We now know the core mechanics for the five guilds of Guilds of Ravnica, and three of them use the graveyard - surveil, jump-start, and undergrowth - so there's a good chance that the graveyard is going to be an especially important zone in Standard after rotation. To get ahead on figuring out how to take advantage of this, I wanted to take a look at the cards we'll have from previous sets that will still be around in Standard that use the graveyard and how they might fit into a world with these new mechanics.
To start off, I want to look a little more closely at these mechanics and note that not all graveyard mechanics are created equal. Surveil is an enabler mechanic that cares very little about the graveyard itself--if your opponent has Rest in Peace and you cast a card with surveil, you've more or less just turned surveil into scry, so your card is still usually going to be serving around 90% of its functionality. Of course, a deck that's trying to use surveil as one of many enablers for the graveyard, and then built around payoffs that use the graveyard will suffer in the face of graveyard hate, but not all decks with surveil cards will care at all if they don't have access to their graveyard.
Next up, jump-start cares a little more about the graveyard than surveil, in that the card itself intends to get use out of the graveyard regardless of what else you're doing, but jump-start cards are generally still operating above 50% effectiveness without the graveyard, as the total cost of casting and jump-starting a card is 2*casting cost + discard a card, and the total effect is 2*text box, but when you don't have the graveyard, the cost is just the casting cost, and the effect is just the text box, so you get half the effect for less than half the cost because you don't have to discard a card (or half a card). However, that only covers the times when you're planning to cast the card from your hand. If you're intending to get value out of a jump-start card going directly from your library to your graveyard, you will instead get nothing out of it if you don't have access to your graveyard, so the jump-start cards you mill rather than draw are functioning at 0% effectiveness. The point is that graveyard hate can weaken jump-start cards, but it doesn't invalidate them.
Finally, we have undergrowth. This is an ability that scales with the number of creatures in your graveyard, so if your graveyard is being exiled, the undergrowth text itself will do nothing. How much that hurts the cards simply depends on how much of their power is tied up in the undergrowth text. Some might be good without it, and others might be useless without it, there's no way of knowing without seeing the exact card.
Of course, Rest in Peace isn't legal in Standard unless it's reprinted in Guilds of Ravnica, so that interaction itself isn't important. Let's pause to take a look at what kind of graveyard hate we might have to face:
This card completely disables jump-start cards, while not actually impacting undergrowth in any direct way since creatures will still exist in graveyards for counting purposes.
This is easy to kill, but while it remains on the battlefield, it functions optimally against both jump-start and undergrowth, as it can exile jump-start cards as they enter the graveyard and exile creatures to decrease the count of undergrowth. It's even relatively effective against surveil, as any time your opponent doesn't want to draw the card they look at, they have to offer extra fuel to your Deadeye Tracker. This card has some proven history as a sideboard card as room for substantial growth in the format.
This is another card that incrementally exiles cards from the graveyard, which positions it similarly to Deadeye Tracker in that it's effective against all the graveyard strategies, but it's a little slower and needs to be able to attack, though it requires less investment aside from that, since you don't have to spend mana to exile things.
It doesn't change much about this card, but when you target a jump-start card, it does remove your opponent's ability to reuse the card, so that's a little extra value in that spot.
One very rarely plays Gaea's Blessing with the primary gameplan of targeting the opponent's cards, but that's something the card can do. The low cost makes it comparably effective against undergowth and jump-start, which is to say, not especially, but it's a nice touch of additional utility if you were otherwise in the market for Gaea's Blessing.
The final stage of this is a one-time exile your opponent's graveyard. That's unlikely to be a key motivator in playing Phyrexian Scriptures, and so far, it hasn't been good enough for the first two abilities. This card is at a power level where I wouldn't be shocked if it saw play at some point, but the fact that it attacks the graveyard won't be the key motivator there.
Now this is maindeckable straight graveyard hate. If white aggro or Spirits are popular, this is a card that could easily see maindeck play that offers substantial counterplay to graveyard strategies. The one-shot nature of the card makes it relatively weak against jump-start, where you have to decide when a graveyard is valuable enough to sacrifice this proactively and then the next jump-start card works fine; whereas this is far more effective against undergrowth, where you can sacrifice this in response to any undergrowth ability checking to make it do nothing, and then your opponent will have to start over on building a graveyard, so future undergrowth cards will be weaker as well.
