Field Journal: One Week on Dominaria

by Tobi Henke on 03 May 2018, Thursday

Tobi Henke

 

Field Journal: One Week on Dominaria


Saturday, April 21

I can't wait to start drafting Dominaria! Not only does the set look awesome, but I'm also going to do coverage at Grand Prix Bologna next week. The format will be Team Limited, so it's high time to learn the names of all the cards and what they do.

 

 

Sunday, April 22

I played a couple of Sealed events since yesterday to get acquainted with the cards and to get a feel for the speed/power level/archetypes of the environment. By that I mean I planned to play a couple. What I ended up doing was more like a dozen. I couldn't help myself - I was having so much fun!

 



Dominaria is excellent for Sealed Deck. Archetype-specific synergies play a role, but don't dominate, with plenty cross-pollination between the various themes. The Fungi, in particular, are a case in point here, quite unlike the disappointingly parasitic Thallids back in Time Spiral.

Overall, the format rewards going for maximum value, although tempo remains important enough that one can take that too far. Decks with more than two colors exist, but one can't go crazy - there's a definite cost to stretching one's mana.

Most shocking, albeit in a good way, was how long games often went. The average duel ended way past turn ten, and not because of the boring kind of board stall either.

In some cases, my opponents and I played twenty turns each, each of them involving very relevant decisions and increasingly interesting board states. The record was 109 total power on the battlefield.

 

 

 

 

Monday, April 23

Drafts are finally available.

Right away, I put the lessons from Sealed to good use, and fail horribly. After this many years, I should know that Draft always is way more focused on either tempo or synergy, sometimes on both. Alas, I draft an awesome Sealed Deck and get punished accordingly.

I need to unlearn some of the lessons. No more Dark Bargain and Llanowar Envoy for me. For fillers, I turn to Corrosive Ooze and Gift of Growth instead. My first winning deck features both, and also synergy. I begin to suspect that black-green has the highest power ceiling of any color combination in the format.

 

 

I'm winning with White-Blue Tempo next. My finals opponent casts Mammoth Spider to stop my onslaught, twice in the same game even, but they die before they get to cast it a third time. I begin to develop a fondness for Pegasus Courser.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, April 25

Dear diary, I'm sorry I didn't write yesterday. I was too busy drafting. The past two days have been both a blast and a blur. Time for a recap!

Topping the list are Fungi. I believe I was able to draft something very close to the ideal specimen, which confirmed all of my suspicions. I haven't seen another draft deck yet that I'd expect to win a game against the following.

 

 

This was the quickest 3-0 so far, in part because many opponents didn't stick around to listen to the final verse of Song of Freyalise. Likewise, I found further success with white-blue. I also unlocked the achievement of starting a draft with four artifacts, getting two-and-a-half Icy Manipulator out of the first three picks!

 

 

In general, all successful decks placed high value on developing their board presence and closing games sooner rather than later. Trying to handle every threat is hard work, and not recommended.

One might think that the abundance of legends which can take control of a game would help defensive strategies. In reality, opponents will have legends themselves, and most of them are better at supporting the active than the reactive role.

I tried to draft control a couple of times, but I'd warn against going down this path:

 


Midrange, on the other hand, was doing fine. The following shows a defining feature of Dominaria Limited, which is the lack of mana fixing. This set has Skittering Surveyor plus some green cards for playable commons, and that's it.

 

 

The standard for modern Limited environments is to offer noticeably more options than that, for instance Evolving Wilds and Traveler's Amulet in both of the last two blocks. When outright fixing is unavailable, such as in this set, the challenge is to find other ways to make the supply meet the demand.

A lot can be done by avoiding double costs in all but one primary color and by not relying on some colors early. Through careful deck building/drafting, it is sometimes both possible and advisable to deviate from the norm of two colors plus potential splash.

