Dominaria. Oh, Dominaria. Doesn’t it feel great just saying it? Dom-in-ar-ia. No silly add-ons necessary like Rivals of Dominaria or Battle for Domination on Dominaria. No, the best products need no such frills to move the merchandise. They know their worth! Why waste space when everything you need to say can be said with just one word?
Look, my first impressions of Dominaria are high. Extremely high. Not because I think this set is going to kick Kaladesh and Amonkhet in the butt. Obviously, cards from this set will help reshape Standard, but I’d be shocked if energy, The Scarab God, and red-based aggressive decks still didn’t rule over the format (though I’m hopeful that I’m wrong, as I also didn’t think Rekindling Phoenix would see as much play as it has already until those two blocks rotated out). What gets me excited the most about this set, is that Wizards is going all-in on the legendary mechanic.
What this could mean is that the way we design Standard decks will completely shift once we see Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks rotate out. Both are super-slanted towards four-of efficiency and we see that with cards like Winding Constrictor, God-Pharaoh’s Gift, Torrential Gearhulk, Hazoret the Fervent, and even Heart of Kiran (and I won’t get into all the cards that were so broken they needed to be banned). Dominaria has the chance to change how we design decks in Standard, as almost every good card in the set is punished by redundancy.
Take Lyra Dawnbringer, for example. This card is a Baneslayer Angel (be still, my beating heart) with an extra but potentially irrelevant ability. It’s also a legendary creature. This means we most likely won’t be throwing four copies of her into every deck that wants this effect like we did when Baneslayer Angel was around. This potentially makes the card worse than Baneslayer Angel, as there’s a significant drawback to drawing too many.
We’re learning that rule right now when it comes to The Scarab God. This card is obviously the most frustrating card in Standard, as it’s by far the best card in the format. For a while, though, people questioned how many copies should be played, and I even waffled between three and four copies before eventually settling on the former. Four was just too punishing when you drew two in the early game, showing how the legendary supertype matters even on the most powerful cards.
We’re about to see the legendary count skyrocket in Standard though, and I honestly don’t know how things are going to settle once we have a rotation. I just assume we will begin to see fewer four-of decklists when it comes to our threats, leading to some interesting deckbuilding discussions. Being able to “loot” through our decks may become more important. Maybe we see creature suites look more like the format Brawl than when Collected Company was legal.
It’s not just what impact this set will have on Standard that excites me, though. The many uniquely designed cards in this set really test the way we play out games of Magic. All preview season long, I’ve been constantly blown away by how rich this set looks in flavor, nostalgia, gameplay, and playability.
My mind’s been a broken record, as I’ve constantly thought to myself how impressed I am by the staff at Wizards for making such an amazing-looking set. It has me excited for Standard, Modern, and Limited. Oh, and we can’t forget about Brawl! Seriously, I’m an old jaded Magic player, but this set makes me feel like a kid again, impatiently awaiting the day I can run to the store to buy a box. This time, however, I have enough money to buy more than just one box. I might splurge and get two!
There’s no better starting point than talking about one of the most iconic characters in the game!
I kid, I kid.
I want to take a moment to discuss good colorless cards before we dig into the specifics of Karn, Scion of Urza. Colorless cards are threatening to the stability of our game when they end up being too good. Fresh in our memory are the days of Smuggler’s Copter and Aetherworks Marvel, so I’m sure these words aren’t falling on deaf ears. Colorless cards will always find the best home as they have no colored restrictions, and a scary place for Constructed formats is when a colorless card is better than its color-requiring equals.
I’m convinced it was a wise decision by Wizards R&D to make sure this planeswalker could not protect himself in a reliable way. It’s proven that planeswalkers that can protect themselves have a much better chance finding a home in Standard, but they also tend to have color restrictions. A relatively cheap colorless planeswalker with self-preservation in mind would have scared the living hell out of me.
That’s why I’m initially excited about Karn, Scion of Urza. Now, what to do with this card?
On the surface, Karn, Scion of Urza is intended to create card advantage, given its first two abilities put cards in your hand. That effectively means you won’t be looking to play this card in red-based decks anytime soon, as Chandra, Torch of Defiance will assuredly be the better choice.
Karn, Scion of Urza also doesn’t quite seem like a card you’d want to start in the maindeck unless you’re looking to make its final ability the main priority, as that’s the only ability that can create a substantial shift in battlefield presence in a deck that plays many artifacts.
On its own, it seems quite lackluster.
The first home I can think of for this card is possibly in the sideboard of a B/U Midrange deck, if that’s still a thing when Dominaria arrives to shake things up. Karn, Scion of Urza could be a nice addition to the attrition plans needed in The Scarab God mirrors, especially since having both lands and spells is the way you win these matchups because velocity is so important, given how The Scarab God functions.
