Everything We Learned From Magic: The Gathering’s Dominaria United Debut

Quick Links

  • New Mechanic: Read Ahead
  • New Mechanic: Enlist
  • New Mechanic: Stun Counters
  • Returning Mechanic: Domain
  • Returning Mechanic: Kicker
  • Planeswalkers
  • Box Toppers

While Wizards Presents has put the Magic: The Gathering community into a 2023-reveal-induced haze, there are still two more Standard-legal sets launching this year. Dominaria United, the start of the Phyrexian invasion arc that carries through to next year’s March of the Machine, has kicked off its preview season with a debut of its mechanics and planeswalkers, and there’s a lot to take in.

From a new way to play with Sagas to the Phyrexian compleation of one of its most-beloved characters, Dominaria United is shaping up to be a revitalisation of Magic we’ve been sorely in need of. Here’s everything revealed about the set in its debut stream.

New Mechanic: Read Ahead

Our last trip to Dominaria in 2018 introduced Sagas, a new enchantment type that took the game by storm. Each turn, you proceed to the next chapter of the Saga and trigger its effects, usually ending in a big, boisterous effect to reward you for keeping it in play for so long. It was so popular we later saw it return in Theros: Beyond Death, Kaldheim, Modern Horizons 2, and Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.

Dominaria United’s Sagas have a slightly different take, thanks to the new read ahead mechanic. Sagas with read ahead don’t need to start at the first chapter – you’re free to place as many lore counters on them as you like and go straight to the effect you want. However, the catch is doing so will prevent any of the previous effects from triggering.

For example, The Phasing of Zhalfir allows you to either phase up to two permanents out, or just read ahead and get straight to the final, board-wiping step if you need to deal with the board there and then.

New Mechanic: Enlist

One of Magic’s most infamous mechanics is banding. Long abandoned, banding allowed you to have attacking creatures combine their forces – block one banded creature, and you’re actually blocking all of the creatures in that band. It was a confusing nightmare, but Dominaria United has reworked it into a new, much easier to understand mechanic known as enlist.

When a creature with enlist attacks, you can tap one other non-attacking creature you control to add its power to the enlisting creature. This can make a creature that would normally be easy to block into something much more imposing – for example, tap a Benalish Sleeper to enlist it to the Guardian of New Benalia, and the result is a 5/2 attacker as early as turn 3.

Enlist does have a few caveats, though. Interestingly, enlist includes a rare, explicit mention of summoning sickness in its rules text, making it so any creature with it can’t be enlisted. That means no creature that came into play that turn can be used to enlist.

Crucially, it also means creatures with haste can’t be enlisted either, because, despite haste allowing the creature to ignore summoning sickness to attack and activate abilities, it doesn’t actually remove summoning sickness from that creature.

New Mechanic: Stun Counters

Dominaria United is following up Streets of New Capenna's shield counters with another new type of counter: stun.

Stun counters are a new way to communicate a mechanic that has been part of Magic for years now: preventing permanents from untapping. Should a permanent with a stun counter untap, the counter is removed instead. While cards like Dreamshackle Geists and Bubble Snare have done the same thing before, using stun counters will allow you to track what is and isn’t frozen much easier.

Stun counters solve a problem in Magic’s design that has been an issue for years: any effect that prevents untapping could only really work either as a one-time thing or as an indefinite effect. By putting multiple stun counters on something, a permanent can remain tapped down for more than one turn without needing to be a permanent limitation.

Returning Mechanic: Domain

The first of two returning mechanics for Dominaria United is one that has long been associated with the plane – domain. Domain is an ability word that has a wide variety of effects, with the unifying factor being their reliance on you having multiple types of basic land.

For instance, Territorial Maro’s domain ability sets its power and toughness to double the number of types of basic land you control, while the Sphinx of Clear Skies lets you reveal cards off the top of your library equal to your domain count and have your opponent split them into piles.

On the one hand, domain is inherently limited by requiring basic land types. There are only six (Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, Forest, Wastes), and only five of those are legal in the current Standard format. Juggling multiple types of land can be tricky, especially in draft environments that are generally designed around playing two colours at most.

