Domri And Dinosaurs In New Standard

Ross Merriam knows a bit about what a Domri can do to a battlefield! He’s putting together the kind of ramp archetype that is overdue for a Standard showing! Please, please let this strategy be real!

Domri Rade is one of my favorite cards of all time. In fact, I owe it a
large debt of gratitude since it was a key component of a deck I used to
make my first Star City Games Invitational Top 8:

The Top 8 of that Invitational was played with the Legacy format, which led
to my reputation as an Elves guy, but it was Domri Rade and company that
did the heavy lifting for me during the Swiss rounds, where I finished 7-1
in Standard and only 5-3 in Legacy. Playing Domri Rade required a very high
creature count so its +1 ability drew a card as often as possible and the
-2 ability always had a solid body to throw around the battlefield, but it
was a powerful enough to make the deckbuilding restriction worthwhile.

With Magic’s latest return to Ravnica, we also have a return of Domri into
Standard, and the result is, in a word, Gruul:

One of the first tests of a planeswalker is whether or not it defends
itself. At first glance it appears Domri, Chaos Bringer fails that test,
since neither of its first two abilities affect the battlefield. But as
we’ve learned with Karn, Scion of Urza, it’s really hard to attack down a
planeswalker that starts on five loyalty. If your opponent can cleanly
attack with six power of creatures, something is going horribly wrong, so I
wouldn’t worry about Domri not being able to generate a token or clear away
an attacker. Chances are you’re going to be able to untap with it if you
want to.

Now, let’s look at the abilities. Domri Rade wanted to play with big
creatures so as to maximize its fight ability. The affinity for bigguns
hasn’t changed with this latest iteration, but Domri, Chaos Bringer wants
to help get those creatures into battle as quickly as possible by giving
you the mana to cast them below curve and granting them riot to get the
attacking started right away or prep them for combat with a more formidable

As far as which big creatures to pair with Domri, there’s one obvious
answer. At four mana, Domri sets you up to untap, play a fifth land, add a
mana with its +1, and cast a six-drop. Anyone, top of your head, know of a
powerful six-mana creature in Gruul colors that wouldn’t mind gaining riot?

One of the bogeymen of Standard, Carnage Tyrant is the perfect pairing with
Domri, Chaos Bringer. They fit on curve with each other, and Carnage Tyrant
being nearly impossible to interact with outside of combat makes it a great
card to build towards. The worst case scenario for Domri is to untap with
it, slam a creature, and have all your hard work undone by a single removal
or counter spell, but that’s never going to happen with ole Carny T around
running the ferris wheel. You can jam with the same reckless abandon that
the Gruul clan has been known for for generations.

Another great pairing with Domri is Ravager Wurm. The deckbuilding
restriction that Domri imposes makes it difficult to include a lot of
interaction. Domri Rade overcame this with its -2 acting as much needed
removal. Domri, Chaos Bringer doesn’t have that luxury so finding creatures
with built-in removal is important. This lets you not only answer key
threats on the other side of the battlefield but also dig for them with the
-3 ability. Ravager Wurm is great in this role since it fights well, and
can even answer problematic lands when there’s no creature to fight, most
notably Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. Oh, and if you ever destroy a land to
take your opponent off of a key Settle the Wreckage then Magic law states
that they have to retire. There’s no coming back from that beating.

Ravager Wurm looks even better when considered in the context of the
current Standard format. Multiple instances of riot on the same creature
will act cumulatively, meaning you get to make the choice for each instance
and gain multiple +1/+1 counters, or haste and a +1/+1 counter on a single
creature. For Ravager Wurm, that second instance is going to be very
important, because at 4/5, it’s just small enough to get eaten by both
Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Lyra Dawnbringer, so to fight these creatures you
have to choose the +1/+1 counter over haste with riot.

That’s a choice you’ll be happy to make, since answering your opponent’s
large creature while also casting one of your own is a significant tempo
swing, but with Domri you get to have your cake and eat it too, giving
Ravager Wurm haste in addition to +1/+1 to also get in a big attack or
answer a planeswalker. Domri wants to play haymaker Magic, and Ravager Wurm
is one heck of a haymaker.

