The Zirilan of the Claw Compendium
Everything there is to know about the game's greatest commander, in one authoritative place
No, he's not the dragon. He's the tiny lizard person. In the toga.
I've been playing Zirilan of the Claw near since I started playing Commander. Despite building and destroying dozens and dozens of other decks, only Zirilan has stayed together through thick and thin. As soon as I started playing him, I knew he was something special.
The biggest reason for this is that Zirilan is one of the very few toolbox commanders - that is, he can search your library for whatever card is useful at the exact moment, and even better, he can get that card into play immediately, giving him interaction and reliability normally absent from mono-red. He's great for playing against strangers, because he's powerful enough to put up a good fight in all but the harshest metas, and he wins in spectacular fashion that rarely disappoints. Being a toolbox that often has a lot more going on inside the deck than on the table, as well as mono-colored in one of the worst colors in the format, he also has a tendency to be ignored while he sets up awesome synergies and powerful engines. He's usually a relatively cheap deck, as are most mono-colored decks, which is a bonus, and part of why I keep him together while the rest of my collection is in constant flux. He's really a blast to play and a great deck to have around for meeting new people, which is why I wanted to put together this comprehensive guide to the variety of ways to build and play him.
A quick word to his weaknesses - Zirilan is not going to win against top-tier competitive decks, and he's going to have a hard time if he's getting hated out by the table. That should be pretty obvious looking at him.
This primer is designed to be a comprehensive look at Zirilan, not a simple decklist. There are several popular ways to build him, and endless variations between those builds. Rather than simply offer a single proscribed decklist, this guide aims to give you all the information you need to make a Zirilan deck that best suits you - how you like to play, tailored to your meta, and meeting your budget. If you just want a base decklist to start with, though, you'll find some tried and tested options in the decklist section.
Chapter 1: Builds
The most defining aspect of how you build Zirilan is how you answer the question “How do you deal with Zirilan exiling the dragons at the end of turn?” There are 4 main answers to this question.
Verse 1: Recursion
“I find a way to get them back into the deck and do it again”
This solution is to find a way to get the dragon back into the deck, so that they can be reused by zirilan. This can usually be done either by putting it directly from play to the deck, or by sacrificing it and then moving it from the graveyard to the deck. There are relatively few tools for this in red (best ones being tel-jilad stylus and reito lantern, respecitively), so you rely heavily on hoarding dragon to find the relevant pieces, and a multitude of sac outlets to prevent exile and ensure that you get the artifact from hoarding dragon successfully. This version is the best for dragons with etb and death triggers.
Verse 2: Bulk
“He just exiles them”
This is the simplest solution to Zirilan exiling dragons - simply play more dragons. You can run dragons for a variety of functions, but you’re ultimately only using each one once. Redundancy is crucial in this version of the deck. Luckily it saves a lot of slots on engine pieces which it can replace with more dragons.
Verse 3: Perm
“I find a way to keep them on the board”
This solution relies on one of a number of cards that prevent zirilan from exiling your dragons permanently. This can be done by moving them (temporarily) to a different zone, usually exile, or preventing zirilan’s delayed exile trigger. Currently there’s only one way to prevent the trigger (sundial of the infinite), so mostly you’re using methods to blink your dragons so that they stick on the field and you can kill people over turns once you’ve built up a roost. This version is the best for dragons with persistent and reusable effects.
Verse 4: Combo
“The game ends before they get exiled”
This solution is to play dragons to win the game immediately via synergy. The two main combos I’m aware of are hellkite charger + Sword of Feast and Famine (fetched via hoarding dragon if you have a sac outlet or a lethal block) and worldgorger dragon + jokulhaups/similar, though if you have recursion in place for hoarding dragon you can build any artifact combo your heart desires. Naturally, this is usually incorporated into another strategy, since it only requires a few deck slots, is very easy to disrupt, and very hard to protect. Against an unsuspecting meta, they can be powerful avenues to win, though.
This build of the deck is geared towards recursion. Hoarding dragon is the key piece here, used to get powerful engine cards and recursion cards to set up lethal alpha strikes. The curve is low to ensure that Zirilan stays available as quickly and as frequently as possible. If you're unlucky enough to not draw a sac outlet, try to throw hoarding dragon in front of an attacker.
This build replaces the recursion and sac pieces with more dragons and many powerful lategame cards to set up alpha strikes without the need for hoarding dragon. The main extra pieces in this build are big mana and damage doublers. Compared to recursion, this build has the advantage of being faster, but with higher variance and less toolboxiness with the loss of hoarding dragon. For a more balanced build, you could try running a few of the low-cost sac outlets (i.e. the 3 land ones), and use hoarding dragon once, if you draw a sac outlet or have a lethal block, to get a powerful artifact like rings of brighthearth or gauntlet of might.
Chapter 3: Card Choice Glossary
Here's a list of every reasonable card to consider for Zirilan, and some less-reasonable cards that may have niche uses, or are listed to explain why they should not be used.
The grading system:
***** = Universally or near-universally played. Often well worth it even outside of their core strategies.
**** = Very strong cards, key parts of their core strategies.
*** = Filler cards that are usually replaceable.
** = Niche cards, or bad replacements for better cards.
* = Essentially unplayable cards, included as a warning.
Verse 1: Dragons
Unsurprisingly, dragons are the lifeblood of the Zirilan deck. While different decks may want more of less dragons, most will want similar-ish packages to cover the same common utility functions. Having more dragons gives you more kinds of utility, finer-grained control over the specific implementation of that utility you prefer, and of course redundancy, but it also means you're more likely to draw expensive and often clunky cards (trust me, once you're using to getting dragons for 1RR with flash and haste, paying full price for neither feels like quite a rip off). The number of dragons you want is usually inverse to how many perm/recursion tools you want. Usually the bottom end is around 8, up to as many as 25. Past that, you're just wasting deck slots imo. I'll admit I'm mostly wasting time by rating every single dragon (I don't think many people have ever put tek into a Zirilan build), but I think it's worth taking a good look at all available options, given how crucial they are to the build.
Dragons for Killing Stuff
Hellkite Tyrant *****
Probably the single most powerful dragon in a vacuum, though it's not truly core to any particular strategy. The ability is just too insane not to include, though, virtually every game will present you with a good opportunity to abuse him. Plus he's been reprinted, so he's easy to acquire. The only reason not to include him is if you're worried about losing friends.
Bogardan hellkite *****
Bogardan is one of the most useful dragons for any builds, largely because there's no mana or combat required to trigger him. This makes him the most reliable source of damage to clear single creatures, as long as those creatures aren't super tough. Killing multiple small creatures can come up, but if you need to kill multiple creatures there's usually better tools. You can break up a lot of potential combos with this card alone, and flashing in 5 damage and a 5/5 can often save you from a lethal attack. It's also a decent face-puncher, with the ability to clear out blockers, or just deal unblockable face damage, and 10 is more damage than the vast majority of dragons.
Steel Hellkite *****
Kill enchantments in mono-red? Yes please. Though you do pay for it in terms of mana and the difficulty in setting it up, he's basically required for any build to destroy permanents that you'd otherwise be unable to answer. It can also destroy creatures with high toughness, or infinite numbers of tokens, both of which can be difficult to handle with other dragons. Also worth noting that it’s an instant kill if you have infinite colorless mana, which is unique among dragons. He's essentially required for his extreme utility. Pairs well with Thundermaw Hellkite.
Balefire Dragon ****
Compared to other board clear dragons, he has the disadvantage of needing to get through blockers, but the advantage of dealing higher damage than any of the alternatives with no extra mana sunk in, and with the right support, such as moonveil dragon, the potential to deal even more. He also pairs well with Thundermaw Hellkite to ensure he gets through.
Tyrant’s familiar ****
Very powerful, but it’s tough to sell it over bogardan hellkite. You get 2 more damage and +2/+2 going face, but you have to make it to attacks, and more importantly it’s sorcery only, plus killing your commander disempowers it, which sucks, since you’d prefer removal to be aimed at your dragons. Overall I think it’s a good option for redundancy but it’s no replacement for bogardan. Good for perm or bulk strats, generally not worth the slot for recursion or combo.
Thunder Dragon ****
Just barely spares zirilan, which is great. But not being able to hit fliers or fat creatures is a bit annoying. Overall this is a bit of a meta call, if swarm decks or token combos are a problem, this is a good solution.
Spawn of Thraxes ***
A good replacement for bogardan, though I think being less reliable an unable to split the damage makes it slightly inferior. If you want both, though, there’s always both.
Hoard-Smelter Dragon ***
Having artifact removal that doesn’t require connecting is a pretty big deal, but it’s very mana intensive. There are games where you’ll wish you had this, but the majority of games you’ll just use hell kite tyrant or steel hell kite in a pinch. Maybe it’s a meta call.
Scourge of Kher Ridges ***
A mana-intensive way to wipe boards from zirilan. There’s a lot of tradeoffs between this is balefire - balefire doesn’t hit your own stuff, hits fliers and non fliers simultaneously, but is sorcery-only and needs to get through blockers. Bogardan is another competitor. This one definitely has its uses, and really comes down to personal preference.
Flameblast dragon ***
Pretty mana intensive and has to survive to attack. The option to go face is nice, but it's worse at beatdown than tyrant and worse than bogardan at killing dudes.
Ancient hellkite ***
Potentially deals a lot of damage, but has to survive to attack and costs a lot of red mana.
Ryusei, the Falling Star ***
The fact that it kills zirilan is a huge bummer, though you can avoid that by championing him before sacrificing Ryusei. It’s probably worse than other options for dealing mass damage, though, as it can’t hit everything, is fixed at 5, and kills zirilan without work. Working as an instant is a big add, though I prefer thunder dragon for sparing Zirilan.
mordant dragon **
Another reasonable choice for killing creatures, but there are better options that either hit harder or don’t require getting through
Scourge of Valkas **
You don’t expect to have many dragons on the board at a given time. Can be worth it for a perm strategy, but for a recursion strategy it’s far inferior to bogardan hellkite.
Kiln-mouth dragon **
You don’t intend to have many dragons in hand, so this doesn’t do much. And it’s almost always inferior to bogardan. It is sweet, though.
Good from the hand, but outshined by many other options when played from the deck.
Forgestoker Dragon **
Very mana intensive to kill stuff, and the falter effect probably isn't worth it either, though it has some potential for getting through with other, better dragons. Thundermaw hellkite is almost always better though.
Crimson Hellkite **
A decent option, but almost always worse than one of the damage=mountains dragons
Rimescale dragon **
An amusing dragon, but without sticking around it doesn’t really work. Could be worth it if you’re trying to make a perm strategy work.
Shivan Hellkite **
There are much more efficient ways to do this, though if you have infinite colored mana this does win the game.
Siege dragon **
Unless you’re playing against wall tribal, this seems unlikely. There’s lots of better ways to pyroblast.
akoum hellkite *
Only deals 2 damage and is only a 4/4. Plus it only works on your turn. Slightly better for a perm strat, but it's not really worth perming when other options exist.
Dragons for Drawing and Tutoring
Hoarding Dragon *****
The most important dragon in the deck for the recursion build, and the main reason to go into recursion in the first place. Being able to tutor any artifact is a huge part of what that deck is built around. For short games, illusionist’s bracers or gauntlet of might is often the right call, for medium games tel-jilad stylus gives a bit of reach, and for long, grind games reito lantern gives you a way to pull any combo together you want, given time and mana. Even without sac outlets, it's a decent option, as you can always potentially chump block with him to get the artifact, though it loses a lot of consistency.
Dream Pillager ***
Probably the best draw ability dragon, though I still think that's not really necessary. Biggest downside is that, if you exile a crucial dragon, you're sort of obligated to play it.
Runehorn hellkite ***
This is an interesting one. Being able to wheel as an instant is much more interesting than as a sorcery. I still don’t think it’s a scenario that’s likely enough to justify a slot, but it definitely has potential.
Knollspine Dragon ***
In order to get value off this, you either need to get him second main, after beating face with another dragon, or during someone else’s turn after they’ve just beaten someone else’s face. It can be a lot of draw, but it’s finicky to use and usually I’m not that interested in drawing a ton of cards, especially since you might draw a crucial dragon. Still, for the right build, this could be very powerful.
Dragon Mage **
Definitely interesting, but often times you don't have much interest in drawing 7 cards, let alone giving your enemies new hands. Could be interesting to disrupt sculpted hands, but that seems pretty rare, and you still have to connect.
avaricious dragon *
can get a free card and sac before discard, but still a pretty underpowered ability
Dragons to Make More Dragons
Utvara hellkite *****
This is most powerful for when you want consistent board presence. This can easily generate 2 tokens early in the game. Whether this is actually worth it is debatable - short games you usually won’t need to bother with a few extra tokens when you could go for tyrant, and long games you’d usually rather build up artifacts with hoarding dragon. But it’s certainly powerful, whether or not it actually has a place.
Skyline despot ***
It’s fairly difficult to retain the crown with this deck (though not hard to get it back), and without persistent dragons you can’t hope to get more than one dragon, making it inferior to utvara hell kite. A decent replacement/redundancy though, the addition of the monarch token can either be great free or draw or a target on your head.
Dragon Egg *
Cute, but utvara hell kite gives you a 6/6 instead of a puny 2/2, and doesn’t even need a sac outlet.
Dragons for Other Utility
Changeling Berserker *****
The safer world gorger dragon. This is perfect for protecting your commander from any kind of removal, and for perming any dragons you may wish to keep around on a permanent basis. Note that you need to watch out for triggered-ability countering effects.
Worldgorger dragon ****
Very powerful but very risky. This can combo with jokulhaups or similar wipes, or counter them. It can also “perm” all your dragons on the board. But if your opponents have any kind of instant-speed removal, you’re totally screwed. Well, of ‘haups was already resolving, I guess you’re not TOO badly off unless it gets countered. Anyway, if you want to use those combos it’s obviously powerful, if you play against a lot of land wipes it’s probably worth it too. If you want to perm your dragons is a good option, though tricky to get many of them out and then still activate zirilan for this...and not just win with damage. Really it depends on what you want to do with your deck, and how risky you feel like playing.
Preyseizer dragon ***
The best dragon-based sac outlet for hoarding dragon. While it’s not totally useless, it’s hugely outshines by other options for damage damage.
Predator dragon **
Has some value as a sac outlet for hoarding dragon if you’re absolutely desperate. Unfortunately it’s otherwise totally useless.
voracious dragon **
wtf is a goblin? A third sac outlet for the desperate, though.
Mirrorwing dragon **
There’s surely some fun ways to abuse this, but for my build - light on creatures - it doesn’t do much. Since it’s easy to tutor, you could conceivably find fun way to use it, though.
Warmonger hell kite **
Very interesting and unique effect, though you’re usually not a position to defend well, and it’s tough to get value without a persistent dragon scheme. Can get used to turn Zirilan into a goblin diplomats++. Leaving it on board or even going to combat with it is annoying, though, as it shuts off keeping zirilan untapped postcombat without an untapper. Cool card, but probably not worth it.
Dragons for Beating Face
Dragon Tyrant *****
Still the single hardest-hitting dragon, all these years later. Evasive as hell and hits like a truck. Don't bring it out eot, though.
Hellkite Charger ***
Good way to take out multiple opponents at 40+ life. Very mana intensive. Part of an infinite combo with SoFaF.
Hellkite Igniter ***
The only dragon to realistically challenge tyrant's claim to hardest single hitter. With enough mana and artifacts this can easily be a 1-shot. The lack of evasion and mana requirements make this weaker than tyrant imo.
Moltensteel dragon ***
In order for this to hit as hard as a non-buffed tyrant, you’d have to pay 16 life. And if you have any actual mana to spend, needless to say tyrant does better with that mana. Still a reasonable inclusion if you want more redundant beaters, but you have to be sure you can afford to spend a lot of life before it becomes worth it. Also worth noting that it's a semi-combo with scourge of the throne, simultaneously pumping up a bunch of damage and guaranteeing you can trigger scourge (unless all opponents are at 1 life and you're at an even amount of life...or if they're all at negative life with platinum angel...or maybe more likely, going to low life would put you at too high a risk of death).
Moonveil dragon ****
This is a strong candidate for best go-wide dragon. Pumping multiple dragons for just 1 mana is pretty insane. I think overall hellkite charger is usually a better deal, but it’s close.
Hunted dragon **
Possibly some fun to be had with politics, but not strictly powerful.
Lightning Shrieker *
Man do I wish this did ANYTHING, with that incredibly useful and unique free tuck. Sadly it does not. I guess you could use it as a last ditch option in case all your other recursion is gone, but that seems unlikely to happen, and desperate, and anyway it can still just be killed or blocked so it’s not even reliable.
Mana-Charged dragon **
Depending on your meta this card might be legit, or at least legitimately funny. Usually when you’re reaching for your high powered beaters, though, you’re hoping to close out the game quickly, and your enemies probably won’t help you do that.
Rakdos pit dragon **
Were tyrant not a thing, this might have some use. As-is, it’s too expensive to get decent damage out of, and hellbent is hard to get reliably, and it’s hilariously outclassed by tyrant.
Fat, but far from the hardest hitting dragon. Can't make it through your upkeep either.
Scourge of the Throne *****
A free hell kite charger - but one use only, and with some setup. I like this a lot as a partner with tyrant or moonveil dragon. For huge damage you still can’t beat charger, but for most reasonable life totals I think this is the superior choice, as long as you can set it up to trigger.
Schichifukujin dragon *
How do you have this? Did you steal it? Well, congrats, you have a very valuable, very terrible dragon, enjoy it. Best part is, without oracle, this literally dies the instant it hits the battlefield. And how do you sacrifice a counter? I can’t even.
Stormbreath Dragon **
Pretty expensive to deal damage, but I could it being funny to set up a non-combat simultaneously killing of the table with zirilan. Maybe a decent follow up to rune horn hell kite or something.
volcanic dragon *
doesn’t do anything. Props to anyone who remembers this from that battlegrounds game.
Zodiac dragon *
Oh good, you can get a crappy dragon back in your hand. At least you got rid of that $250 burning a hole in your pocket. Maybe good for scamming people that don’t check oracle, by pulling an infinite discard combo?
If you've tried running Zirilan with nothing but dragons and mana, you've probably noticed that he's not actually that great. Getting a single dragon into play every turn is great for a bit, but throwing one 6/6 into combat each turn is a pretty slow way to kill a table. To really put the shine on him, you'll want to include some number of cards that allow you to put out more dragons at once, by untapping zirilan, copying his ability, or copying the dragons themselves. With a few double-powered activations, it's much easier to set up lethal alpha strikes.
Illusionist’s Bracers *****
One of the most powerful synergies with Zirilan, you can pretty easily set up lethal against a 4-man table with eot and main phase activations with bracers on. Definitely paints a target on his head, but some targets are worth painting. Slightly less good for perm builds, as some perm tools can’t perm multiple dragons in a turn.
Rings of Brighthearth *****
More expensive than bracers, but with more applications. With big mana you can double untaps and get 6 dragons in a single turn, so that’s insane. Can also work with fetches, with recursion, with top, with feldon, sea gate wreckage, buried ruin, helm of possession…too many great combos to name. If this card doesn’t appeal to you, you’re probably not cut out for this deck.
Thousand-Year Elixir ****
Haste can be a huge deal late-game or with big mana, but mostly this is for the untap. Double activations is usually the best way to burst down a table, so you want to draw one of those tools asap. This has certain advantages over rings/bracers because you can search for a dragon while still keeping up protection from targeted removal, but ofc it’s more mana intensive.
Magewright’s stone ****
Roughly the same as elixir. Without big mana the haste is less valuable, so this might actually be better. In big mana decks, but the only reason to choose one over the other is if you need to conserve slots.
Staff of Domination ***
A much more expensive untap, but repeatable and with lots of other fun functions. This is mostly for big mana decks as it’s too clunky in slimmer decks’ curves.
Umbral Mantle **
Unlimited untaps for 3 each, but unless you're generating nuts amounts of mana it's probably better to stick with cheaper options with single uses. Besides, pulling double dragons more than once or twice should be game over.
Sword of the Paruns **
The nadir in terms of cost. 7 upfront, and nothing much even happens until you pay another 3 to untap. Compared to umbral mantle, it does have the bonus of giving +2 power to dragons, but only if he's tapped, which means activating him during your main. Like mantle, it needs a lot of mana to pay off, but if you're generating a ton of mana this does fetch a bunch of dragons and pumps them too, so it's not totally out of the question for the right deck.
Puppet Strings ***
Borderline playable, it has some utility in tapping down enemy creatures and it’s only a little more expensive than elixir, but that little bit does add up.
Thornbite Staff ****
Yes, Zirilan is a shaman, so yes, this is insane with him. You can sac dragons to untap him as many times as you can afford, or you can use bogardan/scourge of kher ridge/etc to generate a ton of untaps at your enemies’ expense. Only truly insane with big mana, but worth it in almost any deck. Significantly worse in perm dragons as many perm tools won’t trigger it.
There aren’t enough etb trigger dragons to really make me want to run this. It’s basically just a weak warstorm surge for dragons that already dealt damage on etb, plus hoarding dragon (which I’m fairly sure works). If for some reason you find yourself with a bunch of other etb effect creatures, maybe it could be considered.
Flameshadow Conjuring ****
Panharmonicon except way, way better. Sets up insane turns with scourge of the throne, utvara hellkite, hoarding dragon, basically any dragon goes bananas with this, and it fits really well into the curve too. In a pinch you can even copy Zirilan to get haste (at the cost of sacrificing the original), but only if you have just a ton of mana.
Minion Reflector **
I used to run this and it felt awesome when it went off, but unfortunately the mana cost is too annoying unless you’re going big mana. Flameshadow conjuring is far, far better, and while it’s not tutorable with hoarding dragon, hoarding dragon already has a million good targets for getting more dragons anyway.
