We're only one week into Guilds of Ravnica Standard, but if I had to guess I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the format is going to eventually break down into three major pillars: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria control decks at the helm of one pillar, Goblin Chainwhirler aggro/midrange decks making up the second pillar, and History of Benalia aggressive decks taking up the last pillar.
Those are the three most powerful cards in the format, and we're looking at a really small Standard format right now – only five sets deep – which puts more power into the hands of the best cards. However, with Guilds of Ravnica and presumably the next two Ravnica sets being multicolor sets, that should balance things out some over the next year. Powerful multicolor sets and good mana to support them are usually the keys to making sure that we get diverse formats, since the power is plentiful, spread out across colors and easily playable. Khans of Tarkir Standard and Return to Ravnica Standard were arguably the last two great Standard formats and both came at a time with great mana and great multicolor cards. I'm looking forward to it.
In the meantime, I'd buckle in with History of Benalia, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and Goblin Chainwhirler, since none of them are going anywhere.
Outside of those three cards, I think the next best two cards in the format are Karn, Scion of Urza, and Vraska, Relic Seeker, but I'm not sure that either card will find a good home, at least not right away. Karn can slot into a lot of various decks and will surely Sprout up in some places eventually, but the problem with Vraska is that the support from the other green and black cards just isn't there. I think Golgari is the weakest guild in Guilds of Ravnica by a fairly substantial margin, and Assassin's Trophy is not going to be as impressive of a removal spell in Standard as it is in other formats.
Green has two things going for it – raw aggression in the form of Steel-Leaf Champion and Ghalta, Primal Hunger and dodging interaction in the form of Vine Mare and Carnage Tyrant. Unfortunately, that's where green's power entirely lies and unfortunately I don't think that's going to be great in the new format. Settle the Wreckage and Cleansing Nova both completely destroy these cards. Green decks are going to struggle at beating Teferi strategies. I also don't think these green decks are good against red strategies. Goblin Chainwhirler punishes Llanowar Elves and any other one-toughness options like Merfolk Branchwalker and Rekindling Phoenix plays offense and defense both exceptionally well against green stompy decks. I even think the white History of Benalia strategies line up ok against these decks because they can sometimes just go over the top with cards like Lyra Dawnbringer or punch through if they draw multiple History of Benalias.
What made green great in previous Standard formats was that it had insane card advantage engines. Courser of Kruphix and Tireless Tracker dominated games both early and late, and let's not even get into the degeneracy that was Collected Company. CoCo offered the possibilities of mere card advantage, aggression, combo enabling, and defensive value all at once. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Right now, green's source of card advantage is in the form of the explore mechanic, which pales heavily in comparison to those past cards. Bad. Bad at all. It's against the law in 93 countries to even mention explore in the same sentence as Courser of Kruphix or Tireless Tracker. It's really hard for green decks to compete in Standard when they don't have access to competitive card advantage or ramp spells. The only other viable green strategies tend to be green aggro decks that are generally inferior to red aggro decks. Red gets burn spells and haste, while green gets fat creatures that have the distinct pleasure of dying to black removal spells that cost less mana.
To be blunt, I do not think Jadelight Ranger and Merfolk Branchwalker are good cards. When they draw you extra cards, the body is sometimes completely irrelevant or dies to Goblin Chainwhirler and when they don't draw you extra cards, then you're overpaying for an undersized creature that maybe improved your next draw step but is otherwise not worth the mana you invest into it. These cards have the illusion of creating a lot of value, since they offer options, but ultimately they are behind the curve when it comes to power level. I've been trying to play these cards in Standard for half a year now and I'm just simply done with it at this point. It's not that you can't get value out of them or win with these kinds of decks, you just have to work so much harder for it and it's not worth it.
All this is to say that I don't think green decks are going to see much play in Standard once the format develops outside of people splashing the extremely powerful Vraska, Relic Seeker into black decks or splashing for the powerful Selesnya cards into otherwise white History of Benalia strategies.
