Format Bonding : Ravnica Allegiance

It’s that time again, a new set has rolled out for the MTG community to dig into and salivate over the possibilities it brings.  Standard Players excited to see fresh tech in their ever changing format, Modern, Legacy, Vintage players pour over spoilers picking out only the best examples of card design, like choosing a fine wine, only the top choices will make the cut.  EDH players look for the huge effects that their format is known for, while also keeping a keen eye out for more subtle effects that can shake up their favorite decks.

All in all this is a time for bonding, loyalty to your chosen format will reward you with a rich tapestry of designs to admire, Ravnica Allegiance delivers something for everyone, continuing the history of Ravnica in magic always providing interesting ways to shake up the past, while equally enhancing those who play in the now.

Here are my picks for the top cards in Ravnica for various formats.  As usual I’ll lay out which format I think will benefit most from the card, and would like to point out that some of these choices are objectively good card designs that will absolutely see play, where others are going to make the list because I love sweet, random things, and want to celebrate their existence in the world of Magic : The Gathering.

STANDARD

Not being a big standard player, I normally don’t try to evaluate cards for the format, but lately I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the metagame and want to point out some cards that either already have, or have a chance to see serious play in standard.


These three cards are sure fire hits for Standard.  Based on the opening weekend of play, the Starcitygames standard event in Indianapolis showed Krasis all over the place, often slotting into already strong Golgari lists, and over performed in many ways.  This creature was causing players to actually say that Carnage Tyrant was a weaker card in the deck… that is a strong endorsement for a card that will clearly continue to see play in standard throughout it’s life there.
Growth-Chamber Guardian was also finding its way into many of these lists, and others throughout the weekend.  It’s a grizzly bear, but the ability curves perfectly making it a solid 4/4 body, and more importantly, keeps pressure on the opponent by grabbing another copy from your deck to keep chaining them together.  Expect to see our crabby friend showing up in many lists for the foreseeable future.
Hero is possibly a card that would be considered overlooked during spoilers.  This card is basically a Young Pyromancer that creates more relevant creature types.  The Esper lists that were showing up over the weekend really demonstrated the power of this go wide engine.  I’m not certain it will continue to be a player as the format evolves, but it certainly did a great job coming out of the gate strong.


What is more Ravnica than the Gates.  Ever since they were introduced during Return to Ravnica, the gates have been casual brew all-stars, who actually played some serious magic within Turbo Fog decks.  Well, Gates made their return with this revisit to Ravnica, and man did they come out swinging this set.  While Guilds of Ravnica included some great enablers to find gates in your deck, Allegiance gave us all the gravy.
The Gates decks showed up at Indy, and Saffron Olive showed up their power on his YouTube Channel as well.  Plaza of Harmony gaining you 3 life plus being a pseudo rainbow land gives the deck legs against an aggressive metagame.  While Gates Ablaze gives you possibly the best sweeper in the format, allowing you the ability to clear up a board of small creatures, or a board full of fatties with ease.  This card is an incredible addition, and may actually help push some form of gate deck into modern as well.
After you sweep the board, how do you close out the game?  For this, Gatebreaker Ram swings WAY above it’s rate.  The pump scales as the game goes on, and because it has a base power of 2, it never dies to your Gates Ablaze.  This on its own would make this creature great, but to then attach Vigilance & Trample onto our little Sheep push it way over the edge.  I promise you, if people figure out the right build for gates, our Sheepish friend will absolutely be the preferred finisher of the deck.
That said, Gate Colossus is also a very difficult to deal with threat, being a large creature is great, and not being chump blocked by tokens and small creatures gives it very reasonable evasion.  But then, if your opponent isn’t exiling it, being able to buy them back from your graveyard is a very powerful end game effect.


