Last updated on March 30, 2023
Scion of Draco | Illustration by Andrew Mar
MTG has an inherent balance in its mana symbols. Playing fewer colors leads to a more consistent deck with fewer problems like mana screw and mana flood. Playing more colors leads to a more powerful deck with gold cards and effects from various colors. The consensus among players is to play 2- or 3-color decks depending on the format and the mana base.
What if you had cards that got better with more colors? Enter domain, a mechanic that shines in 5-color environment with lots of mana fixing, fetch lands, and multi-type lands. Thanks to the release of Dominaria United, domain is in Standard again.
When was the mechanic created? Should you bother with domain, and will you get to play good cards in Standard? What about eternal formats? Let’s delve into domain’s, uh, domain and explore just what makes it click!
How Does Domain Work?
Leyline Binding (Dominaria United) | Illustration by Cristi Balanescu
Domain is a threshold mechanic that counts the types of basic lands you have in play. It can go from 0 to 5, because you might only have Wastes, no basic lands, or only nonbasic lands without a type. Or perhaps you’re facing a land destroy deck.
Domain cards are usually balanced so that you want at least three different basic land types for it to be good. For example, your Gruul () deck can have an Island or two, and cards like Evolving Wilds help you get the third or fourth land type you need.
Matca Rioters is a good example. If your domain is two (two different basic land types), you’re paying three mana for a 2/2, a bad ratio. But a 3/3 is acceptable at that ratio, and 4/4 or 5/5 are better, typical uncommon or rare rate. Drag Down is a removal spell with domain that works in a three-domain environment to kill most small creatures.
The History of Domain in MTG
In 2000, the Invasion block had some cards with the text, “…for each basic land type among lands you control.” Fast forward to 2009, the Conflux set had several cards with the domain ability keyword. From this point on cards from the Invasion block were amended to have the domain mechanic.
The Invasion set has 11 cards with the mechanic, and the block has 20 cards total. Conflux contributed 10 more cards to the domain card pool. Sets like Time Spiral Commander 2016 and Modern Horizons 2 brought 4 more cards, totaling 33 designs.
With Dominaria United, the total count grows to 55 domain cards.
Do Original Dual Lands Count as Two for Domain?
Original dual lands count as two basic land types. Savannah is a Forest and Plains, so it counts as two types. Underground Sea counts as an Island and a Swamp. Original dual lands are very expensive and can only be used in Commander, Legacy, Vintage.
What about in Modern or Pioneer? Shock lands can be used instead since they also count as two basic land types. For instance, Blood Crypt is a Mountain and Swamp. Other land cycles are useful, like the Triomes that count for three basic land types and the cycling lands like Fetid Pools. In Standard you can use lands like Spara's Headquarters and Xander's Lounge.
Does Chromatic Lantern Give You Full Domain?
Chromatic Lantern doesn’t affect domain. It’s not relevant for the domain mechanic because the types of the lands aren’t altered, only the color of mana produced.
Does Nylea’s Presence Gives You Full Domain?
Yes, it does! For two mana Nylea's Presence turns a land into every land type, granting you 5 domain counts (or full domain). Your enchanted land also has the ability to tap for any color.
Do Wastes Count for Domain?
No. Wastes is a basic land that doesn’t count for domain because it doesn’t have a land type.
Sunburst vs. Domain
Sunburst is a mechanic specific to artifacts and artifact creatures that cares about the colors of mana used to cast those spells. You can generate different color mana with lands, mana rocks, creatures that have tap abilities, and more.
Cards like Chromatic Lantern are good for sunburst, as are dual lands that don’t have basic land types. Domain cares about the land type, not mana color, so it’s a little different. You need to have the lands or land types in play to activate a higher domain.
Is Domain Good?
Domain is a good mechanic because it breaks the “samey” feel of mono-color decks or 2-color pairings. Having 4-5 domain counts give you cards above rate, but at the cost of consistency issues from having lots dual lands or Tri-lands that come into play tapped.
There are already good domain decks in Modern. I’m curious to see what those domain cards can do to Standard or Pioneer since it’s the first time that the mechanic will be legal in those formats.
Gallery and List of Domain Cards
There are 55 cards with the domain mechanic spread across various sets. The sets that have the most domain designs are Invasion, Conflux, and Dominaria United.
