The Early Ravnica Lowdown

World class player Owen Turtenwald has comments on shocklands in Standard implications, what kind of world The Chainwhirler will live in, and more! Guilds of Ravnica season rules!

All Magic players seem to want to talk about these days is Guilds of Ravnica and the previews that have been trickling out
for days now. And who can blame them? The set looks super sweet.

I’ve been vocal about my love of the recent sets including laudingDominaria as the best Draft format and the best set of all time. I think they’re pushing the storyline harder, the
functionality of the cards in-game has greatly improved, and even the
squigglies at the top of the cards to denote that it’s legendary really
make the cards pop off the cardboard. Dominaria is a fun set to
play and is an all-around home run. It has its blemishes, like The Chainwhirler, but it’s almost as if its one flaw is the only
thing proving that the set isn’t absolutely perfect.

Fortunately, my hype of Dominaria bleeds through into Guilds of Ravnica.

The first card I saw when checking out Guilds of Ravnica was
Conclave Tribunal and I love it. The fact that I must even debate the
merits of Conclave Tribunal versus Ixalan’s Binding means they’re designing
the cards cleverly. Ixalan’s Binding handles both not only the card in
question but future copies as well, whereas Conclave Tribunal offers us a
free shot at fast mana because of convoke.

I might sound like I’ve lost my marbles on this one, but fast mana is
totally unfair in Magic – just look at Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and
Black Lotus. I’m not saying that we should compare Conclave Tribunal to
Black Lotus, but I do believe in some instances that using convoke to
reduce a spell’s cost by three mana can sometimes feel as if you found a
Black Lotus lying in the street that turn. If you really need to exile
something like a game-winning Impervious Greatwurm and you only have one
mana available, but a few creatures facilitate a one-mana Conclave
Tribunal, that’s a huge win.

Paying one white mana to exile a creature is reminiscent of Swords to
Plowshares and that’s before we factor in that Conclave Tribunal can exile
artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers. Nothing brings me greater joy
than navigating my way to a win despite clear handicaps, like insufficient
mana. Conclave Tribunal must compete with a proven card like Ixalan’s
Binding, so I don’t think it will be widely adopted immediately, but it
will certainly show up.

One of my fondest memories with convoke from my professional career was in
a draft where I took Siege Wurm pack one pick one over Cruel Sadist, a
controversial pick at the time. During that draft, I played against and
defeated someone who was later caught shuffle-stack cheating to give people
opening hands light on land. Since I drafted Elvish Mystic, Satyr
Wayfinder, and convoke cards higher than most players, I was able to keep
land light hands more often and still have a functional hand. Imagine
getting so unlucky or even outright cheated and winning anyways since the
cards allow for room to still have a fair chance to play! That’s power!

The next card that excites me is Narcomoeba, a reprint from Future Sight. This is one of the most powerful cards in the
history of Magic and has been a staple of dredge-based strategies in all
formats. I don’t expect it to make a huge splash in Standard since it lacks
Bazaar of Baghdad, Golgari Grave-Troll, or Dread Return to really make it
something special, but I will say that alarm bells went off in my head when
I realized that Narcomeoba will be legal alongside Stitcher’s Supplier.

Unfortunately, I don’t like Stitcher’s Supplier at all. Call me old
fashioned, but a 1/1 for one mana doesn’t really get me excited to build a
deck around it. But self-mill with Narcomoeba could potentially lead to
some unfair starts and I would love to have seen these two played with Gate
to the Afterlife. I’m not optimistic about Narcomoeba making waves anytime
soon, but it does have some sweet interactions with explore, surveil, and
even something like Search for Azcanta. None of these interactions on their
own make Narcomoeba resemble its previous power from years past, but I
recommend keeping your eye on it since it does have the potential to be one
of the best cards in Guilds of Ravnica with the right support.

