Ravnica has Returned – Shared Discovery by Rob WagnerN.B. It is Azorius week but I don’t really have an Azorius deck to write about so I’ll just be leaning my examples that way where I can. It’s clearly the best guild anyway :)
Hi all, there has been a fair bit written about current Ravnica Standard but the first big event for it is due to take place this weekend vis Grand Prix Auckland. I wanted to take a look back in time at old Ravnica constructed events to see how comparable the two eras were.
I was somewhat surprised to find a pretty heavy lack of reported events of individual constructed formats from that time (event coverage archive), with most of the Grand Prixes being Sealed Deck. The constructed events that did exist were largely team constructed, where three teams couldn’t use more than 4 copies of a non-basic land between the three decks. The big event from that time was Pro Tour Charleston which was a Block Constructed Teams event in which Shoota Yasooka, Tomoharu Saito and Tomoharu Kaji beat out Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Willy Edel and Celso Zampere to take the crown.
A lot of the elements of original Ravnica seem to be repeating themselves today, so what worked then that we should really be moving in on today? Most people already are but I suspect not everyone got the message:
These five “shock” lands have made their return and the other five are soon to follow in Gatecrash. They really are powerful lands, and the interaction with the core set duals (Glacial Fortress et al) really is lovely.
Ravnica is more than being just about powerful lands though, the original had the “karoo”s and the signets also.
In present standard we don’t quite have these beauts, with the replacements being the Guildgates and the Keyrunes.
Which are worse than their predecessors for not being card advantage and not being cheap respectively. They still are seeing a fair bit of play, especially Rakdos Keyrune because it is great at blocking Thragtusk and attacking Jace, Architect of Thought.
The other cards which were really great for fixing mana back then were:
Which you may well recognise in present standard as being all-stars (well, Wayfinder is now Borderland Ranger) in the Jund deck. Actually, Farseek is one of the main components of most of the top decks of Standard, being an amazing way to fix your mana because it fetches Shock-lands (and it’s coming in tapped anyway, so no need to try paying 2 life). The other main component of most of the top decks of Standard is of course…
Great Threats/Answers that Gain Life
The great one himself, Thragtusk! The big two cards I’m largely referring to from old Ravnica are:
Good lifegain that could largely be cast on turn 3 because of Farseek and the Signets. These made life hell for aggressive decks, which still saw a fair amount of play because back then there were combo decks also. These days we have no combo decks to prey on the increasingly slow midrange decks, so the super fast aggro decks don’t really exist (or at least do well) at the moment. You can show me the RDW lists but I’ve played with and against them and they’re pretty miserable to take to a tournament.
In fact, if we go back to that Pro Tour and take a look at the decks, every team was full of Shocklands and Signets, but of the top 22 team decklists that we have available, 12 played all of Farseek, Fetters and Hierarch, 7 only played two of them, 3 only played one and 0 played none of them. They’re largely role-playing cards, but they’re good against aggro because they shut down attacks and gain some of the lost life, and they’re good against control because they fight control’s threats and leave you with creatures post-wrath – sound familiar?
Versatile Removal Spells
The other big thing that the first Ravnica brought, was some very nice removal spells. Coming off the back of Rend Flesh from the Kamigawa Block, and Terror from the Core Set, ways to kill creatures were a bit narrow back then. Then Ravnica came, and suddenly we were bestowed with bounteous goods.
To match these in present standard we have the (bumped up to rare) similar options of:
Which are pretty good at killing things dead. I’d expect more options to come along with Gatecrash (Boros and Orzhov equivalents) but it’s nice to have creature removal which you can just happen to use on other troublesome permanent types without having to resort to nonsense like Naturalize or similar.
The State of Standard
What implications does this have then? Well, where Standard really differs from the first Ravnica is in the existence of Combo decks. Wizards has been pushing these less and less recently, to the point that Standard is (for better or worse) almost singularly about creatures. Without the slowish combo decks to prey on, the really aggressive decks are just getting midranged out. So what can you do? Well, you can also play midrange, and you can try to out-big your opponent. This will only work if everyone has got the memo that aggro is rubbish because the one person that was too slow on the uptake will beat you before losing all their other rounds (I don’t like it when this happens).
Currently everyone is on Thragtusk but there are a lot of Angel of Serenitys out there, and the 4-colour Reanimator decks are even trying to Unburial Rites Craterhoof Behemoth. I’m not exactly sure what’s bigger than that but I sure as heck don’t want to find out! You can’t even super-aggro these guys out because Farseek into Huntmaster of the Fells into Thragtusk is so destructive for any aggressive starts while being just the norm for these big and midrange decks. Sad as it is, something like Sulfuric Vortex or Stigma Lasher may be required to prevent all the ridiculous life gain that people just happen to pick up along the way to EDH-level plays. Who knows, maybe you’ve found something that I haven’t!
Bonus Decklist – “Millionaire” Jund
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing!
@DrRobWagner on Twitter