Ravnica Allegiance key Cards and Looking Ahead at RNA Standard

Welcome back to another installment of Strictly Standard. Last time as we said goodbye to GRN Standard I promised a look ahead at RNA Standard, and what an exciting peek into a new format is in store! Without a rotation to shake things up, there will not be a winners // losers series, but I have plenty of predictions (both reasonable and way out there)!

First I’d like to start with a quick breakdown of the guilds we get in Ravnica Allegiance.

Kicking things off is the guild of law and order, the Azorius Senate.  Bringing us the powerful control answers of Blue and the solid lockdown answers from White, the Azorius give balance to Ravnica.  And usually to the standard formats that they operate in as well. With Ravnica Allegiance, the Azorius see a new leader in the Planeswalker Dovin Baan usurp control of the guild in a coup let by Nicol Bolas.

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Next up we look at the Simic Combine.  A guild built around the synergy of natural elements brought by the colors Blue and Green, the Simic Combine is famous for it’s mutants, experiments, and evolution.  Creating large, game swinging creatures over the course of a few turns can give Simic decks out-of-nowhere answers and very powerful closers for what usually turns out be be below-rate. The Simic are led by a newcomer from within the ranks, Prime Speaker Vannifar, who has sided her guild with the Gatewatch in the fight against Bolas.

The Gruul Clans are known for taking the opposite from nature. Harnessing the raw unruly power of chaos within the elements that Red and Green can bring, the Gruul do one thing. Smash. Face. And they don’t let up until EVERYTHING has been smashed. A Gruul deck for Standard means mid-range with big powerful game ending threats that are difficult to answer. This time around, the Gruul also have a new leader in Planeswalker Domri Rade, also a plant by Nicol Bolas.

The Cult of Rakdos are the wicked tricksters, devils, and demons of Ravnica. They thrive on the pure unbridled fury and destruction that Red and Black bring to the table. A typical Rakdos deck in Standard is as hard core aggro as they come, trying to get the other decks dead before they can get to their splashy big game cards. The man (or more accurately Devil) himself Rakdos retains control of his guild and is on the side of the Gatewatch in the battle for Ravnica.

The Orzhov Syndicate is the guild of taxes and tribute.  Bringing with them White’s dominating and game-state shifting effects and Black’s value for sacrifice, the Orzhov guild usually represents an archetype of midrange-control for Standard, leveraging a slew of value cards that serve multiple purposes or create additional value for the long-game, Orzhov decks have a sneaky way of turning a match in their favor and never letting go.  The Orzhov are yet another of the guilds to have their leader removed and a new Planeswalker under Nicol Bolas’ control planted at the top.  Kaya (formerly of Ghost Assassin fame) has shown up to lead the Orzhov at the beck and call of the plot master Bolas.

Now that we know a little bit about the guilds themselves, I would like to review a few of the cards that I think will be most impactful for this expanding Standard format.  While Planeswalker cards are typically game impacting from the moment they hit the board, these three new additions to the Superfriend stable all appear underwhelming at first glance.  There really isn’t an archetype for them, aside from Domri, Chaos Bringer in a Gruul Monsters shell.  This is possibly what the Dinosaurs deck needed to catch back up after spending the early game trying to ramp into their massive top end.  I mean who can argue with HASTY DINO’s!!!

Getting to the real All-stars, it would be foolish to not come right out and say that the true spotlight belongs to Hallowed Fountain, Breeding Pool, Stomping Ground, Blood Crypt, and Godless Shrine.  The perfect mana that these Shocklands provide along side the Check Lands from Ixalan and Dominaria mean that decks are able to do many more powerful things without sacrificing consistency.

Speaking of powerful things, the removal in this set is REAL.  From a 4-mana wrath (literally this time) to a new version of versatile targeted removal, both control decks AND midrange creature decks get new tools to deal with the menacing aggro decks, and vice-versa.  Kaya’s Wrath is the long awaited come-back of the 4-mana wrath that players have been asking for.  Sure, it’s mana cost is quite prohibitive outside of a base-Orzhov shell, but don’t underestimate the ability to reset the board on turn 4 against the ultra fast Mono-Red and White Weenie decks that dominated GRN Standard.  Bedevil is basically the same card as Hero’s Downfall, which dominated it’s time in Theros Standard, with a slightly harder casting cost but upgrading to also remove troublesome artifacts.  This card will definitely see play in modern.  Another targeted removal spell that is coming back to Standard is Mortify. Instant speed removal with versatility is ALWAYS a good idea.  Did someone say reprints (or at least reprinted effects)? Deputy of Detention has the Detention Sphere text stapled on to a decently sized body at 1/3.  Detention Sphere was also a format defining card back in Return to Ravnica Standard so even though the card type Creature is generally more vulnerable than Enchantment, there is no reason to think that this won’t see play in Azorius based control decks.  An honorable mention in the removal category has to go to Carnival // Carnage.  With the high number of 1-toughness creatures being played in the two of the top strategies coming into this new format, being able to pick off your opponent’s turn 1 or even 2 play with Carnival while also getting in chip damage is something to seriously take note of. And on the other half, Carnage is just the card Blightning at a fair rate. While it might be too narrow to main deck, this is something that should hold at least 2 sideboard slots in any Rakdos based decks.