Next, consider Domri’s -3 ability. Drawing multiple cards is quite rare for
a single planeswalker activation, especially at four mana. In fact, it’s
only the second such instance in Magic’s history, with the first being
Jace, Architect of Thought, a card that was a staple for much of its time
in Standard. And while Jace’s -2 ability often brought you the two worst
cards among the top three, Domri is often getting two of the best cards
among the top four. Unfortunately, Domri doesn’t have quite enough loyalty
to use its -3 ability on consecutive turns like Jace could, but leaving
itself on two loyalty is very important in a format containing Goblin

But just how many cards can we expect to draw off of a Domri activation? A
little visit with our old friend the

Hypergeometric Distribution

yields the following result:

# of Creatures 0 Creatures 1 Creature 2+ Creatures Expected Value
26 9.0% 31.2% 59.8% 1.51
28 6.9% 27.7% 65.4% 1.59
30 5.2% 24.1% 70.7% 1.66
32 3.9% 20.6% 75.6% 1.72
34 2.8% 17.2% 80.0% 1.77

Note: For those of you who want to check my work, I used 59 as a deck
size to adjust for the fact that the Domri being activated is not in
the deck. Further adjustments could be made to account for the lands
used to cast Domri, but given the existence of mana creatures like
Llanowar Elves I didn’t feel comfortable doing so. In any case the
differences are going to be quite small.

So with a relatively high creature count, we can expect to draw somewhere
between 1.5 and 1.75 cards from a single activation, while hitting two
creatures more often than not. That’s a pretty good haul if you have the
battlefield presence to defend Domri from an attack, as it leaves you
significantly ahead against a Vraska’s Contempt or Conclave Tribunal.

If you’re concerned that the ability is overrated by these numbers because
you’re often going to hit low impact creatures like Llanowar Elves and the
like, keep in mind that to consistently hit one significant creature,
you’ll want about fifteen of them, so even if half of the above creature
counts are one- and two-drops, you’re likely hitting something useful with
additional value tacked on.

To help mitigate this issue, you should look to utilize cheap creatures
that scale effectively into the late game. Thorn Lieutenant is a good
example in the existing format, and from Ravnica Allegiance we’re
gaining Growth-Chamber Guardian, a powerful card in its own right that I’d
be more than to find with Domri. Guardian synergizes nicely with riot from
Domri’s +1, since its ability triggers off of any +1/+1 counter, not just
those granted via adapt, so with riot you can cast it as a 3/3 and
immediately get another copy without investing any extra mana.

Moving on, like most planeswalkers, Domri has an ultimate, and like most
planeswalkers, it’s not particularly relevant. The one thing I look for is
whether or not it’s likely to be game-ending, and while creating a 4/4
token with trample every turn won’t end the game immediately, it’s going to
be tough to beat for most decks. So even though Domri’s +1 isn’t gaining
card advantage by itself, it does apply a clock of sorts to the opponent,
forcing them to answer it or die.

And lastly, when evaluating a planeswalker, I like to look at what the most
common play pattern with the card will see, to both see if there’s a
natural progression in its abilities and then build towards that
progression. I noted earlier that Domri, Chaos Bringer can’t use its -3
ability twice in a row like Jace, Architect of Thought, but that’s not a
significant issue since once you use its ability once, you should have a
hand with several good cards to cast. At that point Domri’s +1 ability
allows you to quickly deploy those extra cards while also setting up for
another -3 to reload and keep up the pressure.

