Dominaria brings us back to the plane where most of Magic took place during its early years. It’s good to be home. For once, there’s no “attacking” mechanic: no raid, no exert, no Tilonalli’s Knight, no Renegade Freighter. Instead, the average toughness of creatures is greater than their power, and there’s kicker as a reward for getting to the late game. It feels like old-school Magic all over again.
Today I’ll offer some insights into the new Limited format, along with a Pick 1 Pack 1 list. I used the same aggregation method as I did for the previous two sets, which means that I took the average of the normalized grade of the following three sources:
- LSV’s set reviews. In this classic article series, LSV provides a Limited grade between 0 and 5 for every card in the set. I’m well aware that what he writes about the card is more relevant than the grade, but the grade still conveys some information. If a range was specified for a card, then I took the middle point as the rating.
- The Draftaholics Anonymous rankings, collected on Sunday April 22. Their scores for cards are derived from users who are presented with choices between two cards in a Pick 1 Pack 1 context. I scaled the ratings so that the card with the highest score became a 5.0 and the card with the lowest score became a 0.0, in line with LSV’s ranking scale.
- The LR Community review rankings, also collected on Sunday April 22. Their rankings are based on a project by cricketHunter where hundreds of users submit Limited grades for every card in the new set. I scaled the grades so that the card with highest grade became a 5.0. Thanks to cricketHunter for providing me with the raw data!
After taking the average of the three grades, I subtracted 0.25 points for any multicolor card (including dual lands, cards with off-color activated abilities, and triple-colored 3-drops) and I added 0.25 points for any colorless card. These adjustments are made to get closer to a proper first-pick-first pack order. After all, a multicolored card reduces flexibility, whereas an artifact keeps your options open. And since Steel Leaf Champion restricts you to a heavy- or mono-green deck with at least 10-11 Forests, triple-colored 3-drops limit your flexibility in a similar way as multicolored cards. These effects did not appear to be accounted for in LSV’s set review or the LR Community review—hence the adjustment.
The end result was a number for every card in Dominaria—an aggregate of the above three sources. My raw data, which may double as a searchable text list, is available here. After I got a number for every card, all I had to do was to press sort, and the pick order list arose.
This methodology leads to a list that captures first impressions. Indeed, most rankings were made before anyone even had a chance to play with the cards. But it’s a good starting point for newcomers and an excellent tool for discussions. By fixing a ranking, statements like “this card is overrated” or “this card is underrated” become more concrete. It also allows for some fun analysis.
What is the Best Color?
Taking the grades for granted, I found the following. The first three columns indicate the power of the best commons and uncommons in every color. The final column takes the average grade over all rarities, including rares and mythics, weighed according to their relative occurrence.
|Color||Average grade of the top 5 commons||Average grade of the top 10 commons||Average grade of the top 5 uncommons||Average overall grade, weighed for rarity|
Combining all columns, it seems that white, black, and green are the best colors in Dominaria and that red and blue are the worst. So when in doubt in your early Drafts, favor the Abzan colors.
How Often Will You See Historic or Legendary Cards?
Dominaria introduces historic and has a focus on legends, so let’s run some numbers on the “as-fan” or the actual frequency of cards in booster packs.
There are 1.35 legends on average per booster – If I assume that legends appear at the same rate as other cards of their rarity, then I find an as-fan value of 1.35 cards. In more detail, it’s 1.05 legendary creatures and 0.30 noncreatures on average. Given this, it is possible for legends to appear at the same rate as other cards of their rarity while guaranteeing one legendary creature per booster—this guarantee just means that the rare slot is not independent of the uncommon slots—so going forward I will assume that this is the case.
There are 0.96 playable legendary creatures on average per booster – Here, I defined “playable” as being ranked above Mox Amber in the pick order list. With this assumption, I find that there are approximately three playable legendary creatures per drafter. This relatively low number means that legendary sorceries, Ancient Animus, Benalish Honor Guard, Blessing of Belzenlok, and Blackblade Reforged can be hard to cast or maximize unless you prioritize legendary creatures more heavily than other drafters at the table.
