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The Week That Was: Winning with Dominaria United

September 09, 2022
Corbin Hosler

The week that was Dominaria United!

The mandate that Frank and I have around here is straightforward: recap the week in competitive Magic. While most weeks that means big tournaments and formats ranging from Pioneer to Modern to Legacy that send players to the Pro Tour, sometimes it means a prerelease to a throwback set and some good ol' excitement.

Frank handles the hottest new decks, but I get to talk to the players that make them.

It's easy to assume that high-level Magic players take one look at a card gallery for the newest set, instantly break down the best cards in the set, picking out the overhyped cards and hidden gems. They show up to the Pro Tour with the perfect 75 (or 95 if you're a Yorion, Sky Nomad devotee) and make history while the rest of us can only watch and marvel at the greatness at work—and then take those decks to Friday Night Magic.

But the truth is the "pros" don't necessarily have a better handle on the latest cards than you or I. I won't name any names, but I can think of a handful of cards off the top of my head that never lived up to the billing that many extremely talented Magic thought it would. Remember Daybreak Ranger? Time Reversal? People sleeping on Smuggler's Copter?

None of this is a dunk in any way. Rather, I bring it up to show that when it comes to new sets like Dominaria United, everyone starts on the same page. The process of discovery is part of what makes Magic great, and because of that different, extremely skilled, players can look at something and come to completely different and reasonable conclusions.

In other words, hype is fun!

With Standard rotation hitting with the release of Dominaria United, it was the perfect time to bring back a The Week That Was classic: the new set roundtable!

The Panel

Another secret of the Pro Tour is that many of the names you might associate with a particular deck are not necessarily the players who developed it originally – often there are dedicated online grinders or teammates behind the scenes who are integral to tournament success even if it's not their name in the Top 8. With Dominaria United hitting Magic Online and MTG Arena over the past week, these players have been busy cracking the code on the set's impact on new Standard and beyond.

Let's meet the panel!

Eli Kassis (@Eli_Kassis)

Kassis is a longtime Pro Tour competitor, streamer and content creator who is coming off the highest point yet of a career that began with a string of Top 8 appearances at Grand Prix across North American in 2016-2017, and it's been a steady ascent since ever since.

Kassis routinely tests with some of the most storied teams in the world, and in the last 12 months he has put together a Top 8 showing at Magic World Championship XXVII and followed that up with a victory at the Neon Dynasty Championship.

Pascal Vieren (@vierenpascal)

Vieren burst onto the Magic scene in 2008 with a win at the Belgian National Championship, and staged a comeback almost a decade later with a finals appearance at the World Magic Cup in 2016. Now he is most likely to be seen on MTG Arena, where he battles late at night while juggling a busy home life – making his continued format innovations all the more impressive.

DeQuan Watson (@powrdragn)

One of the most prolific MTG Arena content creators and streamers, Watson has vociferously devoured the new Standard format and has been exploring decks at a faster pace than almost anyone else. His insights into the MTG Arena metagame have been key to players looking to climb the ladder and secure a spot in Qualifier Weekends.

Yoman5 (@yoman_5)

Best known by his online handle Yoman5, the onetime GP Top 8 competitor is on the forefront of Standard online, and keeps most of the rest of us updated at the same time with his content. It's safe to say that perhaps no one goes harder than Yoman5 when it comes to dissecting a format: to wit, he already has highlighted more than 60 Standard decklists he's considering in the new metagame.

Eliott Boussaud (@eliott_dragon)

Boussaud is a Grand Prix winner who has recently made a return to the top ranks by showing off his day 1 prowess of this new Standard format. The longtime French player made the Top 4 of the first major Dominaria United event, the Crokeyz Dominaria United challenge organized by Team Liquid. Make sure to check out Frank's article for the spiciest lists!

What to do with Dominaria

What are the cards you're most excited to build around?

Kassis: Vodalian Hexcatcher, because counter flash is one of my favorites. Also, Leyline Binding since five-color decks are a lot of fun and add interesting elements to the metagame. Plus Karn's Sylex because I think it's secretly underrated and will be amazing in eternal formats!

574504 Karn's Sylex

Vieren: I have a weak spot for tribal Elves and Glimpse of Nature, so Leaf-Crowned Visionary is something I'm going to try to play. I also love the inclusion of the pain lands like Sulfurous Springs. They're a good mix of enabling multicolor decks while also punishing you for playing too many.

Watson: The three cards I'm excited to play are Lightning Strike, Defiler of Vigor and Quirion Beastcaller. Lightning Strike is the type of versatile removal that aggro decks have been looking for. It's obviously not Lightning Bolt, but it's the next best thing.

Defiler of Vigor is a large body to contend with for not that much mana, but the upside could help end a game fairly fast if it goes unchecked. And at 5 mana it fights everything in the format pretty well. For Quirion Beastcaller, outside of theme decks I image any green-based aggro decks are going to have a hard time bypassing this card. Even more fun in multiples.

Yoman5: Shadow Prophecy is simultaneously one of the most powerful draw spells we've seen and a really cool domain build-around. Radha's Firebrand is an incredibly strong 2-drop that pairs very well with Kumano Faces Kakkazan, Reckless Stormseeker, and Hammerhand. Vesuvan Duplimancy lacks any of the usual anti-fun safety clauses these cards tend to have: no nontoken clause, no "sacrifice the token at end of turn" clause, and it even makes extra legendaries not legendary!

Shadow Prophecy 574621 574553

Boussaud: I'm most excited for Timeless Lotus, because it enables a big-mana strategy like tapout control or other shenanigans. Plus Liliana of the Veil because it changes the metagame for sure.

