Return to Ravnica hit this weekend and hit hard. By this weekend Scars block and M12 will have rotated out replaced by Return to Ravnica and a whole new metagame to explore.
Set reviews are always tricky with gold sets. After all talking about Izzet makes you want to talk about the decks that use red and blue cards which starts to spill over to more and more cards and colors. This time around I'd like to split things up into three basic categories: updates to existing decks (today) new decks possible with Return to Ravnica (Wednesday) then the rest of the cards of note (Friday) including a number of speculative ideas some explanations of cards I'm not using at the moment and further exploration of control.
As a reminder ranking cards 1-5 or 1-10 is not particularly useful since card power is completely contextual. Understanding the uses of cards is far more valuable than closing our minds off by labeling half or more of the cards in a set "bad." Wizards of the Coast has moved away from ranking Constructed cards this way and with good reason.
When it comes to updating decks from the existing format it is only fitting to start with Delver. I have noticed an awfully suspicious lack of discussion in this area considering that Delver is basically half the format. Fortunately Ponder is finally going to be banned (thanks for the past three months!) but Delver of Secrets Snapcaster Mage Geist of Saint Traft and Restoration Angel are all legal. So why hardly a whisper on the archetype? Is Ponder really the death knell?
Well despite Ponder being the most important loss (Mana Leak Vapor Snag and Gitaxian Probe all hurt too) it may actually be the loss of Gut Shot and Dismember that shake it up the most. Without those vicious color bleeds what is U/W Delver to do to interact with cheap creatures? This is particularly relevant in the new Standard which is looking like it will have no shortage of fast aggro decks (at least at the format's onset).
So far I have only seen people speculate about Delver decks with red so I thought I'd try my hand at a straight U/W list. Missing Gut Shot and Dismember is brutal but maybe we can find another game plan.
Losing Ponder Gitaxian Probe Vapor Snag Gut Shot Mutagenic Growth Dismember and Mana Leak leaves us with very very slim pickings as far as spells go. Just trying to find 20 to put in our deck to make our Delvers at least halfway reasonable is quite the challenge without a third color. In the end I went with four of the good ones (Thought Scour and Azorius Charm) three of the mediocre ones (Unsummon and Midnight Haunting) and then filled out the deck with a wide variety of "bad ones."
Azorius Charm is not a breathtaking rate or anything but it is very versatile. If you are under pressure the ability to put a creature back for two mana is often a reasonable deal. If you are not under pressure cycling it for two mana is not bad and gives you another cantrip to ensure you can actually draw a card off your Snapcaster Mage. The ability to gain lifelink is hard to gauge but since Delver comes down to racing so often will actually prove quite awesome. It is not going to be unusual to gain 6-9 life and sometimes you will go nuts with Runechanter's Pike. In racing situations Azorius Charm will often be at least as good as a Fog which is a pretty spectacular option for a Charm that cycles.
Let's just get one thing straight: Syncopate is not a good card. Broken Ambitions was the Divination of Mana Leaks. It wasn't pretty either but when you needed a two-mana counter it got the job done. Syncopate is pretty clearly a notch below Broken Ambitions (which is amusing considering how much more people seem to like it while Broken Ambitions was pretty universally derided).
Of course at the end of the day when our options are Syncopate Essence Scatter Negate and Dissipate there really isn't all that steep of competition. Cavern of Souls pushes us even further from wanting to play permission not to mention the slew of new Jackal Pups but there are still enough expensive cards floating around that having access to a couple permission spells gives us a nice added dimension.
I like Restoration Angel better than Talrand given the loss of so many good cheap spells. Additionally there are going to be a lot of spells that deal two damage in the new format. It is still a powerful enough card however that we should keep it in mind and see if there is a good way to abuse it. As awful as it sounds in a tempo deck maybe Think Twice is the secret to making Talrand good again.
Augur of Bolas is passed over partially because the loss of Ponder forces us to play more land (leaving less room for sweet no spell cards) but also frankly because most of the spells he can hit suck.
Lingering Souls is enough better than Midnight Haunting that it is very possible that we should be tweaking the mana base to look more like the Spirit deck with which Finkel and Jelger made Top 8 of PT Dark Ascension with (albeit with more land to help make up for the lack of Ponder). Maybe something along these lines:
Ok ok pretty clearly there are signs pointing to Delver decks adopting red. Let's start with the full-on three color.
We are already so low on sorceries and instants that it is real tough to justify cutting another for an Augur of Bolas. We could look to trim on Geist of Saint Traft Restoration Angel or Pike but those are the cards I actually like in the deck.
It is going to take firsthand experience to learn the right balance of Izzet Charms Azorius Charms Mizzium Mortars Unsummons Bonfires of the Damned and possibly even bad permission. To start with I like a nice mix to get the best information possible in testing. I do think that Izzet Charm's ability to Careful Study is going to be particularly valuable in the new Delver decks that have to play so much more land than the old ones needed.
Izzet Charm is very probably the best of the Charm cycle in Return to Ravnica. All three modes are powerful tournament cards (albeit at one mana more) but what makes the card so great is that the options complement each other. No one cares how good the best option you didn't use is so having options that are as different from each other as possible is valuable. Izzet Charm has one mode for spells one mode for creatures and one mode for when neither of the first two modes is appealing.
Another big strength of Izzet Charm is that it gives us effects we really want but that can traditionally be dead a bit too often for comfort. Spell Pierce is the poster boy for this of course. It is so good when it is good but it is so dead much of the time. Not so with Izzet Charm.
The "bad" Shock provides much appreciated added cheap creature removal without being dead against people without swarms. It is a very modest rate but it does give us versatility.
Finally the Looting is something that decks often would like a little of but the inherent card disadvantage makes it tough to justify. Having an option to turn your Spell Pierce or Shock into a Careful Study (at instant speed) is going to prove quite valuable.
Izzet Charm's strength doesn't appear to be any secret but it might end up being slightly overrated (despite being fantastic and worth playing in Modern Legacy and Vintage let alone Standard). Playing around Spell Pierce when it costs U/R is going to be easier than when it costs just U. Shocking a creature is fine but when you are spending two mana to do it you are probably going to lose mana more than you gain it. Finally Looting is nice but still puts you down a card.
I love Izzet Charm I really do but we should be realistic about it. It isn't going to give us the raw power that Esper Charm did so we have to be careful not to ask too much of it. As long as we back it up with more powerful (and narrow) options we should be fine. It is versatility not power and we need to make sure we make up the power elsewhere.
Mizzium Mortars is an absolutely awesome new card that gives us some pretty exciting late game potential considering how good it is early. Flame Slash for two mana is actually not that bad a deal so one that also offers the ability to "kick it" to get a Flamewave for 3RRR (albeit without the damage to the face) is pretty freaking hot. There are only so many straight creature removal spells we can justify playing here but this is definitely a card that could end up being right to play the maximum of even with the existence of Bonfire of the Damned.
On that note it is really interesting considering the implications of the best red sweepers being Bonfire of the Damned and Mizzium Mortars. Normally cards like Pyroclasm or Slagstorm or Earthquake take the title. For the first time I can remember the two best red sweepers are Plague Winds rather than Wrath of Gods. What does this mean? I am not totally sure yet but it definitely incentivizes us to play more creatures in our creature decks to take advantage of the Plague Winds. Of course it also incentivizes us to look at creature-less decks to try to sidestep the Plague Winds (or at least give a long look to creatures with a five-toughness).
Ok what about straight U/R Delver?
- 2 Augur of Bolas
- 3 Blistercoil Weird
- 4 Delver of Secrets
- 2 Faerie Impostor
- 2 Guttersnipe
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
Guttersnipe is a giant question mark. He might be so deadly when combined with cheap spells that not using four is a sin. However he isn't a great defender isn't that fast and there is not a lot of room for non-spell cards. I'd like to try a couple just to get some experience with him.
I think there is something important to be learned about Faerie Impostor though I am not sure what yet. Just bouncing another one-drop makes him a 2/1 flier for two which is not the worst back-up plan even if it is a little awkward with Delver of Secrets. The ability to rest Snapcaster Mage or Augur of Bolas (or any number of other creatures with 187s) is actually pretty awesome particularly when it is costed as a drawback.
The trick of course is that we only have room in the deck for so many non-sorceries and instants if we want our Delvers and Augurs to do their job. It is very possible that there just isn't room for both Guttersnipe and Faerie Impostor in the same list. Without Ponder we are stuck playing more land than we'd like (though this list does have an awfully low curve). Izzet Charm makes it less likely we will be able to kick our Mortars but even as a two-drop the card is solid.
I wonder if there is a way to take advantage of Faerie Impostor in a green deck which features a huge selection of creatures worth bouncing like Elvish Visionary Borderland Ranger Thragtusk and Armada Wurm. Strangleroot Geist and Angel of Serenity are also quite nice. The roadblock I keep hitting is why use blue at all? The best blue creatures to bounce are Snapcaster Mage and Augur of Bolas which get pushed out once you are so heavy with creatures. Cloudshift could replace Faerie Impostor and you have a deck.
Of course another possibility is to just splash Thragtusks into a Delver deck. Of course we are still going to run into the difficulty fitting everything we want while maintaining a high enough spell count.
I really would like to Call of the Conclave despite the lack of synergy with Unsummons; however six basic Islands is just too brutal. Maybe once we get Breeding Pool it could be worth a second look. It would keep our spell count high while giving us nice added aggression.
Supreme Verdict might be a little out of place but it seems like it will be good in the new format and this deck's creatures do a pretty good job of replacing themselves.
Azorius Charm's life steal ability starts getting more exciting when you have big bruisers like Thragtusk to jump-start it. Farseek is a far less exciting reveal but at least it is a spell I'd actually want in my deck (unlike most of the options). It isn't appropriate for this deck but it is worth keeping Scorned Villager in mind when we are looking at options for acceleration. He isn't that great but with no Birds or Llanowar Elves the bar is lower.
Let's take a look at one last Delver list before moving on. This one is almost surely fatally flawed because it's a bad red deck but if someone can find the blue card that makes it worthwhile there are some decent things going on here:
Hellrider is being a little neglected right now presumably because of the glut of good options at four and the (possibly) death of G/R Aggro (which loses Copperline Gorge Birds of Paradise Llanowar Elves Swords and more).
Rakdos Cackler isn't the sickest ever but he is a two-power creature for one and that's not bad. As always the real tension in the design is the spells versus creatures. There are so many creatures I'd like to use and so many spells I'd like to cut. Of course this begs the question why use Delver at all? We could certainly replace him with another red one-drop turn Snapcasters into Ash Zealots and replace Izzet Charm with anything.
I'd kind of like to experiment with some sort of U/W midrange deck ala Sam Black taking advantage of Jace Architect of Thought and Tamiyo the Moon Sage. Once we no longer have to feed a Delver we can cut back on the sorcery/instant count and play cards like Detention Sphere and the Walkers. I wouldn't mind Supreme Verdict in such a deck but at this point we are on a very slippery slope towards U/W Control. After all do we even want Geist of Saint Traft?
If we do we are going to need more cheap spells or creatures. One that really fascinates me is Frostburn Weird. Getting a 1/4 for two is already not that far off (I have paid three...) but his Flowstone ability is actually quite reasonable letting him start hitting for four when he finds his openings. He is certainly not amazing but he is worth considering as an alternative to or in addition to Augur of Bolas.
Whenever I start jotting down U/W Control decks they invariably slip towards Miracles. After all Terminus is just fantastic and which victory conditions are better than Entreat the Angels? Jace and Tamiyo of course but Miracles wants those two anyway.
