Magic: The Gathering’s Dominaria United Previews – Day One Highlights

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  • Archangel of Wrath
  • Micromancer
  • Sphinx of Clear Skies
  • Defiler of Dreams
  • The Raven Man
  • Braids, Arisen Nightmare
  • The World Spell
  • Nishoba Brawler
  • Astor, Bearer of Blades
  • Ramses, Assassin Lord

Magic: The Gathering’s latest preview has kicked off, and we’re headed back to the game’s oldest and most famous world of Dominaria just in time for it to be overrun by an army of Phyrexian sleeper agents.

Full of new and returning mechanics, and more legendary creatures than you could shake a stick at, Dominaria United is already shaping up to be an exciting set after just one day of previews. Here are the ten best cards we saw on day one.

Archangel of Wrath

Two generic, two white creature – Angel – 3/4:

Kicker: one black and/or one red.

Flying, lifelink

When Archangel of Wrath enters the battlefield, if it was kicked, it deals two damage to any target.

When Archangel of Wrath enters the battlefield, if it was kicked twice, it deals two damage to any target.

Kicker is one of Magic’s most popular mechanics, and its success is generally attributed to how easy it is to understand. You pay the mana cost, you get one effect. You pay the kicker cost, and you get more. While it’s great to see kicker back for Dominaria United, it’s a tougher sell when the cards are as confusingly worded as this.

In effect, you can kick Archangel of Wrath up to twice, and each time must be a different coloured mana: either black or red. For each time you kick the Angel, it’ll deal two damage to any target. It’s a simple enough mechanic to understand, and the addition of lifelink makes kicking it very appealing indeed. But it didn’t need to be this confusingly phrased.

Micromancer

Three generic, one blue creature – Human Wizard – 3/3:

When Micromancer enters the battlefield, you may search your library for an instant or sorcery card with mana value one, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle.

A way to tutor for one-mana instants and sorceries might not sound like much, but just stop and consider exactly what counts as a one-mana spell. In Standard that could be a Strangle, or a Slip Out The Back, or one of the five Kamigawa Marches. It could be a Fading Hope or a Consider, or a Play With Fire. Standard is currently bursting with one-mana spells that see a lot of play, so being able to find them whenever you need is powerful.

In larger formats, it gets even better. Finding a Brainstorm, Vampiric Tutor, Dark Ritual, or Vandalblast in Commander could set you up relatively early in the game, and Pioneer is full of one-mana removal like Fading Hope that can be grabbed. Tutors are always good, but Micromancer is deceptively good.

Sphinx of Clear Skies

Three generic, two blue creature – Sphinx – 5/5:

Flying, ward: two generic.

Domain – Whenever Sphinx of Clear Skies deals combat damage to a player, reveal the top X cards of your library, where X is the number of basic land types among lands you control. An opponent separates those cards into two piles. Put one into your hand and the other into your graveyard.

For a Standard format that has access to the three-type triome lands from Streets of New Capenna, a mechanic like domain makes perfect sense. One of the most powerful cards we’ve seen for it so far is Sphinx of Clear Skies, who turns your number of land types into basically a Fact of Fiction every turn.

Filling up your graveyard and getting hand advantage is a win/win situation in many cases, but even without the domain ability, a 5/5 flier with ward for just five mana is fantastic. Sphinxes always tend to be bombs when they show up, and this set seems full of them ready to tear up the battlefield.

Defiler of Dreams

Three generic, two blue creature – Phyrexian Sphinx – 4/3:

Flying

As an additional cost to cast blue permanent spells, you may pay two life. Those spells cost one blue mana less to cast if you paid life this way. This effect reduces only the amount of blue mana you pay.

Whenever you cast a blue permanent spell, draw a card.

The second Sphinx of today’s highlights is a lot less happy looking, on account of being a horrific Phyrexian monster. Its design is fascinating though, as blue generally isn’t known for caring about permanents as much as it does instants and sorceries.

Defiler of Dreams’ ability reflects the use of Phyrexian mana, which allows you to either pay two life or one of a colour to cast a spell. It only grants this to the one blue mana of a permanent spell, though, making it a lot more limited. Despite that, being able to pay just two generic and two life for a Rhystic Study or Propaganda could be spicy in a format like Commander.

The Raven Man

One generic, one black legendary creature – Human Wizard – 2/1:

At the beginning of each end step, if a player discarded a card this turn, create a 1/1 black Bird creature token with flying and “This creature can’t block.”

Three generic, one black, tap The Raven Man: Each opponent discards a card. Activate only as a sorcery.

As a card for a game, The Raven Man isn’t much. Making one 1/1 token you can’t even block with isn’t great, and you’d need to find ways to force opponents to discard things for it to be effective.

However, seeing the Raven Man finally get a card is incredible. He’s been a long-time mystery in Magic’s backstory, with his haunting of Liliana Vess being a big part of her story in recent years. We’ve been waiting so long to find out who he is, and the Dominaria United story finally revealed his identity as a fragment of the spirit of the powerful necromancer Lim-Dul.

