So far, the thing that makes Ravnica Allegiance hardest to evaluate is the fact that very few of the new cards seem to fit into the existing powerhouse decks. I'm sure that Golgari Midrange and Boros Aggro will find a new toy or two to play with, but the vast majority of these cards are going to require an entirely new approach to the metagame. This is a good thing for fans for format diversity (myself included!), but in another way, it can make Ravnica Allegiance a tricky set to pre-order cards from.
Think about it: Are we really going to have ten or eleven top tier Standard decks next month, or are some of the guilds going to end up left out in the cold? My money is on the latter outcome. If, say, Mono-Red Aggro ends up being the third best aggro deck in the format after Boros and Rakdos, why would anyone play it over those two decks? The same goes for the third and fourth-best midrange and control strategies, too. And with five more powerful shocklands added to the format, we should see the rise of three and four color decks as well. Things are gonna get real crowded, real fast.
This means that I have even less of an idea of which decks will sink and which will swim in the new format than I usually do. Some of the new guilds will prove incredibly powerful, but others will disappoint. Some of the old guild decks will make the transition seamlessly; others will fall by the wayside. And since most of the cards in Ravnica Allegiance (and in Guilds of Ravnica, for that matter) are narrow and specific, some cards that look amazing in a vacuum will end up seeing close to zero play simply because of how the metagame shakes out.
None of this is all that unusual, mind you, but it's a little more extreme this time out due to the strict delineation between guild strategies in these two sets. And because of that, I recommend a fairly conservative approach to preview season this time around. As always, buying cards that you want to play with right away is fine as long as you're okay with the fact that your exciting new deck might not pay off immediately. But if it's value you're after, try to avoid cards that have a narrow approach, even if they seem absurdly powerful. It doesn't matter if that Gruul Monsters spec really is the best Gruul Monsters card of all time if that deck doesn't have enough pieces to make it into Standard's top tier.
Anyway, let's get to the cards! Despite all of those warnings, Ravnica Allegiance looks like an absolutely incredible set that's chock full of powerful cards. I may not personally pre-order too many of these singles this time around (unless I need play copies ASAP), but you'd better believe there's a couple of gems in here that I've already pulled the trigger on.
Dovin, Grand Arbiter - $19.99
I love how divisive Dovin, Grand Arbiter has proven to be so far. The people who are high on him are really high on him, imagining Dovin as some sort of hybrid between Bitterblossom and Dig Through Time. The people who are down on him see Jace, Cunning Castaway 2.0. There is very little middle ground thus far.
Allow me to play the centrist here for a moment. The thing I like about Dovin is that his +1 ability can generate a massive amount of loyalty very quickly in, say, a Bant Tokens shell. Dovin is basically Jace, Cunning Castaway in a deck that can't reliably deal combat damage with its creatures, but if you can it's nigh-on unstoppable.
But while I feel like Dovin is better than its detractors make it out to be, I'm definitely not pre-ordering this planeswalker at $20. If you're going to pay that much to pre-order a card, you're betting that the card has a real shot at becoming the next Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Aside from color identity, though, Dovin has very little in common with Teferi. At best, Dovin is a two-of or three-of in a Bant Tokens deck that may or may not end up being a thing, and that's still assuming that Dovin's detractors are wrong and this doesn't end up just being win-more. Those are too many what-ifs for a $20 card. I'm passing.
Prime Speaker Vannifar - $19.99
Prime Speaker Vannifar is my favorite card in Ravnica Allegiance. Once the price comes down, I'm going to brew with her for days. I don't know how good she'll be, but I'm thrilled by how cool the Simic cards are this time around.
That said, pre-ordering Vannifar breaks one of my cardinal rules: never speculate on "fixed" versions of previous Constructed powerhouses. This is how you end up dropping $35 on Mox Amber or $20 on Time Reversal. Everybody who looks at Vannifar immediately thinks, "it's Birthing Pod, a card that was so good it had to be banned in Modern. Sign me the heck up!" without considering the fact that Vannifar is harder to cast, more expensive to cast, can't be activated the turn you play it, and dies to everything-including Lava Coil.
