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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Apr 24 2018 12:00pm
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Dominaria launches a new era of Standard with only large sets, which is a big change for Limited. It also unleashes a wave of nostalgia, which means apparently means leaks (which made this spoiler season very strange) but also what seems like power creep for Limited. Overall, that’s my first impression: the cards are stronger than average both in terms of raw power level and synergy. However, there are a lot of moving parts here and a lot of complexity—if you showed me the set I’d assume it was a Masters set, especially when considering the rarities—which means I have a lot to go over, starting with the mechanics.

 

Mechanics:

Legendary-Matters:

When Kamigawa first tried to make Legends matter, it failed mostly because the average person didn’t know it was a theme, leading to the design truism “if it isn’t at common it isn’t your theme.” Dominaria fixes that with three big ideas. First, a lot of commons mention legendaries, both in terms of Historic (which we’ll get to in a bit) and explicit references like Benalish Honor Guard and Ancient Animus. Second, while 60 legendary cards isn’t an extreme amount (Champions of Kamigawa had 75 with fewer than 40 more cards than Dominaria), 22 are uncommon (COK only had 15, and five of those were flip cards that didn’t start as Legends), including all ten of the signpost uncommons. Finally, printing technology has improved such that WotC can guarantee a legendary card in every pack without dedicating a lot to them. All of this means that the themes are clear enough that everyone should realize that Dominaria has a legendary-matters theme. As for the theme itself, the only truly new thing Dominaria does with it is Legendary Sorceries: six rares (a mono-color cycle and one WB card) that can only be cast if you control a legendary creature or planeswalker, which are powerful effects, but are rares, so I don’t care about them.

 

Sagas:

Sagas are one of the strangest card types (technically an enchantment subtype) introduced in a while. They have three effects (which can be duplicated) and can proceed in sequence. While most of the Sagas read like rares and generate a lot of card advantage, there are six uncommons (one in each color and two in black) so you will be seeing them a decent amount in Limited. However, other than Historic and Keldon Warcaller (a very strange card, as red doesn’t have good Sagas to combo it with) there isn’t much tying them together, so treat them mostly as good cards that might synergize with what your deck is doing.

 

Historic:

This grouping of mechanically-unrelated cards (artifacts, legendaries, and Sagas) has had a troubled history (Mark Rosewater’s article on the mechanic is very interesting) but feels like it’s going to be the most important part of the set, even though it only shows up in Esper (plus Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain) and artifacts. All of the historic cards seem very powerful, so the eleven common artifacts are going to be heavily prioritized, especially generically useful ones like Aesthir Glider, Navigator’s Compass, and Skittering Surveyor.

 

Kicker:

Kicker is one of the most popular mechanics from sets taking place on Dominaria (that wasn’t just reused in Amonkhet), and it works as a smoothing mechanic for all the colors. However, most of the cards with Kicker have a very efficient front side (Academy Drake, Shivan Fire, Saproling Migration) and the Kicker is just a bonus if the game goes long. All the colors have multiple cards with Kicker at common (though strangely no colorless cards have the mechanic at all), but the mechanic is focused in RG as a counterpoint to Historic being in Esper.

 

Tribal:

There’s a surprising amount of tribal in this set, especially having just come off of a tribal set in Ixalan. The major themes are Goblins, Wizards, Knights, and Saprolings/Fungus, but Elves, Angels, and more get mentioned on single cards. Most of the cards stick to their prescribed color, but you’ll see the odd black Wizard or green Knight as well, so keep an eye out for those synergies.

 

Archetypes:

Before we get started, I mentioned that all the signpost uncommons are legendary creatures, which is a unique dynamic: in most sets the signpost is the reason to be in that color pair (either because of the extreme synergy or the raw power level of a gold card), but legendary cards naturally get worse in multiples. That probably isn’t going to be an issue in most cases (I’d play two of any legend in a Limited deck, and it’s extremely unlikely to open more than two of any uncommon in a draft), but it is something to note.

