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There are times when preparing for a Magic tournament is relatively simple. You can copy a deck from your favorite columnist or from a Grand Prix Top 8, you can practice, practice, practice, and you can go in knowing you’ve given yourself a solid chance to do well. At times like this, things are at least straightforward, if not necessarily easy.
This is not one of those times. With the release of a new set, particularly one like Dominaria, which looks poised to bring some major shake-ups, most of us are in the dark. Deck lists are out there, but many involve wacky ideas, and even the ones that don’t often lack fine tuning. How can you tell the juicy peaches from the sour lemons?
Time will tell us which decks have promise in Dominaria Standard. But while we wait, I’ll give you an outline for how to make a solid choice for your first deck of the new format. If you have a tournament to play in the first couple of weeks after release, then the decks I’ll mention in this article will be safe bets. If you’re simply looking to start your exploration of the new cards, then these will help you get a feel for things, and will at least be a good place to start.
Choose An Old Deck
My first suggestion is the most boring, but also the safest. You can simply play a deck that was good before Dominaria. You can copy it card for card, or you can sprinkle in a handful of new cards so long as you keep the structure and game plan of the deck intact.
Grixis Energy, Sultai Constrictor, God-Pharaoh’s Gift, and U/B Control are a few examples of decks that can let you play it safe and beat up on those untested brews.
Choose a Mono-Colored Deck
Mono-colored decks are good choices for week one because they’re relatively simple, and therefore require less tuning to operate at full potency. How badly can you bungle your mana base if you’re showing up with 24 basic Mountains?
These decks are often (although not always) aggro decks, which is another way to capitalize on the inefficiencies of your opponents.
Finally, a factor that’s unique to Dominaria is the cycle of triple-color 3-drops. These creatures are heavily pushed in power level and provide a great incentive to remain mono-color. If you sleeve up a mono-color deck, you guarantee that you’ll be playing with a premium card that very few of your opponents will have access to.
Mono-Red is easy since it was a top tier strategy before Dominaria’s release. My advice would be to pack in four Goblin Chainwhirler and to play all Mountains with zero, or maybe one, colorless land. Mono-Red could easily be the best and safest choice for week one of Dominaria Standard.
If there’s one other deck to compete for that title, it’s R/G Monsters, which is one of the decks I’m personally most excited about. In terms of being a safe, solid choice, it checks all the boxes. It was winning deck before Dominaria (see Tyler Schroeder’s GP Memphis winning deck). It’s a tried and true archetype that’s existed for two decades. It plays with a high concentration of the best cards in the format. And finally, it gets two obvious upgrades from the new set that don’t require you to go out on a limb or restructure the deck.
Llanowar Elves is a great inclusion for any green creature deck, but it might be at its absolute best when you’re ramping into Rekindling Phoenix, Glorybringer, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance ahead of schedule.
In addition to Standard, I’ve been sinking my teeth into the Dominaria Limited format. One of my guiding principles in Magic is that if a card grossly outperforms expectations in one format, then I should probably try it out in other formats.
Well, Knight of Grace and Knight of Malice are grossly outperforming my expectations. 2 mana for a 3-power first strike creature that’s resilient to removal is something special. These are not some mindless Grizzly Bears—these are 2-drops that have the potential to take aggro decks to a new level in Standard.
You could keep it simple and use Knight of Grace in mono-white, but the Knights are at their best when you can supply the enemy-colored permanents yourself to ensure they’re always attacking for that extra point of damage. Factor in that another one of the hallmark aggro cards from the new set, History of Benalia, incentivizes you to play with a lot of Knights, and you have a solid template.
Traditional knowledge says that control decks face an extra challenge in the first weeks of a new format since it’s difficult to tailor them for an unpredictable field. But when the control decks were preexisting, finely-tuned, and successful archetypes, there’s less truth to that. Additionally, Approach of the Second Sun provides such a direct and effective win condition that it’s hard to go wrong.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is an exciting card for U/W Control decks. In this shell, it rounds out the card drawing suite, and serves as an alternate “win condition” when Approach of the Second Sun isn’t working out. (Crucially, this is true in both presideboard and post-sideboarded games). He also pairs amazingly well with Settle the Wreckage.
Finally, Lyra Dawnbringer is a powerhouse card that can earn some easy wins, punish red aggro decks, and take an opponent by surprise if they board out too much of their creature removal. U/W Approach is another example of an existing archetype that gets a couple of well-appreciated upgrades from Dominaria without needing to change its basic structure.
Time will tell if these are actually among the best decks in Dominaria Standard. But in the midst of a lot of uncertainty, they’re my picks for the decks that will make you the most competitive in the early weeks of the new format.