Last updated on October 1, 2023
Storm-Kiln Artist | Illustration by Manuel Castañón
Dwarves appear in all kinds of folklore and pop culture, although not always with the best representation. We’re sticking to the world of fantasy, specifically Magic, but with a smattering of Tolkien.
Dwarves in Magic have come a long way since Alpha, and it’s safe to say that some, er… stand above the rest? Yeah, I’m shaking my head too.
Grab your pickaxe and your best jeweler’s loupe, we’re going cave-diving with dwarves!
Plundering Barbarian | Illustration by Andrew Mar
Pardon the pun, but dwarves have often been short-changed in the Magic meta. They were initially envisioned as small red creatures, which sounds like goblins. More goblins were printed over time while dwarves weren’t so much.
Dwarves printed since Magic has leaned into Treasure tokens have often been themed around them, while Kaladesh and Kaldheim have allowed them to branch into being artificers and vehicle pilots. It makes sense: dwarves across fantasy settings like Lord of the Rings or the Dwemer of The Elders Scrolls show lots of ingenuity.
I’m including Reveka, Wizard Savant more for posterity. You don’t see many dwarves in mono-blue these days. It’s definitely of its time: the fact that it takes extra time to untap just slows this down to a crawl.
It’s sometimes hard to predict how good cards are when they’re very new. I want to shout out Bag End Porter and Mirrormere Guardian for being green dwarves, something that hasn’t happened much until now.
I think that Erebor Flamesmith has all kinds of potential.
Mono-red decks would love to supplement their burn spells with a cast trigger like this, while spellslinging Izzet () decks could also use a 2-drop like this. It’ll fit it with red dwarf decks, and I can also see it paired with Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin.
Glóin, Dwarf Emissary pumps out Treasure for you when you cast artifacts, legends, and sagas. A casting trigger means that those permanents don’t have to hit the board, so you still get tokens if your spells are countered.
You get to tap this dwarf to goad a creature on top of that, which is a steady package of value.
I’ve been really trying not to make any short jokes, but the pairing of a dwarf and a faerie is making it really hard. Rankle and Torbran has a modal combat damage trigger, although I wish it included planeswalkers to the battles and players.
Gimli, Counter of Kills is another dwarf worth considering for Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin. As a source of exactly one damage that pays you off for your opponents’ creature deaths, there’s all kinds of potential.
You get to take advantage of opponents who run sacrifice decks, which is always fun. I could totally see this either in a Naya () or Jund () deck that uses tokens to chump block or to sacrifice.
Part of me wonders if it was ever considered to give this Gimli the partner with mechanic, making Legolas, Counter of Kills its partner. Other partners were released in Tales of Middle-earth, but it was usually the hobbits that were paired off. Besides, Legolas and Gimli are competing rather than collaborating in that scene, so it almost makes more sense to have them face off against each other.
Restoration Specialist offers you enchantment and artifact recursion on the same activated ability. That covers lots of targets, and you can also get most historic spells with this ability (discounting non-enchantment and non-artifact legends).
A 3-drop with three keyword abilities is a solid piece of value. Aerial Responder is probably most at home if you’ve got a strategy that relies on counting keywords, like Odric, Lunarch Marshal or Kathril, Aspect Warper.
Seven Dwarves is fun for how it lets you bend deckbuilding rules of formats like Commander. It’s perfect to run in dwarf typal decks, like if you need them to skip the commander tax on The Lady of Otaria.
Barrowin of Clan Undurr offers you creatures from your graveyard as a reward for completing dungeons. It’s at home in a deck that fits that same theme, like if you’re piloting Sefris of the Hidden Ways.
Gimli, Mournful Avenger really lives up to its name. All its abilities play into death. Situational indestructability. Growing when your creatures die. Fighting an opponent as an outlet for all that pain.
This has got all kinds of aggressive potential, but I could also see it in a Jund sacrifice deck.
It’s like the antithesis of a Restoration Specialist. Duergar Hedge-Mage has the potential to get rid of two permanent types for you as its ETB. Dual and tri-lands with basic land types are important to speeding this card up in your deck.
The early dwarf gets the worm, or something like that.
