A First Look at Standard with Dominaria
This week, I dive into the bevy of Dominaria spoilers available looking for interesting Standard-worthy cards that could shape the competitive meta in the months to come. Does Dominaria live up to the hype, or does Magic's most traveled plane come up short of expectations? Read on to find out.
The current standard format has kind of settled. There is monored Aggro and Grixis, Dimir and Constrictor as Midrange strategies and some control decks. There are certainly more decks in the format and that’s the reason why the format is so healthy right now. While there are many different strategies, the main role players are decks that play Hazoret or The Scarab God. That being said, I think it’s time for a change and I hope the new set Domiaria can shake things up. At the first sight Dominaria looks quite promising. There are only a few weeks before the new set is celebrating its release and because most of the cards of Dominaria have been spoiled already, you can start brewing with the new cards. Today I present some new cards of Dominaria that could be major role players in the new standard format.
Seal Away & Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
To me, Seal Away looks like a perfect removal spell in a control deck and is exactly what white control decks were missing. This card costs only two mana and can get rid of basically anything at instant speed. If you are playing a control deck, the opponent can't really play around Seal Away by not attacking because they'll usually have trouble beating you later in the game and flooding the board with more creatures is not a good plan against mass removal. So, the only thing they can do is to attack and then Seal Away functions like a cheap premium removal spell at instant speed. The new white enchantment is different from Settle the Wreckage. Against Settle the Wreckage, the opponent could still just attack with one creature to play around it. Often enough you were in an awkward spot where you had to spend 4 mana and give them a land to exile one creature. Against Seal Away, they cannot do that. Imagine you are playing both cards. What is the opponent doing? Attacking with one creature? Ok, I play my Seal Away and exile the creature. Attack with more than one creature? Ok, I cast my Settle the Wreckage. Do not attack at all and play another creature? Ok, I play Fumigate. Another thing that is good about Seal Away is that in a format with indestructible gods, embalm creatures and Rekindling Phoenix, it is pretty good to exile creatures instead of killing them. With Seal Away you will find yourself in situations where you do not want to exile their attacking creature immediately because you rather want to leave mana up for a counter spells. This way, if they don’t cast anything relevant, you can still exile the tapped creature at end of turn and, if they do, you can counter their spell and cast Seal Away the next turn.
Do you know another new card that's great with Seal Away? Teferi, Hero of Dominaria! His first ability looks very good. Playing Teferi, drawing a card, and untapping two lands at end of turn to have Seal Away or counter magic ready for their turn seems very powerful. His second ability helps you in two scenarios. First, it can protect Teferi in case you don't have another removal spell ready for opposing creatures. Second, it can get rid of nonland permanents, which is pretty relevant if the opponent has a planeswalker in play. We learned from Commit / Memory that putting cards on top of the owner’s library works well with Field of Ruin to, too. Even though it will not come up very often, Teferi’s ultimate is so strong that it makes losing a game nearly impossible. Well, if you activated Teferi 4 times to draw cards, you are usually pretty far ahead anyway, but it is still a good way to seal the deal. Teferi and Seal Away go so beautiful hand in hand with each other that I think they will mostly end up in the same deck together. There is already a White-Blue control deck in the current Standard format that could benefit from both cards: Azorious Approach.
Sample Decklist of Azorious Approach
|27Lands||21Instants and Sorceries||12Other Spells|
|4Field of Ruin||1Blink of an Eye||3Teferi, Hero of Dominaria|
|4Glacial Fortress||4Disallow||2Cast Out|
|3Ipnu Rivulet||3Essence Scatter||4Seal Away|
|4Irrigated Farmland||4Glimmer of Genius||3Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin|
|5Island||3Settle the Wreckage|
|5Plains||3Approach of the Second Sun|
Teferi and Seal Away look like they're at home here in Azorious Approach. The deck used to be a major role player in Standard, but nowadays it doesn't see a lot of play. Seal Away and Teferi improve the deck significantly and could help to ensure its triumphant return. While the new two cards fit really good in U/W Approach, they also could help to create a completely new deck: Jeskai Superfriends.
