Animal House

Posted in Top Decks on January 3, 2013

By Mike Flores

If someone were to ask you out of the blue what the greatest Planeswalker of all time was, you'd probably say something along the lines of "snap-Jace!" and by that you would in all likelihood mean Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

And if that person were to ask you what the second–greatest Planeswalker of all time was? Well, there might be a bit of dissention. Ajani Vengeant has won a World Championship; Elspeth, Knight-Errant has put a lot of points (and 1/1 Soldier tokens) on the board with a great many high finishes; and Garruk Relentless was—and is—a staple across Block, Standard, and even Legacy. There are quite a few defensible choices for Number Two. But ask yours truly? I'd likely say "snap-Jace!" just as quickly as I would the Number One, and I would mean the original:

Jace Beleren was the very first three-mana Planeswalker. At the height of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Jace Beleren's inherent Jace-ness made him an important deck-design consideration. Champions proudly declared their seven or so main-deck Jaces (with one in the sideboard!) so all could bask in their planning and ability to pre-empt or outright win Jace fights. Mind Sculptor or no, "little Jace" earned an important reputation by himself. In addition to being a mere three mana (and hence the fastest Planeswalker of all), Jace was both a card-advantage engine and a killing machine.

Most people think about toggling down Jace Beleren's -1 ability, then managing back up again every couple of turns. But if you've never stood hapless as a control deck or creature-poor midrange player being eked out slowly by Jace's +2... let me tell you, it could be a horrifying prospect.

Jace's low cost made it ripe for experimentation and synergistic inclusions. There might not have ever been a huge adoption of the Noble Hierarch or Birds of Paradise into second-turn Jace Beleren ( being a bit aggressive that quickly, maybe), but some players certainly tried. Sun Titan bringing back Jace Beleren turn after turn made for a hellacious and Blightning-resistant combination for some formats. As a three-mana card that could both provide great card advantage and potentially win the game, Jace Beleren was a widely considered gem.

"Little" Jace lacked maybe one key feature, whether the Unsummon on Jace, the Mind Sculptor; the Cruel Edict of Liliana of the Veil; or the blockers on Garruk Wildspeaker or Elspeth Tirel—Jace couldn't really protect himself. But still Number Two, to me.

Gatecrash brings us an exciting new three-mana Planeswalker that brings together many of the features you might have loved about Jace Beleren—some a bit worse, but some so much better. Definitely, there is a lot to talk about. Consider Domri Rade!

The first thing about this Red Green Planeswalker that probably jumps out at you is his mana cost. Three. Just like Jace Beleren and fellow cross-format All-Star Liliana of the Veil. Unlike those two (which can challenge the mana bases of well-meaning green decks, especially in Standard), Domri Rade is actually a green card! That means that it will typically be much, much easier to play him on the second turn following an Arbor Elf opening than the or Planeswalkers of times past (at least in Standard).

Not only is Domri Rade in green, but unlike the other three-mana Planeswalkers—even though Domri Rade has two colored mana symbols up the top-right—it doesn't have in the cost. So for decks that want Domri Rade (typically decks that pack a Stomping Ground already), he will often be much easier to cast.

The next thing you will probably notice is Domri Rade's +1 ability. This is a curious one! Let's look at some of the other three mana Planeswalkers and assess... Jace Beleren has an ability that lets you (and only you) draw a card, but that is a -1. Both Ajani, Caller of the Pride and Liliana of the Veil have +1 abilities whose asymmetry can vary. Sometimes you don't have a target for Ajani, and oftentimes you are discarding a card to Liliana when your opponent has already played out his or her entire hand.

[card]Ajani, Caller of the Pride[/card] [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]

You are doing it for the eventual payoff at the end of all those +1 activations, and that is just fine with you.

There are a couple of ways you can look at this ability. One is that, even if you're missing, Domri Rade is ticking away like a suspend card. It only cost you three initially (maybe on turn two) and at the end of the line you get an effect of substantially greater value.

The other is that you can actually try to make Domri Rade work as a card-advantage engine. In some formats, you can use cards like Brainstorm or Ponder to help you hit with Domri Rade's +1... but that just isn't a guarantee in Standard.

[card]Brainstorm[/card] [card]Ponder[/card]

Any aspiring Domri deck can mitigate this somewhat by—you guessed it—playing a deck of all guys!

