Printed in May 2006’s Magic the Gathering release, Dissension, the Rakdos Pit Dragon doesn’t hold a flame to the Dragons printed today. But, at the time, this “build a better dragon” creature was not only playable, but even competitive. From 2007 to 2014 saw Top 8 competitive play in Legacy Dragon Stompy decks. We’ll get to those surprisingly powerful Legacy aggro decks in a bit. First, let’s look at the Rakdos Pit Dragon.
The Pit Dragon has been reprinted several times over the years, in the Duel Decks: Jace vs Chandra, the Jace VS Chandra Duel Deck reprint, and as recently as the Ravnica Allegiance Guild Kit for Rakdos (Red/Black). A 4-mana 3/3 dragon, it doesn’t even have flying, as many modern Dragons do. You can give it flying for 2 Red mana, and it also has “firebreathing” meaning you can pay one Red mana to give the Pit Dragon +1/+0 until end of turn for as much Red mana as you have.
On the surface, those abilities don’t seem that powerful. But, when you combine those with the Pit Dragon’s Hellbent ability, you suddenly have a substantial threat. When you have no cards in hand, Rakdos Pit Dragon gains double strike. Suddenly, you have the very creature that Dragon Stompy initially was named for, its ace creature, in fact.
Dragon Stompy was a Mono-Red deck that existed in Legacy starting around 2007. The deck used lots of fast mana like Ancient Den, City of Traitors, Chrome Mox, and Simian Spirit Guide to fill the board with aggressive creatures. Magus of the Moon shut off nonbasic lands, by turning them all into Mountains, just like the popular enchantment Blood Moon. It also played Chalice of the Void and Trinisphere to hamper opponents. Since this was a deck that was often going to survive with the player having no cards in hand, it lent itself to Hellbent creatures like the Pit Dragon and Gathan Raiders.
The deck remained pretty much the same for the next seven or so years with new creatures slowly finding their way into the deck. Gathan Raiders, Magus of the Moon, Simian Spirit Guide, and Rakdos Pit Dragon remained. Kargan Dragonlord, Lord of Shatterskull Pass, and even Hound of Griselbrands eventually replaced the Arc-Sloggers and Sulfur Elementals. In nescient’s Legacy Daily winning Dragon Stompy deck in 2014, there were still two copies of Rakdos Pit Dragon. The deck faded from top play after that point, as it couldn’t keep up with the inevitable power creep of creatures over the years.
Creatures like Rakdos Pit Dragon hearken back to the early days of Magic when powerhouse creatures often needed a bit of effort to maximize their potential. Looking at these decklists now, compared to Legacy decks since 2014, it’s hard to see how this Rakdos Pit Dragon survived as a key ace creature for so long. But, given enough Red mana, and double strike, this guy could literally finish an opponent in the air all by itself. Long live Rakdos Pit Dragon!