Dwarf buffs? Check. Vehicle tune-ups? Check. Depala, Pilot Exemplar also has a tapping trigger that lets you pay to dig for dwarves and vehicles.
I feel like I can hear exactly which voice actor Depala sounds like. Slightly nasally and pinched, and always shouting because she’s used to the roar of engines in her ear.
This Gimli is the one from the Riders of Rohan LTR Commander deck. Gimli of the Glittering Caves is a mono-red double striker, and it’s got great legends matter and Treasure synergies. I can see it doing good work in the 99 elsewhere (Cadric, Soul Kindler?), but it shouldn’t be a slouch as the face of its own deck.
I like a Magic creature that doesn’t follow the “rules” of its “type,” one that follows its own path. For Hofri Ghostforge, that’s by making your creatures almost as infinite as a Golgari () graveyard deck would. If you make them all spirits, then they’ll always benefit from Hofri’s first anthem ability.
Either way, Boros () doesn’t usually do the “comically unkillable” thing.
Koll, the Forgemaster takes care of your equipped and enchanted nontokens by letting you return them to your hand when they die. It doesn’t leave your tokens out the cold either, proving that anyone can wear the helm.
LotR may have brought along a dwarf that cares about legends and another that cares about historic permanents in general, but Cadric, Soul Kindler from Dominaria United Commander was a kind of precursor. It gives you hasty copies of your legends while getting around that pesky legend rule.
Abilities that trigger when a creature enters the battlefield are great because they’re immediately impactful, so modal ETB triggers are that much better. Plundering Barbarian’s ability nukes an artifact or gives you Treasure, which has all kinds of utility and synergy.
Digsite Engineer rewards you for your growing collection of artifacts with its casting trigger. Its Constructs have power and toughness equal to your total artifacts, whether they’re tokens, equipment, creatures, whatever!
Skullport Merchant trades you cards for your creatures’ lives or for your Treasure tokens. It gets you ahead by giving you Treasure upon ETB. I can see this in Rakdos () sacrifice decks, or in a deck that cares about low-powered creatures like Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker.
Bruenor Battlehammer is a Forgotten Realms dwarf that can be your equipment-matters commander. It lets you cheat on the first equipment cost you pay per turn, which is great to keep your responses quick and flexible.
Double strike is a fantastic combat keyword ability to be throwing around your board. Reyav, Master Smith gives it to your creatures when they head off to battle if they’re equipped or enchanted.
An instant classic for increasing damage in red. Whether you’re burning opponents, pinging them, or swinging at them with big or wide boards, you can probably make use of a Torbran, Thane of Red Fell.
#2. Sram, Senior Edificer
Sram, Senior Edificer has the kind of ability I’d love to double with Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines. Card advantage for your auras, equipment, and vehicles gives you all kinds of value, whether you’re using a little bit of each or focusing on one of those permanent types.
Dwarven Mine is a land that’ll give you a token if you’ve already got enough Mountains in play. You can also get Dwarf token-producing sorceries in the form of Reckless Crew and Dwarven Reinforcements.
What’s your flavor: foretell, or vehicles and equipment? If you answered vehicles and equipment, Depala, Pilot Exemplar is the commander for you. It’ll buff your dwarf and vehicle creatures and gives you the ability to pull them from the top of your deck.
The Lady of Otaria can use your dwarves to avoid commander tax, and it encourages you to destroy or sacrifice your own lands.
Erebor Flamesmith | Illustration by L J Koh
I’m glad that dwarves have gotten better roles as Magic has grown. They deserve to be more than minion-level grunts, and we’ve seen plenty of them shine as stronger warriors and crafty artificers. This surely isn’t the last we’ve seen of these creatures, especially if other Universes Beyond products take us to more fantasy settings. Failing that, there’s lots of Magic planes with thriving dwarven populations.
What do you think of the list, and of dwarves across Magic? Is someone missing completely, or just plain misrepresented? Let me know in the comments below, or over in Draftsim's official Discord.
If you’re ever wondering what a bar tab with a party of dwarves looks like, let’s just say the local bar ran out of receipt paper. And I’ve got the hangover to prove it…
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