Magic: The Gathering is celebrating its 30th anniversary next year, and the venerable card game is leading into the milestone with Dominaria United, the first set in a new story arc. It will see the game return to Dominaria, its original setting and one of the most storied planes in Magic history, where a cast of familiar races and characters will face a whole new assault from one of the great threats to the multiverse – the Phyrexians.
IGN has a brand new card to reveal for Dominaria United, and it very much ties into the 30-odd years of worldbuilding that makes Dominaria so special for Magic fans. Introducing, Serra Paragon:
This card references some key Dominarian history. “Serra was a powerful Planeswalker who came to Dominaria thousands of years before the events of Dominaria United,” explains Roy Graham, Game Designer: Story. “At the time, the power of Planeswalkers was almost unlimited so she was able to create a host of angels (ones similar to Serra Paragon!). While Serra then moved on from Dominaria, a church was created in her honour and she became revered.
“She ties in with the new story as her angels still populate the plane and she’s intrinsically linked with the Phyrexians: her own home plane was invaded by them years ago and was eventually collapsed to prevent a total Phyrexian takeover. So while Serra is now dead, there’s a definite Phyrexian vendetta in there!”
“The immediately obvious utility with Serra Paragon,” says Ethan Fleischer, Sr. Game Designer: Play & Design, in response to my question about which decks and strategies Serra Paragon might best be suited to, “would be to pair her with fetch lands: lands that sacrifice themselves to search your library for another land to put into play. These fetch lands are easy to get into the graveyard and can ensure you have a steady stream of lands once the Paragon hits play. It also lets you immediately cash them in for that little life total bump!
“Other applications would be in decks with creatures that have powerful enter the battlefield effects such as Elite Spellbinder: being able to recur those effects can become such a headache for opponents who basically have to deal with them twice.
“Lastly, I can see Serra Paragon being fun with smaller artifacts that sacrifice themselves for some sort of effect. Doubling down on those while gaining life would be a lot of fun!”
Opening a Karn of Whoop-Ass
I’ve already alluded to the broad brush strokes of Dominaria United’s story, but given how important it is, I also asked Ethan Fleischer and Roy Graham to help set the scene. “Dominaria is in a time of renewal across the plane—with the demon Belzenlok dispatched and no major planar crises, the inhabitants of the world have a moment to breathe easy,” says Graham. “Of course, that’s just in time for the Phyrexians to arrive.”
The Phyrexians are going to be central to the events that unfold. They are “artificial and biomechanical beings hellbent on overtaking the multiverse one plane at a time,” continues Graham. “One of the key Praetors or leaders of New Phyrexia is Sheoldred who is slowly spreading her influence across the plane of Dominaria… Sheoldred’s plan of attack involves a lot of infiltration and subtlety before she shows her full strength, and we’ll see a lot of sleeper agents and betrayals throughout Dominaria United.
“Up against Sheoldred and her steadily increasing Phyrexian army stand a cast of familiar faces. Most prominent is Karn, a metallic Planeswalker who has fought the Phyrexians many times across many years and planes. Jodah, an immortal archmage from Dominaria’s past, will join Karn in his efforts to defeat the Phyrexians, along with the Planeswalkers Jaya and Teferi.”
These are big names for Magic players, and Wizards has already hinted at some pretty significant twists for a number of them. And of course, the story very much ties into the game design, too. Several mechanics “express what’s happening in the story currently,” says Fleischer. “The people of Dominaria must put aside their differences and unite in the face of a common foe. Kicker cards where the kicker cost is a different color from the card’s casting cost represent two (or more!) nations combining their powers. Domain encourages you to play with all five colors in your deck, uniting all of Dominaria!
“The new Enlist mechanic also represent the creatures of Dominaria teaming up,” he continues. “When a creature with Enlist attacks, you can tap another creature you control without summoning sickness to add its power to the attacking creature’s. This will allow players to build up massive attackers while keeping their other creature relatively safe!”
Other mechanics tie into the plane’s rich lore and many epoch-shifting events. “Legends represent characters with roots in the past; there is one legendary creature in each booster pack,” explains Fleischer. “Sagas tell the stories of events from previous sets, particularly stories that are likely to be relevant to future stories. Each Saga in Dominaria United has the new Read Ahead mechanic, which allows players to skip past the early chapters of a Saga.”
It’s clear how tight the integration between storytelling and gameplay will be with Dominaria United, and this speaks to the team having the benefit of Magic’s almost 30 years of existence. I ask Ethan Fleischer how all that experience informed how the team approached this set. “Dominaria was the setting of over 25 Magic sets, many of them from very early in the game’s history,” he says. “Since that time, our worldbuilding philosophy has evolved; each plane now needs a distinctive identity. Dominaria’s sprawling history and geography defied a unifying identity until the 2018 Dominaria set, where we established that Dominaria’s identity was its history.
“Having established that identity so strongly, we were now free, in Dominaria United, to focus more on concepts that resonated more with what’s going on in the current storyline. Who are the characters who would be most appropriate to fight in a second Phyrexian Invasion? What are mechanics that emphasize alliances being formed, and call back to the original Invasion set? How can we prime the audience to best enjoy the storyline over the next year of Magic?”
Early indications are that this freedom is paying off, but we’ll know for sure when Dominaria United launches on MTGA on September 2 and for tabletop on September 9. You can see the full range of products coming with the set – as well as all the cards as they’re revealed – by visiting Magic’s Dominaria United homepage.
Cam Shea has worked at IGN since before the before times, and has played more Breath of the Wild than just about any other game. He also loves CCGs and when he’s not playing games he’s mixing records.