This is not the same format we’ll be playing next month…
Oh, the cards that are legal will be the same…
…but the rules are going to be totally different.
Dominaria Standard is extremely fresh, exciting, and rapidly evolving. Opening weekend was marked by the dominance of two major pillars of the format that are unlikely to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Llanowar Elves and Lyra Dawnbringer are functional reprints of two all-time classics, Fyndhorn Elves and Baneslayer Angel. They dominated back in their respective eras, and they’ve wasted no time taking back the spotlight. They’re hardly the only cards making waves in Dominaria, however.
This set is crazy awesome, but that was only the beginning. Just to take a quick look at the Standard portion of this past weekend’s SCG Baltimore Team Constructed Open, there were twelve individual archetypes represented among the 28 players. Those twelve archetypes can be neatly divided into four macro-styles of play, each defined by a key card.
Day 2 of the Standard portion of the SCG Baltimore Team Open:
Day 2 Metagame
This isn’t to suggest Lyra Dawnbringer wasn’t a defining force of SCG Baltimore. In fact, she was nearly twice as popular as these cards. She is so popular, in fact, that you can’t really glean all that much from her presence. Fast or slow, maindeck or sideboard, control or aggro, she’s showing up just about everywhere Plains can be found.
And she’s just getting started.
This style of U/W Control burst onto the scene last week (with the main question being whether to use History of Benalia or not). It has continued to enjoy success throughout the week, and mutations have been starting to pop up. For instance, thesmilingdragon merged it with a The Scarab God / Champion of Wits package, 5-0’ing a Magic Online League with this monstrosity:
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 2 The Scarab God
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 2 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 3 Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage
- 1 Glimmer of Genius
- 2 Fatal Push
- 2 Cast Out
- 1 Commit
- 2 Vraska's Contempt
- 3 History of Benalia
- 2 Seal Away
- 2 Wizard's Retort
- 2 Cast Down
There’s a certain arrogance needed to rock Wizard’s Retort, History of Benalia, and Vraska’s Contempt all side-by-side.
Champion of Wits is a pretty sweet Wizard to power up Wizard’s Retort, however. Besides, I must imagine that Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage granting The Scarab God flash can lead to some pretty devastating combats. The Scarab God is a very powerful thing to add to your deck, but I wonder…
…are we really willing to sacrifice mana consistency for even more power? I mean, we’ve literally got Lyra Dawnbringer and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria at the five already. Is The Scarab God really that much better than another Lyra Dawnbringer or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria?
In fact, we’ve actually got so much power, I wonder about playing fewer colors, not more. You see, I started by trying to emphasize the cards I liked most in U/W Control, but the more I made adjustments, the more a particular picture started to emerge.
You see, I’m a big fan of History of Benalia as well as Lyra, and that’s to say nothing of the planeswalkers. There are just so many awesome proactive threats that I keep wanting to make the deck more and more tapout. Of course, once you’re cutting Torrential Gearhulk, you’ve got to ask yourself if you’re sure you want to be playing blue. For instance:
These are such impressive threats, why bother playing counterspells when we could just be tapping out for these cards?
Karn, Scion of Urza is just an absolute beast, and while he’s not nearly as bad with counterspells as Chandra, he’s not at his best alongside them. Formats also tend to get weird when a colorless card is pushed extremely hard.
But whatever, I’m sure it’ll all work out. What’s the worst that could happen?
Karn is so sick, he’s actually starting to displace Tezzeret the Schemer in actual Tezzeret decks.
For instance, here’s a Grixis Tezzeret list featuring only a single copy of its namesake:
This style of deck was already close, and the printing of Karn is more than they ever dreamt to ask for. While Karn is generally pretty good at drawing cards, it’s the -2 ability that really shines here. With so many cheap artifacts, it’s not hard to start cranking out 5/5s and exerting a huge battlefield presence.
Navigator’s Compass is pretty brilliant here. While it doesn’t sacrifice to draw a card, like so many other options would, this list wants to improvise pretty hard. To do that, needs a critical mass of artifacts on the battlefield. In exchange for giving up the flexibility we might find in Implements of Combustion, we get a nice life boost and a manabase that hardly ever plays tapped lands, at least compared to most Grixis decks. We even get to soft-splash the fourth color, giving us the white mana to sacrifice Cogworker’s Puzzleknot.
I wonder if more decks should be incorporating the Navigator’s Compass? And I’m talking more than just Tezzeret decks, although I’m particularly interested in trying it in a The Antiquities War deck, like the one piloted by Vanon this past week.
The Antiquities War needs a bunch of artifacts on the battlefield in order for Chapter Three to be game-winning.