Black is also a color that isn't represented in the three pillars of Teferi, History, and Chainwhirler, but I don't think it's quite the same as green. Green wants to be the primary color with cards like Llanowar Elves and Steel-Leaf Champion but simply lacks the power to pull it off. Black cards fit perfectly into a support role for midrange or control strategies. Black doesn't offer much in the way of creatures and planeswalkers, but Duress, Arguel's Blood Fast and Vraska's Contempt are all great at what they do and make it easy to pair black with other colors. Knight of Malice also happens to be the perfect foil to History of Benalia, which is not irrelevant.
Keeping in theme with the three pillars of the format, these are the decks I'm interested in working more on.
The two Teferi decks that interest me most are Jeskai Control and Turbo Fog. The first Standard 5-0 Magic Online decklist dump happened a few days ago and nobody managed to 5-0 with Turbo Fog, unfortunately. I would have loved to see a list, as I haven't had a chance to play any with it so far.
There is one huge issue with Turbo Fog as a deck and that issue is that it relies so heavily on Teferi and struggles to win without Teferi. Game one, it's okay to rely on Teferi since most decks aren't equipped to handle it that well. After sideboard, if your opponent has Unmoored Ego or Sorcerous Spyglass, or Vraska's Contempts, Duresses, and The Eldest Reborns or tons of Negates and other counters, winning with Teferi becomes much harder.
For Turbo Fog to be good, it needs to be able to win game one against most of the field very often, and it needs to be able to transition away from Teferi after sideboard against decks that Overload on anti-Teferi hate.
Winning game one is not the same as it was in the last format. The loss of cycle lands is enormous for the consistency of the deck. I think it's important to have access to a lot of card draw to ensure that you never run out of gas. I like Chart a Course and Chemister's Insight and even Divination in small quantities. I actually don't like Search for Azcanta very much, as weird as it may sound. Search is great on turn two, but you usually don't have time to cast it after turn two since you want to be spending all of your mana every turn after that point to cast things like Gift of Paradise, Teferi, and so forth. Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin pairs quite well with Teferi, especially later in the game to lock the opponent out with Nexus of Fate, but I'm not convinced it is necessary. I want to try a list without the card. Even if it ends up being laughably wrong, it's worth testing since I haven't found Azcanta impressive. There are no sacred cows.
I don't think that Carnage Tyrant is good in the sideboard. It doesn't play well against The Eldest Reborn, doesn't match up well against the speed of History of Benalia out of control sideboards and can easily be too slow to be relevant in a game, especially if you miss any land drops. Vine Mare seems way better. It comes down earlier, kills cleanly in four attacks and at worst will often just trade off with a History of Benalia against control. Against black decks, Vine Mare might just be game over. Knight of Autumn also seems great out of the sideboard as a Naturalize that can also just be a sizable threat in matchups where your opponent isn't going to have removal after sideboard. I like that Knight of Autumn also trades evenly with History of Benalia as well.
I'm thinking about something like this.
I don't like Settle the Wreckage in Turbo Fog. It seems like it should be a good card since your opponent wants to push as much damage as they can for situations where you don't have a Fog, which means sending all their creatures into Settle the Wreckage. In reality, it doesn't play out like that very often. Generally what happens is that you spend the early turns drawing cards, casting Gift of Paradises and trying to get Teferi in play. Your opponent spends those turns bashing your face without any resistance. By the time you set up, there's a good chance you'll be in the single-digit life total range. Now, when you hold up for Settle the Wreckage your opponent no longer has to attack you with all of their creatures to present lethal. Casting Settle the Wreckage and then having your opponent still have lethal queued up the following turn means that Settle the Wreckage was nothing more than a four-mana Fog that ramped your opponent. There will be times that it completely ruins your opponent, such as when your life total is roughly equivalent to the power of the creatures they have in play, but more often than not I found it to be a bad and expensive Fog.
The other Teferi deck that interests me is Jeskai Control.
I don't agree with all the card choices in this list, but this is a good framework of how I would want to construct it. I think Settle the Wreckage and Cleansing Nova are both quite good right now and I like that red removal lets you keep pace with your opponent early in the game, which in turn makes cards like Chemister's Insight stronger, because you have time to cast it, and in games where you are flooding on too much removal, you have easy discard fodder to jump-start the spell.
