We're now returning to Ravnica for a third time, and after two very successful visits it's very clear that Wizards of the Coast is looking to keep that ball rolling. Guilds of Ravnica is jam packed full of interesting cards- cards that are obviously pushed, weird reprints in entirely new contextual settings, and a lot of interesting new mechanics that need to be evaluated.
We've got a ton of cards to get to today so we're not going to waste any time. Evaluating cards is extremely difficult, and aside from obvious hits like Assassin's Trophy and Legion Warboss, the jury is still out on most of the set. It's easy to be wrong, which can misinform your early deckbuilding choices, or even worse, your preorders.
Love and hate are the two most visceral of human emotions, while existing together as the opposite of indifference. Here are my loves and hates for Guilds of Ravnica.
Love: Conclave Tribunal
Let's start with a really easy one: Conclave Tribunal is going to be one of the premier removal spells in Guilds of Ravnica Standard.
Four mana at sorcery speed is usually a little more than you'd like to pay for your removal spell in Standard, but can be handled if the spell is exceptionally versatile or has other upsides as well. Cast Out was a well played card in Standard when it was available, and Ixalan's Binding has also seen some play as well. The flexibly of being able to hit any permanent is huge, as it gives your removal spell applications across almost all matchups.
However, Conclave Tribunal doesn't cost four mana. Convoke is a very powerful mechanic, and it will not be hard to make Conclave Tribunal into a Banishing Light or better. In fact, if your deck is heavily based on creatures, it may come down for as few as one or two mana, making it one of the best removal spells in the format.
Make no mistake; if you've got creatures in your deck, Conclave Tribunal is likely the best removal spell in the format available to you.
Hate: Mission Briefing
The 2/1 body on Snapcaster Mage is everything to what the card is and does. It's straight card advantage, a threat, and a blocker. Think of it this way: how good does end of turn Snapcaster Mage targeting Lightning Bolt, Lightning Bolt you feel? It's literally a defining feature of the Modern format. Now think about casting an end of turn Mission Briefing flashing back Lightning Bolt. How did that feel? It probably felt like an awkward Open Fire that you gained a little value off of but had to jump through a hoop for.
Mission Briefing is to Snapcaster Mage as Recollect is to Eternal Witness. Yes, there are times that Recollect is playable, and there will certainly be decks that occasionally want Mission Briefing, but the excitement over this card is completely overblown. This is a fringe playable card, nothing more.
Love: Tajic, Legion's Edge
Wow, this card is pushed. A 3/2 haste creature with mentor is honestly not that far off from Constructed playability on rate alone, and Tajic gets to add two more abilities on top of that!
The "prevent all noncombat damage that would be dealt to other creatures you control" ability is fine but unexciting, given that it doesn't actually protect Tajic from being killed. However, it's good against damage-based sweepers and fine in general. The ability to get first strike, however, is fantastic in any matchup where Tajic may get blocked, as even the threat of activation will make blocking him a very difficult proposition.
The fact that Tajic can get in immediately on Turn 3 while also pumping up your aggressive two-drop is quite the start, and there's no doubt that if there's any Boros deck is even remotely interested in attacking that Tajic will be one of the key cards alongside...
Wizards of the Coast must really want Boros to be a thing.
Like Tajic, Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice is another insanely pushed legend with absurd stats and abilities. Even all by her lonesome, Aurelia is a 4/5 flying, trample, vigilance creature for only four mana that evades several the format's removal spells. Serra Angel, eat your heart out.
But the truth is she is so much more than that. Her mentor ability is solid, but the fact that she can immediately pump an attacker the turn she enters the battlefield gives her a sort of pseudo-haste and makes for an immediate impact. Both of her abilities also work really well with...
Love: Swiftblade Vindicator
Okay, I swear the Boros love train stops here.
Tajic and Aurelia are pretty obvious, but Swiftblade Vindicator is currently flying under the radar. This makes sense, as Swiftblade Vindicator looks fairly innocuous. It's a 1/1 creature with some abilities that doesn't really do anything on its own. I mean, trample? Really?
