There. I said it.
As we round the last corner of the largest Standard format in recent history, it's easy to assume that after rotation, the best cards today won't all be the best cards this time next month. Hazoret the Fervent is leaving, Scrapheap Scrounger is on its way out, The Scarab God is done reanimating things, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance is going to have to settle for torching things in Modern and Legacy. With most of the linchpins of Standard on the way out and U/W Approach losing little more than Approach of the Second Sun and Torrential Gearhulk, the shell we've been seeing for the last six months or so looks to be an early frontrunner in the best deck race.
Except it's losing something huge.
Despite Irrigated Farmland looking fairly innocuous and being something that can usually be replaced with Meandering River, the loss of ten dual lands is actually a fairly colossal shift. Look at this opening hand:
In today's Standard format, this hand is great. A pile of spells that function on the second turn backed up by the mana to cast the spells on time. Taking single turns off is perfectly reasonable when there are only four lands in the deck that enter the battlefield tapped.
What if we change a card?
It's likely that this hand is a keep on the play. Having interaction to what the opponent is doing on their third turn could be good enough, depending on the matchup. On the draw? Forget about it. Being a control deck and not having anything to do before the opponent's fourth turn, without some sort of reset button (a la Settle the Wreckage) is a recipe for disaster.
This example is obviously going to seem extreme, but when looking deeper into things, it isn't that wild.
Outside of the obvious "dual lands are good because they simply provide more options that basic lands" line of thinking, the core reason that we play dual lands in our decks is to cast all our spells on time. This leads to manabases sometimes looking fairly strange, all in the name of players having the ability to cast spells on time, every time.
On paper, having more fetchlands in Modern and Legacy than fetchable lands sounds absurd until we take a second to realize that every Polluted Delta is effectively an additional copy of Watery Grave, Volcanic Island, or either of the basic lands that it can grab. Legacy and Modern manabases are built in such a way that they can be mana efficient every turn, meaning that they can cast all their spells on time without having to worry about playing a pile of (surprisingly topical) Guildgates.
Any of the guilds that aren't represented in Guilds of Ravnica are going to have a much harder time casting their spells. It isn't just because of the interaction between the cycle lands and buddy lands - it's nice that the cycle lands had basic land types - but even looking at something like Botanical Sanctum, it was possible to cast spells in the earlier turns by leading on Hinterland Harbor before playing 'Sanctum. There isn't a way to cycle Woodland Stream and Hinterland Harbor that results in casting a two-mana spell on the second turn.
While the situations may seem oddly specific, the more of these interactions that are present in our decks, the less likely that it is we'll be able to compete in the earlier phases of the game. This translates to a higher number of games that an opponent will be able to snowball some sort of advantage into a game win while we stare helplessly at a handful of cards we can't cast.
Sure, drawing multiple copies of Dragonskull Summit is going to seem like a bit of a fluke, but what about when the only dual lands that the R/B deck has access to are Dragonskull Summit and Cinder Barrens?
Some decks aren't going to be quite as worried about these issues. Take something like this fairly straightforward G/R Dinosaurs deck.
- 4 Carnage Tyrant
- 4 Drover of the Mighty
- 4 Regisaur Alpha
- 4 Ripjaw Raptor
- 4 Thrashing Brontodon
- 2 Ghalta, Primal Hunger
While this deck is technically a two-color deck, it's effectively a mono-green deck that gets to play some red cards for "free." This creates a situation in which a high density of dual lands that enter the battlefield untapped isn't a necessity.
Unclaimed Territory creates situations similar to the aforementioned Botanical Sanctum + Hinterland Harbor play pattern that requires sequencing lands in such a way that Rootbound Crag enters the battlefield tapped, before Unclaimed Territory enters the battlefield and everything works from there.
The deck is built around the fact that Llanowar Elves isn't included, and the first land of the game will frequently be one that enters the battlefield tapped. Why? There's a specific curve that this deck is attempting to operate on.
