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Dominaria, The 2018 Set: A Commander Magic Retrospective

On the eve of Dominaria United previews, Sheldon Menery looks back at the original Dominaria set of 2018. Which cards fulfilled their promise in Commander MTG? Which languished? And which took him by surprise?

Muldrotha, the Gravetide, illustrated by Jason Rainville

With the imminent release of Dominaria United, today in fact being the first day of full previews, the time is ripe to look back on the set that took us to Magic’s original plane.  Hitting the streets in late April 2018, Dominaria is part of the groundswell of sets that led us into the brisk release pace of the current day.  Those times are blurry to me for other reasons as well, so I have to get up and look at my shelf to know that Amonkhet and Hour of Reckoning (bin 19) are in position before it (in bin 21) and Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance (bin 22) are right after it—with Magic 2019 and Battlebond (bin 20) wedged in there as well.  My Dominaria review was precisely 216 articles ago. 

In that review, as I often do with expansion sets, I picked a Top 3 of each color.  I thought it might be compelling to examine what cards I picked back then, how they’ve fared, if I’d rate them similarly today, and what from the set may have done better over time. 

White

2018

Baird, Steward of Argive

It’s nice to look back to see an uncommon in the Top 3, although as a legendary creature it certainly has a better shot.  Time has not dampened my opinion of Baird.  It’s in my Jenara Proliferate (Used to Be Chulane) deck, and it’s been successful enough at keeping things off my face that I might try to find another deck to put it into.  Fellow Commander RC member Scott Larabee also plays it to good effect. 

Lyra Dawnbringer

Angel tribal is going to do its thing and Lyra Dawnbringer is going to make them that much better.  At the time, I mentioned that with flying, first strike, and lifelink on a 5/5 for five mana, it’d be pretty good without buffing our Angels.  That comment still stands. 

Urza's Ruinous Blast

I wouldn’t call Urza’s Ruinous Blast’s performance disappointing; it’s just that I’d very likely drop it out of the Top 3.  Maybe with The Brothers’ War there will be some new and exciting application, since it’s named for one of the eponymous brothers. 

2022

Danitha Capashen, Paragon

Maybe it’s just because I see it frequently from Scott, but Danitha Capashen, Paragon (another uncommon, by the way) has been better than I expected.  When a creature natively has first strike, vigilance, and lifelink, and its abilities make Auras and Equipment cheaper to cast, it’s going to end up buffed to the point that the abilities are well more relevant. 

Blue

2018

Naban, Dean of Iteration

This one became a lot of nothing.  It never made it into a deck for me and, checking our friends at EDHRec, it looks like I’m not alone.  It still seems theoretically possible to be good.  Doubling triggers always amps up the value, but maybe a deck is better served by an artifact, like Panharmonicon, which is inherently less vulnerable. 

Naru Meha, Master Wizard

I was similarly incorrect about Naru Meha, although I get how spending four more mana on top of the instant or sorcery we just cast might be tricky.  Maybe I just never built the right Wizard tribal deck.  Sounds like a challenge.

Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep

Extending my string of cards that no one else but me liked, Slinn Voda certainly has narrow applications for our sea monsters decks, which is what I like about it.  It should be a nice finisher, which is what you’re going to want when you spend ten mana.

2022

The Antiquities War

Another card that might really become relevant later this year, The Antiquities War, offers some effective card draw for two chapters and then some beatings in the third.  It reminds me that I still don’t have a deck that’s based around artifacts, save for Karn Evil No. 9, which only does so because they don’t have a color.  I wouldn’t otherwise call it an artifact deck.  I’ll wait until The Brothers’ War and then run with it.

In my Great Dominaria Deck Update for the set, you can see that at the time I wasn’t planning on playing too many of the blue cards.  Unfortunately, none of them have yet inspired me in the intervening time.

