A Limited Guide to Dominaria United
Four years ago Wizards returned to their original plane with Dominaria. The set quickly became a hit with players new and old alike for a wide variety of reasons - from an entertaining and well-designed Limited environment to the nostalgic peek back at beloved characters and locations. Now we’re returning to Dominaria again in Dominaria United, and there is again an element of nostalgia - except this time it’s nostalgia with an edge. The Phyrexians have returned to wage Magic’s original war, and the consequences are sure to reverberate throughout the Multiverse. And what does DMU Limited have in store for us? Let’s take a look!
Mechanics and Themes
Kicker returns for the billionth time, and why are we seeing it again? Because it’s super effective and fun! Kicker provides a player with options: cast a spell for its base cost to receive its benefits right away, or pay its Kicker cost later for a more powerful effect. The result is a card that scales well from the early game to the late, providing the flexibility of options that Magic players love.
DMU has an added twist: the Kicker costs in the set require different colors of mana than the card’s base color. This design allows players to pick up mono-color cards that nudge them towards a particular color pair. More intriguingly, particularly powerful Kicker cards may push a player towards an additional splash; after all, in the worst case the card can still be cast for its base cost. The player’s decision will influence their draft choices and deck construction, opening up additional pivot points in Limited - always a good thing!
Cards with the Domain ability scale with the number of basic land types you have in play; it’s another example of DMU encouraging players to delve into multiple colors without forcing them to do so. Some permanents with Domain are like Territorial Maro, and can grow even after the card is played. Others, such as Voda Sea Scavenger, have Domain effects that only matter at the moment of casting. These latter cards require a tactical mindset while figuring out when to play them.
Domain cards are found in all five colors. However they’re concentrated in Green, which is also the color that will find it easiest to dig for the varied lands that it wants.
A creature with Enlist can use another creature to buff its power (but not its toughness) when it attacks. This allows small creatures to become big threats in combat. However, Enlist creatures are also vulnerable to simply dying during combat. This makes Coalition Skyknight particularly valuable as an Enlist creature with evasion. In contrast, Coalition Warbrute does not have the ability to take to the skies - but pumping its power allows it to trample over small blockers
Enlist can be found on White, Red, and Green creatures.
Sagas / Read Ahead
The popular enchantment subtype introduced in Dominaria returns with an added twist. All Sagas in DMU have the Read Ahead rules text, which allows the caster to start the Saga at any chapter, not just the first. This influences the design of the Sagas: their powerful Chapter III effects are all explicitly better if the first two chapters are allowed to fire, but specific circumstances may cause the player to Read Ahead and finish the Saga sooner. For example Yotia Declares War is definitely stronger if you’re patient and start with the Saga creating its Thopter token. But if you already have an artifact in play, using Read Ahead to start at Chapter III may be the right move to push in some damage. Similarly, starting The Weatherseed Treaty at Chapter I is desirable to maximize its later Domain effect, but there will be times when you just want to start on Chapter III to win the game on the spot.
Sagas are represented in all five colors.
One of Dominaria’s themes was “Legendary matters”, and that theme returns in DMU… but to a much lesser degree. There are a few cards that care about whether a creature is Legendary - an Equipment that becomes more effective on Legendary creatures, a mana rock that supercharges your mana production if you have a Legendary creature in play - and that may be enough to sway a draft pick or two.
If you love nothing better than to face down a horde of walls, then your dream may come true in DMU! There are a few “Defender matters” creatures in the set, and although most of them are simply defensive creatures with minor upside, both Coral Colony and Blight Pile have the ability to win a long protracted game. And if you’re all-in on the Defender plan, Shield-Wall Sentinel is an excellent tutor for your win conditions.
Creatures with Defender can be found in every color except Red, although only the Blue and Black ones are capable of winning a game on their own.
Future Limited articles will not mention Stun counters, as Wizards has announced them to be evergreen. However they’re new to DMU, so they’re worth a mention now! Stun counters act as temporary interaction, disabling an opponent’s creature from attacking or blocking or using any tap abilities. Note that Stun counters are also effective against untap effects.
Stun counters can only be found in Blue.
