So far, Dominaria is like a breath of fresh air. The Limited format is fun and different than recent Limited formats, and the set is also having a big effect on Standard across the spectrum of decks. There is always a fear when a new set comes out that the set will either have essentially no impact on Standard or will devour and destroy it entirely, like the oft-maligned Kaladesh did. I could rant for an hour about Kaladesh, but I won't.
Okay, I will. Kaladesh was the biggest design mistake since someone messed up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Energy was a neat concept but brutally overpowered. With energy, they just missed the mark on how powerful to make it. Vehicles have far less redeeming characteristics. There is very little fun to be had with vehicles at all. They are miserable to try to line removal up against and they are also miserable to play with. There are just so many feel-bad situations where you either can't line up your removal against a vehicle, can't beat vehicles because their stats and abilities are too ridiculous, or have your own vehicles and can't crew them. Nearly every single play pattern surrounding a vehicle is not fun for one or both players. I sincerely hope they stop printing them because I don't know what value they add to Magic, but I can tell you many ways they detract from the game.
*Checks clock* 59 minutes and 43 seconds! Got it in under an hour!
But for all my ranting about Kaladesh, I have a lot of great things to say about Dominaria. Dominaria to me feels a lot like Innistrad, which many regard as the best set ever. There are a lot of different cards that are powerful in their own unique ways that can fuel differing archetypes. Interestingly enough, they brought Richard Garfield back to work on Dominaria and the last set he contributed to was Innistrad. Perhaps there is a pattern to be discovered here, but I'm not sure what it is.
At any rate, a lot of the decks that are doing well in week one of Dominaria Standard are not just continuations of decks from the last format, but rather new decks entirely, which is both awesome and promising. Toward the end of last Standard format, The Scarab God was starting to get dethroned as the best thing you could possibly be doing in Standard, and I'm excited for a new format where a variety of options are viable possibilities.
Let's gaze upon the glory that is some Dominaria decklists.
If this is what Standard is going to look like, then sign me the hell up. The Magic Online PTQ last weekend was won by this deck that looks like the most medium of a durdly creature deck imaginable.
Exactly. My. Speed.
To be completely honest, though, I'm kind of surprised this deck won. Other than just playing some great legendary creatures and four copies of perennial standard all-star Walking Ballista, the deck doesn't have a whole lot of interaction. Only four removal spells and a slow clock suggests to me that this deck should be quite vulnerable to other midrange and control strategies. I imagine this deck does a pretty good job of slaying Mono-Red Aggro, though, and I can get behind that.
This list follows in the time-honored tradition of various Vehicle lists over the past few years: play as many rares and mythics as you possibly can. On raw power level alone, this deck is a 10. Heart of Kiran, planeswalkers, Lyra Dawnbringer, Scrapheap Scrounger. There are some bomb dot com cards in this deck.
My one fear with this deck is that it can sometimes be a clunkfest. History of Benalia is a good card but it doesn't crew Heart of Kiran on turn three and it doesn't turn on Toolcraft Exemplar, which can sometimes be awkward. Vehicles decks have always been prone to awkward draws – sometimes the mana is bad, sometimes you flood or screw and sometimes you draw a bunch of Heart of Kirans with no way to activate them.
One thing I do love about this deck is Knight of Malice. There are a lot of white removal spells being played in the format right now, and Knight of Malice dodges those while generally being a three-power first striker for two mana, which is already a great rate. 13/10, some would even say. It's also a Knight, which means it has read up on the History of Benalia and benefits from the phase three buff.
Oh, and yeah, this deck plays Karn. Karn is pretty ridiculous. Four mana for five base loyalty and it goes +1 for card advantage? Oh, and it's colorless so any deck can play it? Yeah, that's just dirty. It's no surprise to me that both decks so far have been interested in the Karnage. I hope Karn doesn't end up being an eventual regret, like Ugin and Emrakul, the Promised End were.
White-blue is all the rage now, and there are a bunch of different decks springing up.
Personally, I like this one. It uses Raph Compassionate to allow you to play at instant speed, which makes life a nightmare for the opponent. With a Raph Capashen in play, the opponent must play around instant speed Walking Ballista, Lyra Dawnbringer and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. While playing a planeswalker during your opponent's end step might seem like weird timing, it's actually extremely powerful. The big issue when it comes to planeswalkers is being able to protect them – flashing one in on the end step means that you get to untap and use a planeswalker with all of your mana and cards in hand open to be used to protect it on the following turn. End of turn Teferi, untap, cast a spell and hold up Settle the Wreckage to protect? Yes, please.
Check this out. Because artifacts are also historic permanents, Raph Capashen also allows you to play Torrential Gearhulk at instant speed, as it is an artifact. Isn't that the wildest thing you've heard today? Torrential Gearhulk at instant speed has the potential to be extremely devastating. Imagine your opponent sending a creature into the red zone and you flashing in a Torrential Gearhulk to get value out of an instant speed spell and also just eating their creature at the same time. That's the stuff of legends. Thank you Raph!