 

White/Blue: Historic Tempo/Aggro

While Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage is strong as a Phantom Monster with Flash, I don’t know how much the “historic spells have flash” ability matters. It makes cards like D'Avenant Trapper and Serra Disciple stronger, but they were already strong. Instead, the card that’s the biggest surprise here is Guardian of Koilos—the “return a permanent you control to its owners hand” rider always surprises in its strength, and it’s even better now that we have Skittering Surveyor and Navigator's Compass to get value from those extra historic triggers. The biggest problem is that I don’t quite know what this archetype’s goal is beyond “play historic things.” I guess it’s an aggro deck (especially since it’s biased towards playing at sorcery-speed if you don’t have Raff) and the raw power of those cards seems good enough, but getting historic density seems hard for an aggro deck unless Aesthir Glider is a lot better than filler in this format.

 

Blue/Black: Historic Control

By contrast, the historic theme of UB clearly points to a grindy value deck. As the signpost, Rona, Disciple of Gix seems very good for an uncommon, though I would only cast it if you can get the value from it immediately if your opponent has any kind of removal. This also makes the blink from Sentinel of the Pearl Trident much more useful beyond just saving a creature. By contrast to the WU archetype, there aren’t nearly as many historic payoffs in UB, but you don’t need that many in the first place. Furthermore, Cabal Paladin’s ability seems very powerful for a common, especially on a Giant Cockroach.

 

Black/Red: Sacrifice Aggro?

Other than being yet another legendary creature who would be rare in a normal set, Garna, the Bloodflame is one of the hardest cards to maximize. The obvious path is to make a bunch of trades/chumps in combat then redeploy your army quickly, but then why does it say “from anywhere?” There is some incidental self-mill from Windgrace Acolyte and Dark Bargain, but those are too expensive to cast in the same turn as Garna. There is a lot of sacrifice in the set with cards like Thallid Soothsayer and Whisper, Blood Liturgist, but again, they are expensive (and probably better in BG). Of course, you can always rely on the fallback of quality removal in BR and Dominaria has it in spades with cards like Shivan Fire and Eviscerate.

 

Red/Green: Kicker

Now we have an easy theme: Hallar, the Firefletcher is powerful even without the triggered ability and it seems crazy with it—it would be good even if it just added a counter, but now it wins a board stall as well as a race. However, as I mentioned in the Kicker section, all the Kicker cards are really good, which means it would be hard to get a large density of them. Of course, that’s a good problem to have (my cards are too good?), so even if you aren’t triggering Hallar or Bloodstone Goblin that often, you should still be competitive.

 

Green/White: Creature Swarm

Tokens! Shanna, Sisay's Legacy may just be a cheap Scion of the Wild in most aspects (“Hexproof from abilities” doesn’t really do much outside of a few niche cases like Merfolk Trickster), but that still is a strong card. The one problem is that there isn’t too much token making in the set, especially when you consider you’ll be fighting with the Saprolings player for cards like Saproling Migration and Yavimaya Sapherd, leaving you with Sergeant-at-Arms and Memorial to Glory as the token producers only you want (which aren’t quite as good as the green options). You do have a lot of pump options with Charge and Wild Onslaught, and it’s not like you won’t get any Saproling producers.

 

White/Black: Legendary Creatures

You would expect WB to be the Knights color pair (especially when a card like Dub exists), but other than Kwende, Pride of Femeref (which isn’t a true lord, as plenty of Knights don’t have First Strike in this set) that theme doesn’t really exist below rare. Instead, Arvad the Cursed is pretty blunt: this is the legendary creatures pairing. Giving +2/+2 is a powerful buff, but as I mentioned in the mechanics section there are no common legendary creatures, as you might expect. However, the designers thought of that, as there are some marginal legends such as the vanilla Yargle, Glutton of Urborg in addition to the powerful ones like Baird, Steward of Argive (and most of the white legends benefit from a stat buff more than expected thanks to abilities like Vigilance or Double Strike). You also still have the historic cards in WB to help smooth things over, especially since they are the ones biased towards an aggressive deck.