I think Karn, Scion of Urza may get better after rotation, but it just doesn’t seem like a strong sideboard card for linear aggressive decks right now. Aethersphere Harvester, Gideon of the Trials, and other noncreature threats just seem to be better for those key sideboard positions. I’ve lived in a world where card advantage was important for aggressive decks, but this format is just too interested in battlefield presence right now.
As for a deck that wants to utilize its artifact side, I’m just going to leave that to Sam Black’s recent article, as I’m the type of guy who does stops at Abrade to swoon.
There’s was a lot of hype when Llanowar Elves first got previewed, but it didn’t really do much for me. Of course I’ll play the card, but I’ve never felt emotionally connected to acceleration. I’ve just always thought it was good when it was good. I didn’t think there were going to be cards in this set that actually spoke to me on an emotional level until I saw these two.
Goblins was my first competitive deck many moons ago, and one that I played for almost two years straight. I learned most of the initial lessons about Magic with these cards, and I went from random scrub to FNM hero casting Goblin after Goblin after Goblin, sometimes sacrificing them to Skullclamp or Clickslither and other times bringing them all back with Patriarch’s Bidding. I moved from variation to variation as I became known as the “Goblin guy” in my local area.
Seeing these cards in Dominaria brought me right back to the first days I fell in love with this game; back when I wasn’t worried about Pro Points, a public image, or handshakes. I wasn’t jaded about deck selection, always trying to find the best possible choice, but in fact the very opposite. Every day I grabbed my deck box and took it with me wherever I went in case a game would break out with my friends. I didn’t care if their deck wasn’t Standard; I’d play them anyway because I just loved trying to deal as much damage with Goblin Piledriver as possible!
After all these years, these three wonderful Goblins are united once again in Modern and I’ll be one of the first to try to make it work. It might not be good enough, but who cares? I don’t remember the last time I was excited to try to make a new thing work in Modern, so I tip my hat to Wizards, as I never thought I’d feel this way again.
As for Standard, I’m not sure either will see play unless there’s a high enough density of good Goblins. Siege-Gang Commander can act as a standalone threat, but its competition at the five-slot is pretty fierce. That said, I could see this card being absolutely devastating in red mirrors. In fact, I take that back. I’d be shocked if we don’t see Siege-Gang Commander see Standard play, even if it’s only in the sideboard.
I’ve already talked about how Dominaria is going to shake things up when it comes to the way we think about the game, not only in Standard but in Limited as well. There are many ways to make Kicker, legendary status, and creature subtypes matter that learning how to appropriately value cards on the fly will be a process in and of itself. That still didn’t stop Wizards from making some truly new and interesting cards by slightly tweaking older variants.
Seal Away is exactly that. We’ve seen boring versions of this card like Journey to Nowhere and too-restrictive ones like Silkwrap. We’ve even seen this effect interact with the set in the form of Temporal Isolation. In all honesty, this effect was growing quite boring until Seal Away.
The restiveness of the card is what makes it the most interesting, as it’s clearly a powerful card but won’t always do what we want it to do. What’s even more interesting about the card is that when we decide to cast it will be contextual to the game. Sometimes we’ll untap and cast it in a main phase to play around things like counterspells or even our opponent not attacking with the creature we want to remove. Sometimes it will be best to hold onto it until they attack to try to get them to overextend.
Merfolk Trickster is like Seal Away, as it won’t always be cast the same way. Sometimes you’ll want to cast it before an opponent attacks and sometimes it will be played on your turn to get more damage through, but sometimes it can be cast after attackers have been declared. That’s when you’ll try to get a flier or unblockable creature into combat with your ground creatures. It’s just so awesome to see cards like this being printed!
While it’s great that we have another great rare cycle of enemy-color lands coming back, it’s also nice to see a set of value lands for Limited too, especially a cycle that’s so pure to the specific abilities each color has on the color pie. Ah, they’re just so cool!
I love cards like this because it’s not always correct to play them. Learning when you can make your manabase worse is one of the most interesting aspects of Magic. I remember one of the best lessons I learned from Gerry Thompson was when he taught me that a manabase could be “too good,” that sometimes more basics were better. You won’t want to draft and play every copy of these you see, but there’ll be times where you’ll value one of them over another spell.
That’s all I have for this week. I just touched down in Seattle to try my hand at some Legacy action. If that doesn’t work, then I guess I’ll play some Standard. This is going to be my first two-Grand Prix weekend, and I have to say I’m excited about it.
I just wish I knew if my deck choices were any good, as I haven’t had time to test, given that I’ve been visiting family for a couple of weeks. That hasn’t stopped me in the past, though, as I’ve made Top 8 at the last two Grand Prix I’ve played in right after spending time with my family. Hopefully I can keep it going and begin to see a trend that I have the luckiest family in the world!
Next week we’ll have more of Dominaria to play around with, and that means I’ll be going head-first into working this set into Standard decklists. There are a lot of exciting events coming up soon, and I’ll do my best to keep you prepared for all of them, including the Modern Opens where we’ll demolish the competition with Goblins!
Oh, that’d be the day!