Modern features the best cards printed over the past 15 years, so it's difficult for new cards to break into the format. With such a high barrier to entry, it's all the more impressive when a new card does make the leap. Whenever a new set is released there is always speculation about what new cards will make their way to Modern, and Dominaria has been no different, but now that the set is legal we're able to see what cards are actually performing. I've looked over all the Modern decklists I can find, specifically Magic Online decklists since Dominaria was released, and identified all the new cards that are being played and the decks that are using them.
From the moment it was spoiled, Damping Sphere was destined to be a Modern sideboard staple. It's a powerful hoser that answers what many see as the bane of the format, Urzatron, along with Storm, in one efficient and most importantly colorless package, so it can be used by just about any deck. What wasn't apparent when it was spoiled was that it would be a perfect answer to what is now the format's breakout deck, Krark-Clan Ironworks Combo, which can't realistically go off under its cost restriction. Its power and versatility as a sideboard card combined with its accessibility has led to its widespread adoption and the distinction of being Dominaria's most popular card in Modern.
It's seeing play in a variety of different decks, but it seems most popular in certain archetypes for specific reasons. For example, being an artifact makes it extra good in Affinity, which can use its artifact status for various benefits. It's also a nice silver-bullet for Whir of Invention, so it's being used in Lanternless Prison decks, and I expect it will show up in proper Lantern Control too. It seems most popular in control decks, which can use it to replace Storm and Ironworks hosers like Rule of Law while gaining extra help against Tron, and in Jund decks, some which are using it place of Fulminator Mage as a more powerful Tron hoser. It's also showing up in Humans.
Mox Amber was the most-hyped hard in Dominaria during spoiler season, and the wealth of legendaries available in Modern makes it the best format for enabling and reaping the benefits of the new fast mana. Mox Amber is best when enabled as early as possible, so it goes hand-in-hand with one-mana legendary creatures. Two of these – Kytheon, Hero of Akros and Isamaru, Hound of Konda – form the backbone of an Mono-White Aggro deck that has elements of Death and Taxes, including Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
Expanding on Mono-White Mox Amber is a deck that expands into red for Lightning Bolt and the additional legends it provides, including another one-drop in Zurgo Bellstriker. Hazoret the Fervent is also legendary, and it's great with Mox Amber helping to empty the hand.
The most surprising Dominaria card to make an impact in Modern is Shalai, Voice of Plenty, which can be found in a variety of archetypes. Shalai, Voice of Plenty's ability of giving hexproof to its controller and their other creatures is quite powerful, and is apparently very desirable in Modern. It explains why Shalia, Voice of Plenty can be found in Mono-White Death and Taxes -style decks that don't intend to activate its ability, but where its ability adds to the deck's plan of restricting the opponent and locking out their options.
Shalai, Voice of Plenty is a hoser against plenty of strategies, whether it be stopping discard, burn spells or even win conditions like Grapeshot or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Its ability is also quite strong when combined with Aether Vial, which can flash it in to counter something targeting its controller or to protect another creature from removal.
Shalai's ability to protect creatures is especially useful in decks that rely on them, specifically creature combo decks, so it's now seeing widespread adoption into a variety of Chord of Calling and Eldritch Evolution decks as a new silver-bullet.
Not only does Shalai protect creatures and even planeswalkers like in the Copy Cat deck, potentially at instant speed, but it's a great backup win condition that is essentially Gavony Township with a body. It's best of all in Modern's top creature combo deck, Abzan Company, which makes great use of its activated ability as an additional mana sink for its infinite mana combo. The Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies package is played in a variety of decks, and there's incentive to add Shalai, Voice of Plenty to all of them, like in Elves, which is flush with mana to spend and creatures to pump.
Dominaria is shaping up to be great set for creature toolbox decks, which are also including Dauntless Bodyguard to protect their most important creatures, whether that's combo pieces or singleton hosers worth protecting. Dauntless Bodyguard is at its best in Chord of Calling decks, which can tutor it up at instant speed and for a mana cheaper than Selfless Spirit.
