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Leyline Binding Art by Cristi Balanescu - Dominaria United

Dominaria United (DMU) Draft Metagame: First Look at the Data

Dominaria United Limited is a format like no other! Sierkovitz dives deep in to the data and how we can use this information to get an edge over your opponents!

All of us, Limited aficionados, are extremely privileged to play Dominaria United (DMU). It is a draft format like nothing before in the Arena era. It plays great, there is depth to it, gameplay experience is very good and despite a few issues, it is on course to become an all-timer. But it is also unique in one other way, and hopefully in five minutes, when you will finish reading this piece, you will understand exactly why.

Two or Three Colors?

Radiant Grove Art by Lorenzo Lanfranconi
Radiant Grove Art by Lorenzo Lanfranconi

Limited formats are defined by mana fixing. Most limited formats only let us play two colored decks, and that is fine. Mana bases in Limited are notoriously poor compared to constructed formats, where you have a wide range of dual lands. With few or even none, like in case of Alchemy Horizons: Baldurs Gate, land fixing, building a consistent deck with more than two colors will be challenging. In those formats staying in two color decks is a recipe for success. Getting to cast your spells consistently is, on average, a larger benefit than being able to tap into the power pool of three colors. Because even if you get more powerful cards in your deck on average, that power increase will be negated by more frequent mulligans, losing games due to not being able to cast your spells. In those formats you will play more than two colors only in some special circumstances or if your draft goes terribly wrong.

Some sets are designed to play three colors. This could be done by giving drafter ample possibilities to fix their mana or by making so many multicolored cards that it will be difficult to draft a two color deck. Wizards normally employ both of those strategies, to incentify playing three colors and to push the players to do so at the same time. With good mana and rewards for being three colors, it is still up to players to get there. An example of that is Streets of New Capenna, where many 17Lands players tried to play three color decks without proper color fixing, reducing their win rate. But the decks, which had sufficient fixing, had the same, or even higher win rate than the two colored ones, meaning that in this case, the power of three colors and fixing could overcome the inconsistency of a three color deck.

Two Color Formats

Majority of the formats in recent history are two color formats. As I use this term, this means that a vast majority of decks in those formats have two colors, or two colors with a small splash. I see a small distinction between formats where you mostly play pure 2-color decks and formats where you splash frequently. In recent years, 4 formats were pure 2-color: Zendikar Rising (ZNR), Adventures in Forgotten Realms (AFR), and both the Innistrad sets: Midnight Hunt (MID) and Crimson Vow (VOW). In each of those sets more than 75% of 17Lands users decks were strict two colors and 10-20% were two color with a splash, resulting in ~95% of the decks being 2-color.

Another 4 formats: Alchemy Horizons: Baldurs Gate (HBG), Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty (NEO), Strixhaven (STX) and Kaldheim (KHM) were still 2-color sets but not as dominantly. There was much fewer pure two color decks (45%-65%), many more 2-color decks with splash (>25%) and the total was not as high as in strict 2 color formats. It was still pretty high, as 78%-91% of the decks were some form of 2-color decks. And then there is Streets of New Capenna (SNC). Only 14% of the decks in that format were pure 2-color, with 20% of 2-color and splash decks, only a third of them were two colors – a stark contrast to other sets we had recently.

Dominaria United (DMU) looks very differently in that aspect. It is still technically a 2-color set – 55% of all decks are some kind of 2-color decks. But only 20% are pure 2-color – closer to SNC than anything else. There is, however, 35% of decks with two colors and a splash. Much more than in any other format. This in part if due to the presence of multicolor kicker cards and the amount of mana fixing lands. To be counted as a splash on 17Lands, you need to have a card that needs a different type of mana and a land source that can provide it. But with kicker cards, you can still play them for no kicker cost. And in some cases this still yields a good card. Look at Tolarian Geyser – bouncing and drawing a card for 3 mana is still good. Some deck though, will add a white source or two to the deck to sometimes be able to get the full value, making the kicker cost a splash. But even with this little caveat, DMU is still very different from any other 2-color format.

Fig. 1: Prevalence of 2-color decks (pure and with splash) in recent formats.

Three Color Formats

But in some formats playing more colors happens more frequently. In the last years in several formats had dedicated 3-color decks. 3-color decks according to 17Lands classification means they have more that 3 spells in each color and mana sources to cast them. As you can guess from the previous graph, SNC is the only truly 3-color format in recent years. 55% of the decks in SNC were pure 3-color, with further 8% having a splash. But in some other formats you can see that 3-color strategies were used frequently. Both KHM and STX played 3-color decks ~20% of the time. The difference is, in KHM over a half of 3-color decks had an additional splash, while in STX the extra splash in a 3-color deck was a relative rarity.

In every other set, 3-color decks were played only occasionally. NEO and HBG had 9 and 6% of three color decks, but the 4 sets I defined as strictly 2-color had them all below the 5% mark. Again this is partially due to set design of mana bases, partly due to the lack of synergies between multiple colors and partially because the 2-color combinations were easy to draft and very powerful.

Fig. 2: Prevalence of 3-color decks (pure and with splash) in recent formats.

