Dominaria’s Greatest Hits

Infinite combo? Why not! Dominaria has it all! But what exactly is the cream of Magic’s newest crop? Ben Friedman ranks his picks for the ten best and provides some wild tech in the process!

I was close,
but off by one place…

Turns out God-Pharaoh’s Gift was only good enough to place three people in
the top 8 of Grand Prix Seattle last weekend, with Gan Yan and Mono-Red
Aggro slicing through the combo decks like a hot knife through butter. I’ll
chalk it up as a partial victory, even though I was personally stuck with a
middle-of-the-pack 11-4 finish. The deck performed admirably, and it made
up a massive percentage of the top of the field relative to its starting
metagame penetration, but Mono-Red can be a tough nut to crack.

The larger lesson, though, is that God-Pharaoh’s Gift is incredibly
powerful in concert with a number of potent creatures in the format, and a
low-curve aggressive deck with a combo top-end and the inability to flood
due to amazing card selection and mana sinks is always going to toe the
line between “good” and “busted.” Of course, this bodes well for brewing
with Dominaria, as Llanowar Elves is, as we discussed briefly last
week, basically everything Gate to the Afterlife ever wanted. Sultai Energy
Gift, R/G Gift, Bant Gift, and/or Temur Gift are going to be insanely
powerful going forward, and I expect Pro Tour Dominaria to be
dominated by those decks, Karn-du Vehicles, and Ol’ Reliable: Mono-Red.

Since last week’s article gave some shells for Temur and Sultai Gift, I
want to take a very brief look this week at Bant Gift, which benefits from
lots of semi-mirror hate cards while giving up the card advantage and
velocity that comes with Bomat Courier or Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Add it to
your mental repository of Gift variants that you can play should the
metagame get really weird.

Gate to the Afterlife, much like Birthing Pod, benefits every time powerful
cheap creatures are added to the format. The difference is that while
Birthing Pod synergized magnificently with persist creatures and those with
enters-the-battlefield triggers, Gate synergizes with cheap,
battlefield-filling creatures, especially those with sacrifice abilities.
Walking Ballista, Bomat Courier, and Fanatical Firebrand all push Gate to
the limit, functioning as reasonable creatures when combined with Warkite
Marauder that also quickly flip the Gate into God-Pharaoh’s Gift at will.
This is not to say that God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks with potent creatures with
immediate effects, like Glorybringer or Hostage Taker, aren’t also strong,
just that there is special synergy with these sacrificial lambs. For
example, expect Thrashing Brontodon in green Gift decks to become
absolutely bananas after Dominaria, as the main-deckable source of
semi-mirror hate is well worth the space now that there’s a compelling
reason to play green.

Clearly, with Llanowar Elves and Karn, Scion of Urza easily taking up the
#1 and #2 spots on any serious “Top Ten of Dominaria” list, the next
question is obvious. What comes after these format movers and shakers? The
next place to look is Modern.

Damping Sphere is the most powerful sideboard card Modern has seen in a
long, long time. It’s better than Rest in Peace. Better than Stony Silence.
The fact that this hate piece crosses two major format boogeymen off the
list while going easily in any sideboard means that Modern is about to
change in a big way. Fair decks are getting better with every multifaceted
answer and hate piece printed, as they multiply virtual sideboard slots by
taking the place of two or more cards previously needed. You’ll see U/W/x
sideboards with a handful of Damping Spheres, Stony Silences, and Rest in
Peaces that can then devote their other six or seven slots to a few removal
spells and counterspells and attempt to cover all their bases. Grixis decks
now no longer need to play Fulminator Mage or Spreading Seas + Field of
Ruin to ensure a reasonable matchup against Tron.

Biggest winners? Jund, Grixis, U/W, Affinity, Hollow One, Scapeshift, and
Lantern. Biggest losers? Storm (duh), Tron (duh), Spreading Seas, and
Fulminator Mage. It will be interesting to watch the format move around
those new pressures created by ubiquitous hate for two of the most powerful
poles of the format.

