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Building Guilds: Brewing with Holdovers


While Guilds of Ravnica is (rightly) getting all the hype at the moment thanks to the return of the guilds and a ton of sweet new cards, it's important to remember that our new post-rotation Standard format is actually mostly made up of cards from Ixalan, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019. Thankfully, some of the cards from these older sets seem right at home in our new multicolored world, powering up the themes of Guilds of Ravnica itself. 

As such, our topic for today is simple: we're going to start brewing for Guilds of Ravnica Standard but with an eye toward cards from our current Standard that both survive rotation and seem to fit well with the new cards from Guilds of Ravnica. Which cards from Ixalan, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019 might work well with the Guilds of Ravnica? Let's break it down, guild by guild!

Boros

Path of Mettle

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Path of Mettle is undoubtedly a powerful card, offering a way to clean up small creatures on the opponent's side of the battlefield as well as ramp and a land that can win the game all by itself, all in a tidy two-mana package. Unfortunately for the enchantment, in our current Standard, there simply isn't a very good reason to splash white in your red aggro deck, with Mono-Red Aggro and RB Aggro being the preferred color combinations. Plus, the enchantment does require some work to build around, needing a deck full of creatures with specific keywords to flip around. However, things are changing with the release of Guilds of Ravnica. Boros will likely be the aggro colors of choice, which is a huge boon for Path of Mettle. But more importantly, some of the most powerful Boros cards in the set happen to naturally fit within Path of Mettle's deck-building restriction.

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Legion Warboss and Tajic, Legion's Edge are both hugely important to making Path of Mettle playable. In the past, decks have relying on underpowered creatures to have the right keywords to make Path of Mettle flip, but these two cards are among the best Boros aggro cards in Guilds of Ravnica, and both naturally flip Path of MettleTajic, Legion's Edge by having haste and Legion Warboss by creating a hasty token. This means that if you can play Fanatical Firebrand or Rigging Runner on Turn 1, Path of Mettle on Turn 2, and either of the new three-drops on Turn 3, you can immediately flip Path of Mettle, making sure that you have enough mana the next turn to cast Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice. Speaking of Aurelia, if you haven't already flipped Path of Mettle, remember that she can give a white creature (including herself) vigilance, which is one of the keywords that helps to flip Path of Mettle

Remorseful Cleric and Dire Fleet Daredevil

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Remorseful Cleric and Dire Fleet Daredevil are interesting. While we still don't have enough Spirits to build full-on tribal and Pirates have likely been passed up by generic Boros aggro and even Goblins as the aggro deck of choice for Guilds of Ravnica Standard, both cards get significantly better with the release of Guilds of Ravnica despite these limitations, thanks to the set being overloaded with graveyard mechanics. Plus, Goblin Chainwhirler—the natural predator of x/1s—should get at least a little bit less popular at rotation, just because a 50% metagame percentage isn't really sustainable. Once a deck gets to that level, either the metagame will shift or the card will get banned. Remorseful Cleric happens to be the most maindeckable way to sweep away the opponent's graveyard in Standard. A 2/1 flier for two is already a fine deal, and in a world of overgrowth, jump,-start and surveil, having some graveyard hate will be more important than ever. Just how often Remorseful Cleric shows up in main decks will probably depend on how much Goblin Chainwhirler sees play post-rotation, but even in the worst case, it should at least become a sideboard staple for any type of aggressive deck that has white mana to cast it. 

Meanwhile, Dire Fleet Daredevil becomes a lot more consistent thanks to the graveyard focus of Guilds of Ravnica. More mechanics built around dumping things into the graveyard means more juicy Dire Fleet Daredevil targets. First strike also means that it works with Path of Mettle, and in a pinch, you can use the enters-the-battlefield trigger as a weird sort of graveyard hate, exiling a jump-start card or something your opponent might want to flash back with Mission Briefing, even if you can't actually cast the spell for value. Flashing back one of your opponent's spells also offers a good way for your Boros aggro deck to fight through the endless removal and counter whatever Teferi, Hero of Dominaria control deck happens to be popular, which will likely be important. If you're building with red and white, keep both of these cards in mind. While only time will tell if they are good enough for main decks, both at least have the potential to show up in a lot of sideboards come rotation.

