Dominaria United returns us to another of Magic’s most beloved planes, and the love is only going to get stronger. This 281-card set is full of winners for Commander, creating excitement from when the first previews hit the streets. Once again, the designers in Studio X have struck the right chord as far as power level goes, avoiding cards that are simply generically good in favor of thought-provoking pieces to both support and lead decks.
This is a review for Commander only. There are some cards that will be houses in other formats, but which don’t quite get there for us. It’s also only a review of the Dominaria United main set. We touched on the new cards of Dominaria United Commander last time.
Down the road, we’ll take a look at the other 28 additional cards associated with the set. Those are the twenty Legends Retold, box toppers that are new versions of legendary creatures from the original Legends set, plus the eight Dominaria United Commander cards that can only be found in set boosters. This review focuses on the cards through the lens of a middling power level more common across the broadest parts of the format. If a card is worth mentioning in the context of higher power levels, I’ll make special note of it.
I’ll break down the cards by color, which for this purpose includes multicolored and colorless. I’ll call out some Honorable Mentions; choose Best Uncommon (that didn’t make the Top 5), Best Common (ditto), and Top 5; and grade the color as a whole based on the density of noteworthy cards and the quality of the best of them. Since there are only fourteen artifacts to go along with the lands and Karn, I’ll only do a Top 5 for the colorless section (but I’ll shout out to the fetchable lands right now).
5. Serra Paragon
Evoking Sun Titan thematically, Serra Paragon doesn’t need to attack in order for us to use the ability. The only thing that keeps it from being completely busted is the clause telling us that if the permanent dies, we exile it and gain two life. Without this clause, the recursion loops would get silly. Still, we’re in a color that enjoys blinking things, so bring back something with Serra Paragon, put it in something like Conjurer’s Closet, and it becomes a new version without the exile clause. Note that the ability to play a land (hello, Arid Mesa!) from the graveyard still eats up our normal land drop for the turn.
4. Danitha, Benalia’s Hope
This new version of Danitha rivals the original. She still carries first strike, vigilance, and lifelink, but she’s muscled up from 2/2 to 4/4. She doesn’t provide the ongoing discount for Auras and Equipment, instead giving it to us in a single package. The best part for me is being able to resurrect something from the graveyard instead of just looking at the hand. Sometimes our nice stuff gets blown up, and it’s good to have a backup plan.
3. Urza Assembles the Titans
When I looked at the first chapter of Urza Assembles the Titans, I was prepared to move on. Guess I should have read ahead, because things get pretty saucy in Chapters II and III. The extra activation for planeswalkers in Chapter III is habanero-level stuff.
2. Defiler of Faith
Part of the set’s Praetor cycle of Defilers in each color, Defiler of Faith as a 5/5 with vigilance for five mana is an excellent body to go with the other two abilities. We only get to use the cost reduction once per permanent spell, but that still piles up as a big discount over the course of a game—and despite appearances, it’s not Phyrexian mana.
1. Temporary Lockdown
This thing is going to be a house, and it’s not getting ramped out. It partially addresses one of the format’s anxieties—namely, too many two-mana rocks—while not completely wrecking anything. The big thing for me is that it’s going to take out most token swarms, which is definitely worth the price of admission.
Grade: A-. It’s mostly there; I’d just like one punchier card among the Top 5.
5. Joint Exploration
This one just seems the kind of sneaky good that will end up providing more value in the long run than we think it might. It’s not going to be a dead draw in the late-game; in fact, scrying gives us a better chance to get us out of a tight spot.
4. Sphinx of Clear Skies
I already have a weakness for Sphinxes (so I suppose I should get around to building a tribal deck with them). Getting a mini-Fact or Fiction every time Sphinx of Clear Skies connects is fine with me (or a regular FoF in a five-color deck). Even over webcam, the piles are small enough to be able to easily resolve.
3. Academy Loremaster
This one is all about the game within the game. It’s only going to fit into a certain type of deck, the best choice being one in which we’re casting spells on other players’ turns, meaning the additional cost won’t apply. Dust off your Vedalken Orrerys.
2. Vesuvan Duplimancy
I think Vesuvan Duplimancy boils down to the question, “How many copies of Hinata, Dawn-Crowned can we make?” All the spellslinger decks are going to love it. I don’t currently have a deck that I think Vesuvan Duplimancy goes into; what the card does is compelling enough to want to somehow change that (probably by building something new). Our friends AliasV and the Spike Feeders already have a Better Know a Combo video out featuring Vesuvan Duplimancy. Check it out.
1. Defiler of Dreams
I’m intentionally not looking forward to see, but what would you bet at this point that all five Defilers make Top 5? What really rides this one over the top for me is leading us towards blue decks which rely heavily on permanents instead of instants and sorceries. I have a few places this one wants to go.