Feldon of the Third Path ***
A bit slow, but works as a pseudo recursion engine for sacrificed dragons. I want to do some testing with him before passing judgment, but I like the potential. Small bonus – unlike mana token producers, he sacrifices rather than exiles, so if you’re relying on a tapping sac outlet, you can save it for Zirilan’s dragons.
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker ***
Kiki is a powerful card generally, and copying a dragon is usually a great use of his ability. His biggest weaknesses compared to flameshadow conjuring are his mana cost (collides with Zirilan) and his frailty. Overall I think he's much worse than flameshadow primarily because of the difficulty finding space for him in your curve, but he's still very powerful if he sticks on the board.
Verse 3: Sac Outlets
If you're playing recursion, you need sac outlets, and badly. Unless you can convince someone to swing at your face, you'll need a sac outlet to pop hoarding dragon and start putting together your synergies. Some are also a good source of value, as the dragons were toast anyway, although most are just a way to keep your dragons from getting exiled.
Barrage of Expendables ***
It’s cheap and hard to kill, and the benefit is decent, but the cost to sac is real and a big knock against this outlet. If you want guaranteed outlets this might be worth it, but I’d usually prefer a free outlet for an extra mana or two.
Claws of gix ***
A sac outlet and nothing else. Works well with any-permanent-type theft. Efficient but not exciting.
Despotic scepter ***
Giving opponents an opening to exile your dragon is a bummer, as it getting no benefit whatsoever for destroying it. It does kill stolen permanents, though, and it is certainly efficient. If sac outlet redundancy is important, this does the trick. If value is important, probably give this a pass.
Altar of dementia ****
It’s a free repeatable sac outlet, and it provides an alt wincon in a pinch. Generally an auto-include for the recursion deck, worthless elsewhere.
Culling dias ****
Being nonrepeatable seems like a bummer, but the option to sacrifice it for cards is a great way to make sure this is never redundant. And the cost is right.
Goblin bombardment *****
Cheap to play, free to activate, hard to kill, repeatable, and provides a tangible benefit. The gold standard for sac outlets.
Spawning pit *****
Just like goblin bombardment, but it can also surprise people out of nowhere by deploying a half-dozen zombies. You can even make a bunch of zombies to feed to other sac outlets, for mana or damage for instance. On a par with goblin bombardment.
Ashnod’s altar ****
The cost is a little steep, but the benefit is one of the greatest. Being able to sacrifice hoarding dragon to play reito lantern for no extra mana is a great deal, though activating on enemy turns usually does nothing. Overall very strong in the right circumstance, but less powerful when playing reactively.
Blasting station ***
Despite looking similar to goblin bombardment, this is a bit step down. It costs a crucial additional mana, and keeping it untapped at the right time can be unreliable. This is a passable but not exciting sac outlet.
Phyrexian altar ****
On a par with Ashnod’s Altar, usually slightly worse although it’s better with thornbite staff for example, or dragon tyrant. Sometimes very powerful, but at 3 mana it’s not quite as good as a cheaper outlet usually.
Greater Gargadon *****
Extremely cheap, free to use, even takes noncreature permanents, and can be used to complement a lethal swing. Don’t always throw this down immediately if you don’t have backup, as it does have a limited number of uses. If played correctly it’ll usually be plenty, though.
Helm of Possession ****
The rare sac outlet that’s worth it purely for the effect and not just as a way to sacrifice. Especially with another sac outlet, this really gets out of control. The cost is steep, but it fits well into the Zirilan curve usually.
Tooth and Claw **
You can technically get this going by eoting a dragon and then getting another and sacking both, but even in the best case it’s a 4 mana outlet with no significant upside and a lot of effort.
Scorched Rusalka **
Cheap, but costing mana to sac is annoying and the effect is worthless, and being a creature makes it vulnerable.
Diamond Valley ***
Surprisingly it’s not amazing here. It can’t help cast Zirilan or mana rocks early, it’s one use per turn, and while lifegain is usually good, it makes scourge of the throne harder to use. It’s still fine, but definitely not worth the dollar cost.
Shivan Harvest ***
Powerful effect, but probably not used frequently enough to really take anyone out of the game, and the cost of activation is high. For 1v1 play it could be quite good, though, and being an enchantment is nice, so it’s not without merits.
Trading Post ***
A bit clunky as a sac outlet, since early you often won't have an artifact to get back, but it can help with that, by putting one there. It doesn't curve too badly, as you can sac the artifact eot when fetching hoarding dragon for the first time, and then have it available to sac hoarding dragon before the next endstep. It has a lot of potentially powerful lategame utility getting back artifacts, though most of the other modes are fairly low impact. In an artifact-hostile meta it has potential to save your lategame, but for many metas it's too clunky to be a good sac outlet.
Verse 4: Recursion
The second piece of the puzzle for the recursion deck are the recursion pieces. Red isn't the best at recycling their graveyard, so you're relying on artifacts to get the job done, often at significant mana expense. I'd recommend either running quite a few, so that you're not always forced to use hoarding dragon's first tutor for recursion - even single-shot recursion like conjurer's bauble or vessel of endless rest (in mana rocks) can allow you to search for a more powerful card like gauntlet of might or illusionist's Bracers first, while still giving you the ability to recycle hoarding dragon for more value if necessary.
Tel-Jilad stylus *****
Were it not for hoarding dragon, this would be the be-all and end-all of recursion. It’s 1 mana, it costs nothing to activate, it easily and cleanly recycles dragons and event protects zirilan from theft. Unfortunately it doesn’t recycle hoarding dragon satisfactorily, but it’s still an excellent card to draw even if you have the more complicated sac tuck engine going, for sheer mana efficiency. Doesn’t work as well when you’re double-activating, of course.
Reito Lantern ****
A necessary evil more than anything else. If you want to abuse hoarding dragon reliably, your choices are this or soldevi digger. This has the advantage of doubling as grave hate, being able to selectively recycle, and not needing to worry about grave order, at the expense of 1 extra mana. No small cost, but probably worth it.
Soldevi Digger ****
Arguably equal to reito lantern. Could be better in some cases. Probably worth including to put the pressure off reito lantern as the sole repeatable recursion piece.
Epitaph golem **
Colliding with Zirilan in cmc is the kiss of death for epitaph golem as far as I’m concerned. The option to use him when played is a nice bonus vs the other two creature-based recursion options, but the steep cost kills it imo. He’s only 1 mana cheaper to activate than reito lantern, and lantern can target enemies, doesn’t die to boardwipes, and crucially costs 2.
It gravehates and it’s free. Unlike stylus, not always keeping up is less of a deal, since you can usually safely leave dragons in the grave until you need them to recycle. The biggest weakness is summoning sickness, which makes it a riskier first target for hoarding dragon. But if you happen to draw it, it can work as a replacement lantern unless/until the genuine article becomes necessary.
Canal dredger ***
It can’t hate graves, and it has an arguably worse statline than junktroller (survivability trumps all imo). Still, as redundancy for recursion it does the job.
Elixir of immortality ***
An efficient way to recover from a broken recursion engine, though a bad do-nothing if everything is working as intended. Probably worse than a recursion tool that does something else, like vessel of endless rest, but it can be the sole recursion piece for smaller games. Depending on if you like to go for quick wins or complex wins, this might be better than reito lantern by a lot, or totally worthless.
Conjurer’s bauble *****
It has nearly no downside. It can save you if your recursion is broken, and even when everything is going great it’s cheaper than reito lantern by a lot. It’s not exciting but it’s basically auto-include for the recursion deck.
Rishadan Pawnshop ***
More expensive than stylus in cost and activation, but it has the small bonus of being able to tuck stolen permanents as long as they aren’t tokens. As hoarding dragon is the real strength of the recursion deck imo, and stylus/pawnshop don’t work with it, I don’t think it’s worth dedicating a second slot, but if you want to reuse dragons besides hoarding dragon it works ok. The biggest problem is that, with only 2 options for that effect, you can’t really build a deck to reuse dragons without going full sac + recur.
Cranial Archive ****
Fairly expensive to use, but it recycles itself and can grave hate enemy decks effectively.
Verse 5: Combos
Though I'm loathe to recommend there, Zirilan has a few combos he can pull off. I don't hugely recommend them, as he has few ways to protect them from disruption, so once the cat's out of the bag, it'll be quite hard to pull off, but they are both pretty potent if you're playing against unsuspecting or unprepared enemies.
Sword of Feast and Famine *****
A crucial piece of one of the two Zirilan combos. Without the combo it’s generally not worth it, you don’t draw enough cards to really exploit the mana generation and you can’t reliably hit your enemies. The other piece, as mentioned earlier, is hellkite charger - it requires a minimum of 9 mana to activate the combo (get him eot, sword already on the field, equip and swing), more if you want to keep the pieces hidden. Any non-B, non-G flyer/reacher can block the combo against that person, though you can always whip out thundermaw hellkite to shut them down.
Jokulhaups/Obliterate/Devastation/Decree of Annihilation/Apocalypse *****
I don’t recommend running these without the Worldgorger Dragon combo, as Zirilan is mana intensive and has a lot of setup. If you can resolve one with Worldgorger protecting your board, it’s almost a guaranteed win, but it’s very disruptable so watch out for open mana. You can also do a mini-combo with changeling berserker – probably protecting utvara hellkite, even just him is a pretty likely win as long as no one hits removal within the first couple turns.
Verse 6: Land Destruction
Zirilan, as a mono-red ramp deck with a lot of artifacts, can operate pretty well without lands after Zirilan is on the board, so there is some reason to go in for some land control spells. If you want to go this route, I recommend a much higher usage of mana rocks, though, as you don't want to get screwed out of being able to cast your commander if he's killed after the destruction.
Meta dependant – can be insane or pretty bad, depending on what you usually see. A bunch of budget and mono-color decks, it’s trash, but vs expensive multicolor decks it can be the best card in your deck. Obviously better if you’re running more basics, but even with a modest (~25) count, as long as you’re rolling with a lot of artifact ramp this should put you far ahead vs the right decks.
Blood Moon/Magus of the Moon ****
Like ruination, but less powerful and with very little downside for you. Magus is ofc worse, being more vulnerable.
Winter Orb ***
Recommend running this if you’re running more red-generating rocks, so that Zirilan can activate without tapping lands. Probably best to wait until Zirilan is ready to activate before dropping it, as recasting could be problematic, but probably not too bad as long as you don’t tap your lands for other reasons often.
Zirilan does frequently inspire tribal dragon decks. Typically these are bulk dragon decks. Personally I don't think Zirilan works well as a dragon tribal deck, but I've nevertheless included the commonly played cards here.
Dragonlord’s Servant *
There’s really no reason to use this over a mana rock, even if you’re going deep on dragons. You’d need to cast multiple dragons in a single turn, and even if that’s feasible it can’t accelerate zirilan, your other ramp, and it’s vulnerable to more board wipes.
