Dominaria is filled with callbacks to Magic's beginnings, which makes sense since Dominaria was the original setting for Magic lore. Some of these callbacks are direct reprints from Alpha, others are flavor callbacks with similar names and functionalities, and others are callbacks to later times in Magic history that were also set in Dominaria. The one thing all of the callbacks have in common is that they are overflowing with nostalgia. Today I'm going to share some of that nostalgia while highlighting the significance of many of the callbacks. I won't touch on every callback as some are subtler than others, but I'll touch on most of them, especially the more significant ones.
Perhaps a bit overshadowed by Birds of Paradise, but Llanowar Elves has always been one of the most powerful openings in Magic. It is always a staple in any Standard, Modern or Extended format it is legal in. It helped define Brian Kibler's career and earned LSV a Pro Tour trophy in Berlin.
I suspect it will be a defining staple throughout its return to Standard in Dominaria. It is already making waves in nearly every successful green deck.
While a bit overshadowed by cards like Lyra Dawnbringer now, Serra Angel is one of the most iconic creatures in history. In the beginning, she was one of the most cost-effective creatures in the game, enough such that control decks would often play her as their lone win condition while White Weenie decks would play her as their curve-topper. Even though she won't be defining Standard this time around, she is a first-pick in Limited and a return to Dominaria just wouldn't be the same without her.
Speaking of cards that likely won't impact Standard in a significant way but will rarely get passed in a booster draft, the old bone crank was one of the most versatile cards in the game in the beginning. It could neutralize an opposing attacker, tap down a blocker, prevent a blocking creature from dealing combat damage (due to the way the rules used to work), tap down your own Howling Mine or Winter Orb each turn to effectively make them one-sided, or hinder the opponent's mana development by tapping down a land on each of their upkeeps (bonus if the land is enchanted with Psychic Venom). It was the backbone of Prison decks in the beginning and it wouldn't surprise me to see it surface in a deck list or two in Dominaria Standard.
The namesake card of arguably the best player to ever play the game, German Juggernaut Kai Budde, Juggernaut was one of the only creatures banned from Extended due to power level. Compared to the other creatures in Alpha, it was efficiently costed and it rolled through the many walls that existed in Magic's early days. Nowadays it's more of a Limited card, but a fairly powerful one at that and plenty iconic.
A callback to Armageddon, one of the best finishers in Magic history. Decks would play out a few small creatures and then destroy all the lands before the opponent could deploy their cards in hand. Perhaps the best use of the card came in the hands of Bertrand Lestree in route to his second place finish at Pro Tour New York 1996 with the Erhnam Geddon deck:
A callback to Disenchant, a card that was originally a main deck staple in every white deck, given the prevalence of powerful artifacts and enchantments in Magic's early days. Nowadays it's more of a sideboard card, but in the DominariaLimited format it's reasonable to play a copy in the main deck.
A callback to Howling Mine, but this one you have a bit more control over. Then again, Icy Manipulator gave you some control over Howling Mine in the beginning. A cool card in Limited for aggressive decks, but unlikely to have the impact in Standard that Howling Mine once had.
A callback to Mahamoti Djinn – the biggest blue flying creature in Alpha – this time with the ability to play it for a cheaper cost by tapping an artifact. In a world filled with efficient point removal spells, I'm not too optimistic about Zahid's chances in Standard, but it matches up well against Lyra Dawnbringer and dodges about half the removal spells of the format, so it's certainly a consideration. My favorite play with Zahid is in my cube where I can cast it on turn three off a second-turn Sapphire Medallion (since you can tap the medallion to pay its alternate cost and the medallion's ability reduces its cost by one, making it cost a total of 2U and tapping the medallion). Turn three Mahamoti Djinns are pretty sweet!
A callback to Sengir Vampire, though unfortunately seven mana will likely make it even less playable than the Torment reprint of Sengir Vampire. Still a callback to the original and most iconic Vampire.
A callback to Frozen Shade and quite a big upgrade too! If there is a mono-black deck in Standard, this will very likely be in it.
A callback to Hypnotic Specter, perhaps the best original use for Dark Ritual on the first turn. This time it costs twice as much, but is at least more effective against an empty-handed opponent.
A callback to Two-Headed Giant of Foriys, back in the day when giants were an exclusively red creature type. Nowadays everyone has giants. They no longer live only in the mountains.
A callback to Lich. I'm a little disappointed this was not a planeswalker since the original Lich sort of felt like an early attempt at designing a planeswalker, much like Personal Incarnation felt like the first attempt at designing Gideon Jura. Maybe someday we'll see Lich, Planeswalker but for now we'll have to be satisfied with Nefarious Lich 2.0.
A callback to White Knight, a card that played an important role in my becoming a professional Magic player back in 2010 with the following deck:
White Knight was immune to Terror just as Knight of Grace is immune to Cast Down. It's also immune to Fatal Push and Unlicensed Disintegration.
A callback to Black Knight, the counterpart to White Knight. This one would often get paired with Dark Ritual to come out on the first turn and it was immune to the best removal spell ever printed (Swords to Plowshares). Knight of Malice is immune to Cast Out, Seal Away, Ixalan's Binding, Baffling End, and the -3 ability on Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Will it be enough to see play in Standard? It already has! The cool part about Knight of Malice and Knight of Grace, unlike their predecessors, is that they work together, pump each other since they each satisfy the other's condition of there being a permanent of that type on the battlefield.
A callback to Terror and one of the most-played cards in Dominaria. It's a cheap and versatile removal spell, much like Terror. But also like Terror, against some decks all their creatures will be immune to it, so it will sometimes have to get sideboarded out.
