While a host of entirely new archetypes may descend upon us with the arrival of Ravnica Allegiance, an excellent way to get a head start on any non-rotation set release is to investigate the ways in which established decks can be updated with new cards. While there are obviously exceptions, usually an addition like Ravnica Allegiance will upgrade more existing decks than it will spawn entirely new ones - so even without every card having been previewed, we can already start to piece together how things might look once the new set joins Standard.
Today, we're going to highlight the leading strategies in the format and explore which new Allegiance cards might find their way into these decks – and, of course, which old cards might face the chop as a result. One small note before we begin – we won't be examining the role of shocklands in the updated format, as it's reasonable to take it as a given that they will upgrade any deck playing their respective colors (for example, Hallowed Fountain in Jeskai Control). With that said, let's get to it!
Rix Maadi Reveler
Rix Maadi Reveler is almost guaranteed to start seeing play in Mono-Red – or, as it will be after Allegiance drops, "Mono"-Red. Sneaking enough black sources into your mono-red deck to enable the Spectacle cost for Rix Maadi Reveler is simple enough – four Blood Crypt, four Dragonskull Summit and a Rakdos Guildgate gets us nine out of the 10 sources needed while not compromising Goblin Chainwhirler's stringent triple-red cost.
Both halves of this card are perfect for Mono-Red strategy. This is a deck that never wants to flood out and having a filtering effect stapled onto a reasonable turn-two play is perfect. Additionally, by the time it's casting four-drops, Mono-Red seeks to have an empty hand anyway, so playing a four-mana 2/2 that draws three cards? Rix Maadi Reveler is here to party, and when it's time to party she will always party hard.
What's the cut? It's a relatively simple one – Viashino Pyromancer has never been an all-star in this deck. Despite enabling a cheap Wizard's Lightning, its 2/1 body dies to everything from Goblin Chainwhirler to half of a Hunted Witness, and two damage upstairs isn't as valuable as sculpting a better hand. Rix Maadi Reveler is a very straightforward upgrade.
Judith,the Scourge Diva
Judith is a trickier one. Requiring a much more sizeable commitment to black will heavily compromise either casting Goblin Chainwhirler or just casting spells on time, as you'll have to start playing Swamps or more Guildgates. As a result, she's not as clear an inclusion into "Mono"-Red.
Mono-Red lists have played everything from Legion Warboss to Dismissive Pyromancer in filling out their curves, and these cards aren't always convincing. Replacing them with a powerful card like Judith is an attractive proposition, but the tension between Judith and Chainwhirler is very tricky. It's possible, of course, to play both, but not without some dedicated mana base contortions.
Still, not having to play relatively unimpressive cards like Dismissive Pyromancer is an appealing prospect, and if the mana base can be made to work then both Judith and Goblin Chainwhirler have an insane interaction with an older Guilds card – Status // Statue. Judith becomes a weird Visara the Dreadful, while Goblin Chainwhirler is a straight-up Plague Wind! Too deep into Magical Christmasland? Time will tell...
Light Up the Stage
It's not going to be difficult for Mono-Red to enable spectacle, as the deck has a very specific set of skills that enables the mechanic very readily. Apart from Rix Maadi Reveler, however, we haven't yet seen any other spectacle cards that would fit into a Goblin Chainwhirler deck.
Light Up the Stage offers an exciting prospect – "drawing" two cards for just one mana – but unfortunately it falls a bit short of the mark. The conditional "use it or lose it" effect of this kind of card has never really made it big in Constructed play (outside of Chandra, Torch of Defiance, where was repeatable and still offered payoff when "losing" it), and I don't expect Light Up the Stage to change that – even for one mana.
Secondly, Mono-Red already has an exceptional source of card advantage in the form of Experimental Frenzy, which completely outclasses Light Up the Stage. It's not going to be very often that you look at the Experimental Frenzy in your hand and think, "geez, I wish this were a Light up the Stage". Dim those stage lights – this show is cancelled.
Cry of the Carnarium
Black decks have been relying on Golden Demise – particularly in the cutthroat world of best-of-one Magic on MTGA – to keep aggressive red and white decks in check. Having a cheap sweeper come out of the board to contest fast starts has been an important part of keeping pace with aggro decks – but there's now a good reason to replace those copies of Golden Demise with Cry of the Carnarium.
