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Dominaria is officially legal for tournament play, and it is making a splash both on Magic Online and in live tournaments. The SCG Open in Atlanta showcased the new cards and, being a team event, gave us a taste of Dominaria in Legacy, Modern, and Standard.
The results of a team event should be processed a bit differently from the results of an individual tournament.
The results of a team event contribute less towards “solving” a format, because the success of a player and their deck is determined by more than simply the number matches they won and lost individually. For all we know, the winning team’s Standard player might have lost every game and been carried to the trophy by teammates who were dominant in Legacy and Modern—it’s unlikely, but technically possible.
On the other hand, I find the results of team events to be an excellent way to see what people are generally thinking about a format. What cards, decks, and strategies are best, and what are the keys to winning?
As we know, individual tournaments feature a wide range of players. They can have vastly different skill levels, goals, and resources. Some of them will bring homebrews, some will choose a deck that’s fun to play, and some will be shackled by card availability problems. This is slightly less true at team events.
A team of three will tend to distribute their players according to their relative strengths and experiences. So the average player in the Legacy seat of a team event has played more Legacy than the average player in a comparable individual event. Additionally, it’s three players that need to sign off on a deck choice instead of just one. People are less likely to gamble on an uncertain deck when it’s not simply them, but also their teammates that might pay the price.
So looking at the successful teams from the SCG Open won’t give us definitive answers about what decks will be dominant for the rest of the season, but it will give us insight into what decks strong players are choosing when they’re trying their hardest to win. My main focus will be on Standard, since it’s the format where Dominaria changes things the most. But first, a quick taste of Legacy and Modern.
To the surprise of no one, the Legacy field featured a lot of Grixis Delver, and was quite diverse beyond that. Of the 28 teams in Day 2, eight had chosen Grixis Delver. The other decks that appeared on more than one team were: Turbo Depths (four), Death and Taxes (four), Miracles (three), and Mono-Red Prison (two).
Right now, competitive Legacy basically breaks down into Delver decks and decks that try to beat Delver. What keeps things fun is that players try to beat Delver in a wide variety of ways. (And that they succeed and fail at roughly equal rates.) Some players go bigger with midrange and control decks that feature more 2-for-1 card advantage. Some turn to Lands or Turbo Depths to win via a quick Marit Lage. Some pack their decks with Blood Moon effects in order to punish the all-nonbasic mana bases that are prevalent in Legacy.
Justin Gebbing, 3rd place at SCG Team Open
Justin Gebbing, the Legacy player for the team that would finish in third place, brought a deck that’s designed to cast a Blood Moon effect on the first turn of the game as often as possible. Since his deck features a lot of mana, it’s important that the threats be as potent as possible, and that every single one be capable of winning the game on its own. Goblin Rabblemaster and Chandra, Torch of Defiance are natural fits, and a new planeswalker from Dominaria also finds a home in Mono-Red Prison.
Karn is making splashes in Legacy. He’s easy to cast, has a high loyalty, and generates card advantage with all three abilities. When paired with Chrome Mox, Chalice of the Void, and Trinisphere, his Construct tokens can get to respectable sizes quite quickly.
Keep in mind, however, that Mono-Red Prison wins most of its games via disruptive elements like Blood Moon, and the win conditions are more of an afterthought. I consider Karn to be a solid upgrade to the archetype, and not necessarily a card that will revolutionize Legacy.
Modern’s metagame breakdown follows a similar pattern to Legacy, but surprisingly is even more extreme. Hollow One, Affinity, Burn, and Storm had two or three players each, and each of the other archetypes were singletons. Each of the other archetypes, that is, besides Humans, which was the choice of 10 out of 28 teams on Day 2!
A deck making up nearly 40% of the field is virtually unprecedented in Modern, although it’s not unusual to see extreme numbers when you look at a small snapshot like this. While the precise stats are debatable, the general message is clear: Among Modern players, Humans is viewed as one of the best and safest decks to choose.
Brian Basoco, 1st place at the SCG Team Open
So far, the Dominaria card to impact Modern in the biggest way is Damping Sphere. Damping Sphere is tailor-made for hating out Storm and Tron, and has a mana cost modest enough that virtually any archetype can sideboard it.
