Ravnica Allegiance is shaping up to be the worst set they've ever designed. And by shaping up, I mean it's essentially already confirmed to be the worst set of all time. Move over, Homelands. Get the hell out of here, The Dark. Get some of this, Prophecy. Ravnica Allegiance is here to take your cake and then throw it on the ground.
Wait a second, how is it possible that Ravnica Allegiance could possibly be the worst set of all time? We're in the modern era of set design and designing around the Ravnica plane is already a proven breadwinner. Surely Ravnica Allegiance will at the very least be a fine, serviceable set, if not an above average one? How could you even believe it's the worst ever?
Easy. They killed them off. She murdered them. They teamed up to eradicate their existence. No crime has ever been more heinous.
It's been said that everything dies and that every good thing must eventually come to an end. But i didn't believe it. Because, you see, they cheated death. They lived on, after death, as ghosts. Yes, they may have been evil, they may have tormented people, forcing them to pay unpayable debts during life and throughout the Afterlife, but they did good things too. They drained and brained. Drained, referring to the two life points they siphoned from the opponent each turn. Brained, referring to the five points of combat damage they doled out. One for each member of the 'Dat.
They took us all on a trip to the D&B. The Drain and Brain. Dave and Busters. Fun for the whole family. Prizes for everyone. They dodged all sorcery speed removal. They interacted favorably with the rules on Whip of Erebos and Goryo's Vengeance. They interacted favorable with the rules of my heart. And that's what matters most.
And now they are no more. And Ravnica Allegiance, or more specially, Kaya is to blame. Or perhaps even Teysa. Where to place the blame gets murky, but the point is that blame needs to be placed because the greatest wrong of our generation was just committed. The Obzedat – my favorite MTG entity and all-around badass collection of ghosts and other paraphernalia – has been eradicated. There is no coming back from that. Nothing can console me. Just let me mourn in peace.
How could they get rid of the Obzedat? Ghost Council of Orzhova was there when I first started playing Magic. All of my decks were black-white decks and that card was in all of them. It was my boo, and I'm not just saying because they were ghosts...okay, fine, I am saying that explicitly because they were ghosts. I loved the Ghost Council, truly, until I discovered a new love many years later. Obzedat, Ghost Council was printed in Gatecrash and it quickly became my favorite card of all time. Its power level was undeniably off the charts, only to be eclipsed by its cool factor, which didn't even register as being chartable in the first place.
I got excited for Obzedat, part three, in Ravnica Allegiance. Would it be as good as Obzedat, Ghost Council? Probably not, because few cards could ever hope to compare to the power of the deezy, but it could still maybe be a solid playable card. But no. It was not to be. And now it will never be.
Think about it. Five elder statesmen, truly benevolent gentlemen in their older years get called to meet by one of their cherished granddaughters. They show up, expecting a nice, friendly visit with someone they care about. Yeah, there's gonna be some politics and money being discussed. Yeah, they're probably extorting people and committing all kinds of crimes against humanity in the name of the Greater Good...their Greater Good. But who doesn't do that? Name one person who doesn't do that, living or dead? I bet you can't. I can't. Let one who is without Extortion and organized crime in their past throw the first stone.
So they show up for a spot of tea with their granddaughter, but she brought a friend to the party. An uninvited guest. And this friend, we'll call her "Kaya" to protect her real identity, Slaughters them all. They are old, fragile and helpless to defend themselves as this cold-blooded murderous killer ends each and every one of them as they cry out for help. They just wanted the love of their granddaughter and instead they tasted the cold steel of eternal eradication from existence. Their shrieks haunt me to this very day, and that haunt trigger won't go off until the day I die.
And I mean, they could kill the Obzedat, that's one thing, but did they have to describe and depict their destruction on the art and flavor of like five cards? There's really no need to rub it in. That's just cruel.
This won't be forgotten. This won't be forgiven. This isn't over.
With that out of the way, I'm here to talk to you about how excited I am for Ravnica Allegiance, which is sure to be a great set! I bet Ravnica Allegiance will be one of the best sets of recent memory! I can't wait to start playing with these wonderful cards! I'm especially excited for the Orzhov cards, since Orzhov is my favorite guild and I'm sure the art and flavor of these Orzhov-centric cards will be exactly what I'm looking for each and every time I pick them up. My opponents don't stand a Ghost of a chance!
Ok, I swear, I'm done for real. In all seriousness, I do think Ravnica Allegiance looks pretty decent so far. Nothing strikes me as over-the-top powerful, which is a good thing. Balanced sets with power spread across the color pie – especially through multicolor card – and good mana to support lots of deck combinations is the key to a successful Standard format.
