Hear me out.
I think Lazav, the Multifarious has what it takes to make it in Guilds of Ravnica Standard. Maybe that's a hot take, maybe it's not; all the chatter I've seen surrounding Lazav has been people excited to play Lazav in Commander, not Standard. This makes sense, as legendary creatures and abilities that cost X both scream Commander, but Lazav will be more than a Commander card.
You look at Lazav and the first thing you think is "neat, a new take on Clone." The second thing you think is "wait, I have to pay the card's entire converted mana cost to become a copy?" Then there isn't really a third thought, because you've already lost all interest in the card and moved on to other exciting previews.
And you're right to do so. Or rather, you're doing so as the result of lessons that have been taught time and time again as new sets come out. If a card requires the presence of another card to do much of anything and even then requires you to pay the full amount of mana, you're generally better off just playing more copies of the cards that do things by themselves. This is a hard-won maxim, and one that pays you off for listening most of the time. But I'm here to tell you that Lazav merits an exception.
Not Your Typical Clone
Lazav, the Multifarious is nothing like any Clone effect you've seen before. All the Clone heuristics we've developed over time are useless when attempting to evaluate Lazav. That's why it doesn't matter that you end up spending full retail to become a copy, a bargain which has historically proven to be not so good. We must throw history out the window and look at Lazav for what they are, not what we think they are.
Let's start with the bad stuff. Clones are rarely Constructed-playable, and when they are it's because they're working an abuse case, typically enters the battlefield effects. Take the Modern Humans deck for example. Phantasmal Image is heralded as one of the most important cards in the deck, and a large part of the reason why is the ability to double-down on key enters the battlefield triggers. Phantasmal Images extreme fragility doesn't matter because the copy doesn't need to stick around very long for its work to be done.
The fact that Lazav, the Multifarious can't copy an enters the battlefield effect is a huge strike against them. One of the huge Clone pay-offs thrown right out the window. Lazav will have to look elsewhere for power.
One place to not look is the classic Clone ability to guarantee having at least one copy of the best creature on the battlefield. That was always the cool fallback plan of Clones: no matter how far behind you are, casting a Clone will be a good step towards getting back to parity. But Lazav can never copy what your opponent's doing, and so this guarantee is out. Worse, Lazav can't even let you double-up on what you're doing, as they only copy things from the graveyard. Like I said, Lazav barely counts as a Clone at all.
So that's the bad side of Lazav. We're not going to be abusing enters the battlefield triggers, we have no guarantee of being the best creature on the battlefield, and we're never going to get to do any of the cool things that our opponent brought to the table. But that's okay, as Lazav's departure from typical Clone design brings plenty of good along with the bad.
For starters, let's consider the fact that Lazav's inability to deliver on the Clone guarantee of being the best creature on the battlefield means that sometimes Lazav will be the best creature around, not just tied for it. This is something that classic Clones can only manage in combination with a removal spell, but it's something that Lazav can manage with ease. This means that Lazav is more singularly threatening than we're used to Clones being.
Another noteworthy plus on Lazav is that the shapeshifting ability isn't binding. This means that when playing with Lazav, you will never be confronted with the frustration of committing your clone to something a turn before the creature you actually want to clone pops up. This avoids feel-bad moments and gives you more freedom with your Lazav, but it also gives you more flexibility. Lazav can shift back and forth between two or more forms as the need arises, which is an added level of power late in the game that other clones don't have access to.
Finally, let's consider this fact: you don't need to wait for there to be a creature you want to copy to deploy Lazav. Classical clones must rot in your hand until there's something on the battlefield worth copying, Lazav, The Multifarious can come down Turn 2 on a completely empty battlefield. How much does that change?
Getting in The Door with Lazav
Forget about that X ability for a second. Forget all about the cool shapeshifting Lazav is capable of and evaluate the rest of the card. If Lazav, the Multifarious were a two-mana 1/3 with surveil 1 when they enter the battlefield, how would you feel about them?
Lukewarm at best, right? There's nothing particularly exciting about this alternate reality Lazav, but nether is there anything particularly offensive about them. A two-mana 1/3 is a completely reasonable stat line for a defensive creature and surveil 1 is a pretty reasonable bonus to tack on. Actually, this version of Lazav is very reminiscent of a creature that has seen play in past Standard formats:
Now, Omenspeaker was never a Standard powerhouse, but the card did see non-zero amounts of play at various points in time. Scry 2 is better than surveil 1, but not so much better that the comparison between Lazav and Omenspeaker falls apart. Point is, there's precedent for a two mana 1/3 with a minor library manipulation effect being a playable card in Standard. Lazav is that and more.
