Elder Dragons have played a unique role in the history of Magic: The Gathering. The original five MTG Elder Dragon creatures from Legends were iconic characters, and they gave rise to one of Magic’s most popular formats, Commander, otherwise known as Elder Dragon Highlander. Here we’ll examine their history, and go in depth on some of the best Elder Dragon cards in the game.
Mechanically, there’s no particular quality that separates Elder Dragons from the best MTG dragons like Ur-Dragon – they’re just a particular flavour of powerful scaly lizard, though in the lore the first five elders were said to be as strong as planeswalkers. Elder Dragon cards are not always that impactful, but they do often make good MTG commanders – not surprising when they gave birth to the game mode itself. Indeed, when Commander got started, there were only five possible MTG Commander decks, as you had to choose an Elder Dragon to lead.
The original MTG Elder Dragons were Nicol Bolas, Arcades, Chromium, Palladia-Mors, and Vaevictus, printed in the Legends MTG set in 1994. More recently, there have been several waves of Elder Dragons, five new ones in Tarkir, redesigns of the original five in Core Set 2019, and a collection of college founders in Strixhaven. Most recently, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate brought the ancient metallic DnD dragons into Magic: The Gathering.
That’s the lot. Now, from Nicol Bolas to Prismari, here are the best MTG Elder Dragon cards:
The original Elder Dragons
While none of them hold up particularly well today, it’s worth taking a look at the original and paying a bit of respect to our Elders. At eight mana each, they’re massively overcosted now of course, especially because you have to pay mana each turn to keep them on the board. The most interesting of the bunch is likely Nicol Bolas, who can force players to discard their whole hand. Vaevictis’ pump effect can also be relevant, but poor Palladia gets the short end of the stick – she’s just a very big, trample-y dragon.
This Elder Dragon is a unique Commander for its colours, letting you play the politics game, as to benefit from its most useful abilities, you need to let someone else do the same. Playing Shadrix Silverquill, you’ll have fun choices to make each turn, either cracking deals or figuring out which power benefits you the most and how to let your opponents gain the least.
That statline is hard to look past. You have to pay seven mana for your 4/4? Okay you get 1/1s but what el- oh hold on. Paying 10 mana to untap all your lands is a pretty dangerous ability to try and use in Standard, but in Commander you’ve got a lot more life to work with and can potentially leverage this effect in a lifegain deck for tons and tons of ramp.
Arcades, The Strategist
While not the strongest MTG Elder Dragon in terms of his actual abilities, Arcades, the Strategist is by far the most popular Elder Dragon commander in Magic (10,000 decks on EDHREC!). That’s because he’s the go-to commander for a niche but amusing strategy, attacking with walls and other Defender creatures. Arcades’ card draw effect ensures you never run out of gas, and it’s surprising how many walls become excellent utility creatures once you’re able to actually beat down with them.
The most irritating MTG Elder Dragon for a blue player to fly into in a dark alley, Dragonlord Dromoka can’t be stopped by an MTG counter spell, and then prevents players from casting spells on your turn. Suddenly, nothing else you play can be countered either, and you’re safe from instant speed removal too! Also, you get a nice big flying creature with lifelink, which will discourage most attackers.
While we’ve mainly looked at the Elder Dragons from an EDH perspective so far, Dragonlord Ojutai requires us to quickly pivot to Constructed. Obviously, it rotated out years ago, but during its time in Standard, Ojutai lived life to the fullest as the win condition for many a control deck. It was assisted by its relatively cheap casting cost for its stats, temporary hexproof, brilliant card draw, and dragon-powered spells like Silumgar’s Scorn.
Ancient Copper Dragon
One of the better dragon cards in a very dragon-heavy set, Ancient Copper Dragon is one of the most prolific treasure-makers in Commander. While it’s an expensive card, you’ll find the payback period is very short. You only have to land one hit to get a 75% chance at making your mana back or better, and if this Elder Dragon isn’t dealt with, you’ve a very good chance of winning the game. Churning out tens of treasures each turn, Ancient Copper Dragon works with all the usual treasure tricks: token, artifact, and sacrifice synergies, plus it provides all the spare mana you could ever need.
Ancient Gold Dragon
Likely the best Elder Dragon from Baldur’s Gate, Ancient Gold Dragon can quickly gain you a flotilla of flying 1/1s to peck your opponent’s life total to nought. Obviously, the card’s superb as a top-end in any white token deck, but it’s particularly great in dragon decks too. There are plenty of cards that care about the number of dragons you control, balanced under the now-mistaken assumption that it’s hard to establish a whole boardful of this usually expensive creature type. Check out Dragon Tempest for instance, and wince as you imagine the combo potential here.
There are so many flavours of Izzet spellslinger deck at this point, and yet Wizards of the Coast always manages to find another. Galazeth Prismari works with artifacts and instants, turning all your treasures into Arcane Signets, and providing plenty of value for big spells or storm decks. Certainly one of the more popular Elder Dragon commanders: folks love Izzet, what can I say?
Nicol Bolas, The Ravager
MTG’s Nicol Bolas and his brother Ugin are more usually depicted as planeswalkers than Elder Dragon creatures, but this card starts out as a creature and later flips into a powerful planeswalker worthy of Bolas’ archvillain status. If you want to be the bad guy and have one of Magic’s most infamous scumbags helming your deck, this is the card to look at. Certainly, the abilities here are great, but it’s really the star power that makes Nicol Bolas so popular and earns him the number one spot on our Elder Dragon list.