An Early Look at Dominaria

Last week yielded yet another unfortunate leak of the next Standard-legal set, Dominaria. I saw people excited to look at the cards early, as well as people who wanted to wait and see the set revealed in the way Wizards of the Coast had intended.

While leaks are unfortunate and can kill the hype of the set, I would be foolish not to start looking at the next set with a Standard Pro Tour on the horizon. My opponents will be using this time to explore the new format, and so should I.

A lot of cards jumped off the page. There are new card types and new mechanics, but mostly new (and old) cards.

Mox Amber

Frank Karsten already wrote a sweet article about exploiting this new piece of jewelry, and for the three of you who haven’t read that, I’ll talk about Mox Amber a bit. One of the most important things to explore in a new set or format is to test any card that allows you to cheat on mana. These could be cost reduction mechanics, or in this case, a shiny new Mox.

While I think Mox Amber will likely see little play in Standard because the card pool is too small to have enough playable legendary creatures and planeswalkers, it could be an option in Modern.

What are the cheapest legends? Turn-1 Isamaru, Hound of Konda, and Kytheon, Hero of Akros were my first thoughts, and Frank Karsten was right on the same page. Other cards that go well with it are Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and/or Gideon of the Trials and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. While playing Thalia and planeswalkers in the same deck isn’t great, putting either Gideon out a turn ahead of schedule will put a lot of decks on the back foot quickly. Fast white decks seem to be where the Mox would be best suited, because you want to play a cheap legend early and then use the acceleration to play a second 1-mana legend or a 3-drop the following turn. Geist of Saint Traft will also help turn on the Mox for later turns.

In Standard, we have Gods that are difficult to kill, but very few cheap legendary creatures and planeswalkers. It’s possible that when we get the full set we’ll have enough cheap legendary creatures to make this card playable, but my hopes for the Mox in Standard are low for the time being.

Damping Sphere

It seems like the cries to ban Tron lands in Modern were heard, but they decided to give us a new tool to fight them instead. While Damping Sphere has little-to-no Standard applications, this card may have a huge impact on Modern. This is simply a beautifully designed card for its purpose—these kinds of cards are often too narrow. That it makes additional spells cost more gives Damping Sphere value outside of just Tron, and will also have a huge impact against Storm, a deck on the rise in popularity.

As a person who often plays midrange decks like Jund, I’m really hoping that this card has a heavier impact than jamming a bunch of Fulminator Mages into your sideboard. The issue is that it can easily be destroyed with a Nature’s Claim, but out of a deck like Jund or Abzan, having dead artifact removal in your hand as a Tron player could cost you the game. It will be interesting to see how this actually plays out, but my guess is that Damping Sphere will still be a go-to sideboard card against Tron in decks like Jund that don’t have other targets for Nature’s Claim. I’m really excited to get this into the format to give it a try.

Goblin Warchief

This is the first card I noticed. Goblin Warchief was one of the best cards in old Goblin decks, and while it may not see a ton of play in Standard, it does give Modern a new tool. Goblin Warchief provides some explosive turns, especially in combination with an Aether Vial, allowing you to avoid exposing it to removal for a full turn before getting value out of its cost reduction and haste while also providing you with a big mana boost on that one turn. I still suspect that a deck like Goblins will be too weak to decks heavy with spot removal, but it can goldfish a lot faster now with Goblin Warchief and those Goblin Piledrivers that may be in your bulk box at home.

Siege-Gang Commander

Siege-Gang Commander has long been a powerful 5-drop in the past, but it’s got some tougher shoes to fill now—Glorybringer is one of the best 5-drops we’ve ever had in Standard. While Siege-Gang is the weaker of the two cards, Glorybringer will be rotating soon enough. Siege-Gang Commander is a much better card against spot removal, so you could see some Siege-Gang Commanders as a method of going wide against spot removal, similar to Lingering Souls in Modern.