 

Blue/Red: Spells/Wizards:

Wizards is an obvious choice for a UR archetype, but what’s surprising is that it isn’t nearly as high of a focus on spells as you would think. Sure, creatures like Vodalian Arcanist, Ghitu Chronicler, and Ghitu Lavarunner interact with spells and the signpost Adeliz, the Cinder Wind basically gives Prowess to all your Wizards, but other than Adeliz there surprisingly isn’t any Prowess in the set. Instead, the tribal aspect focuses on having Wizards in play, mostly as a Threshold 1 mechanic (Ghitu Journeyman, Wizard’s Retort), but the bomb Firefist Adept along with Adeliz wanting you to play as many as possible. This seems like a tension, but probably just means the Wizard deck plays like any other deck that wants a couple good spells (and Ghitu Lavarunner isn’t that good in Limited but instead becomes a role-player in various Constructed formats).

 

Black/Green: Saprolings

No more spore counters in this Saproling deck, and that means this deck is much more aggressive than the value-oriented deck in Time Spiral (and Fallen Empires, for the three people who played that Limited format). The key here is Sporecrown Thallid as a two-mana lord that’s easy to cast is even better when you have tons of tokens. Slimefoot, the Stowaway is also nice as both a Blood Artist for Saprolings and a mana sink. This deck seems very good, mostly because its cards are good to passable on their own and are only enhanced by the great tribal synergy.

 

Red/White: Auras/Equipment

This is such a weird archetype. The signpost is Tiana, Ship's Caretaker, and while the stats are okay, the ability doesn’t seem like it’ll do much, as Equipment shouldn’t die too much and you’ll kill Tiana before the enchanted creature in most cases. Instead, the real payoff seems to be Valduk, Keeper of the Flame and Champion of the Flame (why are flames tied to Auras and Equipment?) as those are the creatures you want to put the buffs on. However, the problem is that there are only four commons Auras/Equipment in RW: Dub (expensive and seems really bad), Frenzied Rage (okay), Jousting Lance (powerful but expensive), and Short Sword (the best choice to load up a Flame), none of which is outstanding for the inherent cost in playing buffs. There are better choices at higher rarities (everyone wants On Serra’s Wings and Shield of the Realm seems very good for the low cost), but the commons are going to define the color pair, and I’m just not seeing strength or synergy there. I don’t know what else you’d do with the color pair either other than a generic aggro deck that doesn’t have any true synergy, so I’d avoid it at least at the start of the format.

 

Green/Blue: Ramp

Tatyova, Benthic Druid may be slow, but it must be killed (and thus you should always play it with a land drop available) or it will take over a game. More generally though, ramp strategies are always great in a format with Kicker since you don’t need to give up slots in order to get expensive threats—Academy Drake and Krosan Druid are three drops that have a large impact later in the game. Of course, if you do go all-in with ramp you do get paid off with one of the craziest uncommons I’ve ever seen: Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep—seriously, would you blink an eye if that was a mythic? Grunn, the Lonely King also has no place below rare, even if it doesn’t seem as good as just a big vanilla creature. As for the ramp itself, Grow from the Ashes is a good three mana ramp spell, while Llanowar Elves, Llanowar Scout, and Elfhame Druid are more fragile sources of mana. Broken Bond is also strange—is it maindeckable in a format with Historic and multiple good Auras? Overall I’d be worried about getting overrun as always (especially in a color combination where your best common removal spells are Deep Freeze and Ancient Animus), but both sides of the ramp equation seem good here.

 

Colorless:

As historic is a main theme, there are more colorless cards at lower rarities than average, but I’ve also covered more than average in the archetype sections. The colorless cards aren’t that hard to evaluate either—Icy Manipulator is as good as always while Sparring Construct and Pardic Wanderer are very outclassed even if you want Historic triggers. A card you shouldn’t overlook is Urza’s Tome, which would be good even if it was just a looting ability. Voltatic Servant also may seem underwhelming since there aren’t any ways to combo off with it (outside of untapping an Urza’s Tome or Icy Manipulator), but a 1/3 Vigilance for 2 is a good body for the historic decks.

