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Guilds of Ravnica: Standard Sleepers


So far, Guilds of Ravnica Standard has been pretty amazing. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is far from dominant, the red aggro decks are good but not format breaking, and while Golgari Midrange seems to have jumped off to the early lead in the "deck to beat" race, it seems likely that the guild is beatable once people have a chance to figure out the best way to attack it. Not only are we seeing new cards from Guilds of Ravnica take center stage but we're also seeing older cards that went mostly unplayed before rotation climb to the top of the format. Perhaps the best example of this is Wildgrowth Walker.

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Why is the two-drop suddenly everywhere in Standard? The fact that Golgari was supported in Guilds of Ravnica, Golgari cares about the graveyard, and graveyard themes work well with the explore mechanic—which is needed to support Wildgrowth Walker—is part of the equation, but perhaps a bigger piece of the puzzle are the cards that have rotated from Standard. Today, Wildgrowth Walker is one of the best answers to various red aggro decks, which really struggle to kill the Elemental once it grows to about four toughness, since they are reliant on Lightning Strike and Lava Coil as their primary removal spells. Before rotation, nearly all the most popular red aggro decks splashed black for Fatal Push and Unlicensed Disintegration, giving the colors a way to deal with Wildgrowth Walker no matter how big it grows. This small shift in the removal means that Wildgrowth Walker is all the rage and one of the scariest cards in our current Standard format, at least for certain decks. 

The point of all this is that, while all of the sweet new cards from Guilds of Ravnica are getting the press, there are also plenty of old cards from Ixalan block, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019 that are just waiting for a chance to break out—just like Wildgrowth Walker—in our new and developing Standard format. As such, our plan for today is to take a look at some cards that might be flying under the radar at the moment but could develop into important pieces of Guilds of Ravnica Standard in the coming weeks, if things go their way.

Tocatli Honor Guard

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Much like Wildgrowth Walker, Tocatli Honor Guard is a card that benefits from the changes to removal in the format, along with the development of Golgari Midrange as the current deck to beat in Standard. While the optimal Golgari Midrange list is far from settled, take a peek at one of the builds that recently finished 5-0 in a league on Magic Online:

As you can see, the deck is almost exclusively based around enters-the-battlefield triggers, with all 24 of the creatures in the deck being powerful because they do something when they enter the battlefield. While not all Golgari Midrange lists are this extreme, even less extreme builds are playing primarily enters-the-battlefield creatures, often with Llanowar Elves and maybe some number of Doom Whisperers being the only creatures in the deck that don't need an enters-the-battlefield trigger to be effective. 

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More importantly, shutting down enters-the-battlefield triggers also shuts down Ravenous Chupacabra, which is one of Golgari Midrange's primary ways to answer a creature like Tocatli Honor Guard, so along with wrecking Golgari's explore / grind-from-the-graveyard gameplay, the two-drop also protects itself in a weird way. While having a couple of copies of Vraska, Golgari Queen and a couple of Assassin's Trophy along with the six-mana Languish of Find // Finality and perhaps Ritual of Soot means that Golgari does have a few answers to Tocatli Honor Guard, the number of answers is quite small, meaning there's a pretty reasonable chance that it sticks around on the battlefield.

In the games where it does stick around, Golgari Midrange becomes horrible. Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger no longer explore. Golgari Findbroker is just an overpriced four-drop, and Izoni, Thousand-Eyed is a laughable six-mana 2/3. Basically, if you can keep a Tocatli Honor Guard on the battlefield against Golgari Midrange, it's pretty unlikely that they will be able to win. 

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While the reason to play Tocatli Honor Guard is how good it is against Golgari, it's also at least somewhat relevant in other matchups. It's actually very good against basically any green deck except for Mono-Green Stompy, since most versions are playing explore creatures. It shuts down a good number of cards in Selesnya Tokens, like Trostani Discordant, Venerated Loxodon, and maybe District Guide, depending on the build; it hits Nicol Bolas, the Ravager and Verix Bladewing against various Dragon decks; it shuts down the card draw of Crackling Drake; and while not as exciting, the 1/3 blocks a good number of creatures in Red Aggro and stops Goblin Chainwhirler's enters-the-battlefield ability. So while you would play Tocatli Honor Guard because it wrecks Golgari, you do get at least a bit of value in other matchups as well.

Of course, to take advantage of Tocatli Honor Guard, you need to be playing a deck that doesn't rely on enters-the-battlefield triggers, since Tocatli Honor Guard's effect is symmetrical, which means you probably don't want to play it in Selesnya Tokens. However, various builds of Boros seem like a natural home, since the deck doesn't have many enters-the-battlefield creatures, and its host of powerful threats means that it's going to be painful for your opponent to choose to spend a premium removal spell on Tocatli Honor Guard, since it likely means leaving a Lyra Dawnbringer or Resplendent Angel on the battlefield. Mono-White Aggro is another good option, where the only enters-the-battlefield creature is Venerated Loxodon, and we could even see white-based control decks playing Tocatli Honor Guard in the sideboard. If you're looking for an easy way for your white deck to fight the Golgari menace, considering throwing some copies of Tocatli Honor Guard into your sideboard and maybe even your main deck—it's one of the best answers we have in the format at the moment.

