Dominaria Draft Guide – Overview, Archetypes, Bombs and Best Cards
MTG Arena will have Ranked Draft Dominaria available for the next two weeks from January 3, 2020 at 8:00 AM PST to January 16, 2020 at 8:00 AM PST. This will be a great opportunity to collect cards from the Dominaria expansion and enjoy the widely considered a great limited format. It has a wide variety of playable archetypes (10!) and a lot of interesting card interactions and synergies to experiment with. Additionally, Dominaria is slow enough that most games will allow both decks to carry out their plans before the better one wins.
In this guide, we will take a deep look into the key features of Dominaria and each archetype that it supports. After that, you will also find commentary on the best commons and uncommons in each color (as well as multicolor and artifacts) to help you make the best possible draft decisions. Please note, the original guide was posted on May 23, 2019 as two parts which we have remastered it into a single piece.
- Bombs are few and manageable – While there are certainly some very powerful cards, nearly all of them can be easily answered by commons.
- The creatures and removal are average – Dominaria is a even playing field for all deck strategies. It is worth noting that the 2-drop creatures are weaker than average, which slows down the format and hurts Aggro decks. However, aggressive strategies are still supported by certain archetypes that utilize strong synergy or even a tribal theme such as wizards to enable tempo plays and faster victories. Control archetypes are also viable but there isn’t enough removal to make them overpowering. Overall this set feels really well balanced and I think this is a primary reason why it is so highly acclaimed.
- The format is slow – The abundance of good blockers and scarcity of overpowered creatures makes for longer, interaction-filled games. This raises the skill ceiling of the format and allows good players more time to distinguish themselves over the course of a game.
- There is minimal mana fixing – Dual lands are rare and tap lands are mono-colored. Sometimes Green and/or Skittering Surveyor decks will splash a third color, but Dominaria is predominantly a format of 2-color archetypes.
- There are many duds at common – The last 4-5 cards in a given pack are often complete duds that you absolutely do not want to play. This can lower your playable card pool to fewer than 30 across the three packs, and you need 23 cards among those to be in your colors. Often the last playable cards you will see for a given pack are the ones that wrap from your first and second picks. It is extremely important to pay attention and anticipate what those cards are going to be, as that can help you make a decision mid pack between two equivalent cards of different colors. If you expect that a certain playable will wrap it can make those decisions a lot easier. It is often a good idea to commit to at least one color by the end of pack one.
- There is an abundance of artifacts and many are playable. Being able to pick up cards with no mana restrictions helps ease some of the pressure of finding 23 playables in a dud-heavy set.
- Red is the weakest color – There are still several great Red cards, and the color works well in a supporting role, but its average power level is noticeably lower than the others. This does not mean you should avoid archetypes that include Red, rather you should focus on drafting the strongest red cards (I will identify these down below) and rely more on your other color/artifacts to fill out your deck.
Dominaria has two primary mechanics.
Cards with the Historic mechanic are primarily white and provide benefits for playing Legendary, Saga enchantments, and/or Artifact cards. These cards vary quite a bit in power level, but tend to encourage playing a lot of ‘historic’ cards to get extra mileage out of them.
All colors contain some cards that have a Kicker cost, or option to pay more for a spell in order to get an added effect. I am a big fan of Kicker cards in Limited because they represent utility. Sometimes you are going to play Caligo Skin-Witch as a 1/3 because you need a blocker, while other times you might use it to snipe 2 cards from your opponent at a critical time. 6 mana for that effect may seem like a lot, but at that point in the game you have a good chance of hitting two very good cards and having options is well worth a mana premium in Limited.
Overall, in the second section of my guide you are going to see a lot of Kicker cards in the best commons and uncommons lists for each color, and few Historic cards. This is because Historic tends to be a build around mechanic whereas Kicker cards are more generally good. However, you will see below that certain archetypes can derive a lot of synergy from Historic cards.
In this section we will take a look at all ten Dominaria archetypes. My approach this time was to select three of the most important commons and uncommons cards for that archetype. This is a set where the archetypes are very even in terms of power level. The most successful decks are frequently going to be ones that assemble the most cards that provide synergy within a given archetype.
Wizards is one of only two ‘tribal’ decks in Dominaria, and the payoffs are pretty great. It is best as an aggressive tempo deck, and it is easy to see why with these three cards. Adeliz really exemplifies the archetype with its speed, evasion, and payoffs for having both wizards and instant/sorcery spells. Journeymage is a fantastic value at 3U and still fine at 4U, while Wizard’s Lightning is one of the best uncommons in the set at either cost. I think it is cute that they printed a version of counterspell and lightning bolt that have their original costs as long as you control a Wizard. This is one of those archetypes that can be complete fireworks if you find the right payoffs, but most of the common/uncommon Wizard creatures are only okay on their own.
