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Sullivan Library: Guilds of Ravnica Red Review

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I've always loved Red. There is something so satisfying about the versatility of a burn spell, tearing down a Planeswalker a turn earlier than the controller expected, killing a creature, or just ending the game. I find the pacing of an aggressive game really intriguing, especially when two aggressive decks are facing each other down.

Red is great.

The Philosophy

That's one of the reasons I love to do a Red Review for every set. This isn't simply a review of the Red cards in the set, but rather the Red cards from the philosophy of a base-Red Red deck. I've been doing these reviews for years, most recently before this in my M19 Red Review here at CoolStuffInc's site. Understanding how Red works is a great way to get ahead in those worlds where Wizards of the Coast has decided to give Red the tools to win, like we've been seeing for the last many months. One question is, will that success continue after Kaladesh, Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, and Hour of Devastation rotate away to be replaced by Guilds of Ravnica.

Swift, blazing flag of the regiment,

Eagle with crest of red and gold

- Stephen Crane

Of course, Guilds of Ravnica is going to be an odd one for this, because it so aggressively embraces Gold cards. For these, the way to imagine whether a Gold card should be included in the deck is to think about whether the deck could be called, say "A Boros Deck" or whether it would be called a deck splashing another color. I like to use this deck as an example of that:


It's absolutely true that this deck includes a few spells that ultimately require non-Red mana, but it would be difficult to call this a true "Boros deck" rather than a "Red deck with White".

Keep that philosophy in mind for this review.

And now, without further ado, here is this set's Red Review!

The Card to Watch

Yes, the card to watch for Red in this set is a Boros card. A part of the reason for this unusual situation is that in the massive rotation that we'll be experiencing, there are very few options to get rid of either a swarm of cards (like we might see from Goblins) or to take out hard-to-kill cards, like Vine Mare.

Importantly, the card can also be used without taking out creatures, simply as a potential large life gain spell in creature mirrors. While this is rare, the fact that this is possible is very important, because that added flexibility simply makes the card all the more noteworthy.

This is much in line with something Jeff Hoogland remarked upon as he came to decide he preferred Nimble Obstructionist over Vendilion Clique in his Wizard/Lightning tribal deck: more options just allows more ability to adapt roles. It is absolutely the case that even aggressive Red decks sometimes end up taking a more controlling role, and having a card that can accommodate that as well as potentially allowing an aggressive stance to get ahead in a race is very powerful.

On top of that, there will certainly be moments or decks that will do both sides of this card.

Deafening Clarion is the card to watch.

The Excellent

"It's a bear with an upside!"

Well, normally that might be enough to get us to call a card "good", Goblin Cratermaker, like every other card, does not exist in a vacuum; it exists in a context. Probably the most important part of that context is that there are enough Goblins that simply being in the Goblin tribe provides some payback. Goblin Warchief is likely to be something that exists as a real part of a Guilds of Ravnica Standard, which could likely mean that Goblin Trashmaster and Siege-Gang Commander further make every additional goblin all the more noteworthy. The 1r casting cost could mean that the Goblin Warchief discount will be a part of the equation, and if things get really crazy, it may even mean that Volley Veteran will all come to bear in making Goblin Cratermaker important.

Beyond that, though, Karn, Scion of Urza seems likely to be a big player moving forward. With that in mind, a card that can just nuke Karn will be important.

And also, check out that art! Fantastic!

Here is another card in the "Goblins will be important" category. While obviously this card evokes thoughts of Goblin Rabblemaster, this card doesn't hit nearly as hard. That being said, this card, unanswered, can still take your opponent from 19 to 14 to 7 to dead.

Any card that can punish an opponent's stumble so thoroughly is worth paying attention to. Especially great is the production of tokens, both to potentially leave something behind after the Warboss is killed, or to fuel the many cards that Goblins will play that will care about the extra body.

This will get comparisons to Browbeat, which many will call a bad card.

Those people were wrong about Browbeat, and they'll be wrong about this card.

At Charles Gindy's Pro Tour Hollywood, I played Browbeat in one of the two top-performing Red decks at the event. With the right deck, in the right format, a card like this is fantastic.

