What Should I Play in the New Dominaria Standard?
It’s always an exciting time when a new set comes out. Not only is there the thrill of pre-release weekend after seeing the full spoilers, getting to see and touch the cards for the first time, and the experience of opening packs you’ve never seen before, but there’s also the fun of brewing up brand new decks. This time round, in Dominaria, we have a whole new format to brew with in Brawl, and many streamers have already been trying out potential commanders. Old faithful, though, and something which for me has seemed to be lost this time round amongst all the other hype surrounding this set, is the excitement of seeing how the fresh pool of cards will change the Standard format.
Since the set was released online to coincide with Pre-release, although the new format doesn’t begin in paper until Friday, on MTGO new Standard is already alive and kicking, so if you are fortunate (or boring, pick your poison) like myself and have been watching numerous streamers testing out the new format, you will know that the Dominaria cards have already made a massive splash. If you haven’t, though, and won’t have the time to do so before you have to turn up on Friday night and play, then hopefully this article will help you to know what you’re playing (or at the very least, playing against!) at FNM this week!
Initially, many people’s eyes turned to the new Karn planeswalker. There is no doubt that this is a powerful card and will definitely see play in some decks in the future – particularly in control builds when the card advantage will be important and he will be easy to protect. However, as of yet I have not seen a single successful Karn deck online – it could be that it’s too early to tell what kind of colour shell will support him, or it could be that he is not as powerful as he first appears to be. Maybe I just haven’t seen that part of the meta yet. What I do know is, that if you’re looking to come bursting out of the gates with the most broken deck in Standard, Karn probably isn’t where you want to be starting – at least for now. Hold that thought, though, because I expect that to change.
Unsurprisingly, for now there are two decks which have come to the fore, and both are linear and aggressive, as tends to be the trend when a new set comes out. First the easy-to-build, aggro decks slide in and pick up a few wins, and then people figure out which cards are best to counter them and balance is restored. For now, if you are looking to bring a strong contender and win your FNM, aggro is a highly recommended strategy, and I would suggest taking one of the following two decks, both of which have come out of the gates fast. If you have your own brew or aren’t an aggro fan, then take note of these decks because you will be sure to come up against them a lot in the future, and it’ll help to know what they do!
The first deck I’m going to discuss is Red Deck Wins, which has predictably gotten a lot better with the new cards. Surprisingly enough, the powerhouse card Wizard’s Lightning is currently seeing less play than expected, presumably because of the lack of really powerful wizards, and the difficulty mono-red has with defending its creatures. This could easily change as the meta shifts, because it seems like a very strong card which should be at the very least in the sideboard, but in many of the lists I’ve seen it hasn’t been stellar just yet. Another reason for its absence could be that the three-drop slot has now become somewhat crowded, thanks to the new boy in town: Goblin Chainwhirler.
Although at first glance this card already seems powerful, able to take out some of your opponents’ early blockers, finishing off a Chandra, Torch of Defiance if they have used it to kill one of your creatures, or just being a 3/3 first strike for 3, in reality it goes so much deeper than that. One of the more fringe-playable Standard cards, Soul-Scar Mage, a common from Amonkhet, forms a combo with Chainwhirler that’s Busted with a capital B. Playing a Soul-Scar Mage and then a Chainwhirler means that the initial damage will stick on the opponents’ creatures in the form of -1/-1 counters, so even if your opponent has managed to slam some early big threats, you can cut them down to size; or you can undo the effect of a Verdurous Gearhulk on a wide board; or you can helpfully reduce their Steel-Leaf Champion to being a 4/3 permanently, which, oh hello, Chainwhirler has first strike. I guess you won’t be able to attack or block with that anymore!
This shift has led to a change in the deck, adding more Shocks and direct damage effects to augment Soul-Scar’s effect, and moving away from cards like Ahn-Crop Crasher. After all, why prevent them blocking when you can make their creatures irrelevant, or simply dead, instead? Also, it turns out that casting Hazoret on four and Glorybringer on five is still good no matter what format you’re in, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance is now even harder to interact with thanks to the planeswalker rules change, so the top end remains powerful and versatile too.
It’s yet to be seen whether this configuration is more powerful than the older version, but from first glance it looks pretty good, and strong in the early-days Dominaria format against the type of decks you’ll be seeing. If you are looking for a powerhouse build to get you out of the doors which won’t break the bank, given that it’s not that much different than the existing deck, this is definitely the way you want to go.
If, however, you want to try something entirely new, then there is another deck which might tickle your fancy. Previously an unplayable mono colour deck but having now received a lot of support, mono-green stompy is looking very pushed in Dominaria and could well be one of the standout midrange decks of the format for a long time. The power and flexibility of Llanowar Elves is well-known, and the return of one-mana dorks to Standard is something that we weren’t sure we’d see again, because it requires Wizards to balance three-drops around being played on turn two, and that can be a difficult development process. However, despite the odds they’re back and they’re back with a vengeance.
Curving a turn one Llanowar Elves into a turn two Steel Leaf Champion is pretty nuts, to say the least. A 5/4 which is essentially unblockable, at least for a few turns, if you get it down on turn two is a huge amount of early pressure, especially when combined with effects such as Resilient Khenra (now a 4-of in this deck) which buff it. Other great early plays include Jadelight Ranger and Merfolk Branchwalker, providing scry or card draw, and as an added bonus being able to put your Khenras in the graveyard straightaway so you can Eternalize them for extra value.
The best part about this deck, though, isn’t the Steel Leafs or the merfolk or even the return of Verdurous Gearhulk to the forefront of Standard, a very powerful card which hasn’t seen much play outside of the Winding Constrictor decks in a while. No, the thing which makes this deck bonkers is that by curving a turn one Llanowar Elf into either a Steel Leaf Champion or a Jadelight Ranger which becomes a 4/3 allows access to a turn 4 Ghalta, Primal Hunger. TURN 4. Which can be protected with a Blossoming Defense if they have a Vraska’s Contempt or a Cast Out to answer it, and followed up next turn with a Khenra or a Gearhulk to make sure that the Trample damage is enough to wipe them out. Now that’s the kind of power in Standard we’re talking about.
It’s not even too much magical Christmas land either. Yes, obviously it requires starting with an Elves, but outside of the nut draw there are still a lot of creatures in your deck which will make it relatively easy to cast her by turn five. Failing that, a Gearhulk coming down a turn early might just do the trick as well. If your elves and merfolk can survive the initial onslaught of the mono-red deck, or you can use Blossoming Defense to protect your Ghalta, Champion or Gearhulk from whatever removal your control opponent has, this deck is very well positioned, and I think it’s going to be a strong feature of new Standard.
That said, The Scarab God is still legal and I am sure that sooner or later the U/B control builds will find a way to rally themselves and combat the new aggro decks. This takes time, though, and it’s easy to present threats in Magic but not always easy to line up the right answers, so for this weekend at least, one of the two decks above is where I would be looking to go. After that, and with the upcoming Standard tournaments this weekend, there will be enough data for more grindy decks such as W/B Monument (which has made a surprising comeback with the printing of Josu, Lich Lord – a powerful finisher if there ever was one) or U/B Control to alter their sideboards and find ways to answer the power of the fast decks.
I hope this article has been helpful, and that you enjoy using the sweet new cards in Dominaria this Friday night! If you take one of these decks to FNM, please let me know how it runs, and if you didn’t, tell me how you decided to tackle them as opponents!
Thanks for reading and good luck to you all!