The Core Set 2019 card that I've read the most pros rate as the potentially best new tool for Standard is Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, and it's not hard to see why. The card has been compared to Siege Rhino, which has a similar wedge-colored mana cost and similarly strong enter-the-battlefield ability. Siege Rhino was great because its trigger was a source of value that had an impact even when the creature was immediately destroyed, and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager behaves the same way. Discarding a card is different than draining three life, and its raw card advantage is likely much better in some situations, specifically against control and midrange decks where games grind down to a battle of attrition, and worse in others, like in topdeck situations when the opponent has no cards, but it's definitely a very strong effect overall.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager has one less toughness than Siege Rhino, which is troubling against Chandra, Torch of Defiance, but as a Dragon it does dodge Glorybringer. On the plus side, it trades trample with flying, which is the superior ability. The biggest downside is its legendary status, which removes the potential to chain them together to crush the opponent like one could do with Siege Rhino, but the card comes with one massive upside: being able to transform into a card in the running for the most powerful planeswalker ever printed, Nicol Bolas, the Arisen.
The planeswalker Nicol Bolas, the Arisen has a very high starting loyalty of seven, which can quickly grow higher with its +2 ability that draws two cards. This puts its loyalty on par with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, generally considered the most powerful planeswalker in the game. The +2 ability of drawing two cards would alone make the planeswalker a strong card, but it also provides a short path to the ultimate -12 ability that all but decks the opponent in one fell swoop, reminiscent of Jace, the Mind Sculptor's finishing move. Still, it's the -3 and -4 abilities that make Nicol Bolas, the Arisen so strong.The -3 ability deals damage to any creature or planeswalker, essentially a Dreadbore effect, and makes the planeswalker a great source of disruption. Its -4 Reanimates a creature or planeswalker from any graveyard, which adds another threat to play and is likely to put the game out of reach for the opponent. Seven mana to transform into the planeswalker feels like a Bargain, and while I don't think it's the primary use of the card, it gives the deck an amazing late-game that opponents will be hard-pressed to overpower.
The biggest question surrounding Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is how to use it – what deck to put it in. Being forced into Grixis colors makes that a lot easier to answer, but Siege Rhino found itself being played in all variety of Abzan decks, from hyper-aggressive to midrange to control decks, and I imagine Nicol Bolas, the Ravager could be used in much the same way. The discard ability does lend itself to more grindy midrange decks, since it lacks the three-damage finishing power of Siege Rhino harnessed by aggressive decks. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager also thrives in longer games that give it time to transform, which pushes it further towards the control end of the spectrum.
An obvious first place to put Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is in Grixis Energy, which was a top-tier Standard deck for quite a while this past season, and could use the boost the new card will give it, such as this list plus three Bolas.
Grixis Energy conveniently puts Nicol Bolas, the Ravager alongside The Scarab God. The flying creature with an enter-the-battlefield trigger is a great target to be eternalized, even it won't be able to transform. When it does transform, the deck has plenty of great targets for the -4 ability, like Whirler Virtuoso, which is great for protecting the planeswalker with a Thopter, and removal to make the opponent's cards an option. The removal effect of the -3 ability will of course is welcomed in a deck that relies on destroying the opponent's key cards, and the card draw ability will often be the best course of action.
Grixis Energy was once the best deck in Standard, and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager might be exactly what it needs to get back on top. Currently Blue-Black Midrange has been performing very well in the metagame – it just won US Nationals last weekend – and it's very similar to Grixis in its cards and strategy, so the metagame seems primed for Grixis to make a return. One of its staple cards, Whirler Virtuoso, is already back in Jeskai Control, where it protects Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and it will be a great in Grixis as a value creature to follow-up with another, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager should perform very well in true control decks, which will be able to more consistently transform it compared to decks that play a shorter game. Currently, non-Teferi, Hero of Dominaria control decks like Blue-Black usually use Torrential Gearhulk and The Scarab God as finishers, and I could see Nicol Bolas, the Ravager fitting right into that package. It's a source of value, and its body demands an answer, so it clears the way for the bigger threats that will follow it, such as this deck where three Bolas makes sense.
Control has also gained a new tool from Core Set 2019 in Anticipate, which was a staple of blue control back when it was Standard-legal during the Khans of Tarkir era, and I imagine will be playable now. It happens to be great with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, because it can be cast off the two untapped lands, and simply helps dig for the planeswalker. It will perform the similar role of digging for Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, or for the mana needed to cast it.
One card I'd really like to see Nicol Bolas, the Ravager alongside is Goblin Chainwhirler. Such a value-packed curve of creatures covers all the bases and seems like an incredibly strong core of a deck if the mana can be made to work. With so many strong dual lands, a mana base can be built that is essentially Mono-Red "splashing" into Grixis for the full four Bolas.
When testing, I considered the possibility of splashing into blue like the old Mardu Vehicles decks, to gain access to counters. It would also give the deck access to The Scarab God, a tool that would be as strong in the strategy as it is in any other in Standard. While I dismissed the idea as being impractical and unnecessary, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager gives us incentive to at least try it out. The idea is that this deck is already taking a more midrange approach than Mono-Red, especially after sideboard, and this deck takes that a step further by completely embracing the midrange gameplan, which is bolstered by the splashes.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is interesting because its legendary status does have some benefits, like enabling Mox Amber, for example, or what I'm most curious about, enabling Dominaria's legendary sorceries. These cards are quite powerful and would be heavily played if they didn't have a legendary requirement, but if there are enough strong legendary creatures that you want to play, eventually there becomes incentive to go the extra mile and play enough to properly support them. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is a legendary that one makes no sacrifices to play, and would make a great base for deck that wants to play these. I think the best is Yawgmoth's Vile Offering, because it's incredibly powerful and efficient, especially because there are four Nicol Bolas, the Ravager as a great target to be reanimated by it.
Red provides the legendaries Kari Zev, Skyship Raider and Pia Nalaar, which forms a tournament-tested package of creatures that will work well supporting Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and supporting Yawgmoth's Vile Offering. They are also aggressive creatures that will draw removal and get into combat, so they provide decent bodies to Reanimate with Yawgmoth's Vile Offering. The colors offer a ton of great removal, which is important for helping to enable Yawgmoth's Vile Offering, and the package will need to adapt depending on how the metagame develops. The idea definitely needs some work, but I think there's something there.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is also quite the powerful commander, and it seems particularly well-suited for Brawl, where it's cheap cost and flexibility makes it a better option than the Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh that Grixis decks use currently. It's perfectly suited for the control strategy of these decks,and having access to a 4/4 flying body will help round out the strategy and allow it be more aggressive when there is opportunity, and having access to a blocker can be great for helping to control the board. That said, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager does open up more avenues, like an aggressive shell that uses the creature near the top of its curve, or a midrange deck that uses it in the middle. Here's a Grixis Energy-inspired version, which also makes great uses of the Legendary sorceries because it has consistent access to a legendary creature in Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.
What's your Nicol Bolas, the Ravager brew?