Bringing In The Dawn On The Dominaria Era

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin examines the unbelievably diverse metagame that occupies Standard as we look toward SCG Baltimore weekend!

My God…

did not waste any time before revolutionizing the Standard format. One of
the most hyped sets in years appears to actually be overdelivering.

This past weekend’s Magic Online PTQ was the highest profile Standard event
since Dominaria became legal, and…

…well, let’s just say there’s a lot of new tech to cover.

While Llanowar Elves is not exactly “tech,” it has exploded onto the scene,
establishing half a dozen new decks and largely setting the pace for the
format and putting twenty copies in the Top 8, including the G/W Aggro deck
piloted by eventual champion, TEAM5C.

This is a relatively slower, extra grindy take on G/W, capitalizing on the
second-coming of Baneslayer Angel, Lyra Dawnbringer.

Not exactly the most subtle new addition either, Lyra Dawnbringer is an
incredibly dominating battlefield presence, especially when powered out
early by Llanowar Elves or Rishkar, Peema Renegade. Yeah, obviously it’s
going to eat a Vraska’s Contempt from time to time, but just think about
how dominating it is when it lives. Besides, it lines up so well
against much of the most popular interaction in Standard.

What’s more, we’re not without ways to make her harder to kill.

Some amount of Blossoming Defense in the 75 should come as no surprise, but
it’s Shalai, Voice of Plenty that’s really sweet with Lyra. Not only does
Lyra give Shalai +1/+1, but Shalai protects Lyra very effectively, letting
her completely take over the game. Things will really be firing on all
cylinders once you start giving your team +1/+1 every turn, including
Walking Ballista. You might even be able to activate Shalai twice a turn,
thanks to the crazy amounts of mana Rishkar is capable of when you’re
putting +1/+1 counters on everything.

Of course, Shalai isn’t the only G/W-centric legend in this list…

Shana, Sisay’s Legacy is just way cheaper than these types of cards usually
are. Typically, they’re unplayable at four and fringe at three:

But for two?

Now that’s a staple.

She’s no Voice of Resurgence, but she is a very mana efficient turn-2
threat for smoothing out those draws without Llanowar Elves. Her “can’t be
the target of enemy abilities” text isn’t the most reliable of an addition,
but it does help against Planeswalkers, Glorybringer, Walking Ballista, and
Ixalan’s Binding-types.

Err, um, sure Icy Manipulator, too… if it comes to that.

The thing is, one of the biggest reasons we’re unlikely to see all that
many Icy Manipulators at the moment is just how powerful of another
colorless four-drop has hit the format, also courtesy of Dominaria

Karn, Scion of Urza provides more powerful card advantrage than G/W decks
typically have access to. It also adds another avenue of attack, helping
diversify the proactive threats and leave us less exposed to Fumigate.
While we’re not making the absolute most of his -2 ability, it’s kind of
sweet with Treasure Map, at times (which, incidentally, contributes to the
card draw plan, along with Nissa and Lifecrafter’s Bestiary).

While TEAM5C didn’t take advantage of Growing Rites of Itlimoc, another top
16 G/W list did, raising some interesting questions about its power with
Walking Ballista and Shalai, Voice of Plenty.

Gerschi’s take on G/W features a much more pronounced token theme, with
Angel of Invention, Sram’s Expertise, and the newly legal Saproling

Saproling Migration is a lot like a Servo Exhibition, except with the
ability to double up when you’ve got mana to spend. It’s both a great way
to flip Growing Rites of Itlimoc with a single card, and a great way to
take advantage of one you’ve already flipped. Besides, Shefet Dunes, Angel
of Invention, and Shalai make for a lot of potential anthem effects that
want you to have as many bodies as possible.

Not all the Llanowar Elves decks were G/W, however. Steel Leaf Champion
provides an extremely attractive payoff for sticking to mono-green, or
nearly mono-green, especially when following a turn 1 Llanowar Elves. An
easier to cast Woolly Thoctor, Steel Leaf Champion even has a very real
ability, making it harder to chump block or gang-block.

Yes! It’s the return of the stupid green deck! Just monsters and smashing,
turn after turn, culminating in a quick Ghalta, Primal Hunger

And with how many stat points Steel Leaf Champion adds to the table, it’s
not unreasonable to think that might be as early as turn 4. In fact, some
people went even further, adding Rhonas’s Last Stand for even more
devastating of high rolls.

