Publisher: Wizards Of The Coast
Released: April 27, 2018
MSRP: $119 CAD, $97 USD
“Heart Of The Cards”
2018 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Magic: The Gathering, and with it comes one of the most significant sets the game has ever had. For the past several years, almost every new Magic set has taken us to a new plane of existence and given us a whole new world to experience. But in the original days of Magic, every story and every new set took us to new lands and told us new stories within the single, vast realm of Dominaria.
If that sounds boring compared to jumping around to a new dimension every year or so, it’s not. Dominaria is second only to Middle-Earth (and possibly Discworld) when it comes to richly-detailed fantasy worlds, and has seen numerous cataclysmic wars and epic adventures with tons of interesting characters across the first decade of its history. And history really is the word with Dominaria. The entire set is a celebration of the rich history of Magic: The Gathering, but rather than making a collection of Magic’s greatest hits, Wizards Of The Coast went above and beyond, introducing several significant rule updates, a highly impactful new keyword, an entirely new card type and even a new constructed format, making Dominaria a set you really don’t want to miss.
Dominaria represents some of the biggest changes for Magic the Gathering in quite a while, with a ton of new mechanics and rule changes. While I can’t detail every single one here, we’ll discuss the most interesting an important ones. First and perhaps most significant, is the addition of the Historic keyword. Unlike other keywords, Historic doesn’t show up on individual cards. Instead, Historic is an umbrella term for characters or objects from Magic’s history. Legendary creatures are of course Historic, as are Artifacts, as they’re objects from throughout history.
The Historic keyword also covers Sagas, one of my favorite elements new to Dominaria. Sagas are a new type of enchantments that tell the stories of people or events from throughout Magic’s history, and do so entirely through game mechanics. Phyrexian Scriptures for instance, tells the story of the Phyrexians, one of the greatest enemies in all of Magic that operate like a fantasy version of the Borg. Across three turns, Phyrexian Scriptures turns one creature into an artifact creature and makes it more powerful, then destroys everything that isn’t an artifact and on the third turn exiles every opponents graveyard, ensuring that everything that died stays dead. Since the effects of Sagas trigger by having counters placed on them, players may be able to fast-forward Sagas by proliferating their counters, or remove counters from them, making their effects trigger multiple times.
Dominaria also introduces legendary sorceries. Though few in number, legendary sorceries are very powerful and require a legendary creature or planeswalker to be in play before you can cast them. New ornate frames around all legendary cards make it clear when a powerful, potentially game-changing card is hitting the field.
Returning to Magic with Dominaria is the Kicker keyword ability, which I hadn’t consciously realized had gone away until I heard it was coming back. Perhaps the most “mechanical” mechanic in all of Magic, Kicker lets you pay an extra cost for an additional effect on spells. For instance, the sorcery Fight with Fire deals five damage to target creature for two generic mana and one red; pay it’s Kicker cost of five generic and a red however, and it deals ten damage instead and lets you divide the damage however you choose amongst any number of creatures, players or planeswalkers.
Dominaria also brings with it several major rule changes, which have already had a pretty significant impact on the handful of games I’ve had since Dominaria’s pre-release. Many of these rules basically translate into ‘”Planeswalkers are now a little easier to play, and are a lot less safe”.
With the release of Dominaria, a ton (and I mean a ton) of cards have received changes to their oracle text, mainly concerning what spells can target which cards. If you don’t know what oracle text is, think of it as patch notes, handed down directly from Wizards of the Coast. You can check the oracle text of individual cards here, but as I understand it, the general rule is that any spell that could target “creatures or players” can now target planeswalkers as well, and any spell that could only target a single kind of permanent stays how it is. The easiest example is that Lightning Bolt now deals 3 damage to “any target”, and current and future versions of that card will be printed to reflect this. A smaller, though still significant change is that all planewalkers now count as legendary, which also makes them historic, which in turn allows the Dominaria set, as well as future sets presumably, to interact with and cast them more easily.
Coinciding with the release of Dominaria is Magic’s new format, Brawl; and if Wizards of the Coast’s naming conventions were a little more flippant, this format could have easily been named Mini-Commander, since that’s basically what it is. I don’t say that to be reductive or critical, because Brawl is great, but it’s easy to imagine that Brawl was born from Wizards taking a look at the Commander format and asking themselves “What if this was less intimidating?”
Like Commander, Brawl is a singleton format, meaning that you can only have one of each card in your deck. Unlike Commander though, the recommended deck size is 60 cards (or 59 plus 1 commander) rather than 100, making it a lot easier to find enough unique cards that go together to fill out a deck. Each deck gets a commander that follows standard commander rules which you can read about here. Life also starts at 30 in Brawl rather than Commander’s 40, giving players a little more time to set up their boards and encouraging a slightly slower game with more back and forth interaction.
If there’s one problem I have with Brawl it’s……well, it’s with Wizards Of The Coast actually. It’s the fact that Brawl is being advertised as a Standard-only format when really, Wizards should have promoted Brawl as a non-rotating format. Aaaaannnnndddd writing that sentence, I just realized why they aren’t doing that, to sell more Dominaria boxes. Come on Wizards!
In an alternate universe, I could easily imagine Brawl being the standard way to play Magic. It’s most certainly my new favorite way to play Magic after Modern, and it’s a great alternative to Commander for people who don’t want to set aside an entire night on a single game of Magic. Or if you don’t have a big enough circle of Magic-playing friends.
Or a big enough table.
Before we go, let’s look a at few specific cards in Dominaria. None of these are exactly my favorite cards in the set (though some are close), but these cards are some of the most interesting.
