Domain control is back baby! It was the scourge of Invasion Standard and Invasion Block Constructed during the early-2000s trip to Dominaria so I knew as we headed back to the plane I'd want to try to relive the highs of my early college days. It's still got it! I used the final list to make Mythic in Standard best of three just as BRO was dropping on Arena.
What Makes Domain Decks Good?
One of the early lessons of game design, starting in Legends, is that players love gold cards. They saw occasional inclusion in additional sets like Ice Age and Alliances, but Invasion was the first set to make it a significant theme in the block. To accomplish that it focused on mana fixing, and introduced the concept of "Domain," or having all five basic land types from Magic on the battlefield at the same time.
"Domain" decks benefit twofold then from these design decisions: they get to enjoy being able to play "any cards," particularly powerful multicolored spells, because their manabases are so flexible. Then they also get to use "domain" spells, often monocolored effects that get more powerful the more basic land types you have in play. That's easier than ever thanks to the cycle of triomes snuck into Streets of New Capenna, meaning you can have all five basic land types on the battlefield by the second turn.
Triomes diatribe: Streets of New Capenna was the last set I enjoyed at Wizards before retiring. I was pretty far removed from anything to do with design at that point, having switched to the technology sector of the company, and I'm not a fan of the triomes in SNC. I assume they're a necessary solution to make future formats better based on the impact they had in Dominaria United, but I can't help but feel there's a bit of 4th wall breakage happening when you have this keyword mechanic crammed glaringly into a set without it anywhere else. Sometimes to make a great format you've got to what you've got to do, so no shade on my WOTC colleagues, and hey: they got me to Mythic after all.
Here's the list:
4 Jodah's Codex (DMU) 233
1 Pilfer (DMU) 102
4 Spara's Headquarters (SNC) 257
2 Swamp (HBG) 300
4 Drag to the Bottom (DMU) 91
1 Island (MIR) 336
4 Herd Migration (DMU) 165
4 Karn's Sylex (DMU) 234
4 Dig Up (VOW) 197
4 March of Wretched Sorrow (NEO) 111
4 Tear Asunder (DMU) 183
3 Witness the Future (VOW) 90
4 Ziatora's Proving Ground (SNC) 261
4 Jetmir's Garden (SNC) 250
1 Mountain (MIR) 346
1 Plains (MIR) 331
6 Forest (MIR) 347
4 Workshop Warchief (SNC) 165
1 Field of Ruin (MID) 262
3 Pilfer (DMU) 102
3 Unlicensed Hearse (SNC) 246
1 Shigeki, Jukai Visionary (NEO) 206
1 Bamboo Grove Archer (NEO) 173
1 Unlicensed Hearse (SNC) 246
4 Path of Peril (VOW) 124
2 Shigeki, Jukai Visionary (NEO) 206
The Final Decklist
I spent a LOT of time tinkering with decklists in November, eventually building and abandoning about 100 total lists. Many kept coming back to a five-color theme, oftentimes attempting to abuse Shigeki, Jukai Visionary's channel ability as your card advantage "source." These decks kept losing, and then they banned Meathook Massacre. Now there was "no wrath" in the format for black, opening some space to experiment. I wanted a deck that could:
- Survive "Turn 5 You're Dead" Red
- Not lose to "Invoke Despair"
- Go long against control decks like Esper
The card that re-centered my Domain design attempts after the Meathook banning was this card:
A finisher that was tough to kill? A card advantage engine? A massive body to block up the ground against aggro decks? I was absolutely sold, and that was the centerpiece for the deck. I started jamming games, but soon learned I over-estimated. Sphinx of Clear Skies isn't hard to kill; by the time you're casting it, everyone and their mother has four mana to "kill spell + ward tax," or enough to Invoke Despair which ward doesn't impact. It's true I never lost once it connected, but it so rarely connected and I kept losing to getting burned out. The solution? This gem:
Workshop Warchief is tough to kill. Sure you can blast it with your first removal spell, but what's waiting for you in the wings? A 4/4 coming right back at your face. Have a removal spell for that? Great, I just Hymn To Tourach'ed you, plus gained some edge back against your burn spells, including Invoke Despair. In a pinch its Blitz cost is even a removal spell against a shields-down planeswalker. I spent 2-3 games with a 2/2 Sphinx/Rhino split before it became 0/4 and I've been happy with Rhino ever since.