Enabling that -3, +1, -3 sequence is going to be important for making Domri
work and since the initial -3 leaves it vulnerable, you’re going to have to
either protect it in combat with cheap blockers or quickly ramp into it
before your opponent can commit enough creatures to attack it to death.
Keeping that in mind, let’s look at some sample lists featuring the card.
First, a straightforward Gruul shell:

This deck is largely inspired by the list shown in the beginning of this
article, though there isn’t a secondary mana creature on the power level of
Gyre Sage, so I’ve opted for a less ramp-oriented and more
beatdown-oriented approach. The presence of both Gruul Spellbreaker and
Rhythm of the Wild, among the more powerful Gruul cards previewed thus far,
support that shift in focus while providing excellent three-drops to pair
with Llanowar Elves.

At 29 creatures this list is in the middle of my desired range, though
utilizing Rhythm of the Wild, a non-removal spell in the previous
non-creature slots is a significant cost. Because of that I went fully with
Ravager Wurm in the maindeck and Carnage Tyrant in the sideboard for
control, a swap that is helped out by Rhythm already providing protection
from counterspells. I also included three copies of Territorial Allosaurus
for additional removal, though we’re relying heavily on early blockers to
stem the bleeding against aggressive decks.

District Guide is the card that ties the whole room together, much like
Borderland Ranger did for me in 2013. This deck doesn’t have a lot of
acceleration, so it needs to hit its land drops to cast spells on time, and
at only 24 lands to keep the creature count high, you’re going to need some
help. Jadelight Ranger has been the main player in that role in Standard,
but that’s in large part due to its synergy with Wildgrowth Walker. We’re
not interested in a full explore package here, so the simplicity and
consistency of District Guide wins out. With all the mana sinks in this
deck I could see a 25th land, but I’m erring on the greedy side to maximize
the potential of Domri.

For the second list, I wanted to revisit one of the forgotten tribes of Ixalan, and with Domri leading the charge that means Dinosaurs:

Thunderherd Migration is a card I’ve had my eye on for a while now since
Rampant Growth has been correctly deemed to be too good for Standard. It
would make a perfect secondary ramp card next to Llanowar Elves to power
out both Domri and the big creatures he allies himself with, so I started
from the goal toward maximizing it. Thrashing Brontodon, Regisaur Alpha,
and Carnage Tyrant form a solid shell of Dinosaurs to build around, but
it’s just a touch short of fully enabling the ramp spell.

The issue from here is that many of the other good Dinosaurs are expensive,
and you can’t raise your curve too high, but Domri helps to cast those more
expensive creatures. I like Burning Sun’s Avatar as another source of
removal and a great creature to grant haste with riot and Deathgorge
Scavenger, which can stave off aggressive decks early and turn a race
around rather quickly when granted haste since you can gain four life in
one turn.

One of the other issues with enabling a card like Domri that requires a
high creature count is sideboarding. Sideboards tend to be filled with
narrow answers for specific problems, and that means they are rather
spell-heavy. This means post-sideboard configurations naturally make Domri
less effective, and it’s those slower games where its -3 is going to be
most necessary. Therefore we want to find creatures that can serve similar

Kraul Harpooner is great for answering various Drakes, Niv-Mizzet, Parun,
and Lyra Dawnbringer, where Raptor Hatchling is the perfect speed bump
against aggressive decks, often threatening to trade for a creature and
leave a 3/3 body behind. In this list it’s particularly important because
you’ll want to cut down on several of the high end Dinosaurs in this
matchup, so Raptor Hatchling keeps your Dinosaur count high enough for
Thunderherd Migration. I suspect you’ll often want to sequence the Raptor
Hatchling first and follow it up with a full cost ramp spell, but it’s
still important to have the option to play in either order.

As a four-mana planeswalker that doesn’t affect the battlefield, there’s
some worry that Domri, Chaos Bringer won’t live up to the legacy of its
cheaper predecessor. After all, Karn, Scion of Urza received plenty of hype
during Dominaria preview season only to be relegated to role
player status as the format took shape, and it didn’t require nearly the
deckbuilding commitment.

That said, the ability to draw multiple spells immediately is more powerful
than anything Karn does, and immediate return is king in Magic. I don’t
think the new iteration is quite as powerful as the original, but it’s a
more than worthy successor to lead the Gruul clan.