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Winter Is Coming: Preparing for Ravnica Allegiance

While it seems like Guilds of Ravnica was just released yesterday, with the holiday season right around the corner and Ravnica Allegiance previews starting the beginning of January, if your goal is to play Magic on the cheap, it's already time to start looking ahead to our next Standard. Right now, everyone is buying up cards to play with decks focused on the guilds from Guilds of Ravnica, and cards that support the Ravnica Allegiance guilds have almost no demand, which means cards from Rakdos, Gruul, Azorius, Simic, and Orzhov are about as cheap as they will ever be. By looking ahead early before spoilers start for Ravnica Allegiance, we have the potential to pick up cards that could be pretty expensive this winter while their are near their floors. 

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One of the benefits of our third trip to Ravnica is that we already have a pretty good idea of what to expect. While the exact mechanics for each guild are still unknown, there's a pretty good chance that Azorius will be controlling, Orzhov will have some self-sacrifice synergies, Simic will involve growing creatures (probably with +1/+1 counters), and so forth because that's what these guilds have been about in both previous trips to Ravnica and Wizards talks a lot about meeting players' expectations. Combine this with the fact that the guilds of Guilds of Ravnica mostly continued the trend, with the guild mechanics from the set feeling right at home with past visits to Ravnica, and we can make some very educated guesses about what to expect this winter. 

So, the plan today is simple: using our knowledge of what guilds are being supported in Ravnica Allegiance and the history of these guilds in the original and Return to Ravnica blocks, we're going to go guild by guild and talk about some cards that are pretty cheap at the moment because they aren't really seeing play but have decent odds of increasing in price this winter, thanks to what we know is coming in Ravnica Allegiance. If you're trying to play Standard on a budget, timing is everything, and picking up cards that might be in demand and expensive in the future is a great way to cut back on the cost of playing Magic. Since many of these cards are very cheap at the moment, the risk is pretty minimal—it's going to be hard for these cards to decrease much in value over the next few months. Plus, sometimes it doesn't even matter if a card ends up being good; all it takes is one Ravnica Allegiance spoiler that makes people think it might be good, and prices will increase based on hype alone. So, here's a guild-by-guild breakdown of cards that I'm interested in picking up on the cheap today that might end up being expensive and playable when we get the rest of the guilds this winter.


Simic has been very consistent across both Ravnica blocks so far, with evolve and graft both being mechanics involving growing creatures with +1/+1 counters. Combine this with some plant cards that seem to work well with the +1/+1 counter theme and it seems extremely likely that Simic will care about +1/+1 counters once again. Graft is probably unlikely to return, since the mechanic is really clunky in digital form (prompting you to choose if you want to move a counter every time any creature enters the battlefield), but some sort of fixed graft might be a possibility. Evolve could work too, but it's probably just as likely that Simic gets some new mechanic involving +1/+1 counters. With this in mind, here are some cards to keep a lookout for.

Hadana's Climb

By far the easiest pick for Simic is Hadana's Climb. Simic tends to be at least somewhat aggressive, and we already talked about its propensity for +1/+1 counter mechanics. Combine this with the fact that we've already seen Hadana's Climb be the centerpiece of competitive decks (back before rotation) and the currently cheap price of the flip-enchantment, and you have the makings of a must-own card on both Magic Online and in paper. The best case is that we have a breakout Simic deck and Hadana's Climb doubles (or more) in price during Ravnica Allegiance Standard. Worst case, Hadana's Climb is still a fine card to own long-term since casual players love +1/+1 counter themes, so if it isn't reprinted (and being double-faced makes it less likely to show up in supplemental products), a slow and steady climb is likely, even if it ends up being a miss for Standard. 


