In preparation for Guilds of Ravnica entering Standard and four sets (Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation, Kaladesh, and Aether Revolt) simultaneously rotating out, today I am going to discuss ten cards poised to be all-stars in Guilds of Ravnica Standard. If you are an avid Standard player, I recommend holding onto, or acquiring your playset, of every card on this list.
Before I get to the Top 10 list, let's first consider the impact of the five shocklands.
The five shocklands are easily the most defining cards in Standard. I decided it would be too boring to include them in the list as #1, but they are so important to the format that I want to address their impact first before getting to the list. The most important point to consider is that any color combination can be played in post-rotation Standard, but the fact that we only get to start with half the set of shock lands means that for the next few months there will be some deck building restrictions.
Given that we lose the fastland cycle and the cycling land cycle, as well as Aether Hub, it means that all we have left are the ten checklands to go along with the five shocklands. This means that two-color decks that have access to shocklands will have considerably better mana than the other five combinations that do not. The mana is still decent enough for the other five guilds to be viable, but it means you won't be able to cast your more color-intensive spells as easily, such as History of Benalia, and especially not Benalish Marshal or Goblin Chainwhirler.
The Goblin Chainwhirler cycle will only be playable in the guilds with corresponding shock lands, though the mana is good enough to play both guilds together and still run the triple-mana intensive spell if you desire to do so. For instance, Goblin Chainwhirler is playable in Boros, Izzet, or Jeskai as long as the mana base skews heavily toward Red and is only splashing one or both other colors. You still cannot realistically play Goblin Chainwhirler and History of Benalia in the same deck, but you can play Goblin Chainwhirler with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Following this same pattern, you can play Benalish Marshal in base-white Naya or Steel Leaf Champion in base-green Abzan.
Other than the lands, which are the remaining all-stars and why?
Fumigate has been a very important card in W/U Control against the creature decks. Settle the Wreckage is still legal, but it is easier to play around than Fumigate. In the absence of Fumigate, I suspect Cleansing Nova will step up as the sweeper spell that W/U Control will rely on against creature decks. Given that both are five-mana sweepers, I suspect the change won't impact the overall viability of the control archetype. Cleansing Nova is a little worse against creature decks since the life gain is generally more useful than the second mode on Cleansing Nova, but Cleansing Nova may prove useful in certain spots at unlocking a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria from an Ixalan's Binding or whatever.
Speaking of Ixalan's Binding, I suspect it will take the place of Cast Out in most decks, including control decks. It is a little worse that Cast Out since cycling is very useful in a deck reliant on hitting five mana, but it is sufficient since we no longer have Glorybringer or God-Pharaoh's Gift to demand instant speed interaction. Conclave Tribunal may be the removal spell of choice in aggro decks, especially those that can produce tokens, but control decks will likely not find the convoke ability as useful as the second ability on Ixalan's Binding. Control decks also keep Seal Away to deal with early pressure and Baffling End's stock likely goes up with the rotation of some key early removal spells such as Fatal Push, Abrade, and Thopter Arrest. We might start seeing more white decks and more main deck Baffling End, depending on how the metagame shapes up and what else gets printed, but if that happens we might even see the creature decks running Cleansing Nova as a way to wipe out all the opponent's enchantment-based removal spells.
Just being able to use the plus ability each turn to find a creature will quickly bury opponents in much the same way that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria does. You lose Rhonas the Indomitable, but you still have Deathgorge Scavenger, Steel Leaf Champion, Thrashing Brontodon, Vine Mare, and Ghalta, Primal Hunter to find with the plus ability. Flying is also one of green's biggest weaknesses, so being able to not only blow up an Ixalan's Binding or Seal Away but also a Lyra Dawnbringer of Shalai, Voice of Plenty will give green a big edge against the white decks, as much as I hate to admit it.
Speaking of Lyra Dawnbringer and the white decks, with the rotation of Angel of Invention, Regal Caracal, and Crested Sunmare, Lyra Dawnbringer is head and shoulders above every remaining white five-drop. Also with Unlicensed Disintegration rotating, base-red decks are going to have to rely on cards like Fight with Fire to Bring Down the angel, which is a much less maindeck-friendly card than Unlicensed Disintegration.
Not only is Lyra Dawnbringer harder to kill than before, but the competition across the board for five-mana finishers drops drastically. There is no more The Scarab God, no more Glorybringer, no more Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, no more Liliana, Death's Majesty, no more Nissa, Vital Force, no more Verdurous Gearhulk, and no more Torrential Gearhulk. In the absence of all these finishers, Lyra Dawnbringer stands out as one of the best options available. Let's not also forget the synergy between Lyra Dawnbringer and Shalai, Voice of Plenty.
So many red cards are rotating. We lose many of our early creatures such as Bomat Courier, Soul-Scar Mage, and Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. We also lose Ahn-Crop Crasher and Pia Nalaar. But that should not keep Goblin Chainwhirler from still being an all-star that pushes most one-toughness creatures out of the format. You also lose a lot of the late-game support for Goblin Chainwhirler since Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Hazoret the Fervent, and Glorybringer rotate.
Three of the reasons I believe Goblin Chainwhirler will still be a powerhouse:
1.) You keep many of the burn spells, including Shock, Lightning Strike, Fight with Fire, Wizard's Lightning, and also The Flame of Keld and Viashino Pyromancer to enhance the burn-focused strategy
2.) The goblin tribe seems to be gaining some powerful new tools
3.) When Stomping Grounds and Blood Crypt become legal in three months, I expect to see Status / Statue played alongside the goblin as a four mana wrath effect in red-based Jund.
