There was a time in Magic’s history where deckbuilding felt like solving a puzzle with pieces Wizards didn’t know it had placed in the box. During the Urza’s Block period a powerful combo deck was discovered damn near every week and the pace of bannings made clear that wasn’t intentional. The competency of the people making the game, as well as staff levels, have gone up since then and some of the magic of feeling like you discovered something “neat” that got by the makers of the game is largely gone. That’s mostly a good thing, but the “back in my day” part of my soul longs for it.
I spent October grinding through Standard with literally dozens of decks, stuck in the Platinum doldrums. I saw many, many different types of interactions including the Greg Orange style “Domain” decks popularized at the professional level. I saw some interesting iterations on that build, and then slowly started seeing a puzzle coming together. It needed:
- To play only a single card that counted as “costing 4 or less mana”
- The resources to stay alive long enough to “go off”
- Mana fixing
- A powerful end game
The plan was coming together…
4 Invasion of Alara (MOM) 230
2 Plains (SLD) 63
1 Island (SLD) 64
2 Swamp (SLD) 65
1 Forest (SLD) 67
4 Cemetery Desecrator (VOW) 100
4 Bramble Familiar (WOE) 164
4 Greater Tanuki (NEO) 189
1 Boseiju, Who Endures (NEO) 266
4 Herd Migration (DMU) 165
4 Etali, Primal Conqueror (MOM) 137
4 Breach the Multiverse (MOM) 94
4 Leyline Binding (DMU) 24
4 Virtue of Persistence (WOE) 115
4 Ziatora's Proving Ground (SNC) 261
4 Jetmir's Garden (SNC) 250
3 Spara's Headquarters (SNC) 257
2 Mountain (SLD) 66
4 Deathcap Glade (VOW) 261
4 Duress (STA) 29
3 Sunfall (MOM) 40
4 Obstinate Baloth (BRO) 187
4 Up the Beanstalk (WOE) 195
What makes this version of Domain different than others is Invasion of Alara. It gives you a more aggressive play than other versions of this deck, allowing you to “go off” on turn 4 by either channeling Greater Tanuki or casting the creature side of Bramble Familiar for acceleration. When you cast Invasion, here is what happens:
- You cycle cards from the top of your deck until you have revealed two copies of the only card that costs less than four mana in your deck: Bramble Familiar
- You cast Bramble Familiar, but because of Magic rules you’re allowed to play the Adventure side Fetch Quest
- You mill seven cards
From here several pathways open:
- You whiff, which is rare, but means you reveal only lands and Leyline Binding. If they have a threat you need to remove, take Binding, otherwise grow your manabase.
- You reveal Cemetery Desecrator. Choose to remove X counters from a permanent by exiling any seven-mana spell from your graveyard (Virtue, Etali, Breach, and Herd Migration are your candidates) or an Atraxa from your opponent’s graveyard, and target the Invasion of Alara. It triggers, allowing you to draw 2, copy a permanent (usually the Desecrator) and blow up an opponent’s land or relevant threat. This is the ideal scenario you’re hoping for 99% of the time.
- You reveal Etali. Cast the dinosaur, and hope to spike some neat spells from the top of the decks.
- You modestly whiff, which means you miss on your big targets but hit smaller creatures like Tanuki or Bramble Familiar in which case you play the biggest one you can for free.
Invasion of Alara made this deck attractive to me because you’re doing something different that’s also fun. Make no mistake, however: “going off” on turn 4 gives you an edge against similar strategies. Triggering Fetch Quest opens up the very real possibility you start chaining Etalis and Breaches leaving your opponent facing a fourth turn against a battlefield jammed with a lethal amount of monsters.
When you’re not going off with Invasion of Alara your game plan plays out in similar fashion to the other flavors of Domain decks: interact with your opponent’s threats, develop your manabase, and then do “the big thing.” Your big things are casting Breach the Multiverse and/or Etali to chain spells, Herd Migration for an instant army, Virtue of Persistence to out-value the long game, Fetch Quest the old-fashioned way, and in a pinch simply dropping a six mana creature like Cemetery Desecrator or Tanuki to bash face.
Aggressive Red Decks
This is not a great matchup, but it’s not unwinnable. Your plan is to use your cheap removal, Leyline and the Locthwain Scorn side of Virtue of Persistence, to survive threats and use Herd Migration’s channel ability to cushion your life total. Bramble Familiar is a valuable blocker or road bump for a burn spell, so cast them quickly. You sideboard out all your Breeches and 3 Etalis so you can bring in Sunfalls and Obstinate Baloths. Note: once you do this, Baloth will hit off Invasion of Alara. That’s by design.
Aggressive White Weenie Decks
Thalia is the problem from this deck, meaning you lean on your creatures more. Unlike aggressive red decks, however, they have far less reach buying you the time to survive to an endgame you’re heavily favored in. Your sideboard plan looks the same as Monored.
Leyline Binding is a counterspell for your opponent’s Leyline Bindings. Unless you’re dying from something, save Leylines and remember: if they Leyline something important but you Leyline their Leyline’s triggered ability, your permanent won’t leave play due to the “fixed clause” in exiling things to stop the Oblivion Ring loophole. Shockingly enough, a number of mirror matches actually come down to decking your opponent. You’re both trying to do big things, you both have answers to each other’s big things, so milling through Breaches and Etalis starts to stack up. You need to monitor your deck size as a result. I sideboard in Duress and take out Bramble Familiar. I’ve seen some creative types boarding in Jace, the Perfected Mind.
This matchup is also rough, as it is for most Domain decks. You’re trying to do big things, but a single Disdainful Stroke can stop any of the things. You’re the beatdown, so try to get Invasion off quickly. For sideboarded games you cut the Bramble Familiars and Leyline Bindings for Duress and Beanstalk. The former lets you force through big spells, and the latter sneaks in under counterspells to make sure you have lots of gas late game.
The GB Land Deck
I saw this deck start popping up a ton, though with all due respect to wherever it originated from I can’t figure out why. It features creature lands and Blossoming Tortoise to keep them in play and develop their manabase. It also uses Mosswood Dreadknight better than anyone I’ve seen, but I missed what its good matchups are. I felt pretty confident beating this deck, and didn’t really sideboard against it. (Again, not trying to shade this deck, I just couldn’t deduce the segment of the metagame it was solving for.)
Thoughts on This Deck Moving Forward
This deck was a blast to play, and handily took me all the way through Diamond to make Mythic. If you have most of the cards already, it’s a fun choice for Standard best of 3. I don’t think it’s a capable competitor in a mixed environment qualifier tournament, and it struggles against the best players playing the best decks once you make Mythic and the sea of aggro decks at thresholds lower than Diamond (full disclosure: before seeing the interactions with this deck I had moved through Platinum with a derivation of my UW Poison Control deck). This is a great example of a deck that benefits from the unique structure of Mythic play on Magic Arena, but struggles with other real life scenarios.
I’ll see you in November with another Mythic tale!