Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?
Fair Magic can be a pretty polarising topic – a wide proportion of the player base enjoy doing broken, degenerate things while the rest of us just want our Supreme Verdicts and Lilianas to resolve. Lavinia, Azorius Renegade is a huge addition to the arsenal of anyone looking to play fair – I'm sure I'm not the only one to be welcoming her to the card pool with open arms. Today, we're going to discuss the implications of Lavinia joining us in Ravnica Allegiance across multiple formats.
A slightly-hard-to-cast 2/2 for two. Nice rare you opened there, friendo. Better hope there's a Mortify in the pack.
Lavinia is scarcely set to become a Standard powerhouse. When it comes to her second ability, there are exactly two Standard-legal cards with a converted mana cost of zero – Chamber Sentry and Mox Amber. Given that their converted mana cost is approximately equal to the amount of play they see in Standard and given you're unlikely to want to play a Chamber Sentry for zero anyway, I think we're in the clear here.
As for her first ability, there's the faintest chance she impacts very specific matchups. The only cards that even approach making her first ability relevant are ramp cards such as Llanowar Elves, Gift of Paradise, and Treasure Map. Given Llanowar Elves is usually played in creature-heavy decks, the ability is unlikely to be relevant (although the Elves do sometimes power out planeswalkers like Vraska or Vivien); Gift of Paradise only sees play in weird ramp decks like Turbo Fog and… nope, that's it, just Turbo Fog. It's handy to ramp out a Niv-Mizzet ahead of time with Treasure tokens, but an otherwise irrelevant 2/2 for two against control? Pass.
Finally, a few convoke cards get hit by Lavinia, most notably Conclave Tribunal and March of the Multitudes. But again, as convoke cards tend to be played in creature-heavy decks, a random Grizzly Bear is not where you want to be. There's a chance she may do something against Rakdos' Spectacle cards when their cost is lowered by the ability (for example, Light Up the Stage) – but right now, when it comes to Lavinia in Standard, it's a no from me, dog.
Here's where things start to heat up, however. Lavinia does good work against such a broad percentage of the field that it's not too difficult to imagine her seeing play. The fact that she's a Human, and that Five-Color Humans is still hovering around the top of the format only makes this more likely. Let's investigate just what Lavinia is offering us in Modern, starting with her first ability.
Obviously, the first thought many would have had is how good Lavinia is against Tron. Would that it were so simple! Unfortunately, a closer examination of the card reveals a tragic "noncreature" clause in its first ability. While Lavinia shuts off the turn-three Karn ot turn-four Ugin, that's about all she does. Oblivion Stone is too cheap to be hit, and while All Is Dust sees some play, the fact that she doesn't nail Wurmcoil, Ulamog, and World Breaker is a bit of a bummer. Still, if you're in the market for disabling turn-three Karn (and you should be), Lavinia certainly does that.
Rather than against Tron, Lavinia might instead do some heavy lifting against Storm. Storm can attempt to use Goblin Electromancer on turn three to cast four-drops – Past in Flames, Gifts Ungiven, even Empty the Warrens post-board. Lavinia does a good job against these cards and buying an extra turn against Storm can be huge – especially if you're beating down and pressuring them.
Speaking of applying pressure; if Lavinia sees play in a creature-based deck like Humans, she's going to help to pile on the pressure against White-Blue Control and its playset of Terminus. No longer than a Terminus be cast for its Miracle cost in the early turns – Lavinia emulates Gaddock Teeg in turning off the powerful sweeper there.
There are plenty of other much more specific examples of individual cards that Lavinia hits. When it comes to green decks, there's no more turn-three Collected Company, Chord of Calling is right out, and using Arbor Elf to power out a turn-two Stone Rain in Ponza is off the menu too. Dismember can't be cast until turn three, Phyrexian mana or no. Lavinia also messes with delve cards such as Logic Knot, but critically not Gurmag Angler or Tasigur, the Golden Fang (or Hollow One, for that matter).
What about her second ability? There are quite a number of ways in which spells are cast in Modern without mana being paid. Perhaps the sweetest interaction Lavinia offers is with Spell Queller – if they kill your Queller, the spell under it will be countered by a Lavinia as they don't pay any mana to cast it. It's not difficult to imagine Spell Queller and Lavinia in the same deck, either!
