The Dominaria Prerelease is this weekend, so I figure it is a perfect time for a look into what the set looks like for Limited play. For those who have been playing a lot of Ixalan or played Ixalan Limited but haven't been enjoying it, Dominaria looks to be very different. The most recent Limited formats have led to many aggressive decks, and very few actual control strategies. I'm going to go over some fundamental ideas that may very well be changing with Dominaria.
How many lands do I put in my Limited deck? For Ixalan, the default number was 16 and sometimes you could even go down to 15 – 17 was also rare as most of the cards had relatively low converted mana costs. With Dominaria I suspect that players will start to go up to seventeen and even eighteen land decks sometimes. I honestly can't remember the last time I had an eighteen land Limited deck, but you should be open to the idea.
The cards that have a kicker cost on them are one of the reasons to have more lands. Most of these cards are going to be quite good. The way I look at a kicker card is the kicker is usually a bonus. Let's look at a couple staples that have a kicker cost. Academy Drake is a three-mana Wind Drake to start. Wind Drake has always been playable in Limited, so while you will normally cast it for three mana the fact that at seven mana you can play it with an additional value is what changes the card from fine to good. Another strong creature with a kicker cost is Untamed Kavu, as it would be playable without the kicker cost, with the kicker it becomes one of the best non-rare cards for Limited play in Dominaria.
The kicker cards are many of the best Limited staples in the set. Looking at the noncreature spells, similar principles can be applied. Shivan Fire is strong as a one-mana removal spell already but scales up later in the game to kill bigger creatures. Perhaps the most game-changing kicker spell is Fight with Fire. This is one that is borderline too good. At three mana it is a solid spot removal spell. However, at nine mana you can completely destroy an opponent's entire board.
Part of the reason why a card like Fight with Fire is going to be a bomb is the games should be more drawn out compared to the most recent Limited formats. There are less purely aggressive creatures with low casting costs, and there are decent removal options. Having good removal is one way of prolonging the game, as you can answer the most threatening creatures on the other side of the table. There are also a variety of defensive, high-toughness creatures. If both players have reasonable draws it will be hard for one player to run over the other, especially in Sealed.
The idea of playing more lands isn't actually the same as hitting your land drops. Many decks want to be able to play a land every single turn of the game, even beyond turn four or five where we are used to lands being useless beyond that. There are other ways of ensuring land drops for later in games other than playing a lot of them. One of the biggest ones is card advantage; this is a format that has a lot of ways to get ahead on cards, so you want to be able to use these effects to hit your lands drops later.
Ixalan had very little actual card advantage besides a straight up two-for-one like Ravenous Chupacabra. The cards were pretty self-explanatory, with the tribal synergies being the real payoffs. Now we are going back to an old-school format, where we have cards like Divination. That's something we haven't seen in a little while, but is a great way of getting ahead on cards. This ties into hitting your land drops later in the game, as having card draw is one way to help with that. Another card that may be better than it looks on the surface is Skittering Surveyor. Both Skittering Surveyor and Divination are cards that allow you to transition from having three mana to having access to more mana later.
There aren't a ton of mana fixers in Dominaria, so the ones that are present like Skittering Surveyor should go up in value, even though it is basically just another version of Pilgrim's Eye. Even a single mana fixer makes the ability to splash a color much easier. Again, when comparing to previous draft formats, most decks have been straight two colors. Here, I don't expect crazy four and five-color decks, but we will certainly see two-color decks with a splash more often. With games tending to be more drawn out there isn't as much pressure to have the right colors of mana early on. That combined with the fact there are many strong multicolor cards leads to splashing being more popular in this format.
One of the sweetest additions to Dominaria is historic, which includes artifacts, cards with the legendary supertype and sagas. There are also many cards that get better based on the number of historic cards in your deck. One of the popular ways to have historic synergy is having a trigger when casting a historic spell. D'Avenant Trapper is a perfect example of a card that goes from mediocre to good based on the number of historic cards you cast. In many ways this trigger is a bonus in the same way kicker is.
There are certainly plenty of sagas and legendary creatures running around, but they aren't necessarily going to be easy to get your hands on. Many of the best ones are rares or mythic and have a high power level, which means players without a strong historic-themed deck will still fight for them in draft. In Sealed you only get six rares so it will also be tough to take full advantage of the theme.
The best way to fully take advantage of historic cards is by playing artifacts. Unlike legendary creatures and sagas, there are plenty of artifacts that are common, and there are also more artifacts in Dominaria than in a typical set. Certain artifacts like Icy Manipulator will go into any deck, but the value of a card like Short Sword is going to fluctuate based on the type of deck you are building.
This part is like most other Limited formats – there are certain cards that you will want to build your deck around, or heavily incentivize playing specific colors. The most obvious build-arounds are the multicolor spells. Traditionally, because a card costs more than one color of mana it will have a bit higher power level than something that costs only a single color. These multicolor cards also can have unique effects that provide a different axis your deck can operate on. Since these multicolor cards tend to be uncommon or rare you generally don't have access to a lot of them and want to capitalize on the ones that you do have access to.
The multicolor cards also often emphasize what type of strategy a two-color pair wants to be focused on. For instance, Dominaria isn't as tribally focused as Ixalan, but there are still some tribal synergies. One of my favorite tribes is Wizards, which tends to favor being red-blue. The multicolor card is Adeliz, the Cinder Wind and that makes perfect sense. This is the type of card that can be a first pick in draft with the intention of trying to go blue-red with lots of Wizards.
When we look at the white multicolor cards we see historic relevance, with cards like Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage and Arvad the Cursed. The multicolor cards are the most likely ones to be splashed because of their high power level and mana cost requirements. There are even three-color rares and mythics, and at that point you know that the deck needs to be three colors, but the cards are so powerful that it's worth it.
I like that many of the bombs of the format are multicolor and are creatures that can still be answered by spot removal. There is a very real cost for putting the multicolor cards in your deck, especially when faced with decisions of whether to take them early in a booster draft. With such strong creatures in Dominaria, expect for removal like Eviscerate or Blessed Light to be very important even though they are somewhat expensive for the effect – the days of Doom Blade and Pacifism seem to be behind us.
In slower formats, mana sinks tend to be much more important. These are ways of being able to use excess mana as the game progresses and helps prevent flooding out. Kicker is a different form of a mana sink, and certainly falls into this category. Equipment is also a great way to be able to make use of your mana later. Helm of the Host is a great example of an incredibly slow card that has the potential to take over the game, given you have time to make the most of it. There are actually a number of powerful rare equipment in Dominaria that have the potential to take over games if left unchecked.
Artifacts like Icy Manipulator and Urza's Tome are also ways of being able to repetitively use your mana each turn. There are also nonartifacts that will take over the game if the board stalls out. Slimefoot, the Stowaway churns out Saprolings, similarly to Fungal Plots. In fact, going wide with Saprolings is one of the major themes in green. Black pairs well with green because of cards like Thallid Omnivore and Thallid Soothsayer that give you something to do with lots of small creatures. Even the Memorial nonbasic lands are a great way of cashing in excess lands, to prevent flooding.
Keep in mind I am at the same place with Dominaria as everyone else – I haven't actually got my hands on the cards yet, and there are always going to end up being things missed at the beginning that you pick up from actually playing. Still, the set looks like it should create a refreshingly different Limited format, and I encourage those who have not been eager to get into Limited over the past couple years to give Dominaria a try.
Thanks for reading,