Magic History: Dragons of Tarkir

Magic Untapped takes a look back at Dragons of Tarkir, the final set in Magic: The Gathering's Khans of Tarkir block,

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Video Transcript:

The final set of the Tarkir block and the 67th expansion for Magic: The Gathering overall, Dragons of Tarkir released on March 27, 2015.  With it came 264 cards and a new version of the current timeline than what was experienced just two sets prior with Khans of Tarkir.

You can experience that first part of the story by watching our Khans of Tarkir video and see the second part in our Fate Reforged video, both listed in the channel’s Retrospectives playlist.

As for Dragons of Tarkir, here is a story summary for you:

Sorin Markov, one of the planeswalkers who had originally imprisoned the now-rampaging Eldrazi on Zendikar appears on Tarkir.  Guided by visions of a dark oracle, he is searching for answers of what had become of his friend, ally, and fellow Eldrazi-sealer, the spirit dragon planeswalker, Ugin, as he had not appeared on Zendikar as he had when the time came.

Shortly after his arrival and with the assistance of an Atarka warrior, Sorin travels to Ugin’s hedron cocoon.  He awakens the Spirit Dragon from his slumber and informs him of the freeing of the Eldrazi.

Ugin thanks Sorin for releasing him and instructs him to find the third and final planeswalker whom had sealed the Eldrazi away more than a thousand years before: the Lithomancer, Nahiri.  He then warns the vampire that he does not wish to see his face again unless it’s accompanied by hers.

Furious, Sorin departs and muses about how things were easier when he only had one world to worry about.

Meanwhile, the dragon-shaman planeswalker, Sarkhan Vol, appears in present-day Tarkir.  Things, however, are different from how he remembers it.

Instead of the khans of Tarkir’s five great clans ruling a dragon-free world while in constant strife with one another, dragons now ruled things.  In the thousand years since Vol’s actions to save the Sprit Dragon, Ugin, from death, the clans had been abolished and Vol found himself to be a living anomaly, knowing of life from a different timeline.

Overjoyed at seeing Tarkir now flush with dragons, he travels across the plane.  He marvels at the various different dragonic breeds and eventually encounters the Kolaghan Clan (what, in his original Tarkir, would have been the Mardu Clan).  While in their company he learns that not only is he not seen as a deserter, but nobody even knows who he is.  Not even Zurgo, the Mardu Khan from his timeline now little more than a bell ringer in this one.

He also discovers in his travels across this new Tarkir that Narset, whom had perished at Zurgo’s hands while allowing him to escape into Ugin’s Nexus, was alive.  He sets off to find her.  What he finds, though, is disappointment as she had been exiled from what’s left of her clan.

Now wanting answers, Vol decides to turn to the only being whom could help: Ugin.

The dragon-shaman arrives at the very same valley where he had saved the Spirit Dragon by means of a hedron cocoon and was immediately attacked by spiritual constructs created by Ugin himself.

Almost immediately after, Ugin himself appears and apologies to Vol for the welcome he received.

The Spirit Dragon, whom had been studying the Tarkir’s new history, fills Vol in on what’s happened in the past thousand years or so.  He then questions the dragon-shaman as to how a piece of hedron from the Eye of Ugin on Zendikar has come to be on Tarkir.

In exchange, Vol informs Ugin of the events that had transpired on the previous timeline as, seeing as the Spirit Dragon perished in that version, would have had no memory of it at all.

Ugin then proposed a theory that Vol had created a sort of time paradox as, in this new Tarkir, he would never have been born, never would have served with the Mardu, and never would have ascended to the status of a planeswalker.

Understanding this, a now calmer-minded Vol makes peace with the Spirit Dragon and bids his adieu.

Nearby, he encounters a young woman who seems familiar to him, yet different.  It is Narset.

Vol is delighted to see her alive and well, but is quickly disheartened to learn that she has no memory of him.  The pair talk for a bit and Vol learns that, in this new timeline, Narset is a planeswalker like him.  He fills her in on the events from the old Tarkir and decides to accompany her as she travels to meet Ugin.

The pair then plan to explore the new Tarkir together.

And that ends the storyline of the time traveling Tarkir block, but that doesn’t mean there’s not more to talk about in terms of the set Dragons of Tarkir (because there is).

With set design led by Mark Gottlieb and development co-led by Tom LaPille and David Humphreys, Dragons of Tarkir served as the final chapter of the time traveling Tarkir storyline.  As such, there were a number of things that had changed as well as some things that (more-or-less) stayed the same when compared to the block’s first set.

<MARO 10:46-11:09 “What happened was…history.”> <MARO 14:19-55 “We had a…what he’s doin;.”>

Narset, by the way, is the first known neuro-atypical character in Magic lore.

