Dominaria Set Review for Modern
- Rodrigo Martin
Dominaria's release is on the horizon and that means once thing for Modern players: time to brew decks and figure out which cards help which archetypes. This time, we have lots of reprints, awesome callbacks, Historic Spells and the new Enchantment mechanics: Sagas.
Many years have passed since we last visited the plane of Dominaria. Specifically, we last saw the plane in 2001, in the Apocalypse expansion, the multicolored collection where we last saw Urza and Gerrard alive.
This time, we return to Magic's most storied plane to find familiar faces (Teferi, Jaya, and Karn, to name a few), well-known locations (Jamuraa, Shiv, and Tolaria) and a bunch of throwback cards like Serra Disciple and Academy Drake.
One of the set's main themes is legendary spells, either in the shape of creatures (tons of uncommon creatures are legends) and never-before-seen legendary sorceries. In addition to legendary spells, Dominaria wants to tell stories, and this is seen nowhere more than in their new enchantment type - sagas.
As for regular creatures, many classic types are coming back, including knights, wizards, fungus, saprolings, goblins and elves. Finally, it should be noted that the number of reprints in Dominaria is greater than in other sets, adding cards to Modern that were not legal before: Goblin Warchief, Thorn Elemental, and Verdant Force being a few worthy of mention.
This time, I'll be ranking not by card, but by which colors/multicolor/artifacts/lands are the big winners of Dominaria, at least as far as Modern is concerned. As you might expect, these are representative of my opinions about the relative power of these cards, so don't be surprised if the top cards don't see play, or if cards not mentioned here do end up seeing considerable play, and if you have your own opinions, be sure to let me know in the comments below!
6. Lands and Multicolor
Zhalfirin Void: this might be the only playable land from the set for Modern, but boy does it look solid. It seems very appealing to have a scry-land that comes untapped for colorless decks like Eldrazi Tron, be it the new version with Serum Powder, or older versions. Decks like KCI might try it too, or really any deck that doesn't need a lot of color fixing and can afford the land slots.
Multicolor spells: there are some interesting cards but most of them are simply over-costed for fast formats like Modern. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria would be a nice addition for UW decks if Jace, the Mind Sculptor wasn't a card. Among the uncommon legendary creatures, Rhona, Disciple of Gix, Shanna, Sisay's Legacy and Adeliz, the Cinder Wind are the only ones likely cheap enough to see Modern play. Adeliz, in particular, seems perfect for a UR or Jeskai brew with the best wizards in Modern, but its legendary status will likely limit the number of copies you could play.
The green color gets fewer cards than its compatriots for Modern, though it still gets some interesting additions. The most notable of which is Steel Leaf Champion.
He is a substantial improvement over Leatherback Baloth in Mono Green Stompy, which has always served as a budget choice for beginners in Modern and this card could give it a boost in terms of quality. Not being blocked by creatures of power 2 or less is a great advantage and his superior typing could also give him a home in aggressive Elves shells.
Aside from the Elf Knight, other medium cards that might be worth keeping an eye are Adventurous Impulse, which serves as a fixed Ancient Stirrings, and Broken Bond as a sorcery Disenchant with a ramping upside, making it potentially suitable for Scapeshift sideboards.
There is also not much to look for from the darker color in Magic. Mythics and rares are either too expensive to see play or have slow effects like the Sagas. Phyrexian Scriptures seems interesting, but Damnation will do the same a turn earlier, but it might be worth trying in UB or Grixis Control decks.
Cast Down: this is by far the best black card in the entire set. There is a long tradition of two mana black instant removal spells with some restriction that began with Terror later improved with Doom Blade, Go for the Throat and finally Ultimate Price. In the case at hand, the creature cannot be legendary, a small drawback, at least in Modern.
If you check the most played legendary creatures in the format, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is the mos common, followed by Kataki, War's Wage, a card almost entirely found in sideboards, with Vendilion Clique rounding out the number three spot. Other well-known legends are Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Pia and Kiran Nalaar. Aside from those, Cast Down can deal almost with every other creature, that's why I think it will see play alongside Fatal Push in any black deck that doesn't have access to Terminate.
The other two cards that might see fringe play are Settle the Score to speed up plane-walkers ultimates in heavy control decks and finally Lich's Mastery is a nice addition for enchantment-based decks like Enduring Ideal.
Red is all about pushing forward Goblins and some Wizards. It's a shame that the new version of Jaya Ballard is so disappointing. Also, Squee, the Immortal, a very familiar face seems useless in Modern, barring some way of making three mana 2/1s playable in a format as fast as Modern.
Wizard's Lightning is the card I am most excited about for red, but it will only see play if somehow a Wizard tribal deck emerges in Modern. Its main counterpart that we already have, Lightning Bolt, performs the function admirably in all the decks where it's run and, honestly, what deck wants eight bolts? Burn obviously will, but you need to include more Wizards at the cost of cutting better spells.
The 8 Whack build doesn't really need the Warchief at all but the Prospector can do some crazy shenanigans with Empty the Warrens and Fecundity or Metallic Mimic + Murderous Recap, that's why I think it's the red card with the most potential from Dominaria.
White has lots of Knights, clerics and, of course, angels; especially for the Modern Humans deck. Dauntless Bodyguard is a good example of a Savannah Lions with an upside ability for Knight or Human tribal.