Did such a major name in Magic’s history deserve a slightly better card than this? Maybe. Is it still great to see such a big mystery finally get closure and make the leap from Magic’s backstory and flavour texts to his own card? Absolutely.

Braids, Arisen Nightmare

One generic, two black legendary creature – Nightmare – 3/3:

At the beginning of your end step, you may sacrifice an artifact, creature, enchantment, land, or planeswalker. If you do, each opponent may sacrifice a permanent that shares a card type with it. For each opponent who doesn’t, that player loses two life and you draw a card.

With Tergrid, God of Fright rotating out of Standard, Braids seems a lot less scary than she would have been a few months ago. Forcing opponents to sacrifice things to prevent drawing cards is still decent, but without Tergrid it’s just decent rather than utterly terrifying.

Instead, it feels like Braids, Arisen Nightmare is designed to fill a gap in the Commander format instead. Braids is infamous for having the card Braids, Cabal Minion; a card so overly oppressive and unfun to play against that it is outright banned in the Commander format.

In a lot of ways, Arisen Nightmare hits the same beats as Cabal Minion. It lets you sacrifice your own permanents, while also heavily encouraging your opponents to do so. However, it’s toned down by only triggering on your own turn, and by giving your opponents the option not to sacrifice anything if they’re fine with you drawing up to three cards.

The World Spell

Five generic, two green enchantment – Saga:

Read ahead

Chapter one and two: Look at the top seven cards of your library. You may reveal a non-Saga permanent card from among them and put it into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

Chapter three: Put up to two non-Saga permanents from your hand onto the battlefield.

Sagas were a big feature of our last trip to Dominaria, and Dominaria United is beefing them up in a huge way with the new read ahead mechanic that allows you to skip those piddly little early chapters and get right to the good stuff.

If you don’t have the permanents you want to put into play already in your hand, play the first or second chapter first to find them. If you already do, five mana to put them straight into play is incredible. Maybe you want to drop a Shadow of Mortality, Bramble Worm, Cultivator Colossus, Hullbreaker Horror, or even a Jin-Gitaxias, Progress Tyrant.

This is an easy game-ender, especially in a colour like green that can ramp to it in a matter of just three turns. This isn’t just a highlight of today’s previews, it’s possibly one of the best Sagas ever printed.

Nishoba Brawler

One generic, one green creature – Cat Warrior – */3:

Trample

Domain – Nishoba Brawler’s power is equal to the number of basic land types among lands you control.

A two-mana creature that gets bigger the more land types you control is going to be frightening in the current, Triome-buffed Standard environment. While the domain ability would only allow Noshoba Brawler to become, at most, a 5/3 (or 6/3 outside of Standard), that’s more than enough for two whole mana to be a big threat.

Lump trample on top of that and you have an incredibly solid early play for green. Four of these and a few Triomes could devastate your opponents very, very quickly.

Astor, Bearer of Blades

Two generic, one red, one white legendary creature – Human Warrior – 4/4:

When Astor, Bearer of Blades enters the battlefield, look at the top seven cards of your library. You may reveal an Equipment or Vehicle card from among them and put it into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

Equipment you control have equip: one generic.

Vehicles you control have crew: one.

We’ve had a lot of great cards for Vehicle-centric decks recently, with the most notable being Greasefang, Okiba Boss from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. Astor might not be quite on the same format-defining level as Greasefang, but it certainly comes close with its Vehicle/Voltron double-threat.

Play it in a Voltron deck and you’ll be able to equip anything for just one mana. Colossus Hammer, Blackblade Reforged, Commander’s Plate, Vorpal Sword, it doesn’t matter, they all cost one generic. You can even use Astor to avoid non-mana equip costs, like Pact Weapon.

For Vehicles, Astor may lack the colour identity to necessarily be a big game-changer, he does fit nicely into the Greasefang decks. Having a way to sift through your deck to find that mandatory Parhelion II and dump it into your graveyard would be very useful, and it gives you a useful backup for crewing the Parhelion once your opponent finally manages to get Greasefang out of play.

Ramses, Assassin Lord

Two generic, one blue, one black legendary creature – Human Assassin – 4/4:

Deathtouch

Other Assassins you control get +1/+1.

Whenever a player loses the game, if they were attacked this turn by an Assassin you controlled, you win the game.

Slightly confusingly, Dominaria United’s preview season isn’t just including the Standard-legal cards you’ll find in booster packs. We’ve also seen a lot of the box toppers you’ll find in booster boxes that have been made with Commander in mind.

Though it isn’t legal in Standard, Ramses, Assassin Lord will be an absolute fiend in Commander. There are enough Assassins in the format, and enough ways to make them unblockable, that it could lead to some incredibly quick wins. However, it does also raise some big ethical questions for the format.

Following its reveal, many people have raised the point that, if you have a colluding player at the table, they could take a hit from one of your Assassins and then just concede the game. Conceding is a game-state action that doesn’t use the stack, so your other two opponents will have no time to stop you from winning the game once your partner-in-crime has scooped. In casual play this likely won’t be a problem, but what about sanctioned events with prize pools?

When played fairly, this is going to be a frightening Commander that brings many games to an early close. Played unfairly, it could be a logistical nightmare.

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