Dragonspeaker Shaman **
If you’re really loading the deck up with dragons, you might be able to manage to make this better than worn powerstone occasionally, but the vast majority of the time it will be worse, even there. A common inclusion for Zirilan decks, but not one that deserves the spot.
Dragon Tempest **
If you plan to cast a lot of dragons, haste is a big deal, and free pings can be significant too. I don’t think Zirilan is a good fit for it, though, since his dragons won’t stick around and they already have haste. More of a card for a ramp dragon deck imo.
Crucible of Fire ***
As it curves decently with Zirilan and provides a huge power boost for dragons, this is the one dragon tribal card that makes a certain amount of sense, since it actually boosts zirilan’s effectiveness as well as dragons you cast. If you’re determined to play a dragon-dense deck, this almost certainly merits inclusion.
Urza’s Incubator ***
Better than dragonspeaker shaman by a lot for being an artifact, otherwise same opinion applies.
Verse 8: Perming
Protecting dragons from permanent exile by exiling them temporarily (or countering the ability, in exactly one case) is probably the clunkiest solution to the Zirilan exile problem, as most of the options are fairly expensive or have other setup required, but there are still a decent number of tools to do so and you can reasonably expect to get one of them most games if you pack them all in. Because of the inconsistency, and many of them being single-use, I wouldn't commit 100% to perming dragons - either run enough dragons that you can survive without one, or some sac outlets so you can use hoarding dragon to get the best one (it's sundial).
Synod Sanctum **
A straightforward dragon perming tool, and it steals stolen creatures too, but it does require sacrificing it. Keeping up 2 mana is also sometimes difficult, and risky not to.
Sundial of the Infinite *****
Easily the simplest way to perm dragons. Fully repeatable, cheap, and can even perm multiples at once. This one is good enough to use even without other dragon perming tools.
Powerful but risky. Perming dragons is really the least of its capabilities, you can retrigger etbs and even hoarding dragon every turn. Requires a sac outlet, though, and your enemies could easily abuse it harder than you can. Same cmc as Zirilan.
Cauldron of Souls ***
Protects Zirilan and your dragons, single-use only and requires a sac outlet. It also works well with jokulhaups effects, so it’s a decent backup for worldgorger dragon in that combo. Biggest downside is the collision in cmc with Zirilan.
Conjurer’s Closet ***
Perms a dragon every (your) turn for free, and can retrigger good etbs like bogardan hellkite. Much like cauldron of souls, at 4 it’d be 5 stars, at 5 it’s difficult to find a window to play.
Nim Deathmantle ***
The high mana cost to activate is a big weakness, but it does curve a little more naturally with Zirilan than cauldron. Requires sac outlet. Much more powerful with Ashnod’s altar, and has some potential infinite combos there.
Erratic Portal **
As a dragon perming tool, it’s slow and expensive. It’s also a bit annoying for your opponents, and a strong card generally, but doesn’t get a ton of utility here given the high cost of most of the dragons.
A weird card to say the least. You can trigger a bunch of etbs, lock everyone out of creatures, and then kill it somehow to get all your dragons back on the field permanently. Hoard-Smelter dragon is the most reliable way, but if someone kills zirilan you might have trouble getting back on the board, and then you might just be screwed. Definitely high variance.
Tawnos’s Coffin ****
A very interesting card in commander with a lot of uses. You can protect Zirilan, you can perm your dragons with it, you can remove enemy creatures, or you can target enemy commanders and force your opponents to choose between recasting their commander for full price, or risking that they’ll never see their commander again. Mana intensive, but a versatile tool.
Safe Haven **
Missing a functional land drop is a big downside, and the inability to sac when you want makes it a decidedly not safe haven imo. I don't think perming dragons justifies cards this bad, personally.
Releasing your dragons when its broken makes this an auto-win if you can set it up and drop 'haups, which is fairly unique. Being able to exile enemies is also a nice touch. And you can always call on hoard-smelter dragon if you really need to break it open. Still a single-shot permer, though.
Cold Storage ***
The costs are quite high on this one, but I give it some props for being free to sacrifice, so at least you don't end up spending a bunch of time and energy only to have someone else ruin it.
Colfenor's Urn ***
Requires a sac outlet, holds both a minimum and maximum number of dragons, can't break in response to removal, and doesn't work with theft. It's relatively cheap, though, and doesn't cost anything to activate on either side, though, so it's not totally worthless.
Verse 9: Theft
One common cross-synergy with Zirilan is red's frequently-printed steal-until-end-of-turn effects. While the effect is usually not worth it in commander (except insurrection and mob rule), Zirilan is commonly running either sac outlets or perming tools, which usually return the permanent to play under your control permanently. In builds without those tools, I'd avoid all except possibly those two powerful cards.
Sometimes it wins the game. Sometimes it just wipes enemy boards after dealing a ton of damage. Either way, it’s one of red’s rare unconditional bombs, and it’s much stronger with the sac outlets you’re already running in the recursion version.
Mob Rule ****
Efficiently costed and a powerful asymmetric board wipe with a sac outlet, but it’s much less reliable to kill everyone as compared to insurrection. Without a sac outlet, I probably wouldn’t.
Mass Mutiny ***
This is a big step down for a mass theft spell, but it can still be very powerful for the same reasons. Whether this is better or worse than the other options is a meta call, but I’d generally consider it worse. If your meta is well balanced and relatively creature-light, this could be worth it as a big removal spell. For big boards and imbalanced boards, there are better options.
Molten Primordial ***
Worse than mass mutiny for most decks, but if you can blink it with conjurer’s closet or similar, it could be pretty insane. The body is almost worth the extra 2 mana, but in commander, it doesn’t cut the mustard alone.
Twist Allegiance **
You can always do this second main if you want to Zirilan first. 7 mana is a lot, though, and you have to expose zirilan to a certain amount of danger. Definitely worse than most other options. Of course blue gets this for 3 less as an instant. Great.
Harness by Force ***
Build your own Insurrection. Better than Mass Mutiny in asymmetric board states, or if you only want to steal one thing, or if you have a ton of mana. Probably best of the cheap, mana-wise, options.
Word of Seizing ***
Expensive, but it doesn’t get any more flexible or reliable. The ability to target any permanent is somewhat weakened by the lack of non-creature sac outlets that are reasonable to play. Stealing and ulting planeswalkers is hilarious. Overall the expense is hard to justify, but if you want a reliable answer
Grab the Reins ***
Reasonably costed and with a built in sac outlet. Doesn’t untap the creature for some reason. Does work as a sac outlet for dragons in a real pinch.
Blind with Anger **
Despite untapping, generally worse than grab the reins. Decent filler if you want to go deep on theft.
Temporary Insanity *
Too much work, especially in a deck that’s trying to recycle its grave. Don’t go this deep.
The cost is good, but the inflexibility makes it not worth it imo.
Malevolent whispers **
For 4 mana, I’d want an instant. Knollspine dragon can discard your hand, but that’s a lot of work for a mere +2/+0 on top of grab the reins.
Act of Aggression ****
Only 3 mana in a pinch, and an instant. Arguably best option for single-target theft.
Frenzied Fugue ****
Sorcery speed, but flexible and gives it back every turn, which can be better than sacrificing it.
The baseline for sorcery theft effects. You can do better unless you’re going really deep.
Mark of Mutiny **
Slight step up from threaten since you’re presumably sacrificing it anyway. Not a significant boost, though, Harness by Force is much better.
Kari Zev’s Expertise **
As it’s very hard to get real value out of the cast in this deck, it’s roughly equivalent to threaten.
Might makes Right **
Very achievable for Zirlan, but it’s expensive, slow, telegraphed, and requires a fair bit of work to keep going. Amusing but I don’t think it’s worth it.
Zealous Conscripts ****
If you aren’t blinking or comboing with kiki, then body isn’t very interesting, but if you’re doing any of those things this is a big step up. Otherwise I’d probably rather use word of seizing.
Verse 10: Going Big
If the engine cards to generate more dragons aren't enough of an epic beatdown for you, red also has a host of damage-enhancing cards to push for lethal. Unlike the engine cards, these don't provide more utility, though, just more damage. In general I would run more engine cards than these, as these are more expensive and less flexible, but some decks will want both to ensure drawing one or more.
Warstorm Surge/Electropotence/Where Ancients Tread ***
Surge and Ancients are both awkward in a curve with Zirilan, and Electropotence costs some significant extra mana when activating. They all do a good job of adding removal or extra damage to your dragons, but I wouldn’t bother in recursion or perm builds since you already have good damage off bogardan hellkite and such, and their place in the curve is so awkward.
Warrior’s Oath/Last Chance/Final Fortune **
Zirilan is naturally set up to get big value out of extra turns by comboing multiple dragons together, like scourge of the throne + dragon tyrant, and extra turn cards can make that happen. It’s very conditional and very risky, though, if he gets killed or anything unexpected happens, you’re losing the game, and even with an extra turn setting up lethal against the whole table isn’t easy. I’d avoid them in general, but if you’re always tutoring for sundial of the infinite, these do gain some traction.
Rage Reflection/Blood Mist/Furnace of Rath/Berserker’s Onslaught/Gratuitous Violence/Grafted Exoskeleton **
I’m partial to blood most, furnace, and exoskeleton over the other options because of how they fit into the curve. As cool as gratuitous violence is, skipping a Zirilan activation is generally bad imo. Double strike enchantments are extremely unexciting for recursion decks as dragon tyrant already has double strike, but if you’re pulling out new dragons every turn it has a bit more merit.
Verse 11: Goodstuff
Red isn’t known for having a ton of generically great cards, but even in a heavily-synergy-based deck, it’s worth looking for strong cards that don’t directly contribute to the Zirilan plan. If you have extra slots, this is a good place to look to fill up those slots.
The classic. Cheap and efficient, can often copy ramp, tutors, draw, etc. Copy effects are nice to shore up some of red’s weaknesses, though Zirilan does a lot of that already. Much like counterspells, leaving up mana for them can be annoying if no great targets come along, though in most commander games there will be something great sooner rather than later. Somewhat eased because you want to leave up mana for Zirilan anyway.
Wild Ricochet ***
Whether this is better than fork is a meta call. It’s next to impossible to keep up mana to protect Zirilan the turn he’s cast, and by the next turn he protects himself, but it’s insane against cards like time stretch.
Dualcaster mage **
Without any support, it’s probabl worse than fork. But with the right tools (erratic portal, for example) it can be better.
Definitely my favorite of the copying spells. In a big mana build, this can do pretty insane things, though it’s weak to counterspells. Usually you’d rather spend the mana on dragons, but it works as an alt wincon if it doesn’t hit something powerful early.
This is effectively a split card – Either a T1 tutor for sol ring or mana crypt, or a later-turn tutor for a powerful engine card like rings of brighthearth, flameshadow conjuring, sundial of the infinite, or reito lantern. Either way, it’s easily worth the risk.
Imperial Recruiter **
There’s only a few reasonable targets for recruiter, none of which I would call crucial. I wouldn’t generally play it, but depending on how many targets you have it might merit consideration.