In this context, I was reminded a lot of my first experiences with Sealed Deck around the turn of the century. Back then, a land split of 6/6/6 was known as the dreaded mana base of doom, 7/6/5 was often the best one could do, and a deck like the one above made you king! The primary color here was supported by eight sources, and I had six respectively four sources for six/four cards requiring a single mana of the secondary/tertiary color.

 

Getting trapped in multicolor hell, by the way, is almost always the result of picking legendary sorceries way too early. Yes, I've done that more than once, so I'm speaking from experience here. Don't try this at home, kids!

 

 

Thursday, April 26

Earlier this week I went 2-1 with a mono-red deck! I was trying to improve on my lackluster results with Blue-Red Wizards, and I kept picking up more and more Ghitu Journeymage.

Then, a couple of picks into pack three, I took a long hard look at my blue, which didn't seem very appealing in a deck which was on its way to being at minimum two-thirds red.

That left a couple of Vodalian Arcanist, Divination, and a big empty space where I would have liked to see Academy Journeymage but didn't. So I replaced the blue cards with all the random pump effects and other red chaff that happened to loiter in my sideboard.

 

 

Ghitu Lavarunner, Run Amok, and Radiating Lightning complimented the Journeymage-ring quite nicely, and I got myself a sweet burn deck. I dismissed this as a fluke, of course, nothing more than a quirk on the path to a proper blue-red deck. After all, so much hinged on the unrealistic number of Journeymages here. Well, that was then.

Now it's Thursday, and it's happening again. It's a similar situation, and it's similar blue cards that are getting cut. This time the journey of the mages stops at one, but I have more than enough raw card quality that I don't need to burn anyone out:

 

 

 

Though it sure feels a bit like Burn, as the deck brings in a very quick 3-0 without dropping a game. I'm intrigued, and I keep being fascinated to the point that I force the archetype in the next few drafts to follow:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the end, six of the mono-red decks reached a combined record of 15-3, with the only bad apple having zero Warlord's Fury and entirely too many Frenzied Rage. A bad combination, if you can believe it.

For science, I was very strict about testing the concept and refused to touch anything but mono-red cards and artifacts, even if that meant first-picking Warlord's Fury. In doing so, I passed a bunch of Kwende, Pride of Femeref, Adeliz, the Cinder Wind, and more than one Grand Warlord Radha. Hard to say whether or not a splash would have improved some of these decks.

 

Warlord's Fury The Flame of Keld

 

It also took a while to figure out the optimal number of Warlord's Fury, which pump effects to prioritize, and if any deck ever wants a second copy of The Flame of Keld. (The answers are: four, Jousting Lance closely followed by Short Sword, and yes.)

Finally, forcing is an extreme kind of stress test. Being all-in on one specific strategy from the get-go is not how Booster Draft is supposed to work. As such, I don't expect to be able to replicate this success forcing Mono-Red in the future. Later in a Limited format's run, all decks tend to be more streamlined, and that especially will lower Mono-Red's chances.

That said, I do expect the deck to pop up again. At the very least, it should remain at the back of one's mind as an option to consider whenever droves of Ghitu Lavarunner and Warlord’s Fury show up as late picks.

 

 

Friday, April 27

Today it's time to do some planeswalking.

Meaning, I walk onto a plane, and a short time later I materialize in Bologna.

It's magic, and it certainly is a big part of Magic for me. This will be my fifth Grand Prix this year and my seventh event working on coverage overall.

My experience on Dominaria this past week leaves me wondering: Will any of the teams this weekend have the broken combination of Green-Black Fungi with multiple Song of Freyalise, Mono-Red with two copies of The Flame of Keld, and a comparatively fair white-blue deck?

With several hundred teams in attendance, I imagine someone will open a pool that allows for this. But will they see it? If I were playing, I'd be looking for this in my team's pool. Since I'm not, I'll be looking for it everywhere!

Thanks for reading, guys! I hope you enjoy Dominaria as much as I do!

 




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