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Play This, Not That: Dominaria United Preview Edition

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Let's look at two members of the new so-called "Defiler" cycle. Presumably there will be a complete five-card cycle, but these two are a good starting point for discussion:

Defiler of Faith
Defiler of Dreams

I have a hard time imagining myself summoning a Defiler of Dreams in a Constructed deck. Like, not even if they made Dominaria United Block Constructed. The card is five mana and not durable at all. Were Air Elemental stats too much of a premium for a set where Lightning Strike is about to be reprinted?

Though, I must admit that a stream of, say, Hapless Researchers is an intriguing follow up... Make that sequence of follow ups. Like zero mana, draw possibly two cards on repeat? The problem is that you will probably run out of cantrip creatures before you run out of spare life; and that any format that would allow you to start with a Defiler of Dreams and chain into these kinds of creatures and almost necessarily the free mana you'd need to Brain Freeze out the opponent can probably accomplish the same without paying 18 life, exposing a 3-toughness 5-drop in the middle of its engine, or forcing you to play a nigh-unending stream of do-nothing 1-drops.

Again: I have a hard time imagining myself summoning a Defiler of Dreams in Constructed deck.

But what about Defiler of Faith?

This is a much different card for a couple of reasons.

First of all, a 5/5 vigilance for five mana is a much more durable body than 4/3 for the same. Like, no one is writing home for just a 5/5 for five... But it's a very solid start given it's not the whole show. Secondly, there is no shortage of cheap one-mana White creatures - or permanents generally - that you might want to pair with this card. Whatever Savannah Lions reprint is legal; whatever Hunted Witness Xerox; maybe even the odd Portable Hole are all fine cards that are always good enough for Standard at least... And the built-in go-wide feature of Defiler of Faith makes for an intriguing pairing. At a minimum you can plausibly "tap out" for this; play whatever 1-drop for two life, get your 1/1 bonus body, and then not feel too bad when the opponent Doom Blades your Phyrexian Human upon receipt of priority.

Standard for the past year has had no shortage of sweet White permanents, from a 2-drop that seemingly goes into every deck to a Planeswalker that breaks any and all rules of how Planeswalkers are supposed to be designed; so don't feel too locked in on running a thousand 1-drops just to enable Defiler of Faith. I feel like if you untap with this creature on the battlefield it's just going to make all your 1w and 2ww cards that much better; most especially the kinds of permanents that buff creatures. You know which ones I'm talking about, surely.

One card I was really badly wrong about in the past was Sea Gate Restoration // Sea Gate, Reborn. I kind of couldn't wrap my head around wanting to pay seven for it; and never thought hard enough about decks that were just cheating on lands. So, Sea Gate Restoration ended up widely played in a variety of decks, but most obnoxiously combo decks in wider formats.

In the same vein, I'm going to double down on Defiler of Dreams. Let's compare it directly with another big flyer from Dominaria United, for the same mana.

Defiler of Dreams
Sphinx of Clear Skies

Both of these creatures are even Sphinxes!

The main difference in my mind is that Sphinx of Clear Skies isn't just going to die on you immediately. Ward 2 doesn't protect it from sweeping "Wrath of God"-type effects, but at least this 5/5 - rather than 4/3 - isn't going to be immediate Lightning Strike bait.

I think that the Domain clause on Sphinx of Clear Skies is at least partially a red herring. If there is a Domain deck to come out of Dominaria United - if it's like any Domain decks of Cuneos or Buddes past - I am not sure it will want to tap out for a dude on five. Even if it's a pretty good dude. A 5/5 mega-Ophidian might feel like small ball to a Ramp deck. But maybe!

My first instinct is putting Sphinx of Clear Skies in more of a Big Blue or uw Control type deck. You aren't going to be maxing out on a five-split Fact or Fiction-style strike every turn, but Blue decks that start connecting with big flyers rarely need more than one extra card per turn to absolutely horrify the opponent.

Imagine you had an Esper Control deck that actually topped up on Sphinx of Clear Skies. You resolve it. It doesn't die. You swing. You hit the hated opponent! Look down at your back row: Is there actually a Swamp, a Plains, and an Island in play? Come on! This is a Big Blue card.

Counterpoint:

Raffine's Tower

I guess we'll see!

But it's actually interesting to speculate on this one, right? Much more so than dumb Defiler of Dreams.

Let's talk about the other Defiler a second.

