Grixis or Dimir? Preparing for Guilds of Ravnica Standard
- Rodrigo Martin
Are you ready for rotation? The new Standard will soon kick-off with cards from Guilds of Ravnica. And for those Dimir and Grixis mages that want to keep playing their favorite strategy, here's a recap of their losses and additions to determine which guild will be successful.
Hello everyone! I hope you all are as excited as I am for the latest set release and consequently, the new Guilds of Ravnica Standard. Of course, there will also be a sad part. Plenty of cards will be rotating out of the format, cards that will no longer be played that gave us tons of fun and interesting match ups in the past, e.g. Energy-based decks, Mono Red decks, Constrictor strategies just to name a few…
Aside from our emotional issues regarding the upcoming rotation, this article will mainly discuss whether we take the Dimir route that has become quite popular in the last few months or do we incorporate Izzet in our Grixis deck to increase its power after rotation. So without further ado, let's jump into it!
Cards That We Will Miss and Future Replacements
Let's first take a minute to mourn the cards that we will be losing from the Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks. Then, let's try to identify replacements or similar options within Guilds of Ravnica, and maybe even find some sleepers from Dominaria or M19.
Basically, all the Dimir creatures, except for Hostage Taker, are rotating out.
Some of them are impossible to replace, starting with The Scarab God. He is one of the most impactful gods from the Amonkhet – Hour of Devastation cycle because once he hit the board and untapped on the next turn, it became hard to actually lose the game. The blue Gearhulk was another creature that helped overcome fast starts from aggressive decks. Rebuying his key spell let you add his huge body onto the battlefield.
So, we need to find new contenders for our 2-, 3-, 5-, and 6-drop. This seems quite challenging. Luckily, there are a few Dimir creatures from the new set that we can take into consideration:
For only 2 CMC, we can find newly-printed Nightveil Sprite, Dimir Spybug, and Lazav, the Multifarious. The Sprite resembles the Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, although we are not actually drawing a card. However, we get to surveil every time we attack with it. The Spybug is a 1/1 flying insect with menace. It has huge potential if we surveil at every turn, but the fact that dies on the spot to Goblin Chainwhirler makes it a mere fringe card. Finally, Lazav is a 1/3 who can block two power threats, as well as become any creature in our graveyard. This looks quite interesting, but this will mostly depend on what goes into our grave with surveil spells.
Without really knowing how the metagame will be like on the first few weeks post Guilds of Ravnica's release, I would be more inclined toward control strategies without 2-drops. I would then move on from that place, depending which decks come out as the strongest.
The 3 CMC slot is much more appealing, especially with Thief of Sanity, which is a different take on Nightveil Specter – a card that was pretty successful back in Theros Standard. The Thief might even be better, although he only has 2 toughness and dies to Shock. He does, however, allow you to pay the casting cost of any card you exile with any mana, which means you can play anything you want from your opponents' library. Then there's Darkblade Agent, which may be worth more in aggro-ish strategies. Whenever you surveil your turn with spells or Nightveil Sprite, the Agent becomes something like Shadowmage Infiltrator. You get to draw a card or trade it for any creature, thanks to deathtouch. Last but not least, Blood Operative is a perfect surveil target, which you can bring back to your hand by paying 3 life. However, having only 1 toughness in a Chainwhirler world doesn't give him many chances of being played.
Moving on to a higher mana curve, we have Nightveil Predator. A 3/3 flyer with hexproof and deathtouch, this Predator is hard to kill, but it neither generates card advantage nor does it provide a huge enough body to finish the game. Doom Whisperer and Dream Eater are the two mythics of 5 and 6 CMC (respectively), but I really doubt that they could ever replace The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk. Between the two though, the Nightmare Demon is the one I will place my bet on, since flying and trample allows him to pass through any scary creature, like Lyra Dawnbringer or the new version of Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice. Plus, it's a surveil-enabler with no mana cost.
In conclusion, I will try the following configuration of creatures for my first Dimir attempt. Then I will choose the rest of the spells later:
|2Lazav, the Multifarious|
|4Thief of Sanity|
On the bright side, we get to keep the premium removal of the format, Vraska's Contempt, aside from the new and improved Assasin's Trophy. There are also good cheap interactions in the shape of Essence Scatter, Syncopate, and Cast Down, but I think the card that will shine the most, working alongside the surveil mechanic, is Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin.
Sinister Sabotage is an improved Dissolve with surveil that can replace the 3 CMC counter. Thought Erasure is a 2 mana Thoughtseize, also with Surveil 1. Then we have Discovery // Dispersal, which for the most part is a 2 mana Preordain, again with surveil. It also has a bouncing effect for expensive permanents, plus it can discard a card on either of its sides.
Speaking of mana base, this is the part where we start hurting a little bit. It is true that cycling lands prevented the mana flood and Aether Hub was a nice rainbow land, but we got the sweetest combination between the reprinted shock lands and check lands from Ixalan. So, we can add a couple more Dimir gates just to make sure we have our colors fixed.
|Dimir Surveil v1.0|
|3Dimir Guildgate||4Thief of Sanity||3Cast Down|
|4Drowned Catacomb||3Hostage Taker||3Essence Scatter|
|4Watery Grave||3Doom Whisperer||4Thought Erasure|
|3Field of Ruin||3Sinister Sabotage|
|2Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin|
|2The Eldest Reborn|
I am including Chemister's Insight in the mix even though it is an Izzet card, since it works perfectly with surveil. What I like the most about this mechanic is that mid-range strategies typically suffer when drawing the wrong cards against certain match ups, i.e. removals against control, counters against aggro. But this time around, with the ability to look at so many cards from the top of the library, you can smooth out draws while at the same time, fill the graveyard to be able to flip into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin.