Izzet

Enigma Drake

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Enigma Drake is a weird card. It's powerful but requires you to build your deck around it (by filling your graveyard with spells) to really harness its power. In the past, the problem has been that you only have four copies of Enigma Drake, so a relatively small number of removal spells can ruin your entire game plan, making the deck sort of a odd Bogles-like strategy, where it's insane when your creature happens to stick on the battlefield but horrible in a lot of other games. The good news is that we now have eight copies of Enigma Drake!

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While not exactly the same as Enigma Drake, for all intents and purposes, Crackling Drake gives us eight very similar creatures. With eight fliers that get massive if we can fill our graveyard with instants and sorceries, going all-in building around the effect is suddenly a legitimate plan, since odds are in favor of us finding multiple Drakes every game, especially if we play a bunch of cantrips in the deck. The question is how best to harness the Drakes' power. Here's my current build, which happens to (mostly) fit into the budget price range.

Initially, I had Wee Dragonauts as an additional threat besides the Drakes, but Wizard's Lightning is so powerful that I think it's worth "splashing" some Wizards to have a Lightning Bolt in Standard. Ghitu Lavarunner works pretty well with our "fill the graveyard with spells" plan, being a no-downside Goblin Guide as early as Turn 2, and Siren Stormtamer chips in for some flying damage while also offering a way to protect our Drakes from targeted removal. Speaking of removal, one of the upsides of playing Izzet Drake is that both Enigma Drake and Crackling Drake dodge some amount of removal thanks to having four toughness. If we can use Siren Stormtamer to fizzle things like Assassin's Trophy and Vraska's Contempt, with the amount of ways we have to churn through our deck and fill our graveyard, we should be able to close out the game in just a couple of attacks. While I didn't include it in the deck, you can also consider going even deeper with cards like Thud, which can potentially let us one-shot kill with a Drake by attacking and than sacrificing a Drake to essentially double the damage post-combat.

Jaya Ballard

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Jaya Ballard was a card that didn't make a whole lot of sense when it was printed in Dominaria but suddenly makes a ton of sense, now that we see the spell-slinging graveyard theme of Izzet in Dominaria. While not protecting herself is still an issue, dumping a bunch of cards in the graveyard with her second +1 is pretty appealing in Izzet, fueling cards like Mission Briefing, powering up Crackling Drake, and generating card advantage by discarding jump-start cards. While jump-start is arguably the least pushed of the Guilds of Ravnica mechanics, there are a handful of playable spells, including Chemister's Insight, Beacon Bolt, and maybe Radical Idea as well. While there is a risk of Jaya Ballard being overshadowed by Ral, Izzet Viceroy, Guilds of Ravnica at least puts Jaya Ballard in the conversation for being a playable card, which wasn't the case over the past few months. 

Dimir

Bone Dragon

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Bone Dragon is a card that you aren't all that excited to cast from your hand, especially in a world where five mana gets you fliers like Glorybringer and Lyra Dawnbringer, but it becomes much more interesting if you can consistently return it from your graveyard. With Dimir being all about surveiling, anything that generates value after being milled into the graveyard gets a bid boost in power. If you can use something like Doom Whisperer or Sinister Sabotage to get Bone Dragon into the graveyard, it's an easy way to turn your self-mill into actual card draw. Then in the late game, when you don't have anything better going on, you can get back Bone Dragon from your graveyard (preferably on your opponent's end step) and start attacking for five in the air after you untap. 

While it's very possible I'm overrating Dimir Spybug and Thoughtbound Phantasm, there are a ton of playable surveil cards, and with Fatal Push rotating, trying to grow cheap creatures into big threats seems like a much more realistic plan, since if we can play around things like Shock, the opponent is going to be forced to spend at least two mana to deal with our one- or two-drop, which means we're at least breaking even. The plan becomes even better if Assassin's Trophy becomes the primary removal spell in Standard, since we're not just breaking even (or trading up) in mana when our opponent kills our Dimir Spybug or Thoughtbound Phantasm, we're getting a land out of the deal, which helps ramp us into our top end of Doom Whisperer, Bone Dragon, and Dream Eater. The other scary things about the cheap surveil payoffs is that since they are only one or two mana, we can potentially hold one back for Turn 6 or 7, play one alongside a Doom Whisperer, and immediately have two huge threats by surveiling a bunch of times. 