The above list has so many twos, and besides, if we start reliably casting an artifact on Turn 1, what does that do to the value of Metallic Rebuke? I’m guessing we’re still interested in tapping out for an artifact on Turn 2 and saving the Rebuke nine times out of ten, but I do wonder…
While we’re considering Navigator’s Compass, I could see it being a part of an Inspiring Statuary-based strategy, powering out something awesome at six (like, I dunno… Lich’s Mastery?). It’s also a respectable way to help make Battle at the Bridge a worthwhile early-game play that turns into “game over” when it draws seven new cards.
The black Plague Wind, Phyrexian Scriptures can really slow down decks built around Steel Leaf Champion or Benalish Marshal. My biggest concern, however, is that those two colors are the exact two that are going to be sideboarding in Invoke the Divine or Appetite for the Unnatural anyway. They’re not going to want to lose to The Antiquities War, and I suspect the splash damage may dampen our interest in Phyrexian Scriptures.
While Cast Down can’t do anything about Lyra Dawnbringer or The Scarab God, it’s still a very efficient piece of removal for helping buy some time against most aggro decks.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter
- 1 Servant of the Conduit
- 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Thrashing Brontodon
- 3 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 2 Shanna, Sisay's Legacy
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Most aggro decks.
Obviously it has a lot of value against Goblin Chainwhirler and Steel Leaf Champion decks, but there are also a variety of new aggro decks all over the place, such as:
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 4 Kumena's Speaker
- 2 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
- 4 Merfolk Mistbinder
- 4 Deeproot Elite
- 4 Mist-Cloaked Herald
- 4 Merfolk Trickster
The printing of Hinterland Harbor would already be revolutionary for U/G Merfolk, but we even get to add Merfolk Trickster, giving us a lot more of a tempo feel, alongside Expel from Orazca.
Merfolk Trickster on the heels of Warkite Marauder indicates an interesting shift in blue’s color pie, or at least which blue cards are getting that extra boost to get them over the line.
These are some really cool and really tricky threats that are already showing up in lots of places but could easily be core to several new decks that haven’t been invented yet. For instance, maybe we’re losing too much from giving up green, but what about:
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 2 Kopala, Warden of Waves
- 1 Siren Stormtamer
- 1 Seafloor Oracle
- 4 Merfolk Mistbinder
- 4 Warkite Marauder
- 4 Mist-Cloaked Herald
- 4 Merfolk Trickster
- 1 Naru Meha, Master Wizard
We haven’t had such good blue tempo creatures recently, aside from various threats with flash. I’m not sure we’ve totally cracked the code yet on how to best leverage them.
Lich’s Mastery and 75 Ways to Gain Life With It
Okay, okay, enough fun and games.
The question of whether to build around Mono-Black or whether to focus on B/W is an interesting one. The last time we were faced with such a dilemma, both did well, but Mono-Black Devotion is remembered for dominating yet another format at Pro Tour Theros.
New tools for Mono-Black Control pop up basically every other year, and while there is a meme that Mono-Black Control never works out, it obviously does, as demonstrated by the aforementioned archetype, discussed by Gerry Thompson in his article “The Best Deck After Pro Tour Theros.”
Man, the things I would do with a Whip of Erebos…
…but here’s what we do have.
While we can probably do better, I’m especially into lifelink threats that let us drop Lich’s Mastery and immediately draw cards without any additional mana. Aerial Responder even plays defense right after.
A potential combo kill engine. There are a lot of bad ways to build Aetherflux Reservoir / Lich’s Mastery decks. Is there also a broken one? You can combo with cost reduction cards like Foundry Inspector or Jhoira’s Familiar to make a bunch of one-cost artifacts into zero-cost cards that draw progressively more cards. Alternatively, you could just aim to bounce lots of artifacts back to your hand with Paradoxical Outcome and win that way.
Just a good solid card, Aethersphere Harvester can also get fancy if paired with Trophy Mage in some kind of a Gate to the Afterlife build.
Speaking of Gate to the Afterlife…
Anointer Priest makes every single token-maker into a draw spell. That’s a really exciting way to go over the top with a W/B Tokens deck, though Lich’s Mastery is competing with Vraska, Relic Seeker on the splash.
An absolutely devastating combo with Lich’s Mastery, Approach of the Second Sun not only draws seven cards, but one of those cards is the original copy. This means you’re threatening game over next turn, and if you happen to have seven more mana, you could even just win on the spot. Even if you do have to ship the turn, however, Lich’s Mastery might make you a lot harder to kill on their turn.
