When Ravnica Allegiance brought balance to the ten guilds in Standard, Izzet fell from the esteemed position it held after Guilds of Ravnica. Last fall, Izzet decks of all stripes filled the metagame and Izzet leader Niv-Mizzet, Parun was arguably the best card in Standard. In recent months the guild has been a shadow of its former self, so it looks to new War of the Spark cards hoping for a change in fortune.
Izzet is headlined by two new planeswalkers: Saheeli, Sublime Artificer and Ral, Storm Conduit. These planeswalkers both provide benefits for casting spells, which continue the spell theme that has defined Izzet since Guilds of Ravnica. There are plenty more spell payoff cards in the set, and it's clear that leveraging this angle is Izzet's most likely way to find an advantage on the competition.
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer naturally draws comparisons to Young Pyromancer, which has a long history of producing tokens for Izzet decks. This new version actually triggers on any noncreature spell, so artifacts, enchantments and even planeswalkers are fair game, but instants and sorceries will do most of the heavy lifting. It meshes well with Izzet's game plan and could fit right into current decks. It would provide a useful new angle of attack for U/R Drakes, which is full of spells to enable it. Saheeli, Sublime Artificer's -2 ability is mostly an afterthought, but it does offer some nice aggressive utility when copying a large creature like Crackling Drake.
Ral, Storm Conduit fits the Izzet theme by dealing damage to the opponent for every instant and sorcery cast. Not being able to hit creatures certainly puts a damper on the planeswalker, but Magic R&D must have concluded this was too powerful. That's a sign that the new Ral might still be quite strong as-is. It has a relatively high starting loyalty for its cost, ticking up to 6 on turn four, which should provide ample opportunity for its controller to untap and protect it. On the other hand, it doesn't have a way to immediately interact with the battlefield, and requires support to be effective, so it's not the kind of planeswalker that will take over the game by itself.
Ral, Storm Conduit has generated some hype because of its combo with Expansion // Explosion. Combining two copies of Expansion with Ral's -2 ability will start a chain reaction creating infinite copies of any spell on the stack, like a Shock to deal infinite damage. Requiring two copies of Expansion // Explosion to combo with Ral makes it worse than a true two-card combo, but it's still a good option for a deck to have. Expansion // Explosion is already a Standard staple and even a four-of in the Temur Reclamation deck, so I don't think it's a stretch to add Ral, Storm Conduit to gain access to the combo. With enough protection Ral will generate significant card and mana advantage with its -2 ability over the course of multiple turns—potentially massive value depending on the size of a spell. Maybe the actual combo with Ral is the Explosion half of the split card, which cast for 10 can be copied to K.O. the opponent.
I'm not sure that Ral Combo is going to take over Standard, but it's worth at least trying a full combo build to see how it performs. Going infinite requires two copies of Expansion // Explosion and a spell to copy, but Doublecast can be substituted for one Expansion, which actually removes the need for a third spell to copy because that combo will simply generate infinite spells and Ral will kill the opponent with ping triggers. Here's how a Ral, Storm Conduit combo deck might look.
One card that exemplifies Izzet's need for spells is Augur of Bolas, which requires a very high density of them to be consistent. Augur of Bolas was a staple in past Standard formats, and a card I currently enjoy playing in the U/B Delver deck in Pauper, where it actually edges out Delver of Secrets as the single most popular creature in the format. A 1/3 body sounds great in this Standard metagame where it's a great blocker against the red and white aggressive decks that are so popular. Green has long had Merfolk Branchwalker to generate quality card advantage from a two-drop, and now blue has its own version. It should become a staple of all variety of blue decks, especially control decks like Esper and new Grixis decks, which will see a resurgence to support Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. Augur of Bolas will also find a home in Izzet decks, where it's a great alternative to its previous best option of Goblin Electromancer. That card has only proven to be a good fit in Arclight Phoenix decks, which has left decks like U/R Drakes without any reasonable two-drop creatures. Now Augur of Bolas can fill the hole.
