This past weekend was the first with Guilds of Ravnica tournament legal. All eyes are on the results of these events, which will serve to clear some of the confusion surrounding new cards by revealing what is working and winning. The set also brought about a rotation, and with Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks now gone, there is a void to be filled, some of which has been filled by older cards that were not quite top-tier before but now have the chance to prove themselves.
Today I will take a look at the metagame of last weekend's paper events and the latest online results so I can identify the Guilds of Ravnica cards that are shaping up to be staples, focusing on those that were not particularly overhyped going into the weekend and have exceeded expectations. I'll also point out the key cards that were already in the card pool but have risen to the level of staple.
One of the top performing decks last weekend was Golgari, which took first in the Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifier.
Assassin's Trophy is an Eternal-level playable that makes the guild very threatening in Standard, where it's the perfect versatile disruption spell for a Jund-like strategy.
One new addition that is really looking like a staple is Plaguecrafter, which is an additional creature in the mold of Ravenous Chupacabra. The upside is it's a mana cheaper and can catch planeswalkers, with the downside of not being able to choose target and of course having to sacrifice, but Golgari decks do have plenty of sacrificial fodder like Llanowar Elves and theeExplore creatures.
Vraska, Golgari Queen
This same fodder is what makes Vraska, Golgari Queen a three-of in this deck. It was surprising to me because the deck doesn't have a ton of fodder or cards like Stitcher's Supplier that it wants to sacrifice and the planeswalker doesn't seem overly powerful, but it turns out that it's just what the deck needs. Jund-style decks take card advantage however they can get it, and with plenty of ways to protect the planeswalker, even turning extra lands into new cards will inevitably win the game. That's to say nothing of its ability to destroy permanents, and the versatile ability to destroy a creature or act as Disenchant effect is nice backup for Assassin's Trophy.
A piece of tech from the PTQ winning sideboard, and a Burgeoning main deck trend, is Wildgrowth Walker, which joins the green explore creatures and sometimes even Seekers' Squire to become a large threat and lifegain engine, like in this Abzan deck from the PTQ top 8:
Wildgrowth Walker's lifegain is very useful in such an aggressive format, and the card acts something like a maindeck hoser against Red aggro, which also struggles with its high toughness. It can be found in all variety of Golgari decks in league decks, including in the sideboard as up to a 4-of.
Making it to the finals of the online PTQ was a Grixis deck, which is enabled because it includes two of GRN's guilds.
This deck is built in the mold of the Grixis Midrange deck of last season, just updated with new cards including a full set of Thief of Sanity
Thief of Sanity
Thief of Sanity immediately stood out on the spoiler as looking like a quality card that draws comparisons to format staple Nightveil Specter. It comes with a much stronger triggered ability, but I wasn't sure if the two-toughness creature would be viable in a metagame full of Shock. It might not be at its best against red decks, but flying over Selesnya's ground-based creatures or pressuring control decks sounds excellent. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner was never great against red decks, but it was still an important part of the Dimir-based midrange decks, and I see Thief of Sanity filling a similar role now. It appears to have been very useful in this Grixis deck, which is full of removal to clear any potential blockers and uses it as a card advantage engine to grind out the opponent. It can also be protected by the Thoughtseize-like effect of Thought Erasure, or even from removal with Spell Pierce or Negate after sideboard. A true blue-based control deck would have even greater ability to protect Thief of Sanity and ride it to victory, which explains why it has also showed up in the sideboard of Esper Control, where it's used to turn the pressure up against other control decks.
Dream Eater was printed directly Into the Void left behind by Torrential Gearhulk, an extremely powerful card that leaves impossible expectations, but Dream Eater appears to at least be holding a candle to the card that at times was a four-of staple and is even a fringe Modern playable. I had big questions about whether or not Dream Eater would prove itself to be playable, but early results are that it is the real deal, judging by the three-of in Andrew Jessup's Grixis Control deck he played to the finals of the SCG Standard Classic last weekend.
In this list, Dream Eater sits on the curve after Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. Both creatures generate value when they enter the battlefield so having them destroyed is not necessarily a loss, but they are also threatening enough that they demand removal. They're an effective package of win conditions for a deck that is happy to out-grind the opponent. This deck also takes advantage of Thought Erasure, which clears the way for the creatures or disrupts the opponent, all while fixing draws with surveil. While it's a Dimir guild card, it's not restricted to blue-black, so I see Dream Eater having a rich future in all sorts of blue decks, like Izzet or Jeskai.
Dimir has a standout common in Notion Rain, a card most comparable to Read the Bones, which was a staple last time it was in Standard. It was a key part of the White-Black Control deck a couple years ago, a tap-out style deck that relied on a wealth of disruption and haymaker sweepers and threats. Jessup's deck is built in the same mold, with minimal Counterspells and plenty of sorcery-speed cards. Notion Rain is the perfect bridge between casting disruption or Search for Azcanta on turn two to setting up casting Vraska's Contempt or Nicol Bolas, the Ravager on turn four. Compared to Chemister's Insight, it has twice the digging power and costs less mana, so it's more mana-efficient and simply better at what it does, which is why it gets the slot in this deck that can't really take advantage of Chemister's Insight's instant speed. Note there are two copies of Notion Rain in the PTQ Grixis Midrange deck, which is even more tap-out than Jessup's.
Ritual of Soot
Ritual of Soot has been putting up big numbers as black control's new sweeper of choice, and it's looking to be a key card for these decks survival such an aggressive metagame.
This aggressive metagame has brought Golden Demise back into the picture as a powerful sweeper against Red's cheap threats and Selesnya's many tokens, so it's coming into its own as a great sideboard card for black control decks as well as Golgari decks, which with enough permanents will sometimes be able to gain the City's Blessing and make the sweeper one-sided.