Black

2018

Phyrexian Scriptures

I was clearly excited about the Sagas when Dominaria came out, and for good reason.  I still like this one quite a bit, although it didn’t last in my Kresh deck for too long, since the first two chapters just didn’t make sense.  It looks it’s another that’ll find some use when Urza and Mishra clash.

Whisper, Blood Liturgist

Still my kind of card, Whisper went into Halloween with Karador for a while, performed reasonably, and then moved along for something else new.  There are a few rotating slots in that deck, which is one of my favorites, which get used to play some of the new toys we get every so often.  A card leaving one of those slots isn’t a commentary on the card so much as it says something about my desire to put some new hotness into a deck that’s going to get a lot of reps.

Yawgmoth's Vile Offering

Strong every time I play it in my Millmeoplasm deck, Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering isn’t spectacular, but it sure is solid.  It’s a legendary sorcery that I haven’t had too much trouble casting when I want to. 

2022

Demonlord Belzenlok

I slept a little on this one when it came out, but I have had the caul lifted from my eyes.  Our little friend Aminatou has made great use of it as one of the cards she likes to blink and take advantage of the enters-the-battlefield trigger again.  Not for nothing, it’s then a 6/6 flyer with trample.

Red

2018

I was strongly critical of red in Dominaria, giving it a failing grade and asserting that there weren’t a Top 3. We were still in the middle of a run where red was getting shafted (at least from a Commander perspective) in nearly every set, so frustration levels were high.  I mention Jaya Ballard and Squee, the Immortal, but the only card that made it into one of my decks is Jaya’s Immolating Inferno.  It’s in my Children of a Greater God deck, which I happened to play very recently.  The card came up during the game, and it did what we’d expect—namely, killed two people and took out something important from a third.

2022

Jaya's Immolating Inferno

Jaya’s Immolating Inferno is still the only card from the set that I’m playing.  I went back through the list of the set’s red cards and I was really willing to stretch it to consider playing one of them.  Unfortunately, there’s really nothing that strikes my fancy.  I tried.

Green

2018

Grow from the Ashes

I suppose folks (me included) weren’t as sold on a five-mana, two-land card as we are on four-mana versions that grab two basic lands.  Skyshroud Claim it is, may it be reprinted into oblivion.

Grunn, the Lonely King

Grunn is still saucy, since you don’t need to have kicked it to get the benefit of its combat-triggered ability to double its power and toughness.  It doesn’t have broad enough applications to run as a commander unless you really want a narrowly-focused Voltron deck in mono-green—which might be fun to explore. 

The Mending of Dominaria

I completely missed putting this into my Oldest Stickfingers deck, an error that I will be sure to rectify at the first opportunity.  While Old Stickfingers doesn’t dump lands into the graveyard, there are a number of other cards in the deck that have classic mill ability.  There will be lands in the graveyard, and The Mending of Dominaria will provide an excellent mid-game burst that will get stuff done. 

2022

Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar

This is the card that I’ve seen the most often in the intervening time, and for good reason.  Its power will easily outstrip is mana value, and it has the all-important trample ability.  There are some commander damage kills to be had.  Alternately, it can slot in as a beater to nearly any deck, since nearly all of them like to play lands.  Otherwise, green cards in Dominaria didn’t put up the best showing—which is fine, since green is usually the one that gets the best bombs.  It’s okay for the color to take a rotation off. 

Multicolored

2018

Grand Warlord Radha

Getting mana for attacking in order to fuel bigger future attacks is the kind of ability that really makes my heart sing.  When big, muscly women are doing it, even better.  This is one of those decks that I had the best of intentions to build when the set came out.  Unfortunately, I got sidetracked on other things.  With the rapid pace of releases, it’s difficult to find a window to go back to things, since there are also new, exciting toys.  It’s certainly the kind of problem you want to have, but I’m just a little sad for the missed opportunity.

