Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction ! Today, Bryan Gottlieb, Ari Lax, and Sam Black are here to render their verdicts on five statements about Guilds of Ravnica preview season. Don't forget to vote for the winner at the end!
1. The Guilds of Ravnica split cards are rather underwhelming and won't see much Constructed play.
Bryan Gottlieb: Fiction . As I write this, eight of presumably ten split cards have been revealed. I expect two to see significant play, and four others have a reasonable chance of getting some run in Guilds of Ravnica Standard. This is a fantastic conversion rate for a cycle of cards.
Early musings by my fellow authors suggest that we're due for a massive slowdown in Standard, with a high probability of midrange decks taking a large percentage share of the initial metagame. In this environment, Find is apt to be a key card, allowing these midrange decks to simultaneously grind and control the battlefield.
While it may take an additional set to make the mana work, I'm a believer in the Status Goblin Chainwhirler combo. It helps that Statue is just a fine piece of unconditional removal that you will be happy to draw in the lategame even in the absence of any Chainwhirler-based shenanigans.
Response, Expansion, Connive, and Integrity round out the list of perfectly reasonable split cards. While these cards aren't necessarily Standard all-stars, they're all versatile enough that I can see them making occasional appearances at top tables. Expansion could even see a little Modern action as a crazy counterspell/ritual/removal spell/win-condition split card in Storm!
Ari Lax: Fiction. Connive alone makes this Fiction. It's a very reasonable Control Magic, especially once you account for it taking Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and Legion Warboss. Then some percentage of games where you Search for Azcanta and mill Chromium, the Mutable or whatever giant fatty finisher your control deck opts for it turns into a five-mana win the game.
I think all five of the rares are going to make a reasonable splash. Response is a fine removal spell that lets you clock in with midrange finishers for quick lethal, Find is just an absurdly good rate for Dutiful Return with upside, Expansion is kind of a Dispel in counter mirrors that flips into a finisher lategame, and Assurance is just a good rate for six flash power and a fine trick.
If this was just the uncommons, you might have a point until Status teams up with Goblin Chainwhirler, but Integrity and Invert both look interesting enough to see play in some specific shell. None of these are super flashy must plays, but what split cards ever have been? The choice of two solid options has always been more than enough.
Sam Black: Fiction. Split cards exist largely as utility cards and role players, and these are largely at the perfect power level; none of them are quite good enough to see play without the other half, but most of them have a cheap half and an expensive half, which is really valuable.
The gimmick here is to cast Status on Goblin Chainwhirler in response to the trigger to create a one-sided sweeper. This is fairly easy to pull off despite Goblin Chainwhirler's RRR cost because you can use both green and black duals to help and you only need to find one or the other, and playing both means that some portion of the time, you'll be able to cast Statue. Statue is an extremely versatile removal spell. It's one more mana than Putrefy or Mortify, but those were good cards. This is a lot worse than Utter End, but even when you're not playing Goblin Chainwhirler, Status means that any time you're chump blocking, you can turn your four-mana removal spell into a one-mana removal spell. The mere fact that your opponent must respect the possibility that your 1/1 might get deathtouch for a single mana allows for some pretty threatening chump attacks that can potentially allow players to push a decent amount of damage they wouldn't otherwise be able to. There's a lot of upside and very little cost to playing this card in small numbers.
I think Find is pretty great in a guild that wants to mill itself. Two mana to draw two business spells with a lot of selection on your part is very strong. Not all matches are about attrition, which is a liability on this kind of card, but Find also gives you access to Finality, which is expensive, but this is a Languish that probably leaves at least one and maybe several of your creatures alive, permanently making one of them bigger while killing your opponent's creatures. This is another card that seems really fantastic in small numbers. Both sides are situationally game-breaking, but when you get both in one card, it's pretty easy to find yourself in a situation where you can do something good with the card.
Intervention is strictly worse than Lightning Helix and Warleader's Helix, but Warleader's Helix really overperformed in its time in Standard. "Just one less" is a deceptively big deal, but one-mana combat tricks are actually great. You generally don't get to play them in Constructed because you can't afford to play a card that's that situational, but any time you spend one mana to save a creature, it's functionally like you cast another copy of that creature for only one mana, which is just a huge tempo swing/fantastic card. I'm excited about the idea of combat in a Constructed format where people have access to Status and Integrity, as I think the need to respect combat tricks makes combat a lot more interesting in Magic, and these cards have the potential to bring that experience in Constructed outside of dedicated combat trick decks like Infect or Heroic.