Okay, it’s not as flashy as Lyra Dawnbringer, but Arborback Stomper does a respectable job helping bridge to Lich’s Mastery and draws enough cards to basically make it game over. We’re probably going to get more out of our five-slot, but this one isn’t out of the question for a green deck.
The Vampire Blightning has extra purpose when it’s helping fuel Lich’s Mastery. It’s not like the card was far off to begin with.
I doubt we’ll end up with enough legendary creatures to make Arvad worth it, but if we’re playing Board the Weatherlight, it might be worth a second look.
Already one of the best sideboard cards in the format and a potential maindeck inclusion, Authority of the Consuls takes on new meaning with Lich’s Mastery. It’s not nearly as explosive as some options, but if we’re just trying to grind someone out, it might be part of a winning combination.
Axis of Mortality is really cool with Lich’s Mastery, and yes, it does count as lifegain (assuming your life total goes up). And as cool as drawing ten or more cards is, it’s even better when you trade life while you’re at zero and not dying because of Lich’s Mastery. It’s a very powerful combination, but it’s not trivial to play two different six-cost enchantments.
Not much of a lifegain card, Azor’s Gateway might just be good in B/x Midrange decks that use Lich’s Mastery anyway. Once in a while, it will draw five extra cards and that’s sweet, but it also makes Torment of Hailfire, Battle at the Bridge, or Sanguine Sacrament especially scary. Just remember that it really does key off your life, so if you’re at zero, you’re not getting any mana.
Probably just doesn’t line up well enough, but maybe there’s a mono-black or B/G list that can also turn its drawback into upside?
Battle at the Bridge is passable early-game defense while also being a complete game-winner after Lich’s Mastery. Some decks may even be able to drop Lich’s Mastery and then draw four or five in the same turn while spending only a single extra mana.
A better Mesa Unicorn, but we’d have to be really into the tribal synergies.
An under-the-radar combat trick, Blessing of Belzenlok (or Rush of Vitality) might be in your deck for other reasons and then just happen to be a mondo-combo with Lich’s Mastery when you drop it.
This one’s a long shot, but maybe there is some aggressive mono-black aggro deck that uses Blight Keeper (and maybe Night Market Lookout) as one-drops and can actually activate the Blight Keeper with the help of Cabal Stronghold. It’s not the most life in the world, but it should be enough to get the ball rolling.
This is a pretty mana-intensive way to do it, but Bontu the Glorified is at least a respectable card to begin with, and there are more than a couple of sacrifice synergies that happen to line up with Lich’s Mastery.
I’m really excited about this one, though it’s kind of brutal that all the creatures I want to play are white or have no colorless in their cost. Nevertheless, draining your opponent for one each time you cast a creature is typically going to be a game-winning advantage for a creature-heavy Lich’s Mastery deck once you start drawing cards from it. I’d like to try this in a deck that doesn’t attempt to gain life with all its cards but rather focuses on gaining tons of life with a few key cards.
There’s a lot of overlap between W/B Tokens/Vampires/Lich’s Mastery, and Call to the Feast is solid if we’re in for all three, particularly when paired with Sanctum Seeker.
Kind of a sideways enabler, Cartouche of Ambition sitting on one of your threats on the battlefield makes for a great Turn 6 when you drop Lich’s Mastery.
Kind of an awkward card to use, but it is at least cute that Chainer’s Torment doesn’t cost any life if you’re already at zero. Of course, your Nightmare is also a 0/0, so that’s not great.
Not a big lifegainer, but every little bit helps (assuming we’re playing a nickel-and-dime sort of lifegain package). Contraband Kingpin might also just play really well with all the cheap artifacts if we go that route.
This is a really tough way to do it, particularly since gaining the life before the Lich’s Mastery means so little. If we have a deck with such good mana, it’s no problem, so be it. Maybe Navigator’s Compass helps make that a reality (which is nice to point at the Crypt of the Eternals).
Random lifelinker, sure, but if we’re into Danitha Capashen, Paragon, hopefully we’re also getting some mana savings (which Lich’s Mastery appreciates, even if it’s not an Aura itself).
Good cards that incidentally gain life without costing mana are all somewhat compatible with Lich’s Mastery. It’s kind of awkward if you have to exile your own cards, however.
It’s less reliable than Banishing Light, but getting to draw three after a Lich’s Mastery is more than enough to warrant a look. Desert of the Glorified and Desert of the True are not the worst inclusions in a Lich’s Mastery deck anyway. It’s just too bad that Crypt of the Eternals isn’t a Desert.
While Dovin is a passable threat on his own, Karn, Scion of Urza is kind of taking his lunch. Besides, if you’re using Dovin multiple turns in a row, you weren’t doing too badly without the Lich’s Mastery.