I'm in a weird spot where the cards that people are going nuts over, like Domri, I don't actually think are that powerful, and I'm more excited for some cards that I haven't seen anyone really talk much about yet. Here are five cards that I think aren't getting the air time they deserve.
Before I jump into Ethereal Absolution (and don't even get me started on the flavor of this card), I want to point out that when I say a card is overlooked, I'm not saying that I think the card is going to be a powerhouse card that dominates the format. I'm saying that currently nobody is really making any fuss about it and I think it has what it takes to see play, and maybe that means as a sideboard card or role player. I'm also not saying that these five cards are the best five cards from the set. Far from it, they are just the cards with the highest delta between how good I think they are and how much value I've seen other people give them.
This is an example of a role player. Curse of Death's Hold at one less mana saw a lot of play in Standard, and I've even played it quite a few times in Modern. Six mana is a lot, but the permanent effect of -1/-1 to your opponent's creatures is one that we have seen be powerful time and time again. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Curse of Death's Hold, and Night of Souls' Betrayal are all cards that have seen a good bit of play that provide a very similar effect, and this card is even unsymmetrical like Elesh Norn, in that it boosts your team and shrinks theirs.
This card is a lights-out, albeit very slow, answer to cards like Legion's Landing, March of the Multitides, and so on. It also plays very kindly with the Orzhov Afterlife mechanic, which has a ton of potential since enters and leaves-the-battlefield triggers on creatures tend to be the defining characteristic that determines how good they will be. It also punishes your opponent's Afterlife cards, which also could be quite relevant.
Maybe this costs one too many mana, and the jump from Curse of Death's Hold's five to this at six is a little too much to Overcome, but then again maybe not and maybe this will be the successor to a long line of cards with this effect that have been good enough to play and good enough to make life a living hell for the opponent.
Addendum is a good mechanic for a card like Precognitive Perception. I keep seeing this notion that this is a waste of an Azorius mechanic because control players don't tap out! Umm...well that's just wrong. Tapping out as a control player is perfectly acceptable and people don't do it nearly enough. If you're going to miss a land drop that you desperately need, it's probably better to cast a main phase draw spell to hit the land and advance your mana base then it is to hold up for a random removal or Counterspell in most cases. Sure, exceptions exist, but so do control decks that don't rely on Counterspells to function.
I actually hate playing countermagic but I love playing control decks. I've had success a number of times with control decks that have zero Counterspells, including Top 8'ing an SCG Invitational once with Esper Control with zero counters. Tap-out control is a real thing, and it was actually arguably the best archetype in the format back during Alara/Zendikar block, and one of my favorite decks of all time. Shaheen Soorani once won a PTQ with this deck, and I know that because he beat me in the Top 8 of that PTQ in the mirror match, like the scum that he is!
Even in counterspell-based control decks, it is often correct to cast spells main phase. If I have seven lands in play to start my turn and a Sinister Sabotage in hand, I'm going to main phase Precognitive Perception to scry three and draw three, which should presumably hit me land eight to also hold open Sinister Sabotage. That's significantly superior to just saying go, casting the Sabotage and not using your other four lands, or end-stepping the draw spell and risking drawing all blanks.
The rate on this card is very good. Tidings is an insanely powerful draw spell at four cards for 3UU, and this card gives you one less but allows for scry three, which I think is an actual upgrade. Plus, it has the option to be cast at instant speed, making it an effective Jace's Ingenuity, which was also a card that saw quite a bit of Constructed play.
I'm actually really surprised that this card isn't getting more hype, because the rate on it is very good and the upside of casting it main phase is also phenomenal, especially in control decks that need to dig for specific answers like a board sweeper or Counterspell.
This card also has the potential to be disgusting in the Turbo Fog strategy along with Wilderness Reclamation. If Wilderness Reclamation ends up being good enough to see play, it will rely on cards like Precognitive Perception to be cast main phase to find action cards to spend the extra mana on. Wildnerness Reclamation will not be good enough to see play without effective ways to dig through the deck and this card is effective at it.
I'm personally excited to build tap-out control decks again and to see what this card can do in them. The only real downside to this card – and it won't be a downside forever – is that it competes at the same mana cost as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and that's tough to Overcome. It's probably not going to be a four-of until Teferi is gone, but it should still see play in small numbers with Teferi strategies and plenty of play in other blue decks.
