Artifact Synergies in Dominaria
- Christian Seibold
Christian is back at it with Dominaria, this time looking at potential artifact synergies for the upcoming expansion. From Djinns to Planeswalkers, and even to the new Saga Mechanic, Dominaria looks to be an artifacts matter set, pairing well with Kaldesh and bringing new and old archetypes to life.
In my last article, I talked about general good cards in Dominaria, which will probably impact standard. Cards like Llanowar Elves or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria don't need much setup to be good – they are already good. This time around, I want to talk about the cards in Dominaria which require some synergy before they can unleash their power. It seems like Dominaria has a little bit in common with Kaladesh, in that it has some strong artifact synergies. The new set contains cards which only function when you are playing a solid number of artifacts in your list. Let's dive in and see exactly what they are.
Phyrexian Scriptures & The Antiquities War
Let me introduce you to my favorite two Sagas of the set: Phyrexian Scriptures and The Antiquities War. Since Sagas are a complete new card type, it is not easy to evaluate them, but I will try my best.
Phyrexian Scriptures works mainly like a delayed Damnation but is actually much more than that. The first step puts a +1+1 counter on up to one target creature you control that also becomes an artifact in addition to its other types. The second step destroys all non-artifact creatures. The third step exiles all cards from your opponent’s graveyard. On one hand, the last step does unfortunately not work against The Scarab God or Rekindling Phoenix, but on the other hand is still pretty useful against creatures with eternalize or graveyard synergy decks like Gifts. The second step is the most interesting one and is the main reason why you want play Phyrexian Scriptures. A delayed Damnation looks pretty bad at first glance because the opponent gets one more attack before their creatures die. This analysis ignores the major advantage of a delayed board wipe though, which comes from the fact that you spend no mana wiping the board on the turn it goes off. Because of this, you can get ahead on the board immediately after sweeping it. This effect is kind of new and unique. Usually, cards like Fumigate use up your turn, giving your opponent a chance to reload, leaving you behind again. On the other hand, the moment you put Phyrexian Scriptures on the battlefield, you don't get to do anything other than pump a creature, assuming you even have one on the board, so it feels like you just skipped your turn. But what does your opponent get out of their turn? As mentioned before, the opponent gets another attack, but what do they do then? They can't play additional creatures because they would just die next turn. So, if they do not have resilient threats or planeswalkers to play, there is a good chance that they have to skip their turn as well. The ideal scenario is that you already have a creature in play, which survives the second step and you can go further ahead when step two is happening by playing a big threat like The Scarab God or a planeswalker like Liliana, Death's Majesty.
Sure, Phyrexian Scriptures is also kind of a nonbo with The Scarab God, since the last step exiles the opponent’s graveyard, but you can still steal one of their creatures when the trigger of the third step is on the stack. The first step is mainly here to save your creature from the second step, but you can also make use of the +1+1 counter for example with Walking Ballista. Together, with Phyrexian Scriptures, the Ballista works very well against cards like Rekindling Phoenix, because it can ping the Egg after the enchantment killed the Phoenix. While I think Phyrexian Scriptures has potential, it still has two disadvantages. First, Phyrexian Scriptures is pretty bad when it doesn't kill the opponent's threats. We live in a standard format with indestructible Gods, Rekindling Phoenix, Vehicles and artifact creatures, so maybe right now isn't the best time for the card to shine. Second, the black Saga can be killed before it can sweep the board. Most of the time this will not happen game one, but post board decks, especially green ones, have answers to enchantments. I think the power level of this card depends heavily on the metagame. You might be wondering - where does this fit right now? I already mentioned some cards that are working well together with Phyrexian Scriptures: Walking Ballista, The Scarab God, and Liliana. All of them are currently being played in Dimir Midrange, which does not play tons of creatures and totally could benefit from a one sided wrath effect. The deck is a very strong choice in standard right now and I can see Phyrexian Scriptures making the deck better.
