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After four long months, a new premiere set release is upon us, Dominaria United. With it comes a slew of new and interesting cards with constructed implications. While the set brings an incredible 41 new legendary creatures that are sure to bring smiles to my Commander-inclined colleagues, my primary focus will be on Modern and Pioneer. With that disclaimer out of the way, let's get into it!
10. Llanowar Loamspeaker
Llanowar Loamspeaker does a lot of things we've seen before like with Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Avalanche Caller, but never all in one and at this mana value. I normally wouldn't be jumping out of my skin for a two-drop mana dork, except this one is especially abusable with Jeskai Ascendancy.
Jeskai Ascendancy is the centerpiece of the titular combo deck that sees on and off success in Pioneer. It utilizes Sylvan Awakening to turn lands into creatures that then untap and grow whenever its controller casts a spell. Since most of the spells of the deck are one or two mana, each cast nets mana if there are more mana dorks (or creature lands) than the cost of the spell.
Loamspeaker is a mana dork itself and can turn lands into additional dorks with each untap from Ascendancy, providing an additional avenue for the combo without Sylvan Awakening. This redundancy may bring the Ascendancy deck back in a big way.
Impulse has been a part of Magic since Visions was released in 1997, and still sees occasional Legacy play in the OmniTell deck. Over the years, we've seen countless weaker imitations like Anticipate, Shimmer of Possibility, and Silundi Vision // Silundi Isle, each either reducing the number of cards the player digs, converting it to sorcery speed, upping the mana cost, or limiting hits by card type.
Impulse itself was always deemed too powerful for Standard, and these nerfed versions still hold some amount of competitive viability. Shimmer of Possibility, for example, sees play in the Lotus Field combo deck in Pioneer. At the very least, Lotus Field players will look forward to their upgrade, but I wouldn't be surprised if we saw Modern Storm adopt Impulse into their spell suite. I'd be on the lookout for UW Control adding in a copy or two to help dig for some of their higher impact one-ofs.
8. Relic of Legends/Plaza of Heroes
Magic players love value, and I'm no exception. Number eight on my list goes to both Relic of Legends and Plaza of Heroes, mostly for the same reason. Both add much-needed support for the fringe Bard Class "storm" archetype. This deck utilizes Bard Class along with low-cost legendary creatures and planeswalkers to draw additional cards and net additional mana, then win with a haste enabler like Goro-Goro, Disciple of Ryusei.
The deck is incredibly mana hungry and utilizes cards like Birgi, God of Storytelling // Harnfel, Horn of Bounty and Mox Amber to keep things going. Relic of Legends turns each legendary creature into a "hasty" mana dork akin to Heritage Druid, allowing additional ways to go mana positive off each spell. This can help level up Bard Class or generate mana when casting redundant copies of legends.
Plaza of Heroes is a fantastic addition as it acts as a RG land for any creature or planeswalker. Additionally, with any creature or planeswalker in play, it can still provide colored mana to cast or level up Bard Class.
Of course, Plaza is also an excellent pick-up for the Niv-Mizzet Reborn five-color "good stuff" decks in Pioneer. It's a painless, untapped land that can cast any of the deck's various planeswalkers, value creatures like Omnath, Locus of Creation, or incidentally legendary spells like Oath of Kaya. And, of course, it reliably casts the namesake Niv-Mizzet. For a deck that's reliant on tri lands, shock lands, and Mana Confluence, this effect is at a premium.
7. Temporary Lockdown
Next up is a surprisingly powerful Banishing Light variant that's more akin to a board wipe, Temporary Lockdown. At three mana, this spells bad news for the aggressive decks of a format. It comes down a full turn earlier than traditional "turn four" Wrath of God variants. Not only does it eat up creatures, but all nonland permanents, so cards like Kumano Faces Kakkazan // Etching of Kumano get hit as well.
This is perhaps the most brutal answer to the Modern Colossus Hammer deck as it deploys its hand early and every important card gets hit by the spell.
Lockdown is also a cheap, clean answer to tokens out of Oni-Cult Anvil and Urza's Saga decks. It's not often we get powerful answers like this, and the potential metagame implications of just existing are very noteworthy.
6. Aether Channeler
"What does it do?"
Aether Channeler is the latest addition to the three-mode 2/1 creature supercycle, preceded by Knight of Autumn and Callous Bloodmage. These designs combine multiple common abilities found on Limited creatures into single cards, allowing niche effects to make their way into Constructed due to their flexibility.
Each of Aether Channeler's modes is enticing and provides some form of card or tempo advantage. It notably also boasts two very important creature types: human and wizard. Human tribal decks have already proven their viability in both Modern and Pioneer and Wizards are an up-and-coming archetype, improving their creature suite with every set. The spell suite of Wizard's Lightning and Wizard's Retort are very powerful effects and the only thing holding them back is the reliability of their discounted costs. More powerful wizards like this can only help.
Notably, Channeler's flexibility and mana cost make it a perfect candidate for Collected Company decks. Perhaps a Bant Company list featuring Soulherder and Ephemerate could be a worthwhile home for it?
5. The Lords
Dominaria United features a cycle of lords (creatures that give buffs to a certain type of creature). Three of these seem to be a cut above the others.