There are 2.15 playable historic cards on average per booster – By including Sagas and non-legendary artifacts and retaining the Mox Amber cutoff, I find an as-fan value of 2.15 cards. I should note that over half the common artifacts were excluded with this grade cutoff, which is strict. But it does make some sense: even in a deck that cares about historic, a card like Sparring Construct remains unimpressive and I wouldn’t be happy to run it.
There are not a ton of historic payoffs. White and blue have the most–all common ones are listed above. So this color combination has the possibility for a low-curve aggro historic deck where Aesthir Glider and Jousting Lance would shine. But still, getting to the nine historic spells that I’d want for these creatures (as this will allow you to cast about three historic spells over an average game) is not trivial, and the historic payoffs are relatively unexciting. It’s just a few cards with some incidental upside. And beyond white-blue, the historic payoffs are nearly nonexistent. Ultimately, for all talk around historic, it doesn’t seem heavily supported in Dominaria.
What Are the Color Pair Archetypes in Draft?
The final thing I want to emphasize before getting to the actual pick order list is that it’s made for a first-pick-first-pack context. Things will change massively based on the color combination that you’ll find yourself in. This is best explained by R&D member Gavin Verhey’s two-word summaries and the ten gold signpost uncommons.
Sure can! Here are the #MTGDOM color pairs, as we talked about on stream yesterday:
WU: Tempo Historic
UB: Historic Control
BR: Sacrifice Value
RG: Kicker Ramp
GW: Go Wide
WB: Legendary Matters
BG: Saproling Tribal
GU: Value Ramp
UR: Wizard Tempo
RW: Auras/Equipment#Wotcstaff https://t.co/0dEDOfZ26k
— Gavin Verhey (@GavinVerhey) April 20, 2018
For many color combinations, Gavin’s two-word summaries make it clear where you want to go, even if archetypes aren’t as pronounced as they were in Ixalan block. Sure, there’s U/R Wizards and B/G Saprolings, but you shouldn’t think of them as dedicated tribal archetypes like Merfolk in Ixalan block.
Three of Gavin’s archetype descriptions remain a bit vague, so I’ll try to clarify. B/R Sacrifice Value plays Caligo Skin-Witch, Ghitu Chronicler, or Keldon Overseer early on to gum up the ground, then loops them back to your hand via Thallid Omnivore and Garna, the Bloodflame, and finally recasts these creatures with kicker for value.
R/G Kicker Ramp and G/U Value Ramp can both get to big kicker spells by ramping with Llanowar Elves and Grow from the Ashes, but red aims to take advantage of this with more aggressively-minded creatures like Bloodstone Goblin while blue is more about abusing that mana with Academy Drake and card draw spells.
Now let’s turn to the list. Remember that it’s essentially one big continuous list, to be read left-to-right, top-to-bottom. I added a few headings only to make it easier to read and so that I could intersperse some comments, but the categories are fairly arbitrary.
These are the best cards in the set, and I’m fairly sure I would first-pick all of them over any common or uncommon. I have some doubts about Josu Vess, Lich Knight, because hitting 10 mana is super difficult, but his base rate is excellent, so I’ll accept his position in this list for now.
The Part with the Best Uncommons
According to this list, the best uncommon to first-pick is In Bolas’s Clutches. I would prefer to start a Draft with Weatherlight or Icy Manipulator since they’ll always make your deck even if you switch later on, but In Bolas’s Clutches is certainly powerful, and legendary to boot. In fact, In Bolas’s Clutches and On Serra’s Wings are the first non-rare legendary Auras ever. The supertype is a nice addition that helps trigger cards like Relic Runner.
