In DMU Limited, No One Will Hear You Scream

Well, that’s a lie. Your downstairs neighbors will hear every curse word when you lose to Shivan Devastator yet again, and your cats will likely judge you silently as always. I’ve crammed around thirty DMU limited events, between draft/sealed and the recent Qualifier Play-In. I’ve seen every archetype, marginal playable, and bomb there is to see across the 200+ games I’ve played since the set released on Arena, and I have enjoyed the format quite a bit.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of veritable boogeymen in the format, from the humble common to each frustrating mythic and many cards in-between. You should endeavor to play these whenever it is appropriate, and recognize the threat they pose when your opponents play them instead. I’m Luka “Robot Rallis” Sharaska, and you’re about to level up your game.

10. Wingmantle Chaplain

This card deceives many, and at the worst of times, it can feel underwhelming. However, as many players have seen over the weeks since the release of DMU, the ceiling doesn’t even exist. At one point, I had created a total of 13 birds using this card in a single game. Needless to say, I won that one.

The presence of a defender-tutor at common and some solid filler defenders to hold things down until you can find it means that Wingmantle is often a card that your opponent will see coming, but be hard-pressed to find an answer to. The only major downside to the Chaplain is that you must have the defenders to justify it, and nothing is guaranteed in draft. When your opponent seems to have this card, push hard to try and finish the game before this can take over. When you have this, force trades with your non-defender creatures and commit to keeping your other defenders alive, and you’ll be repaid in full once it resolves. Also, beware the power of Essence Scatter, lest you play a deck full of 0/3s and 1/4s holding out for a cavalry that will never arrive.

9. The Elder Dragon War

Read Ahead is what makes this card miserable to play against. If the 2 damage isn’t good, you can simply skip to a strong rummage effect or just cash it in for a 4/4 dragon. If 2 damage doesn’t sound like a lot, you might be mistaken. At 4 mana, this comes down when a lot of early creatures are just starting to hit the board, and plenty of playable three mana creatures come down with only 2 toughness.

This is the kind of card you can build your entire game plan around when it’s in your opening hand. Sandbag an early creature, let them over-commit to the board, and then get crazy value when this wipes away 1-3 creatures with a bonus 4/4 flier as icing on the cake two turns later. It is almost impossible for this card to “miss,” which is one of the things that made other sagas in previous formats far worse by comparison. Keep in mind, however, that multiple common and uncommon bounce spells exist, and that dragon can often be living on borrowed time if your opponent is playing blue.

8. Sphinx of Clear Skies

To anyone that has played with or against this evasive, hard to kill threat, it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s quite powerful. Ward 2 and 5 toughness make this a card that is difficult to attack into, difficult to remove, and nearly impossible to profitably block.

While all that would be enough to cement it as a frightening creature to see across the table, the real kicker (not the keyword, I’m speaking– you know what I mean) is the card draw. Even if somehow you only have basic islands in play when this hits someone, it will still draw a card, and it only gets significantly better from there. It is astonishing at almost any point in the game, and from almost any position. If you have a combat trick, particularly one of the black and white ones that grants indestructible, it is likely worth saving this creature until you’re able to hold it up, because if it lives, you’re probably going to win the game.

7. Serra Paragon

Despite the fact that I continually make the mistake of assuming this card has lifelink, it still occupies a spot in this top 10 due to the presence of one keyword: Kicker. Even though there are a lot of great 2s and 3s to bring back with this powerhouse of a card, a sizable hidden bonus is getting to kick a cheap card for massive benefit.

I’ve had a game where I cast a kicked Keldon Strike Team from the graveyard three times thanks to the Paragon, which net me 5 power and 3 toughness worth of stats across three bodies without even spending a card each time. The life gain on the back end of the reanimation is an easy-to-overlook bonus, but it has won me games for sure. When you play this card, try to make sure that you cast it only when you can get immediate value. It’s good when behind, stellar at parity, and an absolute beating when you’re ahead.

6. Battlefly Swarm

Magic has seen many variants of 1/1s with deathtouch, flying, and activated abilities. However, many of these cards just didn’t perform well in certain circumstances. The ones without flying can’t attack very profitably into smaller creatures, especially tokens, and the ones without deathtouch simply get outclassed. This card perfectly balances between being a fine aggressive play that is guaranteed to peck in for 2-6 damage over the course of a game, and a valuable board stabilizer against creatures your opponent doesn’t want to lose.

For better or worse, in most games of magic, it will end up trading for something. Unfortunately for you, that will often be the best creature you’re willing to throw at it. Notably, this card has one hard counter: Timely Interference. Avoid that, and this card will treat you very, very well.