Modern magic design, ten two-color signpost uncommons, etc, etc. Let’s take a… actually, hold on for a second. Dominaria United actually seems to be designed around an archetype for each individual color, with the signpost uncommons being a natural combination of those themes. So let’s start by talking about these mono-color themes!
White: Go Wide
White is about going wide with small creatures and tokens. A good example is Resolute Reinforcements, which is essentially the standard 2/2 for 2 mana except it’s split over two bodies. The benefits? Cards like Charismatic Vanguard, which prefers multiple small creatures over a single large threat.
Blue: Instants and Sorceries
An “instants and sorceries” theme is often tricky to pay off in Limited, where a board presence is almost always a necessity to win - or simply survive. The solution in DMU is to have creatures that interact with instants and sorceries in a variety of ways. Djinn of the Fountain rewards you with a buffet of value, while Tolarian Terror can grow to become a cheap and dangerous threat. These upsides may seem relatively minor, but it’s important to remember that they’re bonuses on top of your presumably powerful instants and sorceries.
Black: Sacrifice and Graveyard
Death can be a benefit, and the graveyard can simply be another font of resources. Cult Conscript is an excellent example that fulfills three roles: it’s a good card to mill, a good card to sacrifice, and a recurring threat from the graveyard. Writhing Necromass provides another benefit for quickly dumping creatures into your graveyard; in the late game I could easily imagine casting it for the incredibly low price of a single mana.
The fact that Red wants to attack is no surprise. The minor twist is that it wants to do so by growing tall. The Enlist mechanic allows small creatures such as Balduvian Berserker to become quite big, and if it trades in battle it’s likely to take an additional enemy out with it. There’s other ways to push in damage too; Hammerhand is a reprint that won plenty of games out of nowhere back in M15, and it’s likely to do the same here.
Green: Ramp and Domain
Green loves to ramp and play expensive cards ahead of curve - but in DMU it has additional land incentives to chase after. Play additional basic land types to increase your Domain, and a creature like Nishoba Brawler becomes a very large threat for a very small cost. How to find those lands? Green has more than its typical share of ways to search for lands, including Floriferous Vinewall, which will dig for whatever kind of land you need.
Now let’s get into the two-color themes. Of note: each color pair actually has two legendary uncommons, with one containing a double-pip casting cost that makes it more difficult to splash. Each color pair also has two uncommon Kicker spells, although not all of them match their respective archetypes so we’ll only take a look at one for each.
White/Blue: Go Wide, Instants and Sorceries
There’s multiple ways to combine these themes into a single card, and Raff, Weatherlight Stalwart and Tura Kennerud, Skyknight exemplify two of them. Both have an effect when you cast an instant or sorcery: Tura creates tokens; and Raff lets you use a board of creatures to draw cards, while also allowing you to buff them all for a devastating attack. Finding it difficult to balance creatures with non-creature spells? Grab cards like Protect the Negotiators for an easy way to get both.
White/Black: Go Wide, Sacrifice and Graveyard
A go-wide strategy is a natural fit for a sacrifice archetype, with plenty of fodder that can be exploited by a creature such as Aron, Benalia’s Ruin. Elas Il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim is another payoff that rewards you for a creature’s entrance and its exit. One issue with this strategy is that it often requires enablers in order to operate at a reasonable efficiency. If your opponent takes those enablers away then your deck spins its wheels and doesn’t do much of anything. If that happens, Sheoldred’s Restoration will be useful in reanimating the key pieces of your deck.
Blue/Black: Instants and Sorceries, Sacrifice and Graveyard
There’s not a ton to say about Vohar, Vodalian Descrator and Rona, Sheoldred’s Faithful; they’re simply two Blue/Black uncommons that are clearly intended to work with both instants/sorceries and a self-mill theme. Other cards in this archetype will lean more heavily one way or the other - for example, Monstrous War-Leech is an incredible self-mill enabler and payoff that has nothing to do with instants or sorceries. Playing this archetype will require drafting the correct balance of each.
