Late last week Ravnica Allegiance released on Magic Arena for us and since then I have logged over 40 hours playing with various ideas the set has brought with it. My early impressions of this set is that it took the existing awesome Standard format and made it even more diverse. There were a number of colors combinations in the format previously that felt close to being good, but simply did not have consistent enough mana to succeed. With the introduction of the remaining 5 shock lands, this is no longer the case and everything is fair game.
While it might be fun to jump to conclusions about what is going to be the “best” deck of this new format - I think at this point that would be foolish. There is a good chance that every day we knew was good last season will remain good in the updated format, with a few new contenders popping up around the fringes.
Today rather than talking about specific deck lists, I would instead like to focus on individual cards. I have played with these cards in a variety of shells at this point and I would wager that many of them are going to become format staples in some capacity.
I think this is probably my pick for likely to be most impactful card from the set. I honestly would not be surprised if this little Crab finds its way into every Green deck in the format as a four of. While a 2/2 for two is nothing to write home about, the fact that it both generates card advantage and provides a mana sink is valuable. In a midrange deck it provides both an early blocker against aggro, as well as a threat to continue to apply pressure against control.
Not to mention Guardian pairs absurdly with my next favorite card in the set:
While Growth-Chamber Guardian is self enabling for finding more copies of itself, when we pair it with Rhythm of the Wild it goes into overdrive. Acting as a two mana 3/3 that finds another two mana 3/3 right away when we riot it into play with a 1/1 counter.
Past the synergy with Guardian - Rhythm is yet another powerful card in this format that forces your opponent to interact with you on a very specific axis. It gives creature decks that traditionally have very little counter play against Counterspells, the ability to main deck a tool to change how these matchups play out.
Finally Rhythm gives us the ability to be extra aggressive when we need to close games out or make our defense larger when we need to be blocking.
Another Gruul card that has caught my eye in this set is a powerful piece of top end:
In my initial review of the spoiler I had written this card off as just being worse than Carnage Tyrant. As I log more games with it though, I think my initial summary was a too hasty. More specifically, I undervalued just how often this Wurm being hasty would be useful.
As someone who is a fan of modal cards - this card has modes, on modes, on modes. Sometimes it is a 5/6 that comes into play and fights my opponent’s largest threat, while holding the rest of their board back from attacking. Other times it is a 4/5 with haste that comes into play and destroys my opponent’s utility land that was going to draw them an endless stream of extra cards.
While there are definitely situations where this card ends up worse than Tyrant, I think on average the flexibility it offers makes it valuable.
The last Gruul card I have really liked is a sideboard tool that has quickly become 3+ copies in every sideboard I build that can cast it:
Beyond the obvious use of this card to destroy troublesome artifacts and enchantments, Cindervines also serves to act as a hate piece for the various Nexus of Fate decks in the format. In combination with a small bit of pressure Cindervines will be a must remove before the opponent can start comboing off. If we leave a mana up, we can also use Cindervines to destroy a valuable enchantment such as Wilderness Reclamation or Search for Azcanta as well.
I’ve also spent a good deal of time playing various Rakdos aggressive decks. While there are a variety of cards good in these shells, two of them really stand out above the rest to me:
Judith is basically the perfect curve topper for any aggressive deck. She makes all the creatures we have in play hit harder and when we are being brick walled her death trigger lets us make otherwise “bad” attacks to turn our creatures into points of damage. While being Legendary is somewhat of a drawback, it is worth noting that when we play out our second copy of Judith, we get two triggers when one of them dies due to the legend rule - making extra Judiths a bit of reach.
Theater of Horrors is a card I have been continually impressed with. Not only does it provide a steady stream of card advantage while it is out, but unlike most Red card advantage Theater offers a lot of flexibility on how we play the cards out. Past this because the games where Theater is good tend to go long, its activated ability often becomes relevant. Hitting eight, or even twelve, mana is not something out of the question when you are drawing two cards every turn.
While they are not as flashy as Diva or Theater - two other cards caught my eye from the Rakdos Guild that pair well with Judith:
Fireblade Artist is a respectable aggressive threat on the second turn of the game. Much like Judith, Fireblade is able to nicely pivot from an aggressive role to a burn one once it can no longer attack. In fact paired with Judith as well as Footlight Fiend, Fireblade Artist can often close out the last 6+ points of damage in a game.
Speaking of Footlight Fiend, I had originally passed this card over when looking at the full spoiler, but after playing with it I feel pretty differently. Having a turn one play regardless of our land in a Rakdos deck adds a nice amount of consistency. Because it deals a point of damage when it does it often stays relevant when we transition into a midgame where other 1-drops are simply outclassed.
The last few cards I would like to mention fit into a variety of different shells, but have felt reasonable in almost everything I have played them in so far:
Hero of Precinct One has a variety of different shells it can slot into. It can serve as both an aggressive tool to go wide around blockers, as well as a defensive tool in a midrange deck to keep a board in check.
Cards I have played with Hero that felt reasonable include:
Seraph of the Scales is just a good clean value creature that closes out the game quickly in the air. The fact that it has death touch lets it trade with annoying threats like Carnage Tyrant. The fact that it can gain vigilance lets it play offense and defense at the same time against smaller creatures.
Finally - Frilled Mystic. This card is everything I love to be doing in Magic and playing with it so far has delivered. I have mostly been jamming this card in the Bant Flash deck I wrote about last week, but I am excited to eventually explore it in other shells as well. I think Sultai and likely even Temur might have good homes for this flash threat + counterspell split card.
After logging over 40 hours playing games with the new cards there are still a lot I am interested to explore. While it is obviously going to take some time to figure out how things are going to shake out, I have hopes that this format is going to remain as good or better than the previous format.
What cards have you played with from RNA that impressed you? Why were they impressive?