What Standard Decks are you most excited to try?

Kassis: Reanimator decks are near and dear to me, so I'm hoping they're competitive quite a bit. Jund, Esper, and Grixis are fun color combinations also.

Vieren: With the MTG Arena Championship coming up, I'm spending a lot of time on Draft and Alchemy. But I'm excited that Hinata should be less dominant, and an open format is always great!

Yoman5: Mono-Red Aggro gets Hammerhand and Lightning Strike back and one of the best 2-drops I've seen for red in Radha's Firebrand. Vesuvan Duplimancy and Ardent Electromancer are the kind of grindy nonsense I can get behind. There even seems to be a solid reanimator deck in the format if we can find the right configuration against the combination of aggressive decks and opposing Liliana of the Veil decks.

Hammerhand Lightning Strike Ardent Electromancer

Boussaud: I had success with a control deck using Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset and Timeless Lotus to generate a lot of mana, and I discovered that you have an infinite life, mana and card combo thanks to Hullbreaker Horror bouncing your Teferi; there are definitely things to explore in Dominaria!

What cards do you think are going to get much better in Dominaria United Standard?

Kassis: Raffine, Scheming Seer, because Esper just got new tools. Titan of Industry is a great reanimation target. And Workshop Warchief for attrition battles of card advantage.

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Watson: One card that's been overlooked here might be Urabrask, Heretic Praetor. Partially because his ability is good against the midrange and control decks, but also because it halfway shuts off Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, which I expect to be everywhere. The problem is I don't know what deck he fits in just yet.

Yoman5: Wedding Announcement is a big winner with the rise of Mono-Red Aggro and the return of Liliana of the Veil. Maestros Charm and Burn Down the House both hit the magic number of five damage in this format, taking out Sheoldred and a number of key planeswalkers even after they tick up once, while having alternative, proactive uses. Tenacious Underdog was already good, but it's a perfect pairing with Liliana of the Veil and Cult Conscript.

What's the first thing you do when you're brewing in an unknown format like this?

Kassis: I play a ton of Limited to learn the set and see what impresses me. From there, it's looking at what's still in rotation and how those decks could use the new cards to become even better.

Vieren: My strong suit when it comes to deckbuilding is building combo decks, so every set I look out for cards with a unique effect or combination of cards that will allow me to combo!

Watson: I have decklists already pre-built – I just start putting them together as soon as the full set is released. I'll drop gold on MTG Arena and start working on the two or three decks that I'm closest to completing from the initial cards I open.

Yoman5: The first thing I do is build a lot of decks. During preview season I make a to-brew list. If I see a cool card or package of cards, I'll make a note, and then when the full set is revealed I go through every deck idea or card I wanted to build around and make a deck with it. Sometimes things don't work out. You look through Scryfall for what Merfolk are in Standard and there's simply not enough. That's okay, cross it off the list and look at your other ideas. Sometimes you start with "Boros Aggro using Reckless Stormseeker" and realize the mana is hard in the current format, but if you go up the curve a bit Boros Midrange looks pretty solid instead. It's all about exploring what's possible, what isn't, and what cards come up when you're trying to solve a specific problem. That exploration process can be hard at first, but it builds on itself. Even if you get to play only 1 or 2 of the decks you made, everything you learned helps you build and tune decks and sideboards because you've already done the legwork.

Which planeswalker from Dominaria United will have the biggest impact, and how do you expect Liliana of the Veil to play in Standard this time around?

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Kassis: I think Liliana might be a trap, but I'm sure people are excited to play again. But I think we have power-creeped past Lily.

Vieren: Liliana. I'd say fond memories are a stretch, but I do have recollections of splitting my cards into two piles more than I would have like. I think Liliana is still very strong. The combination of removal, putting pressure on your opponent's hand and a strong ultimate is still a lot for a three-mana planeswalker.

Watson: Liliana, plus gets to be played in Pioneer now. I think the other planeswalkers in the set will get better as more Standard sets are released. I expect Liliana to be useful, but not overly dominant in Standard this time around—at least not immediately.

Yoman5: Liliana of the Veil. The edict ability dictates what an early game is allowed to look like and the discard ability attacks your ability to scale into the lategame. Even if Liliana isn't the most-played planeswalker in the format, she will set the bounds of the format and shape it from behind the scenes- much like The Wandering Emperor.

The last time Liliana of the Veil was in Standard I was just playing my first FNMs so I don't really have a great idea of how it went, but as I understand it Liliana was just "okay." I think Liliana is currently format-defining, but so was Ob Nixilis, the Adversary at the beginning of the last format. Wedding Announcement in the same format is going to put a ceiling on how dominant she can be, but she will shape what early curves are allowed to look like.

Boussaud: Liliana, of course. It really impacts the gameplay during a match, making you keep lands in hand and playing with low resources. My memories of Liliana the first time were the people often conceded to the ultimate, and that's actually been what's happened for me 100% of the time on MTG Arena this week!

Looking Ahead

With Dominaria United shaking up online play already and paper play beginning today, there's sure to be plenty of interesting decklists to come in the next few weeks as players integrate the set.

That begins with the Legacy Grand Open Qualifier in Paris, France on September 17th. It's one of a handful of events during a busy weekend of Magic that will also see players compete at the Singapore Open and the Card Monster Team Modern Open in Lexington, Kentucky. Plus the MTG Arena Qualifier Weekend is taking place next week, with Dominaria United being used for Sealed!

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