Arclight Phoenix has swiftly become a force to be reckoned with across multiple formats and is currently a marquee card in one of Standard's leading strategies. Having access to a sweeper that can remove it once and for all – in addition to cleaning up any stray Goblin Electromancers – is definitely worth looking at. Often, Phoenixes are brought back in multiples, so if you can survive the hit, exiling them all the next turn with Cry of the Carnarium is going to be big game.
I don't have the highest hopes for this card, but if we see Standard descend into a midrange slogfest like we did last time we visited Ravnica, a trump card like End-Raze Forerunners is an excellent tool to have. Back in the day is was old mate Craterhoof Behemoth, and while the Forerunners certainly aren't on that level, the fact that they offer both an Overrun and vigilance (so as not to die on the crackback) means that this card could be crucial in midrange mirrors.
At time of writing, we are severely lacking in white cards (only three have been previewed so far!) - but one of them seems like a reasonable option for inclusion in Adanto Vanguard aggro decks. Tithe Taker is a sticky threat with passable stats – but its taxing ability should be of great interest to anyone looking to fight off instant-speed interaction. Making opponents use removal on their turn maximizes the value of pump effects like History of Benalia, Benalish Marshal, and Loxodon Smiter, and holds off Settle the Wreckage by a full turn. Plus, leaving being a 1/1 flier when it dies – especially in a deck filled with lord effects – is very useful indeed.
The big issue it what it replaces; these weenie decks need a critical mass of cheap creatures, and replacing a one-drop like Hunted Witness or Snubhorn Sentry with a two-drop like Tithe Taker may compromise the low-to-the-ground approach that typifies the deck's playstyle. Perhaps Tithe Taker comes in from the board against interaction-heavy decks, as another utility creature in the same vein as Tocatli Honor Guard.
I've already discussed the role Absorb will play in Standard, along with cards like Emergency Powers and Hallowed Fountain. A quick recap, then – this card is very powerful and will almost certainly see play, especially once the manabase is smoothed out with Hallowed Fountain removing the need for cards like Ionize. Even if it isn't a four-of and is playing in conjunction with Sinister Sabotage, expect Absorb to have an impact on the way control decks are both built and played.
While this isn't the Modern-playable Mana Leak, it's close enough to warrant attention. Last time we saw a card like this in Revolutionary Rebuff it saw next to no play, but that was principally due to the fact that many of the cheap plays you wanted to counter – Heart of Kiran, Walking Ballista – were artifacts. Are things different given this card is much less conditional?
Some control lists already play Syncopate, and while this definitely comes at a better two-mana rate, it's not immediately clear that it's the superior card. Both do more or less the same thing on turn two, while unlike Quench, Syncopate scales into the lategame (and exiles cards like Arclight Phoenix). Having said that, Quench is a little more difficult to play around than Syncopate and can potentially hold off opposing plays for an extra turn.
On balance, however, I don't think Quench has a place in Jeskai Control. Its answers need to be "harder" than Quench, and Syncopate offers the higher ceiling for this style of play. If there is an aggressive blue-based deck (perhaps with Dovin, Grand Arbiter), Quench might be a better choice there, as it enables a more tempo-oriented approach (much like Mana Leak did back in 2012).
Deputy of Detention
Detention Sphere is back! Sort of. Unfortunately for control mages, stapling its effect to a 1/3 body actually makes it worse than an enchantment. As odd as that may sound, think of it this way - an otherwise creatureless deck, blanking all opposing removal, then trying to leverage a relatively fragile 1/3 as a source of disruption? They will Lava Coil your Deputy and thank you upon bended knee for unlocking their dead removal spell. Don't play Deputy of Detention in your control decks!
I'm very bullish on this card. It's received a fair bit of hype, but I don't see it – flashing in a Niv-Mizzet or Teferi is cool, sure, but… why not just cast them two turns earlier? This is a below-rate removal spell that looks really flashy without offering the kind of payoff that something like Expansion // Explosion does. Paying six mana to remove a Crackling Drake and draw two cards with Chemister's Insight sounds like a reasonable deal, but there will be so many situations where this is just a bad-rate removal spell. I think this card is a trap.
As more and more previews roll in, we'll be in a better position to predict the landscape of post-Allegiance Standard and update more decks. Having a head start on how the format will shake out in the coming weeks and months will put you in a good position for early success, so be sure to evaluate new cards through the lens of which existing decks they may fit into!
- Riley Knight