Turn 1: Llanowar Elves

Turn 2: Steel Leaf Paladin

Turn 3: Rhonas’s Last Stand, Ghalta, Primal Hunger

Just sayin’…

Steel Leaf Champion’s restrictive cost limits the range of possible homes,
but it was not exclusively the domain of Mono-Green. ECMAGIC4EVER’s build
splashed red for Regisaur Alpha, Abrade, and Struggle (gotta hit those
Scarab Gods…).

While heavy green is the more common style of G/R deck, at least one player
showed up with an update to the Rekinding Phoenix/Glorybringer style of R/G
popular in the previous format. Not surprisingly, Llanowar Elves makes a
great addition to the deck.

Even with Rekindling Phoenix and Chandra, Torch of Defiance as competition, Dominaria adds another red four-drop to the mix, Verix Bladewing.

While a 4/4 flier for four isn’t bad, it isn’t good either. Without
question, it is Verix’s kicker (and implied flexibility) that pushes it
over the line. For just one mana more than Broodmate Dragon, you get the
Broodmate Dragon option as well as the four-drop option. This flexibility
lets us curve out more often, as well as giving us more ways to put long
mana hands to work. Just be mindful of dropping it against red decks that
might have a Chandra, Torch of Defiance in hand. Glorybringer isn’t so

Depending on how much we’re willing to slow down to increase consistency,
Adventurous Impulse might be a nice secondary “one-drop.” It’s the better
part of an Oath of Nissa and helps ensure we hit our early land drops,
while being less likely to flood out later. EAZZY’s G/B Constrictor deck
makes particularly good use of it, since it gives us so many more looks to
find one of the namesake Snakes. When one of your cards is so much better
for you than the rest, it can be worth paying extra mind to options than
give you more chances to find that card on time.

I’m sure you’ve noticed an awful lot of Walking Ballistas at the moment.
It’ll be interesting to see how the format adjusts next week.

Looping back around to G/W, LLeaf33’s take on the archetype featured a very
awesome blue splash to support Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.

Teferi is an excellent five-mana Planeswalker, well above predecessors Ob
Nixilis Reignited and Jace, Unraveler of Secrets. It’s got a lot of the
“card draw threat that punishes Fumigate decks” thing Karn has going on,
plus it provides extremely flexible interaction, thanks to the -3 ability.

It’s just such a powerful tempo swing to drop Teferi onto a battlefield
with only a single threat and use that -3 ability. You not only dealt with
the immediate threat but have a Planeswalker that will run away with the
game if unanswered. What’s more, you know what they’re going to draw the
turn after next. That’s one less turn they can potentially draw an answer
to Teferi. In a small way, this is kind of a maneuver first pioneered by
Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

I think it’s interesting how diverse of a mix of Cast Out-types are seeing
play. LLEAF33 didn’t even use Cast Out proper, which seems especially
reasonable in a deck that needs so badly to curve out. Instead, he’s using
Baffling End and Thopter Arrest in the sideboard in order to supplement
Ixalan’s Binding and Seal Away main deck.

Seal Away is a bit harder to use than the others, but costing two and
having flash are some powerful key selling points.

Lots of Thrashing Brontodons this weekend. It’s a good card to begin with,
but I wonder if the printing of Lyra Dawnbringer and subsequent heavy
increase of Ixalan’s Bindings is going to invite more enchantment removal?

While the effect of Llanowar Elves could be seen all across the format,
Lyra Dawnbringer’s effect was arguably just as large. Not only did Lyra
appear in five of the Top 8 decks, only five players in the Top 16 didn’t run one or more copies in their 75.

Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage helped spawn another exciting Teferi deck. More
than just a 3/3 flying, flash creature, Raff lets you play a U/W Flash game
with a deadly kick. It’s one thing to flash in 3/3s, but playing Lyra
Dawnbringer with flash? That’s an extremely potent implied threat that
could drop in the middle of combat without warning.

Walking Ballista is another nice threat to give flash to. Being able to tap
out for it lets it start bigger than it would if we played it for just two;
however, we don’t actually have to let our guard down.

While we would be sacrificing a planeswalker activation, I can imagine
plenty of game states where we’d be interested in flashing down Teferi on
our opponent’s end step. That way, we can untap and protect it with the
full force of our hand.