Goblin Welder ***
With the reliance on artifacts, keeping them alive can be crucial, and it can also work as a ramp engine by trading mana rocks out of the graveyard. Can also be clunky if there aren’t good targets in play or the grave though, and it can also get picked up in random board wipes, sometimes before it untaps. Bonus – can sac steel hellkite to recover a crucial recursion piece.
Mind’s Eye/Staff of Nin/Tamiyo’s Journal ***
All strong draw engines, but I don’t love them here since Zirilan doesn’t need draw much once he’s active, and they all fit into that awkward 5+ mana cost range. Plus it increases the chance of drawing a dragon. Seems good for a big mana, bulk dragons deck but probably not others, and definitely not more than one.
Extremely efficient draw engine, but it only works well with zirilan out and doing his thing, so it’s a bit win-more. Plus draw is not a huge priority. But it’s pretty easily the best draw engine if you’re desperate for one.
Sneak Attack **
Most recursion and perm decks won’t have enough dragons to really justify this, but it has value in a bulk dragons build.
Lightning Greaves ****
Protecting Zirilan is worth spending a slot alone, and the haste is great if you recast him with enough extra to activate, or if you’re casting dragons from hand.
Darksteel Plate **
With the extra cost over greaves, I don’t consider this worth it, especially as it doesn’t protect from a lot of removal spells and doesn’t offer haste, but if you’re in a super board-wipe heavy meta, it does the job.
Chaos Warp ****
Dealing with anything for 3 mana is still worth it, even if it doesn’t have any synergy here. Check that – you can also use it to recycle a dragon and get a random permanent, which isn’t even a terrible use of the card.
Karn Liberated ***
Zirilan isn’t the best at protecting planeswalkers so I rarely run them, but Karn does merit some consideration as one of the only ways to remove certain permanents in red. Generally steel hellkite covers your bases, though.
Brittle Effigy **
Decent removal option, although dragons usually fill this role.
Comet Storm **
Great, even an alt-wincon on its own, for big-mana builds. Outside of there, probably too expensive to really want to run.
Lightning Bolt ***
If you need cheap answers on early turns to cards like lab man, kiki-jiki, etc, then bolt is a great card, though Zirilan is probably not a great commander in those metas. I think this card is very underrated in commander generally, but as Zirilan is trying to use dragons for his removal, it doesn’t shine here.
Volcanic Offering ***
Same as bolt, a great card that’s not impressive here. Cost is massively more annoying, but the effect is really strong and merits inclusion in most red decks imo. If you find Zirilan doesn’t stick well but still want to play him, this is the sort of card I’d use for control until he does.
Glacial Crevasses **
If you’re playing against a lot of aggro, this can easily keep you alive long enough to Zirilan everyone to death, especially since most people probably won’t be coming at you to begin with if you have the enchantment up. If hate’s coming your way, though, the bigger problem is usually removal at Zirilan, not combat damage at your face.
Oblivion Stone ****
Having a panic button that’s fetchable off hoarding dragon can be pretty necessary, and o-stone is probably the best option, especially since it can protect zirilan himself or crucial engine pieces.
Nevinyrral’s disk ***
Worse than o-stone by a lot imo, since it can’t go off immediately and can’t save any crucial pieces. I’d usually only suggest using one mass-artifact-wipe, as the deck usually doesn’t like having all its mana rocks and engine pieces destroyed, so it’s usually a desperation move. The cheap activation is easy to keep up, though.
Perilous Vault **
Worse of the artifact options imo. High cost, no selection, but it does exile, if that’s a big bonus in your meta.
All is Dust ***
Leaves almost all your crucial pieces alone while wiping most of the boards. Being a bit expensive is the biggest downside, naturally.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon **
Compared to All is Dust, I don’t like it. His plus ability is very meh, and I’d rather not exile changeling berserker if I want to protect Zirilan. And since Zirilan sucks at protecting planeswalkers, you’re unlikely to activate him multiple times.
Blasphemous Act ***
A nice (sometimes) cheap boardwipe that leaves your artifacts alone. Can even use it to kill your dragons. If you want boardwipes, this and All is Dust are the best options imo.
Incite Rebellion **
Potentially sweet, but more of a meta call as it does require the right sort of boards to be effective. Nice that it almost always leaves your board alone.
Scroll Rack *****
Being able to put dragons back into your deck is absolutely amazing here, Zirilan can reshuffle your deck after dumping cards you don’t want, along with scroll rack just generally being a great card. I can’t imagine not wanting to run this.
Sensei’s Divining Top ****
Much worse than scroll rack…which is to say, still great. Like scroll rack, it’s good to prevent drawing dragons and it’s great with Zirilan reshuffling, and generally great.
Crystal Ball ***
Another step down from top. Still good for avoiding dragons, but minus synergy with shuffling and minus being actually very good.
Mimic Vat ****
Can throw dragons in there, or enemy creatures, either way it’s just a great card. Could see cutting it if you want a more synergistic deck, though I don’t necessarily think that’s correct as I’m almost always happy to draw it. Zirilan does provide some control over killing creatures to throw into it – you can even use this to save dragons in the vat from exile.
Vedalken Orrery ***
Bit of a do-nothing for a deck with little draw, but it does protect Zirilan from sorcery removal and a nice effect. Not quite worth the cost imo, since Zirilan is already a way to flash out dragons.
Smelt/Shattering Spree/Vandalblast/Smash/Shattering Pulse ***
Meta call if you want more artifact removal. If there’s a lot of pithing needles or cursed totems running around artifact removal is crucial, but for most everything else you can remove it with the right dragon.
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale **
A pseudo sac outlet for eot dragons that doesn’t let you attack, but it’s also just generally a good effect for the deck since recursion Zirilan keeps very few creatures in play at a time. In my experience it’s a big hate-draw, though, and one of mono-red’s biggest strengths is its appearance of weakness to avoid drawing too much hate.
Null Brooch ***
Zirilan is one of the best commanders to play hellbent with, as he provides so much utility just by being on the board. Sometimes discarding dragons is a good thing too. It’s been a while since I’ve run this, I may try experimenting with it more, now that I run a leaner Zirilan deck.
Spine of Ish Sah ***
Zirilan is weak to a lot of infrequently-played artifacts and enchantments - humility, damping matrix, cursed totem, pithing needle, etc. While spine is very clunky to play, especially outside of a big mana package, it is a solution to those cards, and it is tutorable with hoarding dragon. I definitely wouldn't use it outside of a hoarding dragon deck, probably recursion, but it can definitely save your bacon in otherwise nearly unwinnable scenarios. It is worth mentioning, though, that it does compete with other removal artifacts, like oblivion stone and nevinyrral's disk. Which you'd prefer to play depends on your playstyle and your meta.
Red Elemental Blast/Pyroblast ***
Personally I don't like including cards with such narrow interactions, but blue is probably the most popular color in EDH and these cards offer a very cheap way to interact. If you find yourself losing to blue spells frequently, these might merit inclusion.
Verse 12: Ramp
Zirilan can take a couple approaches to ramp. Because Zirilan often relies heavily on the commander and wants him out as soon as possible, besides the obvious top-tier mana rocks (mana crypt, sol ring, mana vault) most Zirilan decks will also want a decent number of 2-3 mana rocks to accelerate Zirilan out a turn early. Whether you prefer 2 or 3 depends on what other cards you're planning to play early - sac outlets? engine pieces? protection? But the other side is the access Zirilan has, as a mono-color deck, to some very powerful late-game mana ramp pieces that don't accelerate Zirilan out (unless you're paying taxes on him), but can enable bigger attacks, more utility from mana-sink dragons, and more utility out of your engine pieces - if the game goes that long. Whether you want to include those pieces is going to depend on how long you expect those games to go, and how you want your deck to win.
Sol ring *****
The best. Underpriced by 3 mana and the second most broken card in the format.
Mana crypt *****
The other best. Underpriced by 4 mana and the best card in the format. Since Zirilan usually plays fair, it’s maybe slightly worse than sol ring, but it does help scourge of the throne. Obvious include if you have it.
Everflowing chalice ***
Works as a ramp from 2 to 4, and on later turns, as a big mana dump. Lack of red makes it somewhat limited, but still probably among the best 2-drop rocks.
Mana vault ****
A little awkward since it’s often single-shot, but it’s also the only single card that makes a T2 zirilan possible, and that’s easily reason enough. Also great with goblin welder.
Fellwar stone ***
Often produces red, and when it doesn’t colorless is fine. A solid 2-drop rock, nothing spectacular.
Grim monolith ***
Allows for a T3 zirilan, which is great, but it’s slow if zirilan should fail to stick. Still, the speed is generally worth it, and should he die it’s easy to untap on 4 and try to stick him again on 5.
Mind stone ***
Usually you won’t want to crack it, but it’s a decent bonus in a pinch and 2-drop rocks are good even with no extra abilities.
Prismatic lens ***
Another 2-drop rock with a mediocre bonus. You probably hope you don’t need the fixing, but the option never hurt.
Coalition relic ***
Being able to zirilan on 4 without a 4th land is a good deal, especially since you don’t need any more colored sources. Among the best 3-drop rocks.
Unstable obelisk ***
A 3-drop colorless rock is aggressively mediocre, but getting the instant-speed option to kill anything is a huge boon for red, and it’s tutorable off hoarding dragon, so this is almost an auto-include.
Work powerstone ****
Tapping for 2 is a big game, even if it doesn’t speed our zirilan any faster. It does get him on T4 even without a 4th land, though, and it’s just great ramp.
Gauntlet of might *****
Technically it doesn’t speed up zirilan any faster, but it’s so bonkers that it’s worth it anyway. Much much better than other mana doubers as this can be played on-curve with zirilan, either before or after, without skipping an activation. For a longer game, this is a very powerful tool. For 1v1, it’s probably not important.
Gauntlet of power ***
Much worse than might, as it conflicts with zirilan’s CMC. An ok replacement when you’re fetching off hoarding dragon, but an awful replacement if you’re playing from hand.
Caged sun ***
Probably not worth the extra mana for exclusivity, and definitely not worth 2 extra. Budget option for fetching off hoarding dragon only.
Fractured powerstone **
2 drop rock with no bonuses, unless you enjoy the abortion that is planechase. It’s ok.
Kyren toy **
The ability to store mana is nice, but still probably doesn’t justify playing a mana rock this mediocre in the default case.
Magnifying glass ***
Probably the best 3 mana single-colorless producing mana rock. Having a mana sink that doesn’t even force you to start drawing is pretty nice, even if it’s overpriced.
Pristine talisman **
Gaining life is not a priority for this deck, especially since it screws up scourge of the throne and is unpreventable.
Seer’s lantern ***
A decent 3-mana colorless rock, scry can prevent drawing dragons though it’s mana intensive and generally not worth it.
Vessel of endless rest ***
Tapping for colored mana and providing a lifeline if recursion is broken are both excellent reasons to prefer this over other 3-drop rocks.
