It feels like we are overdue for a change of pace, some fresh new cards, and even some reprints, so it is a good thing that Guilds of Ravnica is on our doorstep. Personally, I am in a situation where while I am excited to play with Guilds of Ravnica; I have been playing in Grand Prix and am preparing for the World Championships using the current format. Part of the reason I have been focused on playing so much Magic lately has been the Player of the Year Race.
For those who haven't been following it, the Player of the Year title is given to the player who accumulates the most Pro Points over an entire season of playing. I had been only slightly ahead of fellow competitors Luis Salvatto and Reid Duke until making the Top 8 of Grand Prix Richmond this past weekend to give myself a little bit more of a cushion. This put me in a frustrating spot, as I can't control the results Luis and Reid put up, I just need to do the best I possibly can, and cross my fingers it will be good enough. Sometimes competition and trying to win a title propels players to play better, and also be more innovative with deck choices.
The deck is essentially a version of Red-Black that is built to have a pretty good matchup against other red decks. The way to do this is by pre-sideboarding cards like Magma Spray, and not playing Bomat Courier. The fact is that Standard tournaments are chock-full of red decks, so even though you are making sacrifices in other matchups, the top priority in Standard has been beating Chainwhirler decks. It turns out there is no deck that straight-up runs over the red decks. The only way to position yourself well against them is by also playing a red deck, but with a better plan.
For players competing this weekend I do recommend playing B/R Midrange or a mono-red deck with a bunch of Hazoret the Fervent in order to beat the traditional black/red decks. However, I'm not going to go too in-depth on this deck because I want to shift gears. The current Standard format won't be around for that much longer. We are still in early stages of the previews for Guilds of Ravnica, but we should expect something similar to the previous Ravnica block.
Remember the original Ravnica block is home to Guildmage style cards. Black/red is not a color pair that should gain that much here, because it isn't one the pairs promoted in Guilds of Ravnica. Looking at the red deck I played here, over half the deck will be leaving Standard.
In fact, when looking at Standard as it currently exists there are very few decks that will stay intact. With essentially half the format leaving, I am excited at the prospect of such a small Standard card pool.
It has been a while since there's been a Standard format with a card pool this small, but it should be fun. It is going to be almost a mix between Standard as we have known it and Block Constructed. With fewer sets in the format it starts to become necessary to dig deeper to find playable, Constructed-worthy cards. This makes the cards that are already strong look even better than they already were. For example, Rekindling Phoenix should remain one of the top cards in red-based decks, as one of the only mythics that the color gets to keep from the rotation.
The other aspect of this smaller card pool is it allows synergies from the blocks that are in the format to shine through. For example, Ixalan will be the only full block legal in Standard for a few months. Ixalan is full of tribal based synergies that struggled to be powerful enough. Now, I would expect to see those revived. Since there is such a heavy focus on Merfolk this deck will not lose very much from the rotation:
On the surface the deck should stay more or less the same, which means it will become more popular, because other decks will be obsolete. The same can be said for other tribes like Vampires, and to a lesser extent Dinosaurs and Pirates as well. However, Wizards has correctly realized that the tribal decks will be better -ituated, which is why they are not being supported by guilds. The Guilds are other color pairs which means while the tribal deck don't lose much, they are unlikely to gain a ton either.
The biggest loss to the Merfolk deck is actually Botanical Sanctum. While we expect to see plenty of multicolor cards in Guilds of Ravnica, the manabases are unlikely to support decks beyond three colors. Look for tribal and guild-supported decks become a focus point moving forward. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager remains one of the most powerful cards in the format, and should still provide enough of an incentive to play Grixis.
There are less iconic Mythic rares, so the ones that are legal should stand out even more. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria should remain one of the main engines for control decks. In addition, Nexus of Fate plus Teferi, Hero of Dominaria will still be legal. Here is a look at the Turbo Fog deck in its current form:
The Bant Nexus deck has proven that it wasn't just a good metagame call for the last Pro Tour, it is powerful enough to be a major player in Standard. The deck could remain very strong depending if it has a good way to replace cards like Gift of Paradise and Haze of Pollen. We have seen effects like Fertile Ground and Fog throughout Magic's history, so it is very possible we see them again soon. Even without those cards I wouldn't be surprised to see this deck continue to exist. Nexus of Fate is one of the most powerful Time Walks ever.
Perhaps we will see Nexus of Fate switch homes. It could easily go in a red-based deck alongside Jaya Ballard, which would provide an easy way to loot through your deck, and make Nexus of Fate easier to cast. Likely decks like this will be strong if there isn't as much control. Control decks with disruption like countermagic and discard spells can be problematic for this type of strategy.
Here is a card that I played a lot with last weekend in a deck without a ton of artifact synergy. A lot of Standard's best card advantage spells are rotating. Control decks relied heavily on Glimmer of Genius and Hieroglyphic Illumination. When there are less ways to draw cards in a format it becomes necessary to rely on Planeswalkers for card advantage. Karn, Scion of Urza is better when played alongside artifacts, but even without that synergy, there are good arguments to including it in any midrange or control strategy.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance had been the Planeswalker we were used to dominating the four drop slot in red decks, but it could be time for Karn, Scion of Urza to shine. At this point it is hard to say if there will be playable artifacts in Guilds of Ravnica for Standard play—we certainly are losing a lot of the good ones we are used to. Even without lots of artifacts Karn, Scion of Urza could turn out to be the most important source of card advantage, especially for decks that aren't blue.
Removal spells are some of the most important pieces of interaction in the game. The past few years it seems there has been an Abundance of great removal spells in Standard. We have had access to cards like Fatal Push that are so good they see play in essentially every format. Fatal Push and Abrade leaving the format is pretty important as those were two cards that were borderline too strong. The best removal spell in the format at the moment is Vraska's Contempt, as there really aren't that many answers to Planeswalkers.
With less removal options it means that removal that wasn't seeing as much play could become very important. Lightning Strike may slot into that Abrade spot, for instance. However, without great cheap removal like Fatal Push the aggressive small creature decks become better. We haven't seen a lot of small white creature decks do well, for instance, and that certainly could change. It is hard to keep with pace with an aggressive deck if you can't effectively answer the creatures the opponent plays.
With Surveil being one of the most important abilities in Guilds of Ravnica, cards that benefit from being in the graveyard will become better. There aren't that many cards at the moment that want to be in the graveyard, as the embalm and eternalize cards will be rotating out. However, there are cards like Search for Azcanta that pair well alongside Surveil, to help get a full graveyard as quickly as possible. Search for Azcanta is a card we already know is very strong, and that certainly won't be changing.
We can also look forward to new cards that care about being put into the graveyard. One of the cards we know will be good is actually a reprint that I'm very excited about: Narcomoeba. We know how strong of a card Narcomoeba is in older formats when played in Dredge. The hope is that Wizards has a designed a set where a card like this can be good without being entirely too strong.
This is a big one, because we are so used to single-colored decks dominating the format for the past few months. Cards like Goblin Chainwhirler have a lot to do with that. The addition of the guilds does put more of an emphasis on two-color decks. We will still see mono-color decks with a splash, but it is unclear how easy that will be, or if the mana can support that.
Thanks for reading,