Blake Rasmussen: Hello and welcome to the Magic Story Podcast, where we go behind the scenes with the people who create the worlds and the characters of Magic: the Gathering. Although lately, that’s pretty much just been Alison Luhrs.
Alison Luhrs: It me. Hi! Hello!
BR: Hello! I’m Blake Rasmussen.
AL: I’m Alison Luhrs!
BR: I’m your host, she’s the one who knows all the things. So we are in the middle of talking about the tribes of Commander. By now, you have probably already seen the full Commander release.
AL: Wasn’t that great?
BR: It was amazing!
AL: It was pretty great!
BR: The excitement is at an all-time high! Everybody said this was the greatest Commander release ever.
AL: Wow! They sure did.
BR: Man, that happened.
BR: So, we are onto this week: dragons!
BR: Dargons. It’s one of the most iconic creature types in Magic.
AL: It is.
BR: And since we’ve already previewed all of C17 and already talked about all of it, all of the gloves are off, Alison.
AL: Uh, thank god!
BR: You can say all of the things about the C17 dragons.
AL: I won’t have to make you guys picture what the art looks like because you can just look at it with your eyeballs, there it is!
BR: Just do it!
AL: Just look at the dargons, aren’t they great? Uh, I feel so free.
BR: Well, we’ll find out how free you can be.
AL: Let’s find-
BR: We’ve got all kinds of topics here.
AL: That’s a weird challenge. Okay!
BR: Okay. So, let’s start general. We’re going to back off that excitement about the greatest Commander release ever.
BR: Lets start by telling us what defines a dragon in Magic. How are they different from drakes, wyverns, and other various flying lizard things.
AL: So, in Magic, wurms are large, limbless, slithering reptiles. They can have different jaw shapes, some of them are more lizardlike, others more like lampreys, but none of them are really sentient. They were the real losers of the Elder Dragon Wars. So wurms used to have limbs and wings, but when they didn’t do so hot in the wars, their limbs and wings were torn off. So all wurms, many, many, many generations removed, are from those Elder wurms who fought in the Elder Dragon Wars back in the day.
Drakes are smaller, less powerful dragons. They are also reptilian, they always have flying, and are more animal-like than their dragon cousins are.
Dragons are dragons. They are [laughs]
BR: [laughs] End of podcast.
AL: End of podcast! I think we can all agree that dragons are dragons. Sometimes they are super smart, sometimes they’re big and dumb, but they’re always kickass because they’re dragons.
BR: Cool. So how does Magic do dragons different from ones that you sometimes see in pop culture?
AL: Our dragons are jerks. Like, as a rule, there are not many benevolent, nice dragons in Magic. Their body shape differs from plane to plane, but what makes them stand out is how smart they can get. In Magic, some of our most wise, intelligent, and really scary smart dragons—our most powerful characters are often these giant Elder dragons that have lived across centuries and millennia and are so amazingly smart that we cannot begin to understand their plots and machinations. And the way that they relate to the world around them is very alien from how I think that most of our other characters and most of our main Planeswalkers would engage with the world around them.
BR: So we’re talking like Nicol Bolas-
AL: Oh yeah, we’re talking the Ugins and the Nicol Bolases, the Nivs of the world. For these dragons, they are so smart and so old that they are kind of above everything else around them. They see mortals as their little playtoys to use in whatever they need to make their plans a reality.
BR: Sounds very dragonlike to me.
AL: They’re jerks! Huge jerks. Some are nice and others—Ugins pretty chill, he’s a pretty chill dude.
BR: Sometimes. Until people don’t listen to him.
AL: Sometimes when they don’t listen to him. Niv’s very smart but also like killed all the other dragons, so he’s also kind of a jerk. It’s jerkiness, it’s a common trait. Dear Sarkhan Vol loves them all.
BR: Speaking of common traits, what kind of mechanics are often associated with dragons and in Magic?
AL: So the nice thing about dragons is that everyone kind of knows what they do. Dragons fly, dragons burn, dragons sometimes draw you cards. If you like straightforward stompy, burny aggression, dragons are for you.
BR: Aw. So they’ve got abilities like the firebreathing or different ways to deal damage to other creatures.
AL: Exactly! So sometimes they hoard stuff, they might make you things that you can then make even more of, Sometimes they just barf out more dragons, that’s always fun.