Gilded lotus **
Powerful mana rock, and a decent option after zirilan has stuck, but it doesn’t help ramp zirilan and it’s a fairly big target for removal, which then disables zirilan activations. Overall I think not worth it, though for a big mana deck I could see running it.
Palladium myr ***
As a worn powerstone replacement it’s ok, being vulnerable to more removal is a big downside though. It does synergize with certain untappers. Meta call if the creature tag is too big a liability.
You’d probably rather play your artifacts, and he doesn’t speed up zirilan any more than most other mana rocks. Imo not worth it.
Chrome mox ***
A powerful mana rock, though there are few red cards you’re happy to exile. In the lots-of-dragons build, though, you have plenty of easy choices, and a mox is a mox.
Mox diamond ***
This is a solid choice if you want to ramp out quickly, personally I don’t love the card disadvantage, especially since lands are typically not what you want to discard, but for quick Zirilan it is a powerful tool.
Mox opal **
3 artifacts is difficult to get quickly, and I’d probably rather just play a 2 or 3-drop rock that’s guaranteed to work. If you want a quick zirilan (i.e. for combo) then this is probably a good place to get some free ramp.
Wayfarer’s bauble ***
A 2-drop rock if you don’t have anything important on 1, and a 3-drop rock afterwords. Works well with mana doublers. Doesn’t have anything exciting to hit but it does the job.
Fire diamond ***
Etbt, but it’s one of a the few 2-drop rocks that provides red. Pretty baseline, and I’d generally prefer a 2-drop rock the enters untapped for colorless, but this is still a good option.
Surveyor’s scope *
I don’t like this card. If you’re going first, you’ve either got to be playing against major ramp or missing several land drops to work. On the draw, it’s more reasonable, but still not amazing, especially without fetches. Overall I don’t think it’s worth it given the inconsistency, unless you play vs a lot of ramp decks.
Commander’s sphere **
Sacking for a card is not huge, and a 3-drop rock is enough worse than a 2-drop that I’d generally avoid this.
Darksteel ingot **
If indestructibility is a big add, this may be worth it, but in most metas it’s just a bad 3-drop rock.
Jeweled amulet **
It does cost nothing and it can ramp out zirilan as early as T3, but it doesn’t do a whole lot besides that. If you’re playing for a very fast zirilan this can be worth it for sure. Mostly it depends on your ramp density – if it’s fairly low, you’re better off with a 2-drop rock. If it’s already high, this might give you swingier openers.
Ruby Medallion **
It does make Zirilan cheaper, but many of your spells are artifacts in recursion or perm builds, so it’s a pretty poor mana rock for those builds. Better for a heavy dragon build, but it’s rarely better than a regular colorless rock.
Surveyor’s Scope **
Kind of tough to use to accelerate Zirilan. If you’re last in a 3-player game full of ramping players it can be incredible, but usually it’ll be a lot weaker. More useful if you’re going for big mana in the late game, and can afford to skip a land drop or two.
Fire Diamond ***
Decent mana rock, I usually prefer colorless untapped rocks, but if you’re running too many colorless sources it might be worth the etbt for colored mana.
Iron Myr **
Fire diamond duplicate, but more vulnerable to removal. And I guess a chump blocker late game.
Gauntlet of Might *****
Unless you’re going very low on mountains, this is a very powerful ramp card and an anthem for free. The symmetry can occasionally be bad, but usually it’s easily worth it. The fact that it curves into Zirilan makes this much, much better than the other mana doublers.
Generator Servant **
Decent as a ritual effect, curves out a zirilan on three (with a free attack I guess), but as with most rituals it opens you up to getting way off curve if Zirilan is removed. The option to play him out with haste would be snazzier if it lasted past eot, but I could see it for a combo-heavy build that isn’t trying to leave up answers.
Braid of Fire **
Powerful if you want to dish out a ton of damage, but since it only works when you’ve already got zirilan pounding out dragons, and since I don’t love mana generators that don’t help you cast Zirilan.
Mana Geyser ***
Good way to go totally insane with firebreathing dragon damage, and works ok to cast Zirilan once. Probably the best ritual since it can be so explosive late-game.
Seething Song **
Getting Zirilan on three is nice, but I don’t love rituals given the risks. Since a 2-drop rock lets you play him one turn later and doesn’t put you so far behind if he’s removed, I don’t think it’s quite worth it.
Simian Spirit Guide **
The surprise factor to activate Zirilan is ok, and it does speed him out by a turn, but it’s so low impact I’d rather not.
Lotus Petal *
Spirit Guide minus the surprise factor, with minor artifact synergy.
Gilded Lotus ***
Solid follow-up to Zirilan the turn after, getting so much colored mana can help set up lethal turns with dragon tyrant, or recast Zirilan if he’s dead. Doesn’t help with the first cast, though, so I’ve cut it from my builds. Plus it’s vulnerable to counters or removal.
Pristine Talisman **
Mediocre 3-drop rock. Lifegain can screw up scourge of the throne and there’s so many better options.
Prismatic Lens ***
Option to fix is unexciting but does get out of some sticky situations. Also can fix to activate abilities of stolen creatures. Mostly just a 2-drop colorless rock, but that’s not a bad thing.
Extraplanar Lens ***
You need to have enough basics to justify this, and it’s vulnerable to removal, but it is nice to have a big mana generator that also speeds out Zirilan. I don’t think it’s worth running enough basics to justify it, personally, but it has plenty of potential.
Coalition Relic ****
Fixes, ramps Zirilan, generally great mana rock. Almost auto-include.
Plague Myr **
Mostly another weak 2-drop rock, but it does provide a longshot alt wincon I guess.
Chromatic Lantern ***
If you’re running a lot of colorless lands, and especially a lot of non-mana-producing lands (diamond valley, safe haven, etc) it gets better, in general the fixing isn’t necessary though.
Gauntlet of Power ***
Worse than gauntlet of might and with the same symmetry problem, but if you want big mana it’s probably part of your deck. The effect is still very powerful, even with the annoying cost collision with Zirilan.
Caged Sun ***
Pretty on-par with Gauntlet. Doesn’t pump enemy stuff, and it works on nonbasics, but whether that justifies the cost is questionable. Again, for big mana, it does the trick.
Jeweled Amulet ***
Surprisingly okay, it just stores on mana but that does allow you to cast Zirilan on 3 with another rock, without burning a card entirely. If you want a fast zirilan it’s pretty reasonable.
Commander’s Sphere **
Sacking it for a card is usually not amazing since there’s not many things you want to draw besides more mana, but it’s nice to have if it’s getting wiped. Otherwise unexciting 3-drop rock.
Fellwar Stone ****
Untapped and usually taps for red. One of the best 2-drop rocks.
Grim Monolith ***
Better than a ritual imo, since you can untap it to recast Zirilan a few turns later if he’s removed. And a T3 Zirilan is nice to have available. If he’s likely to eat removal when played early, though, it’s less impressive.
Worn Powerstone ****
One of the best 3-drop rocks. Not hugely better than other rocks for casting Zirilan on T4, but being to replay him on 5 if he’s killed, or play more engine pieces if he lives, is a big bonus and easily worth the etbt.
Mind Stone ****
Like Commander sphere the sac option is a minor upgrade, but it’s still one of the better 2-drops.
Everflowing Chalice *****
The flexibility is huge. Don’t feel bad about playing it on 2 if you don’t have anything else, but it’s also a great play when you’ve got tons of mana.
Fractured Powerstone/Thought Vessel ***
Depending on curve these can be worth it. Thought vessel is very unlikely to have any tangible benefit but it’s still strictly better. And if you’re playing Planechase…please don’t play Planechase, it’s the worst.
Thran Dynamo ***
One of the most efficient mana rocks that isn’t banned in all other formats. It doesn’t accelerate Zirilan and it doesn’t produce colored mana, but it’s powerful for a big mana build.
Doubling Cube **
For the big mana deck, this can pay big dividends, but without lots of other big producers it’s hard to get enough value.
Unstable Obelisk ****
Really good alt ability on a 3-drop rock, especially in red. Unless you really prefer 2-drops, red mana, or your games are fast enough that you can’t activate the ability (in which case, Zirilan is probably not for you) you should probably be playing this.
Clock of Omens **
Most of your artifacts are either mana rocks or engine pieces. A decent number of engine pieces can tap for free, but it’s still probably too situational to justify since it has to be generating at least 2 mana a turn to be reasonable.
Lion’s Eye Diamond *
Only really useful if you’ve emptied your hand and are going for lethal or a last ditch attempt to stick Zirilan. Because of the narrow usefulness I don’t like it, despite the option of a T2 zirilan (pray to topdeck a land?), though I could see it being worth the risk if your meta is incredibly removal-light.
Inspiring Statuary ***
Similar to Clock of Omens, except that it’s a lot easier to pull off. The biggest annoyance is how many artifacts you ARE running, and how many of them are already producing mana rocks. For 3 it’s a little tough to swallow since it’s hard to make it more impressive than other 3-drop rocks which can help cast artifacts.
Voltaic Key ***
An interesting card for the number of potential uses it has, untapping mana rocks, sac outlets, etc. For a big mana deck it has a lot of targets, but for a leaner deck with few rocks tapping for more than 1, it’s too risky imo.
Treasonous Ogre **
It’s obviously got a lot of possibilities for a big swing turn, and can help you control your life total for scourge of the throne. Doesn’t help play Zirilan, though, and it does have a pretty limited activations for a deck like this with relatively low lifegain. For a 4-drop, removal-prone rock I think you can do better, but it definitely has potential if you don’t expect your life total to be pressured.
Soulbright Flamekin **
A 2-drop that produces 2 anf fixes? Sounds pretty insane, but between being vulnerable to wipes and taking a long time to actually produce anything, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.
Verse 13: Land
As a mono-colored deck, Zirilan has a lot of slots available for utility lands, and a lot of great options. That said, I do recommand reigning in your greed a bit - especially with so many good colorless rocks, it's easy to overdo it on colorless lands and stumble casting or activating Zirilan on occasion (especially if you want to activate multiple times in a turn), pump dragon tyrant for lethal etc. You'll also want to really minimize nonbasics if you're planning to run a lot of mana doublers.
Ancient Tomb *****
Excellent land for ramp. Relatively small life payments makes it easier to set up Scourge of the Throne too, so it’s not all downside. Unless you really, really need red mana this is an easy inclusion.
Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper *
Man they nerfed the crap out of ancient tomb. Even though it does work as ramp for Zirilan, since it can’t accelerate rocks it still can’t play him earlier than turn 4 without one of the broken mana rocks or a ritual or something. So, no.
City of Traitors **
Too hard to avoid playing lands afterwards to be worth it imo, and the best turns to have extra mana is early, when it’s bad to play it.
Mishra’s Workshop ***
Opposite problem of untaidaike, it’s great for playing mana rocks but it’s difficult to accelerate zirilan with it unless you’re running an absolute ton of mana rocks. The power is obviously off the charts with the right hand, but whether you can run it depends on how many artifacts you’re running, and in particular how many mana rocks. Big mana package probably gets the biggest boost from this.
