New set releases like Guilds of Ravnica bring a ton of new cards to the table all at once, so it can be quite an overwhelming process to winnow through them and figure out which cards are great and which are the chaff. At the same time, there's nothing that compares to the fun of exploring these new cards and using them to pave the way forward. The path ahead is never murkier than after a Standard rotation, which only adds to the complexity and challenge – but also to the excitement.
These days we have a vibrant community of Magic players around the world talking on social media and creating content, and we go into a frenzy during set releases because there is just so much to discuss. These sources can prove invaluable in the exploratory process of understanding new sets and cards, but it doesn't provide a complete picture. There's so many cards and possibilities that not everything can be thoroughly covered, and hyped cards can steal the spotlight while others are left in the shadows. Today I want to cover some of the cards that have caught my eye for their potential, but that that community has been quiet about.
History shows that whenever there is a marquee cycle of cards like Charms or Guildmages is printed, they tend to be designed as Limited all-stars, but one or two is slated as a Standard staple. When I learned that Guild of Ravnica would have Guildmages, I was eager to figure out which would be best for Constructed, and the clear frontrunner for me is League Guildmage.
League Guildmage's second ability to copy an instant or sorcery looks very powerful on paper, and with efficient removal Shock and Lightning Strike in the format, not to mention the new Lava Coil, along with cheap card draw options like Opt, Warlord's Fury, and Crash Through, I see League Guildmage playing very well. Paying two mana to copy a Shock, for example, will be perfect on-curve for taking down a Steel Leaf Champion, and would of course be great in any situation where it could take down two separate creatures. The repeated value it can generate really makes it feel like a must-kill creature, and those are the kind I want to play in Constructed. Unanswered, it's going to create too much of an advantage in too many situations, and some decks like Mono-Green will struggle to even take it off the table.
League Guildmage has an entire second ability of paying four mana to draw a card, which actually has a rich history on Grizzly Bears-type creatures. A similar ability could be seen very recently on Mystic Archaeologist, which actually saw some competitive sideboard play in control decks for the mirror, and in the past on Azure Mage, which was used in some sideboards in the Caw-Blade era. It's the sort of effect that's situationally strong, so it's very useful to have as an option on a card that I'd be primarily playing for the copy ability. It also helps make League Guildmage a well-rounded card that never goes dead, since when there is nothing to copy it can just draw a card instead.
What could really bring League Guildmage over the top is that it's a Wizard, meaning it has Wizard synergies and fits into Wizard tribal. These decks with cards like Adeliz, the Cinder Wind demand a high spell count that already supports League Guildmage, which provides a more robust and versatile two-drop option than something like Viashino Pyromancer. In my list it joins Dismissive Pyromancer, a Core Set 2019 Wizard that is in position to step up to the plate as a competitive card.
One thing League Guildmage won't be able to do is pay X=1 to copy a Wizard's Lightning. It will have to pay the full X=3 three to copy, for a total of five mana for two copies, but even that sounds pretty powerful for burning out the opponent in the late-game. My true dream is playing League Guildmage in a Grixis deck and copying Duress after sideboard, and Standard might actually have the mana to make that work...
Unlike Return to Ravnica, this visit to the Ravnica plane did not provide us with a cycle of Charms – another example of a cycle of cards designed for Limited play with some making the jump to Standard, but we do have a new cycle to consider, of which I consider Golgari Findbroker the finest member. Creatures with the Regrowth ability have a strong pedigree back to Den Protector and Eternal Witness, but Golgari Findbroker is much more restricted in that it can only target permanents. On the plus side, it comes with an enormous body relative to the mana cost that puts those past creature to shame. Returning a card and adding a real presence to the battlefield means Golgari decks won't miss a beat, which will bury opponents. I've seen Golgari Findbroker scattered in some Golgari graveyard decks, but I really see it as a tremendous tool for midrange decks.
The key to Golgari Findbroker is playing the right supporting cast, since getting something in the graveyard to return won't be as simple as casting a removal spell. Realistically, having something to return consistently on turn four will mean turning to some graveyard enablers, but that seems to be exactly where Golgari is headed this Standard. Glowspore Shaman, for example, is the kind of card that will curve perfectly into Golgari Findbroker by setting up the graveyard with something to return, even if it's just a land. Looking back to what's left after rotation, explore creatures like Jadelight Ranger are perfect for enabling Golgari Findbroker.
Success with Golgari Findbroker will also require skirting around its permanent requirement by playing cards like Ravenous Chupacabra that provide spell-like effects. Best of all will be spell-like permanents that can put themselves in the graveyard, think Seal of Doom, which is why Kraul Harpooner will be fantastic with Golgari Findbroker. I also like the idea of Plaguecrafter, another permanent-as-removal spell, and it can even take out planeswalkers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
I do think there's strong incentive to play all four copies of Golgari Findbroker in decks that include it, since they can return each other to create a chain of value. This is familiar to anyone who has played with Eternal Witness or similar creatures in the past, and it gives these decks a deck a sort of value engine in the late-game that can be difficult to beat.
So far, my exploration of Guilds of Ravnica's underappreciated cards has focused on uncommons, which are understandably easy to miss among the more hyped rares, but I've been surprised that one of the set's mythics has quite literally flown below the radar. Arclight Phoenix is a flying, haste threat that can be reanimated from the graveyard, the newest member of one of Magic's most historic and iconic types of creatures, one that looks to have been pushed to the next level recently with cards like Rekindling Phoenix and now this.
Compared to Rekindling Phoenix, Arclight Phoenix more closely resembles the typical Phoenix that can repeatedly return from the graveyard, like Flamewake Phoenix is doing in Modern in the Hollow One deck, and it threatens to do some degenerate things in Standard in the right deck. It might be most comparable to Vengevine in that it triggers from spells cast, except it requires instant and sorceries instead of creatures. The difficult thing is that it requires playing three cards, not two, so will require dedication to pull off consistently. The payoff, however, is significant, because like the hasty Vengevine, Arclight Phoenix is the sort of threat that will quickly win a game, especially in multiples, and unlike Vengevine it even comes with true evasion. Standard also has quite a lot of tools to set up Arclight Phoenix, whether it be with surveil or cards like Chart a Course and Tormenting Voice.
I could see a few paths forward with Arclight Phoenix. A simple and perhaps the most effective approach is an aggressive red deck full of burn that uses Arclight Phoenix as a finisher. This sort of deck will make the most of Arclight Phoenix's finishing power even as a conventional creature cast from hand, and its late-game potential to grind out the opponent is much-welcomed to the strategy.
Another approach would be a blue-red deck wholly focused on getting Arclight Phoenix to the graveyard and reanimating it, operating as close to a combo deck as possible. Playing blue allows the deck to really max out on spells, including Radical Idea, which is great to discard to the looting spells and helps with hitting three spells in a turn. The key question for this deck is how to finish it out, since just Arclight Phoenix won't be enough to consistently win every game, and the spells in the deck are mostly "air" that don't actually impact the battlefield. The best approach would logically be threats that support Arclight Phoenix's damage plan, so Runaway Steam-Kin is a great place to start. Beyond that, this sort of deck would be the perfect home for Crackling Drake, which thrives in a spell-dense deck.
Firemind's Research in the sideboard seems like a great way to one-up control decks that bring in creature removal, only to lose to the card advantage and damage generated by the enchantment.
What Guilds of Ravnica cards do you think are due to break-out? Share your brews and ideas in the comments!