Ral, Izzet Viceroy And New Control

Patrick Chapin continues to celebrate control’s return to the top tier of Standard, but how will Ral Zarek’s new look fit in? Patrick brews up all kinds of new decks, and yes, that means Grixis!

Guilds of Ravnica
preview season is in motion with this weekend’s PAX previews. To the
surprise of no one, shocklands are back. It appears that Guilds of Ravnica is adopting the “five guilds at a time”
approach, used in Return to Ravnica, rather than the 4-3-3
approach of the original Ravnica block (which makes more sense,
now that Magic doesn’t do the three-set blocks anymore).

The first five?

Unlike Return to Ravnica–which featured Hallowed Fountain and
Blood Crypt, instead of Watery Grave and Sacred FoundryGuilds of Ravnica makes the interesting choice to return to the
original Ravnica color pairings, with the addition of Steam Vents
to complete a wheel.

Leading the way for the Izzet, we’ve got the return of Ral Zarek, and this
time, we’ve finally got a five-cost planeswalker with a plus
ability that draws a card, a minus ability that removes a problematic
permanent, and an ultimate that brings with it a powerful emblem.

Err, well, you’ve gotta admit that the formula has produced some pretty
reasonable results, and there’s variation between these, if only because of
the color requirements.

Okay, admittedly, this one is particularly tricky for Ral, Izzet Viceroy,
as their formulas are so similar and they share a color, but Teferi is just
at such an otherworldly power level.

Of course, maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s break Ral down a
little, and bear in mind, there’s a lot of room for cards less powerful
than Teferi to be quite powerful.

Okay, that’s a great start! While Ral Zarek doesn’t untap two
lands, giving you reliable protection at the same time you’re drawing
cards, you could do a lot worse than getting the best of your top two cards
while also fueling graveyard synergies. That +1 ability is substantially
better than scry 1 and draw a card (like Jace, Unraveler of Secrets) since
you get to look at both of the top two cards at the same time when making
your decision, rather than just one. And again, while it’s not strict
upside, the graveyard synergies are not trivial, such as any of the new
cards with jump-start.

While Teferi sets an extremely unrealistic bar, this is an extremely
attractive +1 ability, and Ral, Izzet Viceroy even starts with one more
loyalty. What about his minus ability?

This is a pretty fancy way of saying “kill a creature,” assuming you’re
playing a spell-based deck. It does limit what kinds of decks Ral can go
into, however. If you’re tapping out for a creature on turn 3 and on turn
4, Ral isn’t likely to be able to do that much damage on the way in on turn
5, at least not reliably.

Now, maybe there’s a very different style of Grixis we can make that sort
of resembles U/B Control with a red splash, since the mana is easy now, but
even if we consistently get a Terminate out of Ral’s minus ability,
Teferi’s ability is so much more robust.

Okay, this is obviously a pretty hardcore ultimate. It’s hard to beat
Teferi’s relatively high assurance of victory, but this one is pretty high
up there, too, assuming you have just a little bit of time.

All-in-all, Ral looks a little less reliable than Teferi, and able to be
played in less strategies; however, I think the total package looks like a
pretty good deal. The real question is, where can we actually put him to
use where we wouldn’t just want Teferi, instead?

The first place I turned to was straight U/R. After all, you can’t play
Teferi if you’re straight U/R. This doesn’t mean we want to play
straight U/R, since Teferi is a pretty compelling card to splash, but with
the addition of shocklands and the removal of both Kaladesh block
and Amonkhet block, the landscape we’re dealing with might be
extremely different.

With Torrential Gearhulk’s reign finally at an end, Ral has an immediate
application for helping close out games for U/R Control.

Of course, we’ve also got to contend with the lack of Hieroglyphic
Illumination, Glimmer of Genius, and Pull from Tomorrow. It’s not a perfect
fit, but my first thought is to try Karn, Scion of Urza as an additional
source of card advantage.

I’m also interested in trying Overflowing Insight as a Pull from Tomorrow
stand-in. I could actually see it being pretty good, all things considered.

With eight Planeswalkers, I’m interested in trying a Jaya’s Immolating
Inferno as a victory condition we get to dig to. Of course, either Karn or
Ral could be the victory condition, anyway, so this might actually be a bad
Banefire (or just redundant, period).

Sinister Sabotage is not just a matter of convenience now that Disallow has
rotated out. It’s not a strict upgrade to Dissolve, but as we mentioned
with Ral’s ability, putting the card you don’t want into your graveyard is
generally going to be upside more often than downside.

Dissolve was absolutely phenomenal, and I expect no less from Sinister
Sabotage. I would generally rate this card above Disallow and fully expect
it to be a four-of staple in a lot of decks.

With Abrade and Harnessed Lightning out of the picture, there’s a good
question as to what the best burn to play for removal is. Both Shivan Fire
and Fight with Fire have a lot of appeal for a deck that doesn’t value the
face damage of cards like Shock and Lightning Strike, but are we opening
ourselves up to a blindspot against Planeswalkers?

I could seriously imagine reinventing the manabase to support Goblin
Chainwhirler. The catch is, to really get enough bang for our buck, we’re
likely going to need more creatures; the more creatures we play, the less
good our Ral is.