Blue/Red: Instants and Sorceries, Aggro
Many Magic players associate Blue with a patient, thoughtful strategy. But mix it up with Red, and you get an archetype that just wants to blast away. Balmor, Battlemage Captain is an excessively amazing way to do so: a cheap evasive threat that buffs your creatures to insane levels. Alternatively, Najal, the Storm Runner encourages a longer game by giving you great value - once you have the mana to pay for it. However I suspect that DMU intends for players to draft the quicker, all-in deck. Just look at Battlewing Mystic, which may have nothing to do with instants and sorceries - but which repays you for playing a deck full of cheap threats and pump spells by refilling your hand.
Black/Red: Sacrifice and Graveyard, Aggro
Activating the tap ability of Lagomos, Hand of Hatred seems difficult, and I would not plan a deck around being able to do so. But his passive ability to continually generate an expendable token is great, especially if combined with Garna, Bloodfist of Keld to force a difficult choice upon the opponent. This archetype of continually attacking without caring if your attackers die (and maybe even celebrating if they do) is oddly relaxing, and if your store of attackers somehow gets low, just kick a creature like Balduvian Atrocity to push in for the final damage that you need.
Black/Green: Sacrifice and Graveyard, Ramp and Domain
Graveyard strategies and ramp strategies both take awhile to get going, and the combination of the two fits together strangely well. Ramp a little, self-mill a little, and then play Bortuk Bonerattle to get some sweet value. Or lean into your self-mill a little harder with Uurg, Spawn of Turg and see how fast you can make a big beefy beater. All of these strategies take time to get going, which is why Black/Green has a plethora of reasonable removal spells - or Choking Miasma, which can sweep aside the army of an overconfident and overextended opponent.
Red/White: Aggro, Go Wide
An aggro deck can run into trouble if an opponent manages to stall or kill the early threats. The Red/White aggro archetype DMU has a solution for both problems: use Enlist or a creature like Tori D’Avenant, Fury Rider to rampage past defenders, and a card such as Baird, Argivian Recruiter to continually generate creatures to hit your opponent with. Evasive threats are nice as well, which makes Cleaving Skyrider particularly attractive as a flier with some additional late-game utility.
Red/Green: Aggro, Ramp and Domain
Aggro and ramp are an odd pairing. What the archetype aims to do is play threats on curve, and make them exponentially stronger. Radha, Coalition Warlord does so with her buffing ability, turning even small creatures into potent attackers. You can grow in other ways as well; Rulik Mons, Warren Chief is a difficult to block creature who also expands your board, either through tokens or through lands. The important thing is that you want to dump a threat out onto the board every turn, which makes the flexibility of Yavimaya Iconoclast particularly useful if you’re playing these colors.
Green/White: Ramp and Domain, Go Wide
A go-wide strategy may not feel like it naturally pairs well with Domain, but Zar Ojanen, Scion of Efrava is so absurdly suited for both that it almost feels like cheating. Interestingly, Queen Allenal of Ruadach only fits the go-wide half of this archetype; both that card and Strength of the Coalition indicate that the real strength of the color-pair is in buffing a large army of tokens and swinging in for the win. The ramp/Domain half of the equation feels more like a fail safe should the game go long.
Green/Blue: Ramp and Domain, Instants and Sorceries
Blue/Green is a difficult color pair to find a theme for, and DMU doesn’t quiiiiite find a natural combination for lands and instants/sorceries. Instead the emphasis is on the land half of the equation, with Nael, Avizoa Aeronaut being a particularly good payoff for maximizing your Domain. Tatyova, Steward of Tides provides an alternative reward for spitting out lands by turning them into flying hasty threats. And how do you ensure that you draw the cards you need before your opponents runs you over? Joint Exploration allows you to dig through your deck while also providing an additional method of cheating lands into play.
The primary source of mana fixing in DMU is a cycle of common dual lands that enter the battlefield tapped. More importantly these lands have both basic land types. This is great for Domain decks, and also for cards that let you search out cards “with a basic land type”.
There’s also some additional colorless fixing of varying efficacy in the form of a land and some artifacts:
As usual, Green has additional options:
All of this taken together paints a picture of a set where mana fixing is available, but not free; you’ll have to work to draft the cards that enable Domain and let you splash Kicker costs.