These picks encompass unrealised potential at this point.  Wilderness Reclamation is highly touted, some people even calling for its potential banning because of the things it can enable (Check out Todd Anderson’s Temur Reclamation deck for an example).  While it’s performance at Indy didn’t blow people away, this card has a high ceiling for finding a home in the correct shell and breaking standard in half.  We will wait and see how that goes.
Lumbering Battlement is my personal pick for most underrated card in the set.  At 5 mana it’s 4/5 standard body is completely reasonable.  It’s ability to exile creatures on entering the battlefield for a +2/+2 pump can make it a very big threat as well.  What people are sleeping on is that the text on this card reads “Until it leaves the battlefield”, not when it dies or goes to the graveyard.  What this means is that even effects like Vraska’s Comtempt that exile, you will still get your creatures back.  What this spells out is Enter the Battlefield value if you are exiling the right creatures.  I don’t know the shell, but I feel like this card is going to find it’s home later, and people will be looking back asking how they didn’t see it’s power sooner.
Skarrgan Hellkite is a hasty 4/4 dragon for 5, or a 5/5 for 5 with a reasonable ability.  How anyone can ignore standards of past where these dragons ALWAYS saw play is beyond me.  We haven’t seen it rear its head yet, but this card will show up in a winning deck eventually, mark my words.  I could also have included this card in modern in a red dragons list with Sarkhan, Fireblood, but I’ll just build that myself and let this sit in the standard section for now.

Modern


Skewer and Light Up the Stage are easy includes to start out the Modern Bracket.  Both are already being extensively tested in Modern Burn lists, but I suspect as time goes on, there may be other homes that they will find their way into.  Skewer is easy to evaluate as basically a lightning bolt.  Other similiar cards already have homes in burn so this is likely to just become a burn staple.  Light up the Stage is slightly harder to judge, from a glance, 1 mana to draw 2 cards is a very powerful effect, but of course enabling it is a cost that needs to be considered.  I believe that as people find homes for it, the card will end up shining in Modern over time.
Pteramander is slightly more narrow in its application, but testing has already started happening in Delver of Secret lists, since both cards care about instant and sorcery’s, and are both evasive beaters.  Expect to see our little Salamander friend for a long time in the format, even if it never finds any different homes.


Now we get into some spicy new toys.  Electrodominance has been generating a pile of buzz because of it’s obvious interaction with the zero cost spells in modern.  Living End, Restore Balance, and their ilk.  I believe that this card is not so much an if, but a when, for showing up in some form in modern.  While we have seen effects like this previously in cards like As Foretold, and the Expertise cycle, Electrodominance does something unique that those cards don’t, it allows you to cheat the cast timing restrictions.  The current Living End lists that exist run Cascade cards that do the same thing, they allow you to cast the sorcery speed spell during opponents turns.  Electrodominance won’t slot in those decks, but it may end up being the reason a new archtype is created to take advantage of it’s unique ability to cast these spells.  If I’m honest, I’m particularly interested in how this interacts with Lotus Bloom and Wheel of Fate.  Wheel of Fate is a very powerful card in a Waste Not strategy, and that interests me greatly as a lover of janky modern strategies.
Deputy of Detention makes it easy to see it’s power, being a duplicate of an already powerful card in Detention Sphere (see what they did there…).  This creature is very likely to find its home in a deck like Bant Spirits, where they run Collected Company, and can suddenly Coco into their removal, and although not a spirit, can get in for small amounts of chip damage in a pinch.
Rhythm of the Wild is not an uncommon.  This card was clearly printed with the wrong rarity symbol because it feels 100% like a rare, two powerful effects stapled together on an under-costed enchantment.  I believe this card will see a good amount of play in standard, but I put it in Modern because of it’s ability to abuse persist creatures.  When your persist creatures come into play with a 1/1 counter, they become unkillable (beyond exiling) and their ETB effects can be abused with a sac outlet (which modern has many of).  While this may not end up being a format breaking card, my jank combo senses are tingling like crazy.


