Amongst the most powerful cards in Standard is the brand-new Wrenn and Seven, which represents the planeswalking Dryad Wrenn and her current host, a tree she very imaginatively calls Seven (did she call her first tree “One”? How did she handle that?). While Wrenn and Seven isn’t typed as a Dryad – or Treefolk, for that matter – it put me in a mind to research the most popular and iconic Dryads in Magic’s history. There aren’t many! Only 44 Dryads have ever been printed, but there are definitely some crackers amongst their ranks. Let’s have a look!
First printed back in Planeshift in 2001, Quirion Dryad was the centerpiece of a deck that became known as Miracle Grow. It played Quirion Dryad and a bunch of free blue spells like Daze, Foil, Gush and of course Force of Will in order to quickly load counters up on the Dryad, but that’s not the most remarkable thing about the deck. Here is Alan Comer’s original list, check it out:
Miracle Grow by Alan Comer
Nope, that’s not an error – this deck played 10 lands. 10! 10lands plus Land Grant was how this deck debuted – and you can see how heavily it leant on its free spells considering it also played Winter Orb. And there’s a bit of Merfolk synergy thrown in there for good measure! Decks from 20 years ago hit different, I tell you what.
But the reason this list was possible was, of course, Quirion Dryad, which provided a quick clock to go along with all the free spells – one that didn’t require a significant mana investment and played extremely well with the rest of the deck. Since those days, Quirion Dryad has fallen a long way, relegated to uncommon with its last printing in M21. Still, we haven’t forgotten Miracle Grow and its centerpiece, Quirion Dryad!
Bramble Sovereign is currently the most expensive Dryad on the market, and with good reason. In Commander, this card is a house – in any deck interested in generating tokens or abusing enter-the-battlefield effects, Bramble Sovereign stands ready to do a lot of work. Often paired with cards like Doubling Season, Bramble Sovereign is a huge shot in the arm for token decks looking to go tall as well as wide, generating tokens of big creatures.
It’s also very useful in blink/Panharmonicon decks, which is where I very happily put my copy to use. Copying all the sweet value creatures these decks play is a great feeling, and people often underestimate how good Bramble Sovereign can be. That is, until I drop and copy an Avenger of Zendikar, or, even better, a Craterhoof Behemoth. They tend to take the card a little more seriously after that!
Another Commander all-star, Dryad of the Ilysian Grove is a mainstay in decks with… ambitious mana bases, shall we say. As a Chromatic Lantern that can attack and block, Dryad of the Ilysian Grove not only helps you fix your mana but also ramps it if you have extra lands in hand. The card was rarely seen outside of jank decks in Standard, but it really has found a home in EDH.
While it shines in decks like Omnath, fixing four colors as well as helping to trigger landfall multiple times, it’s a great inclusion in any deck that cares about lands more generally. Radha, Heart of Keld, Lord Windgrace, even decks like Tatyova, Benthic Druid are always happy enough to have ways to put extra lands into play – and while the fixing isn’t usually relevant in a two-color deck, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Knight of Autumn came along at a time when Wizards was beginning to push Best-of-One Magic a lot harder with the advent of MTGA. Flexible, powerful, all-purpose cards like this were in vogue, and Knight of Autumn saw a good amount of play in both Best-of-One and Best-of-Three as something of a safety valve against various decks.
Against aggro, it traded with a two-drop and gained some life. Against any deck trying to do silly things with artifacts and enchantments, it cast Disenchant when entering the battlefield then hung about to get in for two. And, finally, its absolute worst-case scenario was a three-mana 4/3, which is… fine. Not exciting, but fine – it’ll get in there for some damage, no worries.
Knight of Autumn was something of a herald for the new school of flexible modal cards that are designed to protect Best-of-One formats from the pitfalls that come with not having sideboard. The worst excesses of a format are curtailed when you can main deck a card like Knight of Autumn that – moderately powerful in a vacuum, but surgically effective in the right scenarios.
The most famous – or perhaps infamous – Dryad ever printed is definitely, without a doubt, Dryad Arbor. It’s one of the weirdest cards ever printed. It’s both a land and a creature, can be played for zero mana as an uncounterable 1/1 that can’t tap for mana on the turn it comes down. It dies to Stone Rain and Lightning Bolt alike, but can be searched up at instant speed with a fetchland for a surprise chump blocker or to protect you from an edict effect.
Why is it infamous? Well, one printing in particular, the From the Vault version, looks exactly like a normal basic Forest with anything other than a reasonably close inspection. This seems to have been a deliberate design choice, and while you might think it’s cool, it has led to situations like this:
Marshall pretty definitively breaks down all the issues with Dryad Arbor in that video – it’s worth a watch – and I believe that issues like the one at GP Lyon actually led to a rule change, where you can’t keep Dryad Arbor (or Llanowar Elves or any other mana-producing creature) bunched up with your lands, to avoid feel-bad situations like the one that poor old Nassif went through there.
Dryad Arbor is a cool card – its weirdness, I think, is a net positive – but it has led to some pretty nasty moments and lives in infamy for many because of its tricky applications as an uncounterable, fetchable 1/1. It might not sound like much, but it’s enough to make it Magic’s most (in)famous Dryad!
This list would probably look very different if Wrenn were typed as a Dryad as well – both Wrenn and Six and Wrenn and Seven have been immensely powerful cards – but without the Dryad planeswalker to consider, these five are at the top of the list!