I think Chemister's Insight is way worse in decks like White-Blue Control, because that deck is more reliant on countermagic to deal with opposing cards, and savvy opponents can just time their most important cards on the turn you want to cast Chemister's Insight. You also just have less time to cast expensive card draw spells with less cheap interaction. With a deck like Jeskai that is more focused on removal and less on countermagic, tapping out to draw cards is less of a big deal because handling creatures later is less of an issue.
Expansion // Explosion is an interesting one. Explosion is reminiscent of Sphinx's Revelation, but it does cost one extra mana to get going, which is extremely relevant, and it's not clear that dealing X damage is even better than gaining X life when you're drawing that many cards and just need to survive. Expansion seems fairly weak to me, but it does have some neat interactions in that you can do things like copy your two mana removal spells to double dip or use it as a way to counter opposing counters by turning the copies against the original copy.
I would want to play Jeskai Control with four Teferi, four Chemister's Insight, four Ionize, two Search for Azcanta and then load the rest of the deck up with cheap interaction. I also think Mission Briefing is a way better card than people think, but I'm not sure it will work in Jeskai Control because you need a lot of white and red mana for early interaction, which makes the UU mana cost prohibitive.
Mission Briefing is not Snapcaster Mage, and it's not going to fit into every deck, and it's tough to pair it with cards like Sinister Sabotage due to both cards having UU in their mana cost. What it does offer, however, is that it pairs insanely well with cheap spot removal or Settle the Wreckage to create big advantages, which is exactly what control decks are interested in doing. Being able to surveil two is really strong, especially with jump-start and Search for Azcanta in the format.
I think The Flame of Keld Red with Risk Factor could be really strong. Risk Factor might finally be a punisher card that's good enough. Discarding it to Flame of Keld is quite alright, and cards like Browbeat sucked because your opponent could usually beat one side of Browbeat one time and they always got to pick whichever half mattered less to them. If you get to cast Browbeat over and over again, the punishment adds up pretty quickly to the point where it starts to not really matter which side they take, since they're in serious trouble either way. Drawing multiple Risk Factors in a game could be impossible for midrange or control decks to beat, especially backed up by early pressure. The drawback of this card is that against any aggressively-minded decks you might not have time to cast this card more than once or twice and it might not have enough impact the first few times.
It's certainly possible this card ends up being another bust in a long line of busts, but I think it's naive and foolish to just immediately write this card off simply because other past punisher cards that have given your opponent a choice have been bad. If nothing else, it might be a reasonable sideboard option against slower strategies.
Let's be honest, these are the Chainwhirler decks that are more my speed than going all-in with The Flame of Keld. There is a very good chance that Runaway Steam-Kin is the best card in Guilds of Ravnica. It's a two-drop that grows quickly and is hard to block in combat. Any burn spell also represents a pump spell on the Steam-Kin. Oh yeah, it also generates free mana, which we've learned time and time and time and time and time and time again is something that we should abuse.
Not only is Runaway Steam-Kin a reasonably sized aggressive two-drop, it also allows you to build your deck to abuse powerful expensive cards. Fight with Fire is the perfect example of a card that is a serviceable removal spell on three mana, but game-ending on nine mana. This is the kind of card you can now put into your deck with Runaway Steam-Kin because if you happen to draw six lands with a leveled Steam-Kin or have multiple Steam-Kins you can kick it and win the game, but if you don't, you can just cast it normally and have it be fine.
Siege-Gang Commander is another card that works quite well with Runaway Steam-Kin. It's a serviceable five-drop on its own, but it's great with Steam-Kin, who allows it to threaten the activation of the ability even on the turn it is cast.
Personally, I'm really interested in the idea of playing Jaya Ballard, Runaway Steam-Kin and Fight with Fire all in the same midrange red shell. I think Jaya Ballard is a good card that was overshadowed by the absurd red cards in the previous format like Glorybringer, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Hazoret. It still has to compete now with cards like Siege-Gang Commander and Demanding Dragon, but those are less lopsided fights (with fire).
A Steam-Kin with three counters on it or a Jaya Ballard both allow a kicked Fight with Fire with only six lands in play. Fight with Fire's front side also costs three, which is conveniently how much mana Runaway Steam-Kin makes and how much mana Jaya Ballard's +1 ability generates. Free spells are nice.