Even when we’re just tapping out for it, however, we still get to defend
ourselves, thanks to the untap portion of Teferi’s +1 ability, combining
nicely with Seal Away, Negate, Essence Scatter, and even Syncopate.

Syncopate is a solid two-mana counter that gives extra flexibility early
for defending against a diverse mix of threats while still having late-game
power. You’ll want to be careful about playing too many, since when they’re
bad, they’re really bad; however, I’m guessing two or three copies is going
to be pretty standard in many U/W decks.

Nice in moderation, Memorial to Genius provides another nice way to smooth
out your draws, in lieu of Hieroglyphic Illumination. It’s a little slow,
but I could easily see a second copy.

Make sure you’re sideboarding the Seal Aways out when sideboarding Urza’s
Ruinous Blast in; it provides another (mostly) sweeper, as well as giving
you a way to punish opponents too reliant on white enchantments for
interaction. It’s also not a trivial tool for any God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks
we might encounter.

I still like Disallow, but I can understand Michai running Supreme Will
instead. Once you replace Censor with Syncopate and Hieroglyphic
Illumination with Glimmer of Genius, you’ve got a lot less need for heavy
blue requirements early. The above list manages to fit three Field of Ruins
and a Scavenger Grounds while still featuring mostly untapped lands.

That said, Dominaria does provide another interesting alternative
if we’re willing to get slightly more aggressive.

Wizard’s Retort is always at least a Cancel, so we don’t necessarily need
to go all crazy with Wizards beyond Raff to get our money’s worth.

Merfolk Trickster is an efficient Wizard threat that gives us lots of
tricky pseudo-Pestermite like plays, as well as being a powerful way to
potentially kill opposing Lyras in a heads-up fight, not to mention
tactical applications against a The Scarab God.

This list deserves a second look, if only because of how different of a
playstyle it sculpts, while still playing most of the same cards as
everyone else. With a full playset of Raff Capashens, one’s attention is
immediately pulled to the playset of History of Benalias.

Since sagas are historic, Raff lets us flash down a History of Benalia for
a surprise blocker (or attacker), and when we untap, we’re already getting
a second 2/2. And while we’re not exactly pushing the third chapter the
hardest, we might get a lot of mileage out of it after bouncing and
replaying our saga with Blink of an Eye.

Rebranded Into the Roil, I’ve got a feeling we’re going to see more of this
card, not less. A lot of folks were a little slow to adopt the card last
time around, but over time, the flexibility with shine through.

While some U/W players elected to get a little more proactive, the printing
of Teferi, Seal Away, and Syncopate has done wonders for reactive builds,
as well.

Lyra Dawnbringer is such a great sideboard card for decks like this. Even
if they know you have access to some, how many cards can they really put in
their deck to stop you?

Besides, already we’re seeing some meta plays, such as splitting the
sideboard slots with Regal Caracal. Vraska’s Contempt is looking a lot less
good, now…

Perhaps the most unusual U/W deck of the weekend belonged to MACINTOSH, a
white aggro deck splashing Cartouche of Knowledge and Curious Obsession.

The pay-off? Sram, Senior Edificer, I suppose. I think the main thing is
just building a hard to stop threat quickly.

Dauntless Bodyguard serves as not only a second one-drop for curving out
but a potentially relevant game piece for protecting a key investment.

At this point, we’ve been seeing Cartouche of Ambition showing up in
sideboards for a while now. On Serra’s Wings might be a little slower, but
it’s on-color, grants flying and vigilance, and even protects your creature
from Cast Down.

While Knight of Grace is not always going to be pumped in this list, it’s
still a 2/1 first-striker with upside. Having hexproof from black makes it
an especially juicy target for auras.

Not everyone was so restrained, however. MYYAMAGAT actually splashed black
for the other two-cost Dominaria Knight: Knight of Malice.

Knight of Malice’s hexproof from white is very relevant, with all the white
enchantments floating around. Besides, the real draw is just how above rate
a 3/2 first striker is for two. It’s not quite a 3/2 first striker for one,
but what is?

Toolcraft Exemplar has plenty of ways to get active, thanks to Scrapheap
Scrounger, Walking Ballista, Heart of Kiran, and Aethersphere Harvester.
Even Karn, Scion of Urza can bust out a surprise artifact creature, letting
Toolcraft Exemplar hit for more on a key turn.

