It’s that time again. A new set lands and with it come a whole bunch of awesome new cards. That includes a slew of sweet new commons for the best budget format around: Pauper. This time around, Guilds of Ravnica is packing some sweet goodies. Sure, it’s a no brainer that cards like Assassin's Trophy will be making serious waves in formats filled with silver and gold, but there’s still plenty of great spice to go around. We’re going to be discussing not just the quality of these new cards but their potential impact on the format as a whole.
Before diving into the new goodies, I want to address a few cards that look good and got some people talking but I’m not convinced will make the cut.
Does this card feel familiar at all to you? If you played during Shards of Alara block or checked out Modern Masters 2017, you might recognize this sweet removal spell:
Artful Takedown draws some immediate comparisons to Agony Warp. Both spells can stop a creature from getting an attack through and killing another. The difference here is that one costs two mana and the other costs four. That’s a world of difference. If this sees any play at all, it will likely be in Dimir Teachings lists that run more than 60 cards, but even then it feels like a very fringe option. People will try it, but I just can’t see it making it.
Vicious Rumors is the kind of card players will look at and say “whoa, this does a lot for one mana!” While they’re not exactly wrong that there’s quite a bit going on in the card’s text box, there’s actually considerably less happening than it seems. Draining a single point of life isn’t really spectacular. Neither is making an opponent discard one card, especially on turn one or two when you’ll be looking to play this. Unless your opponent is on something quick like Elves, odds are good that they will choose a card with very minimal impact on the game. Lastly, the mill isn’t taking much away from your opponent and can actually help them if they’re on something like Tron or most decks using Black as they can hit recurrable cards or fuel themselves for Delve. This card feels close to being really good. Maybe if you could choose who got milled or if it did an extra point in life gain or life loss it might be a bit closer to playable; but, as it is, this card feels like a gigantic trap.
With those rumors dispelled, let’s check out the real meat of the set.
Aggressive decks didn’t get too much in terms of solid playables to help push their gameplans. The Boros (Red and White) cards don’t really add much to Red Deck Wins nor the already fringe Mono-White Aggro while the format’s chief aggressive color, Green, got nothing crazy at common either. There’s one sweet card that I’ll get to soon, but it doesn’t really work well for an aggro deck. We did, however, get two interesting cards that might make a minor splash in a few decks.
Pause for Reflection is the latest in a long line of Fog-variant spells for the format. While I don’t think it’ll see any kind of play in the likes of Turbo Fog, it does give an interesting option for certain go wide decks against hyper aggressive combo strategies like Izzet Blitz and Tireless Tribe Combo. It may just seem like Fog for three mana, but being able to tap creatures to cast it instead is a big deal. Free is always good, and it’s made even better by the fact that you can use summoning sick creatures to contribute toward the cost. This makes for a lot of potential in decks like Elves that struggle with these kinds of strategies. While Moment's Peace is usually going to be better, Pause can make things that much easier if it’s an early turn or if you’re lacking in mana dorks. While I think the old Flashback favorite will continue being the spell of choice, I think this one has some potential to show up on occasion.
Take Heart is a card I’m a little less sold on but seems like it just has too much potential to not mention. Unlike Vicious Rumors, there actually is a significant amount happening for just one mana. Pumping a creature for offensive or defensive strategies is great, but more appealing is the ability to gain a lot of life by attacking heavily. I’ve also seen this one suggested in Elves but I both think the deck wants to be relying on as few non-Green spells as possible and it already has a lot of life gain. But for other decks, like token builds or even something like Boros, the life swing potential is massive. I’m not too sure this will make waves, but it feels pretty close to making it and is one that’s worth keeping your eye on.
Super Secret Tech
The clear winner for this set is the Dimir (Blue and Black) guild. Not only is the guild’s aesthetic flawlessly spooky this time around, they take the cake with the incredible Surveil mechanic.
Dimir Informant brings with it a new possibility for Blue decks. Instead of playing something like Sea Gate Oracle and drawing cards, you can set up your draws and fill your yard. While decks like Tron and Dimir Flicker certainly love drawing cards, they also like filling up their yards. In addition, having four toughness is big game. Not only can it brick wall numerous aggressive strategies, but it can also avoid Lightning Bolt, only reliably being hit by Skred and Flame Slash, the latter of which has been seeing significantly less play these days.
