Now that M19 has joined the Standard card pool, we’re already getting a picture of how things will shape up in the coming weeks. While M19 is nowhere near Dominaria in terms of a concentration of metagame-defining powerhouses, there are still some important cards altering the landscape of the format, including the set’s marquee mythic rare: Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.
The Meanest Girl in School currently has three Standard-legal iterations, but there’s no doubting that the most recent is the most powerful. A 4-mana 4/4 flyer with a Raven’s Crime thrown in is no joke, but the fact that you can dump a bunch of late-game mana to transform it into a sick value engine makes it all the more obscene.
Already, new Nicol Bolas is seeing some Standard play across a wide range of decks. In the lead-up to the Pro Tour, and as we explore this new technology further, this trend will only increase. This card is an absolute monster, and a big incentive to commit to the Grixis colors.
With the banning of Attune with Aether, energy decks fell off the face of the Earth almost entirely. The only deck seeking to abuse the mechanic in any meaningful way was Grixis Energy with cards like Whirler Virtuoso and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. This deck never really took off like its Temur cousin, but has ended up as a terrific shell for the addition of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.
thoughtxriot, 5-0 in an MTGO Standard League
As is often the case with midrange decks, this list is just a collection of the very best threats and answers across the 3 colors. Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and Champion of Wits to kick things off, The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk as top-end, and right in the middle there, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.
Black and red removal alongside blue counterspells mean that there isn’t really anything against which this deck is stone-cold dead. The removal suite has been judiciously chosen, here, and reflects the need for powerful and dedicated answers to the best decks in the format. A playset of Vraska’s Contempt is an excellent choice, and Magma Spray is an all-star against the various flavors of red aggro.
Nicol Bolas is terrific in this deck due to its almost split-card like ability to play both sides of the court. Sometimes, a 4/4 flyer backed up with effective interaction is going to get across the line, and the card fuels the powerful grind-’em-out game plan with its discard ability. Conversely, being able switch gears in the late game thanks to Nicol Bolas, the Arisen gives this midrange deck the capacity to do much, much bigger than other midrange opponents.
This deck has no obvious weaknesses (except, of course, Siphoner and Champion in the face of Chainwhirler, but you can’t have it all) and seems well-positioned to go up against the current Standard format. I would try to find room for a Banefire and a few more sources of card advantage, however, as right now that Arguel’s Blood Fast is doing a lot of heavy lifting on its own.
It looks like The Glide isn’t just spending his retirement calling Rockets games—he’s also blazing the trail in the current Standard format. I hesitate to call this deck a “real” aggro deck, but it’s difficult to categorize a deck with Soul-Scar Mage as anything else. Also, Goblin Chainwhirler in a 3-color list? Well, Clyde knows a thing or two about putting together a dream team.
Clyde The Glide Drexler, 5-0 in a MTGO Standard League
As you can see, this list is effectively a Big Red deck splashing both blue and black. Splash black for Scrapheap Scrounger and Unlicensed Disintegration—hey, Negate is a pretty good sideboard card, eh? And there’s that new Nicol Bolas… whatever, let’s just go full ham and put The Scarab God in too. Unbelievably, there’s only a single land in this list that doesn’t produce red mana, so casting Goblin Chainwhirler shouldn’t be a problem.
The principal role of Nicky B in this list is, rather obviously, to smash face as a 4/4. This deck’s approach is much more aggressive than the midrange list we explored previously, and as such, will be very interested in the Dragon acting as an efficient beater (that still pressures the hand on the way down), and the usual red suspects are there to aid this aggressive plan.
But the added dimension of an insane late game in a deck that can curve Soul-Scar Mage into Scrapheap Scrounger into Chainwhirler is not something to overlook. Red decks have traditionally had reasonable chops as games go long thanks to Chandra, Glorybringer, etc. but this aggro deck has The Scarab God and the absurdly powerful Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.
In a drawn-out game with a stalled-out board, being able to play a 4/4, have them discard, then next turn get in before flipping a busted planeswalker seems insane, and will close out games much faster than would be otherwise possible. It’s a weird card in an aggro deck, but it seems like an excellent direction to go!
We’ve talked about aggro and midrange—what about control? As of yet, Nicol Bolas hasn’t appeared in the top-performing Grixis Control lists. This is somewhat perplexing, as it seems like a terrific card to include as a flexible win condition. One of the main reasons I’m interested in having a proactive option like Nicol Bolas, the Ravager in my control decks these days is the introduction of Banefire. You can’t rely on winning a game that goes to 20 or 30 turns anymore.
Previous iterations of Grixis Control have played Angrath, the Flame-Chained and Nicol-Bolas, God Pharaoh, but I like Nicol Bolas, the Ravager a little more than either of those options. His partner in crime in this case is Torrential Gearhulk, around which the entire disruption suite is built with as many instants as possible.
Much of the interaction in the deck is industry-standard and should be relatively easy to understand—Magma Spray for Scrapheap Scrounger, and Vraska’s Contempt for basically anything that moves. Sweltering Suns is a concession to early aggression, while Banefire is a scalable answer, as well as a game-winner against Teferi-based control decks. Hour of Devastation is slow and clunky, but this deck can’t afford to fall too far behind.
I never want to get Banefired out of the game while playing control in Standard, so I’ll look to proactive threats like Nicol Bolas, the Ravager to make that happen, even if it comes at the cost of not playing Teferi. Then again, perhaps there’s a way to combine the two… next stop, 4-color control!