A small mention before we break down the next archetype: Mission Briefing is another card that can be included in the deck. I honestly consider it to be a card whose potential you don’t fully know until you get to actually play with it. Furthermore, re-playing Vraska's Contempt to draw cards is great. But if the metagame is fast enough with a lot of ramping and hasty creatures with mentor from the Boros Legion, the Briefing might be kind of slow. Only time will tell.
Dimir and Izzet Make Grixis Look Perfect
There are certain red spells that made Grixis very powerful in the metagame, such as Magma Spray, Abrade, Harnessed Lightning, and Whirler Virtuoso, but again, we must bid them goodbye. Moving forward, there are a few Izzet cards that look appealing to splash and their costs are not too high, since we can count on a decent mana base.
A few weeks after M19 was released, Grixis Midrange became one of the most successful decks with the addition of Nicol Bolas, the Ravager // Nicol Bolas, the Arisen. I think it might be the time for this deck to shine once again in Standard come Guilds of Ravnica.
What does the Izzet League contribute to the Grixis strategy? First, we get our own Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in the shape of Ral, Izzet Viceroy – a 5 mana planeswalker that comes into play with 5 loyalty counters instead of 4. Both planeswalkers are quite similar, having a +1 ability that draws a card, a -3 that gets rid of permanents, and a -8 emblem that will eventually win you the game.
Let's be real. Although Ral gets his ultimate a turn sooner and his draw ability chooses between the two top cards, being able to untap lands is much more powerful, especially when you have Fog effects or removals to protect your planeswalker during your opponent's turn. Moreover, Ral's second ability only kills creatures based on the number of instant and sorceries you have exiled and in your graveyard. This is much worse than strictly bouncing a non-land permanent into the owner's library. Anyway, Ral is too powerful to ignore, so we might as well play him in a control strategy wherein we clean the board then protect it to gain card advantage.
There are other Izzet spells yet worth mentioning: Ionize is another Cancel with an upside: Time-shocking your opponent to the face might be better than Surveil 1, but only if we want to finish games quicker. Crackling Drake is a new twist on Enigma Drake. It costs 1 more mana but it cantrips whenever it enters the battlefield. It's a shame that it's not a dragon, otherwise it could have been played alongside Sarkhan, Fireblood and Nicol Bolas in a dragon tribal deck.
Aside from multicolored cards, Chemister's Insight pairs very well with Ral (obviously). A couple of non-guild cards from the set might also find its place in the strategy: Lava Coil could replace Abrade in the 2 CMC removal category. Although it doesn't get rid of artifacts, plus it’s a sorcery, being able to exile 4 toughness creatures in a world where Undergrowth matters is a real deal.
Rounding things up with Ritual of Soot, the Grixis deck gets a 4-mana mini Wrath of God to kill small creatures in aggressive decks. However, this does not kill our biggest threats, i.e. Nicol Bolas or Demanding Dragon.
All in all, before I end this article, I would like to suggest a couple of Grixis lists. The first one is the most obvious – a control build that will likely show up in the next few weeks. There are a million tweaks you can make to this list, such as adding Nezahal, Primal Tide for control mirrors, more Chemister's Insights to gain advantage with surveil. You can also try other cheap removals like Moment of Craving or Shock. From here onwards, this deck will be a work in progress that will eventually get to its ultimate version once the metagame settles.
|4Drowned Catacomb||3Nicol Bolas, the Ravager // Nicol Bolas, the Arisen||3Ral, Izzet Viceroy|
|4Dragonskull Summit||2Verix Bladewing||2Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin|
|4Steam Vents||1The Eldest Reborn|
|2Sulfur Falls||4Thought Erasure|
|2Field of Ruin||2Essence Scatter|
|2Mountain||2Ritual of Soot|
The first list might still be a bit clunky, since we don't know yet which are the decks to beat come the new Standard. That's why I would also like to present a second version – a more mid-range shell, built around Nicol Bolas and Sarkhan, which tries to curve out and win games faster.
|4Dragonskull Summit||4Nicol Bolas, the Ravager // Nicol Bolas, the Arisen||3Sarkhan, Fireblood|
|4Steam Vents||2Verix Bladewing||1Ral, Izzet Viceroy|
|4Sulfur Falls||3Demanding Dragon||4Shock|
|2Evolving Wilds||4Goblin Chainwhirler||4Lightning Strike|
|2Watery Grave||3Lava Coil|
|2Field of Ruin||3Spit Flame|
This brings us to the end of this article. As usual, feel free to leave your comments below and let me know if there is another Dimir or Izzet card from Guilds of Ravnica that you are looking forward to playing.
I hope you enjoyed the article. Have a huge blast during the pre-release weekend and support your favorite guild.
Until next time!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.