That said, Vannifar is going to be a massively popular Commander, and it might have some game in Modern, too. Intruder Alarm and Thornbite Staff both saw massive spikes this week as people brew up those decks, and it's likely that future interactions will be discovered and cause spikes as well. If you really want to buy something here, I'd focus on Modern pod staples like Voice of Resurgence and Restoration Angel, both of which have been cheap for months since they don't see nearly as much play as they used to. Even if Vannifar does see play in Modern, she should drop below $10 at some point over the next couple of months.
Spawn of Mayhem - $17.99
Spawn of Mayhem isn't flashy-it's just good. A 4/4 flier with trample is an incredibly relevant body, and dealing an extra damage each turn is far better than you think. Not only is this the sort of ability that aggro decks want, but having an automatic spectacle trigger each turn is likely to turn on at least a few extra cards in your deck. Oh-and when you get off to a decent start, you can play this thing on turn 3. And it gets bigger in the endgame. Yeesh.
At $18, you're already buying this card for the price it'll settle at if it ends up being a four-of in a tier 1 Standard deck. That makes sense, because Spawn of Mayhem seems likely to end up as a four-of in a tier one Standard deck. If you want to play any sort of black-based aggro decks, pre-order away-you're going to want to have these on week one.
The real question to me, then, is whether or not Spawn of Mayhem is going to see play in multiple tier 1 decks. Because why stop at Rakdos Aggro? Why not think about throwing Spawn of Mayhem into Dimir Tempo, or Orzhov Tokens, or several other intriguing brews? And if that happens, then we're looking at a $35 card. I personally never pre-order $10+ cards unless I have an immediate use for them because the downside is just too great, but I'll be monitoring this one very closely over the next few weeks. Of all the $15+ cards in the set so far, Spawn of Mayhem is the one with the best chance of becoming the "it card" of Ravnica Allegiance.
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper - $14.99
Historically, most three-mana planeswalkers have seen extensive Standard play. I'm pretty sure that Jace, Cunning Castaway was the first three-mana 'walker to be a complete and total bust-an auspicious mantle that Kaya will likely pick up as well. I keep wanting to see the upside here, but I keep coming up short.
I guess it's possible that Kaya is good enough against things like Arclight Phoenix and History of Benalia to overcome just how narrow and underpowered she is? She seems more made for Modern and Legacy, but graveyard hate that doesn't start working until turn 3 is barely graveyard hate at all in those formats. Sideboard play in Standard seems like the most likely outcome here, which would place Kaya closer to $5 than $15. I suppose there's a chance that I'm missing something and she'll end up being a surprising breakout hit, but I'm not going anywhere near this planeswalker at current retail.
Skarrgan Hellkite - $14.99
Skarrgan Hellkite is fine, I suppose. You probably don't want to pay five mana for a 4/4 flier with haste, so that ability is really only going to come into play when you're about to win the game and you need to accelerate your clock. Otherwise, you're paying five mana for a 5/5 flier with a decent but unspectacular game control ability.
Cards like this have been fine in the past, but the good ones usually let you have the haste and a cherry on top. Stormbreath Dragon and Glorybringer, for example, both came out, attacked, and then did another powerful thing afterward. Will Skarrgan Hellkite still see play even though it won't have haste most of the time? It probably will, but I don't think we're looking at the next big Dragon powerhouse. There are already a bunch of decent midrange red creatures (say hello, Phoenixes!) so this one is probably limited to some sort of hypothetical Gruul Monsters deck as our only shot at the big time. $15 is pretty close to this card's best case scenario, so I'm staying away.
Hydroid Krasis - $11.99
Hydroid Krasis isn't an absurd play at any point below eight mana or so, but its flexibility is its greatest asset. It's a solid payoff for any sort of ramp deck that isn't embarrassing in the mid-game, and the fact that you get the cards and life off the cast trigger make Hydroid Krasis a really solid anti-control card. If any sort of Simic, Sultai, or Temur Ramp deck ends up making it big, you can expect Hydroid Krasis to be a four-of in that decklist.