Strip Mine ****
Obviously the best of land-on-land violence. If you want land removal, this is the place to start.
Basically identical to strip mine, except in cost and inability to hit enchanted (or otherwise worthwhile to kill) basics.
Tectonic Edge ***
I really don’t think it’s worth going this deep on land removal, but it’s still only a bit worse than the other options since you rarely want to sac a land super early and rarely want to hit a nonbasic.
Rishadan Port ***
It’s nice to keep your land in play if you need it later, even though it’s more expensive and less effective than just killing it, in the short term.
Dust Bowl ***
Being repeatable is nice, but generally you’re not ramping enough to sustain sacrificing lands repeatedly, so I think it’s worse than tec edge normally.
Encroaching Wastes **
It’s still basically fine, but unless you’re on a steep budget I can’t see going this deep on bad strip mines.
High Market *****
Easily the best sac outlet imo, since it costs no slots and it’s cheap to use. Even if you have no interesting in sacrificing dragons, it’s free life and protection from theft/stasis-type removal on Zirilan that can otherwise disable you.
Miren, the Moaning Well ****
The cost of activation makes this much worse than high market, but it’s still a land that lets you sacrifice, so it’s great.
Keldon Necropolis ***
This is starting to go a bit far for a sac outlet. If you’re running a lot of sac outlets already it may not be worth it, but if you’re going a little light it’s nice to have a bad backup option that doesn’t take a slot. And the two damage can lock certain commanders out of the game.
Expedition Map ****
Usually you’re hitting High Market, but if you already have a sac outlet you can hit ancient tomb for ramp, or a utility land for late-game value. If you don’t need sac outlets this is less exciting but still reasonable.
Arcane Lighthouse **
A land I like, but there’s area damage dragons and even steel hellkite to deal with hexproof, so this generally isn’t necessary.
Rogue’s Passage ***
Most of your critters are evasive already, but being able to force certain dragons through (steel hellkite, hellkite tyrant, Balefire Dragon, or just plain lethal) can be critical. Cost is very high, but if you’re hitting land drops you can start activating it, you can start activating it fairly quickly without missing zirilan activations.
Mystifying Maze ***
One of the best lands, not particularly synergistic with Zirilan (if only it could target your own creatures!) but still a strong option.
Hall of the Bandit Lord **
Justifiable for the dragon-heavy version that expects to cast a lot of them. Hard to cast Zirilan with it and keep up mana to activate, though, and the cost is quite high, so it’s tough to include, as high as the ceiling is.
Haven of the Spirit Dragon ***
For bulk dragons it's harder to ditch dragons into the grave, but for recursion dragons this offers a decent backup if hoarding dragon gets stranded there, or just a way to convert an otherwise fairly dead land drop into a powerful dragon hanging out in your grave.
Inventors’ Fair ****
Easy to activate, and basically anything you’d really need is an artifact. Expensive to use, but having backups for any crucial piece is a big deal late-game.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx ***
For engine decks, it’s difficult to keep more than 3 red in play at a time, but for perm and mass dragon decks, it has a very high ceiling and a low floor.
Mage-Ring Network ***
Storing up colorless isn’t hugely great for dragon abilities except steel hellkite, but being able to eventually replay Zirilan can be useful. It’s pretty slow, though, so it’s questionable.
Petrified Field **
There are certain lands worth recurring, but none so crucial to justify running this imo.
Mouth of Ronom **
Having removal in a land is pretty cool, can even kill hoarding dragon in a major pinch. Rare to want to leave that kind of mana open, though, and it doesn’t kill many threats in commander.
Scrying Sheets ***
Doesn’t draw dragons, so that’s a plus. Odds of drawing are fairly low, so never activate instead of something else, but if you draw even once that’s a pretty good deal.
Command Beacon **
Cost of Zirilan getting you down after multiple casts? I’d probably just go big mana (or maybe play a deck less commander dependent), but this can also stem the bleeding.
Buried Ruin ***
Bit clunky, but this deck lives and dies on its artifacts, so this often justifies the slot.
Terrain Generator **
Tempting for the ramp potential, but at best it’s probably ramping once, so I don’t think it has enough appeal to fill the crucial colorless slots.
Cavern of Souls ***
If you’re running in a counter-heavy meta, this can either protect Zirilan or your dragons, so it definitely has a lot of power in the right situation. Pre-tuck-nerf it was totally critical to avoid scooping to hinder, these days it’s pretty optional.
Myriad Landscape ****
Ramp and fixing in a land? And it can tap for colorless if you really need your curve? Excellent. You do pay for it with the etbt, but the benefit it provides pretty easily justifies the cost.
Kher Keep ***
Can be powerful if you have the right sort of sac outlets and/or skullclamp. Without good sac effects, pretty meh.
Haunted Fengraf ***
A way to recur hoarding dragon if your engine is broken by countering reito lantern or something. Pretty narrow but it does get you out of an otherwise pretty bad pinch.
Steep cost to play, and weak vs removal. It’s a way to perm a dragon, though, gets really nasty with utvara hellkite for example. Overall I think it’s too cute to justify screwing with your curve, but when it works it can be good.
Cycling lands **
Overall I don’t think cyclers are worth it because you basically always want more lands, whether to cast zirilan or pump dragons. There are very points in the game where you don't want more land, and early-game etbt lands can significantly slow you down. They're also much worse with mana doubling effects. I don't think the rare benefit outweighs all the downsides.
Hanweir Battlements/Flamekin Village
Granting haste is powerful when it comes up, almost impossible to matter for Zirilan given the cost though. Potentially strong with dragons if you’re going mass dragons, though.
Fetch lands ***
Little upside or downside compared to basics. Biggest upside is that you can duplicate them with rings of brighthearth to get bonus ramp. Biggest downside is that they can get in the way of soldevi digger.
Almost definitely not worth the expense if you're on any kind of budget, but if you have them lying around it’s probably a slight advantage.
Sandstone Needle ***
In removal-light metas, this is a really strong way to reliably drop Zirilan on 3, at the cost of a land. If you expect him to get killed once or twice before activating, it’s a lot less exciting though.
Great Furnace **
In general I don’t think it’s worth the risk of removal to random artifact wipes, but if you have enough artifact synergy this can be reasonable.
Spinerock Knoll **
There’s few dragons that can trigger this, and keeping a dragon under this makes it unavailable to Zirilan, so there’s few good targets in a recursion deck. More reasonable in a perm deck, and a lot more reasonable in a heavy dragon deck.
Sea Gate Wreckage ****
Zirilan doesn’t have a lot of draw, so it’s very reasonable to be able to activate this later in the game. Drawing repeatedly does increase the risk of drawing dragons, but that’s about the only downside, besides the colorless cost.
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle ***
Etbt lands worth running are relatively rare. Valakut does work well in mono-color decks, although this deck has relatively few ways to really abuse it. one tool it does have is worldgorger dragon, so if you're running him then valakut becomes much better. Without him, I think valakut is a bit redundant with the damage your dragons are dealing, and it can slow down some curves. One the other hand, as one of the only etbt lands you're likely to run,
it's usually not too hard to find space for. Overall I think it has minor downside and upside, pretty much a wash.
Chapter 4: Strategy
Verse 1: General Notes
First, a few very important notes about Zirilan's ability. The Oracle text reads: 1RR, T: Search your library for a Dragon permanent card and put that card onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library. That Dragon gains haste until end of turn. Exile it at the beginning of the next end step. This means two key things:
His ability can be activated during the end step, and the dragon won't be exiled until the NEXT turn's end step. Used during the end step of the turn immediately before yours, this enables you to set up two turns worth of dragons attacking in a single turn for big alpha strikes. It also enables you to keep Zirilan up until the end step, then get a dragon and attack with it, without leaving Zirilan tapped during your opponents' turns.
His ability only exiles the dragons if they're still on the battlefield by the end step. If they're sacrificed or otherwise change zones (even if they return to the battlefield before the end step), they won't get exiled. This is, of course, they key to the recursion and the perm strategies.
As a general rule, you should try to activate Zirilan on the endstep unless it's very important to do something immediately (such as win the game, disrupt someone else's win, or block removal against Zirilan). You should also avoid searching for a dragon with no way to sac/perm it, unless it's worth the sacrifice. Do keep in mind that blocking is nature's sac outlet, though, and can be crucial if you're unable to find your own and need to trigger hoarding dragon.
As a toolbox commander, every dragon you include in your Zirilan deck is going to have a significant effect on how your deck plays. In general, you should be building with two questions in mind: "How do I plan to develop my board?" and "how am I going to win?" When you play the deck, you should be trying to follow the strategies you set out in construction.
When considering your starting hand, one important tripping hazard is the dragons in your hand. You'll often prefer to have dragons in your deck to Zirilan out, rather than your hand, and without scroll rack it's difficult to get them back into the deck without paying their exorbitant mana costs. Having one of your key dragons in hand can be a big deal breaker, especially expensive ones like dragon tyrant, utvara hellkite, and bogardan hellkite, although some dragons (scourge of valkas comes to mind) are often fine to have in hand, and if you're playing bulk dragons, any single dragon will be much less important.
Besides a lack of dragons, the biggest thing to look for is lands and mana rocks. The faster Zirilan hits the field, the better. A hand where he can't be cast until turn 5 is often not worth keeping. Having synergy pieces can also be a boon, and you'll want to favor hands with a sac outlet if you're running the recursion build. The general lack of blinking options means that you can't afford to be too picky with the perm build - if you have a good perm piece then so much the better, but don't dig too hard for it. For the bulk dragons build, all you want is mana and you're good to go.
Dealing with the early and midgame is usually going to be similar for all Zirilan decks. You want to ramp into Zirilan, you want to use him to respond to threats, you want to set up engine pieces to build towards a win condition. If you're focusing on recursion, this means knowing your hoarding dragon targets and choosing which pieces you need to put together a lethal attack, or just to recycle dragons to use as answers until you have more time to build up your own board. If you're focusing on the combo, you'll be digging for your combo pieces. If you're going bulk dragons, you'll be playing out whatever engine pieces you've drawn. Bulk dragons can afford to be a little more aggressive and spend less time assembling pieces, but don't use your best dragons until the end or you might run out of gas.
For recursion, the build I'm most familiar with, I tend to decide which pieces to go for based on the size of the table, how much resistance I expect to encounter, and how much I feel like showing off. For a 1v1 game, sometimes it's not even necessary to use hoarding dragon, because you can just play scourge of the throne into dragon tyrant and get an immediate win. If you expect to encounter a bit more resistance, or an additional player, tutoring for tel-jilad stylus or sundial of the infinite is more reasonable, as those can provide more value to win over multiple turns, or go with rings of brighthearth to just explode out a lot of damage. For big games, I like to go with Reito Lantern to recycle hoarding dragon, so I can build up more elaborate combos with illusionist's bracers and gauntlet of might for some big mana, big damage turns with many dragons on the field at once. Within the first few turns, you should know which pieces you intend to grab, although of course you should be flexible if you happen to draw something that pushes you in a different direction.