Moving on to the most impactful Creature cards, I have a feeling that most conversations will start and stop at Prime Speaker Vannifar. This Birthing Pod on a stick will be the value engine for many archetypes that look to get use out of both creatures entering the battlefield as well as creatures being sacrificed. I did say that Simic was the guild of evolution, and what better way to punctuate that than by literally turning your 1-drop into a 2-drop into a 3-drop into a 4-drop… Well, you get the picture.  Another great creature to keep an eye on is Skarrgan Hellkite. 5-mana 4/4 Dragons with haste have ALWAYS been good, so it’s not unreasonable to think that this guy can provide the late game punch that the smaller red decks need. A couple not as flashy but still really good cards that I think will serve as roller players if nothing more are Incubation Druid, Lavinia, Azorius Renegade, Gruul Spellbreaker, and Frilled Mystic. From getting Black Lotus on a stick to being able to force control decks to play at sorcery speed, getting an unconditional Spell Queller or simply presenting a must answer card that shuts off Nexus off Fate (at least for the first 7 turns…) these 4 cards represent some very powerful strategies that just need to find a home.

Moving on to the last category, these are what I believe will be the most impactful spells that come out of Ravnica Allegiance. Absorb is one of those cards that feels right on rate but just might end up being too slow for wide spread adoption outside of Standard. 3-mana counters just don’t cut it sometimes. A card that definitely does it’s job well on the other hand is Skewer the Critics. 3 damage for 1 Mana? Sign me up! This card is slotting in to Modern Burn without doubt and the power level is there to make it a solid player for Standard as well. Growth Spiral is one of the better ramp spells we’ve seen printed in a long time. I think big Simic based decks splashing Red it Black are going to have a field day getting ahead on mana with this card.  I also foresee it making a splash in Modern.  Rhythm of the Wild is one of those cards that seem innocuous at first, but it only takes a few times playing with it too say “Oh, this is the real deal.” Giving every creature you cast Haste is just nutty. But just in case you didn’t want to aggro your opponent out, there are a million ways to abuse putting +1/+1 counters on things, and this just happens for free.  In the honorable mention class, Electrodominance is very hard to evaluate when it comes to Standard. Free spells are ALWAYS dangerous territory, but there’s not really much that can be abused here. It’s not like we have access to Restore Balance or Living End or (bestill my beating heart) Ancestral Vision for the ultimate in shenanigans so really this isn’t going to be pulling much more weight that “tack on a couple extra points of damage to this other spell.” Except it’s at instant speed witch can REALLY screw with combat math when you’ve essentially given every creature ever printed Flash for an extra RR.

Moving on to what I’m sure most of you skipped ahead to see, IT’S PREDICTION TIME.

Prediction 1: Shards and Wedges reign Supreme

My first thought when I realized we could have the same perfect mana base as Gatecrash Standard was to check back at tournament results from that era to see what kinds of decks were being played. All 8 of the top-8 competitors from Pro Tour Gatecrash were playing 3 color decks, which represented 6 unique archetypes.  I think we are heading towards the same fate in RNA.

Prediction #2: Teferi is a 4-of in all 8 decks at the first Standard GP (Memphis Feb 15)

It might be cheating a little bit that this tournament doesn’t happen until 3 weeks after the set drops, so SCG results and the Online metagame will have given some clues as to how the format is shaping up. This doesn’t change the fact that Teferi is way OP and the correct builds of Esper, Jeskai, and Bant will get figured out by then.  Teferi will be there, and the control decks will have figured out how to address the meta.

Prediction #3: 5-Color Superfriends is a viable strategy

This could end up being more of a 5-color good stuff deck rather than Superfriends, but with 10 Shock lands and 10 Check Lands together, the sky is the limit (but I expect solid tier-2 FNM type performance).  Combining Teferi, Hero of Dominaria with Vraska, Relic Seeker AND Vraska, Golgari Queen was a stretch until we got the missing 5 Shocklands to smooth out the mana base.  Throw in some Vivien Reid and Ral, Izzet Viceroy with a splash of Karn, Scion of Urza and you have a powerful onslaught of Planeswalkers that will make things difficult for aggro and midrange strategies to overcome.

Prediction #4: There are more copies of RNA cards in the modern decks than in the Standard decks for the top-8 of SCG Baltimore on Feb 2.

PSA: Skewer the Critics is going to make up half of those RNA cards.

Prime Speaker Vannifar will be a strong 2nd as a “new” archetype pops up (aka the stalwart Birthing Pod players bring back their old decks).  Then Growth Spiral, Bedevil, and Absorb will round out the new addition to Magic’s most popular competitive format.

Prediction #5: Aggro wins the early tournament

Perhaps the boldest of these predictions, the best week-1 deck will be an aggro deck.  I know, it sounds crazy, but I really have a feeling about this.  And what better place to start for a “new” (but not too new) format than with the deck that won the last format?  Because we now have access to Hallowed Fountain, for week 1 I plan on running out an Azorius Weenies deck.

Modeled after the mainstay aggro deck of GRN Standard after taking down Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, this Azorius Weenies list leans on the fast and resilient threats that the White Weenies package provides, this deck Opts to splash into Blue and take a page out the playbook from the Mono-Blue Tempo deck from last season as well.  Getting an additional evasive threat in Mist-Cloaked Herald as well as a card advantage engine in Curious Obsession, I feel like this could be the direction that this archetype heads as RNA Standard plays out.  I also like the flexibility in both protecting your gameplan while also answering your opponents plan that the cards like Negate and Absorb provide .

Even though I am starting this Standard season out on a guild based aggro deck, I am certain when the early strategies give way to more powerful decks, that we will have pure Gold on our hands with 3-color archetypes dominating the top tables.  And given the nature of “perfect mana” that comes from all 10 Shock Lands and all 10 Check Lands together, and the overwhelming list of historical evidence supporting this, the only real questions are will Jeskai, Esper, or Grixis be the premier control archetype?  Will Sultai, Jund, or Abzan win out in the Golgari-splashing “x” battle?  And really, just HOW GOOD will the 5-color “good stuff” deck turn out?  I know I’m excited to get out there and brew up some sweet, sweet jank for FNM!

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