My Elder Dragon Highlanders

My first Commander, Kiki-Jiki.

~ I started playing Magic: The Gathering in 2001, in 3rd grade. My brother was in 5th going to 6th and we saw some 7th Edition booster packs and starter decks near the checkout at Albertsons. I don’t know what compelled us to pick them out, a random grocery store gift from mom {pls+ty}, beyond the art.

For me, it was the Goblin. Their deep green skin and devilish features were captivating {should be no wonder that my Warhammer army of choice was Orcs & Goblins, though I do not remember which came first… must’ve been MTG; do I feel some sort of strange kinship with the goblin? Or is it merely about the fact that I like little chaos guys}.

Magic is definitely part of the reason I got a 100 on every spelling test throughout elementary school.

The flame symbol for the color red, appearing on every card in the top right corner, was another stylish attraction. So I chose red, the Goblin-based “Infestation” deck; Kevin chose the black deck, with a dark knight as the signature card and the title “Decay.”

We had a lot of fun with those decks. And we also had no idea what we were doing. Lol. We didn’t fully understand how to play! And Magic: The Gathering is very complicated, let me assure you. Pre-Internet, we learned the rules piecemeal, by playing and referring to the little booklet that came with the box, which only half-explained everything {to our ADHD brains}. You get the picture. Sometimes via guesswork we “decided” the fate of keyword rules without full explanation. I believe First Strike was just also Haste because we couldn’t figure out what it could do.

So we played Magic vigorously, too young, under our own set of rules. {Call them MTG: Kid Rules}

Oh, and Kevin, my older brother by 3.5 years {8 vs. 11}, beat me basically every time.

My deck of Goblins, and red more generally, wants to get creatures out fast, attacking early and often. Red is the fastest color to dish out damage, and is also the one with the least staying power. Goblins stack up, attain mass boosts, and continuously get into the combat zone throughout the game, until you win or the goblins are all dead. My brother’s deck, the beginner-friendly “Mono Black Control” build, wants a long game, with creatures killed and life drained slowly, or piece by piece. The lore of red mana is that it’s passion incarnate, rage and speed needing their unleash — whereas black mana is all about power and doing whatever it takes to gain it: destroying, sacrificing, discarding cards and your humanity.

I launched my army of goblins at his graveyard of rats and zombies and specters and fallen angels… And I lost every time we played. Basically, he kept making me discard my finishers before I could play them. {My first win? Lightning Elemental!! from a later booster pack}

Of course, I was a dumb kid. And I even remember — back then — catching on that sometimes Kevin would draw two or even three cards at upkeep {start of turn} when he wasn’t supposed to. Cheating, eh? And then, to prove my idiocy, I recall thinking: Well, that’s probably not helping him win that much. Ha! {drawing cards produces the most powerful advantage in the game of MTG!}

I started to pull my own “fat cards” [i.e. drawing 2+ cards surreptitiously at the start of each upkeep] as well, eventually resulting in us creating a house rule:

When you start your turn with zero cards in hand, you may draw 3 cards.

Playing with no hand was certainly no fun, with no cards to play or just look at.

We had a lot of fun playing MTG: Kid Rules. And it has carried into a lifelong love of the game. Though I haven’t been an active player all these years, MTG has remained a most favored hobby. Fond memories mixed with strategic depth, aesthetic power, and collectible dopamine make it a near-perfect tabletop game, in my humble view. {It’s also expensive and you have to have the right group to play with}

My active and re-activated years faded in and out over the years, through eras I now self-proclaim as such:

Kid Discovery Era: 2001–2005

High School Advisory into Standard FNM* Tourneys: 2009–2011

College Commander Saga: 2013–2014

Co-Worker Revival: 2018–2021ish

Writer About Games: 2023-present?

~ *FNM = “Friday Night Magic”

I’ve collected a lot of cards at this point, though I’ve missed many sets. Only active in the above periods and not playing every release, my current collection of decks and loose libraries nevertheless contains cards from practically every modern set {2001-present}. And that’s because of Commander, or its former colloquial name: “Elder Dragon Highlander.”