For a lot of the same reasons that Vivien Reid improves, Vraska, Relic Seeker also improves. Midrange strategies will be looking for curve-topping versatile threats to replace all the cards that are rotating and Vraska, Relic Seeker looks like one of the best. With Winding Constrictor and Verduruous Gearhulk rotating, I suspect that Green/Black decks will become more traditional midrange decks that ramp into Vivien Reid and Vraska, Relic Seeker since each of these Planeswalkers can immediately kill something or start gaining card advantage while working toward their ultimate. They also line up especially well against Search for Azcanta and Ixalan's Binding since they can each blow up enchantments (and thus unlock each other from underneath an Ixalan's Binding).
Doomfall and Fatal Push rotate along with Unlicensed Disintegration. Ravenous Chupacabra gets a little worse without The Scarab God around to bring him back, but also the dog doesn't kill opposing Planeswalkers like Vraska's Contempt does. Therefore I suspect Ravenous Chupacabra and also Murder will get outclassed by Vraska's Contempt. There is also one other very important reason I suspect Vraska's Contempt will outclass these other two black removal options...
Exile effects will be at a premium, most notably Ixalan's Binding and Vraska's Contempt, because Rekindling Phoenix is by far the best thing red has going for it in the late game. Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Hazoret the Fervent, and Glorybringer all rotate out. Rekindling Phoenix was arguably the best of the bunch before, but people would split them and play a combination of each. Now I suspect just about every red deck will jam the full playset of Rekindling Phoenix. Tribal Goblins likely won't since they have Siege-Gang Commander and Goblin Trashmaster, but it's very possible even they play four Rekindling Phoenix in their sideboard to combat sweepers. The card is just way better than pretty much anything else available to red in the post-rotation four-slot. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager may compete for space in Grixis, but Rekindling Phoenix matches up so well against Nicol Bolas that I doubt it concedes much ground even there.
I've mentioned Teferi, Hero of Dominaria a handful of times already in this article, so you knew it was coming. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria will continue to be one of the defining cards of Standard; its power level is off the charts and most of its supporting cast remains intact or is somewhat easily replaced, except for some of the blue card draw spells. And with Torrential Gearhulk, The Scarab God, and Approach of the Second Sun all rotating, people will likely universally rely on the Teferi, Hero of Dominaria + Nexus of Fate combo as their primary win condition. It's unclear at this point whether a black or red splash will prove optimal or whether straight blue/white will be best, but one thing we can all be certain of is that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria will remain a defining card in Tier 1 control decks.
If I were truly being objective, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria would likely be #1, but you knew what you were getting yourself into when you clicked an article with Craig Wescoe on the byline. Between Benalish Marshal, Militia Bugler, and Resplendent Angel, white has no shortage of playable three-drops, despite Gideon of the Trials and Oketra's Monument rotating. Nevertheless History of Benalia stands out as easily the best of the bunch in terms of raw power. And it is also the one that stands to gain the most from the new set.
With the rotation of Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Scrapheap Scrounger, Knight of Malice's stock goes up even more than it was before, which has lots of synergy with History of Benalia (one might even say they have a history together). I suspect a knight subtheme will still be good in white/black decks since you also have Knight of Grace as a solid option, especially if people start relying more on Vraska's Contempt and doubly so if enough viable multicolor black permanents get printed, which is likely in a multicolor setting such as Ravnica. In this deck of knights, Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants also fits quite nicely, and happens to be an excellent followup to History of Benalia since it can pump the tokens.
Selesnya had a token theme last time (remember Pro Tour Dragon's Maze?) and it looks like it is continuing with that theme this time around. You know what the best token maker in Standard is? That's right, History of Benalia. Shanna, Sisay's Legacy and the forthcoming Emmara, Soul of the Accord work great with Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants and in a token themed deck, as does Shalai, Voice of Plenty, who not only protects all your creatures by granting them hexproof but also threatens to pump the whole squad for six mana and therefore keep your smaller tokens relevant as the game progresses.
Last but certainly not least is the synergy between History of Benalia and the forthcoming Conclave Tribunal. History of Benalia is one of the most powerful turn three plays in Standard all by itself. However, combine it with Conclave Tribunal and you get a Banishing Light effect for just two mana! This means you can exile whatever the opponent did and continue to progress your board with another two drop, whether it be Shanna or Emmara in Selesnya or another knight in Orzhov, just in time for chapter three of History of Benalia. This all assumes you don't have a fourth land (since you can play the creature first and use it to convoke to make the Conclave Tribunal cost just 1 mana). If you have a fourth mana you could play a three-drop instead such as Benalish Marshal. Or if you played a two-drop on the second turn or you have a fourth land, you can follow up your turn three History of Benalia with a second copy of History of Benalia and then tap all your creatures to convoke out Conclave Tribunal for zero mana! How can anyone possibly beat turn two creature, turn three History of Benalia, turn four History of Benalia + exile your best permanent? You can go ahead and fill out my name on that deck list for Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica.
As you can see, we still have plenty of powerful cards surviving rotation. Some important things get shaken up though and some shoes are left open to be filled. Some of the cards on this list are likely more surprising than others, and all of it is contingent on what other cards become legal. But this should give you a good idea of what will happen with rotation and which cards are poised to take the spotlight in Standard. Which card makes your Top 10 list that didn't make mine?
10. Cleansing Nova
9. Vivien Reid
8. Lyra Dawnbringer
7. Goblin Chainwhirler
6. Vraska, Relic Seeker
5. Search for Azcanta
4. Vraska's Contempt
3. Rekindling Phoenix
2. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
1. History of Benalia