Rotation Grief: Guilds of Ravnica, Part 1
- Gianluca Aicardi
The Standard rotation will soon be upon us again! Time to acknowledge the sudden disappearance from our decks of all the cards from the four rotating sets. We begin this journey of grief (or perhaps jubilation) by looking into the monocolored cards Standard is going to lose when Guilds of Ravnica rotates out.
Guilds of Ravnica White Losses
Conclave Tribunal: For the past couple of years, White Weenie, Selesnya Tokens, and most every white-based creature-heavy deck ran Conclave Tribunal as the removal of choice. Being an Oblivion Ring that can be paid for by tapping creatures rather than mana sources led to a massive tempo boost. It'll be hard to replace, as well as hard to reprint, since it directly references the Selesnya Conclave and involves a specific non-evergreen keyword. Maybe one day a core set will include enough convoke cards to allow for it. Grief Factor: 9/10.
Dawn of Hope: A favorite among casual players, this enchantment made a few occasional competitive appearances in lifegain brews that were looking to reinforce their late game. In spite of being too slow and clunky to perform consistently, it was a decent piece of tech in those builds. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Divine Visitation: This entry is purely meant as a shout-out to the jank-loving crowd. Over the course of the Standard cycle that's coming to an end, very few cards have been able to ignite the passion of brewers more than Divine Visitation. In the eye of a competitive player, it was just another five-mana do-nothing enchantment. But for the casual Jenny/Johnny, it was the chance to turn all your next Soldier tokens into mighty Angels! Grief Factor: 1/10 or 10/10, depending on which group you belong to.
Healer's Hawk: Quality one-drops are the bread and butter of white aggro decks, and this trusty Hawk is a surprisingly strong member of that club. A double French vanilla critter can't do much better on turn one than flying and lifelink, a perfect building block for lifegain synergies, as well as aggro strategies that aim to boost early creatures with +1/+1 counters. It's generically named and mechanically harmless enough to feel easy to reprint, though. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Hunted Witness: Another type of valuable one-drop is the kind that replaces itself. Hunted Witness was never really at the same power level as its blueprint Doomed Traveler, and doesn't even compare too favorably to contemporary two-drops with afterlife, since the Witness's token is unevasive. But it still competently played a role in Orzhov sacrifice decks that planned to the 1/1 to Priest of Forgotten Gods. Unfortunately, Cauldron Familiar would later steal those decks' entire attention. Of course, from the point of view of the Witness, it was fortunate not to be so hunted anymore — and we never did find out what was witnessed, anyway. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Venerated Loxodon: Elephant Jesus has been the sacred engine of White Aggro during the entire Standard cycle. Many of those decks would follow patterns leading to a turn-three Loxodon being cast for free, boosting the whole team while putting a 4/4 body on the battlefield. The following combat phase after such a move was often lethal, especially on the play. It'll be difficult to replicate this degree of power in any set that doesn't feature convoke. Grief Factor: 9/10.
Guilds of Ravnica Blue Losses
Chemister's Insight: Before being supplanted by more flexible options like Thassa's Intervention, Chemister's Insight had been the go-to card advantage spell for permission decks, predominantly during the widespread Esper Control reign of 2019. It's a kind of spell that blue won't ever have a lack of in any Standard environment. Core Set 2021 just gave us its more direct heir in Rain of Revelation. But this distinct version of the hand-refueling routine was beloved — and was certainly cast a record number of times, considering that the jump-start keyword granted a second iteration to each copy. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Disdainful Stroke: This reprint from Khans of Tarkir — which bodes well for future reappearances — has been one of the most-played counterspells in the meta, even while being highly situational as written. On top of being an excellent sideboard option, it's a well-balanced card that consents to midrange and ramp decks to develop their board and then keep the littlest amount of mana open to stop a key spell in the mid-game — from sweepers and planeswalkers to crucial enchantments like Wilderness Reclamation and Experimental Frenzy. Brawl will chiefly miss it as a cheap way to interact with the vast majority of commanders. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Dream Eater: This multifaceted finisher — it's at once a flying body, an ambusher, a bounce spell, and a large surveil effect — didn't really find a permanent home in these two years, but it was still a very respectful six-drop for ramp decks and control decks. Most notably, it was one of the maddeningly few targets for Prime Speaker Vannifar at six, something that perhaps came up more often in Brawl than in regular Standard. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Drowned Secrets: Incremental mill has never been a competitive strategy, and probably never will. It essentially entails giving yourself a 50-point required score to win rather than the 20 that normally result from attacking the opponent's life total. But hey, it's popular, and so was Drowned Secrets among the mill aficionados. They will grieve its departure bitterly, even if nobody else will share this particular heartache. Grief Factor: 1/10.