BR: [whispers] They barf out more dragons?
AL: There’s a couple that like create a token.
BR: Oh, yeah yeah yeah.
AL: I always picture it like barfing? Like he summons a dragon.
BR: They just spew other dragons out of their mouth. More dragons!
So, the C17 dragons are all—it’s a five color deck.
BR: And we’ve kind of talked about the fact that dragons can be a lot of different things, but they’re all kind of jerks.
BR: Besides jerkiness, what did we do for the dragons of C17 to help group them together?
AL: We made them do cool things when you have other dragons in play. So what better way to group a bunch of dragons together than to literally make them all playable. There’s a lot of fixing in this deck so that if you do want to try and make your five color super duper dragon happen, then your deck can totally support that. We just shoved as many dragons into that deck as possible, which is super fun.
BR: So, speaking of shoving as many dragons in there as possible, the dragons deck is five colors, unlike the other Commander decks, and even the individual dragon Commanders in C17 are mostly five colors. Now dragons have been traditionally associated with red, every color has some at some point, but why did we go with all five colors for dragons?
AL: We went with all five colors, I believe, because we wanted to feature some of the biggest, baddest, most powerful of all. O-Kagachi is a good place to start.
BR: So let’s start there. Tell us about O-Kagachi.
AL: So, those of you listening at home, you’re going to pause this and you’re going to go to your kitchen and you’re going to get your beverage of choice. Stretch your neck out.
BR: Get a snack.
AL: Stay hydrated, and then you’re going to come back and you’re going to hit play because I’m going to attempt to summarize a good chunk of the Kamigawa storyline.
For those of you playing at home, the Kamigawa storyline is complicated? It’s kind of tricky to follow, so bear with me here.
So, O-Kagachi is the biggest, baddest kami on Kamigawa. So he’s like this big old kind of god, spirit dragon thing. It protected the barrier that divided the physical world from the spirit world. So yeah, very first kami and old as heck.
But, when Konda did his thing in the spirit world in the storyline, he tore out O-Kagachi’s heart, which was called That Which Was Taken. And it’s also kind of O-Kagachi’s child? So Konda took that and he used that in his own realm.
O-Kagachi was peeved and started the Kami War in response. So, That Which Was Taken, which is the title of the thing, was later stolen by Toshiro Umezawa, who freed the spirit trapped in That Which Was Taken. And that spirit turned into a dragony looking gal named Kyodai. Kyodai and her soul sister, which is like the sort of human version of her, eventually merged into the Sisters of Flesh and Spirit and destroyed O-Kagachi.
Kamigawa’s super straightforward, gang.
AL: It’s real easy.
BR: And that leaves out the main plot of the story, which is following Toshi all around.
AL: Yup! Yup.
BR: Because that was our first attempt at making a black-aligned villain.
AL: Oh, a white-aligned villain.
BR: Sorry, white-aligned villain and black-aligned hero.
AL: Which is rad! Which is cool.
BR: Yeah, we did some backflips in there to make that happen.
AL: But yeah so that is the B plot. [laughs]
BR: [laughs] So why is O-Kagachi five colors?
AL: You know maybe you could answer that for me. Is there a good-
BR: I have a theory.
AL: I would love to hear your theory. I don’t have an answer so I would love to know.
BR: God, I read those books so long ago but let’s see if I remember. So there are five other dragons in Kamigawa. And O-Kagachi is kind of like the all-dragon, the all-spirit-dragon over them. So I’m guessing it encompasses aspects of all of them?
AL: Yeah, that makes sense. Sure.
BR: So we’ll go with that.
AL: It’s worth mentioning that I joined this team after C17 was made, so sometimes there’s “Why was this choice made?” and I’m like “Ah, my coworkers though it was cool!”
BR: I mean I heard from Kelly Digges that’s kind of the reason.
AL: Yeah, I feel like it’s the right answer.
BR: And also there was talk of “Why isn’t O-Kagachi indestructible?” So I know what this version of O-Kagachi represents is the period of time after That Which Was Taken was taken.
AL: [laughs] Yes.
BR: So anyone, if you remember that card, kudos. I happen to, I played a lot of Kamigawa.
AL: Also, That Which Was Taken is just the best name for anything.
BR: Such a great name.