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Merfolk are interesting. On one hand, they do have a strong +1/+1 counter theme, with cards like Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, Deeproot Elite, and Herald of Secret Streams, and they are pretty close to playable, being one of the most popular decks on Magic Arena back during the Ixalan block constructed era of the client. On the other hand, Ravnica doesn't have much of a track record for supporting Merfolk specifically, with just a few random Merfolk showing up in our first two visits to the plane, so full-on tribal support might be unlikely. So, the question becomes whether more +1/+1 counter support will be enough to push Merfolk over the top in Standard, assuming they don't get many (or any) playable new tribe members. 

Here, the answer might be no, but it might also be that it doesn't matter. People really want Merfolk to be good in Standard—it's an extremely popular tribe—so my guess is that when Ravnica Allegiance spoilers start to roll out, people will jump on the +1/+1 counter mechanic as a reason to try Merfolk again, and this demand will drive up prices, even if the tribe ends up still being a third-tier fringe deck in Standard. Remember too that there was a time when Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca was over $20 and the most expensive mythic from Rivals of Ixalan, so the current $5 is already looking like a bargain, making it easier for players to take the plunge this winter. Plus, you still have some longer-term casual demand thanks to the tribal aspect, minimizing the downside.


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In previous visits to Ravnica, the Elf cards were mostly split between Selesnya and Simic, with cards like Master Biomancer, Momir Vig, Simic Visionary, and Coiling Oracle giving us some very powerful Simic Elves. We've already seen Elves be fringe playable in our current Standard format, and with a full set of 10 shock lands, going three colors is a pretty easy proposition. With both Elvish Clancaller and Beast Whisperer under $2 at the moment, it's a pretty safe bet to pick up some copies, just in case. If a powerful Simic Elf pushes the tribe over the top in Standard, great; if not, both cards show up in Modern, and Beast Whisperer has the makings of a Commander staple, so even if Standard Elves fizzle, both cards seem like solid buys for the long-term anyway. 

Other Considerations

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  • Pelt Collector is still fairly expensive at the moment but dropping. Experiment One was a staple of Simic decks during our last visit to Ravnica, and Pelt Collector is a mostly better version. If the price continues over the next couple of months, it's probably worth picking up copies for $2 or $3 over the holiday season before spoilers start for Ravnica Allegiance.
  • Speaking of +1/+1 counters, it's worth mentioning Jadelight Ranger and Merfolk Branchwalker. The problem is, both of these cards are already Standard staples, and they are unlikely to get much more expensive, even if they are part of a good Simic deck. You should probably own them for Standard because you need them to play basically any green deck, but they are likely near the ceiling in terms of price.


Compared to Simic, the theme of Gruul is a bit less certain. The mechanic was bloodthirst in original Ravnica, and it was bloodrush in our Return to Ravnica, so apart from having a name involving blood and giving a benefit for attacking, it's hard to know what direction the guild will take. Either mechanic could return, although I'm not sure there's much design space left in the "turn your creature into a combat trick" bloodrush mechanic. What we do know is that Gruul tends to be fairly aggressive and about pumping out huge creatures to smash face with, so we'll use this theme as our guide, rather than guessing at the specifics of the guild's mechanic.

Regisaur Alpha is a card that offers a great deal for its mana cost and, in a Standard that heavily values creatures that do something right away thanks to cards like Ravenous Chupacabra, seems like a potential staple. So far, it has mostly been unplayable apart from showing up in the odd Dinosaurs tribal deck, but things might change with the addition of Gruul (and also Rakdos) to the format. Some sort of Gruul or Jund Monsters deck could easily develop, taking advantage of cards like Regisaur Alpha, Rekindling Phoenix, Goblin Chainwhirler, and whatever sweet big things show up in Ravnica Allegiance this winter. For bulk-rare prices, it's hard to not pick up a playset just in case.

