The 5-color, shield blast-heavy deck affectionately dubbed "Greed Dragons" has the notable (or dubious, depending on who you ask) distinction of being the deck that helped shape the DragonStrike Infernus metagame. Many players were skeptical of its power at first, since its makeup flew in the face of some widely accepted conventions. Proudly and prominently featuring [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd], at the time believed to be a "kitchen table" card by a majority of the community, Greed Dragons tore through midrange decks with ease. The deck was an impossibly difficult matchup for Blurple decks, and a solid favorite against SaberBolt. Greed made popular the notion that you can just play all the best shield blasts to keep yourself alive against the "fair" strategies. It also held its own in the late game and went over the top of the slower WDL Control decks with its Fire section.
Jump ahead a few months to our current Clash of the Duel Masters environment, and Greed Dragons is not the same powerhouse it once was. "Keeper Control" presents challenges that the previous Greed Dragons shell cannot overcome without some tweaking.
Paul Clarke piloted Greed Dragons to a 2nd place finish in KMC Southbridge, Massachusetts -- the best finish for Greed since 7CLA hit shelves. Let's take a look at his build to see what changes he made:
3 [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Nix[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Hyperspeed Dragon[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Dreadclaw, Dark Herald[/ccProd] 1 [ccProd]Bolt-Tail Dragon[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Infernus the Awakened[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Infernus the Immolator[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd] 1 [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Stormspark Blast[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd]
11 Light | 7 Water | 8 Darkness | 12 Fire | 3 Nature
Paul made some obvious changes to combat the perceived metagame shift. 2 copies of [ccProd]Dreadclaw, Dark Herald[/ccProd] are insurance against [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd], particularly if the opponent has added a Nature section to their control shell. Paul kept all the 9-drops and simply opted to throw in [ccProd]Infernus the Immolator[/ccProd]. Paul also shifted the focus away from [ccProd]Hyperspeed Dragon[/ccProd] and back onto [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd] by showcasing the full three copies. Sadly, some concessions were made here -- [ccProd]Spellbane Dragon[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Moorna, Gatling Dragon[/ccProd] are nowhere to be found. [ccProd]Spellbane Dragon[/ccProd] was such an MVP for the deck back during 7CLA that I think it's criminal to not at least give him a single copy. It does make sense, though; you need to ensure that you're always able to deploy the largest threats possible, and if you're going all-in on [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd], then you need to make sure you have something worthwhile to summon with his ability.
The above deck is still very competitive, but I don't think it holds the title of best deck anymore.
Making Sense of the Shift
Going into the KMC in Southbridge, MA, I knew Greed Dragons had been taken down a peg, but I wanted to find a new spin on the deck. Everything I tried was getting eked out by control variants, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why. I talked to my friends from the local player base to try to get a better handle on what the deck was lacking.
Rob Wolinsky (top 4 KMC Kentucky and top 8 KMC NY) had already switched his deck up, so I solicited him for his advice:
The main reason Greed Dragons isn't the deck it used to be is simply because the meta evolved and Greed Dragons, by its very nature, couldn't. Decks like WDL got an amazing boost with cards like [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd], [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd], and, of course, [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd]. The only card Greed got that was an obvious addition was the new Infernus, which isn't enough to get it over the hump. Without the constant addition of new cards to a deck, it will die off and something new will take its place.
Another major problem Greed Dragons has always had is consistency. With cards like [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] being played and rush decks running rampant, and ramp decks racing toward [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd], Greed has the potential to fall so far behind that it just can't keep up once it loses its perfect progression.
I'm definitely in agreement with Rob's assessment. Let's dig a little deeper into some of these issues.
No Longer Top Dog
Greed Dragons lacked the grind-y control elements that WDL embodied, but what it could always be sure of was that [ccProd]Infernus the Awakened[/ccProd] was the biggest creature in the format, and no other deck could support him as well. Every successive Infernus you summon put your opponent further and further behind; they couldn't hope to trump him in combat, so they had to dig for a removal spell or sit there dawdling with slow [ccProd]Keeper of Dawn[/ccProd] plays. Meanwhile, you're coming in hard and triple breaking with no fear.