As for non-creature spells, Seal Away is a nice version of Journey to Nowhere with flash that can only target tapped creatures. This card might see some play in Bogles if somehow the deck wants switch Path to Exile in order to synergize more with the aura theme, but it seems unlikely that they will give up the ability to remove any creature, any time, just to get a bit better synergy in their removal slots.
Shalai, Voice of Plenty: this legendary angel is a sweet combination between Restoration Angel and Sigarda, Heron's Grace. She has equal stats and CMC as the Restoration Angel, but also gives hexproof to both you and your team.
If that wasn't enough, Shalai incorporates the Gavony Township ability for 6 mana, which can be pretty handy in Devoted Company decks once you get infinite mana to kill your opponent on the spot.
I could see this Angel as a silver bullet in GW Value Town or any midrange deck with Chord of Calling as a powerful tool against grindy match-ups like Jund or Jeskai.
At the top of the list, we have Magic's strongest color, the crème de la crème of Dominaria and early Magic history – Blue. This time featuring one of the most powerful callbacks from the entire set: Wizard's Retort. Obviously, it is not a straight version and you will need to have a Wizard in play to have the full value of Counterspell at your disposal. Thankfully for us, there are plenty of playable Wizards all over Modern, even more that you might think from scratch.
Having counterspells up as early as turn two can't be ignored in modern and there seems to be nice support for Wizard Tribal, either in just blue, or Jeskai, or even Grixis, as you have Dark Confidant in black, Grim Lavamancer in red, and some multicolored wizards like Reflector Mage or Meddling Mage.
Naban, Dean of Iteration: if somehow a Wizard deck shows up in Modern, this legendary sorcerer will be one of the key cards of the strategy. There are plenty of ETB (enter the battlefield) abilities of the aforementioned wizards: Snapcaster, Clique, and Reflector Mage all come to mind, but he can also be paired with Thalia's Lieutenant in a Wizard-Human deck since you will get also double counters on incoming wizards and other creatures if both Naban and the Lieutenant are in play.
Finally, another interesting card is Merfolk Trickster, which obviously is only relevant for Merfolk tribal decks, which don't see much play at the moment, but the trickster could replace the aforementioned Harbinger, since she has natural flash and can be played after blocks to tap down the most dangerous creature on the other side of the table.
0. Artifacts and Colorless Cards
But we're not done yet! There is a 0th spot on my list – colorless. Dominaria has, like many artifact-heavy sets before it, many very playable artifacts and some colorless cards that have potentially the highest potential of gracing Modern with their presence.
Mox Amber: Never, ever sleep on a Mox. Historically in Magic, moxes have always been powerful mana accelerants in any format where they can be played, from the original five, to Mox Diamond and, finally, the more recent additions of Chrome Mox and Mox Opal. There is a strong temptation whenever a new Mox comes out to say, "this will be the one that is finally fair and won't see play in every format," but time and time again, zero mana artifacts that tap for mana have proven too strong to ignore.
Although I am reluctant about Mox Amber, we might have some brand-new legendary creatures in future sets, or there may be some applications I haven't thought of, so we will have to wait longer to see its full potential. If you want to try it right away, Isamaru, Konda's Hound and Norin, the Wary are two one-mana legends that enable Mox Amber on turn one.
Karn Scion of Urza: speaking about legends, this is the second incarnation of our beloved Golem created by Urza long ago. Nothing compares to his previous form - Karn Liberated, but all his abilities can create a lot of value and he is a colorless 4-mana Planeswalker, making him a formidable mid-game threat in many decks. Although it seems unlikely that it will be played in Tron or Affinity, there is a lot of potential in this card and, sooner or later, it will find his place in the vast Modern metagame.
Damping Sphere: This hate ball made by Thran engineers is the most impactful card in the entire set for the Modern format and, likely, the most impactful card from Dominaria for Legacy and other eternal formats with sideboards as well. It seems, however, specifically designed to hose the biggest threats plaguing modern.
Its first ability completely nullifies all Tron Lands and Eldrazi Temples, slowing down the big mana archetypes and more specifically other busted lands like the Karoo Lands from the first Ravnica (Gruul Turf) and lands like Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.
Compared to Blood Moon against Tron decks, its CMC 2, allowing you to consistently drop it before they assemble Tron, even on the draw!
Aside from that, the sphere is also very handy against another powerful Modern and Legacy deck - Storm, as it is impossible for the deck to combo off with the artifact on the board.
In a diverse and huge format like Modern is, having access to a colorless sideboard tool able to attack different kinds of common strategies from various angles is great news for anyone looking for cards to put in their sideboard, as this will save a lot of space.
Consequently, it will be automatically included in a lot of decks that have trouble dealing with Tron, Storm and other fringe decks like Ad Nauseam or Amulet Combo.
And those are my thoughts on some of the look-out cards from Dominaria for Modern. This set has a lot of potential, but most of the face cards are legendary and/or over costed, so it seems like the rare slots and uncommon will be the places to look out for. My personal top 5 cards for Modern from Dominaria would be: Damping Sphere, Shalai, Wizard’s Retort, Goblin Prospector and Cast Down.
Hopefully, this article was enjoyable and, as always, any feedback or comments are greatly appreciated. Until next time!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.