This past weekend, I had the honor and privilege of playing in a special twelve-person Team Sealed Guilds of Ravnica Prerelease to decide the Team Series Championship. Many of the cards you’ve seen during Guilds of Ravnica preview season, I’ve actually spent hours and hours playing with and against as real, physical paper cards. This puts me in a unique position to evaluate the cards, and I strongly recommend anyone who wants an edge at their local Prerelease to check out the Twitch VODs of the games, since they were super-sweet.
The most powerful card I saw in action was Tajic, Legion’s Edge. Three mana for a 3/2 with haste is already quite efficient, as we know from Ahn-Crop Crasher, and the rest of Tajic does not disappoint. It has haste, first strike, Mentor, and a special line of text which reads “prevent all noncombat damage that would be dealt to creatures you control.” That last part might look a bit random and shoehorned onto Tajic, but it does two very important things:
1. It mitigates opposing Goblin Chainwhirlers.
2. It combos beautifully with Deafening Clarion.
Not only did Tajic make my jaw drop when I first saw it, but it also made me immediately hope, “Wow, I want to play with that on Team Series Sunday.” We were lucky enough to get it and Paul Rietzl actually pulled off the combo with Deafening Clarion to sweep away his opponent’s entire battlefield and leave all his creatures alive with the bonus of lifelink. I expect this interaction to be the difference-maker in Boros mirrors in Standard for as long as these two cards remain legal.
Tajic has haste, which caused me to think of Path of Mettle first. If I’ve learned one thing from Arguel’s Blood Fast and Search for Azcanta, it’s that the investment on these cards is cheap and the ability to transform into a land which produces repeatable advantage is not to be underrated. Simply put, these types of cards from Ixalan block are extremely powerful.
Legion Warboss is almost a Goblin Rabblemaster reprint. We know this card is capable of terrorizing Standard for months to come and it looks like many of the Tier 1 Constructed-playable red cards are already suitable for play in a dedicated Path of Mettle deck. This is where I would start:
- 2 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Ghitu Lavarunner
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Legion Warboss
- 2 Swiftblade Vindicator
- 3 Tajic, Legion's Edge
Dimir’s best card in Guilds of Ravnica is Blood Operative and for me it isn’t remotely close. This card reminds me of Scrapheap Scrounger, which practically ruined Standard, and Bloodghast, which has done a good job of making Modern unhealthy in the past. I don’t really love the design of Blood Operative; when repeatable creatures are good, they’re often way too good and make for unfun gameplay. At least this card will be legal in an environment with Vraska’s Contempt and Goblin Chainwhirler. That said, I’m still a firm believer in its power.
It’s also very important to note that there’s a rules interaction with Blood Operative where if you Surveil and put it into the graveyard, it actually checks for itself there and you get the value immediately. For example, if I cast Sinister Sabotage and see Blood Operative, I can put it in my graveyard and then put it directly into my hand right there. I already thought this card was a bit too powerful, but this is just icing on the cake. I’d also like to mention that you can use Search for Azacanta to put this card into your graveyard, as if the incentive to play with each of these individually powerful cards together wasn’t high enough.
- 4 Vraska's Contempt
- 1 Search for Azcanta
- 1 Arguel's Blood Fast
- 4 Thought Erasure
- 4 Sinister Sabotage
- 2 Notion Rain
- 3 Discovery
Both Ultimate Guard Pro Team and Team Hareruya Latin correctly identified that Golgari was the weakest guild for Team Sealed, and I think a lot of the card evaluations easily port over into Constructed. Undergrowth is a difficult ability to reward since getting creatures into the graveyard can be difficult while trying to maintain a consistent proactive gameplan that lets you get on the battlefield and stay there. That said, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed is a substantial payoff and gained the nickname “Hornet Queen” in our testing.
It breaks my heart to see such a powerful effect completely destroyed by either Path of Mettle or Goblin Chainwhirler, but this seems like Golgari’s best option and I don’t see why I wouldn’t attempt to break it wide open with this one. I figure there’s a roughly 50% chance Chainwhirler gets banned anyway, and a deck like this can survive on its own.
