Wizards of the Coast is hoping to offset some financial hiccups of its parent, Hasbro, with the launch of a highly anticipated nostalgia set – Return to Dominaria. The set’s focus will be on “history,” as the original story of Magic centered around Urza, the Weatherlight, and the plane of Dominaria.
Prior to the official Return, the set had a massive leak before spoiler season (the hype period before the release of a new set where Wizards reveals card by card the big cards from the set). The set notes to be released in China were leaked early, and Wizards responded by simply releasing the English document, which contained the text of many of the cards.
Despite the leak, the set has built up a massive hype given its nostalgic value. Nostalgia sets have held up well in Magic’s past, with sets like Time Spiral and Return to Ravnica showing player’s rabid interest in returning to a familiar setting.
With that background, I wanted to call out a couple cards with a couple predictions. This won’t be a “top 5 cards list,” this will be more a prediction by prediction for certain cards. Without further ado, lets get started.
Most Expensive Card Over the Life of the Set
When I saw the initial spoiler, the card I immediately wanted most was the new “baby” Karn. 7-mana Karn is a staple in Modern, with massive loyalty and back breaking effects.
With the new Karn, we get a 4-mana colorless Planeswalker with high loyalty for its mana cost. It can also gain some small card advantage while building a board. With a dedicated artifact build, Karn’s third ability is even better. He doesn’t have an ultimate, but that’s not how competitive Standard walkers are judged nowadays.
Critics have pointed out that his initial ability is draw two, pick the worst card. That is true, but he makes up for that with his minus ability to retrieve whatever was passed over. Is that a tad slow? Sure, but he’s got high loyalty to buy time, and if the opponent leaves him alone, he can really run away with the silver counters.
He has unsurprisingly opened as the most expensive card on MTGO and I believe he will remain there. Karn is a powerful effect and can fit into any color shell. People love Karn the character, and he’s mythic. All of this points to his long term value for Standard.
Most Divisive Card
Moxes in Magic traditionally allow for broken effects, beginning with the Power 9 Moxes which are purely free land drops. Wizards has tried to print “fixed” Moxes throughout history, with Mox Diamond and Mox Opal, but all of them have found ways to break their free mana effects. That brings us to the newest iteration, Mox Amber.
In reading preview articles and listening to podcasts, everyone has opinion on whether Mox Amber “is the next broken thing” or if Wizards has finally printed a “fair” Mox. On the one hand, it requires you build a deck where legends matter. Furthermore, the power of Moxes has traditionally been in playing them on the early turns, and useful legends are typically higher CMC.
However, with Baral in Standard (along with two drops like Shana), and things like Isamaru in Modern, early legends do exist. However, what’s the end goal other than letting the Mox get online on turn 4 or 5?
It’s going to be interesting to see how deckbuilders approach this card. I think it will ultimately find a home in a shell that is willing to ramp later in the game or otherwise use its artifact type to its advantage. We will see.
Underrated Card That Needs a Home
I originally passed over this card on my first review, mostly because I didn’t take the time to read what this actually does. For 5 mana, you are destroying their best Planeswalker or creature, and also bringing back the best from the graveyard. That’s a huge swing and certainly worth a look.
Now, this thing does cost 5 mana AND requires you have a legend in play. Further, if your opponent is bashing you with a Glorybringer, this simply whiffs. However, I think with the legends matter subtheme of the set, and the fact that cards like Lyra (analyzed below) becoming popular, this card can find itself well positioned in the metagame.
Underhyped Card That Will See Wide Play
Lyra Dawnbringer is Baneslayer Angel part II. It gives up the protections subtext in exchange for Legend status (both good and bad) along with an Angel tribal buff. Baneslayer was good in Standard back in the day, and Lyra will be good today. I think this assumption has muted any explicit hype for a card that is likely to be a major player in the format until rotation.
White decks now have the go-to five drop in a variety of strategies. This card is able to about single handily turn around games vs Mono Red Aggro, the former king of Standard. The lifelink is very relevant when playing from behind, or against any aggro deck. In the air, this thing survives fights against Glorybringer, and will beat about everything with first strike.
In the preview decks and podcasts, I’ve heard almost no direct praise for a card that seems incredibly well positioned in this metagame. Yes, it can simply die to a Vraska’s Contempt, but so do most other big threats. This thing is going to have an impact, and its going to be around for a long time.
Cards Most Likely to See Play in Eternal Formats
I think there are two cards that will be implemented in Eternal formats (namely Modern) fairly quickly: Damping Sphere and Cast Down.
Damping Sphere has received quite a bit of hype as an easy 2-drop to deal with both Urzatron and Storm decks in Modern. The thinking is that it has a dual purpose making efficient use of the sideboard slots that are oh-so-important in Modern, while also slotting into any deck with a colorless mana cost.
On the flipside, critics have derided its “do-nothingness” where you drop it and then wait around for it to hamper an opponent. While Blood Moon can actively disrupt an opponents ability to actually remove it, the Sphere simply needs a Naturalize or similar from an opponent to suddenly be neutralized.
Cast Down is a two-mana efficient removal spell in the vein of Terror, Go for the Throat and the similar. Just like it’s predecessors, it is released at a time where its restriction (no legendaries) makes it a bit narrow in Standard. However, in Modern, legendaries are far and few between. Pairing a couple copies of this with Fatal Push is enough to hold off most of the early aggro in the format.
Card That Will Single Handily Create an Archetype in Casual Games
Just like the interesting text on Relentless Rats, Rat Colony immediately draws attention to the way it breaks the rules. Without a 4-of deckbuilding restriction, you can do crazy things with certain cards.
While most of the other cards I’ve mentioned deal with competitive play, every set has its nods to the casual or kitchen counter community. Rat Colony fits perfectly here. Pair this bad boy with Thrumming Stone and you’ve got an interesting deck.
The key will be how to consistently get this rat swarm out. Dark Ritual and others were good in Relentless Rats decks, but Rat Colony is a better two drop. Maybe Pack Rat? Basically, rat tribal got a huge boost with this card.
What I Plan to Experiment With
I’ve currently got two deck combinations I’d like to begin brewing with.
First, Green-White value (also known as “Little Kid Green White”) could be a solid middle of the road start to an uncertain format. The curve of Llanowar Elves into Jadelight Ranger into Lyra, or alternatively Shalai, Voice of Plenty into Lyra both sound very difficult to answer. And both scenarios don’t ask much. The key will having enough interaction to deal with control decks.
Second, I’d like to go back to an MTGO favorite of mine, green-black. Given my thought that Lyra will be a big player, along with other must answer creatures, being able to have Ravenous Chupacabra’s, Duress, and Fatal Push for small stuff seems like a nice start. Pair it with green to get Vraska, Llanowar Elves, and the whole Jadelight Ranger/Merfolk Branchwalker early game. While B/G can be a bit mopey, I think the deck can attack at multiple angles.
Overall, I’m very excited for the new set. The nostalgia plays a big factor, as my biggest time in Magic came during the time this set seeks to recreate. I’ve not been playing much Standard lately, but I’ve had this release on my radar to begin brewing again. Hopefully the interesting and diverse Standard metagame continues and grows with the Return to Dominaria.