Muldrotha, the Gravetide

I’d say Muldrotha is easily the splashiest card from the set, and the one that’s defined what people think of when it comes to Dominaria.  While it’s probably too generically good for its own benefit, the positive spin is that we can build any sort of deck we want with it.  We’ll obviously want to play out of the graveyard, but we can otherwise go into combo mode or full grind—and every stop in between.  My build is pretty grindy, so I’m careful when I pull it out.  I love playing it, but I get how it might be a flavor of drudgery that some folks might not like to taste.  Since I want to make sure that all four of us have a good game, it’s a deck that I’ll ask twice if people are okay playing with. 

Tatyova, Benthic Druid

Certainly another card that has endured since Dominaria hit the streets, Tatyova defines generic goodness.  It rewards you for doing the things that you were already doing anyway, which I find to be very dangerous design space.  I’m not saying that Tatyova is unhealthy for the format, but I also don’t see where it brings anything all that positive, either.  I’ll continue to play the card in the right kind of deck, but I’ll resist the perfectly reasonable urge to simply slot it into any U/G/x deck that I build.  I really want to put my money where my mouth is in building creative decks that don’t rely on staples, so I’ll see less of Tatyova than I might otherwise have.  The final shout out here is that it’s another one of the uncommons, which makes me quite happy.

2022

I could easily list half a dozen of the multicolored cards from Dominaria which have made format impact, from Jodah, Archmage Eternal to Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain to Slimefoot, the Stowaway.  The legendary creatures and multicolored cards were a focus of the set, so it’s proper that there are lots of good ones.  I know that it’s what I always think of when someone mentions Dominaria.

Colorless, Artifact, and Land

2018

Blackblade Reforged

If anything, even though it was in my Top 3, I might have short sold Blackblade Reforged a little bit.  The flavor is still top-notch and the value it offers outstanding.  It becomes an impact card as soon as it hits the battlefield.  You know how people suggest playing more removal? This is one of the cards that you absolutely want to save your removal for, because it’ll do its best to kill you. 

Forebear's Blade

This one didn’t pick up the steam I expected to, perhaps simply overshadowed by Blackblade Reforged.  +3/+0, vigilance, and trample (the deadliest of all creature abilities?) is nothing to sneeze at.  Being able to equip it for free when someone kills the creature it’s attached to (obviously, battlefield sweepers aside) makes it that much better. 

Thran Temporal Gateway

I expected Thran Temporal Gateway to be the next Quicksilver Amulet.  It never really got there.  It still has a little game, in 1% of possible decks loaded to EDHRec.  For me, it’s mired in my Myths and Legends of Korvold deck, one that I simply don’t pull out that often because it’s kind of an eye-rolly choice for some folks (which I totally get).  I should probably pull it into something different and see where that gets me. 

2022

Helm of the Host

Nearly as popular as Blackblade Reforged, Helm of the Host is rife with possibilities.  The equip cost is high, but the value is higher.  I’d bet even now, a Discord or Twitter thread of “favorite things to copy with Helm of the Host” would get a great deal of play.  I jammed it into my Roalesk Proliferate deck, which was built before we changed the commander death trigger rule.  Who doesn’t want a bunch of Roalesks flying around?

The Grade

My grade at the time for the set was A-, with red’s abject failure and green’s mediocrity dragging down the whole.  Looking at it four years later, I’d probably downgrade it to B+, which the flaws more exposed through the lens of time.  Still, there is a great deal in Dominaria to be excited about.  If you weren’t playing then or for some reason didn’t pick up any of the cards, I suggest doing so.  You can pick up nearly all of them at bargain basement prices to give some of your decks a nice boost. 

As always, we have a channel on the Commander RC Discord server dedicated to discussing my articles.  I’d love to hear about features that you’d like to see, material you want more coverage on, or even things that you think just aren’t working.  I’m all ears.  Join more than 7,000 friends for discussion of not just this piece, but on a wide variety of topics—both Commander-related and not.  Hope to see you there!

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