If you're not already across this, here's some huge – and very welcome – news: the shock lands are returning to Standard with Guilds of Ravnica.
Even having a passing familiarity with Modern will mean you understand how powerful and important these cards are in building effective, efficient mana bases. Even without fetch lands, shock lands make it easy to support three and even four-color mana bases, particularly when combined with their old friends, the "check lands" - Glacial Fortress, Sulfur Falls, etc.
Unlike most dual lands (for example, Kaladesh's fast lands), the shock lands have basic land types, meaning that Ixalan's and Dominaria's check lands do come into play untapped because of them. This alone is huge, as it will enable the speedy deployment of color-intensive early cards.
It's no coincidence that the shock lands and check lands are going to be in Standard together. This has happened before, during the Innistrad-Return to Ravnica Standard format of 2012/2013. This is widely recognized as one of the greatest Standard formats of all time, and a lot of that was due to the quality of the mana bases enabling a vast range of decks.
However, the fact that we're only getting five shock lands in Guilds of Ravnica (before presumably getting the other five in Ravnica Allegiance) has extremely important implications for deckbuilding in the interim. Given we have a near-direct corollary with the release of Return to Ravnica and its five shock lands, let's have a look at how decks – and their mana bases – developed between the release of Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash.
Return to Ravnica saw Selesnya, Golgari, Izzet, Azorius, and Rakdos released along with their respective shock lands. Things are a little different in Guilds, as instead of Azorius and Rakdos we're getting Dimir and Boros (which makes sense, as it's subbing out White-Blue and Black-Red for Blue-Black and Red-White, so the color equilibrium is maintained). Nonetheless, the pathway that Standard took back then will give us a good idea of how things will look once Guilds arrives.
Certain three-color combinations were naturally advantaged by the configurations of shock lands in Return to Ravnica, and as a result they were the first out of the gates after rotation. Bant, Jund, Grixis, Abzan, and Jeskai were the three-color combinations that immediately had access to two shock lands each, rather than just the one afforded to Esper, Naya, Mardu, Temur, and Sultai.
It's a similar state of affairs for Guilds of Ravnica, although this time it's Naya and Sultai rather than Bant and Jund. Consequently, it becomes reasonable to expect the five highlighted combinations on the right to have an edge over the other five. How justified is this assumption, however? Let's go back to the year that was good enough to give us both Gangnam Style and that sublime restoration of the Jesus painting to investigate.
Almost immediately after Return to Ravnica joined Standard, high-level results indicated that having double the number of available shock lands ran concurrent with consistent success.
Jeskai was a major player from the outset, although it wasn't called Jeskai – Khans of Tarkir hadn't yet arrived! "UWx Midrange," as it was known, had ridiculously powerful creatures supported by all-star interaction – and let's not forget about the mighty Sphinx's Revelation, which took awhile to properly catch on.
Similarly, a powerful concentration of gold cards from Innistrad as well as Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay (in Standard!) meant Jund was a major player in Standard from a very early point – and it made the most of having access to eight shock lands.
The most dominant color combination, however, was ultimately Abzan. "Junk Reanimator" was a resilient combo/midrange hybrid with few real weaknesses and was able to play Angel of Serenity alongside Grisly Salvage thanks to its eight-shock mana base.
Based on this, it's fair to assume that it will be eight-shock combinations that will thrive post-Guilds. However, there's another very, very important thing to consider here: Farseek. Farseek made great mana even better, as it allowed you to ramp with shock lands. Fetching a shock land with Farseek not only allowed you to deploy ridiculous four-drops on turn three, it also helped to fix your already excellent mana. Farseek was so powerful, it even helped a few four-color decks put up huge results!
This very clear trend of success coming to three-color decks in combinations that had access to eight shock lands meant that those with only four struggled to break through. In fact, of these five, it was only Esper that was able to break through to a GP Top 8; before Gatecrash arrived, they just weren't to be seen.