One thing that surprised me in this aggregate list was the position of Fight with Fire. I had expected to see it above Cast Down. But then I realized that I was basing my assessment of Fight with Fire mostly on experiences in Sealed. In Draft, decks tend to be more focused and games tend to be shorter, so getting to nine mana is relatively hard. Still, I feel Fight with Fire is slightly underrated on this list.
The Part with the Best 6 Commons
According to this list, Eviscerate is the best common to first-pick. I was surprised to see this, as I expected Shivan Fire to come out on top. Maybe this is another one of those Sealed vs. Draft rating issues, as you tend to face more 5+ toughness bombs in Sealed. But in Draft, tempo is more important—the ability to double-spell by taking out Aven Sentry, Cabal Paladin, Gaea’s Protector, Academy Journeymage, or Windgrace Acolyte (all commons), and the ability to screw up double-blocks at instant speed means that I would favor Shivan Fire in Draft. Apart from Mammoth Spider, Excavation Elephant, and mediocre 6-drops, there are no commons that a kicked Shivan Fire can’t kill.
I’m not as high on Steel Leaf Champion or Benalish Marshal as their aggregate ranking would suggest. To cast them with 90% consistency on turn 7, under the assumptions from my classic article, you would still need 13 sources of the corresponding color, which can only be attained by mono-color decks. Even if you’re content with 80% consistency, you’ll still have trouble supporting both Steel Leaf Champion and Keldon Raider in a mana base.
I would rather start a Draft with Knight of Grace or Knight of Malice. The probability that you or your opponent run the correct enemy color is 52%, assuming independently distributed 2-color decks, so with a bit of imagination you can view them as 2.5-power first strikers. Either way, the Knights are the best 2-drops in a format devoid of good 2-drops.
Two other cards that overperformed for me at the prerelease were The Eldest Reborn and Untamed Kavu. Perhaps I was lucky that my opponent never sacrificed a Saproling to the Saga, but it always provided a steady amount of card advantage for me. And Untamed Kavu was just about as good as Serra Angel on turn 5 with some additional flexibility. By the way, I love how both cards give options to players and encourage decision making—they exemplify the depth of game play in Dominaria. Could we make kicker an evergreen mechanic, please?
Finally, I’ll point out the two cards from this group with the highest deviation or controversy across rankings: Darigaaz Reincarnated and Helm of the Host. Yet, I believe their current ranking in the list is accurate. Darigaaz Reincarnated is essentially a green card, as between Llanowar Envoy, Grow from the Ashes, and Skittering Surveyor, it is reasonable to splash a third color in green decks. (Nongreen decks only have Skittering Surveyor, so for them splashing is more difficult.) Helm of the Host can give opponents a ridiculous tempo advantage if they respond with an instant-speed removal or bounce spell, but it can also take over a late game since the tokens don’t disappear at end of turn and you don’t even have to attack with the creature to get the trigger. Weighing both ups and downs along with its colorless nature and the expected speed of the Draft format, I think the Helm is properly rated here.
The Part with the Other Good Commons
In this group, we see the first legendary sorceries: Jaya’s Immolating Inferno and Yawgmoth’s Vile Offering. I believe they are overrated. As I analyzed here, you need a lot of legends to reliably support them. Even with six legends, you can only cast them 43% of the time on turn 6 if your opponent always removes your first legend. Given that there is only one playable legendary creature per pack, give or take, I wouldn’t like to start my Draft with these legendary sorceries.
A card that I am high on is Saproling Migration. It fits the Fungus theme of green-black, the kicker theme of red-green, and the go-wide theme of green-white. Since it works so well with the gold uncommons of 75% of the green archetypes, I would pick Saproling Migration over most of the commons above it in this category.
And while we’re on the topic of green 2-mana cards, I would also rank Elfhame Druid and Song of Freyalise higher. I don’t think Elfhame Druid is much worse than Llanowar Elves, and with 14 relevant kicker spells at common it is sometimes even better. Song of Freyalise brings you closer to kicking your spells, fixes your mana, gives a global boost to all your creatures, and fits perfectly with Saproling Migration. An average green draft deck can put all of those elements to good use.