If you have a deck that is sufficiently punishing, a Browbeat-like effect as is produced by Risk Factor is very powerful. These style of cards only become bad if there is no time to take advantage of the effect. This doesn't appear to be a format that you won't be able to create scary threats for the opponent, and it also doesn't appear to be so blisteringly fast that Risk Factor won't put your opponent in a painful place. Being an instant would be enough for this card to be one I'd be contemplating, adding Jump-start to it puts it over the line into the realm of "truly good".

In most games, this card will attack on turn three as, at worst, a 2/2 and sometimes come over as a 3/3 or even a 4/4. In and of itself, that makes the card damned notable.

While removing counters won't happen all that often, when it is done in the service of some frighteningly large spell in the Red controlling decks, or to push forth a big turn in the aggressive decks, those moments will be completely exciting, and it seems likely that the Runaway Steam-Kin will still come into The Red Zone as at least a 2/2. This card is a potential staple in both aggressive Red decks and Big Red style decks, and is only likely to be absent in Goblins, which will usually prefer to maintain a tribal nature for the power of that choice.

The Good

This card is almost not good. Casting three or more instants or sorceries in a turn is difficult, especially given that you'll have needed to cast them pre-combat on your own turn. However, a hasty flier can be a huge part of finishing off an opponent that might otherwise find the road to recovery. It has to compete with Rekindling Phoenix (where it does come up short), but the haste on the card can often mean someone dies today rather than tomorrow.

Tribal decks are often defined by their ability to have a relevant play on turn one. Goblin Banneret is absolutely reasonable, here, capable of providing a ton of damage at any stage in the game, and even able to tussle with a Vine Mare. Triggering Mentor on this card will happen often, adding yet more value to the card.

The Sideboard Cards

This feels like the kind of card that will play out well in a low-land aggressive deck that needs to maintain gas in the tank. Bringing this in from the board will create a nightmare for decks that are planning on grinding down a deck that plays this card.

At six mana, we start having to question whether a card is winning the game it is cast in.

This feels like an unlikely card to be used, though it will often cleanly take down a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which is nothing to sneeze at, and some decks with a lot of mana may just be looking for a card like this to end games versus decks with countermagic. It's possible the card might make a strange deck's main deck, but I expect it more likely that this will just be a card that will be in the toolbox for decks that have big mana and need this specific effect against Blue control decks.

The Role Players

For the burn-heavy decks, be they full on pure Burn as an archetype or more controlling Big Red, Electrostatic Field could be the kind of glue that makes the deck work by suppressing weaker creatures while contributing to the damage of a kill. While it is no Thermo-Alchemist, it still has a potential home.

0/8 is the kind of butt that ignores nearly all creatures on the ground. At four mana, there is a way to conceive of this card as a sort of quasi-Icy Manipulator in the creature matchups, while having a huge upside if you are the kind of deck that runs a card like Banefire. One question is, is there a deck that needs to do those things?

Cards like this matter a lot when they matter. This could well be a main deck card, a sideboard card, or even not see play at all. Where this card goes will be entirely dependent on what emerges in the metagame. While we may not yet know the meta, it is still absolutely true to say that this card has sufficient power to be a player if the meta is right.

This is the kind of card we first saw in competitive play in the form of Giant Strength in the Pro Tour winning deck by David Price in the '90s. Occasionally, Maniacal Rage will be a quasi- 2/2 haste creature for two mana, and occasionally, it will get rid of a blocker. If there is a deck that can make use of it, this will be an important card in the toolbox.

Competing with these cards are a large number of other mana accelerators, some of which, like Dragon's Hoard, provide more powerful access to card advantage, and some of which, like Powerstone Shard, provide a more powerful ramping effect. These might make the cut for those decks who might be looking to stabilize a splash, but could also benefit from having a Hedron Archive-like effect for late games.

The Marginal

These Goblins all have fairly minor abilities that might become useful. But they're Goblins. Thus, they may well make the cut in some decks looking to accomplish something specific.

