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Set Prospective

Dominaria United

September 19th, 2022 — Parker LaMascus

This article is one of our set prospectives, a series in which we survey the Cube community about the cards they intend to play in their cubes from a particular set. Our survey is conducted between the set’s full-spoiler and official release and is meant to measure and document Cube designers’ first impressions of new cards.

“This set is the first in a while in which the cube “discourse” hasn’t been unanimous in assessments and opinions…”

Welcome back to Dominaria! Dominaria United is a return home for many Magic players, a mechanical throwback to Invasion block, and a deep well of Cube inspiration. We collected a record-breaking 342 surveys from 306 unique cube designers and analyzed the results. We’ve got designers reporting in with everything from a “Esper peasant micro Commander Cube” to a “Mana Value 3 or less Tempo Cube”, so there’s plenty of representation from every corner of the Cube world.

Results

The median designer is testing 9-10 cards and has given 2 cards a rating above 2.5 our of 3 (strong likelihood to stay long-term). This puts the set on roughly equal footing with sets like Kaldheim and Streets of New Capenna in terms of scale and enthusiasm of tested cards. The most cards tested by a single designer is an astonishing 119 cards!

See where our respondents fall on the Cube Map.

Filter by rarity:
Card TestersRank 
Cut Down58.5%2.5
Aether Channeler52.0%2.6
Cult Conscript43.9%2.4
Evolved Sleeper38.9%2.2
Guardian of New Benalia33.3%2.1
Squee, Dubious Monarch32.2%2.2
Electrostatic Infantry27.8%2.1
Serra Paragon25.4%2.2
Phoenix Chick23.1%2.0
Quirion Beastcaller22.5%2.0
Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim21.3%2.2
King Darien XLVIII20.8%2.0
Tear Asunder20.2%2.2
Shivan Devastator19.9%2.1
Haughty Djinn19.6%2.0
Radha's Firebrand19.3%2.0
Resolute Reinforcements19.0%2.1
Jaya, Fiery Negotiator18.1%2.1
Ertai Resurrected18.1%2.1
Tail Swipe15.2%2.1
Rona's Vortex14.9%2.0
The Raven Man14.9%2.0
Founding the Third Path14.9%1.9
Temporary Lockdown14.6%2.1
Llanowar Loamspeaker14.3%2.0
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse13.7%2.1
Braids, Arisen Nightmare13.5%1.9
Lagomos, Hand of Hatred12.6%2.2
Balmor, Battlemage Captain12.3%2.2
Yavimaya Iconoclast12.0%1.9
Urborg Lhurgoyf11.7%2.1
Vohar, Vodalian Desecrator11.4%2.2
The Elder Dragon War10.8%2.0
Battlewing Mystic10.8%2.0
Leyline Binding9.9%2.2
Joint Exploration8.8%1.8
Defiler of Vigor8.8%2.0
Phyrexian Missionary8.5%2.1
Baird, Argivian Recruiter8.5%1.9
Garna, Bloodfist of Keld8.5%2.2
Karn's Sylex7.9%1.9
Nishoba Brawler7.6%2.1
Twinferno7.6%2.0
Sprouting Goblin7.6%1.9
Urborg Repossession7.3%2.0
Tolarian Terror7.3%1.9
Anointed Peacekeeper7.3%2.0
Keldon Flamesage6.7%1.8
Golden Argosy6.7%1.9
Soul of Windgrace6.7%1.8
Shadow Prophecy6.4%2.0
Knight of Dusk's Shadow5.8%2.1
Runic Shot5.8%2.1
Llanowar Greenwidow5.8%1.9
Weatherlight Compleated5.6%1.9
Archangel of Wrath5.6%2.1
Geothermal Bog5.3%2.5
Queen Allenal of Ruadach5.3%1.8
Benalish Sleeper5.3%1.8
Sacred Peaks5.0%2.5
Radiant Grove5.0%2.5
Molten Tributary5.0%2.5
Contaminated Aquifer5.0%2.6
Knight of Dawn's Light5.0%1.9
Protect the Negotiators5.0%2.0
Wooded Ridgeline4.7%2.5
Tangled Islet4.7%2.5
Sunlit Marsh4.7%2.5
Idyllic Beachfront4.7%2.5
Haunted Mire4.7%2.5
Aron, Benalia's Ruin4.7%1.9
Defiler of Instinct4.7%2.0
Threats Undetected4.4%1.8
Pilfer4.1%2.0
Yavimaya Steelcrusher4.1%1.7
Bite Down3.8%1.7
Thran Portal3.8%2.2
Silverback Elder3.8%1.9
Academy Loremaster3.8%1.9
Balduvian Atrocity3.5%1.9
Uurg, Spawn of Turg3.5%2.1
Rulik Mons, Warren Chief3.5%2.0
Drag to the Bottom3.2%2.0
Combat Research3.2%1.9
Stronghold Arena3.2%1.9
Danitha, Benalia's Hope3.2%1.9
Meria, Scholar of Antiquity3.2%2.6
Micromancer3.2%1.8
Crystal Grotto2.9%2.0
Strength of the Coalition2.9%2.2
Writhing Necromass2.9%1.7
Impede Momentum2.9%1.9
The Cruelty of Gix2.9%2.0
Najal, the Storm Runner2.9%2.0
Ajani, Sleeper Agent2.9%1.8
Sphinx of Clear Skies2.9%1.9
Cards being tested by fewer than 10 respondents not shown.
Single Card Discussion
United Front-runners
Cut Down
Aether Channeler

