I can’t wait for Dominaria.
I’ve been sketching our deck ideas left and right, but I just can’t wait to get into some games! There are lots of interesting and hard-to-evaluate things going on in the set, the kind of stuff that you really need to actually play with to get a good feel for. As such, I can’t wait to just start playing and seeing what is what. And while I’m tired of waiting, we’re almost there.
Dominaria should be on Magic Online by the time you read this, and of course tomorrow (or midnight tonight, if you’re a crazy person) is the paper Prerelease. So what’s that mean? It means you’re going to need to evaluate a lot of cards very quickly, whether it’s for your Prerelease Sealed deck, or more likely your Standard, Modern, and Brawl decks.
This early evaluation period is notoriously difficult, leading to things like Tarmogoyf for only $2 and Aurelia’s Fury for an astounding $30… This is a bad time to get things wrong!
As such, today we’re going to look at six Dominaria cards; three I feel are overrated, and three I think are underrated (and a bonus card), in a little segment I like to call…
The Over/Under: Dominaria
Overrated: Phyrexian Scriptures.
Please say it with me…
“This is not Damnation.”
“This is not Damnation.”
“This is not Damnation.”
It may have the same mana cost as Damnation, and it may have the ability to destroy all the creatures that your opponent controls, but that’s about where the comparison ends. There’s a world of difference between “survive long enough to cast my sweeper just in time and turn the tide of a game” and “tap four mana to do little of consequence and pray I live until next turn so I can kill everything but my opponent also knows about it so won’t play any more creatures.”
This is of course to say nothing of the fact that there are many Vehicles, planeswalkers, and indestructible/resilient creatures currently populating Standard, making a Wrath of God effect already a liability.
There are a lot of throwback cards in this set that call back to the old days of Mono-Black Control being a deck, which we will touch on more later in the article, but this is definitely not a Damnation / Mutilate substitute.
That’s not to say it’s an awful or unplayable card, just that it’s a sort of Tragic Arrogance / Hour of Reckoning type of conditional sweeper that is difficult to make work but powerful if you find the right conditions. There are still a lot of artifacts floating around from Kaladesh and Aether Revolt, meaning Phyrexian Scriptures may eventually find a home, but this isn’t a slam-dunk mythic by any means.
Underrated: Fight with Fire.
Water wet, sky blue, red planeswalker uses fire to fight stuff… some things never change.
Boring flavor aside, Fight with Fire has been almost completely glossed over but has a lot going for it. On the front side, three mana for five damage to a creature is acceptable but unexciting. It’s important to note, however, that most red removal does three or four damage, meaning it’s a red card that can actually kill Lyra Dawnbringer, The Scarab God; Josu Vess, Lich Knight; and other larger creatures out of range of the usual removal.
That’s all well and good, but that’s just the card’s floor. Let’s talk about its ceiling.
Ten damage to anything ranges from “decimating your opponent’s battlefield” to “you’re dead” quite nicely, offering a big-mana payoff that’s not dead early. The difficulty, of course, is getting to nine mana.
Fortunately, there are a number of great ways to ramp mana in Standard, and Fight with Fire is quite the payoff.
Both Gilded Lotus and Jaya Ballard are powerful mana ramping options that curve perfectly with Fight with Fire, allowing a Turn 6 kicked Fight with Fire to do some serious damage, possibly sooner with other acceleration. Both cards also make three mana the turn you cast them, which means you can use Fight with Fire immediately to help control the battlefield before you untap. Both cards also play well with a spell-based strategy that Fight with Fire would likely slot into, providing interaction and payoff. Hour of Promise is another proven ramp strategy in the format that could benefit from a big mana payoff.
Fight with Fire is great and far more than the sum of its parts.
Overrated: Dread Shade.
The “Rain on Mono-Black Control revival” parade rolls on.
Dread Shade asks for a lot and doesn’t offer much.
Oh, you wanted to play Field of Ruin in your mono-colored deck for some extra value? Or maybe Zhalfirin Void or Scavenger Grounds? That’s cute. Good luck casting or using Dread Shade efficiently. Even Cabal Stronghold (also overrated) looks awful alongside Dread Shade, the two cards that scream “Mono-Black Control revival” the most!
Here’s the deal: Magic has moved on from Nantuko Shade.
A million years ago (I know, I was there) there were no playable creature finishers in black. Back then a two-drop that could also end the game later on was a very valuable thing! These days we have cards like The Scarab God, Grave Titan, or whatever other mythic rare Wizards of the Coast feels like printing in any given set. Back then, the best they had was Laquatus’s Champion.
If Laquatus’s Champion showed up to ball these days with his gray hairs, short shorts, and high socks, he would be laughed off the court before ever getting to even brick on a three-pointer with his tongue out.
