One week in and Guilds of Ravnica has wasted no time delivering on a radically different format. So far, it would seem the format is built around four main styles of play, depending on your base color:
- Red - The most popular "good deck" on week one.
- Blue - Five different styles of blue control put up strong finishes, not to mention a couple copies of Mono-Blue Aggro.
- White - While not as popular as the base red and base blue decks, both the SCG Columbus Open and SCG Standard Classic champion played base white decks that stand poised to make big moves this week.
- Green - Technically, Selesyna is at least 50% green as well, but even beyond Tokens, Mono-Green and Golgari (sometimes splashing blue or white) both had respectable finishes and are a little bit of a wild card going forward.
Black hasn't really been a base color so far, but it's far and away the most popular support color for blue control, as well as being a popular choice to pair with green (my theory is that Watery Grave and Overgrown Tomb are clues for explaining this phenomenon).
Here's a quick snapshot of the top tables metagame for the events. Given the team nature of SCG Columbus, these results are not weighted by finish.
Red is clearly the week one pace-setter; however, zero copies making it to the finals of either event raises an eyebrow. What really has my interest is the incredible diversity of blue decks we saw.
For starters, the majority of blue decks were Dimir-based. Sultai, Grixis, Esper, straight Dimir, every combination of Dimir and a possible splash was represented. Here's an example of Dimir to give us a baseline to consider each of the possible splash colors against.
As you can see, there's no shortage of Guilds of Ravnica carrying weight for this list. To begin with, without awesome Planeswalkers, the void left by The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk rotating is being filled by a new five and six.
Doom Whisperer is, without a doubt, one of the premier plus-sizes in the new format, and while it may not be strictly "on-theme" in Dimir Control, you gotta win with something, and it's just a better card than any of the other creatures that cost five or more in blue or black.
Dream Eater is a little "fancier" and sort of does a halfway believable Torrential Gearhulk impression if you squint. Its body is much, much less impressive, and it always seems to Gearhulk back a bounce spell, but at least you also get some fairly quality selection in the form of surveil 4. While I love Doom Whisperer, put me down for cautiously open-minded about Dream Eater. I would love to do better, but we could probably live with Dream Eater if we had to.
While it's only in the sideboard, I did want to call out Thief of Sanity, which seems like a better card to me than Dream Eater. If it connects even a single time, you're just really doing it and can snowball an advantage like a much better Shadowmage Infiltrator.
That said, it's understandable wanting to keep it for the sideboard, as it would turn on every random Shock, Lightning Strike, Dead Weight, etc. our opponents would have just rotting in their hand game 1. As such, Estes instead relies on Disinformation Campaign for generating the kind of card advantage needed to take over the game.
Okay, so maybe Doom Whisperer isn't so off message, after all.
Probe Disinformation Campaign actually seems really sweet here. Yeah, they get to discard their mediocre removal spells at first, but we're still drawing cards. Eventually, we're going to have to actually win the game and neither Doom Whisperer nor Dream Eater is super good at protecting itself. If we can strip our opponent's hand with discard, however…
Disinformation Campaign is actually sort of a three-for-one. It starts as an Unhinge, which is a two-for-one, but isn't quite good enough. However, the next time you surveil, you've effectively "drawn" another Disinformation Campaign, making it a three-for-one (and the third card is even a possible, eventual three-for-one!). Amusingly, The Eldest Reborn is actually kind of a fifth Disinformation Campaign in a way.
Once you're packing Disinformation Campaign and Doom Whisperer, you're starting to get into some real sorcery speed-type of time and will need to tap out fairly often. Fortunately, Dimir is less reliant on permission than other possible blue combinations thanks to another great discard spell to pair with Disinformation Campaign:
Thought Erasure is basically an easier to cast Distress, with surveil 1 tacked on. Distress was already fringe playable, and surveil 1 is the difference between Cancel and Sinister Sabotage.
While Sinister Sabotage is quite good, interestingly Estes has opted against any because of just how often he's going to have to start tapping out on turn 3 and beyond. Instead, he's on just a few Essence Scatters, with some Negates and Disdainful Strokes in the sideboard.
While Essence Scatter and Negate are nothing new, Disdainful Stroke is back in a big way. Whether this is a maindeck Stroke format remains to be seen, but I'd be especially cautious about maindecking them in this style of Dimir, given just how much we're going to need to be tapping out.
Continuing with the tapout theme, Ritual of Soot is an excellent new sweeper that really works well with Disinformation Campaign. As you wear down your opponent's hand, they're going to have to play everything onto the table, leaving them more vulnerable to sweepers.
Discovery is decent early for helping smooth draws and helps provide a critical mass of surveil cards for Disinformation Campaign. Meanwhile, Dispersal really shines here, as stripping the opponent's hand will turn it into an instant-speed catchall removal spell as the game drags on.
It's a small point, but it'll be interesting to see what the right type of balance is between Dead Weight and Moment of Craving. They are so close in power level, it might just be that having a mix is slightly better to increase your options for when you draw both. We may also want to consider Fungal Infection, depending on which opposing threats we expect to be most popular from week to week.
One notable absence from this list is Ravenous Chupacabra. It's not that we need it or anything, and maybe Ritual of Soot does the work it would do. It's a pretty solid card in the format, though.
Hunter Krot's Sultai Control deck makes use of Ravenous Chupacabra, along with a very different sort of card advantage engine despite being basically just a Dimir deck splashing a couple of copies of Vraska, Relic Seeker.
