Standard's out from under the shadow of Kaladesh and Amonkhet. In hindsight, both of those sets were really good, mostly thanks to their volume of efficient fatties; it's mind-blowing how much worse Mono-Green Aggro is without Rhonas the Indomitable and Heart of Kiran, and cards like those existed in every color.
Week one of Guilds of Ravnica Standard is cause for some excitement. There are lots of decks to unpack, and if the Magic Online PTQ results are proof that the Best Deck everyone was afraid of—mono-red with Experimental Frenzy—can be effectively shut out.
The first Guilds of Ravnica Standard deck I picked up was Esper Control.
The deck looked great, especially against the mono-red/Selesnya metagame I expected from watching Constructed streams on prerelease weekend. True to expectations, I annihilated a Boros deck before finishing the league going 1-3 against Golgari decks. My fear for Guilds of Ravnica Standard—and for all I know, hindsight will show this concern to be unfounded—is that the Golgari cards are a little too good. The decks generate a ton of value, and their threats get around your removal incidentally. In switching from the Boros to the Golgari matchup, Moment of Craving went from being the best card in my deck to my worst possible draw. And by the way, the only way to deal with Carnage Tyrant in the entire 75 is by either trading a Chromium, the Mutable for it or by rigging up a Rube Goldberg machine to dispatch it via The Eldest Reborn, which is an insane pipe dream in the face of the four copies of Duress that each and every Golgari deck will bring in post-sideboarding. The Esper deck attacks lots of matchups well, but when a control deck can't beat the midrange deck of the format, it's got some problems.
Convoke is a fundamentally busted ability, turning your creatures into lands. The way it balances itself, at least in Constructed formats, is that convoke spells typically have two traits:
#1: They cost a lot of mana, encouraging players to commit lots of little creatures to the board to potentially get swept away.
#2 The spells themselves are creatures, so even if they are under-costed, adding them to a board that's presumably already swarming with creatures (because you needed them to pay the convoke cost in the first place) offers negligible benefit; committing a Siege Wurm-type thing to the board will only make the sweeper that your opponent's already priced in to casting better.
There are two convoke cards that saw heavy Standard play: Chord of Calling and Stoke the Flames. Both spells are inexpensive and efficient; the latter isn't a creature and the former is flexible, cheap, and inherently powerful; cheating on mana costs and tutoring, all in one card, is absurd on its face. Their ranks will be joined by Venerated Loxodon and Conclave Tribunal. Venerated Loxodon is cheap and threatening enough to bait an opponent into a sweeper effect earlier than they should cast it, while Conclave Tribunal is another Oblivion Ring-esque catchall that's, on average, even cheaper to cast.
Find // Finality really makes the Golgari decks go. One half, an under-costed Soul Salvage; the other, an over-costed Languish, but put both spells on the same piece of cardboard and you've got a broadly applicable card that can attack multiple archetypes.
A two-mana Soul Salvage probably seems underwhelming, but look at the creatures this deck gets to rebuy:
Plaguecrafter's a neat take on Fleshbag Marauder that's actually castable against control decks. The floor on Fleshbag Marauder is 2B for a sorcery that simply says "discard this card," while the floor for Plaguecrafter is half a Stupor with the added upside of potentially taking out a Planeswalker, which is huge. Between Plaguecrafter and their inability to stretch copies of Assassin's Trophy thin, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria decks look pretty bad, and they'll only get worse if Golgari keeps trending up.
When Kaladesh first dropped, I was pretty critical of Glimmer of Genius, and stayed critical the entire time it was Standard-legal. I feel vindicated for my skepticism, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I was only correct thanks to a technicality. B/R Aggro's sustained run through Standard, its reign as The Best Deck for what felt like an eternity, was unprecedented. W/U Control was alright, but it was better practice to just play Goblin Chainwhirlers instead. Even the existence of Torrential Gearhulk wasn't enough to make Glimmer of Genius playable.
I say all of this because the next Inspiration paradigm-breaking card, Chemister's Insight, looks to continue Glimmer of Genius' trend of looking real nice on paper and not being particularly playable. At a closer look, though, Chemister's Insight's upsides make it a lot more appealing than Glimmer of Genius could've ever hoped to be. Chemister's Insight's synergy with Search for Azcanta (and itself, and every other jump-start card) is real, but both halves of the card require a non-trivial amount of mana. Contextually, the investments don't justify the returns. Four mana's a high bar to clear, even if you're flashing something back. The aggressive decks put pressure on too well.
PSA: Risk Factor and Experimental Frenzy are not a combo. I promise.
Mono-Red Aggro with Experimental Frenzy was pegged as the Standard deck to beat heading into last weekend. Here's what it looks like, for reference:
This isn't the typical mono-red aggro list, but rather one that leans really hard on Experimental Frenzy. And Experimental Frenzy is ludicrous. It's the best card in your deck by several country miles, which seems crazy because on paper it looks like the latest in a long string of weird rare red enchantments that do a weird thing that make games substantially different and not in a compelling way. Experimental Frenzy is not this, and after weighing the upsides and downsides I have no idea why you'd play less than four.
Playing with an Experimental Frenzy on the battlefield is tough to conceptualize. It's a card you have to play with or against to get an accurate feel for how good it actually is. Untapping with an Experimental Frenzy and playing a land and three spells isn't positive variance, it's expectation. This list makes really good use of one piece of tech, Treasure Map, to not only scry away lands for bigger Experimental Frenzy turns, but to also provide lots of mana later on with treasure in order to really go off.
Seeing an extra 3-6 cards every turn also lets you go way down on threats, minimizing the odds you'll get cheesed out in the early game by a swarm of creatures by allowing you to play more one-for-one removal, since you'll be recouping all those early-game trades with Experimental Frenzy.
Leaning this hard on Experimental Frenzy has one fatal drawback: the deck's susceptible to Assassin's Trophy. I still think this is the way to play mono-red; all else equal, Golgari has the edge over Mountains, and I think the metagame data in the weeks to come will bear that out.