But, of course, we don't play cards in a vacuum. Just look at how well Swiftblade Vindicator plays with our previous two loves, Tajic and Aurelia. Turn 2 Swiftblade Vindicator, turn 3 Tajic is an attack for seven damage that leaves you with a 2/2 double strike creature on defense, and it only gets better if you play Aurelia the following turn as you'll be attacking for eleven and have a substantial battlefield presence. This isn't even some sort of Magical Christmas Land scenario, it's literally just casting your creatures on curve.
Swiftblade Vindicator has mountains of potential.
Hate: March of the Multitudes
March of the Multitudes doesn't really make much sense.
At first glance, it feels like a hyped-up mixture of Secure the Wastes and Sphinx's Revelation. You get to make a bunch of creatures on your opponent's end step or in combat, and they have lifelink too so you can gain some of the life back you may have lost by leaving your mana up and not doing anything.
The problem is, Secure the Wastes was rarely played in actual creature decks. Convoking this card is not only tough, but also a huge opportunity cost. So, we pass the turn with five mana and three creatures on the battlefield that we can't attack with that turn and our big payoff is five 1/1 creatures? What if we just attacked with those creatures and played some other great five-mana card instead?
Part of what makes a card like Secure the Wastes interesting is that it does something that's different and unexpected. You're playing a deck that's playing a lot of spells, flashy planeswalkers, or creatures, and all of the sudden you have a bunch of small creatures out of nowhere and your opponent isn't equipped to handle them. But if your deck is already full of small creatures, spending a bunch of them and mana to just make more small creatures just feels like a waste.
Love: Chemister's Insight
I know, I'm predictable. Look, there was a time when Arcbound Ravager was legal in Standard and I chose to register multiple copies of actual Inspiration in my control deck. These days, we've got it made. Glimmer of Genius! Hieroglyphic Illumination! And now, Chemister's Insight!
Chemister's Insight is very similar to Glimmer of Genius, in that it's a four-mana draw two with some significant upside. Being able to turn that extra land or dead removal spell into another two cards is fantastic, ensuring that your control deck never runs out of gas or things to do with its mana in the mid to lategame. Control decks always need to play a large amount of lands to ensure they make their land drops and any card that can help mitigate mana flood is a very welcome addition.
I look forward to casting Chemister's Insight over the next two years over and over again.
Is Narcomoeba one of the most broken creatures of all time? Yes, actually, but it has more to do with how Narcomoeba plays with broken mechanics like dredge or cards like Hermit Druid which allow you to flip your entire library into your graveyard in one shot than anything else. Without help, Narcomoeba does almost nothing, and there's nothing broken enough in Standard for Narcomoeba to see any play at all.
Yes, Narcomoeba is very cute with surveil, and surveil is one of the best mechanics in the set. You know what else is good with surveil? Just playing Magic.
We already know how effective scry is at helping us make land drops and find the cards we need, and surveil is just an extension of that with some added graveyard synergy thrown in for good measure. It's not a mechanic like dredge or affinity that needs to be built around, and even if it was, getting a Suntail Hawk for all of your trouble is about the most pathetic payoff I could possibly imagine.
Please don't put Narcomoeba in your Standard decks.
Love: Goblin Cratermaker
I wish I could be playing Goblin Cratermaker in my Legacy Goblins deck this weekend at SCG Baltimore!
As a Standard or Modern card, Goblin Cratermaker is a very reasonable two-drop. Ember Hauler was always solid if unexciting, and Goblin Cratermaker's ability to also deal with artifacts and random Eldrazi creatures is a nice bonus. However, Goblin Cratermaker's real home is going to be Legacy Goblins.
One of the problems with Legacy Goblins has been that the deck has hardly gotten any new cards in the last half decade. Goblin Trashmaster was a nice recent addition for the sideboard, but the job of "maindeck artifact hate" card has always fallen to the somewhat unexciting Tin Street Hooligan. Having the maindeck ability to remove an Umezawa's Jitte or Ensnaring Bridge is a very important tool to have access to, so much so that I've had a Taiga in my Goblin deck for years for the sole purpose of using Tin Street Hooligan.
