It's that time again!
We have a release of a new set, and therefore, another Top 20 list from yours truly needs to be published. This list focuses on the cards that I believe will shine brightest in Standard throughout their entire lifetime in the format, and I'm not taking other formats into consideration. I've been busy playing as many Standard games as I can ever since Guilds of Ravnica was released on Magic Online even though I'll be playing Modern at SCG Columbus this weekend because the format is too much fun. Good thing I have though, as my thoughts about this list have changed quite a bit over the last handful of days.
This list was incredibly difficult to put together compared to previous sets as Guilds of Ravnica has a ton of cards that will impact Standard. There have been some sets in the past where finding twenty cards I believed would impact Standard was a challenge, but with this set I easily found more than double that. I love how deep this set is with Standard playables and believe this is something that's vital with future set releases to keep the format entertaining and fresh. My opinion on why Standard has been stale over the last few years is because there have been a small number of cards that have been much better than the rest of the card pool, which means you had to play them.
Guilds of Ravnica reminds me a lot of Khans of Tarkir, which is also the set players point to when they talk about the last time they last liked Standard due to how it's built around multi-colored archetypes. Each archetype is deep with playable cards, making the format diverse and challenging. Abzan and Jeskai rose to the top during Khans of Tarkir Standard, and it's likely a couple guilds will rise to the top of Guilds of Ravnica Standard as well, but I'm not just going to fill my list with all the cards from a couple guilds. Instead, I'll be writing covering all the guilds, with mono-colored cards getting a boost since they can fit into multiple archetypes.
Enough chatting! Let's move on to the list!
CEDitor's Note: Cmon. I had to!
Boros was the first guild I was enthralled with and wrote about it being the best guild in Guilds of Ravnica two weeks ago. The creatures are chock full with keywords and being aggressive week one of a new Standard format is always a positive. Since then I've cooled on the guild a bit but still believe it to be one of the best options for #SCGCOL . Swiftblade Vindicator is the first of three cards from the guild on my list due to its slight weakness to Goblin Chainwhirler, which will still be a popular card in the new format. However, put a single mentor counter on Swiftblade Vindicator and you have a must answer threat, with the more you add the better. Swiftblade Vindicator also turns pump spells like Integrity into game changers, making it a card that has a lightning rod on it anytime it's on the other side of the battlefield from me.
19. Dawn of Hope
Dawn of Hope is one of the more surprising cards of the set for me. It was unassuming when I first saw it, and I didn't read the card or think about it fully. However, once I played Selesnya Tokens with it for the first time I realized how powerful of a card it truly is. It can single-handedly build an army for you while drawing plenty of extra cards. Each time you gain life, such as each time a lifelinking creature deals damage, you may pay two mana to draw a card. If Clue tokens taught me anything, it's that two mana for a card isn't too high of a price to pay.
I've been very critical of Azorius Control decks early into the format, as the lack of other win conditions besides Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is concerning. If I was playing such a deck, I would have one or two Dawn of Hope in the maindeck as another angle of attack.
Golgari is the most fascinating guild in Guilds of Ravnica. There are so many different directions to go with the two colors with no obvious best path. I still haven't seen a Golgari deck I truly love, but the potential within the guild is undeniable. Therefore, I wouldn't recommend playing it for week one, but it won't be long until a Golgari deck creeps to the top of the format.
I really like the design of Vraska, Golgari Queen as a planeswalker, who represents this fascination well. It isn't inherently powerful where it will be slotted into every Golgari deck, but it's still good enough to warrant building around it. The minus ability is effectively Abrupt Decay, an ability that Standard decks will be happy to pay four mana for if it leaves behind a planeswalker. The plus ability, however, requires extra permanents that you don't mind sacrificing, which limits the decks Vraska can go into. With that said, I expect to see a good amount of Vraska, Golgari Queen throughout the next couple years of Standard.
Disinformation Campaign is a card that if I would have made this list two days ago I wouldn't have been close to putting it on, even though I knew how good the card is in Limited. Having a card that's incredibly good in Limited is usually a sign that it will be good enough for Constructed as well, although it's not always the case. At first I thought there was a chance Disinformation Campaign would see some Constructed play, but that it was likely too slow for the format. However, after watching a Dimir Control deck bury its opponent with this card and surveiling over and over, I'm on board.
While a different Selesnya mythic is getting all of the press these days, Trostani Discordant is another card I overlooked during preview season. The ability of giving all your other creatures +1/+1 is vital for Selesnya, an archetype that's trying to get as many creatures onto the battlefield as possible. Trostani being legendary hasn't hurt the five-mana creature as much as I thought it would because your opponent will assuredly have to remove it from the battlefield to be able to win the game, which makes having a second copy in your hand less of a drawback. I expect almost every Selesnya deck to be playing two to four copies of Trostani Discordant for the foreseeable future.
