Aggressive decks are known for, almost defined by, having a low-cost mana curve. Here is a red aggro deck and it’s mana curve, from current Standard:

Mono-Red MTGO Grinder Deck by Matt Sperling – 6/8/2015

sperling1

This is a budget deck that isn’t quite strong enough against Rhinos to earn my full endorsement, but it is a competitive deck for sure. I earned many QPs last season using it.

Notice that the six 4-mana spells are actually 2 Heelcutters, which cost 3 more often than they cost 4, and Stoke the Flames, which has convoke. So this deck has 0 spells that require 4 mana. It only uses 20 land. These choices are obviously related.

Some mono-red decks in Standard use cards like Thunderbreak Regent, Outpost Siege, Chandra, or Stormbreath Dragon. These decks still have a low curve but choose to employ what is called a “curve topper.”

A curve topper is a card that the mana base doesn’t directly support in the sense of reliably casting this spell “on time” (turn 4 for a 4-mana spell, turn 5 for a 5-mana spell, etc). Instead, the mana base is built to support the bottom part of the curve, which has two effects:

  1. In games where you draw an average or below-average number of mana sources, the curve topper can’t be cast BUT that scenario necessarily implies a healthy number of other spells have been drawn, and we know from our curve that most of these spells are cheap. Thus, when your curve topper can’t be cast on time, you don’t need it on time; or
  2. You drew an above-average number of mana sources and are able to cast your curve topper on time and deploy a more powerful effect to make up for the unexpected “flood” of mana sources; or
  3. Your curve topper was not available to be cast on time as in scenario 1, or if you just didn’t draw the curve topper, but the game has dragged out and now you find yourself with an average number of lands for this longer-than-expected game length and have found enough mana to now cast your curve topper.

These scenarios are important because they inform us about what kind of card makes a good curve topper.

The most obvious curve topper candidate is a finisher. In Constructed, Stormbreath Dragon fits this bill, as does something like Crater’s Claws. The small cards can chip away, getting an opponent to 4 or 8, and these cards can deal those last few points. Stormbreath is better in scenario 2 (flood) than Crater’s Claws, but Crater’s Claws can be cast for 2 or 3 in a scenario 1. In Limited, 7-mana creatures that have flying are typically better curve toppers than those that just have a big body, because they act as better finishers, even though they act as worse blockers and are easier to kill.

Another type of curve topper is what I will call a flood-mitigator. Cards like Outpost Siege and Chandra, Pyromaster are current examples of this. In games I can cast an Outpost Siege, I will have mana to use the extra cards it nets me. In Limited, a Dragonlord’s Prerogative might fill this role atop the curve of an otherwise aggressive deck.

Meet Avaricious Dragon (mythic rare, Magic Origins):

Avaricious Dragon

avadraga

Part finisher, part flood-mitigator, and 100% curve topper. You don’t want to cast this card on turn 4 in all but rare circumstances, thanks to its drawback of “end of turn hand size=0” (a little worse than hand size set to 0 in fact since they can respond to the trigger and bounce it, forcing its discard). Unload your cheap stuff, get the opponent to 4 or 8 or 12, and then drop this. Hopefully, as with many Curve Toppers, the early pressure caused the opponent to unload their removal spells in an effort to stay alive, and now this thing that’s part Thunderbreak Regent, part Outpost Siege—two cards that shine when both players have exhausted their resourced in the early game—can take over.

There is the prospect of playing this alongside Thunderbreak Regent and Draconic Roar for some Dragon synergy. That element is present, but was sort of already available if you wanted to do it. Playing too many copies of Avaricious Dragon or 4+ mana spells in general is not how I want to use this. I want to have my curve end with sometimes having one of these, sometimes not, and rarely 2 copies (since the first forces discard of the second).

But if you can pay the deckbuilding costs associated, this card will win you games. 4 mana isn’t that much for a must-kill card, and most opponents will indeed be forced to answer an Avaricious Dragon.

Let’s see what we get as an initial test main deck:

Avaricious Red

RG Atarka’s Command builds will probably win out, and I leave an initial draft of that as an exercise for the reader (I love that phrase, meaning, “I know what belongs here, but nah, I’m too lazy”).

I hope you learned something today about curve toppers and about how you might use Avaricious Dragon as one once Magic Origins is released.

I’ll be doing some 1- to 2-line reviews of each officially previewed card from Magic Origins as they are revealed. Please follow ChannelFireball on Facebook to see these previews and my quick reviews. I promise that some will contain humorous takes and one-liners, and others will flag something as particularly relevant to Standard or Modern.