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What works well with with big dumb Gruul creatures? How about an enchantment that works as repeatable removal whenever you cast those creatures? Sarkhan's Unsealing was a card that almost took off before rotation but sort of faded away more recently, with some of the easiest ways to trigger it (like Metalwork Colossus) rotating and the mana base for green-red decks (the most natural home for this enchantment) getting worse. Ravnica Allegiance will not only bring with it more big creatures but Stomping Ground as well, which makes playing cards like Steel Leaf Champion or perhaps even Gigantosaurus playable in a two-colored deck. Based on the number of Sarkhan's Unsealing decks people have sent me, it's a card that people really want to work, and while it will likely never be a high-value rare, you could do worse than Sarkhan's Unsealing if you're looking for a bulk-rare long shot for over the winter. 


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We're already seen Grixis Dragons be a playable deck in Standard, but the tribe is only scratching the surface of its potential. Thanks to Dragon's Hoard and Sarkhan, Fireblood, there is an incentive to play Dragons of all colors, and some powerful Dragons from Core Set 2019 and Dominaria like Darigaaz Reincarnated, Demanding Dragon, Verix Bladewing, and perhaps even Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner could be worth running in a five-color Dragon shell. The problem is that, apart from Dragon's Hoard and Sarkhan, Fireblood, the mana base right now is pretty clunky, but with all 10 shock lands and potentially more ramp or fixing, you'll be able to play whatever Dragon you want with some consistency after Ravnica Allegiance is released. 

As we've talked about before, one of the main challenges of our current Standard is playing creatures that do something immediately, thanks to the strong, unconditional removal in Golgari, so we're focused mostly on Dragons that give immediate value rather than Dragons that you need to untap with, like Lathliss, Dragon Queen or Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire. Demanding Dragon offers a great rate as a 5/5 flier for five, and even if your opponent immediately kills it with Ravenous Chupacabra, you're still killing a creature or getting five damage out of the deal. Darigaaz Reincarnated is a great way of ending games quickly, hitting for seven damage right away and being resilient to a big chunk of Golgari removal, and Verix Bladewing is great if you can kick it, giving two bodies for the price of one and double-triggering Dragon's Hoard for card advantage. Oh yeah, and Dragons might be the single most popular casual creature type, and over the long-term, they almost always end up being more expensive than you'd think based on casual demand alone, so you should probably be picking up the mythic Dragons from Core Set 2019 and Dominaria anyway for long-term casual appeal. By picking them up now, you get the additional upside of maybe catching some Dragon hype this winter thanks to the good mana, and in the worst case, you let the tribe members sit in your trade binder for a couple of years until they are worth two or three times what they are today, based on casual demand alone. 


Orzhov is a tough guild to figure out based on past sets. In the original Ravnica block, the mechanic was haunt—basically a weird sort of death trigger allowing you to reuse the ability on your creature once another creature died—while in Return to Ravnica, it was the drainy extort. There's also a spirit sub-theme that runs through both sets and a propensity for self-sacrifice aristocrats-style synergies.

Elenda, the Dusk Rose

Elenda, the Dusk Rose is a bit more expensive than the other cards we've been talking about today, especially in paper, where the mythic is already $8 (although it's quite cheap on Magic Online), but as a mythic from a small and relatively unpopular set, there's plenty of untapped potential even at its current price. In fact, if things break just right, Elenda, the Dusk Rose is the card on our list that has the most potential to shoot up to $15 or $20. What needs to go right for Elenda to become a chase card this winter? Most likely the development of some sort of Orzhov-based three- or four-color aristocrats deck.

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As a fair card, Elenda, the Dusk Rose is only passable. A 1/1 for four just isn't a great body, even considering that it leaves behind a 1/1 when it dies. However, in a dedicated self-sacrifice-style deck, Elenda, the Dusk Rose is one of the best combo pieces in Standard, since it essentially doubles up your sacrifice fodder. If you play Elenda, sacrifice your board, and then sacrifice Elenda, the Dusk Rose itself, you get a 1/1 token for each creature you sacrifice, which can be incredibly powerful. We've already have some pieces in the Standard format to support such a deck, like Hunted Witness, Martyr of Dusk, and perhaps even Pitiless Plunderer—the main thing we are missing is a good sacrifice outlet. Thankfully, if history is to be our guide, Ravnica Allegiance should have us covered. In Return to Ravnica, Cartel Aristocrat was a key piece of the Pro Tour-winning Aristocrats build, while Undercity Informer and even Maw of the Obzedat were also fine sacrifice outlets in their own right. Meanwhile, original Ravnica has Teysa, Orzhov Scion, Ghost Council of Orzhova, Martyred Rusalka, and Plagued Rusalka. All this is to say that finding a good sacrifice outlet from Orzhov in Ravnica Allegiance this winter seems like a pretty good bet.

