Sagas are about to unfold. Historic creatures litter the battlefield. Kicker costs are being paid. Yes, Dominaria is here, and we get our first crack at playing Limited with the new set. That's always a treat, though it can be tricky to figure out what exactly is going on, especially in a set with as many things happening as this one. Let's take a look at what is brewing on the plane where it all began, and how that affects the Limited decks you'll be building, both in Sealed and in Draft.
This is a historic set, and as such, it has a historic theme. "Historic" cards are artifacts, legendaries, and Sagas, and you'll see plenty of all three in this set (with some legendaries at uncommon, even). You'll also see cards that reward you for playing with history, a theme shared among black, white, and blue, though each color also has a legendary spell that you can only play if you control a legendary creature or planeswalker.
Playing with History
- Random artifacts are much more likely to be playable. Some decks will play artifacts with minor value just to trigger cards that care about history.
- Legendary creatures and Sagas in white, blue, and black (the Esper shard) are worth a little bit more than red or green. Sometimes you will have this theme in a red-white deck, but in general, Esper cares more about this theme.
- When playing against Esper, you want to kill their legendary permanents first.
Kicker is a timeless mechanic. Well, it's back in Dominaria in the most fundamental form, and I'm glad about it. Kicker plays really well in Limited, letting you play insanely powerful cards that are still relevant in the early game and giving you tons of options at all points. It's spread across all five colors, though red and green have a couple cards that give you a bonus if you kick spells (including tapping for more mana to pay for kicker costs).
Playing with Kicker
- The biggest thing kicker does is let you play more mana without getting flooded. A card that's powerful on three mana or nine mana gives you an excuse to play eighteen lands instead of sixteen or seventeen, and with enough good kicker cards, I expect mana counts to rise a little.
- Kicker rewards patience. If you can save your spells, they grow more powerful, so trying to build a deck that doesn't need to drop its hand to compete is valuable. Stabilizing with a couple cards and unleashing a bunch of expensive kickers is a very real strategy.
- Kicker makes counterspells and discard better, as players have more expensive late-game cards to throw around.
Red and blue share a theme of wizardry, as Wizard is a supported tribe. While this isn't the deepest theme (one common and a couple uncommons in each color, plus rares), it is powerful enough to deserve attention.
Playing with Wizards
- Almost all the cards key off Wizards in play. It's probably good practice to kill Wizards on sight anyway, and this is a convenient excuse.
- These cards skew aggressive, with bounce and direct damage being recurring themes. When making a Wizard deck, try and make sure it attacks well, and when playing against Wizards, try and conserve your life total.
Thallids captured the hearts and minds of players during Fallen Empires, and once again in Time Spiral. They are back in Dominaria, proving that eradicating a growth takes a lot of work, and we get another shot at playing with them. The black Thallid cards tend to sacrifice Saprolings for profit, while the green ones grow them, just like a real ecosystem.
Playing with Thallids
- The sacrifice cards don't strictly need Saprolings, so you can build a successful black-X Thallid deck without green, as long as you get your fodder from somewhere (like Knights or Goblins).
- Likewise, green can pair with mass-pump effects and eschew the sacrifice theme, focusing on a go-wide rush deck.
- The black-green deck will play more as a control deck, eating Saprolings and growing stronger while using removal to kill any fliers.
Goblins are like red Thallids—try as you might, you can never quite get rid of them all. This is another very lightly supported tribe, showing up on just a few cards in red. Goblins are all about quantity over quality, and they tend to play like any go-wide strategy (sacrifice them early and often).
Playing with Goblins
- Goblins also skew aggressive, so keep that in mind when starting to construct a Goblin deck.
- Besides Siege-Gang Commander and Goblin Warchief, there aren't huge incentives for going all-in on Goblins, so unless you see these cards, the theme is a minor one.
Putting It All Together
We have a lot of different themes all mixed up here, and there are even some slightly smaller ones that I didn't touch on (lots of themes pushed by just one or two cards). That may seem overwhelming, but there are ways to break it down. First of all, these themes tend to be light rather than heavy. Even a dedicated Wizard or Thallid deck won't have eighteen on-theme cards—there just aren't that many to be picked. Don't think you didn't get there on a theme just because you only have three to five cards for it, since that's about the number I'd expect for most of these. That also means that the opponents won't have insanely themed decks either, so you can likely disrupt them by taking out one key piece.
This also means that you should be on the lookout for themes that overlap nicely. Wizards and Goblins both want to attack, and Goblins and Thallids both want to be sacrificed (well, maybe they don't want it, but it's going to happen). Try and pair up cooperative themes and everyone will be happier.
It'll become more clear as the set gets drafted, but to start with, I'd assume my Draft decks will be two colors, have two or three different themes, and tend to play seventeen to eighteen lands.
Sealed Deck is a slightly different animal, and I'd expect the themes to be even lighter here. You see fewer cards, and the odds of getting a focused deck are lower. Because there isn't a ton of fixing, I would try and make a two-color deck, though sometimes you'll splash one or two late-game cards. Here are some Sealed-specific notes:
- Play main deck artifact and enchantment removal. I expect every deck to have two-plus targets, so I'd main deck one piece of removal and either side it out or side in more based on what I saw in Game 1.
- Play two colors, or two plus a splash if you have one or two pieces of fixing.
- Play eighteen lands. Kickers plus the Memorial cycle of lands that sacrifice for an effect makes me want to play eighteen in Sealed.
Tackling Dominaria is no small feat, but hopefully this guide can get you started. There are a lot of themes, but any individual one isn't too tricky, and adding them all together is doable. Good luck making history!