AL: Any time that I lose something and somebody’s like “Alison, what are you looking for?” I’ll just look at them deadpan and say “That Which Was Taken.”
BR: [whispers] That Which Was Taken.
Kamigawa had some great names.
AL: The best names!
BR: Would people want to return to Kamigawa, that’s what they’d want to return to. Just the naming system in that block.
AL: Yes! Fun memory from other people in this company that I’ve worked with: I can’t remember who it was, but somebody told me this really great story about trying to write descriptions of Pro Tour stuff. Trying to remember where commas were in names and trying to remember what is the title and what’s the descriptor of all these hundreds of cards? It sounded just mean.
BR: There were more commas per name in Kamigawa than probably the rest of Magic combined.
AL: I’m so sorry. Some names were so cool but others were just like “I’m so sorry for anyone who has to write tournament reports on this.”
BR: Yeah, it was confusing. I was one of those people. We managed.
Anyway, That Which Was Taken grants indestructibility to things. So once it was taken from O-Kagachi, this is the point in time the card represents. Which is why it’s not indestructible.
AL: Makes sense, makes sense.
BR: It’s also just stupidly strong to have an indestructible Commander. So that’s another reason. But mostly story!
AL: [laughs] It’s all about the marriage. It’s about both parts of R&D working together to make the best card possible. And when you do have that marriage of mechanics and flavor, it’s infinitely more satisfying than if one of those things totally outbalances the other.
BR: Yup! Absolutely.
So let’s move on to the other legends of the dragon Commander deck. Tell us about the Ur-Dragon.
AL: Okay so I’m going to do what I did before and I’m just going to read what is written for him in the C17 pamphlet that comes with the deck because it’s metal as hell.
“An immensely powerful entity from the dawn of time, the Ur-Dragon is a prevailing force in the Multiverse with wings that extend across the Eternities. It stirs the fabric of the cosmos. Its breath bellows over mortal realms, stealing the essence of life. Its claws rake the aether, sundering ancient bonds. Its eyes perceive the deepest truths concealed in wells of time. And it’s bellowing roar summons its brood, echoing through the blood of all dragonkind. For the Ur-Dragon is the progenitor from which the dragons of the Multiverse spawned.”
BR: Whoever wrote that’s getting a raise.
AL Seriously! It’s so good. I read this and was like fist pumping at my desk.
BR: That is what the Ur-Dragon is!
AL: Hell yeah! It’s so metal.
BR: Get em Ur-Dragon!
Okay, let’s move onto a less metal-no well technically a more metal dragon.
AL: Yes, this dragon is more metal. Literally.
BR: Yeah. Ramos, Dragon Engine.
AL: So if you’ve been skipping ahead to hear about Brothers’ War stuff, you should probably pause for this. So Ramos is a godlike mechanical dragon engine from Phyrexia. But he’s cool now! So don’t worry about anything.
So he was built a long time ago and originally served Mishra during the Brothers’ War, but was reprogrammed by Urza to protect Tersiare. He scooped up and protected plenty of humans and merfolk from around Argoth and planeshifted them around before crash landing into a Mercadian city. They were ultimately okay with that and worshiped Ramos as their creator.
Many thousands of years later, the Weatherlight crew crash landed on Mercadia. The crew encountered all kinds of myths about Ramos and eventually met the guy. He gifted them with five powerstones containing his essence. Pretty swell guy!
BR: Huh. I knew like none of that. That’s really cool.
BR: Finally, let’s move onto Wasitora. Cat dragon. So that covers two different C17 tribes.
AL: It sure does!
BR: But this one’s centered on Jund. What’s her story?
AL: So she’s the queen of the cat dragons of Nekoru on Madara. Which is now my new title when I’m introduced to people.
So after reaching an agreement with Madara’s imperial champion, Tetsuo Umezawa, she became the defender of the village in exchange for regular offerings of fish. It’s canonically what she does. Dead serious. She’s now the protector and just like “Bring me fish. I’ll be cool.”
BR: Bring me fish. Such a cat.
Alright so now we’re going to play a game, Alison. It’s called “Which of these is not a real Magic dragon name?”
AL: Oh my god. I’m gonna do so poorly, I’ve only been here for three years but let’s do it.
BR: We’re gonna get through this. This’ll be cool.