This is the best color combination for Historic payoffs since there are a lot of good enablers you will want to play anyway. These uncommons in particular are going to push your mana curve higher, but each have extremely powerful effects. This archetype tends to be midrange and stall the board until it can stick something powerful to close it out. This sort of deck tends to struggle against removal-heavy opponents and punish those that can’t handle its singular threats.
These colors are on their classic theme of sacrificing to gain value and utilizing recursion when possible. But, in Dominaria this archetype tends to be grindy, and less Aggro then you would typically expect from Red and Black. Garna really exemplifies this weirdness and although it is an unusual card it is quite playable and can be a huge swing at times. This archetype seems strongest when it is mostly black and playing only good red cards (usually removal) because Black has a lot better filler than Red. A lot of people play several bad two drops in a bid to end the game quickly and I think that is a mistake in Dominaria.
This archetype is all about ramping mana and playing expensive spells. There are enough playable kicker spells and efficient Green creatures to support the archetype, but I have found it difficult to pull this deck together without playing Red filler. The problem is most of the important cards for this deck are high draft picks. For example Elfhame Druid and Fight with Fire are both awesome uncommons, but if you don’t open them they are unlikely to get passed. Better kicker cards like Saproling Migration and Shivan Fire have the same problem. This deck gives you the best chance of blowing out your opponent with a 10 damage Fight with Fire though, so it has that going for it.
This archetype is another that supports the Historic mechanic, but overall tends to play like a traditional flyers deck. Cloudreader Sphinx is a definitely a ‘pushed’ common, and is a great reason to draft Blue in Dominaria. I do think these colors lack a little synergy compared to some of the other combinations, but there are enough powerful cards to choose from to make pairing them worth it.
This is the only non-white archetype that supports Historic. I have found Rona to be hit or miss, but have had a lot of success drafting UB overall. Black is probably the deepest color in the set in terms of playables, and Blue is close behind. Slower games lend themselves well to generating card advantage and finding answers to your opponent’s threats, something this deck does very well.
Big surprise, Green/White is a creature deck. I am actually a big fan of this combination in Dominaria. Song of Freyalise is an important card that lets you ramp your tokens into something big, or just play out more tokens with things like Spore Swarm, Saproling Migration, or even Call the Cavalry and then power them up. I like how Pegasus Courser interacts with the many solid creatures Green is able to contribute. This deck is flexible in terms of strategy, and can work both as a low-curve aggro deck as well as midrange. Blue and Black have some more powerful individual cards, but the synergy here is quite strong.
This is the second ‘tribal’ deck offered in Dominaria, and it is a good one! I think this is one of the most powerful archetypes when it comes together. Slimefoot can win games all by himself, and if you have enough Saproling generators and payoffs it is very easy to overwhelm your opponents. Both colors have a lot of support for this deck so I wouldn’t hesitate to go for it if Slimefoot makes an appearance early.
Tatyova is an absolute bomb and a card worth splashing for. This specific 2-color archetype seems unfocused though, and has a glaring lack of removal. Deep Freeze is okay in that regard, but those walls can get in your way so it is certainly not ‘hard’ removal. Overall, I typically splash for Tatyova and other strong cards, rather than committing to only UG.
Last but not least, RW packs a lot of synergy in Dominaria. There is a very well supported aura/equipment theme and this deck is often able to utilize the Historic mechanic as well. The obvious downside of auras is getting 2-for-1’d, but there are some great payoffs in the format that make it a better risk/reward than usual. Valduk for example takes over the game very quickly if you opponent can’t remove him. Danitha and Tiana both have solid stats on their own while enabling your deck. I like how Tiana prevents the 2-for-1 downside of casting Auras. This is one of the better aggro archetypes when it comes together, and severely punishes opponents that don’t draft sufficient removal.
Alright, we made it through all ten! You could probably tell from my discussions that some are more favorable to me than others, but honestly they are much closer than in most formats. So, while I would typically rate or ‘tier’ them, I am opting out of that this time. Now that you have an idea of what each archetype is trying to accomplish, you can utilize the next section of the guide in your drafts to pick up the best cards possible while considering how they are going to fit into a cohesive deck.