Magic has changed. Finishers actually finish a game, and we need to use all of our mana each turn effectively or we fall behind on the battlefield. Dread Shade doesn’t block well early; dies to Abrade, Lightning Strike, and so on; and kills slowly. It’s not 2002!
Underrated: Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp.
When I was a kid playing on the lunch tables at school, my buddy Gavin would smash me over and over again with Mahamoti Djinn. It was so freaking big! How was I supposed to win? I should text Gavin (who’s been away from the game for years) a picture of Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp and let him know what Magic looks like these days.
Essentially, vanilla creatures have a pretty high bar when it comes to Constructed, but Zahid is a freaking house. Seriously, what kills Zahid? Here’s a list of the best removal spells in the format that all can’t touch it:
Yes, there are still cards that can kill it, but that’s quite the list. That extra point of toughness also lets it tussle with many of the format’s largest creatures… all for the low cost of only four mana and a random artifact.
Aye, the “random artifact” part is definitely the rub, which means that Zahid isn’t going to be meant for every deck, but only one artifact is a much more reasonable cost than something like the improvise on Herald of Anguish. Zahid doesn’t ask for much and gives a ton at a cheap cost – I’m a fan.
When you start with Smuggler’s Copter, there’s really only one way to go.
Vehicles were pushed far too hard in their inaugural run, and since we’ve left Kaladesh, we haven’t seen a playable one. Even with Smuggler’s Copter banned, the bar set by Heart of Kiran, Aethersphere Harvester, and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship is exceedingly high. Two, three, and five mana are spread out nicely along the mana curve, meaning that if your deck wants a Vehicle, you’ve probably already been covered by one of the three.
Furthermore, each Vehicle isn’t really unique enough to require anything more than creatures to crew and maybe some light artifact synergy, meaning that any new Vehicles must best them on rate alone.
Weatherlight does not do this.
It has the big, evasive body of Heart of Kiran but at double the cost, and it can generate card advantage like Skysovereign but needs to accomplish the much more difficult task of actually dealing combat damage to your opponent before it does anything. Furthermore, it’s not even “draw a card” on combat damage; we actually have to have a deck full of historic cards to get paid off.
Even if it was just “draw a card” on combat damage to a player, Weatherlight still wouldn’t be worth the trouble. It’s a nice ship, though. I’m sure it would look good in a museum or something.
Underrated: Adeliz, the Cinder Wind.
Anyone who’s followed my articles over the last few years knows I’ve got a particular fondness for aggressively styled prowess cards – I may have tried many times to make Riddleform work – and I have to say I’m in love with Adeliz, the Cinder Wind.
Skyknight Legionnaire is a very reasonable floor, and otherwise the sky is the limit with Adeliz. While its ability is slightly worse than prowess (as it won’t trigger on artifacts, planeswalkers, or enchantments – sorry, Riddleform), we can build our deck in a manner where that won’t be an issue. There are already several good burn spells and aggressive red cards in the format, as well as the perpetually under-loved Soul-Scar Mage.
When you add a few new additions like Ghitu Lavarunner and Wizard’s Lightning to the equation, things really start to tick. Furthermore, we’ve already got a nice cantrip in Opt available, as well as the new Warlord’s Fury to make blocking very awkward for our opponent at a nice, low cost.
This pick may be a bit too personal, as perhaps I just want Adeliz to be good, but the power is there.
Bonus Round: Goblin Chainwhirler
I know I talked about Goblin Chainwhirler last week, and frankly I doubt anyone expects the card not to make an impact on Standard, but people aren’t realizing how impactful this annoying Goblin is going to be. It’s hard for an already-hyped card to be underrated, but Goblin Chainwhirler is close. Let me make it very clear:
Goblin Chainwhirler is likely the most impactful card in Dominaria and will have vast repercussions on how we build our decks in Standard while it’s legal.
Goblin Chainwhirler, in a very similar fashion to Rampaging Ferocidon, has proven to be a thorn in the deckbuilding process over and over again as I brew for Dominaria Standard. There are many good one-toughness creatures in the format, and putting more than a few of them in your deck is just asking to get blown out.
Here’s a list of many of the great one-toughness creatures (or cards that make one-toughness creatures) in the format.
If you have just one of these on the battlefield when your opponent casts Goblin Chainwhirler, your opponent has gotten some pretty great value. If you have more than one, you’re probably going to lose. No matter how good you think Goblin Chainwhirler is, I promise you it’s better than that. The fact that we already have a very good Mono-Red Aggro deck in the format is even more damning.
Keep this in mind as you build your Dominaria Standard decks – two toughness or more is the magic number!
So Much More
There are many other cards to speculate on, but only so much time.
Thankfully, next week we get to do one better – play! There’s no better way to understand cards than just to put them in decks and start jamming them into each other, and you can bet I’ll be doing just that on my stream and YouTube non-stop for the next week.
I’m excited to see what we all come up with!