Grade: A. It gets there even if the best spells aren’t the splashiest because the density runs so deep. Props for having so many good uncommons and commons.
5. Defiler of Flesh
Compared to the other Defilers, this one lacks some of the same punch. It’s a Horror, so it slots nicely into your Captain N’ghathrod deck. The ability that’s going to matter most here is the triggered ability that gives a creature menace when we cast a black permanent spell. It’s an on-battlefield trick that they’ll see coming, but even with dropping two or three things pre-combat, we can set up an impossible situation for defending players.
4. Evolved Sleeper
The flavor on Evolved Sleeper is right through the roof, despite the fact that we’ve seen the template a few times since Figure of Destiny. The fact that we can continue to activate the last ability, making it larger and drawing a card, makes it quite strong. I’m ready for some Cleric tribal.
3. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse
I’m so conflicted over this card. I already think that Wheels can lead to unhealthy play patterns. This new Sheoldred will definitely make your Wheels more deadly. That said, even if we’re not forcing card draw, it’s reasonable protection against opponents becoming draw-happy (which we know can happen). Much like I did with Hullbreacher before its demise, I’ll put Sheoldred into a deck that doesn’t necessarily have a way to abuse it, and we’ll see what happens. And no, I don’t think this Sheoldred has anywhere close to the chance of getting banned that Hullbreacher did.
2. Braids, Arisen Nightmare
This is absolutely a fixed version of Braids. It makes you work to get everyone else sacrificing stuff. It’s not just going to come down Turn 2 and end the game. For me, the value is even higher because I just like sacrificing stuff for recursion’s sake. Sticking it to everyone else at the same time gets the chef’s kiss emoji.
1. Shadow-Rite Priest
Speaking of Cleric tribal, this inexpensive lord gets there by sacrificing a Cleric to get any black creature from our library onto the battlefield. Any. Black. Creature. We can get our best value creature or finish off a combo, whatever our heart desires. Remember that black creatures include multicolored creatures with black in them, so grab that Angel of Despair or Ashen Rider. Remember also that Heliod, God of the Sun creates Cleric tokens. So where did I put that Rotlung Reanimator?
Grade: A. The color fires on all cylinders. Of the mono colors, it seems like it has the greatest number of cards I’m likely to play.
5. Jaya, Fiery Negotiator
The new Jaya is all about somehow getting to the ultimate where we’re copying every instant and sorcery we cast twice. The easy way is to play it in a green deck with Doubling Season. Otherwise, we’ll need to do some work in protecting it for enough turns. The +1 ability that creates a Monk with prowess is a start, but we’ll likely need to do a little more to keep Jaya safe.
4. Rundvelt Hordemaster
This card is good because it’s so Goblin flavorful. It puts us right at the edge of disaster. Goblin decks want to create swarms with their Krenko, Mob Boss and friends. If we make enough of them, we should be able to kill some folks before they can kill our army and exile a pile of cards. I would want to be quite careful with Rundvelt Hordemaster on the battlefield and a dwindling library—but that tension is what makes it fun.
3. Keldon Flamesage
Because it’s an attack trigger, we can use Keldon Flamesage to cast cards that will either make some of our stuff unblockable or sweep blockers out of the way. Because the Flamesage has enlist, we’ll be able to dig deeper for an even bigger spell. I find that synergy pretty cool.
2. Chaotic Transformation
I like the flexibility here. First, it’s a way for red to deal with a bothersome enchantment. More than that, though, we can target some of our own stuff in order to try to upgrade—like trading in a Treasure and a token creature. Otherwise, we can just get rid of stuff from various opponents that would ruin our day.
1. Defiler of Instinct
Dealing extra damage when we cast red permanents is a way to make more people dead. My issue isn’t with the quality of Defiler of Instinct. It’s a fine card. That it’s the best of the red cards is a whole different ball of wax.
Grade: C, which might be generous. I don’t mind when the cards aren’t super-powerful; these just don’t have what it takes to even go into something off-beat.
5. Leaf-Crowned Visionary
It’s a tribal card, so its applications are narrow, but you know that Elf deck is going to have the extra one green mana to draw the card nearly every time. Add the fact that it’s an Elf lord, and I think I’ll call the card a little pushed. I think it’d get plenty of play just with the triggered ability.
4. Tear Asunder
The fact that Tear Asunder exiles something is what puts it in my Top 5, and being flexible doesn’t hurt its case, either. I’d certainly pay one more for Putrefy if it exiled instead, and Tear Asunder can hit more things at that mana. It’ll be a solid role-player in any appropriate deck.
3. Quirion Beastcaller
We’ll want to play some indestructible creatures alongside Quirion Beastcaller so that, if someone casts Wrath of God, we have somewhere to put those counters. I suppose we could also just play The Ozolith. I like the idea of a creature that costs a little and is small, but will then scale up as the game progresses. Good design.