Key Commons and Uncommons
Join Forces: I used to think of combat tricks as a necessary evil in Limited - a weak sort of interaction that was only needed if one couldn’t find any real removal. But after years of getting murdered by instant-speed pump spells, I’ve finally learned to appreciate their usefulness. Join Forces is one of the stronger combat tricks I’ve seen, threatening to act as a 2-for-1 on defense or to surprise your opponent with lethal on offense. In addition, the fact that it targets two creatures makes it harder to fizzle with an instant removal spell.
Knight of Dawn’s Light: I would feel terrible trying to block this creature, so I imagine I’d feel amazing attacking with it.
Phyrexian Missionary: Ignore the Kicker ability for the card, and a 2/3 for two mana is still well above rate. Would I build my deck so that there was a chance to cast it with its Kicker cost? Definitely. Would I feel bad if I couldn’t? Not really.
Battlewing Mystic: I mean, this isn’t really a Divination on wings, but it’s not altogether dissimilar. This is an incredible card to play once you’ve dumped your hand out onto the board, and even if you don’t want to discard your hand it’s still a 2/1 flier for two. I’d definitely splash Red for the Kicker on this card.
Frostfist Strider: Is this a tempo card that works as the top end for an aggressive deck, or a beefy defender that helps stall the game for a deck that wants to reach the late game? The trick answer is that it’s both, and that’s what makes it so good.
Impede Momentum: It’s maybe perhaps possible that I only like this card because it features a new mechanic, and I’m a sucker for the new hotness. But this feels like an excellent way to remove a troublesome creature in the critical stages of a game, when three turns is more than enough to stabilize or win. And if you need to cast it early, well - at least you had some way to interact when you needed to.
Extinguish the Light: Unconditional removal at instant speed for four mana, with minor upside if you use it against something cheap? Sounds good to me!
Knight of Dusk’s Shadow: Black’s champion isn’t as effective as White’s Knight of Dawn’s Light, but it’s still a threatening creature that will keep your opponent guessing what you intend to use your open mana for.
Tribute to Urborg: -2/-2 for two mana is a fair but unexciting rate; what makes this removal spell more interesting is its potential to kill something much greater if the game goes long.
Hurloon Battle Hymn: This is the first Kicker spell in this section that wouldn’t tempt me to splash for its Kicker cost, but that’s just a testament to how good the base effect is in Limited.
Lightning Strike: Not the most exciting effect for its mana cost, but it’ll sure feel exciting when you use it to blow apart a key creature (or simply blast your opponent in the face).
Molten Monstrosity: A 5/5 trampler wins games, and although eight mana is a lot it only takes a 3 power creature for this to cost a reasonable five mana - and there’s the potential for an even more favorable rate.
Bite Down: It’s true that Green removal is dependent on creatures, but having it be instant speed as well as a punch effect does a lot to mitigate that minor drawback.
Linebreaker Baloth: It won’t take too many turns for this creature to break through what few blockers your opponent can use.
Tail Swipe: A cheap fight spell that also lets you pump your creature? Great!
So what to make of Dominaria United? Here are my first impressions:
- Each individual color has such a strong theme that it feels like it should be possible to simply draft the “good cards” in two colors, smash them together, and end up with something playable - but a truly incredible Limited deck will require more thought.
- Incidental splashes will be common for two reasons:
- Kicker cards with off-color Kicker activations are a candidate for a small splash, since even in the worst case the base card can still be cast.
- Domain players will find the common dual-lands with basic land types very attractive. If I’m playing Black/Green with Domain, then I’d definitely play a Red/Blue dual land with the Mountain and Island types; it’s basically a colorless land that increases my Domain by two.
- The overall power level of DMU feels low compared to recent sets, with less explosive commons and uncommons. However there’s still some interesting complexity.
- You’ll need to make good draft and deck building decisions, especially in regards to maximizing your archetype and figuring out whether you want to splash for Domain or a Kicker cost or something else.
- You’ll also need to make good play decisions: do you need to play a card without paying its Kicker cost now, or can you afford to wait until later? Should you dig for lands now to maximize your Domain effects, or do you need to affect the board immediately? I expect that these will be common conundrums for all DMU Limited players.