The Best Cards
I am going to jump right into each color and go over the best common and uncommon cards for each. I am also going to discuss the ‘bomb’ rares, which are cards that should be picked over any common or uncommon. Do keep in mind that Dominaria can be really punishing if you switch colors mid-draft. I will often try to draft mostly one color in pack one so that if I open a bomb pack 2 I am able to incorporate it. Sometimes pack 1 is going to provide a diversity of good cards that will force you into two colors early, though. Splashing is difficult in this set, but not impossible mostly due to a specific common artifact (Skittering Surveyor). I will be touching on the best artifacts and multicolor spells in Part 2 as well.
I am only going to include cards in the ‘Bomb’ sections if they are better than any common or uncommon in the set. These three fit the bill for White, although Shalai does require you to be in GW for it to reach bomb status. My favorite here is Lyra Dawnbringer, but try not to get too disappointed when she gets eviscerated or turned into a wall. Dominaria has common answers to many of its biggest threats.
White has some very good uncommons at its disposal. I was actually somewhat conflicted between Baird, Kwende, Sanctum Spirit, Triumph of Gerard, and Dauntless Bodyguard, so the list could go even deeper. My favorites are the bottom three shown above. Serra Angel is a card I always want to be playing, and her enchantment admittedly sets up a 2-for-1 but is well worth the risk. Seal Away is one of the best removal spells in the set and can often be a 2-for-1 against enchanted creatures or pump spells. The first strike on Danitha/Knight of Grace can be really frustrating to play against. Speaking of frustrating, the tax Baird provides often buys you a lot of time to develop your board, and 2/4 vigilance is a surprisingly great body in this set.
Adamant Will is a trick to be on the lookout for in this set. Be wary about casting your removal when your opponent has 1W untapped, especially in combat. I am a huge fan of Pegasus Courser and Call the Cavalry, and the two removal spells are very solid. T(r)apper is a bit of a build around because you don’t want your 3-drops dying to bears, but if you have many ways to trigger the ability it is an awesome card. Altogether I think White is middle of the pack when it comes to ranking the colors.
None by definition, but I was tempted to include Time of Ice and In Bolas’s Clutches in this section (see below). I want to reserve this section for cards that are better than any common/uncommon and there are enough notable uncommons that I cannot justify any promotions.
As I mentioned above, Time of Ice and In Bolas’s Clutches are phenomenal uncommon cards. Time of Ice works best in an Aggro deck, while Clutches gets the most done in Control. Merfolk Trickster is one of many good flash creatures in this set. You really need to be on the lookout for your opponent baiting you to attack into cards like this. Taking away abilities like flying or first strike after attackers are declared can be devastating. Lastly, Tetsuko is a really interesting build around card. Notice it reads 1 power or toughness, so you can really push some unblockable damage through with certain cards. You might be thinking ‘poor Blue’ at this point. No bombs and only four notable uncommons? Luckily for Blue players the color is stacked at common.
While it is sometimes clunky to include in your deck, the Arcane Flight/Cold-Water Snapper combo is really obnoxious so I felt compelled to include it. The rest of the cards are all really solid, and Cloudreader Sphinx and Academy Journeymage are standouts. Blink of an Eye and Syncopate are two cards you should definitely be aware of in this format and play around if possible. Deep Freeze works best when you are playing flyers but is worth including most of the time due to taking away key abilities in addition to demoting something to Wall status. Overall I like how deep Blue is at common and I am happy to draft it.
The Demonlord is pretty awesome, generating value even if your opponent has an answer to its 6/6 flying/trample body. Scriptures is the only ‘Wrath’ effect in Dominaria and I like that it saves one of your creatures even though sometimes your opponent will have Artifact creatures of their own. The 10 mana cost may seem insane on Josu Vess, but I have been able to pay it several times in BG decks and it is an epic finisher. Having a ‘downside’ of a 2BB 4/5 menace makes it a clear bomb in my opinion.
Similarly to Blue there are only four notable uncommons here, but all of them are good, and Black also really shines at common. The standouts are Cast Down and The Eldest Reborn, both of which are great first picks. I thought about including Yargle, Glutton of Urborg as well (vanilla 9/3 Legendary Creature for 4B) but he only works in certain decks. If you need more historic cards or have a means to provide evasion his value goes up, but Yargle is not always a good card to draft.
The common removal suite of Eviscerate, Fungal Infection, and Vicious Offering is the main reason I am really high on Black in this format. The other three are efficient creatures that each provide value in their own way. There are other commons that are more situationally good as well, but I think these six cards are the most solid for any deck.
