This week, I’m going to step back from doing a deck tech and talk about Ugin the Spirit Dragon. Check back in 2 weeks for a new deck!
There is much to be said about Ugin in terms of how cool he is in the Magic storyline, but I’m not really the Vorthos to tackle that one. Maybe Bruce will someday. Rather, I am here today to extoll the virtues of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as a Magic card. Yes, the 8 cost Planeswalker card that is currently going for about $40 each on starcitygames.com. A price tag certainly is a strong indicator of how good a card is, but I’m going to take it a step further.
Ugin is the best card in standard, and will remain so until the Khans/Fate rotation.
That’s a bold statement, one might say. One might ask, how do you back that up when Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Monastery Mentor, Monastery Swiftspear and Duress have all seen Legacy play? Or, how Ugin can hold a candle to the raw mana-fixing power of fetch lands plus BFZ’s fetchable duals?
The correct answer is that Ugin’s power is partly a function of the cards that exist in Standard. If big mana decks and dragon control strategies weren’t competitive, Ugin would be nigh unplayable. But, we do live in a world where an 8 mana walker is castable. What’s putting Ugin beyond the other contenders for the title of “best?”
Ugin does everything.
Wait, you were expecting something more? I mean, that’s pretty much it. The only hurdle to playing Ugin is his mana cost. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got pretty much everything you might want to do right there.
Ugin’s +2 ability deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Anyone who is familiar with the Modern format knows that Lightning Bolt is, if not the most powerful card, then certainly the most format defining card in modern. Before 10th Edition, I have distinct memories of people stubbornly refusing to trade me their copies of Lightning Bolt, even the cheap versions. Bolt kills creatures and players and has for years, and Ugin gives you a free bolt each turn.
Ugin’s -X ability is probably his most powerful one, maybe even more than his ultimate. It is likely also the one that is most variable in power according to the format it is being played in. Since the Zendikar block has been released, fewer things get hit by the exile ability, since Ugin requires at least one color, and colorless is not a color. That said, it is a clean answer to some of the worst threats. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and his tokens vanish for -4, Siege Rhino, Anafenza the Foremost, Mantis Rider, Jace, Ob Nixilis, Monastery Mentor and Dragonlord Ojutai, all disappear for the right cost. In fact, prior to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, there was really just one card that mattered that Ugin couldn’t cleanly deal with, and that was Hangarback Walker. Now, of course, you’ll have to come prepared with some other way to deal with Titans and the larger members of their broods.
Finally, you have Ugin’s “ultimate”, -10 to draw 7 cards, gain 7 life, and drop whatever goodies you find onto the battlefield. This effect is splashy, powerful, and you’re likely to win the game if you fire it off. I do urge caution, however. Although it is likely that you can recover, using the ultimate ability will take a lot of counters off, and if Ugin is still around, a good attack could finish him. I have sometimes found myself in a position of being able to ultimate, but decided it was more important to manage my opponent’s side of the board, either by bolting something, or using the -X.
A final thought, not everyone can or wants to buy or trade into their own copies of Ugin. This is fine, it is an expensive card, and that money/trade value could be used to obtain other powerful cards. Until the next rotation though, keep in mind that Ugin is a good play when you’re ahead, at parity, or behind, so if you’re not playing him, be ready to deal with him in games that go long.