No matter how good a Standard format may be, there comes a point in its progression where I start getting that itch. You know the one. It feels like an insatiable urge to flail your arms across the precariously perched building blocks that make up the metagame and just start all over on something new.
I won't deny for a second that this has been one of the best Standard formats in recent memory - some even say it's the best - but I'm ready for fully powered manabases and a world where every guild and shard combination is in play. If Ravnica Allegiance delivers on the promise of its predecessor, we're in for something special indeed. The first wave of previews have definitely whet my appetite, and I begin my exploration of the set by talking about a nifty Simic instant with potential applications in Standard and Modern.
Growth Spiral obviously calls to mind a card which was previously dominant in both Standard and Modern: Explore.
In the Standard context, I think it's extremely dangerous to base our expectations for a card on a close analog's past performance. However, if we're going to talk about Growth Spiral's role in Modern, a direct comparison makes much more sense, since both cards will be present in the cardpool simultaneously. Indeed, for Growth Spiral to see play in Modern, its card text must in some way outshine Explores, since the mana cost of UG is far more prohibitive. Besides the mana cost, Growth Spiral differs in only one meaningful way:
It's an instant.
In some ways, this very dramatically simplifies our analysis. We're only going to replace Explore in situations where the mana cost is non-prohibitive, and it being an instant alters play patterns. Similarly, any decks which choose to slot a Growth Spiral that chose not to play Explore (or didn't exist prior to the printing of Growth Spiral) must also be doing a lot of business at instant speed.
As far as replacing Explore goes, only two noteworthy decks are currently including any copies of the spell. The first is TitanShift. No blue mana here, and the deck is not particularly interested in acting at instant speed. Next.
The second deck is Amulet Titan. Since I've been appointed as an official member of the executive board of the Amulet Titan Fan Club, everyone on the planet decided to reach out to me via social media to get my thoughts on how many copies of Growth Spiral I'll be playing going forward.
Folks, Growth Spiral is not even close to making the cut in Amulet Titan. I already think Explore is awful in the deck and have not regretted cutting it for even a moment. Growth Spiral represents a much harder to cast version of Explore in a deck that has virtually no regard for acting on its opponent's turn. Hard pass.
Growth Spiral's Modern impact will not be made as an Explore replacement but as a powerful new tool for a couple of fringe archetypes.
Bring to Light Scapeshift has been sitting just on the edge of playability, and maybe Growth Spiral is what it needed to break out. This deck does a great job of utilizing every part of the Growth Spiral buffalo. With 27 lands, there should often be an extra land in hand to make use of the additional drop. The four Remands do a nice job of forcing opponents into unwinnable situations. No longer will you be punished for taking off Turn 2 to hold up Remand when your opponent just puts a land on the battlefield and passes. Instead, you just keep ramping and moving deeper into your deck.
You also get to repeat this pattern on the following turn, when your four mana will allow a Snapcaster Mage to potentially do some more instant speed ramping. I also like the way Bring to Light's sideboard is shaping up. Unmoored Ego is a sneaky good print for this deck, and it's possible we should be including even more copies. Meanwhile, the Madcap Experiment/Platinum Emperion Combo is a beautiful curveball that will steal games from an unprepared opponent.
Countermagic will be a hallmark of Growth Spiral decks, but my next suggestion takes things a step further by packing some rarely seen countermagic for the attack step as well.
Rather than attempting to hold control of the game across countless turns, this version of Modern control seeks to leverage Growth Spiral to accelerate into the powerful Nexus of Fate/Teferi, Hero of Dominaria/Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin end game. Look at just how much of this deck operates at instant speed! Also, I don't think I need to tell anyone just how powerful a Turn 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor can be, and the combo of Explore and Jace has done top notch work in the past. Growth Spiral represents a significant upgrade, potentially catching an opponent unaware of the threat of Turn 3 Jace and leaving them with shields down.
Using Angelsong as opposed to Terminus keeps our cantrip count sky high and helps make untapping with a Teferi and Azcanta much more likely to yield a victory (and much easier to do). This deck isn't moving into the realm of lightning fast, but I do think you will occasionally be taking all the turns as early as Turn 6 or 7. A setup like this is a much more reasonable way to attempt to take control in Modern, where there are just too many impediments to stretching a game across twenty-plus turns.
It should surprise exactly no one that I'm excited for this archetype to make the jump back into Standard as well. Growth Spiral is the two-mana ramp spell that Bant Nexus has been praying for since it first appeared on the scene at Pro Tour Magic 2019. Again, Growth Spiral's ability to replace itself as the deck moves to the lategame - where every single topdeck matters - is the real sauce here. Many games will be subtly decided by the Bant Nexus deck's ability to use mana on their opponents turn after successfully representing a Settle the Wreckage or Negate. Much like in the Modern version of the archetype, the surprise value of a non-telegraphed Turn 4 Teferi can be worth a lot, and having another funnel for mana generated by Teferi's untap clause is always nice. A decklist feels entirely premature at this stage, but I just can't help myself.
Nothing feels more liberating than escaping the clutches of bad mana, and Bant Nexus has been rocked by the absence of dual lands since rotation. Adding Breeding Pool and Hallowed Fountain to the mix is no small upgrade, and in combination with Growth Spiral, we may have cause to commiserate Nexus of Fate's printing one more time.
As far as other potential uses for Growth Spiral, I'm going to wait and see what other tools the Azorius and Simic guilds are working with in this set. It seems entirely plausible that Growth Spiral could have a home in more traditional control decks, as well as dedicated ramp strategies. We'll have to wait and see exactly what these decks will look like, but as far as raw power level goes, Growth Spiral checks the box.
It took exactly one card to get me hyped beyond belief for Ravnica Allegiance. January can't get here soon enough.