A lot of the Rares and Mythics have been spoiled at the time I'm writing this, and we aren't that far away from having access to the full spoiler! This article is focused specifically on what I expect Standard Gruul decks to look like. There are a lot of questions right now surrounding Ravnica Allegiance. Will the set create entirely new decks that can be focused around the new guilds?
With Guilds of Ravnica, there were actually good Standard decks that you could play focused on each guild. I thought that was awesome. Now Ravnica Allegiance has a tough task to live up to that, as most of the standout cards are guild-focused. That means the new guilds will end up fighting against the old ones. Certainly, we may see three-color decks as well, that are able to take advantage of three different guilds at the same time. Gruul however, I think will mostly be played as a straight two-color deck.
Aggressive decks tend to want to be focused more on having good mana, as to be able to curve out appropriately. There are actually a number of high-power level Gruul cards that have already been previewed, and one thing is clear, this is a color combination that is very creature focused. The idea is to have the best creatures for your mana investment, and of course green is best known for fatties.
Each of the Ravnica Allegiance Guilds has two Mythics in them, and this is one in Gruul. We knew a Domri was coming, and now we can finally fully absorb what this planeswalker does. First of all, having five loyalty on a four-mana planeswalker is actually a lot. I honestly thought Domri, Chaos Bringer would only come into play with four loyalty just from looking at the abilities. Then I realized that the first ability can be hit or miss depending on how you build your deck.
Ticking Domri, Chaos Bringer up to generate an additional mana is only going to be useful if you have creatures to cast from your hand. This is why we will often see players immediately minus Domri in order to find creatures to play on the following turn. I believe this is going to be the most common sequence, but also means it will be rare you end up with eight loyalty on your planeswalker. The first ability generating you an additional mana is nice, but providing riot is a bid deal as well, as you can double up on riot even if your creature already has it.
So, there are a couple ways you can build a Gruul deck. One is going to be fully focused on being aggressive, with your curve likely stopping at around four mana, though I see more promise in being midrange oriented. Ravager Wurm is the perfect top end play in a Gruul deck, and actually works well alongside Domri, Chaos Bringer. The reason is that Domri enables you to get Ravager Wurm down a turn earlier, and finding Ravager Wurm off Domri, Chaos Bringer ticking down is also quite strong. This is the card I expect we will see at the top of the curve in Gruul decks, though it also must compete with Carnage Tyrant.
In decks that play a high density of creatures, having a creature that can act as a spell is really nice. Ravager Wurm a lot of the time is going to be a removal spell. We see cards like Ravenous Chupacabra seeing lots of play, and Ravager Wurm is essentially a larger version of that in some ways; the fight effect can kill almost all opposing creatures.
We talk about having large creatures for your mana investment, and this is a baseline four-power creature for three mana, though occasionally you will Opt to give it haste with riot. These stats are really good and we rarely see cards like this, and when we do they are rares. Loxodon Smiter is very similar to Gruul Spellbreaker, and that card saw quite a bit of play.
The hexproof on your turn is pure upside. While initially I thought this might not come up that much, if you want to fight an opponent's creature hexproof is really nice to have. Beyond that it gives yourself hexproof, which means protection against Settle the Wreckage. Not needing to play around Settle the Wreckage is a big deal for a deck full of creatures.
This is more or less a fight effect, that works well alongside your larger creatures like Gruul Spellbreaker. The fact that it is never a "dead card" is a big deal. Initially you might think it is better to play a more reliable removal spell like Lava Coil but being able to make the token against control decks is really important. Also, the fact you can use this to deal with an opposing planeswalker is pretty nice. I suspect this will be the number one removal option for Gruul decks moving forward.
Another aggressively costed riot creature. The most important part about Zhur-Taa Goblin is that it is a two-drop and there aren't many two-drops to choose from in Standard with this sort of power level attached. I remember when Watchwolf was printed thinking that Wizards would never print a more powerful two-drop than that, but here we are. Nothing fancy about Zhur-Taa Goblin but the stats are clearly here.
These are cards I don't think are auto includes in your Gruul deck but are definitely worth mentioning and taking into consideration. Skarrgan Hellkite isn't specifically a Gruul card but should fit well alongside what Gruul decks are trying to do, as the gameplan is focused around good creatures. I'm not sure there are better plays at five mana than this, Skarrgan Hellkite reminds me a lot of Stormbreath Dragon and Thundermaw Hellkite, both of which were all-stars in Gruul decks.
Cindervines and Rhythm of the Wild seem more like sideboard cards to me. Rhythm of the Wild will likely only see play if Counterspell heavy control decks are popular, and even then I'm not too sure. Cindervines I like more, as it seems like it could cause a lot of issues if cast on turn two against the right deck. There are even some applications outside of Standard, as this would be good against a deck like Storm in Modern. Cindervines is good at two different things which is why it's good, as blowing up artifacts and enchantments is a useful effect.
Sunder Shaman and Nikiya of the Old Ways are two creatures I'm not sure are quite good enough. Sunder Shaman does stand out as once again for the mana investment we are getting a very big creature. The rest of the text on the card is pure upside, even though destroying an artifact or enchantment and the fact it can only be blocked by one creature may not come up that much. It could be nice alongside Domri Chaos, Bringer because that is a way to give Sunder Shaman haste. The mana cost seems a little prohibitive even for a two-color deck. Nikiya of the Old Ways I don't think is going to be good unless you can make use of the additional mana it provides, but you can't cast Banefire with it in play, which is really awkward.
I am going to take a crack at a list here for a Standard Gruul deck. Of course, this does require looking beyond Ravnica Allegiance, to see what cards already in the format can bring something to the table as well. Here is my take:
There are a lot of cards to consider here. After turn one, arguments that can be made for different creatures. Llanowar Elves is the easiest inclusion though, as it is a way of speeding up what you are doing by a full turn and we don't need much research to know that card fits well in a deck like this. Zhur-Taa Goblin is an easy add on turn two, and I think the other two-drop should be Merfolk Branchwalker, as a way to help hit later land drops.
We already talked about how good Gruul Spellbreaker is, and the other card I have here is Legion Warboss. The upside of being able to play Legion Warboss on turn two off a Llanowar Elves is huge, as we saw when Goblin Rabblemaster was Standard-legal. I'm not completely sure on this one though, as cards like Jadelight Ranger and Thrashing Brontodon are also quite good. There isn't a ton of removal in the deck, so it is possible your Legion Warboss gets brick-walled by opposing blockers.
Playing Domri, Chaos Bringer makes a lot of sense here, though I don't think you want the full four, as drawing multiples is pretty bad. It is important to make sure you have a high density of creatures for Domri, Chaos Bringer to be good, and this deck does that. Rekindling Phoenix is the other four-mana play, as we know that card is good in red midrange decks. I have gone with a split between Lava Coil and Thrash // Threat for removal, as I think having access to both is important.
Looking at the sideboard, there are plenty of good options. I like Ghalta, Primal Hunger as a way to go over the top of other creature-based decks. There are several permanents that are good against control, so it is a matter of choosing the right mix of Experimental Frenzy and additional planeswalkers like Vivien Reid. I have Carnage Tyrant in the sideboard, as there will be times that it is better than your Ravager Wurms, but you do need to be careful about how many six mana plays are in the deck.
I'm looking forward to seeing what Gruul can do, as it is clearly living up to its reputation of having the largest creatures!
Thanks for reading,