Jousting With Dominaria

Though it has his beloved Elf, Merriam is taking things slow and steady with Dominaria! Some of this stuff is overrated, says he! Ross? Explain yourself at once!

I have a confession to make:

I’m not that excited about Dominaria.

And I don’t mean that in the bah humbug, I’m a scroogey old man who hates
fun and nostalgia kind of way. I actually am happy to see a return to the
plane that is more closely tied to Magic’s history than any other, see the
callbacks to days gone by and cards I used to play over a decade ago. I
just don’t see a lot to get excited about from a competitive standpoint.

Standard right now has some of the best answers it has had in years, so the
bar for entry into the format is quite high, and Modern’s is even higher.
I’ll admit that mechanics like sagas and legendary spells are somewhat
difficult to evaluate on paper, so I’m going to reserve final judgment
until I see them in action (you can find more detailed thoughts on these
cards in yesterday’s Fact or Fiction), but for now I don’t see many cards
jumping off the page demanding to be put into decks or have new decks built
around them.

Yes, yes, Llanowar Elves is coming back and that’s awesome, but I want
something more and so far I’m not seeing it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Finding completely new
shells or maximizing the most powerful cards is only one aspect of
evaluating a new set, albeit the most exciting. The more arduous but no
less rewarding work comes from finding the role players that overperform,
potentially elevating archetypes from tier two to tier one and taking
advantage of them while the metagame is unprepared.

One card that I think could fit the bill for that role is Knight of Grace.
The latest in a long line of White Knight clones, this one is a little less
powerful on the surface since hexproof from a color is strictly worse than
protection unless you’re looking to target your own creature, but for where
Standard currently sits I think it will do just fine.

Rivals of Ixalan Standard has been dominated by The Scarab God, which has
meant a significant rise in the prevalence of black removal, namely Fatal
Push, Vraska’s Contempt, and Moment of Craving. Those cards are great at
handling early aggressive creatures, but they all fail against Knight of
Grace, leaving you with a solid body that is very difficult to remove from
the battlefield, since the decks with The Scarab God are light on sweepers.

Previously, white aggressive decks utilized Adanto Vangaurd, a very
powerful two-drop that is good against the damage-based removal from red
but unfortunately lines up poorly against Moment of Craving, and should you
try to pump the card out of Moment’s range you run afoul of Vraska’s
Contempt. But the addition of Knight of Grace puts the opponent in an
awkward squeeze where their black removal answers one threat, but moving
toward red removal makes you vulnerable to the Vanguard. Yes, there will be
times where your opponent has the right removal spell and your cards will
look silly, but you’ll come out on the right end of the threat-answer
paradigm often enough to maintain a sizable advantage.

Here are three potential homes for Knight of Grace. First, W/U Auras.

Slapping auras onto a creature that is invulnerable to most spot removal is
an easy way to win games. We’ve seen it with hexproof creatures for years
now, much to the annoyance of Magic players everywhere. It’s not fancy, but
it wins games so I’m in. Even a single instance of +1/+1 on Knight of Grace
helps a lot since it will be able to survive cards like Magma Spray and
Shock and attack into Whirler Virtuoso.

Of course, should your opponent be Grixis Energy or some other deck with
red removal, it’s easy enough to focus your auras on Adanto Vanguard. The
squeeze of those two creatures is exacerbated by the auras deck because you
get to choose which creature to invest in and make important. They may
answer your other creatures easily, but the giant flying one that draws
cards will take over the game nonetheless.

Some W/U Auras decks have recently taken to raising the curve with cards
like Aetherpshere Harvester and Sram’s Expertise, but with Dominaria I
think you can go to a more aggressive game plan. Not only does Knight of
Grace give you another excellent cheap target for Auras, the new one drop,
Dauntless Bodyguard, is a perfect complement to Skymarcher Aspirant and
Legion’s Landing, since later in the game it also acts as a protection
spell for your most important creature.

This deck is now capable of very aggressive starts that immediately force
the opponent to react, at which point you can gauge what’s left in their
hand and go all-in on your best creature to finish the job.

