Preview season feels never-ending for some, while others cannot get enough of it. I get it: sets come out quickly, and fatigue can come with it. For me, I can handle the onslaught of new cards stress-free, since I sift through the preview lists only for control staples. Dominaria United is no different, and there are some bangers in this set that are must-haves for control enthusiasts everywhere.
A Hope for Standard
The focus of competitive play has been on Pioneer and Modern; however, the return of Standard is coming. I have predicted in multiple articles that an early 2023 Pro Tour format will signal the return of the onetime most-played format. It is in the best interests of Wizards of the Coast (WotC), and the overall health of the game, to get the Standard ship back on track. This does not need to necessarily be through a Pro Tour, but it does excite multiple pockets of Magic players across the globe.
MTG Arena is the last bastion of Standard, but that can change with a simple announcement. If WotC makes the next Pro Tour Standard, Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) and the Regional Championship (RC) would likely follow suit. With that occurring, a renewed faith in the stability of the format would entice players at local game shops around the world to take a chance and make the small investment in Standard once again. This has a potential cascading effect, one that helps all parties involved: easier entry points into tournaments, more products sold (sealed and third-party), and a rotating format that people yearned to play regularly in the past.
I am very confident in this trajectory and have begun to look closely at Dominaria United for control staples.
Still Feeling Blue
It is obvious that blue is the base, as usual. It would take an unprecedented series of black and/or white card advantage to move me off that, which is not happening here. The color that goes with blue is the key question with the upcoming new set and rotation, even though there is a possibility of a return to three-color with the strong manabase that remains.
Having Raffine’s Tower as the foundation, and painlands to replace rotating duals, Esper Control is a real possibility. For now, I am going to analyze the strength of the individual colors and make that determination once WotC reveals the full set. As of right now, the black control spells are dominating, and it is difficult to imagine playing anything besides Dimir Control in the upcoming Standard. Its strength may not end with Standard, as one card is likely to also have a significant impact in older formats.
Liliana of the Veil
Liliana of the Veil is a tremendously powerful planeswalker and the discourse over her return is confusing. There are many folks out there who underplay this reprint, accusing her of being too weak for the power creep world we live in. It is a copout to say, “Magic was different then,” whenever a reprint from the olden days appears in the previews. That argument is often true; however, some cards transcend their era’s power level and will easily dominate the newer formats if given the chance. Liliana will oppress certain archetypes and create busted draws from the control user.
Starting a game with blue or black disruption can let Liliana land on an empty battlefield. In other scenarios, she can arrive and dispatch one threat that the control player was not previously able to answer. Once that happens, she gets to work on hand size, which control can naturally overcome when controlling the source of that discard. Memory Deluge and Lier, Disciple of the Drowned will join Liliana and create an instantly competitive deck with heavy removal and discard that can end the game with a powerful win condition. Many lines go through my head when Liliana and Lier appear together, all of which spell doom for the opponent.
I was getting a bit worried with the upcoming rotation, since the remaining Azorius Control deck looked underpowered. This Dimir Control deck idea has lifted my spirits, as the foundation is not the only strong force we are currently working with. The disruption that fills the gaps is plentiful from older sets, and many cards from Dominaria United are jumping in to assist. White typically offers sweepers, which is the main draw to splash that over black. That advantage dissipated after this next preview hit the scene.
Drag to the Bottom
Drag to the Bottom is not a guaranteed sweeper, but it will do the trick in Standard. I saw domain and immediately thought it would be terrible in a traditional control deck. As I read on, the plus one to X saved the day on this sweeper. It will be a strong -3/-3 effect in most scenarios, with some upside for those splashing additional trilands. Dimir Control can play two trilands that would merit inclusion without the existence of Drag to the Bottom. These lands cycle and produce both colors needed, while offering a third color to domain cards.
I do not expect the aggressive decks of the format to grow well past four-toughness creatures. If Drag to the Bottom can hit those and below, Dimir Control may be the front-runner variant for fans of the control archetype. The black-based removal additions do not end here, and I am surprised to see this many Constructed-playable spells this early on. Once the new Standard arrives, there will be many difficult decisions on which disruption spells get the starting spot.
Cut Down is the best removal spell in Dominaria United. I know it is not as good as Fatal Push, but that argument is still weak. When analyzing the power of newly added spells, we must identify their impact on the format(s) they are played in. With Cut Down, it will remove the majority of one- and two-drops, with some reach on three- and four-drops. That is amazing for a one-cost removal spell and fits perfectly into the Liliana/Lier plan. Many black removal spells could have filled that role, just not at one mana value. This addition will be a defining moment for control in Standard, and it may see play in older formats without fetchlands.
Liliana drastically reduces the cost of running conditional removal spells. It is a great feeling to see a card like Cut Down get tossed to a Liliana when unneeded. There will always be matchups where removal, especially one- or two-mana options, is relatively dead. Liliana is the perfect outlet for spells that serve no purpose and reduces the risk associated with including them. She provides deckbuilders the luxury of increasing the win percentage against aggro for a minimal investment.
The strength of the non-rotating control elements, with the upcoming disruption additions, is well past my expectations. It is rare to see spells that cost one that are control-playable in newer formats, but the hits keep on coming. If Cut Down was not enough in a refreshed Lier deck, Rona’s Vortex will assist in pushing it over the edge. I am not one to get excited about Unsummon, especially one that does not save your own creatures, but this version is great. Rona’s Vortex does exactly what Unsummon should do for a control deck, and I absolutely love the design.
When stuck with a bunch of bounce spells, control can lose the late-game to creature-based decks that had no business winning. I suffered from this when I played older versions of Lier control decks, and Rona’s Vortex offers that upside I always wished I had. It bounces a creature in the early-game in a pinch, while turning into a true removal spell for four mana. Another instant here, Rona’s Vortex can be cast for a single mana on the opponent’s turn, a great attribute for anyone playing Lier. The deck I am mentally building has a pile of one-cost spells, something I am not used to playing in Standard control decks.
The True Glue
None of this is possible without the addition of Liliana. This will be a three- or four-of in my black-based control decks moving forward. I cannot imagine a Standard where it will have a low impact, regardless of how the times have changed.
There are better planeswalkers now, like The Wandering Emperor, which will still exist in Standard. That does not change the gross play pattern of resolving her on the play while the opponent’s first resolved spell is sacrificed. The continuing tax on each player’s hand is where the games will get ugly, regardless of the matchup. With the Lier package being a near slam-dunk, you can expect hand disruption to partner with Liliana. This Dimir Control prototype is made possible by the additions of Dominaria United, and I am pumped to see what is next!