Dominaria Dominance?

Get your game on with the new set that loves old sets! Sam Black and Ross Merriam are great minds that understand design and competition! So what do they think of Dominaria so far?

[Welcome back to Fact or Fiction! Today, two of Magic’s most analytic minds, Sam Black and Ross Merriam,
give their take on five statements inspired by their thoughts on
Read their responses and vote for the winner at the end!]

1. You’re nervous about the power level of legendary
sorceries in Dominaria.

Sam Black: Fiction
. I’m not sure which one I’m supposed to be worried about. Urza’s Ruinous
Blast looks very strong, but I think that’ll be mitigated by the fact that
a lot of people will be incentivized to play legends, so it’ll be more of a
partial sweeper than a one sided sweeper – think something along the lines
of Crux of Fate but more on the surface – but it misses some portion of
things more often, and the fact that you have to have a legend will be a
little more awkward than it looks. If you’re really worried about the
impact of any of them, you can try to keep your opponent off legends unless
their deck is really dedicated to them, which should be a large enough
deckbuilding restriction that these shouldn’t be close to causing any
problems in Standard or anything.

I’m not saying they’re unplayable or anything, but that I’d stake my
reputation a claim that none of them will be banned.

Now, if you mean nervous the other way, in that I think none of them are
good enough to matter, I’m not really sure that would be a big problem, and
again, no, I think they’re probably playable.

Ross Merriam:
I’m always wary of cards that have significant timing restrictions placed
on them. There’s a reason sorcery-speed removal like Walk the Plank is
nearly unplayable and that’s because you often can’t cast it when you want
to. Needing to have a legendary permanent on the battlefield is a big ask
when those cards tend to be powerful enough that your opponents will try to
remove them immediately, and if they can’t, you’re likely already ahead.

These cards have powerful effects, but I don’t see them actually
contributing to winning Magic so often as to be problematic because they
will languish in your hand too often. Dominaria will have enough
legendary cards to make them playable and some will likely be competitive,
but I’m not worried.

2. You’re excited about the potential of the Saga mechanic in Dominaria.

Sam Black:
. I’d like to be. The cards look kinda sweet, but, like, it’s a whole
mechanic of Demonic Pact, except you don’t have to do any work to get rid
of them and they have different payoffs and you can’t choose the order.
Okay, yeah, that’s a lot of exceptions, but that’s the one card in the game
that functions something like these; it’s an enchantment that offers a
variety of payoffs over the next three turns. Demonic Pact is a cool card
and all, but you have to build a really particular kind of deck to be in
the market for an effect that slow, so it seems weird to print a lot of
cards that do that. Again, some of them might be good. Demonic Pact saw
some play, and I’d be surprised if none of these do, but I’m not sure that
any of them will lead to a kind of Magic I want to play.

Basically, because they don’t do anything right away, they have to do
something extremely powerful over the course of the three turns they’re
around if you get to get fully paid for them, which I worry leads to
uninteresting games–either someone plays one and died in a turn or two, or
they get to do the whole thing and probably win. This seems particularly
problematic in Limited, where they might just be way too strong. Basically,
they’re hard to balance, like planeswalkers, except they have to do even
more because they wait a turn to do it and they’re harder to interact with,
all of which sounds pretty dangerous to me from a “fun” standpoint.

Ross Merriam:
Another aspect of cards I look at during preview season is immediate
impact. Any delay in a card’s effect on the game gives the opponent time to
prepare for it and thus, mitigate that effect. They can hold back a blocker
or removal spell for most creatures, but haste creatures require you to
preemptively prepare, which is a harder ask.

Sagas are a sweet design, but the fact that you have to wait one or two
turns for a payoff is a huge price. History of Benalia may look like 1WW
for two 2/2s and a one shot anthem effect, but its immediate impact is that
of a Grey Ogre, which seriously mitigates its potential, especially when
you’re behind.

A saga with a high impact immediately, like Fall of the Thran, is much more
exciting to me. I don’t want to cross my fingers that my opponent won’t
have an answer to my plan that’s face up on the table.

3. You wish they would have brought back Cycling instead of
Kicker in Dominaria.

Sam Black:
. Both are great mechanics that mitigate variance in Magic. Cycling (on
spells) lets you play fewer land, and kicker lets you play more. Given that
we see cycling a lot more than kicker, I think it’s fine to give kicker
another chance. Also, there’s a lot of space to do sweet things with the
kicker mechanic, given that a bunch of other mechanics (like entwine) are
just kicker but more narrow. Also, I think, as flavorless as kicker is,
it’s a better fit for this set that’s about big epic things, since kicker
lets you make your spells big, and I actually care about that kind of
stuff; the way mechanics play into the feel of a set, I think it really
does make it more fun for me if it can be kind of immersive in that way.