Goblin Cratermaker, however, fills that role and more while also just being a very reasonable card in its own right. Goblin Cratermaker is just as good against Batterskull as it is against Delver of Secrets, allowing you to remove the Tin-Street Hooligan slot as well as any Tarfire slots you have left over from the days of Deathrite Shaman. Furthermore, it can also fill the role that Stingscourger often has against Show and Tell decks by giving you an answer to an early Emrakul, the Aeons Torn that you can grab off of the Goblin Matron you put onto the battlefield off of their Show and Tell. It even has some extra utility against Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher!
Goblin Cratermaker is fantastic, and I can't wait to add it to the Goblin ranks.
Hate: District Guide
The power creep on Magic's creatures has been trending upwards for years, making tournament staple creatures from a decade ago look like jokes by today's standards. If you're going to tap three mana in Standard now, you can get Goblin Chainwhirler, Steel Leaf Champion, or Tajic, Legion's Edge, and that's not to mention how good the two-drops and four-drops are as well. A 2/2 for three mana that effectively draws a card just doesn't stack up.
Unless the creature type ends up being relevant or there's some sort of deck desperate for mana fixing or gate synergies, District Guide is the definition of unexciting.
Love: Runaway Steam-Kin
Speaking of great two-drops, Runaway Steam-Kin is awesome!
It's very rare for red to get such an efficient creature for only two mana. One spell after Runaway Steam-Kin puts it into normal 2/2 for two range, but when you start looking at a two mana 3/3 or 4/4 without any help from other colors things start to get really exciting. For two easy to cast mana, that's quite a deal.
But wait, there's more!
Runaway Steam-Kin helps to push you forward and cast more, bigger spells, giving an unexpected mana boost that can power you into the mid and lategame. This can allow you to simply double or triple spell across turns, or in more extreme cases, power out something huge. This works great with kicker cards like Fight with Fire or Shivan Fire, which can be fine in the early game and very powerful with extra mana later.
There's probably some sort of combo potential for Runaway Steam-Kin in Modern, but the fact that it's just a solid card when played fairly puts it way over the top. Fun and powerful, what more could you ask for?
Hate: Dream Eater
Yes, it has flash, and yes, it can answer almost any permanent on the battlefield, but the problem is that you're just not getting your mana's worth. Cards like Vraska's Contempt or other removal spells can do the same job at permanently answering a permanent for much less mana, and when we look at the body on Dream Eater it's easy to be unimpressed. Six mana for a creature that dies to almost every removal spell in the format feels awful, further exacerbated by the fact it will likely be played in a creature-light control deck with few other targets.
The only real draw here is flash, which makes you want to play it in a control deck with counterspells, but Dream Eater is so fragile you're better off just playing real removal spells and a win condition that can actually, you know, win the game for you. If you're not playing an instant speed control deck, there are far better things you can do at sorcery speed for six mana in Standard.
Surveil 4 is nice, but you just aren't getting what you pay for with Dream Eater.
So Much To Talk About
There are frankly so many interesting cards in Guilds of Ravnica to talk about it's hard to stop, but alas we have word counts for a reason.
The most important thing is to think critically about cards yourself and try to picture them in real world scenarios when you're crafting your opinions on them. It's easy to hear an opinion or picture a best case scenario and get really excited about a card, only to get let down when you finally sleeve it up because you were blinded by preconceived notions and best case scenarios.
And as always, there's nothing better than application when it comes to testing out theories. Sleeve those cards up! Get out to your Prerelease! I had Tireless Tracker and Duskwatch Recruiter in my Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease deck, and just getting to play with each card to see how good they were made sleeving them up for my Week 1 Standard Open win with Bant Company an easy choice.
I can't wait to play Guilds of Ravnica Standard!