I have a confession to make:
I'm not that excited about Dominaria.
And I don't mean that in the bah humbug, I'm a scroogey old man who hates fun and nostalgia kind of way. I actually am happy to see a return to the plane that is more closely tied to Magic's history than any other, see the callbacks to days gone by and cards I used to play over a decade ago. I just don't see a lot to get excited about from a competitive standpoint.
Standard right now has some of the best answers it has had in years, so the bar for entry into the format is quite high, and Modern's is even higher. I'll admit that mechanics like sagas and legendary spells are somewhat difficult to evaluate on paper, so I'm going to reserve final judgment until I see them in action (you can find more detailed thoughts on these cards in yesterday's Fact or Fiction), but for now I don't see many cards jumping off the page demanding to be put into decks or have new decks built around them.
Yes, yes, Llanowar Elves is coming back and that's awesome, but I want something more and so far I'm not seeing it.
Of course, that doesn't mean all hope is lost. Finding completely new shells or maximizing the most powerful cards is only one aspect of evaluating a new set, albeit the most exciting. The more arduous but no less rewarding work comes from finding the role players that overperform, potentially elevating archetypes from tier two to tier one and taking advantage of them while the metagame is unprepared.
One card that I think could fit the bill for that role is Knight of Grace. The latest in a long line of White Knight clones, this one is a little less powerful on the surface since hexproof from a color is strictly worse than protection unless you're looking to target your own creature, but for where Standard currently sits I think it will do just fine.
Rivals of Ixalan Standard has been dominated by The Scarab God, which has meant a significant rise in the prevalence of black removal, namely Fatal Push, Vraska's Contempt, and Moment of Craving. Those cards are great at handling early aggressive creatures, but they all fail against Knight of Grace, leaving you with a solid body that is very difficult to remove from the battlefield, since the decks with The Scarab God are light on sweepers.
Previously, white aggressive decks utilized Adanto Vangaurd, a very powerful two-drop that is good against the damage-based removal from red but unfortunately lines up poorly against Moment of Craving, and should you try to pump the card out of Moment's range you run afoul of Vraska's Contempt. But the addition of Knight of Grace puts the opponent in an awkward squeeze where their black removal answers one threat, but moving toward red removal makes you vulnerable to the Vanguard. Yes, there will be times where your opponent has the right removal spell and your cards will look silly, but you'll come out on the right end of the threat-answer paradigm often enough to maintain a sizable advantage.
Here are three potential homes for Knight of Grace. First, W/U Auras.
Slapping auras onto a creature that is invulnerable to most spot removal is an easy way to win games. We've seen it with hexproof creatures for years now, much to the annoyance of Magic players everywhere. It's not fancy, but it wins games so I'm in. Even a single instance of +1/+1 on Knight of Grace helps a lot since it will be able to survive cards like Magma Spray and Shock and attack into Whirler Virtuoso.
Of course, should your opponent be Grixis Energy or some other deck with red removal, it's easy enough to focus your auras on Adanto Vanguard. The squeeze of those two creatures is exacerbated by the auras deck because you get to choose which creature to invest in and make important. They may answer your other creatures easily, but the giant flying one that draws cards will take over the game nonetheless.
Some W/U Auras decks have recently taken to raising the curve with cards like Aetherpshere Harvester and Sram's Expertise, but with Dominaria I think you can go to a more aggressive game plan. Not only does Knight of Grace give you another excellent cheap target for Auras, the new one drop, Dauntless Bodyguard, is a perfect complement to Skymarcher Aspirant and Legion's Landing, since later in the game it also acts as a protection spell for your most important creature.
This deck is now capable of very aggressive starts that immediately force the opponent to react, at which point you can gauge what's left in their hand and go all-in on your best creature to finish the job.
One card that is noticeably absent is Danitha Capashen, Paragon. For an aggressive Auras deck you'd think this would be an auto-include, but with only five cards in the main deck (and two in the sideboard) that it makes cheaper and a body that, while attractive to pump up given keywords, is vulnerable to virtually every removal spell in the format. There may be a way to rebuild the deck in order to go bigger with Danitha, but I don't see that avenue paying off the way a sleek aggressive shell can.