It's interesting that both of the PTQ finalists had a pair of Golden Demise. They are in the sideboard of the Golgari deck and actually main deck in Grixis Midrange, yet no other player in the top 32 had the card. Cream rises. It's starting to catch on though, as four players had the card in the most recent batch of 5-0 decklists and the pair in Jessup's Grixis sideboard will surely be replicated.
The blue-red color combination entered Guilds of Ravnica without a real identity beyond a supporting role in control decks and a second-tier Wizards deck. The set has brought imbalance to the metagame by only supporting specific color combinations, so it's all but certain by design that Izzet will be a fixture of the new Standard, but it's not exactly clear how. Early results show that the guild is taking inspiration and direction from some of its best new cards, which are in position to define the guild going forward. No card exemplifies this more than Cracking Drake, which is showing up in a wide variety of decklists, all with the common thread of embracing Izzet's spells-matter theme.
Here's the decklist reached the top 8 of the MTGO PTQ with a playset joining Goblin Electromancer in an otherwise all-spell deck.
It would be easy to call this deck Blue-Red Control, which would be the mold it fits in the most, but it's more than that. By using burn as removal like Shock and Lightning Strike instead of Dead Weight and Cast Down, and with its Counterspell as Ionize instead of Sinister Sabotage, this deck can play the gameplan of counter-burn, which is displayed in Modern by Jeskai Control and the game-ending potential of its Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage combination, often with Lightning Helix and Electrolyze in the mix too. Rather than take full control of the game, sometimes the deck will just burn the opponent out first. Key to that is the card advantage these decks can generate, because they convert these extra cards into damage. That helps explain why Crackling Drake will play a big part in that plan in Standard. It's a massive threat for a low cost, but drawing a card means it always ends up ahead against creature removal as it digs a card deeper into the deck. It's just a very strong card, and dare I say comparable to Rogue Refiner.
Expansion // Explosion
Helping this deck finish out the game is a pair of Expansion // Explosion, which I imagine is fun with Goblin Electromancer helping, but no deck makes better use of the new split card than this Jeskai deck that made it all the way to the top 4 of the MTGO PTQ, courtesy of Azor's Gateway.
When Azor's Gateway flips it can generate a ton of mana, which is perfect for funneling into Explosion to draw a ton of cards and deal a ton of damage. I'm skeptical of clunky combos, but this combo appears to be anything but. Azor's Gateway is surprisingly functional in a control deck, and is really nothing more than a Merfolk Looter-like effect. It's comparable to Search for Azcanta in how it filters draws, except actually more powerful, although at the cost of a mana to activate. When it does flip, which it inevitably will in a deck with plenty of varied mana costs, the mana will always be useful, even without Explosion to sink it into it.
Boros has been heavily hyped going into the set release, and all eyes have been on it to see what comes out on top. As it turns out, we haven't seen a ton of hyper aggressive Boros decks, which I and many expected. So far this role has been occupied by Mono-Red, and Boros has taken a decidedly more midrange turn. The most successful Boros deck is Boros Angels, which won the SCG Classic.
As the deck is a bit more midrange than a typical Boros Aggro deck, a key card has been Deafening Clarion.
Deafening Clarion is a sweeper first, which is what earns it a place in Jeskai as a main deck staple in this aggressive metagame, but its second mode of giving creatures lifelink is really at its best in a midrange deck like this Boros Angels, which has creatures that can survive the sweeper like Adanto Vanguard, which can nearly pay for its Indestructibility with the life it will then gain. There's also the option of simply using the lifelink mode, which at times will be game-winning.
The Boros Angels deck isn't really a tribal deck, but it does have Angel synergies because of Lyra Dawnbringer. Its anthem effect has helped elevate Resplendent Angel to a level of staple, and it looks to be a great card post-rotation with potential in a variety of white decks.
An older card that is fun to see in a 5-0 decklist is Heroic Reinforcements.
This staple of M19 Limited might have what it takes in Standard in a token-based Boros deck. It looks great here with a ton of creatures to pump.
A different Boros Tokens used an alternative M19 4-drop, Leonin Warleader, along with a set of Tilonni's Summoner. Talk about getting creative!
Selesnya put up massive results in the SCG Team Event, putting two copies into the finals.
To be fair, the team event structure does make the results murkier, but it's clear that the Selesnya deck performed very well there, and it's earning plenty of league wins online. The deck builds itself to some degree, so there really haven't been a ton of surprises. March of the Multitudes and Venerated Loxodon are the key Convoke payoffs, along with Conclave Tribunal, Emmara, Soul of the Accord is a great enabler, and Trostani Discordant is a solid role-playing two-of.
Flower // Flourish
It is worth pointing out that Flower // Flourish has been a key staple of the deck, providing some early game consistency and late-game power at minimal cost. Last week I ranted about the card and even compared it to Attune with Aether, and it's nice to see that the card is living up to my hopes for it.
It's not in all the Selesnya lists, and the Open winner didn't have any, but finalist Todd Stevens played a set of Thorn Elemental in his deck. I really like how it's a robust creature relative to a deck of mostly flimsy creatures, and it plays well against measures opponents will take against the deck. For example, because of three toughness it survives sweepers like Golden Demise and Fiery Cannonade, and even Deafening Clarion when it's backed by Venerated Loxodon, and I think this sort of diversification is an asset for the deck. It's also strong against control decks because it beats targeted removal, and this combined with the high toughness makes it quite troublesome for red decks, so it seems great to have in the metagame. Where it likely falls short is actually the mirror match, where these attributes aren't particularly relevant.