2. Ral, Izzet Viceroy will perform better than Vraska, Golgari Queen during its Standard lifespan.
Bryan Gottlieb: Fiction . Ral, Izzet Viceroy has some significant competition for his slot. Any deck that can play Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or Ral, Izzet Viceroy will always choose Teferi, and in many instances these decks will be incentivized to make sacrifices to their mana to gain access to Teferi. Teferi is just that good.
As mentioned by my Fact or Fiction co-author Ari Lax on Twitter, even in situations where access to white mana is not feasible, Ral, Izzet Viceroy still must prove itself to be a better option than Tezzeret, Artifice Master. In almost all cases, I'm going with Tezzeret. Conditional removal plus slightly upgraded card draw isn't what I'm looking for out of a five-mana planeswalker.
Vraska, Golgari Queen, on the other hand, is apt to be at least a small part of any Golgari-based midrange strategy. While not the strongest turn 4 planeswalker we've ever seen, Vraska scales extremely well into the lategame, turning each excess land or irrelevant creature on the battlefield into a fresh draw step, all while taking out problematic permanents on the other side of the battlefield. Throw in the fact there are apt to be decks specifically built around cheap, disposable Golgari creatures (hello, Stitcher's Supplier), and it's easy to envision a world where Vraska, Golgari Queen is a key card in Standard. I can't imagine any scenario where Ral, Izzet Viceroy gets to claim the same accolades.
Okay, that might be harsh. Maybe it's closer to original Ral Zarek. You see, I want my plus abilities to do something, and converting a permanent I spent mana on or a land drop on into a random card just doesn't cut it until way too late in the game.
Ral, Izzet Viceroy is just cut from the same cloth as solid planeswalkers like Ob Nixilis, Reignited. The -3 is a welcome addition to a color pair that struggles with things bigger than a Lava Coil can handle. The only reason Ral might end up less played overall is overlap with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but fortunately Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is a great reason to skip Azorius and still play Izzet.
Sam Black: Fiction . I think the comparison to Teferi, Hero of Dominaria makes Ral, Izzet Viceroy appear to be a more powerful card than Vraska, Golgari Queen; in fact, I think it's a more powerful card. However, I believe that card selection from Ral is much worse than untapping two lands from Teferi, and probably killing a creature is much worse than the versatility of answering any nonland permanent with Teferi. As a result, I think Teferi is enough better that most decks that might want to play Ral would rather splash for Teferi, leaving Ral seeing very little play.
Vraska, Golgari Queen might be a complete miss - I'm not sure this card is good - but I'm coming around to the idea that it might be, and if it is, it won't live in another planeswalker's shadow. Vraska's ability to either start at a very high loyalty and go up fast or answer your opponent's only threat and leave you with a planeswalker offers some good play patterns as long as you have things to sacrifice. Stitcher's Supplier is an important first step in getting to a point where this card is acceptable, Hunted Witness is the right kind of card, but it would be better if we didn't need a third color. Saproling Migration might be a decent plan. The biggest question with Vraska is certainly whether we can find enough relatively painless permanents to sacrifice to let it keep going. I do enjoy wondering whether this will finally let me justify putting Reassembling Skeleton in a deck. I'm also somewhat optimistic that even if it isn't good now, it might play well with Orzhov cards to make a good Abzan deck once Ravnica Allegiance joins Standard
3. Assassin's Trophy is the best card that has been previewed thus far in Guilds of Ravnica.
Bryan Gottlieb: Fact. This was an extremely difficult question to answer, based mostly on the nebulous nature of the word "best." What does it mean to be the best card in a set? Typically, I've given accolades like this to the spells that warp gameplay and dictate what can and cannot be done in a format. The Scarab God; Goblin Chainwhirler; Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; Search for Azcanta… these are typically the types of cards I will name when someone is asking me to identify the best card in a set. Assassin's Trophy is a very different type of card. At its best, its removal with some inherent card disadvantage. At its worst, its removal with inherent card disadvantage and a ramp spell for your opponent. Can this really be the best card in Guilds of Ravnica?