We talk about floors and ceilings a lot in Magic. You want a card to have a high ceiling, to be able to do unbelievably powerful things and win games all on its own. Lazav has that, with an X ability that lets them be just as powerful as the most powerful threat in your deck. You also want cards to have a high floor, to still function at a reasonable level even in less than ideal circumstances, and Lazav also has that. Even at their worst, Lazav is still an Omenspeaker.
This high floor is a ramification of Lazav's ability to be deployed on an empty battlefield where other clones must sit and wait. It's a huge deal, and it's why we should be willing to forgive Lazav for all their shortcomings when compared to other clones. Clones abuse enters the battlefield triggers because they must to make up for their other limitations, limitations Lazav doesn't share.
Maybe you think I'm getting way too hyped over an Omenspeaker. If Lazav were actually just an Omenspeaker variant, I would agree with you. But it's time to put the rest of Lazav's text back where it belongs in the textbox. Lazav isn't just an Omenspeaker: they're an Omenspeaker that your opponent must answer or they will lose the game.
That's the real difference maker and the thing that has me so excited about Lazav. Omenspeaker is a reasonable defensive card but nothing more. In matchups where you have no need to gum-up the ground, Omenspeaker isn't worth very much. In any matchup, an Omenspeaker drawn late does virtually nothing. Lazav doesn't have these problems. Lazav is just as good at blocking and playing defense, but much better at being a relevant card in the lategame. That's very appealing.
Notable Play Patterns and Interactions
So, we think we want to play with Lazav, the Multifarious. We have some good reasons for why the card should be powerful, but none of those reasons matter if it doesn't play well. "Playing well" is far from precise terminology, but what it boils down to is no amount of theoretical power matters at all if the play patterns Lazav creates are awkward or if the interactions Lazav has with the other cards in the format are decidedly unfavorable. The easiest way to figure this out is to play games, but that's not really an option yet, so we'll have to make-do with some analysis.
We'll start with play patterns, and there's good news there: Lazav isn't really asking us for very much. The fact that Lazav's X ability can be activated at instant speed is huge. If there was a sorcery speed restriction on this ability, I'd be much less excited about Lazav. You'd always be risking large amounts of mana at predictable times and would have very little ability to play around your opponent's removal. Fortunately, that's not the case.
As a two-mana creature, Lazav plays fairly well against countermagic. Lazav enters the battlefield before countermagic shields can be reliably raised, and then the real fun begins. With Lazav on the battlefield, any creature your countermagic-wielding opponent counters becomes an additional option available to your Lazav. Even better, it becomes an option you have access to at instant speed that can no longer be countered. In many ways, Lazav is a control player's worst nightmare: a cheap threat that slips under countermagic and matters a lot. See: Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.
Lazav does similar work against removal that doesn't exile, giving you the ability to double-down on an important threat in the face of removal. I'd be very excited about this if not for one thing: It's too early yet to feel like we have a good idea of the shape of the removal in Guilds of Ravnica Standard.
So far, it looks like Vraska's Contempt is going to remain a big player in the removal of the format. This weakens the power of Lazav more than you might think. Sure, Contempt is only one removal spell, but it's the removal spell played with the intention of getting rid of your biggest threat. Your biggest threat is exactly what you want to be in your graveyard for Lazav the most. Lazav will be weaker if the format is ruled by removal that exiles. Keep an eye out for how the removal shapes up, but don't rule Lazav out just because of the removal.
Lazav does one other cool thing we haven't touched on yet that introduces an excellent wrinkle into the associated play patterns: using Lazav's X ability is essentially giving the creature you're targeting flash and haste. Lazav has been on the battlefield the whole time, so if you use Lazav's ability to become a huge creature during your main phase you can immediately attack. Similarly, the fact that you can use Lazav's ability during your opponent's end step means you're threatening to turn Lazav into a huge threat at very inconvenient times, potentially forcing your opponent to leave mana up or perish. This is big.
Let's move on to some of the interactions Lazav, the Multifarious has with the Standard format at large:
Surveil plays excellently with Lazav. That's probably not a huge surprise, given that Lazav surveils when they enter they battlefield, but we should take a moment to truly appreciate the depth of the interaction. If you surveil while you have a Lazav on the battlefield and see one of your important creatures, you can put that creature into your graveyard and still have access to it. This is effectively the same as drawing a card, as you have increased the cards you have access to by one.
