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 Standard.
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.