<MARO 2:10-16 “Being neuro…she was.”>

But, in getting back to Dragons, nods to storyline references and previous cards isn’t the only thing that Wizards of the Coast did to make the Dragons experience different from the Khans experience.  They also made sure the drafting experience was noticeably different, as players were only allowed to draft either Khans or Dragons with the block’s middle set, Fate Reforged.  This was not only for flavor reasons, but also because the core of how Khans, a wedge set that includes enemy colors, was built differently from Dragons, an allied-colored set (though, that wasn’t the original plan).

<MARO 5:55-44 “Originally the plan …how Khans was built.”>

And, along those lines of how Dragons was built differently than Khans, the set also featured a different allied-colored dragon lord in charge of the clans rather than the three-colored khans of the first set.  And, just like all five clans throughout the block, each one features its own unique ability:

  • Dromoka, which takes over for Abzan, has the Bolster ability, which was introduced in Fate Reforged;
  • Ojutai, which parallels the Jeskai, features the new Rebound mechanic, which was initially introduced five years earlier in Rise of the Eldrazi.  A card with the mechanic is exiled as it resolves and can be cast again during its controller’s next upkeep without paying its casting cost.
  • Silumgar, which took over the Sultai Brood, features Exploit.  Whenever a creature with the ability enters the battlefield, its controller may sacrifice a creature to trigger an extra ability.
  • Kolaghan, which supplants the Mardu Horde, has Dash, an ability that carries over from the previous set, Fate Reforged.
  • And, finally, Atarka parallels the Temur and has the Formidable mechanic.  An evolution of the Temur’s Ferocious mechanic, Formidable cares about creatures having a combined power of eight or higher and will give you a special boon should the condition be met.

A version of Morph, called Megamorph, also appears in the set.  It’s just like Morph from Khans of Tarkir, except that the creature flips over with a +1/+1 counter upon it.  It… wasn’t too popular.

But one of the most important things for Wizards in creating Dragons of Tarkir was ensuring there were going to be not just a few dragons in it – they wanted to make sure it would be the ultimate dragons set.  It’s something they failed to do in their last two “dragons” attempts.

<MARO 9:44-10:37 “Magic had made…than Fate Reforged.”>

But did it work?  Was Wizards finally able to put together the ultimate dragons set?

<MARO 13:51-14:16 “I have a son…thus far.”>

And, as should come as little surprise, there is a cycle of cards to represent each clan’s dragon-lord, which represent the aged-up versions of themselves from the previous set, Fate Reforged.

Other notable cycles amongst the 11 that appear in Dragons of Tarkir include:

  • Monuments, one for each dragon-lord, that tap for whatever mana its clan can produce and can also turn into a 4/4 flying dragon until end of turn for a cost;
  • Commands, one for each dragon-lord.  These are modal spells that allow its caster to choose two out of four options, and;
  • Former khans, which represent the fate of the khans of the five clans from the block’s original set.

As for individual cards, worth a mention, Dragons of Tarkir has a handful, such as:

  • Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, a one-time popular card in Standard and Modern, as well as Pioneer in white aggro strategies that pairs well with cards that can take advantage of its +1/+1 counter ability such as Walking Ballista and Spike Feeder;
  • Collected Company, which can give instant-speed creature generation directly from the top of your deck;
  • Dragonlord Atarka, which is used in Pioneer in conjunction with the card Fires of Invention as a powerful threat;
  • Dragonlord Dromoka, which is sometimes used as a sideboard card against control decks,
  • Dragonlord Ojutai and Dragonlord Silumgar, which were big-time threats in the era’s Standard decks;
  • Kolaghan’s Command, an extremely versatile modal spell that creates good card parity.  It sees play in Modern and Legacy.
  • Rending Volley, a very common sideboard card in Pioneer that saw noticeable play during Standard as well;
  • Secure the Wastes, a powerful and efficient creature token generator that finds home in a number of white weenie/go wide strategies, and;
  • Zurgo Bellstriker, a strong one-drop 2/2 aggro creature with the dash ability that used to see play in a lot of competitive red aggro decks.

As for promotional cards, the set’s launch promo was a foil Deathbringer Regent.  Game Day participants received a full-art Scaleguard Sentinels with top-eight finishers receiving a foil, full-art Thunderbreak Regent.   The set’s buy-a-box promo was an alternate-art Ojutai’s Command.  And, just like with the previous two sets in the block, prerelease promos came from a group of rares themed around whichever of the set’s five clans a player chose.

There was also a special gimmick during the Dragons prerelease called Tarkir Dragonfury, which was essentially bowling with a d20.  Each piece a player knocks down has a point value.  Depending on a player’s score after two rolls, they could end up with one of four alternate art promotional cards: Evolving Wilds, Dragon Fodder, Dragonlord’s Servant, and Foe-Razer Regent.

But now, in getting back to the overall Dragons of Tarkir set itself, what does Magic: The Gathering head designer, Mark Rosewater, think about it now that he looks back at it some nine years later?

<MARO 11:10-30 “It was a lot…in your future.”>

So, what are your thoughts on Dragons of Tarkir?  Are you looking forward to the upcoming return to the plane of Tarkir?  Let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

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Thank you for watching.

Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.