A Dominaria Set Review for Modern

Written by Bob Culp on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

A Dominaria Set Review for Modern

Bob Culp

Bob Culp is a grinder who lives in Indianapolis. He’s most interested in constant improvement and consistent results. Three years ago, he had 1 SCG day 2 to his resume. Now, he’s at least Top 64’d his last 5 SCG Opens. His highest finish is 12th at Grand Prix Indianapolis in 2015. He’s been playing competitive magic since 2004 in between school, career advancement, and life.

The bar for Modern playability is very high. Whenever a new set is fully spoiled, like Dominaria was on Thursday, I immediately look for cards to effect Modern. That’s where I always want to start brewing for my own fun, and speculating for my own financial gain.

Few new sets in my 12 years playing Magic have been as anticipated as Dominaria – and it doesn’t disappoint. The cards are powerful, well-designed, and full of the lore you would expect from this storied plane.

I’m not going to try to predict the value of the cards in this set review. Instead, this review points out the cards I think are powerful enough for Modern play, and what archetypes might want them. I’ll let the Magic finance folks figure out the rest.

Karn, Scion of Urza is the premier Planeswalker of the set. For modern, it’s another solid option for fair decks to fight more fair. His starting loyalty is also very high.

It’s unclear if this card is better than Chandra, Torch of Defiance or similar options. Karn will get the nod if you already have artifacts.

Karn benefits Eldrazi Tron and Ancient Stirring strategies, including classic Tron. There are metagames where Karn is wanted over Thought-Knot Seer, though we may not be there yet.

Karn also benefits from playing multiples copies. Other Karn, Scion of Urza can use the -1 ability to look at cards with silver counters previous Karn has exiled. Also, the Construct tokens benefit from each other.

I’m not close to an affinity master, but I would suspect Affinity also wants to try this card – although it’s not too keen on 4 cost cards. However, there are lines are a turn 3 Karn makes a 5/5, which are obviously powerful.

Dauntless Bodyguard is further proof the Humans deck will get playable cards in about every expansion. The one converted mana cost is nice for Aether Vial, while the ability protects your disruption creatures against increasingly hateful opponents.

I’m including Seal Away only because it’s a good rate. Two mana effects have proven playable in some versions of UW Control and Taxes. This one even has flash, making it a better deal than most and a solid option to put away anything aggressive.

Shalai, Voice of Plenty might be exactly what Devoted Druid combo decks want. It protects your creatures and hand from disruption, while providing a mana sink for the infinite green mana your deck will eventually produce. The only downside is the four converted mana cost, putting it outside of Collected Company range.

Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle is an obviously powerful card for some unforeseen combo deck I fully expect Sam Black to figure out.

What makes Teshar so appealing is her ability can gain you a lot of mana throughout the game. A cheap artifact or legendary creature and sacrifice outlet allows simple iterations. Identifying the best iteration is the toughest part.

Teshar acts as a good value creature outside of combo turns which makes her appealing to build around.

I love the design of the sagas. Their story and pacing in the game is some combination of planeswalkers and the suspend mechanic.

The Antiquities War slots nicely as a finisher for Chalice of the Void prison decks in Modern. It provides immediate card advantage and will, eventually, win the game on stage III. It works awkwardly with Ensnaring Bridge, which makes me think this is a powerful sideboard card that doesn’t need much to go right to take over.

Is this good enough to make the cut in Merfolk? I’m not sure. This does have flash and a relevant ability, offering options to the otherwise very linear deck. The deck is already crammed at two mana, so it’s got steep competition.

Cast Down is better for Modern than any of its ancestors, such as Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, and Go For The Throat.

Notable creatures Cast Down kills: Gurmag Angler, Death’s Shadow, Tarmogoyf, every BGx creature, every Affinity creature, Thought-knot Seer, Reality Smasher, Hollowed One, etc.

Notables of what Cast Down doesn’t kill: Tasiguir, Thalia, Ezuri.

That’s enough where it should see play as a Terminate for decks who don’t play red.

I’m not very high on this card for Modern. It’s mostly a worse Damnation, and Damnation isn’t exactly doing a ton these days. However, since this is even comparable to Damnation (and sometimes better) is worth mentioning. Damnation is a powerful effect that’s rare to see at this mana cost in black, so any iteration is worth noticing.

