Looking into the scary future of next week, here’s a handful of predictions for our soon-to-be-real Standard format featuring Ravnica Allegiance.
4) The Format is Going to be Full of 3-Color Value Decks
As foretold by the scroll of truth, Magic players love value and they love playing a bunch of different colors. As such, the conventional wisdom to “play a proactive deck, play red, don’t play control” will quickly go out the window as people are drawn to rocking anything that can jam a 20+ nonbasic mana base, 12 of which are shocklands.
That’s totally okay though! These types of strategies are often very good in formats that let you stretch the mana considerations without heavy sacrifices. We’ve seen this plenty of times in history from nearly every Khans deck, Jund, Innistrad’s 5c value piles, and so on. The only limiting factor is whether certain metagame forces keep this type of plan in check, enforcing the downside of a slightly less stable and more painful mana base.
This means red with a brand new Lightning Bolt variant looks to be the fun police. There will be other aggressive strategies of course, but the obvious starting point is to take the red deck and see how much better it gets with Skewer the Critics. So for you players looking to enjoy all your new toys, you still need to keep the boogeyman in mind—one that doesn’t need to lean as hard on creatures to kill you.
3) The Planeswalkers Were Designed for Supporting Roles
We didn’t get a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar from Ravnica Allegiance. In fact, there’s a real possibility that none of the printed planeswalkers end up good enough once the format matures.
Dovin Baan 2.0 is the most polarizing of the planeswalkers and you can add me to the camp that thinks it won’t see any real play. The first ability might as well not exist, and the third ability, while fine, doesn’t threaten to end the game. So it isn’t even that scary depending on the context of the deck Dovin is in. If people play it in W/U/x Aggro and there’s not a whole lot of high end, then a better Dig Through Time isn’t going to lock up the game.
So it comes down to how strong the -1 ability is, and to be fair, generating 3 life and three 1/1 flyers is a perfectly playable card on its own. My real question is how often you’ll have the opportunity to cash Dovin in for three activations in a format already somewhat hostile to planeswalkers. It also falls apart in the face of Goblin Chainwhirler, but it remains to be seen how big a factor that is.
Kaya is more of a utility/sideboard card than almost any other planeswalker we’ve seen. In fact, her abilities make her more interesting in Eternal formats where graveyards are often abused and the 1cmc permanents tend to be a lot scarier. For Standard purposes it feels like she was inserted as a safety valve—a recurring graveyard hate card that can be maindecked.
Finally we have Domri, Chaos Bringer and a whole lot of question marks about how good any of the abilities are. The -3 feels like a trap at a glance. Most of the time it’ll sink your Domri and you have to build your deck in a specific way to get any consistent value from it. Hitting one card is underwhelming and missing altogether is a catastrophe. On the other hand, the +1 mana ability is low impact the turn Domri hits and in the late game, but it can be used to get Carnage Tyrant out faster, and giving a creature riot isn’t a negligible bonus. Also, a planeswalker that can go to 6 loyalty the turn it comes out creates a very high bar to clear if you plan on trying to take it out before it actually does anything.
We will see Domri shine if the 3-color value metagame takes hold. Then you have time to get value out of Dormi’s abilities and threaten an ultimate against control that ends the game in short order. While it still takes time to get going, having 8 power and 8 toughness with trample ready to go on your following turn after ultimating is a pretty huge swing. If your opponent has to win via combat and isn’t planning on attacking with a 10+ power Crackling Drake, good luck getting by a 4/4 every single turn.
2) Remember the Archangel Avacyn Test?
Angel of Grace may not be on the same level as Archangel Avacyn, but really, how many cards can live up to that legacy? Angel of Grace does enforce a severe cost on sorcery speed removal and attacking into 5 open mana. The same goes for tapping out to deploy a planeswalker if you don’t already have a blocker, or removal spell in the case of Teferi. Just the threat of a 5-power flying, flash creature means anytime you see 3WW open you have to at least respect the possibility of an Angel.
This brings back the good old days of U/W Flash where you could try to play around everything and then give your opponent a lot of free life and tempo. Trying to get around some combination of Settle the Wreckage, Seal Away, and Angel of Grace is going to be a real test for creature focused archetypes. For the red decks, Angel of Grace may be the scariest new card that got printed, ensuring you get another turn and providing yet another form of life gain for the white decks.
1) Build-Around Cards Are the Biggest Draws from Ravnica Allegiance
Cards like Prime Speaker Vannifar, Rhythm of the Wild, Wilderness Reclamation, and Judith, the Scourge Diva all made big splashy showings from the first streamer event involving the new format. People are excited and these cards (and a few others) all have big payoffs for working your deck around them, some of which already combine well with existing shells. This means that even if you aren’t sold on them, having good instant-speed answers to enchantments and creatures is going to become more important.
On that note it’s important not to put a huge amount of stock on anything under- or over-performing in the first week of online play. We’re going to see a much wider array of decks than usual coming out of the gate, and many of these decks are going to need to go through multiple iterations before they come away optimized. Just look at how long it took the OG Birthing Pod to make a mark. A card like Judith may be absolutely brutal early in the format’s lifespan, but could easily fall off due to a meta shift. If decks are fighting hard for board control and running a high number of targeted answers, then her stock drops dramatically.
Let’s wrap this up with a few sample builds of some of these build-arounds.