Magic goes back to Dominaria to battle Phyrexia again

Dominaria United - Ajani breaks through a stained glass window
(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Magic: The Gathering knows that sometimes you have to go back to the beginning, but Wizards of the Coast has been pretty cautious about letting Magic travel back to the plane that started it all. Only rarely playing host to new sets since 2001's Apocalypse, the plane of Dominaria hosted its first main set release back in early 2018.

But with the 30th Anniversary of the father of collectible cardboard fast approaching, the latest set is finally going home. Dominaria United will see native planeswalkers Karn, Teferi, and Jaya exploring more of the history of Dominaria, and facing down—yet again—the Phyrexians. No matter how many times those weird Hellraiser-esque fleshsculpting villains get knocked down, they always crawl back.

The focus on the history of Dominaria's many legends is set to be key, which Wizards is bringing attention to by putting 28-year-old Legends cards in Dominaria United Collector's booster packs. This massive potential bounty is courtesy of a long forgotten pile of Legends booster cases (each with six booster boxes bundled together—a total of 216 booster packs) in one of their warehouses. I can only imagine being the random intern who went in and scoped out the warehouse only to find piles of booster boxes worth $50,000 each.

Your first shot at Dominaria United will be on MTG Arena on September 1, with the pre-release being the weekend of September 2—the usual week ahead of the release on September 9.

What's the story behind this visit to Dominaria?

Karn, the golem planeswalker originally created by Urza, has been researching the Sylex—a mysterious artifact weapon of some kind. What he actually uncovers is evidence that the Phyrexians have returned to threaten Dominaria once again. Karn discovers the Phyrexian Praetor Sheoldred is somewhere on Dominaria, and is converting everyday people into sleeper agents for the Phyrexians, which is a decidedly uncool thing to do to someone just trying to grow some wheat and avoid being fireballed by passing wizards.

Karn quickly allies with Jaya, Ajani, and Teferi and tries to get everyone on the same page with a peace summit, but Sheoldred activates a bunch of Benalish sleeper agents and crashes the entire thing. Karn makes a new plan to use the Sylex to lure out the Phyrexian Praetor, but before he can put his plan into action he gets a message warning that somebody inside his coalition is a traitor—setting up the circumstances for a classic heel turn by someone. My money is on Ajani, because nobody expects the goody two-shoes bipedal lion to sprout an exoskeleton and start eating his friends. Would you?

What new and returning mechanics will there be?

Dominaria United is bringing back several familiar mechanics—with the main ones referencing Invasion block. The return of Kicker, which lets you spend extra mana to get more effects on your spells, is a fun one, especially with the emphasis being on 'enemy' color combinations. Archangel of Wrath is a strong example, able to stabilize your board state by eliminating one or two threats with damage while also regaining some life against more aggressive decks. Trading two for one and retaining a creature afterwards is a powerful swing that could fit into a lot of deck archetypes.

Another returning mechanic, Domain was largely forgettable in the past, but cards like Herd Migration may find a home in Commander where their cost (and the time needed to scale their effect up) won't be such a burden. Probably the most noteworthy thing returning isn't a mechanic, but the reprint of powerful planeswalker Liliana of the Veil into standard along with the return of some Painlands.

With Dominaria United's new mechanics being few in number, I'm not totally sold on Enlist, which seems to largely be a clever update to Banding. But as usual with combat triggered mechanics, its power and usefulness will largely center on how good the cards are that have it, and the example card Guardian of New Benalia is no Legion Loyalist or Legion Warboss.

On the other hand, the updated Saga Enchantments with Read Ahead are intriguing. Being able to choose which chapter of the Saga you start with is a powerful effect, giving you a taste of the versatility of powerful staples like Cryptic Command. I love how this is explored with The Phasing of Zhalfir, letting you tuck away one or two of your own creatures ahead of clearing the board, or just skip ahead to the clear if you need it.

What about showcases, special frames, and alternate art?

Some of the usual suspects for frame treatments are back, with borderless/extended art cards returning again for certain cards. The big new showcase frame is the stained glass frame, which really pops with some vibrant color choices in particular on Zur, Eternal Schemer and Jhoira, Ageless Innovator. You'll be able to find a variety of legendary supertype cards in the showcase frame with alternate art.

Lovers of big mana symbols can also rejoice, because all five basic lands will also be showing up in a full art stained glass treatments—which will be absolutely stunning in foil. 

There's also some special printings, with certain old school legends like Sol'kanar being reimagined with new cards. These new legends will be available as box toppers when you purchase a booster box. Furthermore, Jumpstart—the grab and play set where you combine two 20-card booster packs to create a playable deck—is returning for Dominaria United, and it will have a variety of rares exclusive to the Dominaria United Jumpstart, with one being guaranteed in every Jumpstart pack.

What about the rest of the cards?

This is all the rest of the printings and cards — my personal favorite being Resolute Reinforcements, which is a cool way to print another version of Raise the Alarm

Oh, and one more thing:

Is Greensleeves getting a card?

I may never hit a home run over the fence like Babe Ruth, but I can at least say I called my shot on Greensleeves when I predicted her inclusion in Dominaria United. That makes my score two for two on predicting obscure characters from Magic's dusty past reappearing. 

Sarah Richter

Sarah is a contributor for PC Gamer, formerly of TechRadar Gaming. With five years of experience writing freelance for several publications, she's covered every genre imaginable and probably a few she made up. She has a passion for diversity and the way different genres can be sandboxes for creativity and emergent storytelling, and loves worldbuilding. With thousands of hours in League of Legends, Overwatch, Minecraft, and countless survival, strategy, roguelike, and RPG entries, she still finds time for offline hobbies like tabletop RPGs, wargaming, miniatures painting, and hockey.