Efficient removal is not something that modern is lacking in any sense, but when removal spells offer extended flexibility it can be a recipe for a must play card.  Bedevil is a hard card to judge for Modern because it offers very useful and flexible removal, but at the sacrifice of a very restrictive casting cost.  If I have to wager a guess, I believe that jund decks will try to run this card as a very flexible option because individual card quality in those decks is highly important.  I’ll be keeping an eye on this card in the future.
Cindervines didn’t click with me at first, people were pointing out how much it hoses storm, and KCI (now banned), but I’ve heard that all before.  It wasn’t until I saw someone describe it as Seal of Primordium with upside that it clicked.  This spell in the right decks is actually a super efficient hoser for those unfair storm type decks, while still having totally reasonable game as artifact or enchantment hate.  It comes down very early, and just sitting on the field can force opponents into different play patterns to try and avoid having their important permanents blown up.  I was sleeping on this, but I think in the long term, this card is actually going to prove to be worthy of slots in the sideboard of a variety of modern decks.
Revival // Revenge is an odd one.  I have no idea if this card is good.  The 6 mana side doesn’t scream modern playability to me, but the 2 mana unearth is a unique effect in modern, which gives me pause.  I haven’t spent enough time sitting down with a list of all 3 CMC creatures in modern yet to see what this could enable, but normally these effects have been restricted to 2CMC in modern, so to increase the range could lead to some surprisingly powerful things.  This is not going to ever be a staple, but I think it could find an interesting home at some point when someone with the right set of eyes puts their focus on it.

LEGACY / VINTAGE

This is absolutely not my area of expertise.  I  haven’t played Magic long enough to be invested in the ultimate eternal formats, but because I can read, and because I happened to catch an episode of Vintage Super League, I can confidently say that this card is a house in Vintage, and probably legacy too.  A turn 1 Lavinia off a mox in many ways is a borderline complete shut down of the opposing deck.  She turns off their ability to play their moxes, lotus’s, and very importantly, Force of Will and Gush style effects where you can cast them for nothing by doing something else.  It surprised me just how devastating she is in that format.  I know she’s going to continue seeing play there for a long time.
It’s entirely possibly she will find her way into modern, but I believe it will take some work to find her a good home in that format.

COMMANDER


One of my favorite things about Commander is the way it makes cards that are stone unplayable in most formats actually shine for their unique design just because of the way the format is constructed.  Being a singleton format, Guardian Project makes all of your creatures basically have the text “When X enters the battlefield, draw a card”.  Not only that, because it doesn’t indicate you need to cast the creature, this can be abused with flicker effects, of which there are many.  I suspect this card will find it’s way into most every green deck.
Theatre of Horrors is such a cool card.  It’s basically 3 mana build a new hand over time.  The effect is very unique, and it’s harmless appearing so opponents are unlikely to feel a need to deal with it right away.  I don’t believe there is any way to abuse this card unfairly, but it seems like a quality form of card advantage.
Now, we go from a totally reasonable card, to a card that is without a doubt a new staple for every white deck in Commander.  I have heard this card referred to as “Rystic Tithe” because it’s effect is in many ways just like Rystic Study.  Taxing our opponents in a way that allows you to pull ahead on the mana curve is exactly what white wants if they can’t have pure card draw.  Opponents are almost never going to want to pay this tax either, so you can expect to see incredible ramp from this card.

MULTI-FORMAT


Well, here are what I would consider to be the two best cards in the set.  Both of these cards have potential to be incredible in multiple formats, and are likely to also be in highly competitive decks.
You only have to cast Growth Spiral once to see just how incredible Explore at instant speed is.  In Standard this card is unbelievable in the surprisingly powerful Gates decks, and I can already see reasons you might want to try to jam this into a form of control deck in modern, that leans heavily on Cryptic Command.  This ramps you right into it, and of course lets you hold up counters early in the game as well.
Prime Speaker Vannifar is the hype train of the set, everyone wants this to be the next coming of Birthing Pod.  While there is no doubt she’s no equal to the powerful artifact, seeing the brews people have already starting making in Modern look promising for her powerlevel.  You can never let your opponent untap with her in play, that’s the signs of a dangerous card.  In EDH, she’s the new hot commander tech, with game ending combos available, or just simply as a crazy value engine.  If you’re going to sleeve her up to lead your other 99, expect that your opponents will be chomping at the bit to make you watch them play Commander after they focus fire you down.

Lets be fair, if your opponent put a Birthing Pod down and said “This is my Commander”, you’d do the same 🙂

That’s all I have for now, there are some other cards I really like in the set like Biomancer’s Familiar, Sunder Shaman, and Incubation Druid, but I didn’t have any ideas on where I might place them, so I’ll leave them just here at the end if you’d like to explore their possibilities.

Thank you very much for being such a

Seriously, this card exists… and is awesome.

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