Sample Decklist of Jeskai Superfriends
|25Lands||11Planeswalkers and Creatures||24Other Spells|
|4Aether Hub||3Chandra, Torch of Defiance||2Essence Scatter|
|2Clifftop Retreat||3Teferi, Hero of Dominaria||4Harnessed Lightning|
|2Evolving Wilds||1Dovin Baan||4Magma Spray|
|1Field of Ruin||3Gideon of the Trials||1Negate|
|4Inspiring Vantage||1Nezahal, Primal Tide||2Settle the Wreckage|
|4Irrigated Farmland||1Baral's Expertise|
|1Mountain||1Karn's Temporal Sundering|
|2Plains||1Oath of Teferi|
|4Spirebluff Canal||2Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin|
This deck focuses heavily on getting ahead with planeswalkers. You try to keep the board clean with early removal spells and eventually generate value with a large number of planeswalkers that ideally protect each other. Cards like Oath of Teferi, Karn’s Temporal Sundering, and Baral’s Expertise work very well with planeswalkers, but you cannot play too many of them because they are very situational. Counter spells are not that good in this deck because often enough you tap out when casting a planeswalker. Card drawing spells are not really needed because your planeswalkers will draw enough cards for you. Getting a lot of value in Magic the Gathering is not enough, because eventually you have to win a game. Gideons and a Chandra Ultimate can get the job done, but you should not rely on them too much. That is why Nezahal, Primal Tide is in this deck. The blue dino is a perfect resilient finisher here. All in all, I think that Seal Away and Teferi are both very good Magic Cards and I would be very surprised if they do not see any standard play.
Llanowar Elves & Steel Leaf Champion
Well, Llanowar Elves has always been a huge role player in previous Standard formats and will definitely play a big role in the current Standard, too. The Elf makes these dream starts possible where you cast Steel Leaf Champion on turn 2, Chandra, Torch of Defiance on turn 3 or Verdurous Gearhulk on turn 4. I am convinced that all the current green decks like Constrictor or R/G Beats will play 4 copies of the Elf. There is a good chance that we also see more Magma Spray, Fatal Push, and even other one mana removal spells in the future. No one wants to let a turn one Llanowar Elves go unanswered.
Like Seal Away and Teferi, LLanowar Elves and Steel Leaf Champion play well together. While I don't think every deck playing Llanowar Elves will for sure play Steel Leaf Champion, I am sure the reverse is true. Having a 5/4 turn two is a huge play and can lead to quick kills. It is still a good play on turn three though, even if it's not quite as explosive. The ability of Steel Leaf Champion is quite relevant as well, preventing tokens from chump blocking it and preventing two power creatures from double blocking it and trading with it. I am not sure if Steel Leaf Champion will see that much play in standard, since its triple green casting cost is concerning, but when you consider the addition of Llanowar Elves, there appears to be a good chance that Steel Leaf Champion will fit nicely in some aggressive green decks.
While black already has good removal spells in form of Fatal Push and Vraska’s Contempt, it was missing something between a conditional one mana removal spell and a 4 mana premium removal spell. Black/Blue Control decks frequently playing three copies of Moment of Craving to fill this gap. On the one hand, Moment of Craving is pretty good against mono red and singleton cards like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner an Servant of the Conduit. On the other hand, however, it can't kill important three toughness creatures like Whirler Virtuoso and Winding Constrictor. Cast Down can get rid of nearly any early threat but can also kill many other bigger nonlegendary creatures like Glorybringer or Torrential Gearhulk. Cast Down is a great card for black decks and will most likely see play in Standard. I do not think that decklists will want to play four copies of the card because of the potential risk of drawing multiple copies just to die to legendary threats, especially when you look at how many legendary creatures are in Dominaria. Still, you cannot go wrong by playing a couple of Cast Down to have access to a cheap removal spell that hits most everything in the format.
It seems like Wizards of the Coast has not completely give up on tribal cards. This time they printed a few cards that have synergy with their namesake creature type: wizards. Basically, there is one good reason why there could be a Wizards deck: Adeliz, the Cinder Wind. This card can lead to some quick kills in a dedicated Wizards deck, while already being decent by itself. There are some other decent wizard synergies as well. For example, there is Wizard’s Lightning which is essentially a Lightning Bolt in a Wizards deck or Naru Meha, Master Wizard which can do some cool stuff. Let’s take a look at a sample decklist.
