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Return to Ravnica in Standard

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Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Return to Ravnica in Standard

Hey everyone and welcome to a new installment of the Level Up series! The complete Return to Ravnica spoiler has finally been released, so we can start throwing ideas around to see what possibilities the new set holds. In today’s article, I’m going to focus on post-RtR Standard and try to guess what some of the decks will look like in the coming weeks. Bear in mind that this is more or less just a brainstorming session and I obviously haven’t tested any of these decks, but I’ll try to defend my views and predictions. You’re welcome to express your ideas and opinions in the comments, as always.

I think that there are essentially two places where to start when you want to make an educated guess about the future shape of a format. First, you can take the existing decks – the Block Constructed archetypes and what’s left of the existing Standard decks – and see what new toys they get in the new set. And second, you can try to search the new set for engines and build-around-me cards with a high enough power level to justify spawning a whole new deck. I’m going to use mainly the first approach in this article. Because today’s topic is mostly theoretical and untested, I won’t go too much in-depth, but instead, I’d like to cover a lot more material than what could usually fit into one article.

First, let’s see what we have in Innistrad Block Constructed – these are the decks that are already well tuned and are likely getting even better with the new set. Usually, not all decks survive the transition from Block to Standard, because some Block engines are simply not good enough, but some of them certainly do.

Jund

Even though you might not guess this from the results of the Block Pro Tour in Barcelona, the best Innistrad Block deck is probably Jund (with or without the white splash). Every single one of the top 8 teams in the World Magic Cup had this deck as their Block constructed choice, which has got to mean something, and I’m fairly sure that we’re in for another year with Standard rich on Forests, Swamps and Mountains in one single deck.

So what is Jund about to gain from Return to Ravnica? That depends a good deal on which direction you want to take it. Abrupt Decay and Dreadbore, the two rare removal spells in Golgari and Rakdos, seem to fit in neatly, possibly replacing Tragic Slip or some other clunky removal spell. Ultimate Price, the Doom Blade on mono-colored creatures, might be worth considering, but the multicolored environment of Ravnica isn’t where you want to be playing it and I think I would mostly reserve this card for other formats. Rakdos's Return, the new Mind Shatter / Blaze also seems quite appealing, especially when you take into consideration that Jund already plays Avacyn's Pilgrims as mana acceleration – something that works fairly well with this big X-spell. Another way how to approach Jund would be to push the deck more into Golgari colors and focus on Zombies, but this way is quite demanding in terms of color requirements, as both Geralf's Messenger and Jarrad, Golgari Lich Lord, are quite color intensive, so I think that perhaps it might be a better idea to stick with the B/G core if you want to go with Zombies.

Vraska the Unseen is in the Jund colors and although she’s probably not in the top 5 of the best planeswalkers ever printed (or maybe even the top 10), she still has some applications, especially if the format evolves in a way favorable to her (with lots of big threats and few small ones). Her ultimate also has a very neat interaction with Kessig Wolf Run, a card that many Jund decks are already playing, and since it’s not all that hard to reach her ultimate, it could possibly be an ok game plan to deploy three assassins and then boost them with Wolf Run.

U/W Control

Jund might be the best Block deck, but the Pro Tour was won by a different archetype, the U/W miracles deck. Is this deck capable of making the transition from Block to Standard? With Mana Leak gone and Delver presumably becoming a smaller menace, this might be just the right time for „big spells“ decks to shine. Azorius Charm seems to be pretty good for controlling decks, since putting an attacker on the top of its owner’s library for just two mana seems pretty powerful. Add to that the possibility to draw a card at instant speed, something you want to be doing with a deck full of miracles, and you have a really powerful card. The lifelink ability might not be the most useful one in a control deck, but getting the maximum out of the first two abilities seems good enough, provided the archetype is actually playable in Standard.

In addition to these, U/W also got some „top end“ spells in Sphinx's Revelation and Jace, Architect of Thought and an excellent sweeper in Supreme Verdict. With this uncounterable Wrath being probably the best sweeper in the format, that might be a fairly strong incentive to go U/W if you’re planning to take the controlling route. And speaking of uncounterable things, it’s true that there are several good uncounterable spells in Ravnica and that, together with the presence of Cavern of Souls and the departure of Mana Leak, sounds like a fairly good reason not to play countermagic anymore, but there are actually still good permission spells that have their place in the format. Syncopate seems just fine and it provides some much needed defense against Lingering Souls, among other things.

UGw Hexproof

The third most important Block deck is probably the one created by team SCG Black for PT Barcelona, the green-blue-white aggro deck with shroud creatures and pump spells. What I think is the biggest advantage this (and not only this) deck is going to have in the post-RtR environment is that most of Geist of Saint Traft’s old enemies have rotated out. Whipflare, Slagstorm, Black Sun's Zenith, Phantasmal Image, Phyrexian Metamorph... all of them are gone and we’re left with a format without a sweeper that costs less than four mana and is in less than two colors.

Another thing speaking for a successful transition of Sam Black’s „Bant“ list from Block to Standard is the huge boost in mana consistency it could get. Mana issues were the thing that was pulling this deck back in Barcelona, even though the particular list that Finkel and Vidugiris played in the top8 reached a satisfactory level of mana consistency (although one that was still far away from perfect). With dual lands that can come into play untapped if that’s what you want (and you’re willing to invest a couple of life), the mana problems of the Block constructed format should be all but gone.

There are no pump spells in Ravnica that would be on the same level like Wolfir Silverheart or Increasing Savagery, but there is a whole theme of cards that are able to boost a creature, under certain circumstances. Scavenge on an Invisible Stalker or Geist of Saint Traft doesn’t seem like a bad idea, even if the only playable creature with scavenge outside of black is Deadbridge Goliath. But a 5/5 for 2GG that can turn your Stalker into a 6/6 once it hits the graveyard seems quite fair.

I’ve already mentioned that Geist of Saint Traft got better with his old adversaries now being history, but there is one more mechanic that could work quite well with the Legendary Spirit. Populate works just fine with a 4/4 Angel that the Geist creates, even though you have to populate at instant speed. But there are cards capable of just that, if you’re willing to go into green, which the Block Bant list does anyway. Trostani, Selesnya's Voice can populate whenever you want and Sundering Growth, the hybrid green/white disenchant with populate can be really brutal if you play it mid-combat with a 4/4 Angel to duplicate. And the populate effect doesn’t even have to be all that random if you put some more token-making cards in the deck. We already have Garruk Relentless from Innistrad block and Ravnica offers a lot more, like the „token Watchwolf“, Call of the Conclave, which gives you a 3/3 Centaur token for the bargain price of WG.

That’s it for Innistrad Block constructed. How about the transition of some of the old Standard decks? In Standard, there are a number of decks that seem to be flat out dead in their current form, because they lose one of their key cards (Sun Titan in Solar Flare, Birthing Pod in Pod decks...). It’s entirely possible that we’ll see decks that take a similar approach, possibly even in similar colors, but even if there’s a future Esper control deck, the loss of the Sun Titan / Phantasmal Image engine means succession is clearly broken and it would be a completely new deck. But not all of the Standard decks lose something key and some of them actually gain more than they lose. The biggest winner, in my opinion? Zombies.

B/G Zombies

The most common second color of the pre-RtR Zombies lists oscillated between blue and red, eventually moving more towards red, mainly for burn and Falkenrath Aristocrat. After Return to Ravnica hits the format, I think that the best color to pair Zombies with is going to be green, hands down. Dreg Mangler, Lotleth Troll and Jarrad, Golgari Lich Lord, are all extremely powerful and are all Zombies, which makes them seem almost made to support the Zombie tribe. Many Magic expansions have some deck that’s pretty much „preconstructed“ and easy to identify right from the drawing board and in the case of Return to Ravnica, I think that’s the „Golgari Zombies“ deck. You thought that Mortarpod with Gravecrawler was fun? Just wait till you try pitching a pair of Gravecrawlers into a turn two Lotleth Troll or sacrificing one to Jarrad, Golgari Lich Lord over and over again.

U/? Delver

When talking about the transition of Standard decks, the number one deck that people have on their mind tends to be Delver. The Delver deck, as we know it, is gone, but the card itself is probably going to stay, even though Ponder – its best friend – rotated out. Syncopate is a poor replacement for Mana Leak and the phyrexian mana spells are also hard to replace, but there are definitely new tools to make the Insectile Aberration dangerous again. Especially Izzet, in my opinion, has the capacities to provide enough instants and sorceries to justify playing Delver in a deck without any library manipulation. And once you’re playing a deck with numerous instants and sorceries, Goblin Electromancer becomes a real powerhouse, often providing more than one mana per turn, which is excellent for a two-mana 2/2 that can still attack and block while turning your spells into giveaway. Desperate Ravings seems absurd and Syncopate can become a one-mana counterspell.

Aggro isn’t the only direction in which you can go with an Izzet deck. The guild also offers many top-end spells and while some of them are just too Timmy to be good (I’m looking at you, Epic Experiment), others might very well work, if the right Izzet (or possibly Grixis) control shell emerges. Thoughtflare, the spell that lets you draw 4 and discard 2 for 3UR at instant speed, resembles Careful Consideration to a big extent and Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius is a card that basically wins you the game if you untap with it in play. Mizzum Mortars provides a flexible removal / sweeper card if you need one and Izzet Charm has „versatility“ written all over it.

These are the shells that I think are going to get the biggest boost from Return to Ravnica. The set looks rich on Standard-playable cards and there are a number of cards I’m eager to try out in constructed. I like how the guilds define the starting points for brewing, but thanks to the abundance of mana fixing, they don’t put limitations on the decks. I’m pretty sure that the coming season is going to be a brewer’s paradise – Return to Ravnica is here and we’re in for quite a ride.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam Koska

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