 

Moving on to lands, the Memorial cycle seems very good as while entering tapped is a cost, it’s not a large one (assuming you want the effect—keep Memorial to War in your sideboard to punish greedy decks if you play it at all). The one interesting choice is Zhalfirin Void, as while a scryland that enters untapped is nice, the colorless land is a real cost. There aren’t too many cards with double-mana costs outside of the signposts, but I’d still be biased towards playing it as an eighteenth land.

 

Other Important Cards:

Let’s start with the removal, as one important thing is that all the strong removal (Eviscerate, Shivan Fire, Vicious Offering, Blessed Light) are single-mana symbols, which means they’re easily splashable—keep that in mind for the ramp deck. Speaking of decks, the one major theme I didn’t cover in the archetypes is Goblins, because it’s one of the biggest traps I’ve seen: you have only have three Goblins below rare: Skirk Prospector, Bloodstone Goblin, and Goblin Warchief, and the best of those in Limited is the generic 2/2. Goblin Barrage doesn’t help much either, as you’ll be sacrificing artifacts more often than Goblins (and probably won’t kick it that often regardless). The goblins only exist as plants for Modern (and maybe Standard if Core Set 2019 and/or next year have more Goblins in them).

 

Moving to the traditional miscellaneous color roundup, I’ve already talked about how On Serra’s Wings is dumb, but don’t forget Serra Angel is still as strong as ever. Blue has In Bolas's Clutches which is still fine as a Mind Control, but don’t forget it can steal other things, such as a Saga that’s about to trigger its third ability. Black has a lot more graveyard synergies than you would think, as Soul Salvage is efficient (keep in mind how good Recover was in the last format) and both The Eldest Reborn and Whisper, Blood Liturgist are uncommon reanimation spells. A contender for card that will cause the most blowouts is Keldon Overseer, as a 3/1 Haste for 3 isn’t awful, but having an easily maindeckable Act of Treason should change the way you play—if a red opponent has seven mana keep in mind this card exists. Finally, the most interesting green card is Song of Freyalise, as I’m not sure if it’s a bomb (the final ability is great if you have any creatures) or useless (the card doesn’t seem to do much except in a board stall, and I don’t think I want to be playing Sagas based purely on their last chapter, just like you don’t play a Planeswalker for their ultimate).

 

Treasure Chest Update: Dominaria

Another set, another Treasure Chest update, and another large set of changes I’m not going to discuss in detail. Overall 588 slots were added, with a lot of new additions of various Commander set cards, the Treasure Chest-exclusive Firesong and Sunspeaker, and the seemingly monthly rotation of Mystic Confluence. Meanwhile the removals are a mix of recent reprints (enemy checklands or cards from Masters 25), cards reprinted into the dirt, and the Modern Masters 2015 version of Mox Opal. I’ve put up the full sorted list here if you’re interested in digging into the numbers in a slightly cleaner form than the WotC page.

 

Conclusion:

Another set, another Limited Review done. As for what’s next, the other nice thing about the Dominaria events article is that it revealed the Flashback schedule through Core Set 2019, and it’s actually pretty heavy. First, May 16-23 finally does the often-promised triple-Lorwyn Flashback Drafts, which means I need to get back to the article I abandoned about a third of the way through when it was initially delayed. Next we have an unknown in the form of a “new initiative” May 23-30, which may or may not be something I care about. Third is a Champions of Kamigawa/Betrayers of Kamigawa Flashback Draft on May 30-June 6, which at least gives me a new angle to write about (as I haven’t covered the format, just the individual sets, and my Modern Flashback Series write-ups are antiquated). The final format (other than Vintage Cube) on June 6-13 will be another fun one to evaluate, as it’s a revisit of Battle of the Planes.

 

Of course, since the Lorwyn article isn’t for a month, the question is if I’ll have another article before then. My guess is that the Announcement day laying out the rest of the year will show up soon, and whatever Masters set they choose will be the next article (hopefully one of the three I’ve sketched out, so I don’t have to make a full set in a week or two), unless people really want me to write about my GDS 3 stuff. Either way, until next time.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter