War of the Spark is bringing a card back to Standard that's near and dear to my heart. I was able to make my first Pro Tour Top 8 on the back of Augur of Bolas and it was a key card in my archetype and the format in general. That trend is something I fully expect to continue in this Standard format.
One of the key selling points to this deck wasn't just Augur of Bolas, but the ability to blink Augur with Restoration Angel. That kept the card flow coming and provided some necessary blockers (or attackers). The fact that it eventually capped off with Sphinx's Revelation was icing.
Some have joked that Augur of Bolas reads "When this enters the battlefield, look at the bottom three cards of your library" because of its propensity to miss, but that's within your control. Obviously there is a specific deckbuilding restriction in place, but it's not like playing a bunch of instants and sorceries is a huge cost. In fact, it's enough of an incentive that Augur of Bolas might have me sleeving up Islands again.
Current Standard is going to use Augur of Bolas and its body to help against aggro decks, although with no blink shenanigans and no Sphinx's Revelations, it's going to be less abusable. At the end of the day, that's fine, because we need the body, especially since it doesn't come at the cost of a card.
As a 1/3, Augur of Bolas does great work at invalidating smaller creatures, all while replacing itself. Our current Standard environment doesn't have very many cards that do this, which allows decks like Mono-Red Aggro and Mono-White Aggro to thrive.
There are some sweepers you can turn to if aggro is a real problem, like Cry of the Carnarium and Deafening Clarion, but those cards have their own issues. Being completely dead against a control deck like Esper is part of it, but there are also decks that mostly ignore those cards, making it very frustrating to try to build a deck that can answer everything.
Augur of Bolas does a great job of allowing you to find your important cards at card parity while also providing a much-needed blocker for Mono-White and Mono-Red Aggro. There are several blue decks that fell just short against the incredibly powerful aggro decks and I look forward to Augur of Bolas providing some much-needed parity, both for best-of-three and best-of-one Standard.
My Pro Tour Gatecrash deck had a scant 21 hits for Augur of Bolas and it was important to keep in mind the amount of potential hits in sideboard games. Cards like Opt allow you to cheat this count to some degree, as cheap, early cantrips typically allow you to lower your land count by a bit, which ensures more hits for Augur.
Here's a way to leverage that.
What was Izzet Drakes weak to? Aggro! White and red aggro decks weren't easy matchups by any means.
In theory, Izzet Drakes had the tools to stem the bleeding with Shock and Lava Coil, but without a sweeper or a big blocker to hide behind, eventually the aggro deck would overwhelm them. Recently, the Drakes decks have taken to splashing Deafening Clarion in order to accomplish that, but not anymore! Augur of Bolas gives you another body and helps stop that early aggression. With 25 instants and sorceries in the deck, Augur of Bolas won't be missing very often.
Given how many cantrips are in the deck, Augur of Bolas allows you to find land in a roundabout way. Finding ways to break the restrictions on certain cards is huge. The fact that you can Augur of Bolas into Opt and use that find your fourth land makes Augur of Bolas even more incredible.
Augur of Bolas can also be a viable option in a more controlling deck.
One of the things Augur of Bolas can do that we didn't see much of before is its ability to protect planeswalkers. Planeswalkers were weak in 2013 and the creatures were quite strong. You couldn't really make an argument for Jace, Architect of Thought over Restoration Angel, but times have changed. Augur of Bolas protecting a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is going to happen.
This deck also contains a combo capable of dealing arbitrarily large damage. If you cast a cheap spell, like Opt or Shock, target it with Expansion, and Expansion your Expansion in response, you can copy Expansions ad nauseam, dealing a point of damage each time with Ral's static ability.
It's sort of a four-card combo, but those cards tend to be ones that you're holding in your hand for quite some time. In any long game, you can probably assemble it against any opponent that doesn't have discard or counterspells. Treasure Map helps facilitate the combo, giving you a burst of mana. You'll need nine total mana to assemble the combo from nothing, so the Treasures help in that regard.
Some have mentioned that they're scared of this combo, but it's somewhat difficult to pull off and is quite mana intensive. It's not quite Felidar Guardian / Saheeli Rai, but it will see play. The fact that each of your combo pieces are completely reasonable on their own goes a long way toward ensuring their playability. You might not build your deck around the combo, but the pieces are worth playing on their own and will come up 10% of the time.
The creature types for Augur of Bolas are relevant this time around also. Wizard's Retort at two mana is a hell of a bargain, so I wouldn't be surprised if that card starts showing up over some of the more powerful options like Sinister Sabotage and Absorb.
For the fair players out there, Augur of Bolas will be a godsend.
Time was, there weren't any real reasons to play any midrange deck that wasn't green. Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger were basically the only creatures that provided reasonable bodies alongside velocity. Midrange needs these early two-for-ones to compete, but now that Augur of Bolas is here, we'll likely see some variety when it comes to midrange.
Maybe this isn't the best way to build Grixis Midrange, but you can see how Augur of Bolas immediately makes decks like this much stronger.
Let's revisit a deck that didn't quite make it.
Augur of Bolas doesn't find Frilled Mystic, but it does provide an early body to block against aggro decks and attack against control decks. Both Frilled Mystic and Augur of Bolas are Wizards, which means we can play some copies of Wizard's Lightning and Wizard's Retort if we want to.
With Ral's Outburst, we have a Prophetic Bolt that works well with Frilled Mystic in a couple of different ways. If you opponent chooses not to walk into your very obvious Mystic, you can fire off a Ral's Outburst to get in some chip damage. Combined with the other sources of chip damage, like Shock, Ionize, and hits from your creatures, you have a very reasonable way to burn your opponents out of the game.
Other decks I fully expect Augur of Bolas to slot into include Temur Reclamation, Simic Nexus, and even Esper Control. If you're playing a blue, spell-based deck, Augur of Bolas will fit into your plans, given the prevalence of aggro in the format. You may have to make some concessions to deckbuilding and sideboarding to ensure your Augurs will have enough hits, but it's worth it.
Just like in 2013 at Pro Tour Gatecrash, Augur of Bolas is primed to be a Standard-defining card once more.