I think Vraska is enough better than Dream Eater, I'm generally pretty interested in options that consider such a swap. Krot's list really leans into the Planeswalkers, employing Karn, Scion of Urza instead of Disinformation Campaign as a card advantage engine (along with a couple of Treasure Maps). What's more, he actually plays all four Thief of Sanity maindeck, just letting removal be good, since it would hit his walkers anyway.
This deck is just so much card draw! He's even packing Notion Rain instead of Discovery for even more card advantage.
Four Overgrown Tombs and four Woodland Cemeteries is plenty for Vraska, and I don't think I'd play a Forest despite the Field of Ruins. We've even got Treasure Map making Treasures, plus plenty of surveil to fix our mana. In fact, if we find ourselves playing too many lands tapped, I think we could even get by on less.
The biggest option from Krot's list is Assassin's Trophy. If we do want to run some of it, I think we've really got to up the green mana count, along the lines of Andrew Tenjum's top 16 list:
Interestingly, Tenjum goes the complete opposite way on creatures, cutting all of the Doom Whisperers for the full playset of The Eldest Reborn, as well as maxing out on both Karn and Treasure Map(!)
The highest finishing blue deck of the weekend was Andrew Jessup's Grixis control deck splashing Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, instead of Vraska or Assassin's Trophy.
Here, we see a lot of the same cards, but interestingly, he's packing three Dream Eater and zero Doom Whisperer. I'm not sold on that kind of time, and it's not like he's that long on countermagic anyway, needing to stay untapped.
I think I'd prefer Joshua Cook's Doom Whisperers, and honestly, I don't hate Thief of Sanity. Once you're playing Bolas anyway, maybe just embrace it.
You know, once we're looking at stuff like Thief of Sanity, I can't help but wonder if there's a way we can really lean into it and also play Hostage Taker. I mean, once you're playing must-kill threats, why not play a lot?
Maybe we don't even need a third color and could just play something like:
Still, I think I'd like playing even more must-answer threats. With Hostage Taker and Vraska's Contempt eating up the four slot, and Doom Whisperer and The Eldest Reborn eating up the five, what we really need is another must-kill three-drop. I'm not sure such a card exists, sadly.
Of course, there's also the Teferi plan.
Instead of Doom Whispering and The Eldest Reborn, we could just make white the splash color and jam a playset of Teferis, and maybe a single Chromium the Mutable for insurance.
Once you embrace the Teferi plan, it really lends itself a lot more to playing permission, rather than always tapping out, since he literally untaps your land for you. Once you're on Sinister Sabotage, the Notion Rains have got to go, making room for Chemister's Insight.
It's no Hieroglyphic Illumination, but Chemister's Insight looks pretty good to me. I'm not actually sure it's appreciably worse than Glimmer of Genius (in decks that don't care about energy).
It's not new per se, but you gotta admit, Vona, Butcher of Magan in the sideboard is far more stylish than Lyra Dawnbringer.
If red removal is more your jam, instead of Ritual of Soot, Vraka's Contempt, Cast Down, and Moment of Craving, you end up with something like Blair Splett's top 16 list, which actually looks more different than it plays.
Really, it's basically the same deck, it's just the removal lines up a little differently. We've even got one Ral, Izzet Viceroy instead of a Chromium for the backup kill card.
That said, it's really the Expansion in the maindeck that interests me, and in fact, I'm not against moving one of the sideboard copies to the maindeck to boot.
While I do like Sinister Sabotage slightly more in the abstract, Ionize being easier to cast is a real thing, and the damage can sometimes matter, even in a deck like this.
I'm a little surprised Splett didn't play any Lava Coils in his 75, as the card looks so good, to me. For example, consider Terren Huck's top 8 list from the Classic. Obviously, embracing Crackling Drake and Niv-Mizzet, Parun takes you down a little different of a path, but it's not like that should really be the thing that gets you to play some Lava Coils instead of just more Lightning Strikes or whatever. Deafening Clarion already hits three so effectively, I think I'd want extra protection against four, you know?
The Legion Warboss sideboard action is kind of saucy. I wonder how effective that sort of a "transformation" will be with that card.
Maybe it's enough of a one-card engine, but I wonder if it takes too long to really get going on its own. Mostly unrelated, but I wonder if Legion Warboss might be the other "must-kill" three-drop we were looking for above?
Would it be crazy to play Duress?!
What about Tempest Djinn?
Yeah, it'd be crazy to play Tempest Djinn with one basic Island.
I didn't mean in the Grixis deck. I meant in general, like for a blue deck. This past weekend, we saw two people put up strong finishes with Tempest Djinn blue decks like the following:
- 2 Exclusion Mage
- 4 Merfolk Trickster
- 4 Mist-Cloaked Herald
- 2 Nightveil Sprite
- 4 Siren Stormtamer
- 4 Tempest Djinn
- 2 Warkite Marauder
- 21 Island
These decks are definitely tempo-based, rather than control, and most of the threats aren't new.
I'm not sold on Nightveil Sprite here. It'd be one thing if we really needed the surveil. That said, I guess we're not making the best use of Warkite Marauder anyway, so maybe it's not a big deal?
Neither of these two-drops are even a Wizard or anything. Are we sure we're getting enough? I guess all we really want is someone to turn on Curious Obsession and Chart a Course, though, right?
Really, what we want to be doing, is powering these cards up with stuff like Mist-Cloaked Herald and Siren Stormtamer, possibly with Dive Down to protect it.
Maybe we should be trimming a couple twos for more Stormtamers? That actually doesn't sound too bad to me.
I love the use of Diamond Mare here as a tool against red aggro, by the way. It's not like it shuts them out or anything, but it is the sort of thing you want and it's at a good price.
...since you know, you don't want to, you know, sleep on it.