Over half our respondents are excited about two, stand-out cards, both call-backs to iconic Magic designs. Cut Down, a versatile removal spell, promises similar play patterns to Lightning Bolt and is the overall most popular card from DMU. Of our respondents testing Cut Down, only 28% of them are also playing Disfigure and only 20% are playing Ulcerate, both very similar removal spells. Cut Down’s popularity may anticipate these latter spells becoming more suitable for our respondents’ Cubes… or it could be that people are so enthralled by Dominik Mayer’s stellar art that they’ve tossed aside all other considerations.

“I like that they used recurring mechanics and intuitive designs. They will be easy to grok.”

Aether Channeler is the latest in a long line of Man-o'-War variants and offers some serious power upgrades through its modal enters-the-battlefield ability. Considering the original Man-o'-War still sees play in many cubes that value power and/or historic importance, it’s no surprise that Channeler is the highest-rated card on the survey at 2.6 out of 3.

Alternatives for Aggro
Cult Conscript
Evolved Sleeper
Guardian of New Benalia
Squee, Dubious Monarch
Electrostatic Infantry
Serra Paragon

Just by coincidence, the cards seeing play by 25-50% of our respondents all fall within the {W}{B}{R} triad of aggressive colors. The broad patterns from our past surveys indicate that Cube curators treat linear aggro pieces as interchangeably as an 88th-minute soccer substitute — that is, they change the faces of the team without affecting the outcome of the game.

“SQUEE!!!!”
— papazedruu

But these six cards all offer tweaks on existing designs that may improve their longevity. Serra Paragon is perhaps the clearest example — though the 3/4 Flying body lends itself to aggression, the static ability has a value that massively fluctuates from game to game, and even turn to turn, depending on both players’ prior decisions. As such, each player’s actions regarding Serra Paragon aren’t likely to become “solved” or boring.

“This is a banger set for low power cube. There's tons of interesting options.”

Mana sinks, recursion, unusual enabler/payoff relationships and discard outlets are other ways that the aggro player can spend their resources productively, but also dynamically. All these designs have built-in safety valves against the “turn Savannah Lions sideways” style of linear aggro that is oft-decried among Cube curators. I suspect this accounts for the popularity of these cards among our survey respondents, although Cult Conscript is especially notable for being the first recursive 2/1 available to Peasant curators.

