Guilds of Ravnica spoilers are just getting started, but it's already shaping up to be a very exciting set. It has a lot to live up to, because the the Ravnica plane is one of the most beloved in Magic, and the fact that we're visiting it for the third time is telling. R&D isn't going to hold anything back on this one, and the celebrated reveal of shock land reprints at PAX West last weekend let everyone know that this set would be the real deal.
On Tuesday the first split card of the set was revealed, Status // Statue, one half of which has a hybrid mana cost, and the other a guild mana cost. It's a cool new cycle of cards to be sure, and it already has the potential for serious standard impact. Status, which gives deathtouch to a creature at instant speed, happens to be a disgusting combo with Goblin Chainwhirler, which can gain deathtouch in response to its enter-the-battlefield trigger to deal one deathtouch damage to each of the opponent's creatures, killing them all. If you thought Soul-Scar Mage was dirty with Goblin Chainwhirler, just wait.
Status can be cast for just one black mana, meaning it technically can slot right into the Red-Black Aggro deck. The reality is that rotation will kill the red deck as we know it because it loses most of its staples but it's entirely possible that a new deck in the same colors will still be a big player, perhaps with this little combo lurking inside it. There's also potential for Jund-colored decks with the combo that have access to green mana to turn on the Statue side of the card, even if a splash just for that. The mana is probably a bit unrealistic, but in January when the next set Ravnica Allegiance brings Blood Crypt and Stomping Ground, all bets are off.
For any deck that can cast it, Statue is a good stand-in for Vraska's Contempt. It doesn't touch planeswalkers, but hitting artifacts and enchantments is a big deal, so it has all the makings of a staple. It will be a great removal spell for Golgari decks, which will likely also have a decent creature count to support the Status side of the card, which offers some strong utility even without Goblin Chainwhirler. It's a nice trick that will find plenty of opportunity for value. Its possibilities include being used as pseudo-removal spell on a chump-blocker to take out a bigger creature, or on a small attacker to take out a bigger blocker, or for saving a creature with a toughness boost in combat or from burn. I'm eager to see the rest of the split card cycle, because the first entry is indication that some if not all are destined to be Standard staples.
In addition to the spoilers confirming cycles like shock land reprints and split cards, we've also now gotten a look at the five mechanics of Guilds of Ravnica.
Selesnya's keyword is convoke, a throwback from Ravnica. It's featured on the set's Buy-a-Box promo Impervious Greatwurm. It's a big, fun, splashy card – perfect for the promo – and I am happy to say that I am confident it won't bring any controversy like M19's Buy-a-Box promo Nexus of Fate did. Convoke reduces mana cost, so it's a very powerful constructed effect, just look like Chord of Calling, but we'll need to see some more efficient and useful cards if they are going to make their way to Standard, but I imagine they are on their way.
Whatever convoke cards are spoiled, Emmara, Soul of the Accord will be a great fit with them. It produces tokens when it is tapped, which will fuel convoke, but also happens to work very well when paying for convoke, especially because it's a great way to tap it without entering combat. I expect it will also be quite popular as a Commander and might really shine in Brawl.
Boros gets the new ability mentor, which allows an attacking creature with the ability to put a counter on another attacker with less power. It's the sort of ability that can snowball out of hand because it is a source of tempo and virtual card advantage every turn, so it can take over games when it gets going. It's going to be fun in limited for sure, but it also looks to be pushed for constructed. Limited staples with Mentor are cards like Hammer Dropper, which with high power will constantly find a smaller creature to pump, but an obvious Standard staple with Mentor, Legion Warboss, takes a different approach.
This homage to Goblin Rabblemaster makes a hasty Goblin Token every turn, but instead of being pumped by its tokens when it attacks, Legion Warboss pumps its tokens when it attacks. It's not quite as explosive as Goblin Rabblemaster when facing no resistance from the opponent, but it has the effect of being able to essentially create a 2/2 token instead of a 1/1, which is more raw value and tempo every turn and will be better in many situations. It will be right at home in aggressive red decks, where it has a much higher ceiling than a card like Pia Nalaar, which is set to rotate.
There's definitely potential for other mentor cards to make their way to Standard too if they are powerful and efficiently costed, and one candidate is Boros Challenger. A 2/3 for 2 mana is a competitively-viable rate for a creature with strong abilities, and the mentor ability's potential to grow a one-power creature is valuable. What might push it over the top is its activated ability to pump itself, which also allows it to mentor a larger creature.