Now I come to a card people have not talked too much about yet: The Antiquities War. On the first look this card looks very slow and needs a lot of set up to work, but I think it is a very interesting build around card. The first two steps are digging for artifacts, which will eventually transform into 5/5 creatures at step 3. To finish a game you need at least 4 artifacts in play, which is not that problematic, because you already can find two with Antiquities War itself and you want to play at least 20 artifacts in a deck playing The Antiquities War to make sure you are not missing hits with the first two steps. I wondered what an Antiquities War deck would look like. One thing was certain though - you need to have enough artifacts in play to kill when step three triggers. You can either go for value and add Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot and Prophetic Prism to the deck or you can play Cogworker's Puzzleknot and Servo Schematic to make sure you have enough artifacts in play. Treasures are also pretty useful when they are also 5/5s, so Treasure Map / Treasure Cove looks like a perfect card for Antiquities War, providing you three artifacts for when it flips. Now we have enough cheap artifacts in the format to make the deck work, but when would you have time to cast a four mana spell which has no sudden impact on the board? Well, I just talked about Phyrexian Scriptures, which can give you time to cast The Antiquities War. The two Sagas work nicely with each other in two scenarios. The first scenario is that you cast Phyrexian Scriptures first to clear the board on the following turn and have time to cast The Antiquities War. Second scenario is that you play The Antiquites War first and then play Phyrexian Scriptures the following turn. This way when the last step of the blue Saga is happening, your black Saga makes sure to kill opposing creatures and you can get through with your 5/5s. It is all a matter of timing. Another synergy between the two Sagas is that Phyrexian Scriptures transforms your creature into artifacts. This way your creatures can attack for 6 damage, five from becoming a 5/5 and an extra one damage from the +1/+1 counter. Here is a sample decklist for U/B Sagas:
Sample decklist of U/B Sagas
|4Drowned Catacomb||4Glint-Nest Crane||4Fatal Push|
|4Fetid Pools||4Sailor of Means||4Metalspinner's Puzzleknot|
|4Island||4Walking Ballista||4Prophetic Prism|
|4Zhalfirin Void||4Treasure Map / Treasure Cove|
|4The Antiquities War|
This is how this deck could play out: T2 Prophetic Prism, T3 Sailor of Means, T4 Phyrexian Scriptures, T5 Clear the board, cast The Antiquities War. T6 play 2 more artifacts, which you found with the blue Saga. T7 attack for 26. This draw is not a MagicalChristmasLand scenario as you can replace many cards other than the two Sagas and still end up with this outcome. So, finding the Sagas is key here, which is why I went for Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot and Prophetic Prism, which draw me cards instead of Cogworker’s Puzzleknot and Servo Schematic. Treasure Map also helps you to find your Sagas and it gives you three artifacts in play once it flips. Most of the time Renegade Map helps you to find a land or triggers Revolt for Fatal Push, but when you already have enough lands in play, it can work as another 5/5 threat, too. Playing 12 creatures seems to be fine.
You want to play a certain critical mass of creatures to get value out of Phyrexian Scriputres’ first step. Walking Ballista is good at killing early one toughness creatures like Siphoner or Llanowar Elves, but also works well with your Sagas. Phyrexian Scriptures can give Walking Ballista another +1+1 counter and with The Antiquities War the Ballista can attack as a 6/6 or more depending on how many counters it has on it. Glint-Nest Crane is another cheap creature that generates card advantage. Sailor of Means makes an appearance outside of limited here as an annoying blocker for aggressive decks, but also an artifact generator, which can either be used for extra mana if needed or can attack for five damage. Fatal Push is necessary to survive the early game and with Ballista, Treasures and Puzzleknot it should not be that hard to get Revolt. Playing 4 copies of both Sagas is essential, since you really want to play one of them on turn 4. Ideally you play both Sagas turn four and five, which should not be that difficult with scrying and card draw. 20 Lands seems to be enough since you play four Maps and your most expensive spells only cost four mana. 16 blue sources and 16 black sources is certainly enough, especially with Prism, so you are able to play colorless lands. I would try out Zhalfirin Void. That card provides you a scry effect for free, which helps at finding your Sagas one turn earlier. Having access to Duress and Negate is pretty good to fight control decks. Finally, I should mention that it's impossible to predict the exact future and/or if a deck like this will exist, and even if it does, if it will look like this. Nevertheless, I think the deck fun to play and I'm curious if we will see anything like it in the upcoming new standard format.
Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp & Karn, Scion of Urza
Let’s come to my favorite card of the set: Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp. With a little setup, this card is a 5/6 Flyer for only 4 mana! Looking at the current standard format, a 5/6 flying creature is huge. It dominates Glorybringer and Rekindling Phoenix, can block The Scarab God or Hazoret, the Fervent, and cannot be blocked by Torrential Gerhulk or Carnage Tyrant. It dodges Fatal Push, Cast Down and all the red removal spells. The only question is which deck does it fit in? Well, obviously it needs a deck with some cheap artifacts, to make sure you can reliably cast it on turn four, though casting it for six sometimes is not the end of the world necessarily. There is already a deck which is playing a decent amount of artifacts: Mardu Vehicles. While I think Vehicles could totally benefit from a huge flyer, tapping an artifact can actually be a drawback here, because you lose tempo by not attacking with Bomat Courier, Scrapheap Scrounger, or your other creatures. I totally think that there could be an aggressive version of Vehicles playing Zahid, but the Djinn also fits perfectly in another deck: Grixis Improvise. Before I show you a sample decklist of the new Grixis Improvise, let me talk about the new colorless planeswalker: Karn, Scion of Urza.