In addition to your multi-colored lands, your mana fixing comes in the form of two cards:
- Herd Migration
- Dig Up
Both of these cards are "split cards," and powerful ones at that. I dare say Herd Migration is the greatest mana fixing "instant" of all time. Not only does it find the land you're looking for, it Healing Salves to staunch the bleeding against aggro decks (or, again as always, Invoke Despair), and it rocks into the late game as a bomby win condition. Need to stabilize against an aggro deck? Here's 5 elephants. Want to beat down your opponent? Here's "too many creatures for their spot removal." Herd Migration is dope.
Dig Up is one of the cards I spent a lot of time trying to make work throughout the run in Standard this month. It's such an ideal split card: make sure your mana works in the early game, then in the late game use it as Diabolic Tutor to find whatever solution your deck needs at the time. Your mana is tight once you toss that alongside the triomes.
Speaking of which, triomes in order of importance for this deck:
- Ziatora's Proving Ground (black and green are your core colors)
- Spara's Headquarters (blue is your tertiary color, and white is an important splash to hit full domain)
- Jetmir's Garden (green is your primary color, the other two are splashes but once you've got enough lands and a Plains and Mountain these suckers get cycled)
There is a singleton Field of Ruin because you could THEORETICALLY go infinite with Witness the Future, but also because Plaza of Heroes is worth killing. Field is mana fixing in a pinch, and BRO actually makes Field more appealing because there are now several creature lands back in the format.
Meathook Massacre left the format feeling like there was no black wrath. Well I'm here to tell you those rumors are Thomas Dewey to Drag to the Bottom's Harry S. Truman. Did you know Drag to the Bottom sneaks in an extra basic land type? It's X+1, which is almost always 6 in this deck. It is a problem you can't kill Titan of Industry with it, but we'll come back to that in a moment. Suffice to say, Drag to the Bottom does WORK in this deck, and benefits from the fact that everyone forgot entirely about it.
Your other "wrath "is Karn's Sylex. I'm a huge fan of that card as evidenced by my Mythic run in September, and this deck uses it well. You're unlikely to kill things in your deck, and it wipes up complex "Kiki Jiki Saga + Wedding Announcement + Liliana of the Veil" board states in a way a "wrath" wrath wouldn't. One other key feature, which I am so, SO embarrassed to reveal after having literally already made mythic with the card and not realizing it does this: Karn's Sylex on the battlefield stops your opponent from using the Blitz on Tenacious Underdog. You can't pay life for abilities, and that's exactly what ole' Underdog counts on. That's a big deal against Monoblack!
March of the Wretched and Tear Asunder are your last options. Tear exiles stuff, which is great for Titan of Industry (told you we'd come back to it!), and at two-mana it's a bargain to kill Wedding Announcement or the Kiki Jiki Saga whether you're on the play or draw. March puts you out of the reach of your opponent's reach. Pro tip: don't be afraid to blow up your own Elephant if "dying to burn (including Invoke Despair)" is a concern and you have a window to do so. Both cards can take care of Sheoldred on upkeep as well as doubling up to remove planeswalkers. It's a versatile suite.
I've talked about your "attack" win condition options, Herd Migration and Workship Warchief, already. Witness the Future is your "go long" plan to ensure you keep getting to do cool stuff late in the game. Is it a stretch? Maybe, but it's the thing I love doing most in a game of Magic so you won't see me be the guy who's cutting it. You're free to do what you want, but don't play Devious Cover Up; it's not good in this deck and makes you stretch too far for UU. Also, pro move for those who didn't play in the Gaea's Blessing heyday: you can target your opponent with Witness the Future. This is relevant as additional "removal" against Tenacious Underdog, and with BRO adds some added protection against Unearth if it becomes a thing.