Keep in mind that the mentor ability works very well with pump effects that increase the Mentor's power, allowing it to Mentor creatures with higher power than they would be able to otherwise. Equipment will likely be the best way to do this in a Boros deck, so it's time to reevaluate past equipment. Sigiled Sword of Valeron is a nice candidate because it also provides bodies to Mentor, but even Short Sword is a possibility.
Golgari's ability Undergrowth increases the impact of spells and abilities for each creature in its controller's graveyard. It's a straightforward ability that's a perfect thematic fit for the guild. It's an interesting mechanic because of its very high potential power ceiling, which could approach broken in the right deck, as Golgari-centric decks like Dredge have proved. On the other hand, the mechanic has a very low floor, and spells like Necrotic Wound do literally nothing without creatures in the graveyard.
With the right payoffs and the right enablers, undergrowth-driven Golgari decks could be very powerful, but they will need significant support. They are off to a good start, as in theory Necrotic Wound could be even better than Swords to Plowshares in a deck that fills its graveyard consistently, and Moodpark Painter could K.O. the opponent in one shot. These cards will need some great enablers, probably too many to make this sort of deck a reality, so I'd be more focused on finding the Undergrowth cards that don't require many cards to be effective or that at least do something otherwise. I'm thinking back to cards like Traverse the Ulvenwald and Ishkanah, Grafwidow when they were in Standard, which relied on the graveyard but didn't require a deck be completely built around it.
There has been one promising graveyard enabler spoiled, Underrealm Lich. Underrealm Lich replaces every card draw with selecting the best of the top three and milling the rest, which will fill a graveyard while providing quality cards. It's the sort of effect that would be strong in any deck, but best of all in a graveyard deck that gets extra value from the ability. Underrealm Lich will be a great tool for midrange Golgari decks, which are likely to be a player in Standard this fall, and more likely than Golgari decks built completely around Undergrowth.
Five mana for a 4/3 isn't very impressive, but its ability to gain indestructability for no mana certainly is, and is critical for making it playable. The ability makes it reminiscent of The Scarab God in that it can only really be stopped for good by being exiled, and will generate value for each turn it stays in play.
Dimir's new ability surveil is not very flashy compared to the others in the set, but that's not the Dimir way. It's subtle in its power but will be very effective in various applications and well-suited for Constructed. Surveil is essentially just a new scry, but it's significantly more powerful because it puts cards into the graveyard rather than the bottom of the library, which with the right cards can be as good as drawing it. Just like scry, surveil tacks on a bit of card selection value to each spell it's on, and on that merit will make its way to constructed on efficient spells, and might help generate a bit of extra graveyard value in the right decks.
Sinister Sabotage, for example, is effectively a reprint of Dissolve, a former Standard staple, so it will be a staple of blue control decks. It will be even better than Dissolve if the control deck includes any cards that care about the graveyard or generate any sort of graveyard value.
Surveil is cool because it works well with some of the other mechanics in the set. It could help fuel Undergrowth, but an even better pairing for surveil might be with Jump-start, Izzet's new ability and the most flashy and hype-worthy of the set so far, at least in my eyes.
Jump-start is effectively a cross between flashback and retrace, allowing a spell to be cast once from the graveyard if its controller discards a card to replace it. Unlike flashback, it means the card isn't true card advantage, but like retrace it can convert a resource in hand into a more useful one from the graveyard, so it's still a valuable ability.
A simple Jump-start card is Radical Idea, which essentially just cycles itself, but later can be cast from the graveyard to essentially loot a card in hand away for a new one. It might not seem like much, but it's minor value that's a bit worse than Think Twice, a former staple. It starts to get interesting if Jump-start was discarded or milled, making it free value, or if it being cast from the graveyard triggers Prowess or an ability on a card like Murmuring Mystic, which will produce a creature token for every spell cast.
Direct Current probably isn't going to get it done in Constructed but is sure to be a Limited staple. Quasiduplicate, however, creeps into Standard playability and really shows off the power of Jump-start. Jump-start can lead to gameplay patterns where the same card is cast twice over two consecutive turns, and that has the potential to bury an opponent in tempo. If casting a Jump-start card was the best option one turn, there's a good chance it will be the best option the following turn, especially with a card like Quasiduplicate that can proactively make copies of a creature. Starting the game with a two-drop and then copying it on turns three and four would be a pretty strong line of play on the right creature, say Merfolk Mistbinder, and Silvergill Adept provides another great target.
What do you think of Guilds of Ravnica so far? What are your favorite cards? What are you hoping to see?