However, it’s worth remembering Dominaria United is entering a Standard environment that has just seen Streets of New Capenna and its three-colour-matters design. Most meta Standard decks today use multiple colours, and you’re likely to have lots of different basic land types out in play anyway. This is a mechanic that could be surprisingly powerful in Standard, even if it doesn’t see much play elsewhere.

Returning Mechanic: Kicker

Kicker is one of Magic’s most popular mechanics. It’s easy to understand, and is flexible enough to do virtually anything the game needs it too. Though it may be more associated with Zendikar these days, Dominaria United is giving it a new, multi-coloured twist.

Kicker allows you to pay an additional cost on top of the casting cost to either beef up the effect or add entirely new ones. While Dominaria United will make ample use of the basic kicker we know and love, it’s also introducing the concept of ‘and/or’ kickers, where you can kick the same spell up to two times, with different costs for each time you kick it.

A good example of this is Temporal Firestorm, a sorcery that can be cast for three generic and two red for its basic effect, which deals five damage to each creature and planeswalker. However, you could also spare up to two targets by kicking it up to twice: once with one generic and one white, and another time with one generic and one blue.

Planeswalkers

Dominaria is a plane full of history and legendary characters, with many of its names being some of the biggest in Magic: The Gathering. However, Dominaria United is limiting how many planeswalkers appear in the set itself to just three, and one of them is truly heart-breaking.

First up is a reprint of Liliana of the Veil. While a stellar planeswalker card to reprint into Standard, and one of the best Liliana cards ever printed, this is actually a much bigger deal for Pioneer. With Dominaria United, Liliana of the Veil will be entering Pioneer where it can play off both Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider and Tergrid, God of Fright to diabolical effect.

The second Planeswalker was revealed back at the Dominaria United sneak preview: Jaya, Fiery Negotiator. This is going to be a monster in virtually any red deck, but particularly Jaya’s traditional home of burn decks.

Making prowess creature tokens that grow stronger with each burn spell you cast is great, and having ways to use your smaller creatures (like numerous Goblins) to take out a big, imposing thing you’d have no way of dealing with otherwise is fantastic.

The ultimate ability is terrifying, but at eight loyalty it isn’t likely one that’s going to see too many activations.

Finally, Dominaria United is giving us our second Phyrexian Planeswalker. Being ‘compleated’ – converted into a Phyrexian – is a fate worse than death as the victim loses both their body and their free will.

That fate has now befallen one of Magic’s oldest planeswalkers and overall best boy, with Ajani Goldmane now a Phyrexian.

Ajani, Sleeper Agent makes use of the same compleated mechanic, allowing you to pay a Phyrexian Selesnya mana cost (white, green, or two life) to have him enter the battlefield for cheaper in exchange for two fewer loyalty counters.

However, you might not want to do that, as Sleeper Agent’s ultimate ability of putting two poison counters on an opponent whenever you cast a creature or planeswalker is a game-winner in any creature-heavy deck.

While Dominaria Remastered proper has the usual three planeswalkers, both of the Commander preconstructed decks releasing alongside them will be headed up by planeswalkers as well.

For the Legends' Legacy deck, which cares about legendary spells and permanents, Gihadrone Dihada returns with Dihada, Binder of Wills.

Meanwhile, Jared Carthalion, a long-running character in Magic's extended lore, is finally getting a full planeswalker card that wants you to play all five colours in his deck amusing titled Painbow.

Box Toppers

As revealed at the Dominaria United debut in July, the set will include a series of reimagined legends from older Dominaria sets as the box topper extras found in booster boxes. While these aren’t reprints of those legends, they hark back to those cards with new, more modern designs.

Designed primarily for Commander play, these reimagined legends aren’t legal in Standard and aren’t considered part of the main Dominaria United set.

or example, Stangg, Echo Warrior can copy both itself and any Aura and Equipments attached to it to make a unique red/green take on Voltron decks. Meanwhile, Savitri, Dragon Master is a planeswalker that is offering rare support to blue and black Dragons, a creature type more commonly found in red and green.

Each booster box of Dominaria United will feature one of these reimagined legends.

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