In short, yes. This is unprecedented removal in the modern era of Magic. We've watched over the years as the pendulum swung further and further in favor of threats, and removal spells got worse and narrower. With Assassin's Trophy, things are finally moving back in favor of the answer.
You can mitigate the damage done by giving your opponent extra mana. You can't mitigate the damage done by a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria ultimate or an Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin being activated for multiple turns. Assassin's Trophy has altered the balance of power in every format of Magic. While individual games of Magic won't necessarily be focused on Assassin's Trophy in the same manner as the cards listed above, every deck's matchup and plan against base-Golgari decks has been forever altered-often in dramatic fashion.
Ari Lax: Fact. There just haven't been any other cards that are wildly overefficient the way Assassin's Trophy is. None of the mono-colored cards are clear game changers like a hyper efficient cantrip or answer. Sure, some of the multicolored cards are a bit over rate for a normal card of their cost, but that's the draw to multicolored. They just all look spot on balanced. There's no Putrid Leech, or Knight of the Reliquary, or Supreme Verdict, or whatever the best multicolored card that's comically too good for the cost is.
Well, okay, there's one, and that's Assassin's Trophy, and that's why this question is a no brainer.
(Okay, technically the answer is Steam Vents because that card is a big deal, but no one really wants to hear that boring answer.)
Sam Black: Fact. It's possible, maybe even likely, that this doesn't turn out to be the best card in the set in Standard, but in older formats where people play fewer basic lands and cheap cards are more important, it's hard to imagine this being a serious contest. Taken in totality, I think it's about as clear a slam dunk as possible that this will be the best card in the set in the long term. More than enough has been written about the reasons why.
4. Jump-start is the best of the five guild mechanics in Guilds of Ravnica.
Bryan Gottlieb: Fiction. Don't get me wrong, I am head over heels in love with Chemister's Insight, but the rest of the jump-start cards leave me wanting much more. Surveil, on the other hand, is a mechanic I can whole-heartedly embrace. An amped up version of the variance-obliterating scry, this mechanic is stapled onto some of my favorite cards in the set.
Lazav, the Multifarious; Dream Eater; Doom Whisperer; Thought Erasure; Sinister Sabotage; Rain of Notions… all these are potentially Standard all-stars just on the stats of the cards themselves. When you factor in the potential for these cards to do things like produce Narcomoebas, bin reanimation targets, power up undergrowth, and even put my beloved Chemister's Insight into the graveyard for some good old-fashioned value, it's pretty clear that jump-start is left playing second (or maybe even third) fiddle.
Ari Lax: Fiction . Jump-start is better than mentor. That's it.
Jump-start is solidly a worse flashback. The actually amazing flashback cards all did it by having free or reduced flashback costs, like Ancient Grudge or Cabal Therapy. Jump-start is just on rate to convert an extra card into that effect. It's fine, but I doubt any of these cards are going to be all-time amazing given that constraint.
Convoke is a mechanic that provides free mana. It is inherently kinda messed up. While we have only seen a couple convoke spells cross the Constructed threshold, that's because most are Siege Wurm and not Stoke the Flames. Surveil is amped up card filtering, and I have no doubts we're underrating it.
But my pick for the best mechanic in Guilds of Ravnica is undergrowth. A scaling graveyard mechanic just reads like you are supposed to break it. Even when it wasn't a dedicated mechanic, I was messing around with Nighthowler and Nemesis of Mortals to a fair amount of success, so now that's a fully supported thing, I expect even more from the Golgari.
Sam Black: I--what? I certainly wouldn't have predicted that I might be asked this question. It's extremely difficult, possibly even meaningless to evaluate the strength of mechanic in a vacuum, since it just depends on how much the cost of cards with the mechanic are increased over cards that don't have the mechanic, but in practice and expectation, I think surveil is the clear winner. Even ignoring the fact that it has the most and best support--other cards that are looking to work with the mechanic, it's attached to a ton of great cards like Price of Fame, Sinister Sabotage, Notion Rain, and Doom Whisperer. What's the best jump-start card? Chemister's Insight? We've seen far fewer jump-start cards, so maybe a wave of them are about to be previewed, but from where I'm sitting, this doesn't look like a contest. Jump-start appears on overpriced cards with minimal impact on the game. It looks like WotC must have felt like they got really burned by flashback, because this ability looks incredible tame/conservatively costed.
