Dominaria is shaping up to be a very interesting set, and I expect that you’ll hear a lot about it on basically every form of media in the upcoming weeks. In this article, I’m going to focus on two things. First, I’ll talk about the new planeswalker rule, and how it impacts gameplay. Second, I’ll talk about the new card type—the Sagas—and highlight some of the spoiled cards I think have potential.
The biggest rule change that comes from Dominaria is the removal of the planeswalker redirection rule. Now, instead of dealing damage to the player and then directing to the planeswalker, cards will be able to target the planeswalker directly. This is from the release notes:
“Rules Change: Damage Can’t Be Redirected to Planeswalkers
Previously, you could redirect noncombat damage that a source you control would deal to an opponent, having that source instead deal that damage to one of their planeswalkers. With the release of the Dominaria set, this rule is being removed from the game. A large number of cards that dealt a certain amount of damage to ‘target player’ are receiving errata using the following guidelines:
Abilities that read ‘target creature or player’ have been changed to ‘any target.’
Abilities that read ‘target player’ have been changed to ‘target player or planeswalker.’ But if the amount of damage is calculated by using information about that player or objects they control, the ability remains unchanged and can now damage only the player.
Abilities that read ‘target opponent’ have been changed to ‘target opponent or planeswalker’ with the same exception listed above. These spells and abilities can target a planeswalker you control.
Abilities that deal damage but don’t call for a target haven’t received errata, with one exception (Vial Smasher the Fierce).”
(Right now, it’s still unclear whether cards like Blightning and Searing Blaze will have the errata to hit planeswalkers because none of the general rules apply to them. We don’t know if they’ll release another general rule that covers those cases or if they will be handled on a case-by-case basis.)
This seems innocuous, but actually changes the game play on certain cards by quite a bit. Here are the most important changes:
You now have to announce the target immediately.
Previously, you would always target the player with an effect, and then, upon resolution, you’d decide if you wanted to redirect it to the planeswalker or not. Your opponent had no window to respond to the spell after it resolved, so they had to make their choices without the information of what you were going to target. Now, you have to announce the target as you cast the spell, just like any other target, so they know what is going to be hit before they decide to counter the spell or not.
In this regard, this is a good change for beginners. Imagine going to FNM and having the following interaction:
“Lightning Bolt you”
“Okay, I’m at 17”
“Redirect to Jace”
“Counter it then”
It was pretty unintuitive how that worked. At least now this conversation starts with “Lightning Bolt your Jace.”
You can now damage your own planeswalkers.
It used to be that you couldn’t damage your own planeswalkers—after all, if you could, you’d just take a damage and remove a counter from the planeswalker instead. Now, with this new rule, you’re allowed to Lightning Bolt your own planeswalkers. This means that Emrakul, the Promised End and other Mindslaver effects become marginally better, and it also has fringe applications when they’re about to steal your planeswalker. Under the old rules, if they cast Zealous Conscripts on your 6-loyalty Liliana of the Veil, you couldn’t stop them from ultimating it (since you never had priority once they controlled it), but now you can just Bolt the Liliana in response.
You can now split the damage from multiple-target burn spells
Since you redirected damage from a player to a planeswalker, your choices were always to redirect all the damage or none of it. If your opponent had a Liliana on 1 and you had a Forked Bolt, you couldn’t deal 1 damage to the Liliana and 1 damage to them—it was always either 2 damage to the Liliana or zero. Now, Forked Bolt will read “Forked Bolt deals 2 damage divided as you choose among one or two targets,” which means that you can kill the Liliana and deal the leftover damage to the player, or even deal 1 point of damage to each of two different planeswalkers.
Untargetability no longer stops you from killing planeswalkers with burn spells
Under the old rule, you could play a Leyline of Sanctity and that would stop your Jace, the Mind Sculptor from getting hit by a Lightning Bolt. Now you’re two separate entities, and that’s no longer the case. This is probably the biggest impact from the new change, since there are decks in Modern that play both Leyline of Sanctity and planeswalkers (e.g., U/W Control), and those decks will have to either change their sideboard plan or remove Leyline of Sanctity from their sideboard altogether.
This is also a small nerf to the card Outwit, which can no longer save planeswalkers from burn spells. Since the universe always has a way of balancing itself out, Not of This World has been buffed and can now save planeswalkers from burn spells.
Effects that don’t target won’t deal damage to planeswalkers
You need to target to be able to damage a planeswalker. This means that the plus ability from Chandra, Torch of Defiance, for example, no longer kills them, which is a sizable nerf to the card (though it also means that if you have Chandra, you can play it and minus without fearing their Chandra). Similarly, I expect cards like Earthquake to now be unable to kill a planeswalker.
