Dominaria limited has been a tough nut to crack for me. As a person who normally takes quickly to a new draft format, the mid-range, grindy aspects of Dominaria limited coupled with the lack of aggressive strategies has forced me to adjust my normal tendencies when it comes to limited Magic. Hopefully by the time Pro Tour Dominaria rolls around I’ll have found my groove. In the meantime, my hometown Grand Prix (GP DC) is this weekend and I’m very excited to be teaming with Massdrop pros Scott Lipp and Tommy Ashton for the event!
In preparation for the event, several DC local Magic players have been doing a lot of testing for the format. Tommy and I recently teamed with another Massdrop pro, Jarvis Yu, for a practice session versus former US National and Pro Tour champion Matt Linde, perennial fossil Patrick “PatJ” Johnson, and King of Mortgages Brendan McKay. I was hoping to use the pool we opened as a case study in Dominaria team sealed, but our pool was extremely overpowered and, in the end, kind of boring to write about. Our first deck was a WB knights deck featuring 4 unconditional removal spells, History of Benalia, Aryel, Knight of Windgrace, and Demonlord Belzenlok. The second deck was UR flyers/spells deck that played Karn, Scion of Urza, 3 Fiery Interventions, 2 Fight with Fire, and a Jaya Ballard to help power them out. The last deck was GBru deck which included all the mana fixing in the pool in order to play as many of our legends as possible (Slimefoot, the Stowaway, Hallar, the Firefletcher, Grand Warlord Radha, Tatyova, Benthic Druid, and Darigaaz, Reincarnated) and leverage them with our 3 Ancient Animus and Karn’s Temporal Sundering. Each of our decks had multiple haymakers and multiple answers to our opponent’s threats. Unsurprisingly we were able to quickly take the first 5 matches and win the contest.
Afterwards all of us examined the other team’s pool to see if there were different and potentially better ways to build the 3 decks. Here is the pool in question:
My apologies for all the police tape around the cards. Those of you who know me know that I don’t play much online, so I don’t own digital copies of anything. (Also please note that in several of the deck images in this article I display 24-25 cards. The decks represent close-to-final drafts, but would require a cut or two before considered final.)
Rewinding a few weeks back to GP Columbus which was also Dominaria team limited, the general consensus was that when looking at a Dominaria team sealed pool you wanted to find the GB deck. Given the number of saprolings synergy cards at common and uncommon, most pools will have a functional GB deck. Next you wanted to see if you had a UR wizards deck, and then based around the existence of these decks in your pool, see what “other” decks you could assemble. Often times the third deck would end up WB as black generally has a decent amount of splashable removal. Our playtest opponents used this strategy and first put together this GB saprolings shell:
This deck looks quite powerful. It sports many of the premium saprolings cards, a solid removal suite, cards that allow the deck to grind in the midgame, and some nice top-end finishers to go along with its fungal swarm.
Next up they tried making the best use of their “legends matter” cards and assembled the below WRb sketch. This deck, while stretching the mana base a bit, takes advantage of Blackblade Reforged and jams as many legends as possible to be able to play Jaya’s Immolating Inferno. While this deck is probably not as strong at the GB deck, it has some very aggressive openers and can quickly take down any deck not prepared for an aggressive start.
Finally, they found a UW flyers shell that is shown below. While this deck’s only haymaker is In Bolas’s Clutches, it does have some nice tempo plays and ways to recoup card advantage.
In the end, we all decided that the GB deck was very good, but might have steered them in the wrong direction as a whole. The WRb deck suffered a bit from an identity crisis as it was trying to be aggressive, but also splash a 3rd color. Lastly, the UW deck was just way too underpowered for team sealed and it showed as it didn’t win a single game during the session. The above decks are splitting up the white cards, which I think is a bit strange as white is on the shallow side in this pool. It is also interesting to note how few red cards there are in the decks.
After the matches played out and with the group as a whole looking at the pool, we tried to look at the pool through a different lens. Instead of looking at it from a perspective of “Where is the GB deck?” and/or “Do we have UR wizards?” we tried to identify the powerful interactions that were possible with what we had:
In the first two columns we have all of the legends and the “legends matter” cards. All three of the “legends matter” cards are very powerful so it would be great to be able to play all of these. In the third column are the saprolings synergy cards. OK, so we DID look at the GB deck! But there’s a good reason why it has been viewed as the most obvious deck in Dominaria team sealed! The fourth column contains the pool’s fixing. With only one Skittering Surveyor it seems like this pool’s best and only option for a multicolor deck is in green. We also included Sylvan Awakening here since it synergizes so well with 3 Grow from the Ashes. In the fifth column are our “artifacts matter” cards (no too many here) along with what we considered to be the bomb-level artifacts. In the last column are some potential “build around” cards – cards that might not be good by themselves, but in the right deck can have powerful effects on the game.