Martial Law seems like it might be just want Miracles was looking for. It makes all of your sweepers way more effective letting you detain their best guy every turn without the mana that Icy Manipulator would cost. Of course it is pretty slow which could potentially be the flaw in it (not detaining a creature the first turn). I could easily see cutting it for another Supreme Verdict or another Feeling of Dread.
As a matter of fact it is probably very foolish of me to not be running four Feeling of Dreads in here in the first place. As a guy that has made a lot of Miracle decks this year it is shocking how many times I start with fewer Feeling of Dreads then after playing some games slide them back in. What is it about Feeling of Dread that defies intuition?
Jace Architect of Thought is absolutely awesome in here (and just about everywhere). I was just chatting with Wafo earlier today and he expressed his surprise that Wizards would make such a good Jace so soon after the Mind Sculptor. I will be talking about enough Jace decks this week let's just leave it at this:
Azorious Charm nicely gives us more early game plays against everyone. Getting attacked? Buy yourself some time (and a land drop). Not getting attacked? It is another cantrip cycler. It can even go big with an Entreat though usually at that point you are already winning. I don't use more because the nature of a Miracle deck is that it is quite mana hungry and all this cycling isn't free. That said it is a fun trick that can protect Jace (though admittedly not as well as Feeling of Dread).
The card I am really not sold on is Temporal Mastery. It is a powerful dimension to be sure but how much do we actually need what it does? What if we just had more "good" cards? We could totally replace it with more Augur of Bolas Azorious Charm Feeling of Dread Supreme Verdict maybe even a Sphinx's Revelation?
Looking at existing control decks one of the big question marks is the future of Esper Control. The loss of Mana Leak Ratchet Bomb Gideon Sun Titan Elesh Norn and Darkslick Shores leaves us with a lot of holes. We do however gain one of the most powerful planeswalkers ever Jace Architect of Thought. What about an Esper Walker deck? Somebody call Shaheen Soorani...
We could try to support Liliana but we'd have to massage the mana base a little. We could replace the Vault of the Archangel with another Swamp and an Island with another Evolving Wild and I think we'd be ok. This would let us replace the Tribute with a Liliana. We could also trim one of the other three-drops for another Liliana. I'm not sure how good Liliana will be in the new format though. She could easily be great but this time around I felt like starting with the slightly more conservative mana base. She is real good with Lingering Souls however.
If we really wanted to go the Unburial Rites route we'd need a pretty good reason not to play red. Izzet Charm is a great discard outlet as are Desperate Ravings and Faithless Looting. Maybe we could do some sort of five-color Michael Jacob special. Chromatic Lantern might be a nice touch that lets us avoid stooping so low as to play Transguild Promenade (not that it hasn't come to that before...)
Chromatic Lantern is probably best used in moderation in a deck that can function without it but that uses it as another mild fixer. It is not totally clear that Vessel of Endless Rest isn't better but there is a certain appeal to the certainty that your mana troubles are over.
The real cost however is that every one of these five-color fixers could have been a Keyrune. The Keyrunes are underrated much the same way the Worldwake manlands were. Most people don't appreciate options with low opportunity cost. That said there is certainly more cost to three-mana artifacts than lands that come into play tapped. Of the Keyrunes the Rakdos is my favorite by far as a 3/1 first striker can totally take over a fair number of games as well as produce a respectable clock.
As for what creatures to Unburial Rites I'd start with Griselbrand and Angel of Sanctity. Gisela is certainly a respectable option but Selesnya Charms Zealous Conscripts Azorious Charms and Unsummons make her a somewhat dubious choice.
I will be talking about more Reanimator ideas on Wednesday as well as quite a number of control decks so let's just move straight on to Zombies.
After I jotted down the above list I looked around a bit to get ideas for Zombie decks. Lo and behold Brian Kibler had already published this exact list 74/75 (he had a Swamp where I had the Forest). I am not sure what that means but I suspect it means that there is a very obvious path to start down when it comes to B/G Zombies and that an awful lot of people are going to start there.