I'm worried about this deck's mana, as I am with any two-color aggressive shell in Standard, but the additions from Dominaria have made the deck much more white-centric, allowing me to shave a dual land that enters the battlefield tapped for the reliability of basic Plains. It's possible that you could go further away from Irrigated Farmland, but I don't want to push too far because blue mana is important in sideboard games when you bring in Negate.
Of course, if you want the best possible mana, you can get rid of the second color entirely and play the Craig Wescoe special:
The main benefit of sticking to white is the very powerful Benalish Marshal. As a three-power creature for three mana, it's somewhat weak to Abrade and Harnessed Lightning, but it's going to be tough to answer with the cheaper black removal, and if it stays on the battlefield for any length of time, combat is going to be a breeze. The fact that it affects all your other creatures, not just Knights, and isn't legendary means maxing out on them isn't a problem and the two Servo generators, Servo Exhibition and Sram's Expertise, are an easy pairing.
Benalish Marshal also benefits from the additional one-drop, giving the deck access to draws where you play three one-drops on the first two turns and follow it up with a creature that is effectively worth six power with three of it having haste. The pairing of Adanto Vanguard and Knight of Grace simply rounds out the threat base as the most efficient two-drops around.
The token theme of this deck also makes it an easy showcase for History of Benalia. Getting a 2/2 vigilance token for three mana isn't a great initial rate, but the total package has a lot of value, especially with twelve other Knights in the deck. Your most explosive draws will end the game on turn 4, but this card can easily end it on turn 5 while offering added resilience to removal. I see games often playing out where the threat of its third trigger forces your opponent to use their removal suboptimally, letting your better threats survive into the midgame and finish them off before they can recover.
Of course, the downside of sticking to only one color is having a relatively weak sideboard. It's mostly different removal spells even though you don't want to bring in too many for any particular matchup, so you're only making minor upgrades in most cases. Dusk is a powerful tool but not great in this exact deck given the number of token generators, but I think it's good to have a way to get through a couple large creatures at once, especially against Sultai Constrictor.
And finally, W/G Aggro:
This is the most powerful shell for Knight of Grace, but also the least natural, because the deck already has a plethora of two-drops. Adorned Pouncer is too good with Appeal to cut and Merfolk Branchwalker is important for hitting additional land drops, so the numbers are fudged to start out and will likely move around some as the new list takes shape, but having another good target for Appeal in the face of removal is great, and the card can reliably crew Aethersphere Harvester against black decks so I think it's worth a shot.
I also particularly like History of Benalia in this list because you're often trying to set up one big turn where Authority clears the way for a game-winning attack. Turn 5 is the perfect turn for that too since it immediately follows Sram's Expertise. Having a powerful white three-drop also lets the deck cut Jadelight Ranger, which while powerful is very awkward on the mana. By reducing green to a splash color, I'm able to move to a much more consistent manabase with eighteen white sources and fourteen green, just enough to reasonably cast Carnage Tyrant in sideboard games against control decks.
I'd love to incorporate Fall of the Thran into these decks because Armageddon is among my favorite cards ever, but six mana just seems too pricy to me. I'm trying to end the game on turn 5 or 6 before Torrential Gearhulk rears its ugly head or The Scarab God starts making a horde of Zombies. Maybe there's something with Chandra, Torch of Defiance to let you recover faster from the sweeper and potentially activate Scavenger Grounds before any lands start returning, but that's a brew for another day.
I'm optimistic that Dominaria will yield some cards that do more than update existing archetypes and really shake the stranglehold The Scarab God has on the format, but it's only one set, and it's rare that we see a single set reshape a format. That said, the move toward single-set blocks will likely result in more powerful sets overall, since nothing needs to be held back for the sequel sets, so I'm wondering if we're about to shift into a new era of Standard where significant changes happen every three months, which would be an absolute delight.