By the time writing the new Karn is the most expensive card of Dominaria. Karn only costs 4 colorless mana, which means it can be played in any deck. When it comes to power level, Karn reminds me of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, which was a huge role player in standard for years. Coming into play with 5 loyality is huge, especially when it’s most expensive minus ability only costs two. Karn provides all the important things that a planeswalker needs to be good: it costs only 4 mana, can protect itself, and generates card advantage. The first two abilities are not super exciting, but nevertheless are helpful for getting value. Either you +1 Karn to get the worse card out of two or you just -1 to get a specific card exiled with the first ability. What's really interesting is the -2 ability: create a 0/0 colourless Construct artifact creature token with “This creature gets +1+1 for each artifact you control”. Well, putting a 1/1 into the battlefield does not look super exciting, but how about a 5/5 which can even get bigger in the following turns? While Karn, Scion of Urza seems to be a decent card, even without much setup, it looks like a really powerful planeswalker in a deck playing artifacts because of the way you can abuse the third ability. If you play some cheap artifacts in the early game, Karn can start producing big tokens on turn 4. The ability “improvise” also benefits from having multiple artifacts in play early in the game. So, as with Zahid, I wanted to put Karn, Scion of Urza in an Improvise deck. Here is a sample decklist:
Sample Decklist of Grixis Improvise
|3Dragonskull Summit||4Herald of Anguish||4Fatal Push|
|4Fetid Pools||4Maverick Thopterist||2Aethersphere Harvester|
|1Island||4Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp||4Cogworker's Puzzleknot|
|4Spire of Industry||4Servo Schematic|
|4Spirebluff Canal||4Karn, Scion of Urza|
|1Tezzeret the Schemer|
The decklist is pretty straightforward. The game plan is simple here: In the first couple of turns you try to get many artifacts in play, which will help you to unleash the power of cards like Karn, Tezzeret, Zahid and Herald. Playing 4 Karn and 4 Zahid should not be very problematic even though they are legendary. Drawing multiple copies of Karn is not a big deal, since in this deck you usually use the third ability of Karn to get big artifact creatures in play. This way Karn eventually dies anyway and then you can just play another one. Playing 4 copies of Zahid is also not a problem at all, because the opponent has to deal with your 5/6 Flyer anyway or they just die real quick. I would try playing Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot over Prophetic Prism because the mana seems to be good enough and the Prism is not really good at fixing mana for Zahid or Improvise spells anyway. Cogworker’s Puzzleknot and Servo Schematic are essential to get multiple artifacts in play early on. Aethersphere Harvester helps you to survive the early game and is easy to crew with tokens of Puzzleknot, Schematic or Maverick Thopterist.
Fatal Push is also here to have a better early game, because playing 2 mana artifacts which do not influence the board much is definitely a tempo loss. Renegade Map fixes your mana but when you have enough lands, it can also help you at ramping to improvise cards or as a sacrifice to Herald of Anguish. This would provide a home for the herald as well, as it has always been a strong card, but has lacked a home. Let’s hope it has finally found one here. Grixis Improvise already existed before Karn and Zahid were printed, even though it wasn't a top tier deck. With Dominaria, it looks so much better and I would not be surprised if this deck turns out to be very strong. Still, there are things that are always concerning with decks that play weaker cards to make other cards stronger. It is the same dilemma with ramp decks. In this deck all the artifacts are rather weak cards by themselves and are only being played to enable the power of Zahid, Karn and Herald of Anguish. This deck can have two problems. The first one is that even though having 1 artifact in play is enough for Zahid, it definitely is not for Karn and Herald of Anguish. So, you have to draw multiple artifacts early on or this deck does not function, and you will find yourself with multiple dead cards in your hand. The second one is that even if you draw enough small artifacts, you could still fail to find your payoff cards. Nevertheless, the synergy is there for sure and testing is required to tell how consistent this deck is. I am being optimistic here and could see Improvise as a tier 1 deck in Dominaria.
All in all I think that Zahid, Djnn of the Lamp and Karn, Scion of Urza will influence the standard format significantly because these cards are just really strong and they also are playable in multiple decks. Phyrexian Scriptures and The Antiquies War have potential, but are much more build-around-cards. We will see if there will be a sweet deck playing the blue or black (or even both) Sagas. The hype about Dominaria is there for a good reason. The set seems to be awesome and contains a lot of good cards for constructed. It's thrilling waiting to see which decks become dominant in the upcoming standard format.
Thanks for reading
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