Vodalian Hexcatcher critically provides another lord to the Merfolk archetype which has fallen out of favor in recent years. Natively having flash rather than needing to rely on Aether Vial is helpful in pushing through damage and winning combat as a surprise trick. Hexcatcher also turns each merfolk into a Cursecatcher, which can be game-winning against cascade decks like Living End or the Indomitable Creativity combo decks.
Rundvelt Hordemaster is a long overdue upgrade to the Goblins archetype which currently sits on the fringes of Modern. Currently, the only goblin lords are at three and four mana. Hordemaster boosts the deck's aggressive capabilities and can work with Skirk Prospector to create a powerful card draw engine.
Unlike most tribal aggro decks, Goblins has a combo involving Conspicuous Snoop, Boggart Harbinger, and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Hordemaster providing both aggro support and card draw to more reliably achieve the combo makes it my pick for the strongest addition from this cycle.
While not quite as powerful as Hordemaster, Leaf-Crowned Visionary is no slouch. It's only the second two-drop Elf lord and comes with a Lifecrafter's Bestiary stapled to it. Glimpse of Nature is banned in Modern due to Elves abusing it, and it's a critical component to the Legacy version of the archetype. Having a similar effect attached to a creature you're already incentivized to play is a big upgrade. Since Nettle Sentinel, Heritage Druid, and Elvish Archdruid are all auto-includes in Modern Elves, spare mana to cantrip each creature is easy to come by.
4. Liliana of the Veil
They did it! They actually did it! Liliana of the Veil is coming to Pioneer and it's going to be...probably fine? Once the scourge of Modern and the centerpiece of Boomer Jund, Liliana has mostly fallen from grace in Modern. She is at her best when card advantage is hard to come by. In Modern though, cards like Expressive Iteration and the many cantrips out of 4C Omnath have made card draw plentiful.
While Pioneer has banned Expressive Iteration, it has access to powerful draw spells like Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, both of which are bad news for discard strategies.
My expectation is that Liliana will perform well against decks like White Weenie and will be yet another three-drop in RB Midrange. It'll be strong in some matchups but the cut against decks like UR Phoenix.
3. The Pain lands
For the longest time, Magic sets would include half-cycles for their rare lands. This was often due to pushes toward certain factions or Limited archetypes. We accumulated quite a few incomplete cycles like the battle lands (Prairie Stream) and cycling duals (Fetid Pools). Some completed cycles like the pain lands had their half-cycle reprints on opposite sides of the Pioneer cut-off. This means that for the lifespan of Pioneer, only enemy color pain lands like Llanowar Wastes have been legal, creating uneven mana bases.
With Dominaria United, we get three of the allied pain lands added to Pioneer (with the remaining two confirmed for The Brothers War). Gaining access to untapped duals cannot be understated. Of course, this will improve the mana base for decks like RB Midrange and the Bard Class deck mentioned above, but it will also unlock more aggressive decks for the format, allowing for more pip-intensive cards. Between pain lands and pathways, red decks will be able to splash for cards like Atarka's Command or Destructive Revelry, expanding access to their spell suite.
Keep in mind these duals act as "tri lands" for Oath of the Gatewatch's colorless-specific spells. Thought-Knot Seer, Reality Smasher, Warping Wail, and even Eldrazi Displacer have the potential to see a resurgence in viability now that the mana can support them.
2. Leyline Binding
In what seems to be a recurring theme of this set, Leyline Binding is a Banishing Light variant that answers a single nonland permanent at instant speed, no questions asked. The removal spell is discounted by up to five, based on the number of basic land types you control, for a potential cost of a single white mana. Between tri lands and shock lands in a Modern fetch land mana base, achieving this is trivial.
One major benefit of the card is that at six mana, it cannot be removed by Prismatic Ending, and it's going to be extremely difficult for March of Otherwordly Light to do the job in a reasonable time frame. That leaves Boseiju, Who Endures as the only commonly played piece of enchantment removal that can reasonably (and permanently) deal with it.
The second big draw to Leyline Binding is that it's compliant with Cascade's deckbuilding restrictions. Rhinos in particular can splash white for Teferi, Time Raveler, and even Omnath, Locus of Creation for additional lines of attack. The full five discount isn't a necessity either. Binding is still an excellent removal spell when cast for two mana (in this case, without a black source).
Expect this card to see a substantial amount of Modern play.
1. Karn's Sylex
I've read this card a dozen times, and I'm still not sure it's real. Karn's Sylex is the best prison card we've gotten in a long time. At three mana, this artifact does a solid Blood Moon impression by completely shutting down fetch lands. Incidentally, it also shuts off Force of Will in eternal formats thanks to the life requirement.
For fetch-heavy decks like 4c Omnath and Grixis Death's Shadow, this can be absolutely backbreaking. On top of that, it functions as a slow Pernicious Deed available in (theoretically) any color.
The likelihood is that Tron will adopt this card as part of the Karn, the Great Creator "wishboard". To add insult to injury, Sylex exiles itself after activating, which allows Karn to find it again from exile. Though I expect most players will want this for its static ability, not the activated ability.
With all of the powerhouse cards in the set, please keep in mind that this list is far from exhaustive. If you think I've missed the next Ledger Shredder of the set, leave a comment below! Don't forget to use Quiet Speculation's Trader Tools to price out your haul from your local prerelease and pre-orders. Good luck gamers, and I'll see you all next week!