Lotleth Troll isn't as good as I thought he was when I didn't realize he only let you discard creatures (making him less good in Jund) but he is still a total beast in here. Obviously discarding Gravecrawler is the dream and Dreg Mangler isn't too shabby but even just the threat of instant speed zero mana pumps makes him hard to block or attack into. There aren't even all that many ways to deal with him efficiently and two of the most popular Oblivion Ring and Detention Sphere are targets for Abrupt Decay.
I don't love the Sign in Bloods but we are short a two-drop and I don't really want to Shred-Freak (although if it comes to it he might be the next best choice). Mainly I think nine sources of green for Rancor and Abrupt is a bit dubious and Sign in Blood can help us fix our mana. It also provides more fuel for Lotleth Troll for when you have those types of games.
The Troll really has a pretty incredible rate considering we were willing to use Walking Corpse and Blood Artist which are both cold garbage. A two-power creature of the right tribe for two is a start and regeneration firmly slides it ahead of any of the other choices. Being able to regenerate through a Supreme Verdict Bonfire of the Damned or Mizzium Mortars is clutch. Then factor in the ability to discard creatures at no mana and you are talking about a Wild Mongrel / Putrid Leech level of two-drop. It is worth noting that Celestial Purge is no longer going to be legal.
Lotleth Troll is why Zombies will be high tier 1.
Dreg Mangler is a bit more modest of a threat but he is still a force to be reckoned with. Having three toughness is great in this world of Pillar of Flames and Izzet Charms and being a 3/3 haster for three and the right tribe is great. Like so many abilities when they give you the new keyword for free you might as well play it (scavenge). Spending six mana to get three +1/+1 counters may not sound hot but the opportunity cost is basically nil. We might have played the card anyway and this one gives us a flashback that is sort of like three more points of haste going long. The combo with Lotleth Troll is no joke either. Discarding a Mangler is like discarding a flashback spell. You will likely get value eventually.
Ultimate Price is definitely weaker than Doom Blade or Go for the Throat but since neither of those is legal we will have to make due. One way to compare the cards is to look at how often their weakness will come into play. Doom Blade was generally the best except when black aggro is good. Go for the Throat was generally great except at killing Inkmoth Nexus and Tempered Steel. Ultimate Price isn't usually dead against any particular deck the same way Doom Blade and Go for the Throat were but it is going to miss a fair number of creatures.
To begin with it is basically just a worse Go for the Throat since it can't hit artifact creatures either (except Vault Skirge etc.). This is mostly counterbalanced by the fact that most of the commonly played artifact creatures rotated out.
Unfortunately Ultimate Price also can't hit gold creatures which is tough considering this is a gold block. Obviously few decks will be all gold creatures so as long as you have a good mix of removal Ultimate Price will do what you need. However it has glaring weaknesses to cards like Lotleth Troll Falkenrath Aristocrat Armada Wurm Huntmaster of the Fells Rakdos Cackler the Guildmages and more. We shouldn't be scared off as it is still good we just need to be more mindful of having a good mix of Ultimate Price and non-Ultimate Price removal.
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 3 Dreg Mangler
- 1 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
We might just need another two-drop bad enough to use Rakdos Shred-Freak perhaps trimming a three-drop and/or a Spear (maybe adding two). This deck plays much the same way as the B/G version just dropping black removal for red which gives the deck more reach (and a worse mana base).
What we really want is another Shock. I don't think Geistflame gets there as we really need to deal at least two these days. Besides I think if we went that route we would just put a Tragic Slip or two in here.
Zombies has been U/B a number of times but with no replacement for Darkslick Shores as well as the loss of Phantasmal Image we are probably not going to see much in this department until at least Gatecrash.
Just as the loss of Copperline Gorge Birds Llanowar Elves and Swords have crippled G/R Aggro so too has the loss of Birthing Pod and those same mana cards destroyed Naya as we knew it. Of course Naya is a strategy that already had a lot of back-up options. Many Naya decks did not rely on Birthing Pod and at least there are some mana creatures to replace the old ones. What might a midrange deck look like?