Cheap Cantrips are at a premium in Standard right now. Cards like Revitalize are seeing play in basically every white control deck as a two-mana cantrip that can also provide a life buffer against aggressive decks. Growth Spiral serves a similar purpose, but it can also ramp you into a turn-four Teferi or turn-three Crackling Drake.
There are so many cards that benefit from spells being cast, like Niv-Mizzet, Parun, Crackling Drake, Enigma Drake, Primal Amulet, Arclight Phoenix and so forth. These decks are always hungry for cheap cantrips that can effectively replace themselves.
In addition to cards that simply benefit from spells being cast, there are also decks like Turbo Fog that rely on a handful of cards that are simply way more powerful than the rest of the cards in the deck. Those decks are just looking for any way possible to get to those important cards. Growth Spiral replaces itself and ramps into being able to cast those payoffs earlier, as well as being able to cast other dig spells like Precognitive Perception ahead of curve.
Explore saw a lot of play in Standard, and still does in Modern. This will, too.
This card would have been better in the last Ravnica format which had a preponderance of multicolor creatures compared to this go-around, thanks to the hybrid mana symbols. However, with great mana thanks to the Dominaria/M19 buddy lands and the Ravnica shock lands, there is no real reason to think 3-4 color decks won't spring up largely based on the generally more powerful multicolor creatures. If that deck can exist, this card will be disgusting in it.
Let's look at why it's so powerful.
It costs two mana. Most anthem effects cost three or four or, in the case of number five on this list, a whopping six mana. Two-mana spells simply fit into the curve significantly better, especially since three mana is generally the sweet spot for playing your best creatures in an aggressive strategy. Creatures on turns two and three, followed by an anthem and another two-drop on turn four is a good-solid curve, whereas having to take turn three off to play an Anthem or having to wait until later in the game to deploy it is far less effective.
It's non-legendary, an artifact and one sided. A lot of these kinds of powerful effects that affect your entire team lately have come attached to legendary permanents, which reduces their effectiveness since you can't stack up on them. This one plays well in multiples, affects only your creatures and comes attached to an artifact instead of a creature, which is a huge benefit in a world where creature removal is abundant and heavily played. Generally speaking, most Anthem effects these days are attached to creatures, so this one dodging most removal is not trivial at all.
Anthems are good. We've seen this fairly recently, even, with cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar's emblem or Always Watching being a huge part of Standard. Even a card like Trostani Discordant has had an impact, even though it costs five mana and is a creature and thus vulnerable to removal. These kinds of effects dominate the combat step in combat-based matchups and can accelerate the clock in matchups where blocking doesn't happen very much.
With Standard being heavily focused on creatures lately, I have a hard time imagining that Anthem effects will stop being good. The only question on this card is if there are enough multicolor creatures to make a functional deck that doesn't rely on this card to be good, but rather uses it to be great.
I'm surprised people aren't going nuts over this card. Phyrexian Arena is one of my top five favorite cards of all time. I played it in every single deck I made until it rotated out of Standard when I first started playing. Even weaker Phyrexian Arena knockoffs like Underworld Connections still dominated Standard when they were legal.
This card isn't as good as Phyrexian Arena, but it still does a pretty good impression.
Recent versions of this "you get an extra card every turn" effect have one huge drawback that Theater of Horrors does not have. Well, for one, they all cost more mana. But that's not exactly what I meant. Compare a card like Vance's Blasting Cannons with Theater of Horrors. Blasting Cannons does not allow you to play lands. Theater of Horrors has no such drawback, and playing extra lands to go with your extra spells is one of the most important aspects of cards like this. It can be tough to get use out of extra spells if you're missing land drops, which will naturally happen some amount of the time. That will happen much less with Theater.
The clause that you must deal your opponent a damage to unlock Theater of Horrors is not a very large drawback. There are a lot of haste creatures, effects like Fanatical Firebrand and Spawn of Mayhem, as well as 16 playable burn spells that go upstairs in Shock, Lightning Strike, Wizard's Lightning, and the new Skewer the Critics. Unlocking Theater of Horrors should not be a problem and then once unlocked you can cast any card that you've exiled with it, not just whichever card you hit off it this turn, which is yet another way that it is superior to options like Vance's Blasting Cannons.
I think it's possible that this is simply the best card from the set, and folks seem to be sleeping on it. I, for one, already got my large popcorn and I'm ready to experience the horror in its entirety.
In the immortal words of Lord Victor Nefarius: "Let the games begin."
- Brian Braun-Duin