File this under “Cost Reduction is Always Powerful”. Bedlam Reveler eventually became a staple in a high tier deck despite not getting the respect is deserved for too long. Find a way to give this card haste – like Goryo’s Vengence – and it can kill an opponent from 14 life. I’m aware Griselbrand is also available in Modern, but don’t count this guy out, either.

The Flame of Keld might be under the radar, but for two mana, this is a powerful finisher in anything red, aggressive, and full of Lightning Bolts. I would want to try this in Burn’s sideboard against decks that want to go long. Two Lightning Bolts turns into 10 damage very quickly.

However, that’s not how I want to use this card. More so than any other card in the set, The Flame of Keld makes me want to brew around it.

The Saga’s make me want to look back into cards such as Hex Parasite and Power Conduit to manipulate the saga counters. For instance, a prison deck that’s base red could run Power Conduit and The Flame of Keld with Ensnaring Bridge. This saga quickly turns on Bridge when it comes into play, and Power Conduit keeps the saga counters at II. This draws you two extra cards each turn until you want it to go to III when you have Lightning Bolts and Galvanic Blasts to fire off. Ghirapur Aether Grid is also a red source of repeatable damage.

You’ll see more decklists from me about this at a later time.

Goblin Warchief and Skirk Prospector give Modern Goblins a needed push. The deck, which usually takes the form of 8-whack these days, has always been close to being a viable choice. These two cards might be enough to push it over the edge to being viable.

However, decks like this run into problem of likely not being better than humans, despite being faster. If raw speed becomes more important than staying power, then I would give goblins a shot.

Marwyn, the Nurturer is the most obvious card that makes the cut in Modern playability. In Elves, Marwyn is a Collected Company hit and a large mana producer that is good on turn 2 and the later stages of the game. This card makes Elves more explosive and consistent.

If Tron decks want to survive Damping Sphere and Blood Moon, this might be the Naturalize effect it wants. Nature’s Claim is cheaper, which might prove more important. Exploring another land into play is worth testing in the Nature Claim’s spot.

This is a unique effect that has proven not quite good enough for Modern in past iterations (Natural Affinity, Rude Awakening). Giving the lands indestructible is a big improvement, though. Scapeshift variants might want this as a way to kill without Valakuts. Specifically, Bring to Light versions, which can just tutor for it.

There’s also rumors the card might be good in Jeskai Ascendency combo. It’s a turn slower and more resilient than the Birds of Paradise engine the deck currently has.

Damping Sphere is a needed print for Modern because it acts as an effect hate card against Tron and Strom, and consolidates sideboard space.

What Damping Sphere isn’t is the end-all be-all for either Storm or Tron. It’s just another piece of on-board, answerable hate. Storm is used to beating Chalice of the Void, and Tron is used to beating Blood Moon. This is no different.

Whenever a good hate card is printed, Modern players need to get better at understanding what it means in the context of gameplay. Damping Sphere is answerable by the same cards that both decks play to answer Blood Moon and Chalice. This is just more copies of the same effect.

In the first few weeks, more players will lose Modern matches because they played too many copies of Damping Sphere in their 75 and didn’t have the sideboard space for Modern’s other decks, than win matches against Tron and Strom because they now have Dampening Sphere.

I’m just not excited about Mox Amber in Modern.

Mox Amber is closer to a turn 2 or 3 mana burst than turn 1, such as Mox Opal. For it to be earlier than turn 3, you have to play underpowered threats like Zurgo, Bellstriker, or Isumaru, Hound of Konda. Having multiples of the same legend leads to dead cards.

Even if you play any of the legendary 1-drops, I’m unsure if putting 4-power into play turn 1 is overpowered anymore. It seems to be the status quo in a Hollowed One metagame.

Even Taxes decks, who play cheap legends already, don’t want Mox Amber because of Thalia.

I think this isn’t good in Modern and I hope I’m right. Fast mana is fun for exactly no one.

Mark this down as another large creature for Humans. This will often be a 4/4 or 5/5 which is terrifying off of an Aether Vial. The protection ability is odd, but valuable against Reflector Mage and Grim Lavamancer – and not much else.

What did I miss?
Am I way off base on anything?

Let me know in the comments.

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