My issue here is the same as it is with most of these $10+ cards: the upside is already priced in. Hydroid Krasis isn't showing up in more than one good deck (the X factor that would cause it to end up being a $25-$30 card), so you're already paying for the card assuming it'll be a staple in a deck that doesn't even exist yet. That's totally fine if you want to build Temur Ramp or whatever on day 1, but be prepared to take a loss if that strategy doesn't end up panning out.
Seraph of the Scales - $11.99
I'm decently high on Seraph of the Scales almost entirely because of how good afterlife seems to me. Four mana for a 4/3 flier with some mediocre abilities is nothing to write home about, but the fact that you get half a Lingering Souls whenever she dies makes Seraph of the Scales a card that's well worth considering in some sort of Orzhov Midrange deck or perhaps even Mardu Angels.
Financially, I like Seraph of the Scales a little more than Hydroid Krasis because I think there's at least a slight chance she'll see play in multiple decks. I also feel like there's an existing strategy (Boros Angels) that's going to strongly consider running this card. Because of all that, there's a better chance that this one ends up at $18-$20 for a while. That said, you're still paying $10+ for a card that isn't an immediate staple in a deck we know is good, so the same caveat I've been attaching to most of these previews still applies.
Ravager Wurm - $6.99
Six mana cards have to be really good (like, Carnage Tyrant good) in order to see play, and I'm not sure that Ravager Wurm qualifies. Best case, this thing comes out, kills your opponent's best creature, and then swings in for damage right away. That's good, but it's only going to be relevant against midrange decks. I'm not sure it's quite powerful enough against control, and it's far too slow against aggro.
That said, I can imagine Ravager Wurm becoming a pretty clutch sideboard card if a Gruul Monsters deck ends up being good. It could also see play if a utility land or two ended up being a major part of the new metagame. I guess it might end up back at $7 at some point if everything breaks right, but I expect it'll end up closer to bulk mythic range over the short-term.
Rakdos, the Showstopper - $5.99
Rakdos certainly does stop the show, but the inherent randomness built into this card will probably keep it from becoming a Constructed staple. Most professional players like knowing what's going to happen whenever they cast a spell, and the fact that this thing might wipe your army away while letting all of your opponent's creatures live is going to weigh pretty heavily on the minds of future deckbuilders.
I don't think that Rakdos is totally unplayable. though. In, say, some sort of creature-light Grixis control shell, this thing might actually come down and wipe away a few of your opponent's best threats without affecting your plans all that much. This thing isn't much of a gamble at $6, and I'd consider snagging a copy or two if your brews are trending in that direction. It's a bit of a long shot, but the raw power level is certainly there.
The New Shocklands - $6.99 - $9.99
[Editor's Note: We do not have an official image of Stomping Ground at this time.]
I don't feel like I need to say too much about these. The five shocklands in Guilds of Ravnica currently range from $5 (Temple Garden) to $15 (Steam Vents) with most of them falling in the $6-$8 range. While it's possible that one or two of the Ravnica Allegiance shocks will join Steam Vents up at $15, the Izzet-colored land has almost always been the most expensive in the cycle. At any rate, just buy whichever new shocks you think you'll need and don't sweat it. If the prices rise or fall by a buck or two, who cares? Shocks are always in high demand, and you'll never be sad to have them.
Electrodominance - $6.99
All right, let's really dive into Electrodominance. It's one of the most interesting cards in the set, and I'm pretty sure that it's actually great.
Essentially, casting Electrodominance allows you to pay an additional RR whenever you cast a spell in order to Quicken your spell to instant speed and deal damage to target creature or player equal to the casting cost of that spell. (It's not quite that because you can always pay more for X or cast Electrodominance without having another spell, and it helps you cheat color requirements for your spell, but I digress.)
How much mana do you have to have before this is good? I'd be pretty stoked for a five-drop that allowed me to play my three-drop at instant speed while also giving me a free Lightning Bolt, so it doesn't seem like you need much to make this card work. There are card advantage considerations here too, of course, but I feel like Electrodominance is at its best in an Izzet deck that'll be drawing cards at a pretty high clip regardless. This card is also going to be worth considering in any sort of big red, Temur, or Gruul strategy that wants to ramp pretty hard.