Cards will have different effects depending on when they were printed
The new rule is certainly cleaner, but it doesn’t come without cost. Every card that says “deal damage to target player” will be changed to say “deal damage to target player or planeswalker,” but they’ve already shown willingness to print cards that damage only the player (Chandra, Bold Pyromancer, for example, whose plus ability targets only a player). Now, imagine they print a card like this:
New Lightning Bolt
New Lightning Bolt deals 3 damage to target creature or player.
This card explicitly excludes planeswalkers, but, if you don’t know when it was printed, you have no way of knowing. If New Lightning Bolt and old Lightning Bolt are both in your hand, they’ll have the exact same printed text, but one will work very differently. It’s not going to confuse any established players, but I can see how it could confuse someone who’s not already enfranchised.
Sagas enchantments, but in practice, they work like planeswalkers. You play them and you get an immediate effect, and then you get another, and then an “ultimate” of sorts. The main differences are that you don’t choose the order of the effects, and that they’re significantly harder to kill. Overall, I think Sagas may turn out to be quite a bit better than they appear at first glance. We have never had an effect like this, so it’s hard for us to fully comprehend it without playing with them.
Here are some noteworthy Sagas that have been spoiled:
This card is great! At first glance, it’s a Duneblast for 2BB that also randomly exiles their stuff, but it’s actually better than that because you regain initiative. People who played Hearthstone probably remember the frustration of playing against Doombringer—they’d play Doombringer and then you would not only lose all your creatures but also a turn since anything you played that turn would just die to the Doombringer anyway. Phyrexian Scriptures is the Doombringer of MTG.
Imagine you’re playing an aggro deck and your opponent plays this. If you don’t have an artifact creature to play, what do you do? You can’t add to the board, because anything you play will just die. You attack with whatever you already have, but then you have to pass the turn back to them. So they’re taking more damage than they would with a Wrath of God, but they’re making sure they untap into a completely empty board (save any creatures they have). In that “off” turn, they can play a planeswalker and then you’ll have fallen very far behind.
Overall, I’d say there are many spots where this is worse than Damnation, but there are also many spots where it’s better. Considering that Damnation is an extremely powerful Magic card, this is automatically a card I’ll keep my eye on.
History of Benalia
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is back! Well, kind of. You play it on turn 3 and it makes a 2/2. Next turn, it makes another 2/2, and at that point it has almost paid for itself. Then, the turn after, it gives all your Knights +2/+1. If you only have the Knights it generated, then it’s usually not going to be a great card, but it still represents a decent chunk of damage.
If you have other Knights, however, then this card is very good. Trial of Solidarity is a playable card and is the last effect, and adding two 2/2s to the board is exactly what you want in a deck that wants to play Trial of Solidarity effects. On top of that, this scales well with other copies of itself (ironically it’s not legendary), which is the complete opposite of cards like Trial of Solidarity. I’m not sure that we’ll have enough Knights to play a Knights deck in Standard, but, if we do, it’ll probably be because of History of Benalia.
The Antiquities War
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is back! No, really, this card is remarkably similar to Tezzeret. It goes “plus one, find an artifact,” “plus one, find an artifact,” “kill you.” 5/5 creatures are big, and it’s not hard to have four artifacts in play by the time this is ready to ultimate, especially in a format with Treasures. If you have artifacts worth searching for, then this is a good combination of card advantage plus card selection plus kill condition all in one, and, unlike Tezzeret, it’s mono-colored and can’t be attacked.
The Flame of Keld
For this card to be good, you have to assume that discarding your hand is not actually a big cost—i.e., your deck is going to have a lot of cheap spells and by the time you play this you’re going to be empty-handed or close to it. If that is the case, then this card can be good. The very next turn you draw two, which isn’t enough to justify playing it, but the turn after you get a very powerful ability. By then, you’ll have four new cards to work with, plus every creature that you have in play, so it’s not hard to get a plus 6 or even plus 8 damage out of this card. As a bonus, it gives you a way of emptying your hand on the spot for Hazoret the Fervent without even feeling very bad about it.
The First Eruption
This card could be a complete bust, but it can also be good depending on the metagame and what good 6-mana cards exist. If you’re not killing anything with it, then it’s likely not good enough, but in a scenario in which you’re killing something and then accelerating into a powerful 6-drop, then this card can be very good.
Imagine, for example, that your opponent is playing an aggressive deck. On turn 3, you play this and kill a creature—two if you’re lucky (between Red, Mardu, and White tokens, there’s no shortage of one toughness creatures in Standard right now). On turn 4, you can play a powerful 6-drop, say a Carnage Tyrant. Then, on turn 4, you lose a land but you likely sweep the board, except for whatever it is you just played. So not only do you double-accelerate a powerful card into play, but you also make sure that they are delayed by a turn answering it because they can’t just run all of their creatures into the 3-damage effect.
In the end, all the Sagas are interesting, but these are the ones that I think have the most potential. I’m going to guess we haven’t seen all of them yet, so hopefully there are some more interesting ones coming up.