Kind of mana-inefficient. I doubt it’ll come to this, but at least we can play it before the Lich’s Mastery and then use it later.
One more addition to the “black and white legendary creatures” list in case we go that route.
While Moment of Craving is a little stronger of a card, at a baseline, Essence Extraction drawing an extra card after Lich’s Mastery is no joke. Really, however, it’s going to come down to curve considerations and how many of the popular threats have two toughness versus three. At the moment, I think History of Benalia and Toolcraft Exemplar tip the scales further towards Moment of Craving.
Mondo-combo with Lich’s Mastery or Axis of Immortality…
Not really about the lifegain, but at least it doesn’t cost mana. Maybe in the Baleful Ammit deck?
A little mana-hungry, given how much we’re going to want to be spending our mana once we drop Lich’s Mastery. That said, it’s a reliable source of lifegain that keeps opponents’ dead cards dead. Remember, in addition to working with cycling, it works with any discarded cards. You can even draw a bunch of cards with Lich’s Mastery, discard to hand size at the end of the turn, and kill your opponent with Faith of the Devoted triggers.
We’d probably need to care about the artifact synergies, but at least it’s a solid card.
Absolutely phenomenal with Lich’s Mastery, both before and after. This is an extremely winning combination.
Probably too clunky, but this card is kind of cool. It’s also easy to keep feeding it, once we start drawing cards from Lich’s Mastery and the Plots itself.
Gate to the Afterlife looks so rad with Lich’s Mastery, particularly as a repeatable lifegain source that doesn’t need extra mana. The problem I keep running into, however, is that most of the cards I’d want to put in a Gate to the Afterlife deck aren’t actually the same cards as I’d want for a Lich’s Mastery deck.
It might seem funny, but I’m serious. White aggro is on the rise, and this card is great against Lyra Dawnbringer, and we could easily already have Gideons in our deck anyway. Losing a Gideon isn’t the worst thing in the world, if it means jump-starting our engine and drawing us five cards.
I guess it could be a part of some kind of Hour of Promise deck, though Lich’s Mastery isn’t necessarily the most important to ramp out early card. A lot of the power of Lich’s Mastery comes from being able to drop it and effectively gain twenty life from your graveyard, hand, and battlefield, helping keep you alive. That said, if we are playing a bunch of colors, Gift of Paradise is a clean way to help enable that.
Awesome. Great early, respectable later, and then helps jump-start the engine when you drop Lich’s Mastery. It’s also just a great time for this card anyway with how well it lines up against History of Benalia.
Speaking of awesome two-drops, Glory-Bound Initiate and Gifted Aetherborn seem like a fantastic one-two punch for some creature-heavy build, along with Lyra Dawnbringer.
A janky card, to be sure, God-Pharaoh’s Faithful is another Bontu’s Monument type of lifegain engine that doesn’t require extra mana. If only it gained life from white cards and artifacts, we’d have a very different puzzle on our hands. As is, it’s a long shot, but an interesting one.
It sounds funky, but remember, you don’t have to sacrifice Gonti’s Machinations the moment you have two energy. In fact, there’s generally not a lot of reason to use it up until needed, since it produces energy in the meantime. Being able to drop Lich’s Mastery and then immediately crack a Gonti’s Machinations or two is kind of attractive if we’re trying to make it work without white.
Probably just a worse Orazca Relic (or Inspiring Statuary), Hierophant’s Chalice is at least a way to get some lifegain out of what might otherwise be a slot that isn’t gaining you any.
It’s not the biggest opportunity cost, but it’s also not the most lifegain for when you’re actually doing the thing. My guess is you’d have to also be getting paid from stuff like improvise or Aetherflux Reservoir.
Certainly more appealing than Arborback Stomper, in general, but is it actually more attractive than Ritual of Rejuvenation? We can’t play infinity of this kind of stuff, but maybe if we value the tribal implications?
The lifegain is a nice added bonus for artifact-heavy builds, though we do have to take care that our colored mana requirements work. Inventors’ Fair is especially nice in builds using Board the Weatherlight (which obviously can also find Lich’s Mastery, in addition to planeswalkers, Lyras, and History of Benalia). Even a single Inventors’ Fair makes Board the Weatherlight about 40% to be able to hit a mana source.
A great card, a great card in the format, and the extra lifegain matters after sideboarding, not just main deck. It’s worth remembering that you can target your own stuff if you need to jump start the Lich’s Mastery.
Another W/B legendary creature that incidentally gains life, I wouldn’t want many Kambals, but he might be okay as a one-of.