History of Benalia hits even harder in this list, buffing the Knights of
Malice, as well as the tokens. Really though, it’s just a good card. Just
think about how much more efficient it is than former staple Call of the

We spoke of extra enchantment removal earlier. Appetite for the Unnatural
has been a fixture of the format since its printing in Kaladesh,
but Invoke the Divine blows it out of the water.

Yeah, it’s just an Appetite for the Unnatural in a color that doesn’t
usually get such nice Disenchants, while also gaining twice as much life at
no additional cost.

History of Benalia definitely had a breakout weekend, and W/U, Mono-White,
and W/B weren’t even the extent of it. XANNMAN’s G/W Tokens deck makes
excellent use of the card as a token-maker while even getting extra mileage
out of the pump ability when combined with Adanto Vanguard.

This list is definitely going hard on the token theme, but it’s also got
some cute tricks with Adorned Pouncer and Appeal.

When you’ve this many token-makers, Appeal is frequently going to do an
awful lot of damage for one mana, to say nothing of the value of tapping
down potential blockers.

Here’s a clever one. Pride of Conquerors gives us a passable instant speed
pump spell early, but relatively quickly transforms into a devastating play
when you’ve got the city’s blessing (which is basically guaranteed when you
kick a Saproling Migration).

Pride of Conquerors also made an appearance in YOMAN5’s Mono-White Aggro
deck. It wasn’t quite as dedicated of a token deck, but it still had more
than its fair share.

The big advantage to sticking to mono-white is the addition of Benalish
Marshal. It’s an anthem, it’s a Knight, and it’s just a very solid threat
at every point in the game.

I guess, to be fair, Benalish Marshal is not exclusively for mono-white
decks. Just as Steel Leaf Champion made appearances with small splashes, so
too does Marshal. Just Cliffs? Nah, Isolated Chapels!

Okay, GRACIASPORTANTO’s W/B deck isn’t much of a black deck, with just
Scrapheap Scrounger main deck. However, a little bit of discard and spot
removal adds some different dimensions than most white aggro decks.

I don’t know if I can get behind just two copies of History of Benalia,
particularly when you’ve got a playset of Sram’s Expertise. Getting to play
History of Benalia for free is a good time, to be sure.

We’ve been seeing a lot of Toolcraft Exemplar decks, but what about a
return to Vehicles proper?

Admittedly, this “Vehicles” deck doesn’t even have as many vehicles as some
of the other decks, so maybe Mardu is a better classification. Unlicensed
Disintegration alongside Toolcraft Exemplar and Heart of Kiran has a
distinct feel, though.

On the other hand, History of Benalia and Karn, Scion of Urza had some
different elements than we’ve been seeing out of these decks lately. Here,
History of Benalia starts to resemble Gideon, Ally of Zendikar if you
squint a little.

Fungal Infection looks like a very potent answer to red aggro decks and
opposing token decks alike. Good one-mana plays are hard to come by in
Standard, and this one is often going to trade with opposing two-mana
plays; that’s to say nothing of killing Combat Celebrants

Combat Celebrant started putting up modest numbers late in the last season,
paired with God-Pharaoh’s Gift for extra attacks out of nowhere. Dominaria appears to have revitalized the archetype, thanks to
Skirk Prospector.

Skirk Prospector is a little funny in a deck with so few Goblins, but it’s
still a Blood Pet, and for a deck that is desperate for tempo and desperate
to get creatures in the graveyard, this is a nice addition.

The effects of Lyra Dawnbringer are already being seen, with that sideboard
Fight with Fire looking pretty loudly adopted as anti-Lyra tech.

It’s going to be kind of hard to kick it here, but not impossible. Still,
it’s definitely here for the deal five to a creature mode. If you want to
see a deck kick Fight with Fire a little more often, check out NAGA7’s mono-red take on the archetype:

Here, Skirk Prospector has the potential to generate massive amounts of
mana from time to time. The real advantage to this build, however, is
getting to include Goblin Chainwhirler.

Goblin Chainwhirler looks great, right off top, but when you consider just
how many token decks we’ve seen today, the card seems absolutely amazing.
Besides, even when it’s not sweeping up tokens, it’s going to be able to
kill a surprising number of Teferis.

With one week in the books, we’re already looking at a wildly different
format than we were previously, and this is without even a rotation to help
fuel format change. We’ve only barely scratched the surface, too. This
format has all the makings of a violently dynamic and evolving beast in the
month-long lead up to the Pro Tour.

Besides, I know at least one card we haven’t seen yet…