Dominaria Limited Guide (Part 1)
I am very excited that Dominaria is coming back to Ranked Draft on Magic Arena! I started writing these articles just after it had rotated out last, and it has been on the shelf for a while. Dominaria is widely considered a great Limited format, and I fully agree. It has a wide variety of playable archetypes (10!) and a lot of interesting card interactions and synergy 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 article we will take a deep look into the key features of Dominaria and each archetype that it supports. In the follow up article (Part 2) you will find commentary on the best commons and uncommons in each color (as well as multicolor and artifact) to help you make the best possible draft decisions.
- 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 in Part 2) and rely more on your other color/artifacts to fill out your deck.
Historic and Kicker
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 Part 2 of my guide you are going to see a lot of Kicker cards in the best commons/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 common/uncommon 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. For a look at the best commons and uncommons in each color check out Part 2. Now that you have an idea of what each archetype is trying to accomplish, you can utilize Part 2 in your drafts to pick up the best cards possible while considering how they are going to fit into a cohesive deck. I am also going to discuss the ‘Bomb’ rares for each color in Part 2. These 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/multicolor spells in Part 2 as well. Have fun (re)visiting Dominaria, it is a truly special Limited format!