Even better, as we discussed previously, this creature you put into the graveyard and now have access to thanks to Lazav is actually better than it would be in your hand. In the graveyard it effectively has flash and haste, keywords it probably wouldn't have in your hand. Lazav's ability to turn surveil into draw and improve creatures in the process is very powerful and shouldn't be underestimated.
Notion Rain, in particular, is a card I'm very excited to play alongside Lazav. The ability to look at two cards to potentially bin for Lazav is great, and Notion Rain becomes a sizable upgrade on Read the Bones when played alongside Lazav. Read the Bones was already great, so a better Read the Bones is very appealing. The fact that Lazav into Notion Rain represents an excellent Turn 2 intoTurn 3 curve is not lost on me, and I look forward to starting many games of Guilds of Ravnica Standard in exactly that way.
It's also worth noting that Lazav is a legendary creature, and never loses that legendary status, no matter what form they happen to be in. This means that Lazav can be used to enable powerful Dominaria cards like Yawgmoth's Vile Offering and Mox Amber. Yawgmoth's Vile Offering is the possibility here that interests me the most, with the graveyard synergies that Lazav loves doing double duty in supporting the Vile Offering.
Before moving on to where I would start with a Lazav deck, I wouldn't be doing my due diligence if I didn't mention the fact that Lazav always keeps their name. This means that Lazav can copy a legendary creature in your graveyard and still be named Lazav. This doesn't much matter, unless you happen to also control a real copy of that legendary as well. Since they have different names, the legendary rule won't force you to send one to the graveyard. Lazav is a way to circumvent the legend rule and have two copies of the same legendary creature on the battlefield. This is a neat quirk that doesn't matter until it matters, but there's definitely legends where having "multiple" copies on the battlefield at once can be back-breaking for your opponent.
Building with Lazav
Alright, maybe I've convinced you that Lazav, the Multifarious is worth looking into, maybe I haven't. Hopefully I have, as now it's time to start taking a look at how to build a deck with Lazav. The first question is pretty obvious: What creatures are we looking to copy?
There's a few different directions you can take this question. Maybe you're interested in a combo-esque Lazav deck and are interested in Lazav's ability to provide redundancy for your synergies. You'll be looking for creatures that work well together and ways to turbo-charge your graveyard and turn your Lazav into Demonic Tutor. Or maybe you're interested in the flexibility that Lazav represents and want to play a bunch of one-ofs alongside that same graveyard turbo-charging, making sure your Lazav always can be the perfect creature for the given situation.
Myself, I believe Lazav rewards you for just playing Magic. Sure, there's things you can do that make Lazav shine, but Lazav doesn't have to be the cornerstone of your deck to be good. The big selling point of Lazav to me is that they're an Omenspeaker that demands an answer, and I don't want to think that and then play a deck where I hope my opponent never answers my Lazav. I'm interested in creatures that play well with Lazav, but that also play well without them.
Regardless of what kind of Lazav deck you're trying to build, some things are clear:
- You're not interested in creatures with enters the battlefield triggers. Lazav can't copy the trigger, so too much of the power of these creatures is wasted.
- Static effects are ideal. Creatures like Ruin Raider and Twilight Prophet are very appealing and powerful to copy.
- Hexproof is a uniquely powerful keyword to have access to, giving your Lazav a way to beat removal in the lategame.
- Creatures that work to fill your graveyard are an added bonus. I'm looking at you, Doom Whisperer.
- Lazav is sneaky and plays well with on-hit triggers. Lazav can become the creature with the on-hit trigger after no blocks are declared while potentially being a very scary creature to block before that time.
It's too early for me to have a sideboard, although I can say that Disdainful Stroke is very likely to make the cut.
This is where I would start with Lazav, the Multifarious. Nothing fancy, just a simple midrange deck for a simple girl. On paper, this deck looks like it might have some trouble closing out games before the plethora of life loss effects it plays catches up with it. I believe Lazav will do a great deal to make the deck close faster than it looks like it should.
Another potential criticism of this build is that it's very prone to flooding. That's absolutely true, and is another thing done with Lazav in mind. This build has many small choices made with Lazav in mind, and playing with it should really highlight the power of Lazav. The list is clearly a first draft and unrefined, but it's a good test of Lazav's abilities nonetheless. Afterall, we don't even know all the cards from Guilds of Ravnica yet!
There's a lot you can do with Lazav, and this build only scratches the surface. I'm super excited for Guilds of Ravnica Standard and the chance to see Lazav in action, and so much more.