Dauntless Bodyguard is also showing up in Mono-White Taxes, like this one with Mox Amber, which makes great use of its aggressive stats and where its protection is perfect for protecting critical lock pieces from removal.
Baneslayer Angel used to see a decent amount of Modern play, and still occasionally does, as a sideboard card to fight against aggressive decks. Lyra Dawnbringer is an upgrade in decks with other Angels to pump, and the downside of being a legendary doesn't matter when it's a one-of. It was included a sideboard silver-bullet in this creature toolbox deck, where it can pump Restoration Angel and Shalia, Voice of Plenty.
One of the most influential Dominaria cards in Standard so far has been Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which has revitalized White-Blue Control. Even more impressive is that it is already proving itself to be a staple of White-Blue Control decks in Modern, including the Esper Control deck that won the MTGO Modern Challenge last weekend.
Karn, Scion of Urza is one of the most important Dominaria cards for Standard, and it's good enough to make the jump into Modern. It's the perfect card for Affinity, which can use its -2 ability to create tokens that are essentially wearing Cranial Plating, or it can be used to draw cards. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas was held back from becoming an Affinity staple because of its cumbersome colored mana requirements, but Karn, Scion of Urza gets around that. It looks great as a sideboard card, where it helps grind out opponents and is a way to win through hosers, even Stony Silence. It's even being played in the main deck as a one or two-of in 5-0 league lists, so it might emerge as a new maindeck staple.
Another card that is having success in Affinity is The Antiquities War. It offers some nice card advantage over two turns, but it really stands out for its third ability, which will win most games on the spot by turning its many random artifacts into huge threats. It's similar to Karn, Scion of Urza in that it can generate card advantage and pressure the opponent, and it's another way to beat Stony Silence. It's a nice sideboard option and might even be good enough to main deck.
Dominaria has some tribal themes, and has provided some new playables to Modern's tribes. Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief are both new to Modern, and while they haven't shown up in results yet, it's only a matter of time. What I didn't expect to see Modern play was Steel Leaf Champion, which fits into Elf tribal decks.
Elf decks can have explosive draws with a combo-like feel, but at their heart they are aggressive decks that win with Shaman of the Pack. Steel Leaf Champion is a big threat that will often come down on turn two, whether it be from Llanowar Elves or a Heritage Druid activation. It's particularly valuable because it can win games by itself and doesn't rely on any synergies, so it diversifies the creature base beyond small creatures that don't hold up well in combat or to Lightning Bolt.
The Flame of Keld has impressed me in Limited, but I definitely wasn't thinking about it as a Modern card. It is quite powerful, offering two-for-one card advantage plus a deadly final ability, but the downside of discarding the hand is steep. This cost can be eliminated in a deck that can quickly empty its hand, so it's a great addition to this hyper-aggressive and lean red aggro deck that makes great use of its card advantage and final ability.
Dominaria's many legendary cards have increased the utility of anything that has to do with legends, and the most important Modern card that cares about them is Goryo's Vengeance. It has found a new card to reanimate in Torgaaar, Famine Incarnate, which can bring the opponent down to 10 life and then hit for seven damage, which is nearly lethal on its own. Alternatively, when its controller is under 10 life, it can be used as a source of life gain. It's not a great fit into Grishoalbrand decks, but it has found success in the Esper Goryo deck as an alternative to Obzedat, Ghost Council.
Torgaar plus Goryo's Vengeance is a pretty strong combo, so it seems to improve the Esper Goryo's deck, which has struggled to survive as a fixture of the metagame, and could be the extra push the deck needs to become viable.
These days it seems like every new set has important cards for Modern, but Dominaria has been especially to generous, and I expect that over time we'll see even more new cards break out. What are your favorite Dominaria cards for Modern?