Finally, I want to mention that although this list can offer reasonable guidelines for choices beyond the first pick in a Draft, there are some cards that shoot up once you’ve settled into a certain 2-color combination. For example, Valduk, Keeper of the Flame is best in R/W, Baird, Steward of Argive is best in W/B, Sporecrown Thallid is best in B/G, and Firefist Adept are best in U/R, as a quick glance at their multicolor signpost uncommons will reveal. As always, don’t mindlessly follow any list all the time—adjust based on what you’re drafting.
The Part with the Lands
Here we see the five checklands and the four good Memorial lands. (Memorial to War, the red one, is much worse.) The Draftaholics Anonymous and LR Community didn’t give identical rankings to the rare lands, and the result is this category.
There was a high deviation in the rankings of the check lands across my sources. In my opinion, the rankings of Draftaholics Anonymous and the Limited Resources Community were too low—LSV’s grade of 3 was more in line with my view. In a recent study, I found that 2-color 17-land decks, which seem to be the norm for Dominaria, generally want one tapped dual to maximize their goldfish kill and more if the format is more interactive and slower. Adding the potential for splashes and/or triple-colored 3-drops along with the fact that Hinterland Harbor is better than Woodland Stream, I like picking them early.
From this group, I believe that the two most underrated cards are Kwende, Pride of Femeref and Rampaging Cyclops. Rampaging Cyclops is always a good blocker and will often attack as a guaranteed 4/4 in the early game. Kwende thrives with Warlord’s Fury, Serra Disciple, Jousting Lance, and a surprisingly large number of other first strikers.
The most controversial cards from this group, according to the deviation across my three sources, were Urgoros, the Empty One, Jaya Ballard, Warcry Phoenix, and Karn’s Temporal Sundering. Yet, I believe their aggregate ranking is roughly correct.
Finally, I believe that the two most overrated cards from this group are Zhalfirin Void and Mox Amber. Zhalfirin Void simply seems worse than a basic land in most 2-color decks because you need the colored sources to cast your spells consistently. Mox Amber also seems worse than a basic land for most decks because it’s so hard to turn it on in the early game.
Yargle, Glutton of Urborg demands more respect in a deck with Jousting Lance, On Serra’s Wings, Run Amok, or an abundance of removal spells. But in general he’s probably rated correctly—he’s a fine way to fill out your curve. And I could spend hours moving certain cards up and down, but ultimately it seems extremely unlikely that I would first-pick any of these cards, so I’ll just wrap up the list here.
To round out the article, I have some final thoughts on the format.
Should you Play or Draw?
In recent sets, playing first was typically correct. Dominaria Limited, however, looks to be substantially slower. As I already mentioned, there is no “attacking” mechanic: no raid, no exert, no Tilonalli’s Knight, no Renegade Freighter. Blocking is back on the menu, and mana curves tend to be top-heavier.
Given this, Paulo Vitor recommended drawing first in his prerelease primer. Seth Manfield’s Twitter poll was close.
In Dominaria Sealed, which do you find yourself doing more?
— Seth Manfield (@SethManfield) April 22, 2018
In my view, it’s deck dependent, but I believe that most Dominaria Sealed decks prefer to draw first. At my prerelease, I had a slow 3-color deck with a shaky mana base, which seemed to be the norm, and I chose to draw first whenever I had the option. I did change things around against an aggressive red-white deck and against a bomb-laden deck with more late-game power than I could handle. In both cases, I sideboarded into a 2-color deck and opted to play first. I didn’t want to be on the draw when my opponent’s deck was much faster or when my own best chance was aggression. But in general, I was happy with my choice to draw first in game 1.
In Draft, decks tend to be more focused and games tend to go fast, so I expect that the average Draft deck prefers to be on the play. So when in doubt, play first. But if you see that you’re in a matchup between two slow decks, then choose to draw first in the next game.
