The newest Magic: The Gathering set is purposefully packed with nostalgia. The card game is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and that’s as good an opportunity as any for the spell-slinging experience to go back to its roots. One of Magic’s unique properties is that it moves around from plane to plane (think different worlds) in each new set. The newest set, called Dominaria after the plane on which it is set, is a return to the place where it all began. The first decade of Magic revolved around the world of Dominaria and its regions. Places like Zhalfir and Benalia graced the names and flavor texts of Magic cards for years, and after spending a long time trawling around the multiverse, Dominaria has taken us back to the place where it all began.
If I sound a little giddy, it’s because I am. I first became serious about the game back in 2006 with the release of a set called Time Spiral, and that was the last time that Magic took place on Dominaria. I am, in a word, excited, and lots of other people seem to be, too. Developers Wizards of the Coast know that, and they’ve doubled down on that excitement with the design of the set, focusing on epic sagas of lore and legendary creatures. So let’s take a walk through these new cards to determine which of them are the most interesting.
I love a card that operates as a verb. After all, if we’re casting spells and doing magical acts, then it’s good to know what the exact effect we are having on the world is. This card allows us to literally knight a creature, and more than that, it gives it the additional stats of a knight. In Magic, being a 2/2 with first strike is baseline knight behavior, so it can still be a goblin or whatever while also being a knight. A goblin knight. Think about it.
The Weatherlight is a famous skyship from the Magic story, and having it return to the game is a huge reference to the game’s long history. One of the original “big stories” of the game tells us about the crew of the Weatherlight and their squabbles, defeats and victories, so seeing this thing slam into the table is literally a nostalgia overdose. It’s a cool card with a great history and some excellent narrative resonance.
Earlier in the millennium, we had Radha, Heir to Keld. Back then she was a character with a possible future ahead of her, and she could produce mana to fuel spells in combat or to power out creatures during your main phase. Mechanically, her card was all about creating the things that will help you win on future turns, but within specific constraints. Now Radha has grown into a warlord, and she makes all of her soldiers do the same things she once did. It’s real character growth.
Once you get to be a mage, it’s an easy time. You can cast spells, do research, and probably eventually blow yourself up in some kind of accident. The circle of life is strong with mages as as group. Learning to be a mage, however, is a lot harder. You have to pass through being a journeymage, and this card dramatizes that struggle. When this creature shows up, it can power out some damage if there is another wizard around. If not, then it has a harder time. Without guidance, this journeymage ends up doing basically nothing.
This is a new kind of card called a Saga. The general idea is that they are stories, and they progress over several turns, doing the work of classical spells and artifacts from Magic’s history. The Mirari is a complicated thing, but what is worth noting here is that this is a story about a magical artifact from the deep history of a game. The Saga, in being told, recreates some of the power of that original thing. It’s a really interesting way of trying to meld the power of storytelling with mechanical power, especially with something as strange and wondrous as the Mirari.
This is an elf who gains power when there are babies around. Every time she sees a baby, she gets stronger. Surrounded by baby elves, Marwyn could become the biggest creature on the planet, towering over the elves with fewer babies and inspiring fear in them. Even scarier, she can use the immense height and power to generate mana that creates more elf babies. Shepherding new creatures into the world, buff as all hell, Marwyn stalks the forests, a screaming horde of elf babies following in her wake. She’s the Incredible Hulk of elf babies.
In Dominaria, all artifacts are “historic,” and this is a legendary weapon that literalizes that mechanic. Forged by Dakkon Blackblade and wielded by his heir Korlash, the Blackblade is an ass-kicking fantasy sword that powers you up based on the amount of energy-producing land that is around you. Do you control a bunch of swamps? Now you’re swole.
Several of the worlds of Magic have creatures called saprolings on them. They’re basically little dorky plants that can walk around and do things, sort of like those dancing flowers from Fantasia. I’ve always been a fan of the saproling, perhaps because of my soft spot for dorky plants, so this spell that tells a little story about them migrating from one place to another is just a nice little slice-of-life story on Dominaria. There they go. They migrate.
Can you imagine what this goblin has gone through? What kind of things could have happened to it? Here it is, totally alone, wandering across a battlefield whirling some chains around. When it enters the battlefield, it hits everyone with the chains, but not enough to really hurt them. This is a goblin with a bunch of chains who is committed to being as annoying as possible. I bet it is screaming and screeching too. Or maybe singing a lesser Weird Al song.
Gateways are always bad news in Magic. Urza and Mishra, two brothers who destroyed huge chunks of Dominaria during their war with one another, were empowered when they traveled through a portal. Likewise, the recent Kaladesh set had some portal mess going on with it. Portals always seem to be gateways for bad things to happen, and if this card hits the table, then someone is going to have a bad time. Maybe it should be called The Bad Time Gateway. In any case, a bad time is an interesting one, and I want to see what kind of weird action this card enables in the game.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, is available on Steam.