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 2 Armada Wurm
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 2 Elvish Visionary
- 3 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
- 2 Zealous Conscripts
As you can see Arbor Elf does strange things to our mana base not to mention only having access to one shockland. Here we see another deck using Farseek for lack of anything better to do. It does help us make our somewhat dubious mana work.
Maybe it is crazy to not use Strangleroot Geist but I think once you are away from Rancors it isn't that hard to get away from the Geist as well. It is possible this is supposed to be a Rancor/Geist deck but Cloudshift Zealous Conscripts Armada Wurm and Thragtusk make for a pretty decent "big midrange" game. I think if I was going the Geist/Rancor route I might Wolfir Silverheart instead but it is hard to get away from Thragtusk.
Maybe Elvish Visionary is supposed to be a Strangleroot Geist but I just wanted more chances to stall for time and get to the 4s 5s and 6s. We might even want more two-drops but the one-drop accelerators are hopefully going to skip up to Borderland Ranger at least a reasonable percentage of the time.
Most people use Gavony Township instead of Kessig Wolf Run in decks like this but I prefer a split. Usually by the time you activate these the game has gone fairly long. It isn't clear which is even better so having the marginal utility of the choice between the two instead of two copies of one in some games has appeal. If the Township turns out just better so be it but Kessig Wolf Run does hit from a different angle and against different opponents.
I might be cheating on red mana a little but I really want to maximize the chances of the turn 1 accelerator. This deck's midrange game is so exciting that I just want to get to that as fast as possible even if I strand a Bonfire a little more often.
The Cloudshift business certainly qualifies as "cute" but it does have increased utility from previous formats. First of all it is looking like people will play more removal than they have been. Second it has the new combo with Armada Wurm (which is definitely realistic). Finally Zealous Conscripts is looking pretty exciting and the Cloudshift combo really amps its power.
The final deck I'd like take a look at today is G/W humans. The Selesnya guild has a lot of interesting new cards to consider but most of them push us towards some new deck. I will cover those on Wednesday but it is still reasonable to sleeve up G/W Humans. Here is a starting point:
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 2 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Mayor of Avabruck
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 2 Riders of Gavony
- 4 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Sublime Archangel
- 1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Rancor Mayor of Avabruck Sublime Archangel and Selesnya Charm all combine with Silverblade Paladin and Ajani Caller of the Pride for some swings that hit like a truck. Fiend Hunter Selesnya Charm and sideboard Slayer of the Wicked Intrepid Hero and Oblivion Ring give us more removal than most G/W decks have.
On that topic it is worth reminding ourselves of the Rancor + Intrepid Hero combo which is going to be much more effective now that there aren't a million Gut Shots running around. Slayer of the Wicked has also skyrocketed in utility and I might maindeck some here if I didn't love these four-drops so much. It's a shame that Slayer destroys instead of exiling but if Huntmaster stays popular we could actually see Slayer as a maindeck option in the months to come.
Precinct Captain is obviously going to die a lot but it isn't like Pillar of Flame wasn't already going to be good. Once you spend two or more mana killing him you aren't even losing tempo. If he ever connects you are squarely ahead of the game (assuming you don't get sweepered) and Selesnya Charm and Rancor as well as the rest of the pumps help make this possible (make excellent use of both first strike and trample).
There are a lot of ways to play G/W such as just going for rate (Call of the Conclave beatdown) ramping into Armada Wurms and Angels of Serenity populating tokens and more. Personally the straightforward Human approach isn't my style and I don't love it's positioning considering how many sweepers people are going to play but it is fast and fun.
Alright that does it for me for today. Join me back here Wednesday as we get into the new decks which is always insanely fun. What cards or decks would you like to see covered? See you then!
The first rule of Dimir Guild is you do not talk about Dimir Guild.
The second rule of Dimir Guild is you do NOT talk about Dimir Guild.
My official response? Izzet and proud...