5. Meria’s Outrider

This card appears unassuming at first, until you take 5 from it for the first time. Suddenly, your eyes will be opened, but they won’t stay open for long. After all, once they play the second one, you’ll have taken 10 without having been attacked by either creature.

Once, in a best-of-one draft, my opponent played three of these in a row, all for max value, and put me to a humble 5 life without attacking me a single time. Few other cards in the format have such an immediate and powerful impact on the board, and you must respect this card any time your opponent is in red/domain and your life total is low. While the power and toughness might seem tame, damage can add up quickly in DMU, and I’ve lost to this card simply resolving many times. They’re nearly the best curve-topper green/red aggro has outside of rares and mythics.

4. Guardian of New Benalia

At face value, this card appears to be a bit banal, and admittedly it is far worse on defense than it is attacking, but DMU is aggressive, and this card delivers on the promises I’m about to make.

Scry 2 as a tacked on bonus for enlisting means that you’re almost always gonna get a land/spell in your next draw, depending on which you desire. Additionally, the enlist ability enjoys the absurd synergy of its final ability, which lets you trade cards in hand for indestructible. When you get attacked for 5 with this creature and your opponent leaves both cards on top, you’ll feel like the game is borderline unwinnable. Most of your removal spells will often harmlessly hit your graveyard as your opponent cheekily discards a land they didn’t need or spell they couldn’t cast.

Notably, when they discard a card to make it indestructible, Tribute to Urborg and Prayer of Binding can score you an easy 2-for-1. Barring those cards, you had better be the beatdown, otherwise you’re gonna have to fight through every non-essential card in their hand just to beat this one creature.

3. Nemata, Primeval Warden

This is my pick for the most groan-worthy card in the format to play against. Whenever I see one of these hit the stack on my opponent’s side of the board, I just know the game is likely going to go bad unless I remove it immediately. The incremental advantage it earns is absolutely bewildering, and it can easily take over a game after a single trade, removal spell, or combat trick. It has reach just tacked on for free, can even draw cards, and turns off graveyard recursion. Kill it immediately, at nearly any cost.

When you have it, it is often worth sandbagging it until you’re in a position where value is guaranteed. Wait until you can force trades or use a removal spell to at least ensure you’ll get one trigger off this absolute monster. Most of all, remember that the activated ability to pump it costs green mana!

2. Sunbathing Rootwalla

This card may appear humble, but make no mistake, it will end up winning the game a very decent amount of the time. When your opponent trades one of these off for one of your random 2 mana cards, you should feel like you got away with something, because you really did. Most decks can easily get its activated ability up to +3/+3 without much issue, and some decks will be getting the full +5/+5 with enough regularity that this will functionally be a 7/7 during combat. For 2 mana.

Fortunately, the Rootwalla does have some small weaknesses. First, since the activated ability can only be activated once per turn, it is prone to interaction while the ability is on the stack, and this is especially relevant when its controller is on defense. If you’ve studied the format, you know that there are several efficient removal spells both at common and uncommon, from Tribute to Urborg to Lightning Strike to Bite Down and many others that can put it to rest before the ability resolves. Second, you’ll know when your opponent is trying to use it. Are they attacking their Rootwalla into your 4/4? Well, they probably intend to pump if you block. Did they pass with 3 cards in hand after playing nothing? Well, they probably intend to pump if you attack.

Think carefully, and when the time is right, blast that lizard away!

1. Shivan Devastator

This card wears its power level like a badge of honor, quite clearly showing off its ability to kill players out of nowhere upon first read. That doesn’t stop the card from being nearly impossible to predict or play against, as it’s almost always the last spell your opponent will cast, and furthermore often the last spell in the game to be cast at all.

If you know your opponent has this card, you have to treat every potential point of damage as one less mana they have to pump into the Devastator, and even then, you’re not guaranteed to survive. When you have it, treat it like a Fireball. Save it for the moment you’re certain it can push through enough damage to seal the deal, and know that many decks just can’t reasonably deal with a 5/5 flying haste creature until their turn. This card is a clear 9/10 in power level, just stopping short of a perfect 10 due to the fact that it actually can be killed.

What This All Means for the Format

Across my 200+ games I’ve come to believe that aggressive strategies, particularly red/green, are extremely powerful in this format. The presence of excellent combat tricks, multiple utility creatures at common, and multiple cheap red removal spells means that any deck with a decent curve that’s looking to beat down can be trouble for all but the most well-prepared decks. Not only have I played all of the cards above, but I’ve also beaten all of the cards above—mostly with red/green aggro.

Hi, I’m Luka “Robot Rallis” Sharaska (they/them), but most people just call me Robot. I earned my name by having a monotone voice, a mind for calculating odds, and a calm demeanor at nearly all times. Most days, you’ll find me in the gym or creating content for my YouTube channel: Robot Rallis.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.