As such, while it's possible that Ravnica Allegiance will break the mold and the self-sacrifice aristocrat deck will never develop, odds seem in favor of it happening. If it does, there's a good chance that Elenda, the Dusk Rose will go from completely unplayed to the centerpiece of a competitive combo deck. If that happens, the sky is the limit in terms of her potential price tag.

Gruesome Menagerie

Gruesome Menagerie, much like Elenda, the Dusk Rose, is another card that could benefit from Orzhov's love of sacrificing things for value. In the past, cards like Rally the Ancestors and Return to the Ranks have fueled self-sacrifice aristocrats decks, and unless we get something better in Ravnica AllegianceGruesome Menagerie might be the next closest thing in the format. While getting back six mana worth of creatures for five mana is a good deal on its own, in a sacrifice deck, it's important to point out that Gruesome Menagerie would actually be returning five or six creatures worth of sacrifice fodder, assuming the creatures we're returning to the battlefield are cards like Hunted Witness, Martyr of Dusk, and Doomed Dissenter. At bulk rare prices, it's hard to go wrong with the reanimation spell. Worst case, it will still be bulk six months or a year from now; best case, it breaks out, becomes a four-of in a tier Standard deck, and ends up being worth a few dollars. 

Mausoleum Secrets

Finally, we have Mausoleum Secrets, which could be the card that holds together a death-heavy Orzhov deck. The challenge of building around Mausoleum Secrets is that you not only need to have a deck that can fill your graveyard with creatures to power it up but also a black card worth tutoring for. Assuming Orzhov in Ravnica Allegiance is like Orzhov in the past, filling our graveyard shouldn't be a problem, as we'll be able to sacrifice our own creatures for value, and then many of the key combo pieces we've been talking about—Elenda, the Dusk RoseGruesome Menagerie, and even other options like Open the Grave and Midnight Reaper—happen to be black. Mausoleum Secrets allows us to trim back on expensive but powerful combo pieces but still have access to them regularly for just two mana. When you combine this with some fringe Modern potential, it's hard to go wrong for just a dollar.

Other Orzhov Considerations

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  • Open the Graves can perform a role similar to Elenda, the Dusk Rose, doubling up our ability to sacrifice things, although the non-token text on the card is a drawback worth mentioning.
  • Midnight Reaper already shows up in Standard played fairly, but if a self-sacrifice combo develops, it will almost certainly be a part of it. In the past, Grim Haruspex was the centerpiece of some Aristocrats decks, and Midnight Reaper is very similar. 
  • Dawn of Hope is more of a speculative choice, but it's worth keeping in mind that drain is one of the recurring themes of Orzhov. Incidental lifegain is a great way to power up the card, and repeatable token generation isn't a bad option to have for the late game as a mana sink.
  • Lastly, it's probably worth keeping an eye on Supreme Phantom. The lord has proven itself in Modern, but so far, there simply haven't been enough Spirits in Standard to give the tribe a chance. This might change this winter. Both previous visits to Ravnica featured a strong Spirits sub-theme, with cards like Obzedat, Ghost Council, Teysa, Orzhov Scion, Belfry Spirit, and many more supporting the tribe. The mana base will easily allow for Spirits in Esper thanks to the arrival of Hallowed Fountain and Godless Shrine in Ravnica Allegiance. At $2.50 a copy, I'd make sure to have a playset, just in case Spirits develops into a real tribal deck this winter.