When you're ready to go for a big alpha strike, do the math and decide what your important targets are. Focus on the most dangerous players first. One of the recursion build's biggest strength is that it needs relatively few permanents on the board to surprise the table with a huge alpha strike. That can often make you a lower priority target in the eyes of less experienced players, especially as Zirilan is a relatively obscure commander. Once you've played your hand and delivered your big alpha strike, the game should either be over or functionally over. Try not to expose your power while leaving your opponents standing, since you'll usually have Zirilan tapped and thus vulnerable to removal or enemy combos or whatnot that you won't be able to remove with Zirilan. That's not to say you shouldn't kill one person if it's necessary - say if you know they're about to combo out - but it should be avoided if possible.
About the Author
DirkGently has been playing Magic since 2001, Commander since 2009, and Zirilan since 2011. He plays commander and limited, and once top 8ed a limited PTQ back when PTQs were cool and you could go to the pro tour instead of just another PTQ. He plays magic 3-4 times a week. And sometimes he talks about himself in the third person.
My deck seems to be a bit of hybrid of keeping the dragons and recycling the dragons. I am focusing ETB effects and dragons with activated abilities that I can use a mana sinks for my powerful ramp. The game plan is double my mana then double my damage then double my attack steps. Hopefully I have highted a few cards you missed, in particular flameshadow conjurering. My meta is semi-casual with a differing power levels of decks, but people aren't funnelling in huge amounts of money into thier decks. Also mass land destruction is frowned upon, if you do it, expect to get targeted the next game.
There is plenty of dragons (and ramp pieces) that either too expensive or I have never found available for trade, just buying an EDH deck is missing half the fun of building one...
Okay I had more time when I wasn't in a hurry to lend my opinions. Lightning skrieker is a lava axe.. I mostly use it to kill planeswalkers or just to get when I have nothing set up and no reason to do anything specific just want to knock down some life totals. if they kill it they literially used removal on the worst creature in my deck.
I didn't originally have thunderbreak regent and scourge of valkas. Your resoning, you'll never have many dragons on board (also true for moonviel dragon) so they don't do anything, is the same reason I didn't have them in (they were just sitting in my rare folder). The issue is what happens if you don't ramp off, or your general gets removed too many times, they are just good castable dragons. Also I do a lot of removal that involves pinging a creature for 1 then hitting them for five with Brogdan hellkite. The little one damage pings really do matter. it is very similar for Dragon tempest just constantly pinging like that really adds up over the lenght of the game. Also giving hatse to scourge of the throne from hand is so brutal.
I am going to reconsider whether I want to return changling bezerker and crucible of fire to the deck. Bezerker just never seemed to save anything zirilan always dying when I was tapped out, I was just being too agressive to use it. I decided flameshadow conjuring was just so much better than crucible.. but crucible is the rare I own the most copies of perhaps I can find a space.
OP has been updated a lot, with formatting and deck tags. It's still an absolute ton of text to get through, though, so there's still more work to be done.
I already had flameshadow conjuring in the list, but you did have a few other pieces I forgot about (haven of the spirit dragon, trading post).
I don't see a ton of reason to use lightning shrieker. Bulk dragon decks should have enough dragons to not need it, and recursion decks should hopefully be able to keep reusing their dragons. If it was a 7/7 or something, maybe, but as a 5/5 it's also one of the smaller dragons available so it's really hard to justify imo.
Your build has more dragons so something like scourge of valkas makes more sense (I'm also trying it in my bulk dragon version). I don't think thunderbreak regent ever does enough just use it, though, and it's just awful off Zirilan. I'm most familiar with the recursion build where scourge of Valkas makes little sense, though, since there aren't even many dragons in the whole deck, so that's where most of my opinions come from. Moonveil is a bit different - if you go all-in double activations, assuming one is tyrant, moonveil gives you 5 extra power for just one red, 10 if you're triggering scourge of the throne, with a paltry RRRR that's enough extra damage to kill an entire additional player. That's a far cry from valkas dealing 10 damage total, or thunderbreak regent doing basically nothing.
changeling berserker is great for protecting Zirilan as long as you don't tap Zirilan on your own turn, which I basically never do unless I'm going for a win or I need to kill something urgently. You can also use him proactively to perm a powerful dragon, like balefire or utvara. I think he's one of the six dragons that should always be included, along with hellkite tyrant, utvara hellkite, dragon tyrant, bogardan hellkite, and Steel hellkite. He just provides such a unique and useful utility (technically WGD provides similar utility, but with way higher risk).
Whille i don't play worldgorger dragon any more (having it in hand was soooo bad) I have killed a table by using it in response to cyclonic rift whille valakut was in play. Other than that is is just nice on going removal and damage with barely any effort.
Spine is tutorable with hoarding dragon and recurable with a bunch of cards in my list above (but I removed most of them in the updating I am doing now :/). I have used it to win the game against Glacial Chasm.
Whille i don't play worldgorger dragon any more (having it in hand was soooo bad) I have killed a table by using it in response to cyclonic rift whille valakut was in play. Other than that is is just nice on going removal and damage with barely any effort.
Spine is tutorable with hoarding dragon and recurable with a bunch of cards in my list above (but I removed most of them in the updating I am doing now :/). I have used it to win the game against Glacial Chasm.
Valakut and spine probably deserve mentions, even though I'm not personally likely to run either. In my experience hitting mana rocks etc on curve is really important and I don't see a ton of value in Valakut, though the synergy with WGD is cute and I think it's probably fine.
Spine I used to run (years and years ago) but cut it in favor of o-stone as my slot for non-steel-hellkite removal. Between steel hellkite and o-stone I think most situations are covered, and spine is just such an unpleasant, clunky card in my experience. 7 mana is just a ton, sorcery speed removal sucks, etc. Still, it is nice to have for dealing with permanents that you can't beat (i.e. humility, damping matrix, etc) if you don't want to wipe the board. Got a humility played against me last night with the bulk dragons build (no hoarding dragon...), but luckily I'd been sitting on a chaos warp for most of the game.
The bulk list from the OP did quite well, won the first 2 games (4 and 3 players), and would have won the 3rd except I played like absolute crap and threw away a win trying to do something cute Got to try tawnos's coffin for the first time. Unfortunately it got stolen (in-game, not irl) immediately, and then the other player killed me after taking 2 extra turns, so impressions were not great. It's definitely mana-intensive, it seems best suited to a big mana deck. Maybe more a 3-star than 4-star card, although it's nice to have some powerful cards that aren't all in service to zirilan.
Excellent writeup. I've not played Zirilan, but if I tire of my current mono-R deck (Zada), he's top of my list of replacements (I'm one of those people who don't really like having multiple decks with the same colour combination), and this has further convinced me.
One thing I would recommend in general for mono red is adding in two of the most powerful spells available to us - Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast. The more I play with these two cards, the more I love them, and they're now pretty much my first additions to any deck with red in it, but mono red in particular really benefits from them. I've lost count of the number of times they've saved me (often against Cyclonic Rift...) and there's basically always a target for them in a multiplayer game - from commanders ranging from the obvious mono-blue ones like Azami, to stuff as vaired as Ruhan, Zur and Child of Alara, to blue's myriad suite of interaction, to extra turns spells, to major threats like DEN or C-Sphinx and so on.
I have used REB and pyroblast in the past but they were just the first cards on the chopping block for not always being relevent. I am very careful when I use this deck. I only take it out if there is plenty of control/answers in the pod. The truth is mono red really can't control it is at its best doing its own fairly agressive thing. Obviously this is in person when I know what decks I am up against rather than say online. They are nice in your flex slots but I have artifact destruction in that slot rather than blue hate.
Updates from your recommendations basically just from raiding my collection.
Getting off the ground with mana and getting dragons into my hand seems like an issue but it just seems like way-way too much money to fix it right now. *edit* After goldfishing it seems I just need to mulligan hard because the number of cards in hand doesn't matter much.
Any thoughts about our bane cards like Stranglehold and Aven Mindcensor?
Those cards can be solved in some versions. Hoarding dragon in response for o-stone, for example. Without hoarding dragon your options are pretty limited, short of just hoping you draw some of your rare removal. Given how inefficent enchantment removal is in mono-red, I don't think it's worth dedicating a bunch of slots to worrying about it. At the end of the day, Zirilan is not a highly durable deck - a lot of his strength comes from not appearing to be a huge threat. If people are hating on you aggressively, you're probably in trouble, whether it's a hard lockout card like strangehold, or just using a few removal spells on your commander. This just isn't a deck built to handle a 3v1 situation well.
Typically against hate I just have to wait for someone else to deal with it, it is almost certainly hating someone else out as well. Alternatively, just start casting dragons. Which is an advantage of more mass dragon versions of the deck.
I agree not being seen as a threat is definitely an advantage, I have actually won a lot of games where I got mana screwed and people forgot about me... until I just pull out huge amounts of damage out of nowhere. Players will learn that Zirilian the card is a threat but forget you can just start casting dragons.
So I am in favour of having a little less focus on your engine and just have a bunch of castable dragons and enough dragon buffs and other damage sources as a plan B. Only for metas that are a little slower and more grindy though, the stronger the meta the harder you will have to focus on pulling off Plan A.
I tend to prefer to focus on plan A since I don't think plan B is very good, but in a low-ish powered meta I could see it working ok.
Endless sands is super good for the "perm" strat, and is possibly good enough to get into other versions of the deck. being able to tap for mana makes it much better than safe haven, and while paying a cost to activate it is a bummer, I think I'd rather pay to sac it and get my dragons eot than sac on upkeep and have to sit around hoping no one kept a board wipe.
scavenger grounds also has some potential as a decent grave-hate artifact, though the recursion build doesn't really care about grave hate since so many of its recursion pieces double as grave hate.
I've seen lists that include Mycosynth Lattice and Darksteel Forge (plus Hellkite Tyrant/Vandalblast FTW). Have you tried these too as your wincon? Looks promising through Hoarding Dragon shenanigans..
I've seen lists that include Mycosynth Lattice and Darksteel Forge (plus Hellkite Tyrant/Vandalblast FTW). Have you tried these too as your wincon? Looks promising through Hoarding Dragon shenanigans..
It's an amusing combo, but especially with a tutor in the command zone it seems like a good way to make the game pretty linear pretty fast. And I doubt it's as consistent as the SoFaF combo or the WGD + jokulhaups combo.
I am playing Thaumatic Compass, I already played Journeyer's kite. The seven land restriction sucks and I really don't want to give my opponetns a maze of ith (via vesuva) when it flips.. but since I don't own the broken mana ramp just getting lands in the early game is really useful for getting off the ground, I cut my beloved durdle post.. durdle in durdle out.
the immortal sun: Bit clunky since the dudes are already big, we don't really want draw THAT badly, and we're more concerned with activating abilities than casting spells. So on second thought, forget it.
Arch of Orazca: a little more promising, gives us some late-game reach if we need it. I think it's planning for failure a bit, though, if we're actually activating it we're probably pretty screwed already.
....and that's the end of the set. Ixalan: not big on dragons.