Just a couple of weeks ago we looked at a deck that was mostly all guys:

Chris Bezinger's Four-Color Peddler

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Chris Bezinger's four-color deck was nothing but lands, creatures, and only eight spells (Farseek and Tracker's Instincts). So we know that a shell of mostly creatures—a veritable Animal House—is viable. For our purposes, such a shell might allow us to really take advantage of Domri Rade.

[card]Farseek[/card] [card]Tracker's Instinct[/card]

I'm a huge fan of Farseek, of course, but what if we played a one-mana accelerator in the Farseek/accelerator slot instead? Changing nothing else, we could conceivably field a deck of Domri Rade, twenty-four or twenty-five lands, and more than half creatures! Domri Rade can gain value, inching incrementally until the ultimate, whether or not we ever hit a creature. But actually bias your deck in such a way that you can turn Domri Rade's +1 into a legitimate card-drawing engine?

You can actually draw a card—a creature card, that is—a little more than half the time.

In our proposed shell, we can start as quickly as turn two!

Earlier, I mentioned that you might just put the +1 on a Planeswalker (here Domri Rade) just because. Four or so +1 activations from now and you can sent Domri Rade ultimate! While this is not necessarily a variation on the "I win" ultimate, Domri Rade's -7 ability can be quite formidable. For one thing, to get to the -7 you probably ended up putting a boatload of creatures in your hand. Cast whichever ones and your opponent is going to have some problems. Even our late-game marginal Arbor Elf (or whatever) can gain value as an impregnable wall, defending as Domri Rade sets up fights behind invincible creatures!

Imagine the default creature in Standard, the one played everywhere from Bant Control to the various "real" green creature decks... Thragtusk. With Domri Rade's emblem online, Thragtusk hits the ground running with haste and strikes for 10 (trampling over anything in its way). You don't particularly have to worry about how big a blocker is, because the first strike half of double strike or no... your creatures will be hard to kill. Poor Thragtusk might never get a 3/3 token trigger... not only will it be hard to kill, but how is the opponent ever supposed to Unsummon it given the hexproof?


So unless you are going to unlock your own Thragtusk achievement with Restoration Angel, it probably isn't going anywhere. Of course, if you do, you will have an Angel that can give Akroma a run for its money on the battlefield... and a pretty beastly Beast token as well.

In between the small up and the big down is Domri Rade's -2 ability. As we've said, some players evaluate Planeswalkers—at least in-part—by their ability to defend themselves. Domri Rade can potentially defend himself, although he needs a bit of help. As with the +1 ability (that doesn't do anything unless you have creatures in your deck) and the big payoff at -7 (that doesn't do anything unless you have creatures on the battlefield), Domri Rade's "fight" ability requires you to have a creature on the battlefield.


Part of the bet here is that Domri Rade is in green, so there is an implication of size, or at least size-to-mana-cost, where Domri Rade should be able to survive opposing creatures at similar points in the curve. Even a really scary or aggressively costed white creature like Serra Avenger or Silverblade Paladin is still smaller than a Loxodon Smiter. In a fight, the green guy is going to walk away every time, at least barring some other spell intervening against the natural order of things.

Your heart probably raced a little bit the first time you looked a Domri Rade. Enticing casting cost. Pretty nice set of abilities. There is power in him, but he's a puzzler too. This isn't the kind of card you can plop into any deck and expect to hit with consistently. So even more than excitement, I think the one thing that really tells you about Rade is this: Context.

Domri Rade | Art by Tyler Jacobson

Domri Rade will thrive in the Animal House. The more creatures you play in your deck, the better he will be at drawing cards for you. The better creatures in your deck (or the bigger the creatures, at least), the more effective Domri Rade is going to be at defending himself (or, if you prefer, jumping behind the right defender). You know how Koth of the Hammer needs Mountains—gets better with Mountains? Well, with just one Mountain, Koth could put the hurt on a body and beat up an unarmed control deck. If you want Domri Rade to perform, you are going to have to make a commitment to playing creatures, and lots of them.

It's possible Domri Rade will have especial synergy with decks that already go over the top in terms of how many creatures they play, that already gain value and snowball synergy by playing certain creatures or certain creature types on top of one another (like Elves or Goblins, both of which would be in-color). My prediction is that when the context is right, Domri Rade will do kind of everything you want in a card. He will come down relatively early; draw you cards; help control the tenor of the battlefield; and then, you know, help you finish it in dramatic fashion!

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