But in this graph, yet again, DMU looks very different from anything else. Close to 40% of the decks were classified as 3 color – less than SNC but much more than any other set. But although there are fewer 3-color decks in DMU than in SNC, more of them have splashes. This suggests that DMU is not a 3-color set but it is a set where number of colors in a deck is not a limiting factor whatsoever. You can tap in to the potential 3 colors, but you can equally well play a coherent 2 color deck in one of the Mardu colors for example. More importantly you can also play…

Multicolor Decks

Only few format allow drafting multicolor decks. And even then it happens rarely. This is partially a design from Wizards – formats where you can draft a 5-color deck in every draft become boring very quickly. But once in a while you get to draft multicolor decks. It will still be rare. In SNC and KHM 4+ color decks happened ~3% of the time. In STX – 1%. But in every other format if was almost never happening. In AFR a 4+ color deck happened only once every 4500 draft of 17Lands users. But in DMU this happens once every 15 drafts. DMU is the format where multicolor decks happen the most frequently in the last years. And this truly makes it a unique format where every level of complexity of the deck in terms of color number, with the exception of mono-decks, is supported.

Fig. 3: Prevalence of multicolor decks (pure and with splash) in recent formats.

Multicolor Penalty

Crystal Grotto Art by Piotr Dura
Crystal Grotto Art by Piotr Dura

But play frequency is not everything. In the end it is the success of a particular build that matters. Even if it is easy to build a 4-color deck but it will lose every game – people will avoid that strategy and in particular 17Lands users, who dedicate their time and effort to improving their win rate. So how does the inclusion of more colors impact the deck win rate? To measure that, I compared the win rates of 2-color and 2-color + splash decks in each format. In the graph below, the 0 line is the average format win rate. If the bar is above 0 – it means that type of deck is doing better than average, if below, worse than average.

In the 2-color formats, you can see that adding even a splash to your deck results in a large drop in the win rate. 2-color decks have a slightly higher win rate than the average (being above zero). The small size of that effect is due to the fact that >80% of all decks in those formats are 2-color, so the average win rate of 2-color decks will always be close to average win rate of all decks. But add one splash, and the win rate in those formats goes instantly down. In ZNR decks with splash had already a 4.3 percentage points lower win rate than the average. And the more colors you add, the lower the win rate. In some cases it goes down by more than 20 percentage points. That is a worse penalty than starting every game with a mulligan to 6 cards. In 2-color formats playing multicolor decks is heavily penalised. Don’t get me wrong, it will still happen from time to time that a very special deck comes together and trophies, even in those formats, but it will happen really rarely, and you should actively avoiding even splashing if possible.

Fig 4: Difference between win rate of particular category of decks and average format win rate in 2-color formats. Average format win rate of each format is the 0% line. All bars above 0% mean this category has a higher than average win rate. All bars below 0% mean this category has a lower than average win rate.

But not every format is a 2-color one. And one look at the graph below will tell you why. I kept the axes the same on both graph so you can see the difference instantly. In STX, KHM and NEO the penalties of playing more than 2 colors were much smaller. Still there but at an acceptable level. In KHM it was even beneficial to play 5 colors, but that is likely a data artefact. People played 5C decks in the first week of the format when few knew what they are doing and snow lands were criminally open, leading to very high win rates of all color piles. But SNC, despite being a 3-color set, looks different. OK, there is no penalty of playing 3 colors. Again, this is not surprising, since 3 color decks were the majority and contribute greatly to the average win rate of the whole format. But already adding a splash to 3-color deck lowers the win rate and they steadily decline as you add the colors. This suggests that SNC is a strictly 3-color format, while STX, KHM and NEO were formats, where multicolor strategies were possible to some extent, but it didn’t matter much how many colors were in the deck.

And DMU seems to be the extreme version of such format. Not only the penalties of playing multicolor decks are the lowest, not exceeding 3 percentage points at any level, but also allowing to play multicolor strategies much more frequently than in any other format (see Fig. 2 and Fig. 3). Yes, part of it is linked to multicolor kicker, and yes, as soon as I get the proper data on it, I will try to figure out exactly how much. But it can’t be all of it and it is not even close. Mana sources still need to be in the decks to count as multicolor, so even if the splash is only for the kicker, it will affect the mana base to some extent. And the sheer numbers of multicolor decks are just too big.

Fig. 5: Difference between win rate of particular category of decks and average format win rate in 3-color and multicolor formats. Average format win rate of each format is the 0% line. All bars above 0% mean this category has a higher than average win rate. All bars below 0% mean this category has a lower than average win rate.


In DMU we got ourselves a first truly multicolor set in years. But it is more than that. It allows for some 2-color strategies, that are also powerful, it lets you play at every level of color complexity with almost equal win rates, and it allows you to do it often. This might be a reason why the set was welcome almost universally as one of the potential greats. And one that you should not miss. If you want to get into DMU draft and get a good primer – take a look at one of my seminars. The most recent ones looks at the topic of this article, but also talks about the important cards for the most played archetypes, what makes them tick and which cards should you avoid!

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I am a limited player, who mainly skips playing in order to analyse the limited data using I run a podcast: Magic Numbers, where I try to use data to let you improve your limited game play, find out which heuristics work out and which common ideas are not well supported by data.

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