mythic rare slot. In fact you could fairly say that it's been one epic failure after another with at best a few interesting but ultimately uninspiring cards in between. In fact, the only really good mythic rare Dragon I can think of is Bogardan Hellkite and he was simply upgraded to mythic from regular rare status in M10. Given this somewhat terrible batting average I wouldn't blame most players for snap disregarding anything WotC prints that has a mythic rare symbol and the creature type Dragon; smart money plays the percentages after all. In the case of Thundermaw Hellkite however I think that might turn out to be a serious mistake.
Pros: When you look at a card like TMHK the first thing that really stands out is the sheer amount of "value" you can potentially milk him for. You start with the numbers; 5/5 for 5 mana is basically right in line with what we expect in modern Magic where the P/T to CMC ratio is fixed at 1:1 as a minimum baseline. Tack on Flying and you get the kind of body that can easily dominate air-to-air combat in a Standard populated by Delvers, Spirit Tokens and 4/4 Angels. Most importantly, this guy mows through flashed-in Restoration Angels like a kid eating an ice cream cone; as previously mentioned I'm no soothsayer but I have a funny feeling this interaction might come up in the new Standard once in a while.
Even despite this natural environmental relevance however I wouldn't play a stone blank 5/5 flyer for 5 if you paid me; thankfully Thundermaw is well aware of this and he also finds time to bring a serving of Haste to the supper table for our enjoyment. Let's face it, Magic has evolved to a point where mid-sized creatures *have* to provide either immediate or lasting value in the face of removal effects to justify a deck slot. Haste isn't as strong as making a 2/2 Wolf Token (Huntmaster of the Fells) or fishing out a couple of lands (Primeval Titan) but it does allow a patient player to guarantee extra "unexpected" damage against a tapped out opponent. What's more, by tapping out (or killing) my opponent's flying blockers the 'Kite really goes that extra mile one to ensure I will get at least 5 damage out of dropping my fat Dragon onto the table.
Thundermare for Birthing Pod decks and it's upside is actually quite a bit higher than that. The rest of the card isn't blank however and what really excites me about Thundermaw Hellkite is the one-sided mini-Hurricane he unleashes on your opponent's flying critters. I won't lie; even just the potential of creating a 2 for 1 (or better!) exchange while simultaneously throwing down a flying Lava Axe has me licking my chops to get my hands on this card. Now before you call me loopy for getting excited about a "sideboard card" please allow me to remind you that we're heading into a Standard format where Lingering Souls and Moorland Haunt will be legal but Ratchet Bomb will almost certainly not exist. Both of these cards are extremely powerful and very popular right now and somehow I doubt rotating to a smaller format is going to make them any less so. In light of this the upcoming Standard wouldn't be the first format where main-decking an otherwise useful creature against a ubiquitous strategy was a good idea. Of course one can argue that Thundermaw Hellkite isn't Cloudthresher but it's not like Lingering Souls is Bitterblossom either; I feel like the "answer" has reasonably been scaled in power towards the "threats" this time around.
