Two years ago Wizards made Vampires playable; a year ago they made Infect playable; this year they've made Zombies playable. What should we expect from the Return to Ravnica? Goblins? Cats? Judges? I'm already forced to buy the foil Judge's Familiar and I can easily imagine Azorius hosting Judge of Atlantis and a legendary creature: Panda Judge. But okay Ravnica is about guilds not tribes (even if WotC simultaneously encourage us to support our guilds and to play three-colored decks) so let's look at the five Return to Ravnica guilds and their adaptation of off-color cards for their purposes.
Return to Ravnica spoilers as of yet are unbalanced in the cards they have revealed from each guild and Golgari is the clear leader right now. The guild of necromancers took advantage of dead corpses along with other black guilds in the old Ravnica. These days creatures spoiled from Rakdos are weak while Golgari has already received two strong aggressive creatures that fit perfectly into the existing Innistrad Zombies' mana curve. Also they've printed Abrupt Decay to fix the lack of Doom Blade. So we finally have a strong competitive deck after just about 70 cards spoiled (and I'm still waiting for Golgari Charm).
Lotleth Troll (whose text reads "discard a Gravecrawler") finally gives Zombies a good two-mana creature and Dreg Mangler finishes the perfect #flavorfail deck where the three-mana Messenger comes into play tapped while the three-mana vegetable has haste. Nevertheless Zombies looks like it's going to stop being "four Geralf's Messengers and 56 bad cards" and become something consistent. I'm not sure how Zombies' matchup will be against the heavier Jund deck (which I posted in my previous article and which also gained Abrupt Decay) but many players will definitely try Zombies as soon as Return to Ravnica is released.
The sideboard is obviously not a real sideboard but rather a number of cards to consider as possible sideboard and maindeck options. Note the red cards: I'm one hundred percent sure that Zombies will be B/G but a red splash for good cards is acceptable especially if Zombies needs Dreadbore to fight against expensive planeswalkers. With the shocklands and M1x lands a three-colored mana base will be very viable especially if there is no deck fast enough to punish sixteen-life starts regularly.
On the other hand Golgari is the only guild that can easily provide a two-colored deck right now and the list above perfectly shows that. I'm excited about all the B/G cards in the list maybe except for Rancor. It's fine but there are so many new removal spells that Rancor might be too optimistic. I thought about putting Golgari Charm in before seeing it but that would crash SCG decklist tool so I put in Rancor instead. Killing Wave is another possible option but its playability will highly depend on Intangible Virtue.
Intangible Virtue Lingering Souls and Gavony Township are the perfect tools for some sort of tokens deck but we still haven't seen any Constructed playable card with the Selesnya mechanic populate. The increased amount of removal makes token decks better but Honor of the Pure will not be available anymore and Intangible Virtue is vulnerable to Abrupt Decay (just checked my passport to be sure that my name is still Valeriy Shunkov not Jane Austen). Drogskol Captain is another possible direction in which token decks could go (assuming we'll have some white-only populate cards) but let's wait until we see more spoilers (and for Godless Shrine for poor Lingering Souls).
A deck full of good creatures is another possible direction for Selesnya. The most debated G/W card Loxodon Smiter is in my opinion simultaneously overrated and good enough to see play in the right deck. In fact the G/W deck will evolve regardless of Loxodon Smiter (if we don't see some sort of Zoo deck) because the best G/W creatures are Thragtusk Restoration Angel and Sigarda Host of Herons. The question is if Farseek and Chromatic Lantern are good enough to support four colors or if we'll be forced to choose between Bonfire of the Damned Unburial Rites and Supreme Verdict. I have no idea of even a rough decklist but I believe that Sigarda and Thragtusk will take the place of Primeval Titan and Sun Titan in the upcoming Standard.
I will definitely enjoy Standard's shift from six-mana Titans to five-mana threats. Bigger creatures like Griselbrand and Gisela Blade of Goldnight will remain possibilities too but more for Reanimator than for "regular" decks. Reanimator by the way has gained Grisly Salvage which is superior Mulch and Tracker's Instincts (or the second playset of Tracker's Instincts depending on what's going on). There are unfortunately no cast-and-win fatties so Reanimator's playability depends on Dreadbore and Zealous Conscripts. A more grindy deck like Block Constructed Reanimator with Angel of Glory's Rise might be playable.
- 3 Angel of Glory's Rise
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 1 Azorius Justiciar
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Captain of the Watch
- 2 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 2 Restoration Angel
This deck is an interesting example of midrange; it's very flexible and can play the role of control or aggro depending on the matchup (and with the help of a proper sideboard). It also has great late game supported by an unfair amount of card advantage from Unburial Rites and Angel of Glory's Rise. And for dessert Angel is not only a mass Reanimation spell but also has the "exile all Zombies" line in the text.
