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Allegiance and the Gap


Fair warning: there will be some gentle spoiling of Ravnica Allegiance in this article - nothing more than you've probably already seen if you're like me and you consume incoming spoilers constantly.

At the very beginning of the Guilds of Ravnica Standard format, I had a Merfolk deck that I thought was pretty good. The format was new, and like most new formats, decks were pretty weak, so it was a rough time to really evaluate the quality of the deck. I was excited about the deck, in theory, because of a principle that has been largely true over time: where there is smoke, there is usually fire.

Or, in Magic terms: when you see someone winning with what looks like a bad version of a deck, there is often an underlying deck worth taking note of.

Even in my first version of the deck, I knew I had to hold back my ambition. I was running Kumena's Speaker, and because Breeding Pool was nonexistant, even with Unclaimed Territory in the mix to help support my tribe, I chose not to run one of the best Merfolk in Standard, Merfolk Trickster, because I couldn't count on the mana to make it work out.

At first I did okay. Quickly, though, I just got outpaced by opponents. One of the biggest reasons was consistency. It is the same thing that severely holds down decks for newer players in Magic Arena, too: your deck will be fundamentally weakened by weak mana. My Merfolk deck was failing because I couldn't count on casting my spells when I wanted, even when I included cards like Adventurous Impulse to try to help make the deck more consistent.

Breeding Pool was just too important.

Ravnica Allegiance is going to cause some fundamental shifts in what is possible and it is entirely due to these five cards:

Breeding Pool
Hallowed Fountain

Godless Shrine
Blood Crypt
Stomping Ground

While some ambitious people are already talking about Jund decks making use Bedevil and a few other cards in what would otherwise be a pretty clean bg Midrange deck, for now, I'm mostly interested in what will suddenly become possible for the simple two-color combinations that each of these lands will open up.

Let's begin. All of these decks, of course, are very early takes, since less than a third of the upcoming set has been spoiled at the time of this writing.

Breeding Pool

If you're wondering whether Rivals of Ixalan and its lords are likely to get a boost with the release of Ravniva Allegiance, Merfolk Mistbinder is one of the first cards to consider. There are a fair number of almost frightening Merfolk to look at in Standard, but the actual boosting power of Merfolk Mistbinder makes it a critical card to consider.

The previous builds of this deck that I'd had ran a full complement of Deeproot Elite to pair with Deeproot Waters. This plan was largely to try to take advantage of a cascading board presence with Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca. However, with Incubation (of Incubation // Incongruity), I think it is likely that you won't need to run the full amount of Deeproot Elite to get a payoff for it, especially when you add in the power of non-Merfolk, Prime Speaker Zannifar.

I still think the mana would be improved a great deal by cutting the Merfolk Trickster from the deck entirely (though, in gentle contradiction to that, I keep thinking about Quasiduplicate), but one thing that is certain is that the deck definitely feels like it hums pretty well.

If you've played any version of Merfolk in Standard, you know that Kumena is a scary card. Incubation and Zegana both make a Kumena all the more likely to come into play, and Zegana makes "extra" Kumena feel less extraneous by being able to turn the card into a Prime Speaker Zanifar or Tempest Caller.

The consistent Blue mana does wonders for the deck, allowing a reasonable expectation that you can get payoffs from Kumena and counterspells, while still meaning you can drop a 2/2 for one mana. Still, it might be better yet to make this a base-Blue deck, instead, and cut nearly all of the Green except the gold payoffs, and perhaps a few Jungleborn Pioneer to power up Kumena. This list would be more likely to be a Curious Obsession deck, as well, which has its own impressive payoffs. I fully expect more cards being spoiled will make it easy to determine which path you could or should take.

Hallowed Fountain

While I talked about my interest in the two-color combinations, prior to this set, there really hasn't been a uw deck of note that has made the rounds. On the other hand, there is the salvation of one of the weakest parts of this deck to be thought of:

I've already talked about improvements to this deck moving forward, but the most important one is simple: the mana.