Cons: Despite the sheer multitude of things going for it, TMHK isn't without its flaws. For starters it's a 5 mana creature entering a format that's basically front-loaded towards the first 4 turns. To illustrate what I mean let's take a look at some common opening lines from a variety of decks already here in Standard:
- Turn 1 - Delver of Secrets
- Turn 2 - Mana Leak,Vapor Snag + Ponder/Thought Scour, Snapcaster Mage
- Turn 3 - Geist of Saint Traft
- Turn 4 - Restoration Angel, Runechanter's Pike + Equip
- Turn 1 - Llanowar Elf, Bird of Paradise, Avacyn's Pilgrim
- Turn 2 - Strangelroot Geist, Wolfir Avenger, Borderland Ranger, Sword of W&P
- Turn 3 - Huntmaster of the Fells
- Turn 4 - Wolfir Silverheart, Zealous Conscripts
- Turn 1 - Champion of the Parish
- Turn 2 - Thalia Guardian of Thraben, Gather the Townsfolk
- Turn 3 - Mirran Crusader, Silverblade Paladin, Geist of St Traft (if blue)
- Turn 4 - Hero of Bladehold
- Turn 1 - Glistener Elf
- Turn 2 - Ichorclaw Myr, Blighted Agent (if blue), Plague Stinger (if black)
- Turn 3 - Wild Defiance, Phyrexian Cruasder (if black), Livewire Lash
- Turn 4 - Infinite Giant Growths, Revenge of the Hunted (if you're lucky)
- Turn 1 - Nothing
- Turn 2 - Rampant Growth, Sphere of the Suns
- Turn 3 - Solemn Simulacrum, Huntmaster, another Rampant Growth
- Turn 4 - Primeval Titan, Wolfir Silverheart (if Huntmaster on 3)
- Turn 1 - Bird, Elf, Pilgrim
- Turn 2 - Thalia, Birthing Pod, Blade Splicer, Strangleroot Geist
- Turn 3 - Huntmaster, Blade Splicer + Pod into Huntmaster
- Turn 4 - Umm, use Pod AND cast something good already on the list?
To be completely honest with you this list is by no means exhaustive but it certainly exemplifies the point at hand; Standard is a pretty fast format right now and waiting around to cast 5 drops all day is a pretty good way to wind up dead in the face of all this aggression. Surviving and thriving in this Standard all but requires that you curve out properly and it's almost at the point where any hand that features multiple 5/6 drops is probably a mulligan unless you're playing some sort of Ramp deck. In other words; this environment is naturally resistant to "slow" cards and simply "costing 5 mana" is a legitimate drawback even for something as potentially game wrecking as Thundermaw Hellkite.
This ties in neatly to my second point; assuming that space in your deck for 5 drops is in fact limited, running a full 4 pack of the 'Kite is a pretty risky proposition. What's more this simultaneously forces TMHK to compete with other, more established 5 drops already in the format; namely Zealous Conscripts and Acidic Slime/Wolfir Avenger. While I don't feel that the Dragon fares poorly in these comparisons he's not "strictly better" either. Sure, TMHK is arguably more powerful than Conscripts but it's certainly less splashable at RR3 and unless the entire format switches to mono-Spirit tokens.deck it's hard to imagine the 'Kite will ever approach the kind of game 1 versatility the 'Scripts bring to the table. Assuming you're working with a G/R shell you end up with the same problems; Wolfir Silverheart provides more raw power, Acidic Slime destroys artifacts/support lands and usually trades way up the turn after in combat. More importantly both of them work with Green Sun's Zenith and the Dragon simply doesn't. Ultimately I believe that Thundermaw Hellkite is too powerful not to find a home in these decks but the simple truth is that he'll be competing with some very good cards for deck space and there is no obvious "best choice".
The most obvious problem with the 'Kite however is that unless your opponent controls some flying creatures he's just a 5/5 Flyer with Haste. As I previously mentioned I believe he'd still see some play in those situations but the question really becomes, how much play? Are you ever going to be happy to draw this card against someone who leads with a turn 1 Copperline Gorge? Haste is certainly pretty cool on a flying Lava Axe but it's not a true "187 effect" and even if you do freely connect for 5 damage the turn you cast Thundermaw Hellkite what then? If your opponent untaps and snap kills the Dragon how much further are you really ahead at that point? Obviously you did get some value out of your TMHK but I highly doubt anyone is going to write home about 5 damage/discard a kill spell for 5 mana.
Finally I should mention that I have a minor quibbling point with how Thundermaw Hellkite interacts with some of the better cards in the format. I don't like that the timing on his 187 effect doesn't work particularly well against Moorland Haunt or Restoration Angel; it's not bad per se because the Dragon will devour both creatures in combat but the fact that you simply can't stop them from blocking is not ideal. I also question the overall value of doing 1 damage to every flyer in a format with Insectile Aberration, Restoration Angel and most important Intangible Virtue; I'm pretty sure it's basically impossible to outrun 2CC Crusade effects with a 5CC Dragon folks.