I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that planeswalkers are some of the coolest cards in the game, and I typically like to find a way to fit one or more of them into nearly every deck I build. Dominaria gives us five planeswalkers, but the first two are different versions of the same character, Teferi. I always get a little annoyed when a new Magic set does that, even when both versions are cool cards. I mean, was there not a single other character that could have been pulled from Magic’s history to serve as another planeswalker, or another new character Wizards could have made up?
Regardless, both versions of Teferi, Timebender and Hero of Dominaria, are indeed pretty cool. The latter card I managed to draft from my pre-release booster box. Both cards are good, all-purpose cards, and Terferi, Timebender in particular strikes me as a good planeswalker for Magic beginners due to how effective and straightforward his abilities are.
Karn, Scion of Urza is one of the most interesting planeswalkers in Dominaria, if not necessarily the best. Most planeswalkers have a basic plus ability, a more powerful, minus ability and what’s generally thought of an as “Ultimate” ability that’s usually good enough to make a player self-destruct their planeswalker to use rather than risk losing. I always find it interesting when a new planeswalker upends that template, and even more so with this version of Karn because frankly, I have no idea if this card is good or not. His ultimate ability seems great, especially in an artifact-heavy deck, but his first ability is basically a bad version of Fact or Fiction, which his second ability can remedy, but in a really slow, roundabout way. Either way, I’m glad to see Karn again, as my favorite characters in Magic are usually the weirder, more out-there characters. I’m personally crossing my fingers that Elesh Norn will be a planeswalker someday and yeah, yeah, I know Phyrexians can’t have the spark blah blah blah that’s what writers are for.
And now, my personal favorite planeswalker in Dominaria, Jaya Ballard. All throughout Magic’s history, cards with Jaya Ballard on them have been good for one thing. Burn decks. Decks jam-packed with instants and sorceries that are built to burn your opponent to the ground before they can build up their board, and Jaya Ballard facilitates burn decks beautifully. Her first plus ability provides red mana to pay for your Shocks and Lightning Bolts, her second ditches cards in your hand in exchange for cards you need right now, and her ultimate allows you to play all of your burn spells a second time from the graveyard. My one concern is that her mana cost might be a little high for a lot of burn decks, though as someone who doesn’t really play burn decks, I have to admit that’s all speculation. What certainly isn’t speculation is that Jaya Ballard has some of the best art I’ve ever seen for any planeswalker, not just in Dominaria. Seriously, look at the color and all that detail. Look at the lighting! If I don’t end up pulling her out of my Dominaria box, I’m probably tracking her down for the art alone.
Oh, and there’s also another Chandra, which makes this the ninth Chandra planeswalker. Whatever, she’s fine. Put her with the others.
Board the Weatherlight
It’s not fancy, but if you’re playing with a deck that uses a lot of historic cards, Board The Weatherlight is a good staple that can help you get a step ahead of your opponent. Is it the best card-finding spell out there? No, but in the right deck, such as the artifact-heavy deck that I put it in, it can often read “Look at the top five cards of your library and put one of them into your hand.”, making it very effective and an acceptable alternative to Brainstorm if you’re not using blue.
Firesong and Sunspeaker
Your red damage spells heal you and your white healing spells bolt your enemy’s stuff? What’s not to like? Well, maybe the price. At a converted mana cost of six, these guys are a little on the expensive side, but for a set of effects like this, not to mention the size of the creature they’re attached to, it could hardly be less. It’s also a 4/6 creature on top of all that, making it a good blocker to hold off your opponent as you cast your other spells and take advantage of its effects.
Mishra’s Self-Replicator might be one of the most dangerous army-in-a-can cards I’ve ever seen, creating a copy of itself for 1 generic mana every time you cast a historic spell; and each copy has that same ability. If you play your cards right, your compliment of Mishra’s Self-Replicators can double multiple times in a single turn. One becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes eight, eight becomes sixteen……I could go on. My record so far is twenty-three.
This thing is just cool. I love the idea of painting targets and watching them get blown up at random. Is it the most efficient way to get rid of a specific annoying target? Nope, but it can target any non-enchantment permanent, so it can help even the odds if you’re getting overwhelmed or blow up your opponents lands to slow them down. Even better, if you can find a way to send it back to your hand (with Blink of an Eye for instance) and then recast it, you can paint a whole new set of targets and keep the pain train rolling.
Finally, for those who like to live dangerously, there’s Lich’s Mastery. This enchantment, for three generic and three black mana, prevents you from losing the game and lets you draw a card for each point of life you gain. You lose the game if it ever leaves the field, but it has Hexproof, so your opponent can’t just blow it up the instant you play it and make you lose immediately.
Sounds great right? Here’s the other half. Any time you would take damage, you have to exile cards from either your hand or graveyard equal to the damage you took. Don’t have enough cards in either of those places to account for getting slugged by a Verdant Force? No problem! Lich’s Mastery will helpfully let you exile permanents you control on the field instead. And now you see where this is going, if you keep getting punched in the face, Lich’s Mastery will eat your graveyard, then your hand, then you.
I guess you could Traumatize yourself to give yourself plenty of time to beat your opponent, or just play a reanimator deck so you’re constantly milling yourself anyways
Appropriate for a set themed around returning the birthplace of Magic, playing Dominaria feels in many ways like playing with older sets, though streamlined by Wizards of the Coast through twenty-five years of experience. Most of the cards seem to interact directly with the players and the board rather than anyone’s deck and all the action feels a little slower and more methodical. I mean that as a compliment by the way. Particularly after having just built an especially nasty infect/mill deck, I appreciate playing with a set where both players take the time to set up a board and slowly maneuver around the other player, keeping their opponent in check as it were, until it’s time to…mate.
Think about it.
Also Try: Any Masters Set, Dollar Store Drafts