Drover of the Mighty and Thunderherd Migration are doing similar things to Llanowar Elves, but rather than skipping from one to three mana, they're skipping from two to four. Keeping that in mind, there are very few three-drops and several four-drops.
Assuming this plan is executed each game there isn't really a use for cards like Llanowar Elves and Jadelight Ranger, regardless of their power level. Odd deckbuilding concessions like this are why these types of decks are frequently less powerful card-for-card than their counterparts that are "true" multicolor decks.
It's also possible to take things to a different extreme and try to play a two-color deck that uses incidental dual lands to splash a singular powerful card:
The list itself is incredibly unpolished, but with so much selection, it feels somewhat free to include a bunch of situationally powerful fun-ofs for the sake of playtesting. I suspect that there are too many dual lands in this particular list, as there's a very real cost to playing twelve lands that require you to pay two life when they enter the battlefield. Patrick Chapin touched on the idea that there are real costs to playing a bunch of duals over basics in an article from six years ago ; to paraphrase the relevant portion of the article:
"This led to people wanting to cut an Island . I actually ended up "cutting an Island ," but unlike most of the others, I had actually cut a Hallowed Fountain last weekend, making room for a third Island .
People were dubious of cutting a Hallowed Fountain at first. After all, you want Sunpetal Grove to come into play untapped. However, we have way too much white mana in this deck anyway . . . so it comes down to how often does the two life matter versus how often does Sunpetal being tapped matters."
What the list does a fine job of, however, is illustrating how easy it is to splash a white card in an otherwise U/R deck when there's a host of synergistic dual lands in Standard.
Small aside on the new Ral:
The fact that Jeskai is the best home for the new Ral means that it's entirely possible that Teferi ends up on the back burner for some number of months. Teferi is still an amazing card, and his first two abilities are almost head-and-shoulders better than either of Ral's, but the fact that Ral can be so easily slotted into a deck with better mana (read: better at casting spells during the "don't die" phase of the game) means that there's a very real chance that Ral, Izzet Viceroy is going to be the planeswalker of choice for the foreseeable future.
Using this Information
Although, as of penning this article, only twenty-ish cards have been previewed, knowing the mana that will be available to use helps us at least know where we should be devoting more energy. Better manabases = smoother gameplay = higher average game win percentage.
Running through all the color combinations, we can create a roadmap to the decks where we can start our playtesting for Guilds of Ravnica Standard:
Good two-color combinations: Selesnya, Boros, Golgari, Dimir, Izzet.
The two-color decks are easy. The first section of the article was dedicated to explaining why having access to an extra set of enters-the-battlefield-untapped dual lands is so important.
Things get a little bit hairier from there. There isn't a clear-cut "wedges are good, shards are bad" idiom to label the three-color decks. The easiest rule of thumb is to look at which three-color combinations have two shocklands in Guilds of Ravnica.
The trick with these color combinations is generally going to be that each combination needs to be rooted in the color that the shocklands share.
Take Abzan, for example. The deck is likely going to have to be somewhat green-focused because it will have so many free sources of green from the lands it plays. This is going to be highlighted most heavily in green largely in part due to the existence of Llanowar Elves.
Llanowar Elves is a card that is naturally going to have the highest impact on the game when played on the first turn. A 1/1 body isn't particularly relevant, and the marked jumps in power level from one converted mana cost to the next are going to diminish as you travel up the curve. This means that buddy lands from Ixalan and Dominaria don't help at all in this department.
Taking things a step further, we can extrapolate that casting Llanowar Elves in Guilds of Ravnica-era Naya isn't going to be realistic. Despite having so many different dual lands at its disposal, the color combination simply doesn't have enough ways to have them enter the battlefield untapped on the first turn.
In many decks, these differences won't be quite as pronounced. The Jeskai deck from earlier in the article is one that is ideally going to have time to smooth its mana out over the course of a game. Something that is aggressive or trying to get ahead on the field in the early game doesn't have that luxury. Recognizing the differences in one's gameplan and how it is going to impact what you need your mana to do for you is going to seriously dictate what color combinations you have at your disposal for the next Standard season.