- Planar Despair
- Prismatic Geoscope
- Aven Trailblazer
- Worldly Counsel
- Voices from the Void
- Wandering Goblins
- Might of Alara
- Spore Burst
- Exploding Borders
- Manaforce Mace
- Evasive Action
- Exotic Curse
- Power Armor
- Allied Strategies
- Artillery Blast
- Leyline Binding
- Sphinx of Clear Skies
- Voda Sea Scavenger
- Drag to the Bottom
- Shadow Prophecy
- Meria's Outrider
- Radha's Firebrand
- Gaea's Might
- Herd Migration
- Llanowar Greenwidow
- Nishoba Brawler
- Slimefoot's Survey
- Sunbathing Rootwalla
- Territorial Maro
- The Weatherseed Treaty
- Yavimaya Sojourner
- Bortuk Bonerattle
- Nael, Avizoa Aeronaut
- Radha, Coalition Warlord
- Zar Ojanen, Scion of Efrava
- Jodah's Codex
- Briar Hydra
- Strength of Unity
- Wayfaring Giant
- Collective Restraint
- Collapsing Borders
- Kavu Scout
- Wandering Stream
- Ordered Migration
- Territorial Kavu
- Scion of Draco
- Tribal Flames
- Matca Rioters
- Drag Down
- Samite Pilgrim
- Exotic Disease
- Magnigoth Treefolk
- Tromp the Domains
Best Domain Cards
#8. Herd Migration
Herd Migration has the potential to make five 3/3 tokens for seven mana in a 5-color deck. There are enough token synergies (like Parallel Lives and Intangible Virtue) to make this a real threat in a single card.
#7. Radha’s Firebrand
Radha's Firebrand has stats to be a good red threat, at least in Standard. A 3/1 for two with some upside is usually playable. I’m uncertain if the domain ability is relevant since usually those types of cards are featured in mono red or Boros () decks.
#6. Leyline Binding
Cast Out costs four mana. Although it doesn’t cycle, Leyline Binding needs only three land types to be a better Banishing Light or Cast Out: it has flash and it’s cheaper.
Playing Tri-lands in Standard pay off because the cost reduction is huge, and it might make it to other eternal formats too.
#5. Drag to the Bottom
Standard’s got a new black sweeper. If Drag to the Bottom is played in Esper () decks, or 4-color decks, it’s at least on par with Yahenni's Expertise or Languish.
With the Tri-lands in Standard it’s very possible that an Esper deck will add Spara's Headquarters or Xander's Lounge to its mana base to get the two missing colors, or Grixis (). It’s worth noting that the -X/-X is 1+ domain, in that it varies from 1 to 6.
#4. Tribal Flames
If you’re playing 4- to 5-colors, dealing that much damage for only two mana is a steal. Tribal Flames is good removal that gets big threats like Tarmogoyf and Gurmag Angler. A domain deck is usually built as an aggro deck, and two mana to deal five damage to a creature or player is one of the best ratios in the game. Even Unholy Heat can’t deal damage to players.
#3. Sphinx of Clear Skies
Cards like Sphinx of Clear Skies have a good track record in Standard, with close comparisons in Dragonlord Ojutai and Iymrith, Desert Doom. Cards like these are huge bombs in Limited, and they’re usually good enough to see constructed play in Standard.
A flier with ward 2 is well-protected, and the sphinx connects for a mini Fact or Fiction effect. What’s not to love about this card?
#2. Territorial Kavu
In 5-color domain aggro decks, mostly in Modern, Territorial Kavu is usually a 4/4 or 5/5 for two mana (one reason playing 5-color domain in the first place). It also has a relevant attack trigger, which can either cycle away excess lands or act as graveyard hate.
#1. Scion of Draco
Scion of Draco is an awesome payoff for playing 5-color domain decks. Suddenly your Mantis Rider has hexproof and lifelink, or your Territorial Kavu has trample and first strike.
Scion of Draco itself usually costs six or four mana with the right support, and it’s kind of a 5-color lord. It’s also fun to slot it into a 5-color EDH deck to buff your creatures and commanders.
Decklist: Domain in Modern
Territorial Kavu x4
General Ferrous Rokiric x4
Mantis Rider x4
Shardless Agent x4
Bloodbraid Elf x4
Scion of Draco x4
Lightning Helix x4
Bloodstained Mire x4
Flooded Strand x4
Sacred Foundry x2
Steam Vents x2
Wooded Foothills x4
Chalice of the Void x4
Cleansing Wildfire x4
Cursed Totem x3
Jegantha, the Wellspring
Rest in Peace x3
There’s been a domain aggro deck lurking around Modern ever since Modern Horizons 2 came out. It uses the power of domain spells like Territorial Kavu and Scion of Draco to smash faces. The mana base is very complicated with a lot of fetch and dual lands to ramp up domain, along with two Triomes to add more land types.
This deck plays all colors so it makes sense to play all the good aggressive threats like Mantis Rider. General Ferrous Rokiric is there to benefit you for playing multicolor spells, and Scion of Draco gives benefits to multicolored creatures.
Radha's Firebrand (Dominaria United) | Illustration by Angelo Bortolini
Domain is an interesting mechanic that widens the deckbuilding possibilities. 5-color decks are very inconsistent, but mechanics like domain, sunburst, and converge add a new layer to the game. It plays well in Limited too since you’re going to have greedy decisions on the number of different colors you’re going to play.
Do you have a favorite older domain cards? Which new ones are you excited to try out? Let me know in the comments below or on the official Draftsim Twitter.
Let’s have fun with Dominaria United. Stay safe folks, and until next time!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: