Ravnica Allegiance spoiler season has begun, but no matter what is spoiled the new set will have a tremendous impact Standard when it's released on January 25th. From the moment that Guilds of Ravnica was revealed to include shock lands but only five guilds, we've known the next set would bring the remaining five shock lands. It's these shock lands, which are among the very best lands in the game for building a consistent and effective mana base, that are enabling some of the top-tier Standard decks we see now. These shock lands help define what color decks are competitively viable, which helps explain why guilds in Guilds of Ravnica including Golgari, Izzet, and Boros are premier combinations right now.
Of course, these shock lands also come with a ton of other powerful cards in their respective guilds, which is also doing a large part. We can expect Ravnica Allegiance will continue the trend of giving guilds high-quality cards, so in theory the metagame should find a new equilibrium as all guilds will finally be on an even playing field. Guilds of Ravnica guild decks will remain great, so the new guilds won't share the same lopsided opportunity to dominate but some new guilds are going to break out into the top tier while pushing some old guilds aside. The playing field also evens for three-color decks, as now all potential combinations have access to all the shock lands.
Great new cards will do a ton to elevate the remaining guilds to the top, but with only a few cards now spoiled, there's not a ton to go on. Today I'll examine what the five remaining guilds stand to gain Ravnica Allegiance, including how the shock lands and other new tools will help to support existing cards.
The real elephant in the room going into Ravnica Allegiance is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which will finally be united with Hallowed Fountain. If it comes with other quality Azorius cards, with the freshly-spoiled reprint of Absorb being one example, then there's a real possibility that Teferi-based control will become firmly entrenched at the top of the metagame.
We may see the emergence of a strictly two-color Azorius control deck with a rock-solid mana base, but Hallowed Fountain also helps enable some new three-color decks, so there's also the potential for Esper or Bant to rise and supplant Jeskai.
Hallowed Fountain and other new cards could also open the door for more aggressive Azorius decks. After Dominaria released, there was briefly a White-Blue Historic deck in the metagame and it used cards like History of Benalia and Raff Capashen to pressure opponents while backing it up with Counterspells. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is also featured, so it isn't necessarily restricted to just control decks. Lavinia, Azorius Renegade will be a great card for this sort of strategy, or even a more aggressive one. It could even be a missing part of the puzzle for Mox Amber, which has yet to break through but remains one of Standard's most potentially broken cards.
A big reason why Golgari was has been so successful is that its existing support cards from previous sets were so strong – cards like Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger were already Standard staples and they easily transitioned into Golgari, which even offered some graveyard synergies to combine with explore. This excellent green core, which extends to cards like Llanowar Elves and Vivien Reid, mean that the two green guilds in Ravnica Allegiance are very likely to be competitive.
An interesting facet of new shock lands is that they are a huge boon to the tribes of Ixalan - Merfolk, Vampires and even Dinosaurs, so these could finally be elevated to a competitive level. I'm most hopeful about Merfolk, which as a green deck has a strong core of cards to leverage. What's most exciting is how well the tribe uses Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger, both Merfolk, which even synergize with Simic's new keyword ability adapt. The marquee adapt card Zegana, Utopia Speaker directly benefits creatures with +1/+1 counters and is even a Merfolk, so it's tailor-made for the deck. It could also be a good clue about where Merfolk decks want to go, maybe more fully embracing a +1/+1 theme with something like Hadana's Climb.
My favorite Simic card spoiled so far is the new split card Incubation // Incongruity, which has all the makings of a great card. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but when I see it I can't help but be reminded of Abzan Charm, one of my favorite Standard cards ever and a key factor behind the dominance of Abzan in that era. An instant-speed draw two spell and a hard removal spell is definitely more attractive than a relatively weak card selection spell and a removal spell with a huge drawback, but it offers similar versatility in the sense that it can fill the role of a removal spell when necessary, but otherwise helps churn through the deck proactively.
At the very least, Incubation // Incongruity is an upgrade to Commune with Nature because it can be cast for blue mana and because of the second ability. Commune with Nature hasn't been a successful Standard card during its time, but the addition of a second effect means it's really an entirely new card. This sort of removal that leaves behind a 3/3 creature token has been seen before in Pongify and Rapid Hybridization, but the three-mana Beast Within might be a better comparison. A removal spell that gives the opponent a creature isn't ideal, but when answering a troublesome creature like Lyra Dawnbringer – or even Rekindling Phoenix because Incongruity exiles its target – it will still be very effective. It can also be turned on one's own creatures, whether in response to a removal spell to ensure you're still left with a threat, or even to just upgrade a smaller creature.
Incubation // Incongruity requires a deck with a high creature count to be playable, with approximately 21 creatures necessary to be hitting one at least 90% of the time, ideally even more creatures so you can choose between multiple creatures and get the most from the selection effect. Merfolk is the perfect home for the card, as a synergistic creature deck it is high in creatures, but also has some especially powerful ones like Merfolk Mistbinder it wants to dig into. It's also a great fit here because it's a removal spell that doesn't really take the place of a creature. It's a removal spell when needed, but in most situations, it just turns itself into a creature and ensures the deck doesn't miss a step.
Green's quality cards also benefit Gruul, which has already had a pretty solid card spoiled in Gruul Spellbreaker. Haste is an underappreciated effect, and it has been a key factor behind the success of some Gruul decks in the past. The classic example is the Fires of Yavimaya deck, but another memorable example is the "Red-Green Kibler" deck from 2013, which had a curve that included multiple haste creatures like Strangleroot Geist, Hellrider and Thundermaw Hellkite to apply massive pressure. A deck full of creatures with riot has the potential to be very fast and very aggressive and will be very solid if it's backed by proven green staples. It also benefits from red being relatively strong in Standard, so such a deck would also benefit from burn spells like Shock or Lightning Strike.
I am not as hopeful about Dinosaurs as I am about Merfolk, but I could be wrong. Decks with a minor Dinosaur theme saw some success after Guilds of Ravnica in decks that combined Wayward Swordtooth and Experimental Frenzy, often with some more Dinosaur support like Thunderhoof Migration. A more aggressive version with Steel Leaf Champion, which can now be replaced by Gruul Spellbreaker, added Regisaur Alpha and Ghalta, Primal Hunger, which is another combo of sorts. Stomping Grounds is a major addition to any of these decks, but they would also benefit from any new Gruul cards if they are efficient or powerful enough.
Red-black was the best deck in Standard before Guilds of Ravnica, but rotation eliminated much of the support and the motivation to be in black, so red players turned to the more aggressive Mono-Red Aggro version that is still played today. Ravnica Allegiance bringing Blood Crypt replaces Canyon Slough and re-enables the black splash in a deck that requires good dual lands if it is to cast Goblin Chainwhirler. It's also going to bring some quality new Rakdos cards if those already spoiled are any indication of what's to come.
Bedevil is one of the best removal spells printed in years, the best since Hero's Downfall at least. While its double-black cost might be a bit restrictive in a Goblin Chainwhirler deck, it will be very effective in midrange black decks, whether a more midrange deck like Jund or something more controlling like Grixis. I expect we'll see the arrival of a whole new breed of Rakdos midrange decks.
Another great new tool for Rakdos is Rix Maadi Reveler, which with the new spectacle ability has a more powerful alternate cost if the opponent has been damaged, which is made easy by an army of aggressive creatures. These decks will also be quick to empty their hand, making the ability to discard it and draw three cards extremely useful. What makes Rix Maadi Reveler most attractive though is that even as a two-mana play it offers the ability to loot away a card. This effect is strong, like a Tormenting Voice that leaves a 2/2 body in play instead of drawing an extra card, but converting that extra card into a tangible battlefield presence eliminates the downside of spending mana not accomplishing anything.
Orzhov is an interesting guild to approach because compared to other guilds in Standard it seems to have the weakest identity. Vampires will gain Godless Shrine, but I imagine that will be about it, and I can't imagine that's enough to suddenly make it highly competitive. Its best way forward will likely be on the back of its new keyword Afterlife, which essentially makes every creature with it into a Doomed Traveler. It's very simple, but very effective and quite powerful, and also abusable. At worst, Afterlife helps makes creatures robust against removal spells, so it's great for an aggressive deck, but at best it can fuel sacrifice decks and enable all sorts of powerful effects.
"Aristocrats"-style sacrifice decks, a naming convention started with the deck based around Cartel Aristocrat and and Falkenrath Aristocrat that won Pro Tour Gatecrash, would be the perfect home for Afterlife creatures. There are likely to be many more good cards for such a strategy to come, but there are already some nice cards in Standard to consider, including proven staple Midnight Reaper. Elenda, the Dusk Rose could be a big payoff, and even Hunted Witness is a replacement for Doomed Traveler. If we get some strong sacrifice outlets the deck could come together into something competitie.
I'm really curious to see what Guilds of Ravnica guilds will continue to thrive and which will fall off. In theory, everything old could stay relevant and we'll just have a metagame with a ton of new decks viable, but in reality there probably isn't enough room at the table for everyone. I assume that Golgari and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria-based control are the safest bets given their performance over the past few months. While the metagame has been constantly shifting, they've maintained their grip at the top while Boros and Selesnya have had a more tenuous time. Dimir has been nearly entirely absent, and I can't imagine that will change. I think there's also a good chance we'll see a lot more three-color decks emerge, decks like Jund and Sultai and even Mardu. And of course single-color decks like Red Aggro and Blue Tempo could remain factors, and there's even a chance that they'll gain strong new tools. Standard has been great lately, and I expect Ravnica Allegiance will make it even better.