It's also worth considering Electrodominance in Modern. We already had Kari Zev's expertise as a way to open up new avenues for Ancestral Vision, Living End, and Restore Balance, but Electrodominance provides some much needed redundancy as well as being a more powerful spell to begin with. I wouldn't be surprised if all four of these cards see at least a small surge in price, with Ancestral Vision being my preferred target.
If there's one word of caution here, it's the fact that X spells tend to look better during preview season than they end up playing once the set is released. Aurelia's Fury, for example, was the most-hyped card in Gatecrash and it ended up seeing almost no play in Standard, much less Modern. Electrodominance seems like it has a shot at being a multi-deck staple, though, and $7 seems like a totally reasonable buy-in for a card with this much power and upside.
Sphinx of Foresight - $4.99
Kudos to WotC for printing so many cards that are hard to evaluate after 25 years of research and development. You obviously don't really want to be running a 4/4 flier for 2UU if you can help it, but it's not a totally embarrassing body, and the upkeep scry trigger is better than it looks. The "Leyline" ability is the really key to Sphinx of Foresight, though, as it can potentially help sculpt a nut draw, dig you to your sideboard pieces, or prevent you from having to mulligan.
How good is this thing, though? I know it seems like a cop out, but I'll really have to play with it first before I know for sure since I've never seen another card like it. I have to believe that Mono-Blue Tempo will want to run four of these no matter what, and any blue-based combo deck that shows up over the next couple of years is going to want four of these, too. I'm highly skeptical that it's good enough for Legacy, Modern, or Vintage, but it's one of the only cards in the set where I wouldn't be shocked if it ended up making an impact in Magic's oldest and most powerful format. At $5, it's something approaching a total gamble - it could end up being a $15 multi-deck staple, or it could drop into bulk rare range. I'm staying away until I at least hear some buzz from people testing it out, but I'm going to monitor it as closely as I can.
Deputy of Detention - $4.99
People are still underrating Deputy of Detention, a card that is just incredibly solid. Yeah, it's more vulnerable than Detention Sphere, but it's also quite a bit better than Fairgrounds Warden and Fiend Hunter, both of which saw competitive play. (Fairgrounds Warden didn't see a ton of play, mind you, but that had more to do with how weird Kaladesh Standard was with all of those vehicles and everything else.) Detention Sphere bounced around between $3 and $8 during its time in Standard, and Deputy of Detention should follow a pretty similar curve. There isn't a ton of upside here, but these are fine to snag now if you play Azorius.
Pestilent Spirit - $4.99
Pestilent Spirit certainly seems like it'll find a home in at least some iterations of Rakdos Aggro. Its second ability pairs best with red, and this card is especially strong against green-based decks with lots of large creatures that would normally be outclassed by your cheap burn spells.
I'm not sold on Pestilent Spirit as a maindeck card, though-that's going to depend on how the format evolves. If we end up in a world dominated by midrange creature decks or green-based ramp, this thing is going to be all over the place. If not, I like it more out of sideboard. Spoiler alert for further along in this article, but I don't see why this one is $5 and Judith, the Scourge Diva is just $2 considering that's the card that seems more likely to be a maindeck staple for Rakdos Aggro. Both cards are good, certainly, but at $5, you're paying pretty close to the top of the market for Pestilent Spirit. I'm not buying yet.
Precognitive Perception - $3.99
I'm not going to do a better or more thorough job of breaking down Precognitive Perception than Shaheen Soorani did last week, so take a look at this article if you want the full picture. I agree with Shaheen that Precognitive Perception is going to see a lot of play in the next generation of control decks, though the fact that it shares a mana cost with Teferi means that it'll probably only be a two-of or three-of most of the time. $4-$5 seems fair for this card, and it should hold its value. There isn't much room for growth beyond that, though, because only the most dedicated control mages are going to want to run this.