While there aren’t a ton of playable Standard Goblins, we could see more, and Siege-Gang Commander along with Goblin Warchief is a great 3-to-4 curve. This does feel a lot like Ixalan to me in that we get these cool tribal cards, but not enough role players to get us there for competitive Standard decks. We’ll have to see the rest of Dominaria before we can make the determination.

Lyra Dawnbringer

My first thought when seeing this card was, “Wait, isn’t this Baneslayer Angel?” Then I thought this card was actually better. Protection from Dragons and Demons was a meaningless ability. My next thought was, “Is Baneslayer Angel even playable anymore?” Then I remembered how good Red Aggro is, and how this card will be an awesome curve topper to fight that strategy.

I also understand why we see this instead of an actual reprint. Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer miss on killing it single-handedly, but you can combine them with a Magma Spray, Shock, or Fanatical Firebrand to take her out. If we had Baneslayer AngelGlorybringer would never have a profitable fight against it. This, of course, does make Lyra Dawnbringer a worse card in these matchups, but we’ll still see it quite a bit in sideboards and maybe some main decks as well.

Llanowar Elves

Okay, I didn’t see this coming. While Llanowar Elves isn’t in the list of cards, it is used as an explanation of how mana producing cards will look. When I asked Aaron Forsythe on Twitter, he did confirm that this card is in the set and that’s why it is used.

Llanowar Elves will change Standard in a big way. Llanowar Elves on the play against an opponent without a 1-mana removal spell is such a huge advantage that we’ll start to see more. Luckily, this Standard format is well equipped with numerous 1-mana removal spells. Fatal Push, Shock, Magma Spray, and even Fanatical Firebrand all see a reasonable amount of play. It’s also weak to Walking Ballista, a card we see fairly often.

When Llanowar Elves enters the format, you have to think about the ways you can exploit it by going straight from 1 mana to 3. You have a few strong 3-drops in green with Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Jadelight Ranger, and Aethersphere Harvester. Cards like Lifecrafter’s Bestiary and Growing Rites of Itlimoc also gain some value from a 1-mana accelerant.

Llanowar Elves seems like an excellent addition in most green decks, but more importantly in Winding Constrictor decks alongside Verdurous Gearhulk. Playing Verdrous Gearhulk ahead of schedule, while also having an extra creature to dump counters onto in the 1 mana slot, is a huge upgrade. The double Llanowar Elves draws will be just filthy.

Llanowar Elves is probably the best card spoiled so far, and I don’t think that will change as it’s such a powerful and unique effect in Standard.

Karn, Scion of Urza

We’ve seen colorless planeswalkers in the past, but never a colorless planeswalker that was this cheap to cast. This adds an interesting dynamic to Standard. Karn can be played in any deck or sideboard.

Karn, Scion of Urza gives you a draw engine in any deck you want it. While letting your opponent choose the first card you draw with Karn is a downside, early in the game any additional resource is usually valuable. As Karn sits on the battlefield, you can choose the cards you’re getting with it. Karn has a high starting loyalty, so keeping it alive won’t be extremely difficult, and it can slowly take over a game. It’s also worth noting that future Karns will be able to get cards exiled with a prior Karn, meaning that your selection will get better as the game goes on, even if your first Karn dies.

Karn’s third ability of creating a token is its weakest, but if drawing extra cards pulls you far enough ahead, pumping out a few tokens is a possibility as a long-term win condition. Obviously, this ability will be a huge boon in a deck centered around artifacts, but the real strength of Karn is its ability to generate card advantage.

I’m mostly disappointed that we don’t see a big ultimate out of Karn, but I’m excited to explore what kinds of decks and how many of them we’ll see this land.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is an awesome planeswalker. Teferi effectively has a cost reduction activation built in, allowing you to tap out to cast it, but also leave 2 mana up for a Negate or Essence Scatter on the opponent’s turn.

Teferi is definitely a great planeswaker on an empty battlefield, but it’s also no slouch staring down a single threat. The ability to -3 and put a nonland permanent back into the opponent’s deck third from the top will make Teferi, Hero of Dominaria a great tempo play in these situations, meaning that I’d like to see Teferi in a deck with a lot of interaction so that it can be played on a battlefield of one or zero threats often.