Not nearly enough lifegain to warrant inclusion on its own, Legion’s Landing could easily be part of a Vampire strategy, however. If so, every little bit counts.
Definitely hard to use, Life Goes On does have one giant shining feature: It’s a one-mana draw eight.
One of the best cards in the format, Lyra Dawnbringer is also a fantastic five-drop to play leading into Lich’s Mastery. Stuff like this makes it a lot harder to want to play stuff like Implements of Improvement.
Again, so little lifegain, we’d have to really be doing the Vampire thing.
Awesome card, well-positioned, and can be just what you need to get the party started. Even Moment of Craving on your Gideon is a reasonable line if your opponent is sitting there without creatures for you to Crave on.
Obviously quite good if played after a Lich’s Mastery, but so are a lot of things. We’d have to really want the one-cost artifact aspect of it, and maybe also appreciate the fixing it brings to the table.
It’s kind of loose, running mediocre one-drops alongside six-cost card draw engines, but I’ve run looser.
Even though it’s hard to play other six-drops in a Lich’s Mastery deck, Noxious Gearhulk is good on its own and an excellent follow-up to a Lich’s Mastery (particularly if we’re playing a nonwhite deck).
I guess this is part of that Baleful Ammit list? Dear lord is that deck sounding bad, though.
Orazca Relic seems generally better than Hierophant’s Chalice, both in terms of working even when played early and in terms of having a bigger impact on the game when you need to gain some life.
While it’s no Lyra Dawnbringer, Regal Caracal is a big source of lifegain that happens to be effective against many of the exact cards people are going to want to use to fight her.
Low opportunity cost for midrange, control, or combo builds, while also being enough life to completely take over the game after a Lich’s Mastery. This is one of the best options available.
A much less good Renewed Faith, it’s possible that Ritual of Rejuvenation is still good enough, even though it cycles for three instead of two, and draws four cards instead of six.
It’s not much, but every little bit helps in some lists. Besides, it’s one of the best Zombies, so if you’re trying to make Wayward Servant work, you’ll need this one.
We’d have to be all-in on the Vampires, but at least Sanctum Seeker can be in play waiting for Lich’s Mastery, or else dropped the turn after Lich’s Mastery and just working with your tokens.
This is a hard one to evaluate. On the one hand, it does draw cards like no other when cast after a Lich’s Mastery. On the other hand, it’s pretty terrible early, and the extra power it gives you after a Lich’s Mastery might be an inefficient “win-more” type of situation. It’s probably at its best in a deck without a ton of incidental lifegain, particularly one that appreciates its ability to stave off running out of cards in deck.
The B/G cards are just not calling out to me. I guess we’ll have to see what-all Fungus get printed in the next set. Fungal Reaches is not enough, however.
Kind of a janky Authority of the Consuls, but it’s also one that doesn’t require white mana.
We’ve got many options at four that are probably better, but I guess maybe there’s a mono-black deck that wants all lifegain cards so much that it’s willing to not play Karn, Scion of Urza; Ravenous Chupacabra, or Gonti, Lord of Luxury… You know, in addition to Vraska’s Contempt.
Probably too mana-hungry, Underhanded Designs is at least interesting with all the one-cost artifacts we might look to, and that it doubles as a removal spell is not nothing. Still, this one is pretty unlikely.
This might seem a little over the top, but it’s one of the few green synergies with Lich’s Mastery I’m actually into. It curves right, can be tutored up in a few ways, and it gains an absurd amount of life without needing extra mana (you know, beyond the thirteen you’ve already spent on Lich’s Mastery and it).
Another W/B legendary creature, Vona isn’t in the same league as Lyra, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Nevertheless, I’m usually gonna want to play a full four Lyras before picking up any Vonas, legend rule be damned.
Super-rad with Lich’s Mastery. Sadly, it’s hard to get enough Zombies together to field a full team. Maybe it can borrow from Vampires a little?
While this looks to be a more interesting way to use Wildgrowth Walker than others, the problem is still how glutted on twos we get when we try to put together a list. Winding Constrictor, Walking Ballista, energy creatures…they all take up a lot of slots, and several of the explore creatures we’d want to use also cost two.
While Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot was a part of some busted combo decks already, it’s pretty awkward with Lich’s Mastery. It’s expensive to use. You don’t really care about the energy. It’s not great to play before the Mastery. We can surely do better unless we’re just really in the market for energy, maybe in some turbo-Gonti’s Machinations pile of filth.
I’m not saying breaking Lich’s Mastery is going to be easy, so I don’t blame most folks for staying out of it. But personally, I’m really looking forward to this Pro Tour…