Obviously the high-impact list for Modern drops off sharply after that
doozy, but there are still powerful cards that demand attention. Mox Amber,
of course, offers enough incentive to build around it that many will likely
try to make it work in a Baral, Chief of Compliance deck or Wizard tribal
deck. Goblin Warchief and Skirk Prospector are bringing the band back
together to see if a turbo-Goblins deck is possible. Just give them Goblin
Ringleader and we’ll be off to the races, I tell ya! Speaking of Goblins,
Squee, the Immortal offers bold new opportunities for Serum Powder or Skred
Red decks of all stripes, and I shudder at the thought of being killed bit
by bit with a Squee while I’m locked out under Blood Moon.

On a more serious note, Goblin Chainwhirler is the actual best Goblin in
the set for purposes of contemporary competitive play (sorry, Warchief). In
case you missed the first few paragraphs of glowing praise for Gate to the
Afterlife decks, well, they’re here and they look like they’ll be very
powerful going forward. Chainwhirler is powerful enough to make me question
why R&D saw fit to ban Rampaging Ferocidon if they were immediately
going to print a similarly potent card for bashing tokens decks and
God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks. This card is out there killing opposing Llanowar
Elves, Glint-Sleeve Siphoners, Champions of Wits, small Walking Ballistas,
Combat Celebrants, Bomat Couriers, Fanatical Firebrands, and (of course)
the Vampire and/or Servo tokens in any good W/x token deck. At a certain
point, it almost seems unfair that this card hit the printing presses at
all. After Llanowar Elves, Karn, and Damping Sphere, Chainwhirler is the
next obvious powerhouse in Dominaria.

Then there are a few neat homages that could influence Modern or Standard
depending on what co-stars they find to work with. Unwind is halfway
between Negate and Rewind, with excellent applications for flash-based
Wizards decks in Standard and Modern. Divest makes Ostracize blush (as if
Despise didn’t already embarrass the Urza’s Saga black sheep
enough). Zhalfirin Void offers incredible card selection to decks like
Eldrazi Tron and Colorless Eldrazi while paying homage to the cycle of
Temples from Theros.

The Antiquities War is sort of like a
Tezzeret that offers Lantern Control decks a cool new sideboard option for
odd matchups where they’ll have to turn their collection of trinkets and
cogs into an imposing metallic army to win.

Few of these cards, however, stand much of a chance of reaching the
winner’s circle of top cards in Dominaria. One of the long shots
that could truly mess up the Standard metagame is an innocuous 3/3 flash
creature with a wacky ability, one that combines with an even wackier
instant from Kaladesh to draw your entire deck.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say that you’re playing a strange U/W/R Flash
Wizards deck in Standard. You’ve got some countermagic, maybe some Siren
Stormtamer, Sunscourge Champion, Merfolk Trickster, maybe Nimble
Obstructionist (gotta hate on those Gate activations!) and hopefully a crew
of solid one- and two-mana creatures that we’ve yet to see from Dominaria. Your opponent, on their turn, does something awfully
foolish. They tap out for a Glorybringer, sending in their team and
exerting their Dragon to try to finish the game.

Time to draw your deck.

You cast Acrobatic Maneuver targeting any random creature, then hold
priority and cast Naru Meha, Master Wizard. You copy Acrobatic Maneuver.
You target Naru Meha with the copy. Naru Meha leaves, then re-enters the
battlefield. You draw a card. Naru Meha re-triggers upon re-entering the
battlefield, and copies the original Acrobatic Maneuver, still conveniently
located on the stack. It’s time to loop and draw as many cards as we want!
In this case, it should be about twenty. For style points, you untap and
show them a Fateful Showdown, doming them for twenty while drawing just
enough cards to not deck yourself. You smile a big toothy grin as you
chuckle. Your opponent sees that they have lost. They leave the tournament
hall in shame, cursing themselves for losing to what they see as a “meme