Both of these cards should put you in Red. Verix Bladewing is a great deal whether you can pay the kicker or not, and Siege-Gang Commander is even better. Being able to put (eventually) 8 damage wherever you want means that opponents must kill the Commander, but even if they are able to you still get 3 goblins out of the trade. These are two of the very best rares in the set.
The three damage spells are your best options, but I am also pretty high on Valduk. He is definitely a safer bet than Champion of the Flame, but I have won enough games with Champion to include it here too. Attaching anything to either of them ends the game pretty quickly unless your opponent has a clean answer. Skizzik is fine, often taking your opponent by surprise since there is very little haste in Dominaria.
This is where things get really ‘meh’ for Red. Shivan Fire is the only great card here. Run Amok is another combat trick you need to be aware of in this set as it can be a blowout. I think it is significantly better than (Sure Strike) the typical Red trick due to the trample getting damage through while still protecting the creature you cast it on. Keldon Raider is a fine card but the 2RR cost gets annoying when you are just trying to splash Red, and Ghitu Chronicler is okay but really only shines in the UR Wizards deck.
Multani is one of the best rares in the set, while the dinosaur is efficient enough to make this list.
Green really likes to mana ramp and play saprolings, and these are not bad things to do in Dominaria. Lonely or not, Grunn Lives up to his name, and if you are able to hook him up with flying or trample your opponent is going to have a bad time. 5 mana for a 5/5 vigilance/trample is a great deal in this set. Bonus points if you cast Untamed Kavu on turn 3 with Elfhame Druid.
Green runs pretty deep at common too, but as an individual color I would rank it slightly below Black, Blue, and White. Green has a lot of really great tools but playing it as a straight creature archetype can get punished by this format. Most decks will be able to set up blockers for your saprolings and remove your larger threats. Because of this it is important to create synergy with the cards Green is able to contribute. Its primary weaknesses are a lack of removal and evasion which can be added with your other color. You also want to consider how the saprolings are going to be used. Green offers a couple ways to pump/sacrifice them but again there is more synergy to tap into elsewhere. Finally, Green is very susceptible to flyers. Mammoth Spider is a great option but make sure you have several ways of dealing with flying threats.
Ah Teferi, the card everyone either loves or loves to hate. Aryel is just as good in Limited though. Muldrotha is a little hard to cast, but is one of two cards (Darigaaz) that absolutely demands a splash. In part 1 I commented on all of the uncommon multicolor cards, and truly all of them are good playables but Slimefoot and Tatyova are the most exciting to me. Really there are only three multicolor cards in the set that are not worth playing:
Card you should NEVER play
Artifacts / Karn
You are very happy to open any of these, especially since they can slot into any deck and be good. Icy Manipulator is the top dog uncommon and better than most rares in the set.
Other Great Artifacts
These aren’t exactly bombs but you are nearly always going to be happy about picking up. They slot into any deck and add a lot of value. Traxos needs some other historic cards to work, but the payoff there is real. Skittering Surveyor is an early pick because it is one of the few cards that enables splashing in this set.
Bloodtallow Candle and Howling Golem work best in control archetypes, while the Sword and Lance are most effective in decks that benefit from equipment. All four of those are playable in any deck in a pinch, though. Sorcerer’s Wand on the other hand is only good in UR Wizards, and you should only seek out Voltaic Servants if you have Traxos or something like Icy Manipulator that benefits from its ability.
Dual lands are rare in Dominaria but definitely help enable splashes if you acquire one. There is also a colorless scry land (Zhalfirin Void) that is worth picking up late if you are running a 2-color deck with minimal double-costed cards. The tap lands are pretty nice though, and the three above are the best ones. The Green one (Memorial to Glory) is playable but not great, and the Red one is awful. This seems fitting as I would rank the individual colors Black > Blue > White > Green > Red
Targeting the best common and uncommon cards I have outlined here and finding synergy between them to support an overall archetype is the best way to be successful in Dominaria. This is not a set where you can force specific archetypes, or abuse the power of individual cards. Dominaria is a balanced format that tends to punish greedy decks on both the aggro and control sides of the spectrum, and reward decks that operate around a cohesive theme.
While Dominaria can be a slow format, it also tends to be highly interactive and most turns are about gaining small advantages that add up over time. Be careful about the combat tricks that I mentioned in each section and you shouldn’t get blown out. This is a great set to practice the fundamentals of limited magic, and I hope you enjoy playing it as much as I have. If you need help with the fundamentals such as drafting around a solid mana curve, deck composition, strategy, etc. check out my article on the subject below.
If you want to see me play some Ranked Draft on MTG Arena with commentary in the meantime you can check out my Twitch stream at twitch.tv/compulsion02.