As a whole, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is much closer to Strixhaven in power level than it is to Throne of Eldraine, which is exactly what I was hoping for, because it means a lot of sweet cards might have a chance to shine after rotation, but for now, we should still expect the current best cards in Standard to stay on top.
Fortunately, I think this set will likely shake things up a little more than Strixhaven, even if it’s mostly just a matter of introducing sideboard cards. As we’ve seen, the new school of color hosers, where cards are more effective against a certain color has tended to lead to some impactful cards, so while cards like Divine Smite and Ray of Enfeeblement might not create new decks, they can certainly shake up a metagame a bit.
As far as building new decks is concerned, it’s not very flashy, but one of the most interesting cards to me is Deadly Dispute. If you control a Treasure already, Deadly Dispute is just a two-mana instant that draws two cards, which is fantastic. The problem is that you need to control a Treasure. However, it has the advantage that it can also allow you to convert something else, like a creature that was going to die anyway, into a Treasure.
You can also think of this like a Village Rites that costs an extra mana up front, but gives you a rebate of one mana, but it’s worth noting that an extra mana up front is a big cost for Village Rites since it makes it a lot harder to leave up reactively.
On the other hand, if you don’t have a Treasure and your goal is to get one, this can be a great way to do that. I think my favorite card to combine this with is Shambling Ghast. The simple curve of Shambling Ghast into Deadly Dispute is a card neutral way to have two Treasures ready for use on Turn 3 so that you can play a five-mana spell.
What sort of deck might be into that? Well, a few different paths occur to me. While I’d love it if the answer involved setting up a big turn with Storm-Kiln Artist and Plumb the Forbidden, or playing an attrition game based on Skullport Merchant, I suspect the best decks are going to be using this Treasure to cast Dragons. Specifically, Goldspan Dragon and/or Korvold, Fae-Cursed King.
Goldspan Dragon creates Treasures and doubles the effectiveness of your Treasures. This could lead to an end-game that revolves around casting Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, or possibly just a more aggressive deck, maybe even featuring Embercleave.
Korvold implies Jund Treasures, which has some tools I like. Jaspera Sentinel plays well with Magda, Brazen Outlaw and helps ramp to Dragons (offering another two card pairing to cast a Turn 3 Dragon) and Prosperous Innkeeper is another reasonable option.
I’m also really interested in playing Skullport Merchant alongside Magda and Jespara Sentinel. Sailor of Means always felt close, and Skullport Merchant is a Dwarf with a great ability. This deck will do a good job of generating creatures and artifacts, but might rely on Korvold to keep the gas coming and Skullport Merchant can serve as a backup in a pinch.
So where would all this leave us?
Jaspera Sentinel seems like the best one-drop, followed by Shambling Ghast and Gilded Goose, followed probably by Eyetwitch, but I think we’re not interested in going that far.
At two-mana, Magda is best, followed by Prosperous Innkeeper and Kalain, Reclusive Painter. I think those are better than Hunt for Specimens and Forbidden Friendship. I don’t think I like Hired Hexblade.
At three-mana I think I like Skullport Merchant, and Lovestruck Beast should always be kept in mind. I’m more interested in Bastion of Remembrance or Woe Strider than Sedgemoor Witch. I’m skeptical of Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge, but can’t rule it out. Same with Xorn and Plundering Barbarian.