I don’t think it makes Storm and Tron unplayable. After all, these are powerful decks that can easily fight through one or more hate cards. But if you believed they were marginal deck choices before, then the printing of Damping Sphere is a fine tiebreaker in favor of picking something else.
Similarly, if there’s an archetype that shows promise, but had been struggling against Storm and Tron (my beloved Jund and Elves decks both fit this bill), this might be a great time for it. Equipping them with a couple of Damping Spheres can help you turn a bad matchup into an even or favorable one. Alternatively, you could make the calculated risk that the mere specter of Damping Sphere would drive these decks out of the metagame, and hope not to face them.
The most popular Standard deck among Day 2 teams was Mono-Red (six copies) and the second-most popular was R/B Aggro (four copies). In other words, you shouldn’t be caught off-guard by a turn-1 Bomat Courier the next time you play Standard.
Some of these R/B Aggro decks included few or no cards from Dominaria. But some of the slightly bigger versions, like Julian John’s 5th place deck list, featured Karn in the main deck and the exciting Phyrexian Scriptures in the sideboard.
Julian John, 5th place at the SCG Team Open
It’s no surprise to see Karn, Scion of Urza in Standard. After all, it’s a powerful planeswalker that’s seeing play as far back as Legacy! Phyrexian Scriptures, on the other hand, deserves a little more attention. In John’s deck, it’s very close to Plague Wind. (Granted, it’s delayed by one turn.) Most of his creatures are artifacts to begin with, and the first chapter of the Saga can be used to protect one that’s not. Rekindling Phoenix and Hazoret the Fervent (for those R/B decks that play it) are resilient to the board wipe anyway. Finally, the third chapter provides incidental graveyard hate that can be valuable against God-Pharaoh’s Gift, Torrential Gearhulk, The Scarab God, and other embalm or eternalize effects.
Speaking more generally, R/B creature decks are fast, resilient, and have great removal. Bigger cards like Karn and Phyrexian Scriptures—as well as the old Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer—give the deck more late game power and allow it to fight on more than one axis. I predict that these decks are here to stay.
But the winning deck was neither R/B nor Mono-Red. That title went to Rudy Briksza’s U/W Control deck, complete with three copies of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Rudy Briksza, 1st place at the SCG Team Open
I consider this to be a new archetype with the release of Dominaria. U/W Control existed before, but almost always in the form of an Approach of the Second Sun deck. This new version is a much more classic-style control deck that looks to neutralize the opponent’s threats and win with the incremental advantages generated by Glimmer of Genius, Torrential Gearhulk, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Teferi and a handful of other Dominaria cards make this possible. Before Seal Away, the U/W color combination had poor options for cheap removal. Lyra Dawnbringer is yet another powerhouse, which can generate easy wins against red-, green-, and white-based aggro decks. Finally, Blink of an Eye and Karn, Scion of Urza are nice role-player cards to round out the deck.
If there’s a weakness of Briksza’s particular list, it appears in the games where it fails to hit its first four land drops. With only one Search for Azcanta to smooth the draw, and not even Censor or Hieroglyphic Illumination to help out, this particular take on U/W leaves a little too much to chance for my tastes.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your matchup against a deck like this, I recommend cheap creatures that can generate advantage without attacking. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner seems capable of wreaking some major havoc on this deck.
While it only takes a glance to realize the power and flexibility of R/B Aggro, U/W Control is more of a mystery to me. It’s clear that Glimmer of Genius, Fumigate, and Torrential Gearhulk are a fantastic starting place for a deck. And U/W is also appealing as a way to make use of some of Dominaria’s most powerful cards. It just remains to be seen if the rest of Standard can adjust to make things harder on a slow control deck like this one.
I’ll be competing this weekend in the SCG Open in Baltimore, which features the same team format. I’ll be looking to implement some of the lessons from Atlanta into my preparation for the event. I’ll also be excited to see if Legacy, Modern, and Standard continue on the same tracks they appear to be on, or if the road winds up taking a major turn.