This is essentially the same effect as Remorseful Cleric, but it's colorless, so any deck can cast it, but it's symmetrical, so players who are using their own graveyards will likely want to look elsewhere. Similarly, this is far more effective against undergrowth than jump-start.
The static ability of this card doesn't interact with jump-start or undergrowth in any way and can potentially even protect cards from other things that would exile them. The activated ability plays like the activated ability of Sentinel Totem, except that it costs more mana to use, of course.
That's the preexisting graveyard hate, so if nothing else is printed in Guilds of Ravnica, graveyards should be relatively safe to play with, I think, all things considered, especially in game 1s, but it's worth noting that Deathrite Shaman, Rest in Peace, and Leyline of the Void all debuted on Ravnica, so there are certainly no promises that this set won't have some kind of extremely effective graveyard hate card.
Next, let's look at the other payoffs we'll have in Standard; think of these as the cards that benefit most from surveil cards being in your deck, either because you're hoping to see them and put them in your graveyard or because they appreciate that other cards will find their way to your graveyard more often. This isn't going to be a comprehensive list of every card that can do something useful with a card in the graveyard. I'm going to focus specifically on cards that benefit from being in the graveyard or specifically scale meaningfully with a large graveyard, considering only cards that I think might have a place in competitive Standard.
I couldn't really ask for a better example of the kind of card that benefits from surveil than this. It's active in the graveyard and wants exactly for there to be more other cards in the graveyard. It may have missed when it first came out, but now it won't be competing with The Scarab God and its conditions are much easier to fulfil. It also doesn't matter that it's horrible against opposing copies of The Scarab God. This card could easily be one of the biggest winners of rotation, and, as an extremely cheap mythic for the moment, it could make a great speculative purchase.
It's hard for me to take this card seriously as a Constructed card, but I'm not sure why. Tempest Djinn is actually very impressive in mono-blue decks, and Engima Drake is actually easier on your mana most of the time. The problem with is it that it generally starts smaller when you play it on turn 3 and attack on turn 4, but what that means is that precisely how quickly it gets to various amounts of power is a very relevant indicator of the power of this card, so it's possible that enough good surveil cards could actually push this into mainstream Standard playability.
Jaya is more enabler than payoff, but the ultimate is a good payoff for growing your graveyard. More importantly, it's worth noting just how well Jaya plays with jump-start, since those cards are mana sinks, meaning they work well with the first ability and are active in the graveyard, meaning they work well with the second ability.
This is a bit weird to call as a graveyard synergy, but it's worth considering that the more you mill yourself, the smaller your library is, and the easier it is to find each Nexus of Fate that gets shuffled in.
Yeah, this one didn't need the help, but I'm not going to pretend all of this isn't great news for what might be the most powerful remaining card in Standard anyway.
Yeah, this one scales well as your graveyard gets bigger.
I still have my eye on this card, which is half enabler, half payoff, half sad Hill Giant. It's the third half that's kept it a little too clunky so far.
Some of these cards are doing double duty, but I want to highlight a few others that are just good enablers to make sure that your undergrowth cards are functioning at the top of their potential and may support your surveil cards in getting more than the baseline out of your jump-start cards.
Stitcher's Supplier has a proven record in Modern already as a graveyard enabler, and I think it has a great chance moving forward as it has great tribal synergies and an excellent price on powering up your undergrowth cards well before you'll want to use them.
Explore in general is, well, remarkably similar to surveil, but worth paying attention to specifically for graveyard synergies, especially the cards that let your explore multiple times and/or at a good rate.
These cards outside of Guilds of Ravnica that can feature in graveyard-centric strategies are positioned to serve as pieces of the puzzle, but the bulk of these decks, if they come together, is going to center around the interplay between mechanics and enablers printed in the set. I suspect that the cross-guild synergies between surveil and undergrowth or jump-start will be driving forces in Guilds of Ravnica Limited, and then the question is just whether these cards are printed at competitive rates for Standard or not. If they are, be sure to keep an eye on the players from other sets, and personally, I'd pay special attention to Stitcher's Supplier, Bone Dragon, and Deadeye Tracker, which I see as the cards with the most room for growth if graveyard support is robust.