Wizards of the Coast was kind enough to invite me this week to an online event where we got to try out Dominaria United on MTG Arena early for 24 hours. With this, I was able to play several draft events, open a few sealed pools, and get a general feel for how the set plays, at least when it's being played by a bunch of writers and content creators.
Dominaria United Limited First Impressions
Dominaria United looks like a really fun limited format, with a wide variety of options of how to play. The ten archetypes that Wizards mentions maybe don’t all hold up equally, but there are distinctive strategies, and a lot of opportunities to put your own take on things.
Red in particular in the format tends to be pushing the pace, especially with the Red/White go wide builds, and Red Black reckless aggro, though Red/Blue’s spell aggro is no slouch either. Making use of good creatures and tricks, they are essentially the formats watchdogs on spending too long twiddling your thumbs. Red/White’s Keldon Strike Team’s ability to put down 5 power haste out of nowhere to close out a game is especially noteworthy.
On the other side, you have the Green domain decks that can summon up some truly fearsome midrange and late game threats. The strong mana in the format means most colors can splash for some kicker stuff but Green is the master of Domain and can get to domain 4 or 5 on turn 5 without too much work if it prioritizes it during the draft (those lands are going in the mid-picks). This means 5 mana 10/10s and a variety of other benefits are available for these decks. A number of x/3s help slow down the aggressive decks, forcing them to either go wide, or take advantage of enlist to narrow their profile into a single boosted attacker.
This variance of speed speaks of the variety of the format as it has a lot of ways to let you play. Whether you want to summon big dudes, a lot of dudes, play control, or tempo strategies there’s an archtype here for you.
Dominaria United Limited Tricks To Watch For
Dominaria United has a good amount of combat tricks, and some of them are quite swingy for combat. There are three that come particularly to note because of how they can change things up:
• Take Up The Shield: This 2 mana white combat trick gives only +1/+1, but it is as a permanent +1/+1 counter, making this a rare combat trick that has a permanent impact on the board. Additionally, it gives indestructibility and lifelink, letting a creature survive almost everything and change the calculus of a race.
• Shore Up: For one blue mana you can give +1/+1 to a creature, and give it hexproof. A decent trick, the like of which we’ve seen before. The devious part you need to keep an eye out for though is that it also untaps the creature, meaning against blue opponents you need to consider even their tapped creatures.
• Furious Bellow: Another 2 mana trick, this red one gives +3/+0 and first strike, letting creatures significantly block up or take over battlefield engagements. Additionally, it lets the caster scry 1 which for an aggressive deck can be an important bit of card selection.
While there are green tricks (Gaea’s Might, and Colossal Growth) I saw them a lot less, and the beef of green creatures in the set generally makes them less necessary. The black trick of choice is Battle-Rage Blessing, but it’s lack of boost alongside deathtouch and indestructible makes it a weaker card than the others.
The blue and red tricks also stand out for their usefulness in the blue/red archtype which is a spell aggro deck that has creatures that grow on casting instant or sorcery spells. Their signpost uncommon does that quite well, and it they combine to quickly grow there. In fact, one game I played in draft had two fliers grow to deal 15 points of damage with a couple of pump spells taking a game I thought I was winning the next turn with green dudes.
Dominaria United Cards that Out Performed Expectations
Getting a chance to play with the cards in sealed and draft let me spot a few cards that played better than I expected in limited.
Often the flowstone mechanic comes across as just a bad firebreathing... because that is what it is. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t have its uses when on the proper card. A 2/3 for 3, Flowstone Kavu has the +1/-1 flowstone ability for R, but adds it with Menace which helps him get through a lot of early to mid game boards. His ability to trade up the value chain, as well as stick with a decent is good, and he also threatens 4 damage each time he attacks. He’s not an all-star but a good member of the team.
There are a good amount of 2 powered creatures in Dominaria United it seemed, so Faithbonder’s 3 toughness helps it survive combats a fair amount. Given that Enlist only pumps power, this gives him a growable attack to go with a decent size, while also being an acceptable blocker at home. This one I saw more from the other side of the board, but he looks like a decent player for white decks and better than you might expect.
I mentioned Keldon Strike Team above in talking about the format in general, but that's because he performed so well during the games. I figured he would be alright, but I found that he did better than that in the aggressive decks he fit into, providing a surprisingly decent threat at 5 mana to alpha strike out of nowhere.
While Nael is one of the ‘signpost’ uncommons it didn’t feel particularly strong as a 2/4 flier for 5 who mostly provided card selection. What I missed here though was that domain is not particularly hard to acquire in this format, especially for Green Blue decks that mix ramping, drawing, and maybe a little Pixie Illusionist in there. When given full domain, Nael is very powerful, as when it connects you get to add one of the top 5 cards of your deck to your hand, and in my domain decks he was an all-star.
This is the quiet little workman of the format, especially in sealed. Salvaged Manaworker’s ability to convert mana colors at no cost is big, especially in a format with as many off color kicker abilities as Dominaria United. His 1/3 body for 2 is fine enough to help stall a bit, but his ability to open up off color kicker or fix splashes is really big, and its done without having to give up advancing your board or losing mana on transition.
If you’ve ever played Shimmering Grotto you know its always a card you’re playing with some reluctance. It fixes your mana, but you lose one in the wash, and it is the same with Crystal Grotto. However, adding one scry to it on entering the battlefield, helps the land feel a bit better, and the off color kickers strike again here. When it's for an optional, additional cost, the extra mana feels less bad than when a card is stuck uncastable in your hand.
One Last Dominaria United Tip - Mind Your Tempo with Kicker Cards
One of the easiest traps to walk into with Kicker in a format is waiting to be able to cast the card with kicker rather than playing an early drop. Be careful with this, and consider it when you place a card in your deck, and where it is on your curve. It is one thing to prioritize another card over it, but entirely another to pass a turn without playing something because you want to get an extra +1/+1 counter via your Juniper Order Rootweaver.
If you don’t have another two drop, get the Rootweaver or the Phyrexian Missionary down there rather than waiting to play it for value. Tempo is just as important as card advantage in limited overall, and giving up a whole turn to accrue some possible value in the future is generally not worth it.
Like any rule of thumb, there are exceptions to this, but the key is to remember that it is okay to play your cards in the base form and that curving is highly important. Most kicker cards have a base version, with an optional expensive version, and when curve counting, put them at the base spot because of that. Just remember that means you are committing to casting that Phyrexian Missionary for 2 mana if you don’t have anything else on turn 2 as a 2/3 lifelink is a pretty decent creature. It's definitely better than losing an entire turn of board development.
Dominaria United feels and looks like a fantastic set to play and I'd like to thank Wizards again for letting me try it out early on Arena. Have fun this weekend at the Pre-Release, and if you buy any collector boosters, may you find a Tabernacle in it.