At first glance I dismissed this as a purely Limited card, but there's a lot to be said for Ral's Outburst, which might join the pantheon of Izzet's marquee spells. A clear homage to Prophetic Bolt, four mana is a bit expensive for Lightning Bolt tacked onto Sleight of Hand, but it's the sort of value that control decks crave. Maybe a more appealing comparison is to Electrolyze, which has seen significant play as a Modern staple.
Standard control decks have a long history of using four-mana card drawing spells to pull ahead of opponents and set themselves up for the late game, like Glimmer of Genius last season and now Chemister's Insight as the current draw spell of choice. Ral's Outburst fills a similar niche, and will help dig into a piece of disruption or the next land drop, but trades a piece of card draw for damage. Assuming this kills a creature or planeswalker, this is superior to raw card draw because it impacts battlefield, essentially "casting" this card for free and providing a built-in mana advantage. This allows control decks to draw cards yet still keep pace with the opponent, the best of both worlds. It's appealing in a metagame where creatures like Goblin Chainwhirler and Benalish Marshall are marquee creatures, and burn is great for helping to contain planeswalkers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. When Ral's Outburst doesn't have something to kill, it can go for the opponent, and that's another appealing aspect of the card. Current Izzet control decks use Expansion // Explosion to deal a killing blow, and extra damage from spells like Ral's Outburst make that job easier.
I see Ral's Outburst playing well in a deck like Grixis, where it's a nice fit into the attrition game plan and will be a nice value play before landing Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, or maybe in a reboot of Jeskai. I do think there's potential for a purely Izzet option, which could use the new Commence the Endgame as a finisher of choice.
Six mana to draw two cards is above rate, but the real payoff of Commence the Endgame is amassing a token, potentially a quite large one. Torrential Gearhulk is still seared into the collective memory of Standard players, and Commence the Endgame will produce similar play patterns. The versatility and immediate two-for-one battlefield impact Torrential Gearhulk provided were unmatched, and Commence the Endgame is neither as versatile nor immediately impactful, but it will be effective for pulling its controller ahead and giving the opponent a sense of hopelessness. Control decks thrive if they can play the entire game at instant speed, and Commence the Endgame allows for that. If Commence the Endgame was a sorcery I would write it off as a fun, flavorful highlight of the amass cycle, which seems to be pushed more for limited and casual play than competitive Standard, but as an instant everything changes.
The most exciting card for all for Izzet might be Finale of Promise. When it was spoiled I heard chatter that it was the perfect enabler for Arclight Phoenix, because Finale of Promise + the two spells it can cast adds up to the three spell necessary to reanimate the bird. Compared to something like Snapcaster Mage, which has become a staple of the Modern U/R Phoenix deck, it offers the same two-for-one value, just in the form of a spell instead of a creature. The synergy with Arclight Phoenix (and Thing in the Ice) is a strong case that it's a better card, but I also think that in general the deck would rather have another card draw spell to keep it digging through the deck than a 2/1 body in play. The deck already plays a good mix of instant and sorcery spells, and with some adjustments like Sleight of Hand over Opt, will be perfectly set up to turn Finale of Promise into a two-for-one. I can see Finale of Promise becoming a staple of the deck as a one- or two-of, just like Snapcaster Mage. I could also see the card being strong enough to warrant playing four and building around, but that would require some changes. Another possibility is that Finale of Promise is a great alternative to Snapcaster Mage in mono-red builds, which are more hungry for the card advantage. Finale of Promise seems quite potent with burn spells, and (for example) targeting Lightning Bolt and Lava Spike to deal 6 damage for three mana seems like a great deal.
Finale of Promise could change the fortunes of Arclight Phoenix in Standard, which early after release was a part of the metagame, but has become mostly an afterthought. Luis Scott-Vargas played it to the Top 8 of the Mythic Championship in February and reminded us it's still a factor, so War of the Spark could be the push it needs to get back under the spotlight.
Standard doesn't have as many great cantrips as Modern, but there are options for getting value from Finale of Promise. Standard does have Opt, and along with Shock as an instant will pair well with Warlord's Fury and Crash Through as sorceries that can be cast from the graveyard for a free card. There's a delicate balance to be struck between card drawing and discard enablers for Arclight Phoenix to succeed, but the tools are there.