Continuing to look at powerful synergies, above we have the kicker payoff and enablers in the first column, and the decent kicker spells they could pair with in columns 2 through 5. In the last two columns we also noticed that we had a pair of Keldon Warcallers who could help us speed up our The Flame of Kelds.
After seeing the Warcaller/Flame of Keld package, we wanted to see what a mono red deck might look like:
Having a mono red deck allows us to a) maximize Chapter III of The Flame of Keld, b) allow the other decks to have access to the remaining 4 colors without needing to share, and c) take advantage of cards that other decks would not remotely want such as Ghitu Lavarunner, Sorcerer’s Wand, Keldon Warcaller, and Run Amok. However given what we know about Dominaria limited, this is probably not where we wanted to be. That being said, I wanted to share this build with you as an example of some of outside-the-box thinking in trying to utilize some of your perceived "bad" cards. It was also good to know this deck was a potential option as we looked at the rest of the pool.
Next we attempted to build around the extremely powerful “legends matter” cards in our pool – Karn’s Temporal Sundering, Jaya’s Immolating Inferno, and Blackblade Reforged:
Here we have 6 legends to help us cast our top end legendary sorceries, which is plan A. We also have a small saproling/go-wide plan, though the mushroom army’s main purpose here is to gum the ground until we execute plan A. Blackblade Reforged equips to a lot of bodies in this deck. Blade on Tiana is another path to victory here. A glaring weakness with this deck is the lack of removal. Outside of Jaya’s Inferno, we only have 2 Deep Freeze and an Icy Manipulator so overall the removal package is smaller than I usually like. Similarly to the mono red deck, this legends-focused deck (which turned out to be mono green plus gold) gives the other two decks carte blanche access to the remaining four colors. Note we decided not to play Sylvan Awakening since it didn’t contribute to the deck’s overall plan. It’s important to know when a splashy, pseudo haymaker fits and when it might not.
If you ever played with The Mirari Conjecture in limited, you know how it can snowball, especially if you have ways to blink or bounce it. We next wanted to focus on building a deck around it:
With 3 Blink of an Eye to potentially loop the Conjecture, it made sense to us to try and build a deck around it. We settled on pairing blue with red instead of black for a few reasons. The black removal was very good, but we had two WB gold cards that incentivized us to build WB. Red gives us a Ghitu Chronicler who works especially well in our spells deck. Also the two Bloodstone Goblins may seem underwhelming, but with 3 Blink of an Eye can get in some incidental damage or surprise pump as a combat trick. And with a whopping 10 kicker spells, they actually seem good here. I believe this deck is similar in comparison to the UW deck originally built, but what that deck lacked in late game grind, this deck better utilizes The Mirari Conjecture coupled with all of the card draw and red removal. (Also note that since this UR deck would likely get all of the red sideboards cards, it has the flexibility to transform into the mono red deck we first examined if faced with the right match up.)
Finally we put together a WB deck, leveraging the gold cards and best of the bunch from the two colors:
This deck looks quite good to me. It has the potential for aggressive starts and is overall quite aggressive, has decent haymakers, and lots of staying power to last through the mid and late game. When comparing this to the original WRb build, the mana base here is much improved as is the removal package.
Unfortunately this is about as far as we got as it was getting late on a school night, so we were not able to actually play with these new builds. However, everyone seemed to agree that as a whole, the builds we came up with as a group to be stronger than the original decks and made better use of the cards presented by the tough pool.
Going into a team sealed event, while it’s a good idea to have some high level understanding of common strategies in the format, it’s also important to stay flexible and know when your pool doesn’t fall into those strategies. In the above pool we had a great GB deck, but by falling into the trap of GB being a “must play” if you have the cards for it, the other decks suffered. Instead of strictly looking at the powerful color combinations, also look at synergies and payoffs. Here’s the short list for Dominaria:
• Color fixers with gold cards and splashable cards
• Tribal synergies like saprolings and wizards
• Legends matter cards with legends
• Historic matters cards with legends, artifacts, and sagas
• Artifacts matter cards with artifacts
• Kicker matters cards with cards with kicker and kicker enablers
• Build-around cards like The Mirari Conjecture, Lich’s Mastery, or Precognition Field
Clearly many of the above seem fairly obvious, but when you’re under a 60-minute build clock trying build 3 different decks, a lot of these considerations get ignored. It’s not easy to look at all options when you are facing a time crunch, so my best advice to you is to practice building some team sealed pools untimed. The more reps you get building and playing with a legendary sorceries deck or a wizards deck, or a The Antiquities War deck, etc. etc., the faster you will be at identifying what your pool has and doesn’t have.
I hope this helped you gain a better understanding of how I approach limited deck building, and maybe this will open up some new ideas and options for you and your team in your next event. Hope to see you all in DC this weekend!