Growth-Chamber Guardian - $3.99
Growth-Chamber Guardian is going to be a powerhouse.
I'll admit, I'm always a sucker for flexible green two and three-drops. They're the most underrated and underpriced cards in a given set, pre-ordering in the $3-$5 range before ending up near $15 at some point. Growth-Chamber Guardian feels like one of these cards to me, and you'll want to have your copies before the spike.
Think about it. You're basically forcing your opponent to deal with your Grizzly Bears at some point while you're tapped out or else you're threatening to build an army of 4/4s that fetch each other. Pumping this, drawing another, and swinging for four on turn 3 is far from an embarrassing early game play, and drawing into a whole chain of these is a great lategame play, too. Ahead, behind, early, late…Growth-Chamber Guardian is rarely bad. Mark my words, you're going to need four of these at some point. Get them now.
Biomancer's Familiar - $3.99
Hey, it's Training Grounds on a stick! Biomancer's Familiar plays pretty well with Growth-Chamber Guardian, but I'm not sure you need the Biomancer's Familiar around for the Guardian to be awesome. This is the sort of card that's hard to evaluate without knowing the full context of everything-it's possible that it will synergize so well with a number of other Simic cards that an entire new archetype will be born. It's also possible that all of those cards will either be good enough on their own or so bad on their own that the deck will just roll over and die if somebody kills your Familiar. I can certainly see a world in which this card works out well, but there are far better gambles on the $4 tier. Biomancer's Familiar will drop to $1 in a hurry if it doesn't find a top tier home in Standard.
Teysa Karlov - $3.99
My gut reaction to Teysa is pretty similar to how I feel about Biomancer's Familiar. It's really good with afterlife, obviously, but afterlife is probably good enough on its own that you don't really need an enabler that doesn't do much by itself. That said, it's certainly possible that this will end up being the flagship of a powerful new archetype-we'll just have to wait and see.
At the very least, casual and Commander demand should keep Teysa in the $2-$3 range. "Doubles your death triggers" is a powerful and unique ability that brewers are going to be trying to break for years to come. I'm probably not buying my copies of Teysa until the initial hype has died down, but I'm bullish about this card's long-term prospects.
Absorb - $2.99
Absorb is exactly the sort of solid-but-unspectacular role-player that ends up kicking around the $3-$5 range for months. It's competing against Sinister Sabotage and Ionize for spots in the good control decks, but I suspect that all three cards will end up seeing play. Absorb's mana cost isn't as bad as it seems in a world filled with shocklands, and gaining three life is more than a little relevant against burn and other red-based aggro strategies. This card is fairly priced right now, and you can feel free to snap these up at current retail if you're an Azorius, Esper, or Jeskai Control player.
Rampage of the Clans - $2.99
I don't see Rampage of the Clans working out. A bunch of 3/3 Centaurs aren't really worth jumping through the hoops of getting yourself a bunch of artifacts and enchantments, but it's far too powerful a gift for your opponent if you're interested in destroying their artifacts and enchantments. Terastodon is great because of its flexibility. This is just going to be a dead card a lot of the time. Future bulk rare.
Smothering Tithe - $1.99
Smothering Tithe is exactly the sort of card I want to run in my big mana Commander decks, where I can sit there and load up on Treasure as my opponents groan each time I remind them about the trigger. $2 seems like a decent long-term price for Smothering Tithe, but this thing isn't going to see any play in competitive Constructed and it'll hit bulk rare range at some point over the next couple of months. I'm not going to buy in until that happens.
Gutterbones - $1.99
Gutterbones is pretty similar to Dread Wanderer, a card that saw a decent amount of play back in Amonkhet Standard almost solely because a 2/1 for one in black is good in the right environment, especially when you give it any sort of upside. But that isn't always enough; Gutterbones is also similar to Bloodsoaked Champion, a card that never really got off the ground back in Khans of Tarkir.
I don't think that the Rakdos Aggro decks are going to want Gutterbones, though any sort of Orzhov or Mardu Aristocrats obviously will. If that happens, expect a spike to $5 or $6. If not, this thing will kick around the $1-$2 range for a while. It's not a bad buy since you're not paying for upside at current retail, but I'm fairly skeptical that your investment will pay off.
