One of the best new cards in Dominaria United is actually an old one. It’s the return of Liliana Vess, the dark lady of Magic: The Gathering. A necromancy-turned-healer who wears a cursed veil, makes deals with demons, and looks like she knows all the lyrics to Nemesis by Shriekback (opens in new tab), Liliana Vess is so goth she pops bats. I mean, her name is an anagram of “a badness” for goodness sake.
Liliana has appeared in various guises on different Magic cards over the years, most recently appearing in the Strixhaven university set as a professor of death magic. The Innistrad set introduced a particularly memorable incarnation of her in 2011, and it’s what Dominaria United reprints: Liliana of the Veil, a planeswalker that makes players sacrifice creatures in play and discard cards from their hand. It removes a call that you have played and then reduces the chance that you can replace it. Which is just bad.
In 2011 there weren’t many ways to counter Liliana of the Veil. Now there are more options, like Loxodon Smiter in Pioneer form (a large elephant that pops directly onto the battlefield for free if you’re forced to discard it) and Tenacious Underdog in Standard (which bounces off your graveyard like a trampoline), but Liliana is still a solid choice today.
It has been reprinted in the Dominaria United set to match its overall retro theme. As part of a celebration of Magic’s 30th anniversary, it returns to its original stage setting and is filled with legends. If you open a Collector booster pack, there’s even a small chance you’ll get a prized card from the 1994 Legends expansion, as some of these ancient cards have gone in like Willy Wonka’s golden tickets after being discovered in forgotten cases in a warehouse that closes.
It’s not as strong a theme as the settings based on twisted fairy tales, urban fantasy, cyberpunk Japan, or what if Harry Potter wasn’t crap, but in my opinion the real theme of Dominaria United is “let’s black card him the fucking rule.”
Look at Sheoldred of the Apocalypse, a legendary 4/5 that gives you two life whenever you draw a card and takes two life away from opponents when they draw. Evolved Sleeper starts out as a one-mana discard and then powers up as you pump more mana into it, staying relevant later turns, and many cards interact with your graveyard in fun ways. Urborg Repossession lets you revive creatures back in your hand, and Writhing Necromass is a 5/5 bomb with deathtouch that costs one less point for each creature in your graveyard.
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I won a few games at a Jumpstart event this week by playing Writhing Necromass early, its cost made cheaper by the pile of undead I’d built up in the early turns — though for added color, I survived up to that point thanks to her white half my deck of cards I guess it’s not all about black. Dominaria United gives white plenty of cards with the enlist, and a killer Defender called Wingmantle Chaplain I already have against an Arena-built deck. It summons a 1/1 bird for every other Defender you have or play, so my opponent is cramming together Shield-Wall Sentinels— Defenders that let you search your deck for another Defender to put into your hand when you play them—using each to find another, while growing their army of birds.
Meanwhile, red gets a boost if you’re big on goblins – which you obviously should be – thanks to Rundvelt Hordemaster, which gives +1/+1 to other gobbos and a chance to play another goblin when one dies, and Squee, Dubious Monarch, which freely creates goblins on the attack. Red also gets Phoenix Chick, one of the many flying creatures in Dominaria United—in all colors, not just white which usually gets the lion’s share—that has haste and can return from the graveyard with +1/+1 . Phoenix Chick’s main strength might actually be how cute it is, which made me feel really guilty when I cut it by casting Cut Down in a head-to-head game.
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Green’s best new cards seem to be the ones that pair well with other colors thanks to the Domain keyword, which gives increasing bonuses based on the number of different land types you have. Herd Migration gives you a 3/3 beast for each land type, Nishoba Brawler has power equal to the number of your different land types, and Sunbathing Rootwalla (which looks like a necked lizard (opens in new tab) and hopefully runs like one) can spend four mana to temporarily get +1/+1 per land type.
As for blue, no one cares because it’s full of annoying counters and interruptions and is only played by cowards and naysayers (never mind the multiple copies of Negate and the new Ertai Resurrected in my deck). In fact, blue can make interesting use of the new Kicker keyword, which adds effects for extra mana cost. Early Intervention, which gives a creature -1 power, can be kicked to additionally force the weakened creature to block, while Protect the Negotiators counters a spell unless the caster pays extra mana for each creature you control, and can kicked to give you a 1/1 soldier first, increasing the cost the other player must pay. Classic blue cards, but I respect that.
Early in the life of a new set, mono decks sometimes rise to the top as players slowly add to their collections and unlock the best combos and counters. For example, Sheoldred, Apocalypse, a sort of centipede woman with a million legs, can be removed from the board with a simple Citizen’s Arrest. (If you’re having trouble imagining what that would look like, the excellent Twitter account MTG taster designs (opens in new tab) has done the hard work.)
There’s a lot of potential to shake things up once someone figures out a ridiculous interaction involving some of the new cards like Serra Paragon (a white angel that lets you play lands or spells that cost 3 or less from your graveyard) or Silverback Elder (a green shaman monkey that lets you choose between destroying an artifact/spell, playing a land if there’s one in the top five cards of your library, or gaining 4 life, every time you summon another creature).
Now is the time for the monoblack to rule, a dark lord on a dark throne. Enjoy this moment while it lasts, swamps and death mages. Coming soon for your Sisters of Mercy vinyl collections.