This version of the deck is more of a true control deck, made possible by the devastating power of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Teferi untapping two lands allows for some serious protection while you draw extra cards. Teferi on turn five while tapping out still allows you to play Syncopate, Seal Away and Essence Scatter on the next turn. A Teferi on six lands adds Disallow to the mix, and a Teferi with seven lands allows a full range of interaction, including Cast Out and Settle the Wreckage as protection.
Control decks in Standard were already on the cusp, if not decidedly tier one, before Dominaria. Gaining Teferi as an addition just pushes it over the top. Teferi is in some regards the perfect planeswalker for a control deck. It provides card advantage, protects itself in multiple ways and has an ultimate that doesn't actually lethal your opponent, but basically wins the game nonetheless.
One interesting thing about this list is that it operates like an old school true control deck where it only has three cards that can actually win the game in the three copies of Torrential Gearhulk. That also creates some vulnerabilities. While there are additional threats in the sideboard, a Dispossess would render the deck unable to win if those sideboard threats don't get boarded in, and an opponent could beat this deck simply by overwhelming the card advantage and dealing with each Gearhulk one by one.
Normally I'm pretty skeptical when I see something like "Mono Green" in a decklist. Not having good interaction is often a serious problem for a deck, but I actually think that this deck looks pretty good. This deck wouldn't be possible without the reprinting of Llanowar Elves, and as someone who really despised what Elvish Mystic did to the format the last time it was legal in Standard, I'm pretty nervous about Llanowar Elf this time around. At any rate, it begins...
Steel Leaf Champion is gross. A 5/4 that is hard to block is insanely good for three mana. When we last paid GGG for a creature, it was Leatherback Baloth, which was also quite good, but Steel Leaf Champion is just better. An extra point of power and really tough for some decks to block is a pretty nice boost.
Rhonas, the Indomitable and Ghalta, Primal Hunger are both great cards as well. With cards like Rhonas and Steel Leaf Champion in the deck, Ghalta suddenly becomes very castable, with turn four or five being a reasonable expectation for when you can put a 12/12 with trample into play. Ghalta puts your opponent into removal-or-die mode where they either kill Ghalta or their life total reduces to zero right away. With Blossoming Defense to protect it, sometimes they have the removal and are still just dead. Lovely.
The GPG unit has gotten some new tools as well. Skirk Prospector and Siege-Gang Commander both offer some great utility in a God-Pharaoh's Gift deck. Captain Skirk is a free way to trigger Gate to the Afterlife and can help fuel the mana necessary to activate it as well. Siege-Gang is just a really good card that is great at retail cost or brought back with Gift.
One of the more interesting decks to spring up is Mono-Red God-Pharaoh's Gift. The deck plays out like a red aggro deck, but also has Gate to the Afterlife to facilitate an endgame with God-Pharaoh's Gift. Skirk Prospector can help accelerate out threats like Siege-Gang Commander, but also interacts favorable with Gate to the Afterlife. Rowdy Crew also dumps cards into the graveyard for Gate and Gift while also just being a reasonable sized body and source of card advantage on its own.
This list is a more traditional blue-red take, but one that still uses Skirk Prospector. One interesting card in this list is Squee in the sideboard. Squee is a low-power card, but one that does a lot of cool things, like being a card that you can cast again even after bringing back from God-Pharaoh's Gift, providing the deck with a never-ending resource to use. I can't say for sure that Squee is a good card, but it is definitely interesting, and I could see it being a real thorn in the side for some decks to get through.
I expected red aggro decks like this one to be completely dominant in week one, but it doesn't seem like that was actually the case. Red aggro did really poorly in the online PTQ, and while it did fairly well at the SCG Open, which was a team event, it didn't put up a great performance at the Classic. While the deck is really powerful and Goblin Chainwhirler Virtuoso is a huge addition, the deck is very beatable and players showed up prepared to combat it.
What also surprised me is that Black-Red Aggro seemed to outperform pure Mono-Red Aggro. I expected the combination of Soul-Scar Mage and Goblin Chainwhirler to be pwning n00bs, but I guess I should never count out Scrapheap Scrounger. The black-red deck is way more grindy and resilient, sacrificing some speed in the process, but better positioned to take on decks gunning for Mono Red thanks to Scroungers, Phoenix and scaling threats like Walking Ballista.
I wouldn't count out Mono-Red in this format, but it thankfully appears that we also shouldn't fear that red decks will take over the format. If anything, I am far more scared of my opponent playing a Llanowar Elf on turn one than a Soul-Scar Mage. I think that has a far higher potential of being destructive.
I love Herald of Anguish so much, and thanks to the Karn father, is it finally time for it to shine? One can only hope. I also haven't forgotten about tokens. History of Benalia? Please and thank you. I've been studying up on my maps. I'm stockpiling knowledge. I'm ready for the procession of slain enemies in my wake. Let's go! Well, at least until about two weeks into the season when the deck is grossly underpowered and The Scarab God is winning everything. That's two full weeks of fun.
- Brian Braun-Duin