Random Artifacts That Need to Sit on the Battlefield

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As the current record holder for most Panharmonicons played in Standard, it makes me sad that Panharmonicon is no longer part of the format, since now that Abrade has rotated, it's actually possible to build a deck around a do-nothing artifact that needs to sit on the battlefield for a few turns to be good and have that plan work out a reasonable percentage of the time. While Knight of Autumn is a problem, it's nowhere near as popular as Abrade, since it requires two specific colors of mana,.Vivian Reid in on the upswing but still not heavily played, and if a control opponent wants to spend their Cleansing Nova to blow up one artifact, that's not the end of the world. The point is, we're no longer in a world where 50% (or more) of the format just happens to be running main-deck artifact hate. Now, apart from things like Conclave Tribunal that hit anything, most decks don't have a main-deck way of dealing with a resolved artifact, and there are not even that many answers in the sideboard, as people are more focused on answering the graveyard shenanigans of Golgari, staying alive against Mono-Red and Boros, or fighting through the disruption of various control decks.

We've already seen some decks running The Immortal Sun in the main deck, partly for value and partly because it provides a good answer to opposing planeswalkers. Vanquisher's Banner is putting up 5-0 finishes on Magic Online in Elves and probably has potential with some of the other tribes from Ixalan and Dominaria as well (like Goblins, Pirates, or Saprolings). And it's only a matter of time before someone figures out a crazy deck taking advantage of the ramp and fixing offered by Chromatic Lantern and Gilded Lotus. Plus, we still have cards like Chaos Wand, Primal Amulet, and Dowsing Dagger running around as well. The point is, you should no longer be worried about building a deck around a powerful artifact. Unlike our past Standard, where your odds of getting destroyed by Abrade were extremely high, in our current format, there isn't really much to punish people for trying to stick a key artifact, surrounding it with powerful support cards, and riding it to victory! 

Lich's Mastery

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A few days ago, we played Ali Aintrazi's Rainbow Lich deck on the stream—basically a five-color Lich's Mastery infinite-turns combo deck. While the deck itself was a ton of fun, one of my biggest takeaways from playing the deck was how good Lich's Mastery was as a fair card, especially in a deck playing a reasonable number of cheap spells and surveil effects to fill the graveyard. In some ways, with Lich's Mastery, each card you surveil into the graveyard is gaining you a life (since you can later exile it to Lich's Mastery), which means if you can stock the graveyard and stabilize (or ramp) into Lich's Mastery, it suddenly becomes extremely difficult (and almost impossible) for most aggro and midrange decks to kill you in a reasonable amount of time. 

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More importantly, apart from Cleansing Nova, there isn't really a way for opponents to kill Lich's Mastery (apart from attacking until they exile all the cards in your graveyard and hand, which takes a long, long time), and you don't really want Lich's Mastery against control anyway, since they are more likely to kill you with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria then to beat you down (and if they do start beating down, it will be with a massive Crackling Drake or Niv-Mizzet, Parun, which will quickly neutralize Lich's Mastery), so the downside of dying if your opponent manages to get Lich's Mastery off the battlefield isn't much of a downside. Throw in some random, incidental lifegain (perhaps from cards like Moment of Craving and Vraska's Contempt, which are already staples in the format), and you have the foundation for a really solid fair build of Lich's Mastery, where the enchantment comes down, gains you 20 or 30 life, and also draws you into the action you need to close out the game.

While Rainbow Lich was a blast, framing Lich's Mastery as just a wacky combo card really undersells the enchantment's power. In a lot of the games we played with the deck, we were hoping to draw Lich's Mastery not so we could immediately combo off but so we could stay alive for several more turns until we eventually figured out a way to win the game. While finally winning with infinite turns in fun, there are plenty of ways to win the game that don't require five colors of mana, and it's very possible that with some careful deck building, Lich's Mastery can be a part of these decks as well.

Yawgmoth's Vile Offering

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Yawgmoth's Vile Offering is one of those cards that's clearly powerful but comes with a lot of risk, thanks to the downside of needing a legendary creature or planeswalker on the battlefield to cast it. In reality, you really want to have a reasonable number of planeswalkers in your deck before you starting playing legendary sorceries, since creatures tend to be fragile and fairly easy to kill (although having some legendary creatures is a nice bonus as well).

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Before rotation, Yawgmoth's Vile Offering suffered from the lack of a good, cheap black planeswalker. Liliana, Death's Majesty was solid but oddly similar to Yawgmoth's Vile Offering as a five-mana reanimation spell, and while the colorlessness of Karn, Scion of Urza is perfect in supporting the legendary sorcery, it wasn't quite enough by itself. However, things have changed with the addition of Guilds of Ravnica to the format. Now, alongside Karn, Scion of Urza, we also have Vraska, Golgari Queen, giving us two four-mana, high-loyalty planeswalkers, which curve perfectly into Yawgmoth's Vile Offering

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If you can curve out some random dork—which is pretty easy to do in the Golgari colors—into a Vraska or Karn and then top off the curve with a Yawgmoth's Vile Offering to kill your opponent's best creatures and reanimate something you've explored into the graveyard (or even sacrificed to Vraska, Golgari Queen), the amount of value that Yawgmoth's Vile Offering offers for just five mana is massive. Cards like Izoni, Thousand-Eyed, Vraska, Relic Seeker, and maybe even Isareth the Awakener offer already played (and fairly powerful) ways to incidentally up our legend count, to help make sure we can cast our legendary sorcery at will. Basically, if you're playing Golgari, you should at least considering trying to make Yawgmoth's Vile Offering work. If you build your deck in the right way, it offers a free two-for-one that just happens to fit perfectly with the graveyard theme of the Golgari guild from Guilds of Ravnica.

A Couple of Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs are weird. They are one of the rare tribes where the whole seems to be less than the sum of their parts, and by this I mean that most of the Dinosaurs perform better as standalone cards in other archetypes than they do when you jam them all together into the same deck and try to make Dinosaur tribal. With this in mind, two Dinosaurs specifically could be waiting to break out in Guilds of Ravnica Standard, not in a Dinos-matter deck but as standalone cards.

Regisaur Alpha

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Regisaur Alpha is a classic trap card. People see the pseudo-Dinosaur lord text and try to make Dinosaur tribal work. Thankfully, Regisaur Alpha is good enough that it doesn't need the help from its overcosted and underpowered tribe members to see play. In a world of Ravenous Chupacabra, Assassin's Trophy, and Vraska's Contempt, there's a premium on threats that do something right away so that even if your opponent has an unconditional removal spell, you're getting at least something from your card. Regisaur Alpha is a great example of this concept—even if your opponent manages to kill it, you're still getting a 3/3 token for your trouble and your opponent ends up down a removal spell. Combine this with a solid rate of seven power and toughness (with three of it hasty) across two bodies for just five mana, and you have the makings of a very solid Magic card.

Part of the problem with Regisaur Alpha is that the color combinations it fits into most neatly—Gruul and Jund—are waiting for Ravnica Allegiance for their support, which means calling it a sleeper in Guilds of Ravnica Standard might be somewhat premature, but thanks to Llanowar Elves and other good mana dorks, a solid curve, and good removal, we might not have to wait for this winter for some sort of Green-Red Monsters deck to work. Curving mana dorks into Nullhide Ferox into Regisaur Alpha into Carnage Tyrant into a kicked Verix Bladewing is going to be enough power to win a lot of games in Standard, and the archetype should only get better once we get a set full of Gruul cards this winter.

Wayward Swordtooth

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Finally, we have Wayward Swordtooth, a card that people tend to stick into decks that really can't support it. But with some careful deck building, the three-drop can be extremely powerful, and there are a few reasons why the Dinosaur lines up well with the Guilds of Ravnica format. 

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First, five toughness is sort of the magic number in Guilds of Ravnica Standard. While cards like Ravenous Chupacabra, Assassin's Trophy, and Vraska's Contempt can kill anything, much of the conditional removal (like Lava Coil, Lightning Strike, and Deafening Clarion) misses out on five-toughness creatures. Furthermore, since Wayward Swordtooth can't attack in the early game, it sort of naturally dodges Seal Away thanks to its downside.

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Second, the emergence of the explore mechanic as one of the foundations of our current Standard format is perfect for Wayward Swordtooth. The biggest mistake people make in building Wayward Swordtooth decks is to play it fairly and just hope that it works out. The problem is that without specific support, you quickly run out of extra lands to play and Wayward Swordtooth doesn't really do anything. However, decks built around explore tend to have a hand full of lands thanks to Seekers' Squire, Merfolk Branchwalker, Jadelight Ranger, and Path of Discovery. In these decks, you'll almost never run out of extra lands to play, and you'll quickly pull ahead of your opponent when you are naturally playing two lands each turn thanks to Wayward Swordtooth.

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Last but not least, Experimental Frenzy has developed into one of the premiere card-advantage engines in Standard, especially for non-blue decks. While most people were playing the enchantment in Mono-Red Aggro in the beginning, we've seen people expand into two-color Experimental Frenzy decks more recently. Wayward Swordtooth is one of the best cards you can have in play with an Experimental Frenzy on the battlefield. Being able to play an extra land from the top of your deck each turn increases the number of cards you see with Experimental Frenzy and reduces your odds of fizzling. Having extra lands on the battlefield allows you to cast more cards each turn from the top of your deck, and as an added bonus, all of the cards you play with Experimental Frenzy will quickly turn Wayward Swordtooth into a three-mana 5/5 beater. Oh yeah, and extra copies stack, so as you Frenzy, you'll likely end up with two or three copies of Wayward Swordtooth on the battlefield, which means two or three extra land drops each turn. Before long, you'll pretty much be able to play your entire deck and likely win the game.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Now that we've talked about some of my sleepers for Guilds of Ravnica Standard, what are some of yours? What currently fringe or unplayed cards have a chance to break out over the next few months? What decks are you itching to build? 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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