A callback to Control Magic, one of the consistently most frustrating cards to play against. Getting beaten by your own creature is brutal, as is having to use a removal spell on your own creature, but that's been the two-for-one nature of Control Magic effects since the beginning. This one is a bit over-costed for Constructed play, but it's costed just low enough that it joins Icy Manipulator in the mythic uncommon slot for Limited play.
A callback to Regrowth, the original way to get cards back from the graveyard. It was one of Green's most powerful cards, having the ability to return cards like Ancestral Recall to your hand. Nature's Spiral is a bit watered down, perhaps too much so to see serious tournament play, but Dominaria wouldn't be the same without a callback to Regrowth.
This is one of my favorite callbacks in the set. It is clearly a callback to Orcish Artillery, but what I love most about it is that it costs two mana instead of three mana because that is what the Alpha version of Orchish Artillery has as its printed mana cost (this was later deemed a mistake). All three of the 'orc' cards were printed with the mana cost 1R when Ironclaw Orcs was the only one of the three that was supposed to have that mana cost. So in Beta, Orcish Artillery's cost was changed from 1R to 1RR and Orcish Oriflamme's cost was changed from 1R to 3R. The fact that the callback to Orcish Artillery costs 1R is a subtle (and I'll assume intentional) homage to the Alpha version of the card that I appreciate. By the way, if you aren't playing the alpha version of Orcish Artillery in your Old School red decks, you're doing it wrong.
A callback in name and function to Ancestral Recall, but significantly watered down for obvious reasons, those reasons being that Ancestral Recall is arguably the most powerful Magic card ever printed.
A callback to Lightning Bolt, the most efficient burn spell ever printed and arguably the second-best creature removal spell every printed, behind Swords to Plowshares, of course. This time you need to have a wWzard to get the full effect, but if you decide to play Wizards this card is likely an auto-include.
A callback to the original Counterspell – Counterspell. Just as they did with Lightning Bolt, you need to control a Wizard to get the callback rate. Otherwise you have Cancel. Unlike Lightning Bolt, Counterspell has been outmatched by Mana Drain (and perhaps also Force of Will) for best card of its kind, but it's still the original and most iconic, so iconic that we continue to refer to every card that counters a spell as "a Counterspell," as I have already done multiple times in this paragraph.
This one is a bit subtler than some of the others, but I believe this is an intentional callback to Natural Selection, a card that allowed you to look at the top three cards of your library for a single green mana. This card is a bit of an upgrade though since you get to put one of the cards into your hand instead of having to leave all three cards in your library. I expect this one to see some Standard play.
A callback to Flight, but this time with a cat!
A callback to the original pump spell Giant Growth, Gift of Growth offers some additional functionality and flexibility for a bit higher cost. It won't be reshaping Standard, but it will catch you off guard if you aren't thinking about it in Limited.
A callback to Giant Spider, the first of many Spiders in the game's history – a tribe that was popularized early on by Olle Rade and his Pro Tour winning Spiders deck. Or is it a callback to War Mammoth, the game's first Elephant? Perhaps both.
A callback to Baneslayer Angel, one of the most influential creatures ever to be printed without any activated or triggered abilities, at least as far as Standard is concerned. Andre Coimbra used the following Mike Flores creation to win the 2009 World Championship in Rome, which also has Lightning Bolt.
A callback to Skyship Weatherlight. This card from Planeshift never really saw play, but the Weatherlight was the setting for the third set in Mirage block and the first set to have as its focus a narrative rather than a world.
A callback to Dakkon Blackblade, one of the most powerful creatures in Legends. Pretty cool that his sword made it into Dominaria even if he did not.
A callback to Time Spiral Block Constructed all-star, Radha, Heir to Keld. Rada Wilinofsky, a well-known member of the Magic community who has long identified with this character in Magic lore for obvious reasons, made the following tongue-in-cheek tweet when the Dominaria version of Radha was first revealed:
A callback to Burst Lightning in its functionality and to Shivan Dragon in its name and flavor.
A callback to Multani, Maro-Sorcerer, which was a reanimation target in the deck Dave Humphreys and Your Move Games teammates crushed Pro Tour New Orleans with.
A callback to Squee, Goblin Nabob, which was a mainstay singleton in Survival of the Fittest decks since you could get it back each upkeep to pitch again to the enchantment. It was also a singleton in the same deck mentioned above since you could recur it each turn and pitch it to Zombie Infestation.
Verdant Force is also a Dominaria reprint and was a singleton in Dave Humpherys' Reanimator deck. Perhaps these three reprints and callbacks have something to do with the fact that Dave Humpherys was the design lead for Dominaria? [insert pondering face emoji]
A callback to Darigaaz, the Igniter – a card that never saw much play outside of Invasion draft, but it was a windmill slam First Pick in that format.
A callback to Jhoira of the Ghitu, one of the most popular early commander generals. This time she is captain of the Weatherlight.
A callback to Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, which was one of the most powerful creatures in Standard during Time Spiral, powerful enough for Adam Yurchick to win 2007 Ohio Champs with this list:
I suspect that Teferi in his planeswalker form will be at least as powerful if not more powerful than his legendary creature predecessor. The card is already a staple in White-Blu Control decks and is an early contender for best card in the set. He's the hero Dominaria deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we'll attack him. Because he can take it. Because he's not our hero. He's a silent planeswalker, a card draw engine, a reusable source of removal. A blue card.
…but he is now a white card too.