Speaking of stopping aggressive strategies, Guilds of Ravnica also brings us a fantastic new Black sweeper in the form of Mephitic Vapors. This card is actually the real deal. Most of the decks that would want this already run Shrivel or Nausea, two functionally identically cards that give all creatures -1/-1 for two mana. The difference here is the addition of Surveil 2 at the cost of an additional mana. Just how good is Surveil though? Consider it in a deck like Alchemy, Delve, and Reanimator - all of the Dimir variety - which each care about putting cards into your graveyard. You can choose here what cards you want where to benefit your gameplan most while crippling your opponent’s gameplan. You might ask: why play this over Shrivel or Nausea when you can play those earlier? The reality is that most of the time you won’t cast either of those cards until your third turn anyways in order to maximize your value. This has even more potential in the late game as well when you both have more mana available and can dig toward exactly what you need at that point.
Next is Notion Rain, essentially a Dimir colored Read the Bones that instead of Scrying, you Surveil. Make no mistake, this is actually a big deal in Dimir. Not to sound like a broken record at this point, but these decks all care about the graveyard. It’s not hard to bin some inconsequential cards to feed a Gurmag Angler or else prepping a Striped Riverwinder for an Exhume and you get to draw some extra cards as well. Costing as opposed to Read the Bones’ makes this more difficult to fit into a variety of possible decks, but for the decks that are able to play this, there’s a strong possibility that it will shine quite bright.
Remember when I mentioned Teachings decks running more than 60 cards when talking about Artful Takedown at the beginning of this article? Unlike the unfortunately costed removal spell, Devious Cover-Up seems like exactly the kind of card Teachings decks want. Four mana is a lot for a counterspell, but both exiling the spell and restocking your library with four cards used earlier in the game can have a big impact on the game, especially for a toolbox deck like Teachings where you tutor up many of your one-ofs. Putting Mystical Teachings back into your library for even more “Teachings for Teachings” plays seems like a great deal if you ask me.
Lastly, Whisper Agent is the Dimir card without a clear home. This card looks great with a lot of potential. It’s basically a Hired Blade with a lot of upside that can be used in different colors. While a lot of graveyard focused decks want cards like Mephitic Vapors and Notion Rain, I don’t think this is the kind of card that those decks want. If anything, I see this slotting into something more like Mono-Black Control as an extra surprise attacker that fills your yard and gives you more devotion for Gray Merchant of Asphodel than Hired Blade. I’m not fully sure where this slots, if anywhere, for sure, but it looks to have serious potential to work well in a number of decks. Whether or not it will be good enough remains to be seen.
The Spice With No Home
Finally we reach some of the coolest cards in the set. Barrier of Bones is my prediction for breakout Pauper card from Guilds of Ravnica. It might not seem much being a one-mana 0/3 with a bonus, but this gives Black decks an extra way to stall out early aggression while still manipulating your library to smooth out your next draw or fill your graveyard. All of this seems like a great package. The thing is, I’m just not totally sure where it slots. Most of the Dimir builds run Augur of Bolas as is for ways to help block early, and Mono-Black prefers to use actual removal like Disfigure or Dead Weight. Despite that, I think there’s a lot happening for an incredibly low cost and expect this to slot in and show up somewhere all the same.
Portcullis Vine falls into a similar category. Another 0/3 Wall with upside, this one is rare actual card draw for Green. The catch, however, is that you need to sacrifice a creature with Defender. I’m not sure where this fits in with most of the decks running Green, but there’s some potential elsewhere. People have been brewing lists involving the Defender keyword for awhile, utilizing cards like Axebane Guardian and Overgrown Battlement for large amounts of mana and using things like Doorkeeper, Vent Sentinel, and/or Freed From The Real to achieve a strong payoff. This card allows you to sacrifice anything with Defender, not just itself, as these cards are often templated. That means there’s some more fresh fuel to brew while giving other decks a tool for blocking and extra utility later when that aspect becomes obsolete. I’m a huge fan of this one and all it needs is to find a good home.
To cap everything off, the guild Locket cycle continues Ravnica’s long held tradition of containing mana rocks, or affordable artifacts which generate mana of multiple colors and, as is the case on the city plane, a bit of extra upside. In the case of these, you can tap them for one mana of either of the respective guild’s colors or pay four mana in any combination of those colors and sacrifice the Locket to draw two cards. This is really interesting for colors that don’t traditionally get card draw. However, these cards can’t really be well utilized in the kinds of deck that normally want mana rocks, which traditionally includes the many Tron builds out there. As such, I don’t see these making a huge splash now, but they have some of the best potential to show up from time to time in future lists.
These may be the cards I expect to make the largest impact, but there’s a handful of other cards that look interesting in terms of speculation and could appear as extremely fringe options for already fringe decks. What cards are you most excited to jam when we return to Ravnica once more in just a few days’ time?