One card that is noticeably absent is Danitha Capashen, Paragon. For an
aggressive Auras deck you’d think this would be an auto-include, but with
only five cards in the main deck (and two in the sideboard) that it makes
cheaper and a body that, while attractive to pump up given keywords, is
vulnerable to virtually every removal spell in the format. There may be a
way to rebuild the deck in order to go bigger with Danitha, but I don’t see
that avenue paying off the way a sleek aggressive shell can.

I’m worried about this deck’s mana, as I am with any two-color aggressive
shell in Standard, but the additions from Dominaria have made the deck much
more white-centric, allowing me to shave a dual land that enters the
battlefield tapped for the reliability of basic Plains. It’s possible that
you could go further away from Irrigated Farmland, but I don’t want to push
too far because blue mana is important in sideboard games when you bring in

Of course, if you want the best possible mana, you can get rid of the
second color entirely and play the Craig Wescoe special:

The main benefit of sticking to white is the very powerful Benalish
Marshal. As a three-power creature for three mana, it’s somewhat weak to
Abrade and Harnessed Lightning, but it’s going to be tough to answer with
the cheaper black removal, and if it stays on the battlefield for any
length of time, combat is going to be a breeze. The fact that it affects
all your other creatures, not just Knights, and isn’t legendary means
maxing out on them isn’t a problem and the two Servo generators, Servo
Exhibition and Sram’s Expertise, are an easy pairing.

Benalish Marshal also benefits from the additional one-drop, giving the
deck access to draws where you play three one-drops on the first two turns
and follow it up with a creature that is effectively worth six power with
three of it having haste. The pairing of Adanto Vanguard and Knight of
Grace simply rounds out the threat base as the most efficient two-drops

The token theme of this deck also makes it an easy showcase for History of
Benalia. Getting a 2/2 vigilance token for three mana isn’t a great initial
rate, but the total package has a lot of value, especially with twelve
other Knights in the deck. Your most explosive draws will end the game on
turn 4, but this card can easily end it on turn 5 while offering added
resilience to removal. I see games often playing out where the threat of
its third trigger forces your opponent to use their removal suboptimally,
letting your better threats survive into the midgame and finish them off
before they can recover.

Of course, the downside of sticking to only one color is having a
relatively weak sideboard. It’s mostly different removal spells even though
you don’t want to bring in too many for any particular matchup, so you’re
only making minor upgrades in most cases. Dusk is a powerful tool but not
great in this exact deck given the number of token generators, but I think
it’s good to have a way to get through a couple large creatures at once,
especially against Sultai Constrictor.

And finally, W/G Aggro:

This is the most powerful shell for Knight of Grace, but also the least
natural, because the deck already has a plethora of two-drops. Adorned
Pouncer is too good with Appeal to cut and Merfolk Branchwalker is
important for hitting additional land drops, so the numbers are fudged to
start out and will likely move around some as the new list takes shape, but
having another good target for Appeal in the face of removal is great, and
the card can reliably crew Aethersphere Harvester against black decks so I
think it’s worth a shot.

I also particularly like History of Benalia in this list because you’re
often trying to set up one big turn where Authority clears the way for a
game-winning attack. Turn 5 is the perfect turn for that too since it
immediately follows Sram’s Expertise. Having a powerful white three-drop
also lets the deck cut Jadelight Ranger, which while powerful is very
awkward on the mana. By reducing green to a splash color, I’m able to move
to a much more consistent manabase with eighteen white sources and fourteen
green, just enough to reasonably cast Carnage Tyrant in sideboard games
against control decks.

I’d love to incorporate Fall of the Thran into these decks because
Armageddon is among my favorite cards ever, but six mana just seems too
pricy to me. I’m trying to end the game on turn 5 or 6 before Torrential
Gearhulk rears its ugly head or The Scarab God starts making a horde of
Zombies. Maybe there’s something with Chandra, Torch of Defiance to let you
recover faster from the sweeper and potentially activate Scavenger Grounds
before any lands start returning, but that’s a brew for another day.

I’m optimistic that Dominaria will yield some cards that do more than
update existing archetypes and really shake the stranglehold The Scarab God
has on the format, but it’s only one set, and it’s rare that we see a
single set reshape a format. That said, the move toward single-set blocks
will likely result in more powerful sets overall, since nothing needs to be
held back for the sequel sets, so I’m wondering if we’re about to shift
into a new era of Standard where significant changes happen every three
months, which would be an absolute delight.