Dominaria United takes Magic: The Gathering back to its very first and most revisited plane and pits a legion of goodies and morally grey-ies against the Phyrexians, who are basically the Borg from Star Trek but with funkier heads. It’s the next Standard release for MTG and, while there’s a hint of some familiar complaints with the set, it’s also an incredibly enjoyable one.
Let’s talk about the positives first. It’s not often Magic: The Gathering’s story feels fully palpable in the way cards are designed. Sure, lore fanatics will get some enjoyment out of combing through artwork and different characters to see how they’re progressing, but rarely is your average player going to notice things changing.
However, thanks to the big baddies in Dominaria United being the mighty all-consuming Phyrexians, things are a little more in your face. The two biggest standouts on this front are Weatherlight Compleated - a vehicle famously home to the heroic Weatherlight crew, which has now been corrupted by the Phyrexians and feeds on death - and the new Ajani.
Ajani, for many players, has always been a force for good - along with being a big old cat-man - and sort of filled the shoes of Gideon when he died a while back. Now, even this mighty paragon of goodness and floofs has been turned into Ajani, Sleeper Agent, a Phyrexian planeswalker who has shifted from a major focus on healing to dealing damage via poison counters.
There’s a very clear throughline here for players who have only been in the game for a few sets, and it’s nice to feel as though the cards in Dominaria United reflect that directly instead of having it be in the background. It adds to the feel of the set as a defining moment in Magic: The Gathering, rather than just another stop-off excuse to put in ninjas or gangsters.
Being back on Dominaria also means the return of a huge swathe of characters that long-term fans will know and love. This means that the set is filled to the brim with legendary creatures, which has both pros and cons. On the plus side, it helps reinforce the story-heavy feel of the set. On the other hand, it makes Dominaria United feel a lot like it’s intended more for Commander players than anyone else.
There’s nothing wrong with having a set filled to the brim with cool cards for Commander players, but it always feels a touch out of place in a Standard release. This is probably the most common issue with Standard MTG sets we’ve had over the last few years, but it does at least feel as though having an all-star cast of characters makes sense here.
Dominaria United's gameplay additions similarly feel very at home in the land of heroes and stories. The new mechanics are Enlist, Read Ahead and stun counters, and they’re all rather intriguing.
Enlist is a keyword that allows you to tap a non-attacking creature with summoning sickness as you attack using a creature with Enlist - which is a creature you’ve played that turn that doesn’t have haste. If you do so, the power of the tapped creature gets added to the attacking creature. This essentially allows you to get your creatures into the fray as soon as they’re played. While it’s not quite the same as haste, it does serve as an excellent way to buff up a single creature as a terrifying threat and potentially kill off an opponent out of nowhere.
Cards reflect the story directly instead of having it be in the background.
Read Ahead is an ability on the saga subtype of enchantment cards. In short, it allows you to skip ahead to a specific chapter of the played saga, allowing you to trigger a board wipe on a card like The Phasing of Zhalfir on the turn you play it, but you will miss out on the first two chapters as a result. It’s an interesting way to add a bit more relevance to sagas, because their slow wind-up sometimes felt like too big of a drawback.
The final mechanic, stun counters, allow you to lock down a specific creature and stop that creature from untapping for a short while. Each stun counter stops a creature from untapping for a turn, so if you put three stun counters on a card, it will remain tapped for three turns. What's important here is that it isn’t just the untap phase this applies to; any instance of tapping that creature will be ignored, making this a very powerful way to deal with hard-to-kill creatures.
The mechanics in Dominaria United, as you can see, are wonderful. Along with those, the power level of the set actually feels fairly reasonable. That’s all the more impressive given that Liliana of the Veil sees a reprint here, possibly one of the most powerful planeswalkers of all time. It says a lot about how much the power level of Magic: The Gathering has changed over the years, but that’s not Dominaria United’s fault.
Along with all of these generally favourable things, the set itself is a blast to play with. There’s a level balance of creatures and spells, a decent mix of mana fixing with the lands in the set and plenty of unique decks to create depending on which legendary creatures you pull in a draft or sealed to build around. It makes for a genuinely enjoyable format, and it’s hard to be angry at any loss when you’ll often have plenty of powerhouse cards in your deck.
The mechanics in Dominaria United are wonderful and the set's power level feels fairly reasonable.
Dominaria United is undoubtedly one of the most thematic Magic: The Gathering sets we’ve had in a little while. The story is ever-present and feels genuinely meaningful, likely appealing to all but the newest MTG players. The card selection in the set is hugely varied, and every limited event you take part in will feel unique as a result. The power level feels right too, with no truly offensive cards in the set and everything feeling balanced.
It’s nice to see a strong set to help us brace for the oncoming onslaught of Unfinity and Warhammer 40,000 cards next month. There’s a bit of concern that this release will once again feel smothered by the sheer volume of Magic: The Gathering that comes out every year now, but, as a set on its own, Dominaria United is Magic done right.