Tajic, Legion's Edge, on the other hand, is a card that's been falling out of favor for me and it would have been much higher on this list a week ago. Don't get me wrong though - Tajic is still an incredibly good card, but it has some issues with how it matchups up against other cards in the format. If your opponent plays History of Benalia on turn 3 and your turn 3 is going to be a Tajic, it's going to be difficult to attack and trade profitably. Even if you wait a turn until Tajic has first strike, your opponent will have a second Knight token, and you'll have to spend valuable mana to give Tajic first strike. Also, with Mono-Red Aggro being a highly played deck at the moment, Shock is currently one of the most played removal spells, which bodes poorly for a 3/2 creatures. Tajic is an incredibly good card, but it looks like some of the decks at the top of the expected week one metagame are built to deal with it efficiently.
With Selesnya Tokens being my favorite deck choice for #SCGCOL, it was a little hard not to rank all my favorite cards from the deck higher. This was especially true for Venerated Loxodon which has been nothing short of impressive all week. The 4/4 body is surprising relevant in the format filled with three-damage burn spells and three-power creatures and putting +1/+1 counters on your creatures is vital with Goblin Chainwhirler and Plague Mare around.
13. Ritual of Soot
There's not much to say about Ritual of Soot except this sweeper is vital for both Golgari- and Dimir-based midrange and control decks moving forward. It's the best black sweeper in the format, and I'd be comfortable having it maindeck week one due to the amount of expected aggressive creature decks. Ritual of Soot isn't perfect, most notably not being able to destroy Vine Mare or Nullhide Ferox, but it's still more reliable than Phyrexian Scriptures.
I expect Izoni, Thousand-Eyed to be a big part of the fascinating Golgari decks that I talked about earlier with Vraska, Golgari Queen. It's a one-card army in a guild that has roughly a million ways to recur it from the graveyard. Like I mentioned before, I believe it will take a little more time to find the optimal Golgari shell, but Izoni, Thousand-Eyed is certainly a powerful payoff that's well worth building a deck around.
Just like how I'm lower on Tajic, Legion's Edge from a week ago, I'm lower on Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice for similar reasons. Aurelia doesn't necessarily matchup against any particular card poorly, but the competition for the four-drop slot in Boros is fierce. Rekindling Phoenix is as good of a card as it ever was, maybe even better now with less overall exiling effects being played than previously with the Gods leaving the format. There's also Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants which works well with the mentor creatures in Boros, as well as the next card on the list, and it's hard to justify fitting four copies of a four mana legendary creature in the maindeck.
That said, Aurelia is still one of the most single-handedly powerful cards in the set. Not only is it a 4/5 attacker with flying, vigilance, and trample any time you want her to be, but if you want her to sit back you can turn a small creature into a threat each combat. I still really like Boros as a guild, and I believe Aurelia is very good, but there may not be room to play many copies due to the fierce competition.
You'll be hard pressed to find someone who likes Experimental Frenzy more than me, and my heart wanted to put this card even higher. Experimental Frenzy can provide Mono-Red Aggro decks with an unheard of amount of card advantage, which is extremely scary for an opposing deck that's simply trying to stabilize. The downside of not being able to cast the cards from your hand isn't much at all when paired with a low curve where Experimental Frenzy is the last card cast. After untapping with it, you can continue to play every spell from the top of the deck until you run out of mana or see a second land. Experimental Frenzy should at least see sideboard play in every non-Izzet Red Aggro deck with room to be built around in maindecks as well.
Honestly, I think I may have Flower rated too low at number nine. We've seen how powerful this effect has been in recent sets with Attune with Aether and Traverse the Ulvenwald, and Flower is just as good as the other two. Not only does it allow you to play less lands in your deck while still hitting your land drops, but the two card combination of an end step March of the Multitudes, untap, and Flourish is going to be format defining. Ross Merriam picked Selesnya to be the best guild in Guilds of Ravnica before anyone else due to the power of Flower, and after playing with the card over the last week, I'd have to agree with him.
Conclave Tribunal is the premier removal spell in the set for Standard as far as I'm concerned, which is likely surprising to some. The downside of Assassin's Trophy allowing the opponent to search for a basic land from their library and put it on the battlefield is huge in Standard because the format is slower and cards are more expensive. Also, Golgari not only has plenty of other good removal spells but is also a guild that's based around putting as many creatures as you can into the deck. I'm not saying Assassin's Trophy isn't good enough to see Standard play, but it's not one of the Top 20 cards for me.
On the other hand, Conclave Tribunal is right up there with the most important cards in the set. Being single color means it can go into more decks and even when it's not convoked, it has a perfectly reasonable casting cost for exiling any nonland permanent. It also has the upside of being able to be cast with your creatures due to having convoke, so at times you'll be able to cast it for effectively zero mana, which is absurd.
Nullhide Ferox was one of the more difficult cards to rank on this list. The stats on the card are pretty absurd for a four-mana creature, and it has some weird abilities, but at the end of the day it's just a big creature. But if we've learned anything from Steel Leaf Champion and Ghalta, Primal Hunger, playing big creatures is often good enough to win games of Magic. Not only does Nullhide Ferox fit perfectly into Mono-Green Aggro immediately, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a big part of Standard after the next set when Gruul becomes a part of the format.