This isn't Fling. Fling is an instant. Still, despite that, this doesn't immediately kill the creature who is facilitating the damage (though that creature is vulnerable to being killed to stymie the spell), and it can be used twice. This might fit the bill for an oddball deck out there, though it isn't likely enough to for me to call it a "role-player".

At only +1/+1, this feels pretty anemic even with Jump-start. If racing and combat math is particularly close, this sorcery might make the cut for some deck, but it seems deeply unlikely.

The Splashes

While Boros Locket and Izzet Locket can help with splashes, their respective Guildgates are not much of a help. On the other hand, these two Mountains are going to be hugely important for the splashing that a Red deck may wish to engage in. Unsurprisingly, given the Guild-element of Guilds of Ravnica, there are a great deal of splashable cards that might find their way into a Red-based deck. I'll limit my talk to the relevant ones that can be splashed.

At four mana, this can immediately put "two hasty damage" into play by pumping up a smaller creature, it flies, has a very large toughness, and can even play successful Mentor to a large number of creatures. This seems like an excellent potential splash in an aggressive Red deck that is splashing.

Effects like this are so powerful, but they also so rarely pay off. That being said, I expect that as far as Final Fortune cards go, this one might actually steal a game here or there.

This is a great answer to huge creatures, something that Red decks sometimes struggle with.

Back in the day, this card saw play in aggressive-minded Red decks. It might be able to do so in the new world, or it might simply be outclassed, but it is definitely riding that line.

In a world with Mentor, this card could be truly frightening. Don't forget, however, that Run Amok or Trumpet Blast might actually be cards worth playing in the new world.

Ah, Tajic! I have a historic fondness for this guy, and the new edition's stats are powerful enough that this would absolutely be worth splashing into an aggressive Red deck. In fact, I'm certain you'll see just that in the decks and sideboards of the upcoming Standard.

Killing big creatures is often a struggle for Red. In a spell-based Big Red, this card will be able to cheaply take out two such creatures. This card makes a lot of sense for a Big Red sideboard that splashes Blue.

This could be a great splash for a Barely Izzet Burn deck.

Typically, these kind of cards aren't what we'd expect to see available for a Red-based deck, but this opens an incredible, new window for a Big Red deck that is splashing for Blue, be it from the sideboard or the main. Only a single Blue mana is huge when looking for splash cards, and while this card will certainly be a factor in Blue-based control, I think it will also be so in Red-based control.

One of the most powerful cards in the set, this card manages the task that Beacon Bolt does in killing a big creature and puts it onto a Planeswalker. Expect this to be a factor in both Burn and Big Red decks that splash Blue.

Running a Fork / Reverberate has occasionally been a very powerful effect, and in base-Red, that's what you get, even if you don't splash Blue. If you do have that Blue, you can't count on Explosion, but should you be able to cast it, that will be just fine, too.

Integrity is a reasonably solid alternative to Intervention, which is a reasonable burn spell when you're splashing White. You'll need to have a reason to cast both halves for this to be good enough, but that will be true for many decks.

At effectively rr, this is a fine spell for killing a big creature in combat. Resurgence will occasionally be a devastating spell if you have the white. Like Integrity // Intervention, you'll need a deck with reasons for both sides for this to see play, and even then, this is most likely a sideboard card.

The Unimportant

These are cards I don't expect to have any impact on Standard as they are simply outclassed.

The Conclusion

Guilds of Ravnica looks quite good for Red. Red lovers are going to lose a lot of cards, so we can't expect a single set to manage to pull the weight of the sheer volume of cards that are departing, especially such heavy hitters as Hazoret the Fervent or Chandra, Torch of Defiance, but despite this is still a set rich with rewards for a Red player.

Goblins is probably going to be the big winner here, but I see cards for a more generic aggressive Red Aggro deck, cards for Big Red, cards for Burn, and possibly the potential for a new kind of Red-based control the likes of which we've never truly seen before.

For this prerelease, you'll find me at Misty Mountain Games - may your prerelease be filled with all the fire you can muster!

It's a great time to be a Red mage!

- Adrian Sullivan

Follow me on Twitter! @AdrianLSullivan