The best method that I can find for enabling Undergrowth is explore. I also like to fill my deck with creatures that encourage the opponent to kill them, like Kitesail Freebooter and Llanowar Elves. Games of Standard go quickly with an uncontested Llanowar Elves on the battlefield, and if the opponent kills it, they’re fueling Undergrowth and playing right into my gameplan. It’s always tricky trying to find a balance between a deck that’s dense with creatures and has adequate interaction, but Kitesail Freebooter and Ravenous Chupacabra work well alongside Adventurous Impulse. Here’s where I would start:
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 2 Isareth the Awakener
- 3 Izoni, Thousand-Eyed
- 4 Doom Whisperer
- 4 Glowspore Shaman
Izzet was the most impressive guild for Team Sealed play and that was in no small part due to two cards that I fell in love with the first time I cast them
Goblin Electromancer needs no introduction except for the fact that it’s a Wizard, which has immense payoff with the pool of cards available in new Standard. I like to compare Radical Idea to Think Twice, and although it’s worse, they’re similar enough that I fully expect Radical Idea to be a widely played card in control or tempo decks, which means basically any blue deck. If I were building a control deck based around Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, I would absolutely have four copies of Radical Idea maindeck.
Izzet, on the other hand, does something very different with Radical Idea and I think a hyper-aggressive Wizard beatdown deck is best. Adeliz, the Cinder Wind is just waiting to be utilized and there are finally enough enablers to allow it. Adeliz starts out as a Skyknight Legionnaire, which is almost a Constructed-quality card on its own, and the upside is you produce a Glorious Anthem until end of turn every time you cast an instant or sorcery spell. This effect is especially strong with Jump-start.
The Wizard creature type as a payoff is not trivial either. Wizard’s Retort and Wizard’s Lightning are totally insane when they’re undercosted, as they just don’t go printing Counterspell and Lightning Bolt for Standard play anymore. Check this out:
- 4 Goblin Electromancer
- 4 Siren Stormtamer
- 4 Adeliz, the Cinder Wind
- 4 Ghitu Lavarunner
- 4 Merfolk Trickster
- 2 Naru Meha, Master Wizard
Selesnya has a ton of exciting cards which all reward going wide, but the strongest two are Emmara, Soul of the Accord and Trostani Discordant. Both of these Selesnya all-stars have two power and legendary status, so they work quite well with Militia Bugler and Mox Amber.
The Selesnya payoff cards don’t seem to care what your creature does, just that it can hang around long enough to produce benefits from being in a swarm strategy. Fortunately, Selesnya has a pretty solid supporting cast. The aforementioned Militia Bugler sees play in Modern for the card advantage it provides for Humans, but in Standard it will do that and provide a warm body for Convoke. Shalai, Voice of Plenty can drop counters on any random creatures you have lying around while also defending you from Settle the Wreckage. And Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy can be a huge attacker while also filling in your two-mana spot on the curve.
This list, like many in today’s article, is experimental and aims for the highest possible upside. If I can make something like this work, it would be one of my first options for a big tournament, because if I have Mox Amber in my deck and it’s functional, that’s an unfair advantage. Imagine playing with a Mox Jet in a field of players who have yet to identify that fast mana is strong. Mox Amber is always on my mind, and with Emmara, Soul of the Accord providing both colors of mana, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be a strong option.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 2 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 3 Shanna, Sisay's Legacy
- 1 Danitha Capashen, Paragon
- 2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 4 Militia Bugler
- 3 Emmara, Soul of the Accord
- 2 Trostani Discordant
- 4 Pelt Collector
Guilds of Ravnica looks to be an incredible addition to Standard and I haven’t begun to try to solve all the possible three-color combinations which could easily be optimal. It’s unclear to me if the new cards will make the biggest splash or if we will see more of the same. I’m personally a little sick of The Chainwhirler. Perhaps Karn, Scion of Urza and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria will be stronger than they have been in the past.
Either way, hello to Guilds of Ravnica and good riddance to Kaladesh and Amonkhet!