6. Risk Factor
" Risk Factor is the sixth most impactful card in Standard from Guilds of Ravnica? But punisher cards are never good!" -someone, somewhere
Well, someone from somewhere, that's what I thought when I first read the card as well, but Risk Factor is honestly really good. The first copy of Risk Factor is usually pretty easy to ignore and you just take the four damage instead of giving the opponent three cards, but with jump-start it's usually pretty difficult to take another four damage and still survive the early pressure or other burn spells red decks can put together. You want to be ahead when you're casting Risk Factor, but that's not a hard requirement for a red deck. Risk Factor is absolutely good enough to deserve this slot on my Top 20 list, which is really saying something for all of the other good cards that have come before it. If you're holding out on playing the card because you just believe punisher cards are bad, give it a try.
If Risk Factor isn't my most surprising card this high up on the list for you, maybe Find is. I absolutely love Find in not only every single Goglari deck but in the sideboard of Mono-Green Aggro against removal-heavy decks as well. Double Raise Dead is an exceptionally powerful and underrated card. Sure, it's usually not going to be good on turn 2, but in the mid- or lategame, you're spending one less mana for a Divination that's also more powerful by providing selection. Getting the two best creatures from your graveyard is much better than drawing two random cards when built around properly, something the Golgari decks can do with ease.
None of this even takes into consideration that there's more to the card. Finality is a quality sweeper when needed, which is a luxury. The biggest downside to playing sweepers when you're playing creatures is that whenever you're ahead on the battlefield, the sweeper is a dead card in your hand. Finality is only a sweeper when you need it and has another incredibly useful function when it's not needed.
I expect Find to be a big part of Standard for the next two years, and it's my current pick for most underrated card in the set. I'm confident in ranking it as a top five card of Guilds of Ravnica.
March of the Multitudes is incredibly similar to Sphinx's Revelation in more ways than just casting cost, something I didn't realize until talking with Ross Merriam about it on our way home from #SCGBALT a couple weekends ago. When Sphinx's Revelation entered Standard, people looked at it as a big X spell that you'll only want one of as a trump in the very lategame. However, as people played the card more and more, they realized that casting a small Sphinx's Revelation for two or three would gain them the life and give them the cards they needed to prolong the game a little later, in which case they would want another Sphinx's Revelation for five or six. This lead to a final Sphinx's Revelation that would completely bury the opponent.
Move ahead to March of the Multitudes and looking at the card at first, I thought it would be a nice big X spell to use as a trump in the very lategame. However, the first March of the Multitudes can be cast to give you enough lifelinking blockers to prolong the game, with the second or third pulling completely ahead of the opponent. Discussing this with Ross is when we realized it was likely better as a four-of than a one-of, so I started with four when I first started playing Selesnya Tokens on stream last week and haven't looked back.
While March of the Multitudes will be a format defining card right away in Standard, it's still a multi-colored card that doesn't have as much upside throughout its Standard life as the top three cards on the list.
Pelt Collector is up towards the top of my list for probably obvious reasons. It's a very good one-drop that will be a big part of Standard for the next two years. It will likely fit into Simic and Gruul decks better than Golgari and Selesnya, but before those two guilds are fully supported, it also has a home in Mono-Green Aggro. The fact that Pelt Collector's ability triggers when creatures die as well as enter the battlefield is an important part of the card that allows it to be a better topdeck in the lategame than it otherwise would be. This allows you to play it before combat and trade off bigger creatures, growing the Pelt Collector. One-mana creatures that have the potential to trade with much more expensive creatures are usually a big part of Standard, and I expect Pelt Collector to be the same.
Doom Whisper is a five-mana 6/6 flying trample creature with synergistic upside. Just like everyone else, I thought the ability would be some kind of drawback when I first read the card, but no, it's just a creature that synergizes perfectly with what Golgari and Dimir are trying to do in the set. Add in that it's a mono-colored card that will be easy to add in to multiple decks in the future and Doom Whisperer deserves to be at the top of the list. It's only number two though, as there's still another card that looks like it will be the most played card in the set.
Runaway Steam-Kin is an incredibly good card and will be a cornerstone in red aggressive decks for the next two years. It's a two-mana creature that grows to a 4/4 quickly and can also provide extra mana to be able to dump your hand, an ability an aggressive deck values highly to get ahead of the opponent. Afterwards, you can use cards like Risk Factor or Experimental Frenzy to finish the game off. Moving into rotation, I thought Mono-Red Aggro was going to take a big hit since it was losing so many cards, but it still looks like the deck to beat for #SCGCOL .
Time For SCG Columbus!
There you have it, my Top 20 Standard Cards from Guilds of Ravnica ! As always, I'm interested to hear which cards you believe I'm under or overrating. This was certainly the hardest list I've put together so far, but with the amount of games I have under my belt, I'm confident in my picks. I can't wait to finally see all these cards in action at #SCGCOL this weekend. It can't come soon enough!