Alright, so we’re going to start off easy. I’m going to give you three names for this first one. You tell me which is not a real dragon in Magic: the Gathering.
Canopy Dragon. Cloud Dragon. Castration Dragon.
AL: I think I know how all of these questions are going to go. So I think it’s castration dragon?
BR: You are correct!
AL: Oh thank god. He gets lot of work, the castration dragon.
BR: Okay, next one.
Hellkite Regent. Imperial Dragon. Dragon Tyrant. Or Skyline Despot.
AL: Ooo. Skyline Despot is such a good name, but I think that’s real.
BR: It is real.
AL: Good. What were the other three again?
BR: So Hellkite Regent. Imperial Dragon. Dragon Tyrant.
AL: Dragon Tyrant’s very vague. I think that’s the fake one.
BR: That is incorrect.
AL: Ahhh. Which one was it?
BR: Imperial Dragon.
AL: Imperial Dragon, okay, Now I know that title is free to use on another card.
BR: Yes! If you wanna name it, you can go with Imperial Dragon.
Alright, next set. The theme for this one: hellkites.
Hellkite Igniter. Hellkite Overlord. Hellkite Tyrant. Hellkite Charger. Or Hellkite Hatchling.
AL: I think I’m going to with Tyrant on this one.
BR: Soooo, trick question. They’re all dragon names.
AL: You’re just trying to trick me then.
BR: I know. I just thought it was funny how many of them started with hellkite, and actually there are fifteen dragons with hellkite in their name.
AL: Holy cow!
BR: I’m going to read through all of them, because we’re on a dragon podcast.
AL: We’re getting paid to do this right now.
BR: “What’d you do at work today honey?” I read dragons into a microphone.
Akoum Hellkite, Ancient Hellkite, Bogardan Hellkite, Crimson Hellkite-I’m sorry, there are only fourteen things with hellkite in their name and I got a false positive on a different card. Hellkite Charger, Hellkite Hatchling, Hellkite Igniter, Hellkite Overlord, Hellkite Tyrant, Imperial Hellkite, Runehorn Hellkite, Shivan Hellkite, Steel Hellkite, and Thundermaw Hellkite. That is all of the hellkites.
AL: Nice. Now we know.
BR: Now we know.
Alright, so last one. I’m not tricking you on this one. One of these is in fact not a real dragon name.
Scourge of Valkas. Scourge of the Throne. Scourge of Nel Toth. Scourge of Keld. Scourge of Kher Ridges.
AL: Ah, oh god I’m going to go with Scourge of Keld?
AL: Yeah! Nice!
BR: All of those other scourges exist, but there is no Scourge of Keld.
Alright. More dragon trivia. This one’s going to be tough. I’d be beyond impressed if you were to get this correct.
So C17 gives us a cat dragon. But can you name the other creature types that have been crossed with dragons over the years? I’m going to have to check off any that you get here.
AL: Okay so spirit dragon.
AL: Zombie dragon.
AL: Wizard dragon.
BR: Correct! There’s only one of too. I think there’s only one.
AL: Hell yeah! And I think that’s all I got.
BR: Alright so the others are nightmare dragon, that was Worldgorger Dragon. Wurm, oddly enough.
AL: Really? That’s confusing.
BR: Yeah there were some elder dragon wurms? So elder is one of them. Demon dragon.
AL: Demon dragon?
BR: Demon dragon, that’s Malfegor. Skeleton. Skeleton dragon.
AL: Yeah! God I love the skeleton creature type so much.
BR: That would by Skithiryx.
AL: it’s just a normal whatever it was, but without any meat. So therefor it’s a skeleton.
BR: It’s just bones. And then fittingly, you mentioned wizard and cat, but also vampire! So there’s a dragon for every C17 tribe.
AL: Aw. Wonderful.
BR: Yeah, I wish I could say that was planned. Maybe it was? I have no idea, I didn’t make the set. I just talk into a microphone and sometimes write words.
AL: Yeah I just know the B plot of Kamigawa. [laughs]
BR: So much brain space taken up by the B plot of Kamigawa.
AL: So much brain space!
BR: When we retire, we will have so much knowledge that is good almost nowhere.
AL: I’ve actually found that my knowledge is both a blessing and a curse. So my cousin just had a kid and her daughter is maybe four years old now and she’s super into fairies, like really excited about it. And I had to do everything in my power not to tell her true mythological stories about what fairies were actually like in mythology? Because they were terrible and awful little things and they’re really fun if you’re a mono-blue player. I just knew that would go over the child’s head.