Both of these decks look great to me. I think Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice is a phenomenal card and hasn't gotten much hype. It survives a lot of commonly played removal spells thanks to 5 toughness and that Legendary typeline against Cast Down, and it completely dominates combat thanks to having mentor itself while also favorably interacting with other mentor creatures you control. It's also great against Settle the Wreckage, by allowing you to pump and send in single creatures to play around Settle the Wreckage while the vigilance it offers to white creatures also plays conveniently around Seal Away as well.
That second list is really interesting to me. Maindecking sweepers in your almost entirely creature deck is a rarity, but in this case a surprisingly high number of the creatures survive it. Even Resplendent Angel – the creature most obviously painful to run alongside Deafening Clarion – doesn't die to it if there is a Lyra Dawnbringer in play. Also, you probably don't need the sweeper if you have Lyra Dawnbringer and Resplendent Angel both in play, but who's counting.
Deafening Clarion can also just provide lifelink if needed, which is a really expensive effect but totally reasonable as an alternate mode and also a way to maybe get a 4/4 Angel out of Resplendent Angel. One last thing to note is that Deafening Clarion plus Adanto Vanguard is a really nice combo where you get to keep your two-drop and gain back most of the life you paid to give it indestructible while hopefully destroying your opponent's entire board state.
I'd likely play at least 25 lands in this deck, since curving out up to a Trostani Discordant is really strong and with 23 lands it's going to be really easy to stall on three lands a lot. The deck also has plenty of mana sinks to make use of extra lands.
I like that this list just plays four copies of all of the best cards – four History of Benalia, four Venerated Loxodon, four Trostani Discordant. Let's go! Goblin Chainwhirler is going to be a problematic card to play against with this deck or any of the other token builds, but I like that this list isn't playing any cards that make you get even extra punished for playing against Chainwhirler, such as Song of Freyalise.
I like this list because I love token strategies and always want them to be good, but my gut is telling me that Green-White Tokens will not be a big player in Standard and we'll be better off running powerhouse cards like History of Benalia alongside cards that are inherently good, like Aurelia over cards that need synergies to work, like Saproling Migration.
This is another deck that I want to be good, but I'm not sure if it will be good. I expected to see a lot of Conclave Cavalier in Standard lists and I'm happy to at least see it in this list. Decks that aren't capable of exiling creatures are going to have a hard time beating the size and value the card generates. It's unfortunate that Lava Coil is a great answer to it, because it's bigger than Chainwhirler, plays offense and defense, doesn't die to Lightning Strike and still generates value even if they line up two cards to kill it. I like that it also punishes sweepers. Deafening Clarion and Ritual of Soot don't kill it and it creates value when destroyed by Cleansing Nova.
I worry that decks like this have the same flaw that Turbo Fog has. This deck is going to do some great things when it draws History of Benalia often, but what about the games where it doesn't draw History of Benalia or the mana is awkward or you have too many 2/2's for two in scenarios where they aren't good?
This might be another scenario where abandoning the synergy-driven full on Knight theme and instead playing just the best handful of knights, like Knight of Grace and Knight of Malice and then replacing the other cards with more abstractly powerful options like Vraska, Relic Seeker might just result in a stronger deck overall.
Out of the three cards that I think will define the format--Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Goblin Chainwhirler, and History of Benalia – I think History of Benalia is the hardest one to build around because we can't just update the pristinely tuned lists from last format and proceed from there like we can with Teferi and Chainwhirler. There is also a huge amount of variety in how you can build these decks, ranging from aggressive to midrange to more controlling, and you play History in so many different color combinations. Goblin Chainwhirler demands a lot of mountains and therefore restricts the options during deckbuilding in ways History of Benalia does not.
I also think that History of Benalia is the most powerful of the three, and there's a good chance that three months from now when we've had ample time to hone down the best versions of these decks, we'll be looking at a History deck as the best in the format. Right now, these decks are all over the place, have a lot of flaws and there isn't a lot of consensus on how to build them, but that gets hammered out in short order.
- Brian Braun-Duin