensures the Dracogenius makes it in.

 . . . And Wanderer draws a few cards off a freshly cast Rhystic Study. Sadly, mine isn’t the only commander coming out to play; the Rhystic Study triggers seem to have piqued Maelstrom Wanderer’s appetite for cardboard. The Elemental joins the fray with Mulldrifter and Glen Elendra Archmage in tow and promptly makes for Augustin’s face.

The next turn, Niv goes looking for cards on the Sen Triplets’ side of the board, but the vengeful sisters Exclude my follow-up Avatar of Fury from the party leaving, thereby leaving the path wide open for Maelstrom Wanderer and company to put me in my place (that place apparently being 27 life). Finally, the Alaran Elemental takes out a Proteus Staff and turns Niv-Mizzet into Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, but not before the Dragon takes four bites out of his delicious brain. I have Dragonstorm in hand to find Niv-Mizzet again, but first, I need either a lot more mana or a way to deal with the Archmage.

Glen Elendra Archmage

Sen Triplets deals with half of the problem when their Supreme Verdict knocks the Faerie into its persisted state and my Empyrial Plate eats the other half. With Mana Geyser in hand, I ought to be able to Dragonstorm, but everyone has left their blue mana untapped, so instead, I opt to send out Hoarding Dragon as bait for countermagic, a force it doesn’t meet. There is no way that Maelstrom Wanderer isn’t being recast the following turn, so next time I get to go, I’ll be hard-pressed not to have a huge Dragonstorm turn. Maelstrom Wanderer untaps and Time Warps before casting a Fact or Fiction, then immediately goes again and lumbers onto the stack bringing along an entwined Tooth and Nail.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Zealous Conscripts

Uh-oh.

Kiki-Jiki taps targeting the Conscripts, Wanderer asks if anybody had an answer, nobody speaks, and all seems lost. And then, the Sen Triplets, with only 2 mana available, call up Snapcaster Mage to make a Slaughter Pact with the Mirror Breaker.

And yet somehow, Maelstrom Wanderer doesn’t seem particularly perturbed as he untaps his Thran Dynamo, plays his land for the turn, and proceeds to kick Rite of Replication on the Conscripts. Snapcaster Mage, Maelstrom Wanderer, seven Zealous Conscripts, and my own Hoarding Dragon come rushing up to greet me, and for all of its claims, Elixir of Immortality does me no good.

At this point, I leave the table, but Maelstrom Wanderer eventually claims victory just as Augustin is starting to get back into the game. There’s probably a lesson about focusing too much on the threat in there somewhere.

Hypotheses Requiring Further Research

While this may not have been the Dracogenius’s best showing, you can rest assured that even in this hostile a field, it never felt terribly outgunned. There are always a lot of cards on hand, and the abundance of free spells makes all of the Dragons a lot less clunky. In fact, I’d consider adding the Pyrokinesis that I’d earlier deemed too weak. Oh, and as always, Dragonstorm is sweet. Why do I so rarely see this card played outside my own decks? Well, if you like Dragonstorming, next week’s deck will be right up your alley. You have your teaser; run along now.