Look at that mana base compared to what is going on with the lists above! A ton of basics, and even Evolving Wilds trying to hold everything together! It's a far cry from the mana bases of decks like Jund and Junk Reanimator, and Esper's results before it finally got its Godless Shrines and Watery Graves supports that. In fact, once it did, the deck immediately made the Top 4 of Pro Tour Gatecrash in hands of Hall of Famer Ben Stark.
From Gatecrash onwards, every three-color combination had access to a full 12 shock lands, and many successful decks took advantage of this shift. We saw new three-color decks emerge, including the lightning-fast Naya Blitz as well as the iconic "Aristocrats" deck, playing the Mardu colors.
Of course, it's impossible to fully predict what a post-rotation metagame will look like, especially when we have knowledge of so few of the cards that we'll ultimately be playing with. Nonetheless, there are certainly educated guesses we can make as to how things may begin, using the data from 2012 and 2013 to guide us.
As mentioned previously, there are five three-color combinations that will have access to twice the number of shock lands. Grixis, Naya, Abzan, Jeskai, and Sultai all kick things off post-rotation with much better mana. This means that if you're looking to play three-colors in post-rotation Standard, these combinations should be your first port of call.
Naturally, what these decks ultimately look like will depend upon the cards we're yet to see in Guilds of Ravnica, but all the same, there are plenty of cards in the sets that survive rotation that will also have a profound influence on the metagame, regardless of what new cards join us.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, is the prime candidate for a centrepiece of a post-rotation Standard deck. Grixis will be lucky enough to have eight shock lands, and already we've seen some pretty powerful Izzet and Dimir cards previewed at PAX. This list is just a very early sketch based on limited information, but is a useful signpost nonetheless for where we might end up.
Once again, this list is highly speculative and will doubtless undergo a huge change before Guilds even arrives. Nonetheless, it goes some way to demonstrate the types of cards you might want in a deck like this – but most importantly, it shows just how good the mana will be. A full 20 dual lands, all of them likely to enter untapped when it counts, means that curving color-intensive plays such as Lightning Strike into Sinister Sabotage into Vraska's Contempt will be trivial.
Here's a curly one. The white-blue guild, Azorius, doesn't join us until Ravnica Allegiance – but it's an overwhelmingly powerful format staple that is bound to have an impact on the format post-rotation. What does that mean? Well, of the five three-color combinations "available" in Guilds, Jeskai is the only one that contains white-blue. I'm not tired of casting Teferi – I don't think I ever will be – so I'm highly incentivized to find a Jeskai list in which to run him until my beloved Azorius guild finally turns up.
Given we're playing with Teferi, I want to maximize the number of two-drop disruption to protect him on turn five. This means Seal Away, Essence Scatter and Lightning Strike are all going to be very important, particularly as new formats skew towards the more aggressive end of the spectrum as people explore what's possible with new cards.
A final note on one other card. Field of Ruin has already proven itself to be tremendously powerful land destruction technology, widely played in Modern ahead of Tectonic Edge and Ghost Quarter. In 2012's Standard, there weren't huge incentives to play basics (outside of Burning Earth, which saw some play), and so it was common to see decks back then with very few – or even zero – basics.
Field of Ruin changes that, to an extent. The fewer basics you play, the better opposing Fields become, and playing no basics at all means you're allowing your opponent an upgraded Wasteland effect. As a result, I don't think the mana bases in the upcoming Standard format will be quite as gung-ho as they were back in 2012, and that it would be wise to play a non-zero number of basics (especially as they, too, help check lands enter untapped).
In Modern, we see Field of Ruin break up Tron, go after utility lands and occasionally color-screw people out of the game. In post-rotation Standard, Field of Ruin will be no less potent against flipped Azcantas and the like and may well be able to take players off a certain color if they're playing with greedy mana bases. For that reason, I strongly advocate you find room for two or three basics in the lists you put together, at a minimum. Giving your opponent a cheap, uncounterable way to blow up your lands that doesn't set them back a land is too high a cost to pay. Make sure you don't skimp on basics!
Any way you slice it, we're in for an exciting time post-rotation. Standard will be completely turned on its head and being armed with information from previously similar contexts will help you build the best decks in the early days after rotation. I can't wait to get into another multicolored midrange slugfest of a format!
- Riley Knight