Other Notables
Radha's Firebrand
Tear Asunder
Founding the Third Path
Tolarian Terror
Urborg Repossession
Jaya, Fiery Negotiator

The marquee named mechanics of DMU had a modest but substantial showing this time around. Enlist made an appearance earlier, but Domain, Kicker, and “Read Ahead” Sagas all boast designs tested by roughly 1 of every 4-5 respondents. Radha's Firebrand is the card on this list I’m personally most excited by, with a potent form of evasion that somewhat mitigates the drawback of 1 toughness. Tear Asunder offers a flexible Naturalize/Vindicate split of modality, and Founding the Third Path is just close enough to Snapcaster Mage to be tempting.

“Many of the off-colored kicker cards allow cube builders to play with color identity in a minor-yet-interesting way.”
— Harrison Fjord, famous actor

For our rarity-restricted respondents, there are a smattering of powerful uncommons scattered throughout the prior sections to represent Peasant curators. Meanwhile, for Pauper curators who use only commons, Tolarian Terror is the most-tested eligible card. Its Ward ability in combination with its cost-reduction mechanic will allow it to trade more favorably with removal as a control-style finisher or spell-slinger top end. It is tied with Urborg Repossession, a powerful 2-for-1 that enables recursive graveyard loops at a strong rate. Shadow Prophecy follows close behind as a scaling, instant-speed Read the Bones effect.

I’m also obligated to mention Jaya, Fiery Negotiator. Rest in peace. (Thank goodness she’s only an ancient humanitarian planeswalker, not somebody I’d have to feel conflicted about mourning — like, as a randomly chosen example, a ancient monarch who led a global capitalist empire for seven decades.)

Conclusion

Dominaria United is a modest set for cube curators who are pursuing the peaks of power level, but the set’s incredibly deep roster of low-rarity outliers and humble roleplayers is still enough to surpass our prior records for survey engagement. Not only has our audience grown, but DMU has appeal that speaks to cubes far outside the norm, and that makes it an excellent set for Cube.

My own thoughts:

Off-color Kicker and Domain provide excellent Draft and deckbuilding incentives. I’ve rambled about this on my cube blog (the only way to escape Andy’s draconian editing), but to summarize: off-color Kicker, Domain, and mechanics like them provide unique deckbuilding and draft opportunities. Because they always cost Color X, but only sometimes require Color Y, they are easy to splash into a deck of Color X, without as harsh a risk of mana screw. This affords the drafter and deckbuilder many crunchy risk-reward decisions about how to enable their splash and leads to surprising gameplay moments. Most importantly, Domain and off-color Kicker are less likely to degenerate into “soupy” 5-color decks, because their reward structure isn’t all-or-nothing like it is for strict multicolor designs.

PSA: You can find out exactly how good Cut Down will be in your list. It’s not necessarily common knowledge, but Cube Cobra is always expanding the options by which users can filter their cubes, allowing us to find the proportion of very specific types of cards. Here’s my own list, filtered for by creatures Cut Down hits — or copy the filter below into your own cube! (And then compare it to Disfigure!)

(pow=0 tou<=5) OR (pow<=1 tou<=4) OR (pow<=2 tou<=3) OR (pow<=3 tou<=2) OR (pow<=4 tou<=1)

Baird, Argivian Recruiter is Boros’s most modular Legend yet. One often-lamented facet of the {W}{R} color pair is the linearity of its gold cards, usually requiring synergies with combat, Equipment, or both. Baird, however, triggers off anything from Prowess to +1/+1 counters to my beloved Kird Ape. Moreover, Baird provides value within a single turn cycle and is cheap enough to slot in at multiple points along the curve (mitigating the risk of mana screw), leading me to believe he’ll punch above his weight class even in higher-power contexts. I’m sticking my neck out here vouching for a card with less than 10% popularity, but I’ll do anything for Kird Ape and you should too.


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Aron, Benalia's Ruin — Jody Clark