Pilfer is a one-of tutor target against control to clear the way for the thing you REALLY want to do, and also stops Invoke Despair. My favorite resource in the deck, though? Jodah's Codex. That card is amazing. I may be biased as the type of person who may or may not have a tramp stamp tattoo of Howling Mine on my back, and sure, it's a hefty investment at 5 mana, but you pay it off immediately with a card draw and either your opponent removes it then and there or you overwhelm them with the luxuries it brings you. It's the best part of the deck in my opinion, though I tried other options like Silver Scrutiny (don't stretch to UU). Nothing else performed as well.
What Missed the Cut
Leyline Binding is the card everyone assumes is in a deck like this. I assure you, it was MANY times, but it always under-performed. Too many opponents were ready to destroy it putting you back in the position of having to deal with their threat again. I started winning more when I swapped it for Tear Asunder, and I've never looked back. Live your life, but I seriously tried to make this card work. Sheoldred was the other creature I tried to cram in the deck, mostly as a hedge against Invoke Despair. It's actually MORE killable than Sphinx, and that plan was quickly scrapped.
- Farewell sucks for you, so make sure you carefully manage your risk from it. Don't put too many permanents on the battlefield at once, and board in Pilfers against decks relying on it. You have to monitor what you target with Witness as well; make sure you prioritize win conditions.
- Herd Migration's land cycling ability can't be countered; it's Channel, not a spell.
- Don't rush spells out against Make Disappear if you don't need to. You're not in a rush, just wait until you have extra lands.
- I covered how Karn's Sylex works against Tenacious Underdog, but if you skimmed to this part and missed it: having Sylex on the battlefield stops the blitz ability on Underdog.
- Once you've got WUBRG available to you, almost all your additional mana search is looking for black sources. In fact, it's probable some of the Forests should be a BG dual of some type, but if you've got WUBRG and you're looking for another land, get a Swamp. The one exception to this rule is when you need GG for Warchief.
- The deck is very mana hungry, so don't aggressively cycle triomes. It's a fine play mid-game when you're racing your opponent to find steam to break a stabilization stalemate, but your top-end curve is seven mana, and Dig Up and Witness the Future often mean you want mana to search for a thing AND cast a thing afterwards in the same turn.
- You may come to stable board states in which you can cast something like Workshop Warchief, Jodah's Codex, or tutor with Dig Up. It's almost always right to establish Codex and get to town. There's plenty of time to use your win condition later, and you don't want to Dig Up an answer for an unknown threat. I lost several games where Warchief seemed like the easy decision, and learned to lean on Codex establishment provided my life was out of burn range.
- Witness the Future is an early cantrip to help you find action or mana. Don't be afraid to use it to get established if you have nothing else going on.
I did play best of 3 to get to Mythic with the list, so the sideboard mattered. Here's how I found myself boarding:
- Pilfer against Control, usually for a Codex and 2 Warchiefs or 2 Drag to the Bottoms depending on how much they rely on creatures versus planeswalkers.
- Path of Peril comes in against creature-based aggro decks. Tokens have gotten popular and you really want to make sure you survive. Upping the wraths in your deck helps with that, and Path is even a steal at 3 mana because so many opponents are playing creatures at 2 CMC or less. Don't forget: you don't HAVE to kick it to kill every creature if they don't cost more than 2, and if you don't have BB you CAN kick it to get around that restriction. It comes in for a Witness, 2 Codex, and the singleton Pilfer.
- Unlicensed Hearse comes in against the blue decks that rely on the graveyard for things like Tolarian Terror and Haughty Djinn. You also bring Pilfer in against those decks to force it through.
- Shigeki and Bamboo Grove Archer are experiments against control decks, particularly Farewell-based control decks, and flying-based counter decks. BGA's channel means your opponent can't counterspell it, though Fading Hope and phasing still stop it. They also double as early help against REALLY aggressive decks that can kill you by turn 5 or 6 and for which a body can help you survive. Boarding down to 1 Witness is fine with Shigeki because you can use the two in tandem to "go infinite" by reshuffling and rebuying them.
I like the deck a lot. It was a blast to play, though it's a LOT of rares and mythics I admit. I'm looking forward to tinkering with it in the hopes of whipping something up in new Standard in time for the qualifier event using the Standard format in my region in December. Thanks for reading! Give me a holler or a follow on Twitter here (before it's too late!), and if you liked this article, it'd mean the world if you shared a link to it on social media and told someone!