Rakdos is perhaps the single hardest guild to figure out. The theme of the guild has traditional been power but with a drawback, with hellbent doing some crazy things in original Ravnica (but only if you were empty-handed) and unleash making your creatures bigger in Return to Ravnica (but at the cost of making them unable to block). I'd be surprised if either mechanic returned—hellbent isn't all that popular, and unleash seems to have limited design space—so it's really hard to even guess what mechanic will support Rakdos this winter.


Angrath, the Flame-Chained is mostly on the list because it's the most exciting red-black card we have in our current Standard format, but there is some sneaky upside. One of the worries about Ravnica Allegiance Standard is just how powerful control decks will be once they get support from Azorius and Orzhov. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria decks are already good, and they are essentially playing with one hand tied behind their back, since the guilds traditionally best at supporting UW Control haven't been featured yet in our third trip to Ravnica. 

If we assume that UWx Control is going to be strong this winter, the value of Angrath, the Flame-Chained increases. Before rotation, it was sneaking into sideboards as part of RB Aggro's "go big" sideboard plan against control and midrange, and in the worst case, it could fill that role again, counteracting the drawing of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria by making the opponent discard a card each turn. The planeswalker has been slowly trending in the right direction and currently boasts a solid 21% spread (with buylist offering $4.50 in cash for copies). All in all, Angrath, the Flame-Chained feels like low-hanging fruit—as one of the only Rakdos cards currently in Standard, it seems likely that people will pick up copies once they start seeing sweet Rakdos cards during Ravnica Allegiance spoiler season, potentially driving up the price. Worst case, it's hard to see the planeswalker dropping much over the next few months, so you may pay a bit in opportunity cost and sell or trade your copies for the same price that they are today.

Other Rakdos Considerations

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  • Traditionally, Rakdos has been a fairly aggressive guild. This could open the door for something like Ruin Raider to be a Dark Confidant at the top of the curve. 
  • Goblin Chainwhirler is already fairly expensive at over $5 a copy, but it's worth keeping in mind that with both Gruul and Rakdos (the two more aggressive red guilds) getting support in Ravnica Allegiance, it's possible that two- or even three-color Chainwhirler decks could develop based on the addition of more shock lands to the format. While there are a ton of copies in circulation, it's not impossible that it will creep back up toward $10 again.


Azorius is pretty simple: it's the control guild. Considering that UWx decks are already doing pretty well even without support from our return to Ravnica, there might be less potential here than there is with the other guilds, which are more or less unplayable at the moment as they wait for more support this winter. The staple cards from UWx control—Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Lyra Dawnbringer, and Cleansing Nova, for example—are already super expensive. While it's possible that they will increase this winter, the initial buy-in is so much higher than for the other guilds that it's probably best to just get the cards that you need to play with and forget about the financial side of Azorius. 

Take Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, for example. It's very possible that it will increase even more this winter, but it's already $50 a copy. Is it really worth spending $200 on a playset in the hopes that the planeswalker will increase by $10 or $20 a copy? When you consider the costs associated with selling cards, it's pretty unlikely you'll come out ahead, even if Teferi, Hero of Dominaria does end up $70. Plus, you will have an entire deck's worth of money tied up in a playset of a single card. For most people, spending that $200 on cards they can play with is a much better choice than spending $200 in the hopes of (maybe) turning a small profit. 

As such, when it comes to Azorius, if you're planning on playing a deck featuring Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, you might as well pick up copies now. Chances are that prices will tick up over the winter, and it's very possible that once Azorius and Orzhov hit the format, some sort of UWx deck will be the best deck in the format. On the other hand, if you know that you're not interested in playing control in Standard, you're better off spending your finite resources on other cheap, higher-upside cards from the currently underplayed guilds that we know will get support in Ravnica Allegiance.


Anyway, that's all for today. What cards do you think are sleepers for this winter's Standard format once we get the rest of the Ravnica guilds? What other cards are you buying now in the hopes of saving a few dollars this winter? 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

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