Dominaria brings a special blend of cool new cards together with reprints and old favorites. My eyes have been glued to the spoilers, as I’m more excited than ever to brew new decks and think about what Standard will look like six weeks from now.
Typically with a new set, the color that first grabs my attention is green. It sometimes takes a while to see how the reactive spells of blue and black will match up against the most important threats. Similarly, you sometimes have to wait for the full spoiler to see how the focused or synergistic white and red aggro decks will roll out. On the other hand, green’s hallmarks are fast mana and creatures that excel in raw stats and power. These cards are fun and flashy, and their quality is not necessarily dependent on what other players are doing.
In other words, a 3-mana 5/4 is a 3-mana 5/4.
There are three (more like a two-and-a-half) Dominaria cards that I’d like to highlight today. One is Steel Leaf Champion, whose power level, as I mentioned above, largely speaks for itself. The others are Llanowar Elves and Woodland Cemetery, which are reprints that allow green’s mana to operate quickly and smoothly, outpacing the other colors and leading to early and midgame advantage.
Pairing Llanowar Elves and Steel Leaf Champion is going to be a winning strategy for the early days of Dominaria Standard. No matter what’s going on with the rest of your deck, you’re going to have 10-20% of games where you cast the 5/4 on the second turn of the game and have a great chance at an easy win. Some of those games, your opponent will have done nothing besides play a tapped land!
What does a deck need in order to support these cards? Well, for Steel Leaf Champion, you’ll need most of your lands to tap for green mana. All of your lands producing green is ideal, but having one, two, or three nongreen lands is reasonable—the card might still be playable if you had five nongreen lands. Mono-green, therefore, is a good place to start. But a mostly-green deck with a splash could also be a consideration, and Aether Hub is a good way to add a second color without compromising your ability to cast the Champion on turn 3.
Llanowar Elves is a bit more simple—you want lands that enter the battlefield untapped and produce green mana. This means that Blooming Marsh is better than Rootbound Crag. (Although Llanowar Elves is good enough that a turn-1 tapped land and a turn-2 tapped land plus Elf is still a fine start).
This is a simple and aggressive deck designed to take the greatest advantage of both Llanowar Elves and Steel Leaf Champion. Access to a value land like Hashep Oasis has historically been a factor in upgrading mono-color beatdown from “fun, budget deck” to “serious contender.”
Rhonas’s Last Stand is a card that always interested me, but has yet to find the right home. The reprinting of Llanowar Elves increases its stock exponentially, not just because they’re both good in the same decks, but also because Llanowar Elves is a nonland mana source that can let you double-spell on turn 3 and dodges the drawback. Between Last Stand and Champion, this deck can have a 5/4 by the third turn in close to every game that it plays. But perhaps a better use of Rhonas’s Last Stand is to cast multiple spells in a midgame turn, or to empty your hand before casting it so that you no longer care about untapping your lands.
Ghalta, Primal Hunger is another powerful existing card that has yet to find a home. It requires you play mostly creatures, and for those creatures to have a high power-to-mana ratio. This deck passes those tests with flying colors.
Territorial Allosaurus is yet another Standard-playable green card from Dominaria. It’s probably about equal in power level to Ripjaw Raptor, but given the presence of Ghalta and the absence of cards like Savage Stomp and Walking Ballista, it’s a good idea to give the new Dinosaur a chance to prove itself.
One more subtle appeal of Llanowar Elves is the ability to get ahead on mana to hold up Blossoming Defense. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the pump spell because of those games where you’re on the draw and can’t afford to wait until turn 3 to cast your 2-drop creature. The jump in mana lets you get ahead, Blossoming Defense lets you stay ahead, and the whole package gives you a high level of flexibility and control over the game.
This mono-green deck is fast, powerful, and consistent. But the flip side of that is being somewhat one-dimensional. Lack of interaction is a clear weakness, and Rhonas the Indomitable will need to do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to forcing through ground stalls. (Hopefully you’ll pulverize many opponents before getting to the board stall point of the game.)
This is an aggressive take on the G/B Constrictor archetype, slanted toward green mana, and with a high creature count. Black offers a little bit of valuable interaction in Fatal Push and Hour of Glory. (The double-black of Vraska’s Contempt may be too ambitious alongside Steel Leaf Champion). And Winding Constrictor is a monumental upgrade over Resilient Khenra. If you’ve played this style of deck before, you know that your expected win rate skyrockets in games where you untap with Winding Constrictor.
This deck is made possible by Woodland Cemetery and Aether Hub being lands that (usually) enter the battlefield untapped and (usually) produce green mana. Two copies of Servant of the Conduit round out the mana fixing, and it’s nice to pair Aether Hub with at least a little bit of energy production so that you can recharge.
If you’re looking for a simple and direct way to bash people’s heads in when Dominaria comes out, these are great places to start. Llanowar Elves is guaranteed to be a major player in Standard, and Steel Leaf Champion is merely waiting to find the right home.