2. Defiler of Vigor
Well, the Defilers did indeed go five-for-five, and this is clearly the best of the bunch. Handing out a +1/+1 counter to all our creatures is just a little absurd. Pile on top that it’s a 6/6 with trample for five mana, and we have another situation in which we have a card that I’m going to love playing but worry signals a design direction that verges on being unhealthy.
1. Silverback Elder
First things first: Silverback Elder is not Aura Shards. It’s gated by the trigger condition being casting a creature spell, not a creature entering the battlefield. That out of the way, it’s crazy good. The three green pips might keep it in check some (and higher pip count is a design device that I’d like to see them use more often). We’re in green, so we’ll be casting lots of creature spells. I doubt without a really dire circumstance we use the lifegain mode, instead opting for the ramp or artifact/enchantment destruction. We’ll want to play it with something like Stampeding Wildebeests or Roaring Primadox to put those creatures back in our hand and cast them again.
Grade: A. The top cards are among the most splashy in the set, making up for a small density deficiency.
5. Najal, the Storm Runner
Najal doesn’t suggest the kind of deck that I would normally play, but I could quickly come around. Playing sorceries as though they have flash is strong, and copying them is even stronger. Najal is certainly a card that could also make it into my Dreaming of Intet deck.
4. Jodah, the Unifier
“Legendary creatures matter” is a cool deck theme, so even if you have to go five colors, it’s worth it. Casting them for free is even cooler. This one seems like a real brewer’s paradise. I’m intrigued to see what the kids come up with.
3. Ratadrabik of Urborg
More legendary creatures matter, plus Zombies! Zombie Kokusho, the Evening Star is really all I need to know here. There are several potential commanders from Dominaria United that have caught my eye for building, and Ratadrabik is somewhere near the top of the pile.
2. Garna, Bloodfist of Keld
Garna is likely to be one of 99 somewhere. Kresh Into the Red Zone is the early favorite. I enjoy punishing people for blowing up my creatures, and Garna fits the bill. I can also see slamming a few creatures into unfavorable combats in order to draw some cards, especially with Mikaeus, the Unhallowed ready to bring them back to the battlefield. Although it’s in a different deck, the Thrull tokens from Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder are also nice to just turn sideways. With Garna, their lives will even mean something.
1. Astor, Bearer of Blades
I looked at this card three times, making sure that I was reading it correctly. We have two different broad directions that we might go with Astor, and both of them give us the opportunity to explore some cards we might otherwise be skittish about due to their prohibitive equip or crew costs.
The first Equipment that came to mind was Argentum Armor. Kaldra Compleat now makes a nice foreshadow from Modern Horizons 2. Vehicles save for Colossal Plow are mostly inexpensive to crew anyway, but one is better than everything save zero. With Astor, we can also crew Weatherlight Compleated instead of having to wait for it to get enough phyresis counters.
Grade: A+. Nearly every one of them is worth mentioning; we could have done the whole piece just on the multicolor cards.
5. Weatherlight Compleated
I know that, once it has four phyresis counters on it, Weatherlight Compleated is vulnerable to creature removal, but I’m a fan of drawing cards to replace our creatures when they die. Sure, it doesn’t do anything for a while, but it seems worth the two-mana investment.
4. Plaza of Heroes
It’s the land that does it all! Colored mana to cast our commander. Colored mana once our commander is on the battlefield. Then, saving said commander from either targeted or global destruction. I’ve heard some folks say that it’s not worth playing, but I’m going to have to disagree. Seems pretty good to me.
3. Golden Argosy
I like the idea of over-crewing with Golden Argosy just to get the blink effect on a creature with a good enters-the-battlefield trigger, like Mulldrifter. They don’t come back until the next end step, but it’s not like we were going to attack with them anyway. Unfortunately, they’re also tapped, so they’re not around to block.
2. Relic of Legends
I know I keep singing this song, but it’s a good tune: three-mana rocks that do interesting things are good for Commander. What’s good about Relic of Legends is that we can tap our legendary creatures to keep them out of unfavorable combats, like if they’re goaded or otherwise forced to attack. The one I’m most focused on is being able to tap Ruhan of the Fomori in You Did This to Yourself.
1. Karn’s Sylex
We only get to use its big ability once, but it shuts down so much along the way that it’s worth it. Even being limited to just activating as a sorcery doesn’t dampen my spirits on Karn’s Sylex. Shutting down fetch lands, Bolas’s Citadel, and K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth is just the start, and that’s enough for me.
Grade: B. There’s some decent stuff here, but not enough that really makes you sit up and pay attention.
The set as a whole gets a strong A- from me. There are loads of thought-provoking cards and the flavor is amazing, with only a few stumbles along the way (what’s happening with red?). There’s plenty here for players of all stripes to find the kinds of cards they want and need.
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