Okay, so it’s not actually busting any doors down, this seven-mana combo
that requires you to build your deck with Fateful Showdown and three
colors. Even a two-color version dedicated to this combo isn’t likely to
take home Pro Tour Dominaria’s trophy (although we can all hope…)
What we can see is that, provided there is enough flashy support for
Wizards as a tribe, there’s an unappreciated angle of attack that should
not go unnoticed in whatever Wizards deck does end up coming out of Dominaria. And we all know that surprise angles of attack are what
often turn flash decks from reject to first-pick in a matter of days.

Back in the world of the Magic realist, there are a few clear staples that
will undoubtedly make an impact on Standard, and they are the serious
choices to round out Dominaria’s Top Ten Greatest Hits. #1-4 are,
to reiterate, Llanowar Elves, Karn, Scion of Urza, Damping Sphere, and
Goblin Chainwhirler. Next are the Innistrad enemy-color dual
lands, which
Owen Turtenwald has written about
in an enlightening piece with more detail than I could have properly
included. Suffice it to say, the mana makes the man, and Owen wouldn’t be
the Hall of Famer he is today without knowing his way around the factors
that make or break a manabase.

#6 must go to Cast Down. Hero’s Demise’s evil twin, Cast Down is worse in
this Standard than it would otherwise be, due to the presence of several
potent legendary creatures at the top of the power curve. However, in
Modern, Cast Down kills almost everything you could want, making it the
removal spell of choice for decks that were dipping as low as Go for the
Throat to get a pseudo-Terminate. Gurmag Angler, Death’s Shadow, Mantis
Rider, Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Steel Overseer, the list goes on and on
and on. Aside from Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Baral, Chief of Compliance;
and Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Cast Down kills most everything a Modern
player could want. It’s going to be a nice pickup when you’re in the market
for that effect without splashing Red.

#7 on the list of most impactful cards in the set is Yawgmoth’s Vile
Offering, which offers insane card advantage and tempo advantage in one
package. If you can, try to live the dream of a turn-2 Baral followed by a
Mox Amber, followed by a cheap counterspell to loot away a Nicol Bolas,
God-Pharaoh, followed by a turn-3 Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering to reanimate the
most powerful Planeswalker ever and shatter your opponent’s hopes and
dreams. Talk about value!

#8 on the list is the card that is most likely to enable the busted opening
for Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering, a flexible counterspell that Standard
definitely needed: Syncopate. Essence Scatter and Negate are adequate, but
Syncopate is flexible and provides some incidental graveyard hate, which is
useful in an age where the dead seem to be getting reanimated as mummies
more and more often.

#9 is where we get silly again. Paradox Engine needed a new friend, and
Gilded Lotus is just the artifact for the job. I’m no artificer, but
Foundry Inspector seems to be lonely, and Powerstone Shards and Gilded
Lotuses are just itching to be turned into an infinite mana combo. I’ll
leave the details to the interns.

And then we get to #10, History of Benalia. Sometimes you have to channel
your inner Craig Wescoe and fall in love with Mono-White Aggro once in a
while. Print me a Knight with protection from red or even hexproof from
red, Wizards! I would be thrilled to play a Wescoe deck at the Pro Tour,
and there are just enough pieces in Dominaria to tempt me with the

Look. I’m generally a skeptic when it comes to new cards. I looked at Ixalan and thought the print sheet had been mixed up with a new
casual Commander product. Ditto when Rivals of Ixalan came around.
We’ve been getting rocked by Amonkhet and Kaladesh bombs
for so long now, it began to feel like nothing would change in Standard
until rotation in October. Take it from a skeptic: Dominaria will
shake things up. Let’s just hope all that shaking leaves us with a dynamic
Standard format, preferably one where I can reanimate a bunch of angry
Combat Celebrants on the fourth turn.