5. Double guild colored uncommons like Crackling Drake and Golgari Findbroker while powerful, are too difficult to cast to see much play.
Bryan Gottlieb: Fiction. Look, I'm no mathemagician. As an English major turned lawyer, I abandoned anything but the most rudimentary math actual decades ago (yes, I'm also old). Despite this fact, I'm confident that given the presence of Overgrown Tomb, Woodland Cemetery, Golgari Guildgate, Elvish Rejuvenator, Glowspore Shaman, and District Guide, I'm going to be able to cast the only one of these cards that I really care about, and that's Golgari Findbroker.
Golgari Findbroker gets you additional uses of all the midrange trump cards which are going to be incredibly important early in the new Standard format. Izoni, Thousand-Eyed; Vraskas of all kinds; Ravenous Chupacabras and other value creatures will all make fine targets for Golgari Findbroker.
And while these targets are all acceptable, there's one other target for Golgari Findbroker's ability that just might prove to be format defining. If you've been reading articles here on StarCityGames.com®, you've undoubtedly seen more and more copies of The Eldest Reborn making their way into proposed lists. Golgari Findbroker returning The Eldest Reborn, The Eldest Reborn returning additional Golgari Findbrokers is exactly the type of end game that can grind opponents to dust. If I'm forced to play a few Golgari Guildgates to get access to this plan, so be it.
Ari Lax: Fiction . If anything, they're easier to cast than you expected. Here's the rules.
Play even-ish amounts of the two colors involved. Play all the good dual lands: shocklands and checklands. Don't play lands that don't make those colors, but splashing is fine. You don't even need more than a Guildgate or two. Just having cantrips or a District Guide style fixer might be enough.
These cards are also more powerful than you think. As evidenced by my article this week, Crackling Drake is just a great Magic card. The only one of these I'm not actively excited to put in a deck is Nightveil Predator, but even then, I can see hexproof just being a pain for something to deal with and a Dimir deck needing something to handle Carnage Tyrant.
I was previously sold on the idea of the Guilds of Ravnica Standard format being half explored due to knowing how the Return to Ravnica manabases worked, but these cards have quickly given me pause in that prediction.
Sam Black: Fiction . This is one of those weird trick questions that actually asks two questions in one that makes a fact or fiction misleading to answer. Let's break it down. (Writer's note: My editor is going to hate me for being difficult about this.)
Question 1: Are Crackling Drake and Golgari Findbroker powerful?
Answer: No. The reason these cards won't see play is because they're uncommons. Their role in the set is to get people to draft two-color decks despite the fact that the set has abundant fixing with a goal that people will have great mana to cast cards that cost CD because they'll have three dual lands in a two-color deck. They're costed to be worth making sure you can cast in Limited and to demand sacrifices to do that. They're not costed to be competitive in Constructed. This is usually the role of gold uncommons. Every now and then, one stands out ahead of the rest and finds its way into Constructed, and sometimes it's even fantastic, but most aren't considerations. Three of these are four mana for a medium threat and a card (counting two Centaurs when killed as a card), one is four mana for an annoying hexproof creature, and the Boros card (whose English name I don't believe is currently known) is just bad. Those just don't look strong enough to me.
Question 2: Are these too hard to cast to see play?
Answer: No. If I got an effect worth building my manabase to support, I'd play a couple guildgates on top of the eight dual lands I was already intending to play, and I'd have very good chances of casting these cards.
So, no, the statement that the reason these cards won't see much play is because they're too difficult to cast is not true, but it's also not the case that these cards will see much play, because this more subtle claim in this sentence "while powerful..." the claim that these cards are powerful, is also false.
Here, the double negative has the same effect as a positive answer; If I'd answered fact, I'd be agreeing that these cards won't see much play, but the double negatives happen to line up in such a way that while the outcome is the same, the sentence is still false (see also: two wrongs don't make right).