Introduced by my playgroup in 2013ish, I was initially resistant to the format of Commander — wherein you choose 1 card to “lead” your deck, constructing around their colors and abilities to the tune of 100 cards, each one unique. Standard and Modern formats include a 60-card deck, with up to four of each nonbasic land allowed in the construction. Long story short, the deckbuilding and play strategies are significantly different between the two Constructed formats. {vs. Limited, where you open booster packs and play whatever you get — also great}

But once I got it, Commander became a new way of looking at the game, changing how and why I played. Deckbuilding became a much more interesting process, compounded by diverse options from across the game’s history. Choosing favorite abilities for your EDH leader themselves, using cards you’d never think to if not for their perfect pairing with your core strategy, spending less money, etc. All part of the Commander experience. Also playing multiplayer games with friends vs. strangers at public tourneys was night and day as far as enjoyment, for me.

My favorite way to play MTG is with friends in repeated series, with decks continuously developed and stories inspired. Commander is superior to the other formats for this because the games are significantly more chaotic and exciting when playing with the same people and decks over & over {100 cards and no 4-sets vs. 60 cards with 4-sets = higher variability of your deck “working”}

And besides, the politics and deal-making of multiplayer Magic are my real joys.

“If you let me keep my Sheoldred, I won’t send my demons at you.” / “Stop attacking me or your Big Dinosaur gets it.” / “I’ll stop flinging fireballs your way if you stop counterspelling me…” etc. etc.

Commander provides the endless climactic plays of a 4 or 5-player free-for-all, filled with card interactions you must see to believe, with deck fortunes and player allegiances always transforming, shaping into strange winners and producing unlikely card heroes.

There was a saying at our tables: first deck to work loses. Because everyone teams up against the strongest board states to pare them down — an effective EDH player must bide their time, hide their power, and develop their plays under the guise of whatever temporary alliance works best for you. Temporary, because all players know that everyone has to go down by the end.

After all, there can be only one!

To honor the game of Magic and Elder Dragon Highlander, here I present my top 8 EDH decks, ordered by when they were built:

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker — “KJ and The Dragons

~ play big ETB Dragons, Titans, Wurms, etc. and copy them with Kiki. Very simple and very effective🐉.

Meren of Clan Nel Toth — “Meren’s Restless Recursions

~ Sacrifice creatures for experience and gain milled demons back. Rinse and repeat💀.

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician — “Derevi Taps

~ Formerly: a Voltron deck of hexproof creatures and big auras; Now: a trigger-happy deck of creatures and other permanents that want to tap many times in one turn — pings, draws, tokens, exchanges of permanents, etc🚰.

Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow — “Tiger Strikes Midnight

~ Ninja masters constantly in the red zone for huge damage + card advantage ~ simultaneously. Arguably my strongest deck⭐.

Narset, Enlightened Master — “Narset’s Playpen

~ Narset is the only creature in this deck. Most everything else is enchantments, artifacts, and big ass multi-combat sorceries. They all attach or aid her as Ultimate Voltron🤖.

K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth — “There Will Be Blood

~ Black Phyrexian Mana for all! A nasty deck that does nasty things. My favorite😈.

Illuna, Apex of Wishes — “Monster Island

~ King Ghidorah brings all her monster friends off the top of the library. {Haven’t really got to play this one…😔}

Anhelo, The Painter — “Art and Its Casualties

~ Grixis Control: Sacrifice recurring 2 bodies for devastating 2x spell copies, such as the delightful Cruel Ultimatum😋.


MTG questions to ask every player: My Answers

Favorite color: Black. Best art, can do anything, and does it with wicked style.

Favorite Commander: Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. First build, “KJ & The Dragons” lot of great memories. Also love Meren, K’rrik, and Yuriko.

Favorite card: Bloodghast. Won me more tournament games than any card (not that I’ve played in that many), back in Zendikar era mono-black vampires — alongside Nocturnus, Nighthawk, Gatekeeper, Bloodwitch. Love the art by Daarken!


2023 Goal: Make rival Urza, Lord High Artificer vs. Yawgmoth, Thran Physician decks – and duel them against one another on a weekly basis, always adjusting and honing cards and strategies, just like two old grandmasters… {No infinite combos, no bank-breaking builds.} Whose deck will be superior? It is the age-old question that I intend to answer!