Defiler of Vigor
Urborg Lhurgoyf

Don't get me wrong: There's nothing actually "wrong" with Defiler of Vigor. It's actually quite powerful! 6/6 Trample for five is a nice stat line; and I like the compounding buff a lot.

But I'll ask you: What problems does this card solve?

Think on the Green decks you know about in Standard: Is their problem that they don't have enough power? Not enough selection of large creatures?

How about in Pioneer? At the five do you imagine this card muscling out Nissa, Who Shakes the World? Or for that matter the new-fangled Nicol Bolas cheats? I do admit that Defiler of Vigor + Oath of Nissa is intriguing; even given Oath's inability to directly exploit a +1/+1 buff itself.

So, what about Urborg Lhurgoyf?

This card is obviously a call-back to the Ice Age classic:

Lhurgoyf

It is more-or-less the same card for half the cost! You might not be able to exploit your opponent's graveyard for power and toughness; but no one was building Lhurgoyf decks back in the 1990s because they thought the opponent was going to have such a stacked 'yard.

First of all, Lhurgoyf (the original) was awesome. I just bought a new set to play in Premodern! I feel like the four-mana version is going to solve a lot of problems. The opponent swept me with Wrath of God or Slice and Dice? Survival for Lhurgoyf. Actually; Survival for Anger and then Survival for Lhurgoyf!

A bigger issue for small creature decks in Premodern - specifically Survival-Elves - is just that the Red Deck can Mogg Fanatic and Lava Dart all your Elves. I feel like Lhurgoyf is a potential solution; again, especially behind Anger. Punish them for spending so many cards - some even being creatures - on your Plan A.

I feel like Urborg Lhurgoyf is going to be just fine in a non-Black / non-Blue deck as a two-mana Lhurgoyf. The same kinds of issues bedevil Green decks in 2022. Basically, some mean man is going to come and kill all your creatures. What are you going to do about it? How about tap a whopping two MANA for a giant follow-up? Seems awesome to me.

The Black and Blue kickers are gravy; but it bears mentioning that with an empty graveyard you can pay four for the 2022 version of Lhurgoyf and pass the turn with a shiny new 6/7.

There is nothing wrong with Defiler of Vigor; I just don't see what need it is suddenly filling. Urborg Lhurgoyf, though? That is a big creature that really exploits playing with smaller teammates.

Here are some flashy cards that I don't think will end up very good:

Karn, Living Legacy
Ajani, Sleeper Agent

Both have things going for them. Karn is going to... Let's see here... Make a tapped Powerstone before they kill him. If you buy any of what I said about Defiler of Faith, this should give you reasonably warm feelings about Karn. In fact, the climb to his [-7] is kind of awesome, especially since you'll be giving yourself tons of fuel for future pings. But the [-1] is kind of awful for a Planeswalker draw ability. The whole point of every viable Planeswalker ever is that they generate value without ongoing investments in mana. I hate the idea of spending even one mana that I got for free from my Powerstone last turn to go [-1].

Ajani gets better if you think about him as a three mana / two loyalty Planeswalker instead of a four mana one; but then you can't even use his board impacting [-3] the turn he hits the battlefield.

Is this supposed to be an awkward grinding sideboard card? Last week I thought about different times you might want to play some of the new cards. Can you think of a good home for 2022's Ajani?

On balance, here are two not-flashy cards that excite me bigly.

Timely Interference
Phoenix Chick

Timely Interference is just a sweet card draw spell for u. This card is worse than an Opt at drawing cards; and restrictive (there has to be a target in play). But I'll give anything that draws a card for one mana at least a look; and the other abilities on Timely Interference have me sold to at least give it a try.

And what can I say about Phoenix Chick? Flying and haste for r would have been enough to get my gears spinning, but the recursive add-on seems like it'll be a meaningful part of this card's working kit for years to come.

Finally, a card that is rare, and justifiably, requires some extra thinking:

Jhoira, Ageless Innovator

Jhoira is just a decent card on rate; especially for a Blue creature. A 2/3 for two mana? That's not a bad tap out for defense.

Jhoira makes combat difficult for the opponent when she can potentially drop blockers unexpectedly. At four Ingenuity? That's just asking for it. The implication is that even if you've got nothing, keep a card or two in hand to bluff.

The overlap of netting free mana and making your threat cards potentially un-counter-able is just too much! Kill Jhoira on sight if it's across the table.

LOVE

MIKE

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