Judith, the Scourge Diva - $1.99
Yes, please! Judith, the Scourge Diva is exactly what a Rakdos or Mardu Aggro deck wants: a cheap casting cost, a relevant ability that affects the battlefield the turn you play it, and a death trigger that keeps your opponent on their back foot even when they wrath you. Judith might not be good enough to be a four-of in that deck due to her legendary status, but I have no doubt that this card will see a significant amount of Constructed play. $2 is a great deal for this one - grab your copies ASAP.
Amplifire - $1.49
Amplifire might be intriguing with some other stats added on, but paying four mana for a 1/1 that sits around for a while before it does something random is so not where I want to be in any competitive game of Magic. Future bulk rare.
End-Raze Forerunners - $0.99
I'm not sure why End-Raze Forerunners has exactly zero hype. It's better than quite a few of the cards we've talked about so far, and it might end up being an important part of the new Standard metagame. I get that Decimator of the Provinces was a disappointment compared to Craterhoof Behemoth, but End-Raze Forerunners is easier to cast than the Decimator, and the vigilance that it gives you creatures is no small bonus, either. I'm not saying that this is going to be a $10+ staple, but I can see it being a key $5 piece in some sort of ramp and/or Gruul Monsters deck. For a buck, what do you have to lose?
Mass Manipulation - $0.99
Mass Manipulation is too expensive for Constructed play. It's probably too expensive for Commander as well, though some casual mages will play it regardless. Future bulk rare, though foils should be slightly above bulk foil rare range.
This Week's Trends
It was another solid week for Standard cards that should play well with the new guilds. Angrath, the Flame-Chained; Divine Visitation; Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca; and Hadana's Climb are all up again, and Nullhide Ferox looks like it's about to join the club as well.
Elenda, the Dusk Rose was the biggest Standard winner of the week, though, roughly doubling in price from $7 to about $14. StarCityGames still has a few of these in stock for $11 at the time of this writing, but they're among the cheapest copies I could find and they'll likely be sold out by the time you read this. Elenda looks perfectly positioned to combo with afterlife cards, so it's likely she'll see plenty of play if Orzhov Midrange becomes a thing. Here's hoping.
Over in Modern, we already talked about the massive gains for Intruder Alarm and Thornbite Staff due to the printing of Prime Speaker Vannifar. Also up big: Postmortem Lunge, the uncommon from New Phyrexia that recently started to see play in some brews of Devoted Druid decks. The card was bought out everywhere, including the European market, and the price jumped from about fifty cents to about $7 overnight.
That new price hasn't really stuck, though. StarCityGames re-stocked a bunch of Postmortem Lunges for $2.99 on Friday, and as of that evening they still had over a hundred in stock. This card is certainly worth picking out of your bulk from now on, but I don't think it's going to be a solid $5-$7 any time soon.
There were a few other Modern gainers, too. Spirebluff Canal finally spiked, jumping about $5 this week, and it's about time. I wrote multiple articles on post-rotation pickups back during the summer and fall, and one thing was consistent in all of them: Spirebluff Canal was far too cheap considering the amount of Modern play it sees. Hope you have your copies already! If not, the other Kaladesh lands are also underpriced, and they'll eventually spike as well. Go pick them up ASAP.
Also up big this week: Possessed Portal, from Fifth Dawn. I'm not quite sure why this card spiked now. Perhaps a buyout related to the Izzet Prison deck in Modern? It shows up in there from time to time, though I can't find any evidence of a deck using Possessed Portal having a high finish in the recent StarCityGames deck database. At any rate, I'm skeptical that this is an organic buyout, and I expect the price to drop at some point soon.
Lastly, it's worth noting that boxes of Ultimate Masters are still on the rise. They're up to $350 here on StarCityGames, and finding them for less than $300 is absolutely impossible right now. Unless WotC decides to do another print run-I'm skeptical-these have nowhere to go but up. If you're in the market for Ultimate Masters cards, it's time to think about buying.