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Since there will certainly be a ton of questions about these two cards, let's talk about Narcomoeba and Creeping Chill for a minute. Both offer free surveil payoffs if we manage to mill them, with Narcomoeba entering the battlefield for free and Creeping Chill draining the opponent. While free value is nice, the problem is that the amount of free value isn't that large and playing either card requires cutting a more flexible and powerful option from our deck. While it's possible there's a way to make it work, it seems safest to err on the side of not playing the most all-in surveil payoffs and instead to try play mostly cards that are at least somewhat good on their own. Still, both Narcomoeba and Creeping Chill are interesting enough to be tested, at the very least.

Deadeye Tracker

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Deadeye Tracker was already sneaking into sideboards as a way to deal with The Scarab God, Rekindling Phoenix, and God-Pharaoh's Gift, and Guilds of Ravnica Standard seems likely to be even more graveyard dependent than our current format. This makes Deadeye Tracker a sideboard staple at the very least, and perhaps a main-deck option for certain decks in which explore can help stock the graveyard. Having a one-drop that manages to eat away jump-start cards, undergrowth creatures, and whatever annoying graveyard stuff surveil decks happen to play seems extremely relevant, and this doesn't even include holdovers like Rekindling Phoenix, Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants, and Liliana, Untouched by Death. Assuming some of the Guilds of Ravnica mechanics make an immediate impact on Standard, I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of sideboards including some number of Deadeye Trackers.

Golgari

Jadelight Ranger /Merfolk Branchwalker

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Jadelight Ranger and Merfolk Branchwalker are interesting cards. While they are mostly on-curve threats, they are especially powerful in a deck that's looking to fill its graveyard for value. In the past, we've seen some God-Pharaoh's Gift decks use this plan. But now, with Golgari in Guilds of Ravnica being exclusively about undergrowth and graveyard shenanigans, both of the premiere explore creatures (and perhaps Seekers' Squire as well) might have a chance to really shine in Standard. 

One of the stranger aspects of Golgari in Guilds of Ravnica is that, unlikely some past graveyard decks, it really wants to be aggressive. A great example of this is Satyr Wayfinder versus Glowspore Shaman. Satyr Wayfinder offers a way to stock the graveyard while grinding for card advantage but not much of a body for attacking or blocking. Meanwhile, Glowspore Shaman doesn't generate card advantage but comes with a much more aggressive body that can hit hard in the early game. As such, the most obvious build of Golgari for Guilds of Ravnica Standard is an aggro deck looking to take advantage of the graveyard while also beating the opponent down. Both Jadelight Ranger and Merfolk Branchwalker are perfect for the plan, offering good, aggressive bodies in the early game that also fill the graveyard for value. 

The plan of Golgari Aggro is pretty simple: rather than going all-in on grinding value from the graveyard, we're playing some cards that are solid on their own and also happen to fill our graveyard. Our payoff is mostly more incidental value, with Graveyard Marshal being able to rebuild our board post-sweeper and Charnel Troll being a massive early-game threat. We back this up with the best removal in Standard, with Assassin's Trophy for the early game and Vraska's Contempt for the mid-game, and some Vraskas for finishers, and we are good to go. The end result is a deck that can play the aggro game, hitting hard early with three-power two-drops and four-power three-drops, but can also go long thanks to planeswalkers and some graveyard value from Golgari Findbroker to keep returning our planeswalkers to our hand if they die. Combine it all together, and you have a deck that, at least on paper, seems pretty reasonable and fairly powerful!

