Well, here we have the preview card that we have all been waiting for: Vraska, Golgari Queen. This is not just any card, we are talking about one of the hallmark cards in Guilds of Ravnica, a black-green planeswalker! We will certainly get into all three abilities and what sort of deck will be able to utilize them the best. We know that there are five different color pairs being supported in Guilds of Ravnica, and it is quite likely that Vraska, Golgari Queen will fit perfectly with the synergies of the Golgari colors.
The first thing I want to point out is she is only four mana. Traditionally three and four-mana planeswalkers have the potential for the highest upside. Once you get to six-mana planeswalkers and beyond it is less likely you can play a lot of them in your deck because of the mana cost, almost regardless of how powerful they are. Since, Vraska, Golgari Queen is a reasonable four-mana investment it becomes realistic to play three or four copies in a single deck.
Of course, you also want the best bang for your buck with planeswalkers, so is the power level is worth the mana investment? The first two abilities on planeswalkers are the ones that we should be paying closest attention to. Even though the emblem here is really sweet, it is always going to be tough to actually get enough loyalty to make that emblem.
The high loyalty is specifically why Vraska, Golgari Queen has such a high power level. Coming into play with four loyalty is about what we would expect when comparing to the top four-mana planeswalkers we have seen like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. However, the fact that we can immediately jump up to six loyalty is huge, and will make Vraska, Golgari Queen very difficult to kill just by attacking her. Going up two loyalty with the first ability is great, and it is a strong ability at that!
Oftentimes drawing cards on a planeswalker is relegated to blue planeswalkers, yet here we have a four-mana planeswalker that both gains life and draws a card! This sounds too good to be true, and in a way it is, because you do need to sacrifice another permanent to do this. However, it is possible to build a deck that doesn't mind sacrificing its own permanents, and that will maximize the power level of Vraska, Golgari Queen.
But Vraska is more than a repetitive source of card advantage, it can also get opposing permanents off the board. Keep in mind we are talking any nonland permanent that costs three or less, so this can include cards like Search for Azcanta. There will certainly be opportunities to immediately use the ability to get the opponent's only threat off the table. You do still have to be a little worried going down to one loyalty against Goblin Chainwhirler decks though.
This is a solid effect that I don't expect to be used quite as much as the plus ability but allows for a lot more flexibility. There will be times where you don't have a permanent you want to sacrifice, and in that case it may make a lot sense to tick down Vraska, Golgari Queen. Many of the commonly played creatures in Standard do cost three or less mana, so the fact that this ability only hits cards with converted mana cost three or less isn't as prohibitive as one might think.
This is a planeswalker that does have the potential to reach its final and ultimate ability fairly quickly. Since we are gaining loyalty in multiples of two, the emblem can be made as early as turn seven, which can lead to immediately winning the game. This particular emblem is one of the most interesting ones we have ever seen. Dealing combat damage to the opponent late in games isn't always easy, but the reward if you are able to is the best one possible – the game simply ends. Golgari colors normally don't have a ton of evasive threats, but all you need is one creature to make its way through.
It is certainly possible to make the emblem and still lose a long game that goes on several more turns, so that is something to be aware of. The upside though is pretty great, so I'm in love with the design here. It reminds me a lot of Vraska the Unseen making Assassin Token capable of ending the game.
While I am excited for all the Guilds, so far the one that has impressed me the most is Golgari. I am not just saying that because I am talking about one of the best planeswalkers we have seen in quite some time, but there are other Guilds of Ravnica cards that stand out in the Golgari Swarm.
Let's start by mentioning one of the cards that has already received a ton of hype, and for good reason: Assassin's Trophy.
Assassin's Trophy is an exceptional removal spell, that will see play across many different formats. It is extremely versatile because it can effectively answer any card the opponent might put on the battlefield. While you do give the opponent a basic land while doing this, we have seen cards like Path to Exile see a ton of play. In Standard, I would expect this to be one of the removal spells given a high priority in black-green decks. Considering Vraska's Contempt already exists, this is a color pair that should have no shortage of removal.
In fact, we are seeing split cards reprinted, and the black/green one also happens to be a solid removal spell: Status // Statue. Expect for both the combat trick part of this card and the removal side to be quite relevant. The removal goes well alongside the card advantage aspect of Vraska, Golgari Queen because it allows you to be able to deal with annoying threats that might be able to attack your planeswalker.
Okay, well I want to put some of these concepts at work, and show what an actual deck may look like. Keep in mind this is a rough sketch, and many of the Guilds of Ravnica cards have not been previewed as of yet. There isn't any known Black-Green deck in Standard that you can easily slot Vraska, Golgari Queen into, simply because of the rotation, and there being so many moving pieces within the format. Here is what I came up with:
This deck is trying to do a few different things, but the main idea is trying to make Vraska, Golgari Queen as strong as possible. This means having permanents that you don't mind sacrificing. When looking at the creature base you will see some creatures that we haven't seen much of before. There is nothing wrong with this, the idea is trying cards out since we are talking about a new Standard format with fewer sets. Doomed Dissenter and Reassembling Skeleton are two cheap creatures that are actively good alongside Vraska, Golgari Queen, as they don't mind hitting the graveyard. The Skeleton can be continuously brought back as needed.
Crucible of Worlds is another spicy piece of technology here, as you can use it to bring back Field of Ruin – or any land sacrificed to your planeswalker, for that matter. There are of course also some more generic creatures that have proven themselves to be solid in these types of midrange strategies. Llanowar Elves remains the best ramp effect in the format and allows you to get your planeswalker into play on turn three.
The explore creatures provide value and help to ensure hitting land drops. Sometimes you will explore into a card like Reassembling Skeleton, which is a card you want to mill into the graveyard. Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar is a win condition that can be returned from the graveyard as well. One of the new additions is Attendant of Vraska. While Attendant of Vraska may have been designed to go alongside the other Vraska in Guilds of Ravnica, Vraska, Regal Gorgon, that card is not close to as powerful or synergistic as Vraska, Golgari Queen. This is a nice source of life gain in a pinch.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a removal suite and that's very important. These creatures aren't going to be that great unless you are able to deal with the opponent's bigger threats. However, it will be difficult for smaller creatures to get past your defenses on the ground. Heartless Pillage is more than just a Mind Rot here – the treasure provides another permanent that can be sacrificed. Ultimately if you can get a planeswalker to stay in play over the course of multiple turns, it should be able to take over the game.
This is one of many directions you can take Vraska, Golgari Queen. I fully expect this to be one of the most high-impact cards in Standard. Any permanent that benefits from going to the graveyard or is expendable is going to be extra good alongside this planeswalker. As of now, Golgari looks to be a guild to be reckoned with in this new Standard format.
Thanks for reading,