Ross Merriam:
Both mechanics are sweet because they are pure upside. All they do is add
another option to a card, and both help mitigate the negative effect of
mana flood. So I don’t have any particular bias of one over another.

Given that, I’d prefer to have more variety, and Cycling was recently
printed in Amonkhet block. I’m looking forward to the decisions of
when to play my card quickly and when to wait so I can kick it for more

4. Hexproof from [insert color here] is better than
Protection from [insert color here] for the health of

Sam Black:
I guess? I don’t know, the name sounds stupid enough to
bother me, but at least what it does is super clear, whereas protection is
just four different mechanics in one not particularly clear word that
doesn’t do everything people often think it would. Making the game less
confusing is definitely healthier, so I think it’s a win there, but then
the other question is basically whether having some creatures that some
decks can’t kill and that block very well against them is healthy, and,
there, probably not? The problem is that in general, protection creatures
are a little too low impact as sideboard cards, so it’s just a question of
whether their other stats and abilities make them playable if the
protections sometimes work, like Mirran and Phyrexian Crusader, and I think
that leads to the cards being annoyingly swingy and causing non-games.
They’re often particularly frustrating in Limited, so this is probably

Ross Merriam: Fact.
I guess?
Protection is a strange ability that is often difficult to understand for
newer players so I understand the desire to move away from it, but the idea
of putting Unholy Strength on your Knight of Grace doesn’t sit well with

Since my personal feelings about flavor don’t directly impact the health of
the game (for now) I’ll say fact, but this certainly isn’t my area of
expertise. My job is to make the game as unhealthy as possible with
powerful decks.

5. Llanowar Elves is the most powerful card that has been
previewed in Dominaria thus far.

Sam Black:
. This one’s weird. It really depends on how you interpret powerful; Mox
Amber is kind of directly more powerful, right? Think about Mox Opal. When
a Mox works, it’s pretty hard to beat, but obviously it needs a lot more to
go right in the format for it to be more playable than Llanowar Elves.
Llanowar Elves needs a good deck with like fourteen green sources, ideally
around 9-10 of which can enter the battlefield untapped on the first turn,
and ideally the deck will have some good three mana spells. That’s a very
easy set of conditions. Mox Amber needs a good deck with a lot of different
cheap legends in order to be more powerful. That’s a little less likely,
but it clearly has a higher ceiling. Is most powerful just the highest
impact? Impact on what? On a game or on the format? Either way, it’s still
tricky to measure, like, yes, if Llanowar Elves live and you’re basically a
turn ahead starting on turn 2, that’s actually a very large impact, so it’s
not like I’m trying to make the case that a 6/6 is going to be “higher
impact” just because it’s bigger; however, realistically, a lot of the time
The Scarab God will have bigger impact (I understand that that’s not in
this set, I’m just going with a familiar example of a high impact card
that’s very likely to swing a game). As for impact on the metagame, the
impact Llanowar Elves are capable of having are basically: more people play
green, more people play one mana removal, more people play sweepers, more
green decks play more three-drops and few two-drops. It will likely push
appreciably toward all of those things, but cheap removal is already very

My answer to this is going to be kind of a cop out; I think that when
everything’s settled, another card will end up warping the format more, but
here’s the trick – I’m not choosing one, in particular. I’m just saying
that I’d bet that a different card will end up being more impactful than
Llanowar Elves, so I think it’s not the most powerful, but I don’t know
which one is the most powerful yet. In a way, this is a dissatisfying
answer, but there’s a real point I want to make with it: I think we’re
biased to overestimating Llanowar Elves because we understand it, we know
it’s good, we know why, and we know what it’ll do. I could say Karn, Scion
of Urza is more powerful, and it might be, but it’s really hard for me to
evaluate. Llanowar Elves isn’t. I also think there’s a bit of rose-colored
glasses going on with it; we remember it being good and we know that
R&D stopped printing those things and we assume they did that for a
reason, so we assume it must be busted and it’s a big deal that it’s coming
back, but it really hasn’t been that long, and those cards are good, but
they’re not that good.

Ross Merriam:
Fact of Pure Wisdom and Truth.
Exhibit A.