I haven't actually figured out the perfect mana for this deck yet; when you're playing all of the nonbasics that this deck wants to play, the perfect mix can take some experimenting. Right now, though, I have the mana looking like this:

I'm sure that I'll be improving this, though.

Godless Shrine

A while back, bw Knights and bw Vampires both were decks that looked like they might have some legs. While both decks gain some real payoffs from both Godless Shrine and Mortify, one card that was also spoiled, Pitiless Pontiff, made me want to examine the Vampire angle, especially with the lord payoff in Legion Lieutenant.

While not as blindingly fast as the Heroic Reinforcement decks, Legion Lieutenant is a powerful tool, especially when any lifelink is in the mix; making 2/2 lifelink vampires out of Adanto, the First Fort is quite frightening, and even just attacking for 2 with lifelink on turn two after a Legion's Landing can be a very powerful affect in aggressive fights.

With Conclave Tribunal, Mortify might not be at all necessary, but there are still a fair number of enchantments worthy of destruction, so the instant speed and relatively cheaper cost could be important.

This isn't a pure Vampire deck, though it does have a Vampire subtheme. Given the printing of Pitiless Pontiff, there may well be other Vampires that could join their Ixalan friends.

Blood Crypt

The first deck that comes to mind for this land is the Rakdos Burn deck that has been making the rounds. I'm sure we'll be able to easily make huge strides with the deck once we get to kick out that horrible Cinder Barrens.

Here is a version that I saw most recently:

While Bedevil is sure to be in the conversation for the deck, more than a few other cards that have been spoiled also raise my attention, mostly leaning toward the Red side of things; even with Blood Crypt, I expect this deck will prefer to be strongly leaning to only splashing Black.

Rix Maadi Reveler is very much in the spirit of the deck, giving the deck a damage source that can also find more damage, especially in a late game. I might place this over a card like Risk Factor, and also use I as another justification to play Experimental Frenzy in the deck.

Judith, the Scourge Diva seems like a nearly perfect fit for the deck. The extra damage might come into play absolutely immediately upon casting her, and punishing the opponent for killing your creatures is in-line with what the deck wants to do.

As a long shot, Carnival // Carnage also might be a good call. Even if the "Blightning" side in Carnage is quite slow at four mana, it does feel like it could very much be relevant, while the Carnival side offers a very cheap potential source to finish someone off if there isn't time for Carnage.

Stomping Ground

Here, its hard to find a deck that feels more "Stomp" than a Dinosaur deck. Check out this recent example:

Hasty Ghalta, Primal Hunger is one of the most frightening things out there. Building up this deck's mana to make that more possible sounds like a win all around. Playing a card like Otepec Huntmaster would be another way to make that happen on top of Regisaur Alpha, but mana considerations make the Drover the more likely choice. That can change with Stomping Ground.

Gruul Spellbreaker looks like a clear possibility to be added to the deck. Even though Settle the Wreckage isn't wildly common these days, it is still around frequently enough that this card could be a potent weapon again control. On top of that, the card is just powerful overall.

Ravager Wurm is another possible card for the deck. While a Wurm and not a Dinosaur, it can come into play with haste and take out any of the flipped lands from a control opponent. It can playact as Ravenous Chupacabra and could kill a Niv-Mizzet, Parun or other large creature (short of a Carnage Tyrant). Simply because of its cost, this is a hard sell, but it is worth considering.

It's almost fun to think about Amplifire "amplifying" some insanely large creature, but that is more in the realm of laughs than reality.

If Gruul Spellbreaker is any indication, I think that Gruul is actually very likely to be a major player in the next set's Standard, with a base like this to carry it.

There are a very large number of possibilities that already seem worth exploring with only a small number of cards spoiled thus far. I can't wait to see the rest of Ravnica Allegiance! Every day that there are more spoilers, you can bet I'll be devouring them in preparation for Pro Tour - err, Mythic Championship - Cleveland.

- Adrian Sullivan

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