Sample Decklist of Wizards
|5Island||4Adeliz, the Cinder Wind||4Lightning Strike|
|4Spirebluff Canal||1Naban, Dean of Iteration||2Unsummon|
|4Sulfur Falls||2Naru Meha, Master Wizard||4Wizard's Lightning|
|4Unclaimed Territory||1Nimble Obstructionist|
Not every card of Dominaria has been spoiled yet, so there is a chance that we might get more powerful wizards. In the one drop slot you don't have many options, but Siren Stormchaser seems to be fine addition. It can protect your important wizards while hitting the opponent in the air. Soul Scar-Mage is already being played in monored, so there is no reason why not to play him here, too. You play 12 burn spells, so getting in for two points of damage or shrinking opposing creatures will come up often enough. Ghitu Lavamancer could be good, but you have to play more spells to make it work. Right now, I don't see any other good Wizards in the two-drop slot, but in an aggressive deck like this, you need some two-drops. Even though the two-drops here do not look very powerful, they still can get the job done. Merfolk Trickster can help you to win a race and Naban combos nicely with Trickster and Naru Meha. Spellweaver Eternal is just an aggressive threat which benefits from playing spells. 4 Adeliz is necessary even though it is legendary, because it is the best card in this deck and is the whole point of playing wizards. Nimble Obstructionist happens to be a wizard as well and you could probably play more if winning in the air is the gameplan. Naru Meha looks very strong when it copies a Wizard’s Lightning, but functions also as another lord. 14 spells seems to be enough. I would not differ from the 12 burn spells for sure, because they are just very good at either clearing the board or burning your opponent out. This way you can always make sure you can pump your wizards with Adeliz. On paper this deck looks interesting, but the Ixalan block taught us that tribal decks often look better than they are.
History of Benalia & Knights
History of Benalia may be the best Saga of the set. This card alone can deal 10 damage for only three mana and can deal even more if you have other knights in play. The card could be strong enough in white tokens deck even with no other knights, but I still tried to build a knight deck. Pretty similar with wizards, there are just not many knights or knight payoff cards yet, but you still have some options. There are some vampires in the Ixalan block that happen to be a knight, but they are better placed in vampire decks. This is how I would build a knight deck for now.
Sample Decklist of Knights
|4Concealed Courtyard||3Aryel, Knight of Windgrace||4History of Benalia|
|4Evolving Wilds||4Benalish Marshal||2Cast Down|
|4Isolated Chapel||4Dauntless Bodyguard||4Fatal Push|
|6Plains||4Knight of Grace||3Vraska's Contempt|
|2Swamp||4Knight of Malice|
|4Unclaimed Territory||4Metallic Mimic|
The deck tries to get the full value out of the last step of History of Benalia because every creature in this deck is a knight. Dauntless Bodyguard works well as a better version of Savannah Lions and is the only good Knight in the one drop slot so far. Knight of Malice is almost always a 3/2, while Knight of Grace is safer from removal spells because we see a lot more black than white removal spells these days. Benalish Marshal looks like a strong card that could definitely find a home in other decks, too. Imagine playing Scarm’s Expertise into Benalish Marshal. That is nine Power for only four mana! Metallic Mimic looks quite good with History of Benalia, too. Curving out with Mimic into History of Benalia into any creature on turn 4 means that you can attack for 20 damage turn 5. Aryel, Knight of Windgrave can be pretty good if unanswered either by killing opposing creatures or producing tokens. Having Vigilance is nice because that means it can attack and use its abilities. The removal spells help at clearing the board and not just losing to evasion creatures or gods. There are for sure other options to build a correct mana base, but I wanted to make sure you can cast Fatal Push with revolt sometimes, so that is the reason for the 4 Evolving Wilds. To me the deck looks maybe just a bit too fair, even though it has potential. Time will tell if we see a wizard or knight deck in Dominaria's Standard.
Finally, I think that Dominaria has some really good cards that will change the standard format, either by making current decks stronger or creating completely new decks. There are enough other cards in Dominaria that have potential to become important standard cards, so I am not finished at evaluating the new cards yet. Next time I will talk about artifact synergies in Dominaria, so don't miss out on that!
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