What Are Key Tricks to Keep in Mind?
When you have just set foot in Dominaria, you may not know what to play around. As usual, we have several instant-speed pump spells, removal spells, and other combat tricks, but that’s nothing your Magic-playing intuition wouldn’t pick up on. To ensure you’re mindful of the blowout tricks that should really affect the way you play, remember the following three things.
- Don’t walk into the parade of 3/3 flash creatures for 4-5 mana, especially when playing against W/U. They can have Naru Meha, Master Wizard, Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage, and Sentinel of the Pearl Trident. In the other colors, you may face Garna, the Bloodflame or Spore Swarm.
- There are few sweepers around, but if you can only lose to a sweeper, then kill their legend. This way, you may avoid losing to Jaya’s Immolating Inferno or Urza’s Ruinous Blast.
- There are two global pump spells: Wild Onslaught and Charge. Keep them in mind when blocking.
What’s My Dominaria Bucket List?
Dominaria is brimming with potential, which encouraged me to collect the sweet plays, powerful combos, and awesome decks that I want to assemble at least once over the lifetime of this format. Hopefully you can draw some inspiration from this list.
- Putting On Serra’s Wings on Cold-Water Snapper. A 5/6 hexproof creature with flying, lifelink, and vigilance is hard to beat.
- A turn-3 kicked Verix Bladewing. This is possible with Llanowar Elves on turn 1 and Elfhame Druid plus Llanowar Elves on turn 2. It’s a bit more ambitious than a turn-2 Steel Leaf Champion or a turn-3 kicked Untamed Kavu, but I can dream.
- Pairing Traxos, Scourge of Kroog with Voltaic Servant or On Serra’s Wings. Without such a combo, I’d want at least six historic cards before putting Traxos in my deck, but with such a combo the 7/7 is insane.
- Casting Befuddle on an opposing Evra, Halcyon Witness in response to her activation. Once the ability resolves, your opponent will be reduced to 0 life.
- Pumping an opposing Tetsuko Umezawa so that I can block it. Opponents will never see it coming.
- Turn-5 Phyrexian Scriptures into turn-6 Fall of the Thran. After both Sagas have played out, you should have one creature in play and your opponent should be left with no permanents whatsoever.
- Setting up a recursion loop with Whisper, Blood Liturgist, which sacrifices itself and Thallid Soothsayer to get back Garna, the Bloodflame, which in turn returns both of those creatures and then gets sacrificed to Thallid Soothsayer. Each iteration nets you an additional card.
- Targeting myself with Torgaar, Famine Incarnate to go from 1 life to 10 life.
- Building a weird deck that combines Tatyova, Benthic Druid with The Mending of Dominaria. Maybe add The Mirari Conjecture, Grow from the Ashes, and Gaea’s Blessing for ultimate durdles.
- Ramping into turn-4 Haphazard Bombardment, putting aim counters on four of my opponent’s lands. After destroying three of those lands, use Blink of an Eye to re-use Haphazard Bombardment and hopefully destroy all of their remaining lands. Note that the second one will kill four permanents in total, because the aim counter from the first Haphazard Bombardment remains.
- Casting Final Parting, putting a bomb in my hand, and Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar, Squee, the Immortal, or Lingering Phantom in the graveyard. Value!
- Drafting a mill deck. There isn’t a lot of support for a mill deck so this won’t be easy, but if I get two early Diligent Excavator, then I may prioritize Homarid Explorer and Weight of Memory to try and make it work. And then lose to Lich’s Mastery.
So far, I have greatly enjoyed playing Dominaria Limited, and from a game-play perspective it felt like a breath of fresh air. I’m looking forward to providing the commentary at the Team Limited Grand Prix in Bologna next weekend. Meanwhile, let me know which cards you feel are overrated or underrated in this aggregate list. After all, the prime goal is to spawn debate.