Teferi also comes packed with an ultimate of -8 that will essentially seal the game after any sort of card draw effect. Exiling a permanent every turn in your draw phase, and every time you cycle or play a card draw spell, will win from almost any position.

I think Teferi, Hero of Dominaria will definitely see Standard play in some U/W Control decks when Dominaria is released, and has a fairly high ceiling as well.

In Bolas’s Clutches

In Bolas’s Clutches is a functional reprint of Confiscate. This one is interesting to me because as time has gone on, we’ve seen the power level of permanents get better and better. As this happens, cards that can gain control of these permanents do too.

Confiscation Coup has seen a ton of play in Standard, and this is specifically because of cards like Hazoret the Fervent, Glorybringer, and The Scarab God. In Bolas’s Clutches costs an additional mana, but it has the ability to take any permanent, including planeswalkers. I could see In Bolas’s Clutches stealing many Vraskas and The Scarab Gods in the future.

Jaya’s Immolating Inferno

A legendary sorcery can only be cast when you have a legendary creature or planeswalker in play, and red has Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, Hazoret the Fervent, and of course, Chandra, Torch of Defiance.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a sweet play leading up to a Jaya’s Immolating Inferno, both meeting its conditions and adding an extra 2 mana to cast it for a sizable amount, potentially sweeping up the board.

I think these legendary sorceries ultimately will be too weak. Having to have a legend in play is no easy task, and if you do, a lot of the times you’ll be in such good shape that including a card like this will simply be win-more. This may change if we get to a high enough total of playable legendary creatures, and a card like this could be a sideboard card for matchups where permanents tend to stay in play. I wouldn’t count on casting a lot of these legendary sorceries in Standard, but I’d have to see the whole set. It’s worth noting that if my rules knowledge is correct, you could play these kinds of cards after crewing Heart of Kiran or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, which does give you a little more wiggle room, but I think these will fall short.

Fall of the Thran

Fall of the Thran is a new card type: Saga. Sagas are enchantments that have a triggered ability when they enter the battlefield, and also trigger during your pre-combat main phase on following two turns and then die after the Saga is completed.

I think these card types are really interesting, and very well designed.

First of all, triggering after you draw is a much cleaner template than during upkeep. Players instinctively move to their turn, untap their cards, and draw a card before surveying the board. New players especially are prone to missing upkeep triggers because of this, and while I’m all for competitive gameplay and interesting decisions, I think cards working intuitively is a step in the right direction.

What happens when a player misses an upkeep trigger? There’s a judge called, a determination depending on rules enforcement whether the trigger should go on the stack, and someone may or may not end up feeling bad at the end of that ruling.

With a precombat main phase trigger, a player will have more opportunity to survey the board, realize they haven’t triggered it yet, put the trigger on the stack before making an action that changes the game, and the game goes on as intended. While remembering your own triggers is an important part of Magic, I think designing the Sagas like this will lead to less feel-bad moments among players, and will hopefully replace upkeep triggers because it’s simply cleaner.

As far as Fall of the Thran goes, it looks bad to me. Fall of the Thran allows you to capitalize on commanding board positions, and acts a lot like Parallax Tide. You can clean up the opponent’s lands for a turn or two, but after that, they have the opportunity to get back into the game. An aggressive deck likely won’t want 6-mana plays, and other decks will simply not be in firm control enough to capitalize on this effect often enough to warrant including it in their deck.

These Sagas are difficult to evaluate because we’ve never seen cards like them. They all offer some value up front, and then a slow added value on the following turns. I think the design is excellent so I’m curious to see how they play out.

Dominaria looks like a ton of fun to me. It has a bunch of new cards, new mechanics, and new card types, combined with some of my old favorite cards like Icy Manipulator and Verdant Force. I’m sad that the cards got leaked in the fashion they did, but I’m excited to see the rest of the set. Right now my picks for best cards are Llanowar Elves and Karn, Scion of Urza.

What are your favorite cards? What card do you think is the best card from Dominaria?


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