Journey to Eternity

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Journey to Eternity seems naturally at home in Guilds of Ravnica Golgari decks, benefiting from the guild's ability to stock the graveyard with creatures to reanimate after it flips. The problem for the enchantment has never been that the card itself is too weak; instead, it's that it's very easy to get two-for-oned trying to flip it. With lots of exile-based removal running around in Standard, from Seal Away to Vraska's Contempt to Ixalan's Binding, we not only need a plan to resolve Journey to Eternity but preferably a way to sacrifice the creature we're enchanting as well. The good news is that a certain new planeswalker is built for sacrificing things:

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While it will probably take a while for people to figure out the proper build, and we might need to wait for Ravnica Allegiance this winter, the addition of a sacrifice-themed planeswalker to the format in Vraska, Golgari Queen makes me think that sooner or later, Journey to Eternity will get its chance to shine. Right now, you can play Vraska, Golgari Queen on Turn 4, wait until the next turn to play Journey to Eternity, and then immediately sacrifice the enchanted creature to flip, but this might not be enough on its own. Unfortunately, all of the other sacrifice outlets in the format require at least some amount of mana, which slows down our plan a bit. This being said, in Magical Christmas Land, you can play Llanowar Elves on Turn 1, Journey to Eternity on Turn 2, and Vraska, Golgari Queen on Turn 3 for the immediate flip, which is a very powerful start and one that is somewhat more practical after rotation, thanks to Fatal Push leaving the format. Plus, thanks to cards like Golgari Findbroker, there are ways to get Journey to Eternity back from the graveyard if things do go wrong. The payoff of an almost unbeatable late-game engine attached to a land is worth the work—and the pieces are starting to come together. If you are looking to grind people out of the game with a GBx deck, keep Journey to Eternity in mind. It might not be today or even next month, but sooner or later, someone will figure out how to make the card work, and the deck will be very strong.

Selesnya

Saproling Migration

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Selesnya is all about convoke and going wide with tokens, which means a card like Saproling Migration—which puts two bodies on the battlefield for just two mana—suddenly goes way up in value. While Goblin Chainwhirler blowouts are a concern, setting this aside for the moment, since we don't know how much play the Goblin will see after rotation, Saproling Migration seems like the staple that will hold Selesnya together. When you think of convoke specifically, Saproling Migration on Turn 2 is basically an Explosive Vegetation, giving you +2 mana for your convoke spells. In the late game, you can essentially cast Saproling Migration "for free," since you can immediately get that mana back by tapping the summoning sick Saproling to convoke out something else.

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Oddly, the card I'm most excited to convoke out is Venerated Loxodon. Let's assume you have a fairly average starting hand where you play a Selesnya Guildgate on Turn 1. On Turn 2, you Saproling Migration, and then on Turn 3, you tap both of your Saproling tokens to convoke out Venerated Loxodon. This leaves you with two 2/2 Saprolings (which no longer die to Goblin Chainwhirler) and a Loxodon Smiter in Venerated Loxodon. This is a fine start to a game, especially in powered-down post rotation Standard. Where things get really crazy is when you have a somewhat above average hand with two Saproling Migrations. With this hand, you can play one on Turn 2 and another on Turn 3, and then convoke out your Venerated Loxodon for just a single while mana, leaving you with four 2/2 Saprolings and a 4/4 Venerated Loxodon, which sounds like a nearly unbeatable start to a game. When it comes to building around Saproling Migration, I'd start with something like this.

Growing Rites of Itlimoc

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In the past, it was possible to flip Growing Rites of Itlimoc into Gaea's Cradle. The problem was we didn't have a great payoff for making a ton of green mana on our end step. However, thanks to the printing of March of the Multitudes, we now have an extremely powerful instant-speed green X spell that can not only win the game with the mana produced by Growing Rites of Itlimoc but also power up Growing Rites of Itlimoc, by putting a bunch of creatures on the battlefield. The biggest problem with Growing Rites of Itlimoc now is that the cards that power it up the most (things like Saproling Migration and Legion's Landing) aren't creature spells to be found with the enchantment's enters-the-battlefield trigger. This being said, even the Selesnya Tokens list above has 16 creatures, which means you have a 72% chance of finding one or more with Growing Rites of Itlimoc, which isn't a horrible rate. And if you can squeeze in a few more actual creatures to get the number up to 20, the odds of hitting jumps past 80%, which is more than acceptable. While it will take some careful deck building to get the numbers right, March of the Multitudes might just be the card that actually makes Growing Rites of Itlimoc into a Standard staple!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Which non-rotating cards from our current Standard are you most excited to play in Guilds of Ravnica Standard? Where are you starting, as far as building around the various guilds? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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