She counters Hollow One when it's cast for zero, although not – importantly – when even one mana is spent on it. Apart from that, suspend cards such as Ancestral Vision, Lotus Bloom or Living End – regardless of whether they're suspended honestly or cascaded into – are also countered, given that mana wasn't paid to cast them (even if it were paid to suspend them). Similarly, Lavinia turns Bloodbraid Elf into a Vulshok Berserker. Sorry, Jund.
There are a handful of zero-cost cards that see play in Modern. Surgical Extraction is usually a virtual zero-drop, but with Lavinia on board opponents will have to pay full retail instead. Actual zero-cost cards include things like Summoner's Pact in Scapeshift and Amulet Titan (a quick aside – Lavinia is ridiculous against bouncelands), Mox Opal and Welding Jar in various Ancient Stirrings decks, Mishra's Bauble, even Pact of Negation and Slaughter Pact. None of these are, by themselves, pillars of the format, however, and neutering them doesn't ever really completely cripple a deck.
The verdict? Lavinia has potential, for sure, but in many instances does the same thing as Gaddock Teeg. Teeg already shuts off Terminus, Karn, Gifts Ungiven, and the like, and has the upside of hitting various X-spells such as Engineered Explosives.
Still, if anything, that's a boon for Lavinia – in Five-Color Humans, she might even be a better option than Gaddock Teeg, especially as she can be cast off Cavern of Souls. While you should expect to see her get tried out in Five-Color Humans, she's not about to break Modern in half – while Lavinia has a lot of game against the format, she's not an instant four-of by any means.
Lavinia certainly has a role to play in Legacy. The cards she hits here are widely played and very relevant, so if there's room for her in a deck like Death and Taxes or Stoneblade, we'll find out very quickly.
Let's talk about Force of Will. An opposing Force of Will becomes Contradict with downside when Lavinia is out and about. The most important thing here, however, is that not only can she be pitched to your own Forces, she doesn't prevent them from being cast. The asymmetry of this effect is highly unusual and may be very important in helping her see play.
Similarly, she hoses opposing Dazes, which is no joke in any blue matchup. Having said that, it's difficult to imagine a deck that wants both Lavinia and Force of Will or Daze, as she doesn't seem like a particularly tempo-oriented card. Still, with her various other applications, we may yet see her do work – time will tell.
Lavinia is threatening to do some very heavy lifting against the various artifact mana of the format. She counters Lion's Eye Diamond, Mox Diamond, Chrome Mox, and Lotus Petal – as an effective walking Chalice for Zero, Lavinia can lock a lot of cards out. The key issue here, however, is that as a two-drop she will often be too late to the party. Most of these zero-drops are cast on turn one, which is obviously too speedy for Lavinia to do anything about.
Additionally, Lavinia really messes with lands like Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors, turning them into bad Wastes when played against non-creature decks. Unfortunately, the Eldrazi decks of Legacy can safely ignore Lavinia, but there's one important tier-one Legacy deck that will have to be careful around her.
Sneak and Show won't be able to go off on turn two with either Lotus Petal or Ancient Tomb, and nor will they be able to cast anything with Omniscience. If you Show and Tell in a Lavinia against your opponent's Omniscience, they're going to have a bad time. As they've just cheated in a ten-mana enchantment that does nothing except for allowing them to discard their hand. Sneak and Show decks can reposition themselves against Lavinia by playing Arcane Artisan in their sideboard, but this card has been on the downturn recently - and not just because around half the current S&S lists are winning with Cunning Wish and Release the Ants.
Ad Nauseam Tendrils doesn't often have four lands in play when it goes off, relying instead on LED, Lotus Petal, and Dark Ritual for mana, so Lavinia can lock them out from a lethal Tendrils. Additionally, there are some weirder decks that Lavinia just nukes from orbit – Goblin Charbelcher and Oops! All Spells are stopped in their tracks, as the total number of lands they play combined is fewer than Lavinia's toughness. Easy game.
The verdict? Much like in Modern, Lavinia can be compared to another hateful two-drop in Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. A lot of the time, Thalia is the superior card, as her ability is much more impactful – nonetheless, perhaps it's worth playing both given how bad legendary creatures are in multiples. Again, don't expect Lavinia to break the format across her knee, but do expect to see her in the sideboard of some decks.
Previews are always exciting and getting cards that are clearly plants for eternal formats only ramps up the hype even further. Even with the smattering of previews we've seen from Guilds of Ravnica, I'm stoked to see what comes of this set – Guilds has been terrific, and there's no reason to think Allegiance won't follow suit!