This list is obviously very rough because the creatures of choice highly depend on the metagame. For example I can easily see Thalia Guardian of Thraben in the deck (and even a transformational sideboard with Thalia Knight of Glory and Champion of the Parish) or a larger quantity of Azorius Justiciar (detain is very good in this deck especially if planeswalkers see play). But as we've started speaking about Azorius let's move to the next guild.
U/W tempo has dominated Standard for the last two years but I hope that those days are over. Geist of Saint Traft is still one of the best creatures in current Standard but overall Azorius' philosophy is far from tempo. Combine that with some paranoia about Snapcaster Mage (which forced WotC to exchange Ponder and Mana Leak to Index and Syncopate) and my opinion is that U/W tempo will remain one cheap cantrip away from being good. At least I hope so—my Supreme Verdict is that it's time to try something else.
Nevertheless Geist of Saint Traft will like continue to see play because it has hexproof to protect it from the increasing amount of removal in the format. Spectral Flight despite being a victim of Abrupt Decay is still very useful while spells like Increasing Savagery convert Traft and Invisible Stalker into deadly threats. Team SCG Black team Wolfir Silverheart to support these cards in Block Constructed; Deadbridge Goliath does the same but is less vulnerable to removal. This is a sketchy list:
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Deadbridge Goliath
- 4 Invisible Stalker
- 2 Snapcaster Mage
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 4 Geist of Saint Traft
I obviously expect Unsummon and Silent Departure to become better but I just need better functional analogues not completely different cards. We have Azorius Charm (I was pessimistic about this card but later reevaluated it). Maybe some sweet Izzet bounce with overload?
Izzet is all about Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius for now. We haven't seen many Izzet cards yet but the boring Azorius filled the gap to help mighty Dragon to shine. Supreme Verdict and Syncopate are the perfect weapons for a U/W/R Control deck along with Tamiyo the Moon Sage and Jace Architect of Thought. Dracogenius always prefer the best employees. Team SCG Black's Gabriel Nassif and Reid Duke were successful at PT Avacyn Restored with heavy U/W/R in Wolfir Silverheart-filled format.
Niv-Mizzet the Firemind was normally accompanied by a wide variety of countermagic: Remand Hinder Rewind etc. But I think that in the world of Cavern of Souls that Syncopate and Izzet Charm will be enough while Supreme Verdict Terminus Bonfire of the Damned and other removal spells will help Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius break opponents' designs.
Grixis Control and U/R are other possible homes for Niv-Mizzet. Black adds barely anything other than Dreadbore because we can't use Grave Titan Doom Blade or Go for the Throat anymore. Curse of Death's Hold is still a card that should be respected but the new Jace with proper support can do the same job. U/R Control might be too presumptuous but just remember that Christian Calcano won a GP with U/R Delver that sideboarded into U/R Control. Izzet will finally have a reliable mana base and a bunch of scalable spells. Mizzium Mortars is a perfect fit for this deck—cheap early removal and a powerful effect later. If at least one or two upcoming overload spells compare I'd say that U/R Control is a possibility.
Please excuse the lack of control decklists but building control is just a bad idea until the aggressive decks are established and all the available tools are investigated. So let's proceed to the last Return to Ravnica guild: Rakdos. It doesn't have any tools for Niv-Mizzet yet so it must die in oblivion… Oh I mean maybe they're successful in something aggressive and flamboyant.
While Dimir is the most mysterious guild of Ravnica Rakdos currently holds this title for the Return to Ravnica spoiler season. Nearly nothing of theirs was spoiled in the last week; we have only two Constructed playable spells (and they are both rares). As I previously said Rakdos Shred-Freak could make it in Mono Red but I'm not sure if this strategy worth trying due to complete lack of playable three-mana creatures. Oh I'm saying that in a format where we have Demigod of Revenge's equivalent and a bunch of red cards. From the other side if Thragtusk remains the cheapest life gain card there will be definitely a place for fast beatdown red or Zoo-like (although Zoo probably won't be great until Gatecrash with the guilds Gruul and Boros).
As a final note about Demon guild there is always a place for an aggressive red deck in the first few weeks of any new format so let's hope that some sweet new Rakdos cards like some cheap red and black/red threats are spoiled. Goodbye for now and may your guild have some insane cards!
Valeriy Shunkov Junior Research Engineer of Izzet Guild