Next up is Sinister Sabotage, which has very similar functionality to
Dissolve – a tier one card during its time in Standard. Surveil is almost
always going to be an upgrade over scry since it can fuel Search for
Azcanta, but in Standard, as a result of the rotation, it will no longer
provide synergy with Torrential Gearhulk or milling random aftermath
spells. I’ve always liked Disallow, with no singular prevailing reason, but
because all the little random bits and pieces of value add up over the
course of many matches. Occasionally I’ve found myself countering an
activation of a planeswalker or something less glamorous like a vehicle
activation. It’s all very subtle and nuanced, but it’s clear that three
mana “Counter target spell” is an extremely good card in Standard, and I
see no reason why Sinister Sabotage won’t show up in a control shell in

The best card spoiled so far is Legion Warboss and the immediate analogy
people draw is to Goblin Rabblemaster, something I can’t argue with. I like
that they seem to be pushing a Goblin subtheme with Skirk Prospector and
Siege-Gang Commander, but unfortunately anytime I see a 1/1 creature, all I
can think about is The Chainwhirler. I hate to beat a dead horse,
but a card centered around making 1/1s needs to be evaluated with added
scrutiny since we’re living in The Chainwhirler’s metagame.

That said, the Mentor mechanic may be the difference maker here if you can
clear a path for Legion Warboss and its accompanying token to attack the
added +1/+1 counter, making The Chainwhirler less effective. The
power level on Legion Warboss is through the roof and in terms of killing
an opponent who doesn’t defend themselves, it puts on a very similar clock
to Goblin Rabblemaster. It’s sad to see the best vehicles like Heart of
Kiran and Aethersphere Harvester set to rotate, but the ones that remain
(Fell Flagship, Shadowed Caravel, Sleek Schooner, and Weatherlight) can be
used with Legion Warboss to crew at the beginning of combat after a token
is made before it’s forced to attack into a larger creature.

This is a trick people use in Legacy with Goblin Rabblemaster and Ensnaring
Bridge. They make it so the Goblins are incapable of attacking for long
enough that an entire army is built and send it on the final turn for one
big attack. “Attacks each turn if able” is oftentimes viewed correctly as a
drawback, so vehicles can conveniently be used to negate that downside. Use
them if you can.

The next card is the only planeswalker currently previewed in Ral, Izzet
Viceroy. I’m not sure what to make of Ral, but it’s clearly quite powerful.
You must have a high density of instants and sorceries since its ability to
deal damage is contingent on how invested you are in spells. Opt comes to
mind as a spell that’s relatively low cost to include, and the card
manipulation makes it so the average amount of spells in your graveyard
goes up. I’m pretty disappointed the -3 ability can’t hit players because
if it could my plan would be to sit around spinning my wheels with cantrips
until Ral can deal ten damage to my opponent and all it would take is two
Rals to finish things off. They drastically cut the power and versatility
of this card in restricting that ability to creatures only.

Ral reminds me of Ob Nixilis Reignited, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and
Jace, The Mind Sculptor. I feel a little guilty putting this in the same
category as those planeswalkers, all-time greats, but it fits a formula of
+1 for card advantage, -3 for protection from the battlefield, and an
ultimate which is likely to win the game if uncontested. Given the large
deckbuilding cost to play mostly spells and exactly red and blue, I don’t
expect this to make a huge splash in Standard or any other format, but
maybe as the format develops with more sets it can be a fine option. It’s
certainly on my radar.

The final takeaway for Guilds of Ravnica is that shocklands are
back! Temple Garden, Overgrown Tomb, Sacred Foundry, Steam Vents, and
Watery Grave will be in Standard alongside check lands like Rootbound Crag
and Sulfur Falls. Three color decks will be legal and viable, something
that hasn’t been the case for a while. My biggest concern with Standard for
as long as I can remember is the poor manabases that caused me to focus
only on one-color aggressive decks or decks that splash only a small
amount. R/B and Temur have been dominant in my hands and many others, and
they did so by skirting around the consistency issues, playing only a small
number of cards in each of the splash colors and hoping for grindy midrange
games which allow for a greater exposure to your deck to have all your
colors. They also leaned heavily on stuff like Scrapheap Scrounger and
Longtusk Cub to give good beatdowns while the opponent struggled to get
their footing.

Proactive strategies have overperformed, and it’s felt a bit like you were
a sap for not trying to end the game by turn 5. Therefore, I’m nervous for
the huge shakeups happening to the Standard format since the previous one
was right in my wheelhouse in terms of preferred deck choice and my style
of play working well with the types of games. But just because it’s
different doesn’t mean this won’t also be great.

I’m looking forward to it.