WDL Control began playing additional copies of uncosted removal like [ccProd]Death Smoke[/ccProd] to be able to deal with Infernus, but Greed Dragon's Fire section was always ahead of the curve. The control player needed to get Infernus off the board as soon as possible...but he or she couldn't leave [ccProd]Hyperspeed Dragon[/ccProd] sitting out there unanswered either. They should blow the [ccProd]Death Smoke[/ccProd] and just deal with Hyperspeed immediately, right? Well now how do they overcome [ccProd]Spellbane Dragon[/ccProd]? Removal decisions were always a losing battle for the WDL decks, and Greed Dragons were able to just ride the curve to victory.
For example, let's say the opponent used that [ccProd]Death Smoke[/ccProd] on your [ccProd]Hyperspeed Dragon[/ccProd], and then was able to summon [ccProd]Keeper of Dawn[/ccProd] to get back the [ccProd]Death Smoke[/ccProd] and cast it on your newly-summoned [ccProd]Infernus the Awakened[/ccProd]. Pretty good play, right? Well the WDL player had to hope he or she had an answer for the Lyra that was about to follow. Or Moorna. Or Andromeda. The creatures just became overwhelming as the game progressed.
Fast forward to today, and [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] is the big man on campus. WDL/Keeper Control variants are proudly running as many as 3 copies of this behemoth! Greed Dragons can't really justify his inclusion over [ccProd]Infernus the Immolator[/ccProd], so they can't claim battle zone inevitability any longer -- the entire reason for the deck's creation in the first place. Now, Greed finds itself holding on for dear life as soon as Tritonus splashes onto the battle zone. Even though Immolator has greater power, if Tritonus hits first, the control player is usually prepared with an answer for an Immolator summon thanks to the Water Monarch. Those 5 cards are insanely important.
Keeper of Laws Is That Dude
Remember my article on card advantage only mattering in specific contexts a few weeks back? Well look no further for a perfect example. WDL/Keeper Control decks have correctly adjusted course and decided to play more fatties and high impact shield blasts, which can be a real problem for the Greed player. [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] does everything you want him to do: he loads your hands with more threats (drawing into a 2nd or 3rd [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] is common), he loads your hand with answers (the familiar removal suite plus [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd]), and he guarantees that your opponent will not be able to take back the battle zone until they banish him (his Constrict ability).
Previously, Greed Dragons didn't mind getting light on cards in the late game. The "late game" was as early as turn 7-8 thanks to the Fire Birds. The existence of Tritonus means that Greed Dragons need to be able to generate more advantage out of their creatures than the metagame will always allow.
The card advantage your opponent amasses thanks to Tritonus will almost certainly spell your doom; they'll start being able to play a small threat and a removal spell, freezing one of your creatures in the process, while having 6 or 7 more cards in hand than you do.
Speaking of small threats: [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] can be a nightmare for Greed Dragons to get over. He sits out there impervious to [ccProd]Bone Blades[/ccProd] as long as the control player correctly includes a stable of cheap blockers. The Greed player is, in turn, forced to curve out and hope to punish the opponent for playing blockers with [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd]. Don't be shocked when the opponent casts a [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] and screws up your mana decisions or plucks a big Dragon out of your hand, though. Now you have very few ways of getting the Keeper off the board, and you simply can't afford to pick off your opponent's big creatures while the Keeper lives. It's a real catch-22. More often than not, the opponent will snowball their card advantage until winning with hexproof Keepers becomes a formality.
Lack of Surprise Factor
Perhaps the simplest but most important factor is this: the cat's out of the bag now.
- No one thought there was any way to have a 5 color, 40-44 card deck run smoothly.
- No one thought you get away with playing seven+ nine drops.
- [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] was overlooked by players of all skill levels.
- Opponents wouldn't always play around your [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd], leading to free wins.
- No one else was splashing [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd], so you essentially just had more [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd]s than they did, AND more creatures that would lead you to victory unless swiftly dispatched.
All of these facets of the deck are common knowledge now, and other decks have adopted this mentality and worked it into their own plans where appropriate. [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] can also lay waste to any hope Greed has of playing out of a bad opening hand with multiple 9-drops. Not only that -- it essentially gives them at least 3 turns worth of free information after that, since your mana decisions are oftentimes out of your control, so the opponent can map out exactly how your turns will progress.
Greed Dragons in the current metagame will often find themselves fighting an uphill battle against the 50+ card control decks. Greed will still have some strong finishes at KMCs when piloted correctly, but there are just so many things that can go wrong that are out of your control.
The deck's time in the sun may have passed, but the lessons it imparted on the player base remain.
Until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!