BR: So you didn’t like break out any Lorwyn fairy stories?
AL: No, so I didn’t tell her “Fairies are great! But don’t you think they’re a bit of a blight?” [laughs] I didn’t do it.
BR: [laughs] Yeah, it gets a little dark in there.
Alright so I’ve asked you this same question in the last couple of these podcasts: What dragon would you most like to write a story about that you haven’t already?
AL: Silumgar I think. I need to know more about his taste in jewelry. I want to know who that is-
BR: We know who that is.
AL: We know who that is and I want to know how that happened.
BR: Like why? And are there others?
AL: Are there others?
BR: Is that like his party necklace?
AL: Does Silumgar have like an Etsy store where he makes like cool trinkets that are made out of people for other dragons to buy?
AL: Like who knows! Maybe there’s a story there.
BR: There’s a story there.
AL: If anyone wants to set up Silumgar’s Etsy, let me know. I’ll totally buy the tiny people necklaces that you make.
BR: Alright! So before we go, since we’re reaching the end of this podcast, got any other dragon facts for us?
AL: Oh, I’ve got some good ones. I’ve got some really good ones.
So over the last year, a couple of my coworkers have started working on internal character dossiers—like descriptions of who this character is, how tall they are, what their powers are, what their history is. And there’s a really, really, really fun section in each of them that is talks about what music they listen to, do they like performances, like cultural things. How they interact with the world around them.
And so I pulled up the one for Nicol Bolas and holy cow it is so much fun. So these are direct from the document, I’m sure they’re fine to share.
AL: Probably. So Nicol Bolas is so far removed from his source culture, wherever he’s from, and has traveled so broadly that he no longer has speech patterns distinct to any given locale. If he has anything like a regional language, it takes a form of references no one alive could comprehend. He might offhandidly use a metaphor from a civilization that died out ten-thousand years ago or quote the philosophers of a species long extinct.
So basically he makes like the daddest of dad jokes, but from thousands and thousands of years before anyone else was alive so no one gets them.
BR: So he’s like that person that starts speaking Latin in casual conversation?
AL: Exactly. Absolutely. Like oh god come on Brandon you don’t need to do that.
Most mortal music is too simplistic for Nicol Bolas’s taste. When your ear is capable of discerning and following each individual instrument in a 60-piece orchestra simultaneously, enduring the average mortal popular tune is like listening to a child say “Dad!” over and over again for three minutes.
So he doesn’t really do music very much, and he also doesn’t waste time attending performances. Few troops are willing to visit him. He’s a lousy tipper.
BR: He’s a lousy tipper?
BR: So he’s a lousy tipper, but that implies that he does tip?
AL: Yeah, but like just enough.
BR: So like Nicol Bolas sometimes shows up to places that serve food to dragons and does pay and does leave a tip sometimes. Just not a great one?
AL: Just not a great one.
BR: Okay. That is canon. You’ve heard it here. Nicol Bolas purchases food.
AL: It is canon! He’s a lousy tipper. Don’t act like you’re surprised. He’s a genocidal maniac, of course he’s a bad tipper.
BR: I would just assume that he storms into a restaurant and takes what he wants and leaves, but no he at least is like “No. Not today.”
AL: “You know what sounds fun? I’d love to just destroy someplace.” Like he does that for sure, but I feel like on other days “Ugh, I’m kind of tired, I want someone else to just bring me food. Yeah I’ll tip them a little bit.”
BR: “Not a lot because the service was substandard.”
AL: Also he’s huge so he can’t really go many places.
BR: That’s true. It’s probably a very specialized restaurant.
AL: Yup, yup. There you go! [laughs]
BR: Alright we’ve gone far enough off track. We’re gonna shut this down before we go further into dragons or the B plot of Kamigawa.
AL: Don’t make me go back.
BR: Well, thank you very much, Alison, for flying us through all of that dragon information. That might be the worst one yet.
AL: Thank you! I’m always happy to scale a new obstacle.
BR: That’s so much better!
BR: Alright. That’s it for today’s episode. So we’re going to be back next Wednesday to talk about our final C17 tribe: cats. We will see you then.