The asymmetry of mana-fixing really changes the rules of the format, so
we’d do best to begin to build our understanding of the format on a
foundation of what kind of manabases are possible.

Five color pairs are at an advantage on account of each having an extra
extremely good dual land:

  • R/W
  • W/G
  • G/B
  • B/U
  • U/R

Likewise, five three-color combinations are also favored, thanks to the
incredible fixing made possible by two sets of shocklands that help untap
your other twelve dual lands:

  • R/W/G
  • W/G/B
  • G/B/U
  • B/U/R
  • U/R/W

That gives us two combinations to look at first: Grixis and Jeskai. Since
Grixis avoids the Teferi overlap, let’s start there.

We really don’t get a lot out of black, but it does offer one extremely
attractive option, and that’s Vraska’s Contempt.

There’s a good chance the early days of the format are going to have a
strong Planeswalker influence, particularly from Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Besides, Vraska’s Contempt was already the best removal spell and an awful
lot of competition has fallen by the wayside.

One really interesting change in the format is the relative value of
artifacts. Without incidental Abrades all over the place, there’s less risk
to running a random artifact here or there. Treasure Map, Azor’s Gateway,
Thaumatic Compass, Crucible of Worlds, Arcane Encyclopedia, Icy
Manipulator, and The Immortal Sun are all worth taking a second look at in
this new context.

Are we supposed to be using Icy Manipulator in the U/R deck above, as a
potential answer to creatures too big to burn easily? Icy is so good
against legends, I can’t help but daydream of its triumphant return.

The real first major fork in the road we encounter with Grixis, however, is
whether to play creatures at all, or not.

Nicol Bolas is obviously an incredible reward for playing creatures, and if
we do go the Goblin Chainwhirler route, that’s another good one. Rekindling
Phoenix is also a very attractive creature we could run if we’re on a good
stuff plan.

Alternatively, we could just focus on Dragons, giving us the ability to
really get paid off by Sarkhan, Fireblood.

Once we start down this path, however, we’re really talking about a very
different strategy than the Grixis list above.

If we did want to pursue this path, we could go even further and use
Unclaimed Territory to enable us splashing the other Elder Dragons.

Unclaimed Territory would really test our ability to reliably cast Vraska’s
Contempt, however. It might actually just be that we need to let that one
go. Would clear up a little room for other fours anyhow.

As for Ral, Izzet Viceroy, we ought now turn to Jeskai, Teferi overlap be
damned. After all, if the mana’s good and we don’t have Torrential Gearhulk
anymore, maybe we could use “Teferi” number five and six?

The loss of Fumigate puts an increased pressure on us to build around
Settle the Wreckage.

I mean, what’s the alternative? Cleansing Nova?

We could go this route, as it’s not a non-starter with Seal Away and
Ixalan’s Binding; however, it’s not the most efficient card in this
capacity, and running both Teferi and Ral means we’re already super glutted
at five.

Maybe there will be a sweet new red “Earthquake” in Guilds of Ravnica to help fill the void left by Sweltering Suns
and Hour of Devastation leaving the format. Some kind of Pyroclasm or
Radiant Flames might be just what the doctor ordered.

If we were to find enough room, experimenting with Karn, Scion of Urza and
Karn’s Temporal Sundering is pretty interesting. Not having Baral, Chief of
Compliance is a big loss, but that’s a lot of good Planewalkers, plus we
might be able to make great use of Nexus of Fate.

It should be interesting when the next Pro Tour has a Nexus of Fate deck in
the top 8…

U/W might not be one of the supported color combinations, but with a card
as messed up as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, there’s probably a good case to
be made for forcing it. I mean, maybe it ends up just being too free to
splash red or green into your U/W deck, but to know what we’re comparing it
to, let’s try our hand at a straight U/W deck, leaving Ral on the

While our mana is certainly less powerful than the manabases above, this is
not an embarrassing manabase. It’s not clear we can really rely on this mix
of removal. Memorial to Genius does get even more appealing without
Hieroglyphic Illumination to freeroll.

I sort of wonder what the best long game victory condition is, as I think
we’re probably going to want at least one besides Teferi. Outside of any
Karn-like approaches, there’s the obvious Nezahal, Primal Tide approach.

I think I’d rather sideboard it, though (along with Lyra Dawnbringer). I
could kind of imagine a lot of room for creativity on the victory condition
front. For instance, what if we used four Evolving Wilds and a Swamp?

Maybe we use a few black duals, maybe we don’t, but it’s not like we
actually have to break the bank to make it happen.

Depending on whether the format gets filled with more cheap creatures or
cheap removal, History of Benalia could be well-poised to make a comeback.
It’s especially nice for helping enable Conclave Tribunal.

We’d have to be playing more creatures than just this, of course, but it’s
not like the blue and white spells are all that, or anything. If we
actually fill out the deck with a fair number of solid drops, Conclave
Tribunal could be a better option than Ixalan’s Binding (at least in some

Is Resplendent Angel crazy? I mean, maybe everyone will just have Lightning
Strikes and it won’t be good. However, if people are packing more Shocks
and Shivan Furys, she already doesn’t have to contend with Abrade anymore.

I’m not even joking.