Guild Summit: The Gate deck is all but disappeared these days, but it was a fashionable budget option for most of last year, one that could even enjoy a fair amount of success. The card draw provided by Guild Summit was quite naturally the principal engine of that deck, and the main reason why it was played to begin with. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Murmuring Mystic: This card's progenitor, Talrand, Sky Summoner, didn't exactly take its era's Standard by storm, and the Mystic is even less efficient, albeit more resilient. Chiefly for this reason, it appeared in blue-red sideboards for a while. At any rate, a spellslinging deck that cared for a midrange token generator once again didn't materialize, so this guy's potential remained unfulfilled, just like Talrand's. And like Talrand, his true calling probably resides in Commander. Grief Factor: 2/10.
Narcomoeba: A competitive dredge list is another promise that this Standard cycle didn't deliver on, so the little vacation that Narcomoeba took in Standard ends uneventfully. Interestingly, though, this was the first time the dredge staple saw a reprint in a premier set since its debut in Future Sight, finally fulfilling the foretold vision of the flying jellyfish. Grief Factor: 1/10.
Quasiduplicate: Arguably the coolest application of the jump-start mechanic, this double cloning spell had its moments of glory, key among them its duplications of Risen Reef in Elemental builds. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Radical Idea: This pure cantrip-times-two mostly belonged in only one list, Izzet Phoenix. Here it would come in handy to contribute to the critical mass of spells necessary to return the titular firebird back from the grave again and again. Once that whole archetype fell from grace, Radical Idea followed suit. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Sinister Sabotage: Three-mana counterspells are usually designed with Cancel as the baseline they need to improve upon. The way Sinister Sabotage accomplished this goal is by adding surveil to the resolution, which makes it very similar to Theros's Dissolve, and a solid entry in the counterspell family in general. Unlike scry, surveil thins the deck and enables graveyard shenanigans, so it might even be seen as the superior mechanic. Sabotage served honorably as the primary hard counterspell in the environment alongside the more color-restrictive Absorb — until Mystical Dispute offered the chance to fight the dominant blue spells for just one mana. The advent of Teferi, Time Raveler also reduced the overall value of midrange countermagic for the better part of this Standard cycle. But we can be reassured a new Advanced Cancel is bound to come along sooner rather than later. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Guilds of Ravnica Black Losses
Burglar Rat: A nice two-drop with your basic asymmetrical disruption trigger — the slightest improvement over classic Ravenous Rats — this little guy felt perfectly fine until Yarok's Fenlurker came along nine months later. It was still a reasonable inclusion in a "discard matters" strategy and as sacrifice fodder that generates some value before being consumed. It has the highest chances of being back soon, anyway. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Doom Whisperer: The competitive career of this many-limbed Demon was painfully short. Make no mistake, it's an impressive finisher, boasting a large evasive body for a mere five mana, plus a repeatable activation that can effectively sculpt your draw, almost tutoring up cards if you're willing to sink enough life into it. But it's also an awfully midrange beater, and all the midrange strategies that graced the format at the end of 2018 quickly lost viability in the following years. Suddenly Doom Whisperer was neither fast enough to threaten a short clock from the early game (its demonic colleague Spawn of Mayhem would do a much better job at that) nor over-the-top and resilient enough to be a worthy curve-topper in ramp builds. It turns out the doom it was whispering about was his own. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Midnight Reaper: This is one loss black decks will have to work hard to recover from — and they don't start from the best position either. Drawing cards at the cost of life is fundamental to the color, but it's not common to find a permanent with the potential to draw as many cards as Midnight Reaper, for an initial investment of just three mana. Plus its body was relevant in aggro builds, either to apply pressure or for trading while replacing itself. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Plaguecrafter: A much more versatile take on Fleshbag Marauder — unlike its predecessor, it's always playable, no matter the board state — this three-drop wasn't as widely played as Midnight Reaper, but still supplied black's box of tools with an important function that might not be too easy to replicate at the same power level. Luckily, the opportunity for a direct reprint exists, as this dark Shaman doesn't seem expressly constrained by a Ravnican localization. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Price of Fame: To be fair, this card saw close to zero play in proper Standard. But in Brawl, where the presence of a target triggering the discount is all but guaranteed every game, it was a fixture of all decks running black. Its rotation is a major loss for the format. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Ritual of Soot: The longest-serving four-mana sweeper in black. It doesn't hit every creature, but it was often more than enough to stop the fastest aggro decks in their tracks. It's not as if its most recent replacement, Extinction Event, for all its merits, is able to completely swipe the battlefield either. Now, Damnation is problematic to reprint because it mentions regeneration, which is currently a discontinued mechanic. So here's hoping for a colorshifted Day of Judgment in our Standard future, so that black won't have to constantly rely on white for its more thorough apocalyptic necessities. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Guilds of Ravnica Red Losses
Arclight Phoenix: The Arclight is perhaps the most emblematic of all the monocolored cards from Guilds of Ravnica — the most impactful of them all, able to give birth to a whole archetype expressly built around it. Admittedly, Izzet Phoenix was never as dominant in Standard as it was in Modern, and it fell out of favor in the last year or so. But it never entirely went away, and it represented a major force in the environment for quite some time. Now its signature card leaves these shores and enters history. Grief Factor: 10/10.
Electrostatic Field: It was only a second-tier variant of monored that utilized this electric wall to enhance its burn output. Its main flaw was being entirely dependent on the casting of other spells in order to do anything at all, except for some uncharacteristic blocking. Plus, monored in Standard took the form of a creature-based Red Deck Wins rather than pure Burn, which wasn't entirely sustainable. Nevertheless, the build running Electrostatic Field had some legs, and experienced a modicum of popularity. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Experimental Frenzy: Oh boy. Will red ever be able, let alone allowed, to revisit such a gonzo design? The game-breaking advantage of an active Frenzy has been unparalleled in the format, and even felt wasted on monored alone, which however made the best use of it, thanks to the density of low-cost spells to chain together off the top of the library. It's been fun while it lasted. Grief Factor: 10/10.
Goblin Banneret: Not the most-played of one-drops, the Banneret was a valiant workhorse for creature-based lists seeking the maximum amount of early pressure, e.g. Cavalcade of Calamity decks. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Goblin Cratermaker: Despite its flexibility, this demolition expert was rarely seen on a Standard battlefield, barring the occasional (and not exceedingly effective) Goblin tribal deck. This said, the Cratermaker still deserves an honorable mention, seeing that it originated here in Guilds of Ravnica and then went on to make a name for itself by killing much bigger prey than Standard had to offer. Too bad it was destined to cross paths with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon only there at the end. Grief Factor: 1/10.
Lava Coil: This is a deceptively simple spell that actually hides a lot of power. Crossing the three-damage threshold is not trivial for red. A piece of cheap, unconditional removal that can kill a four-toughness creature without requiring any additional cost is less frequent in red than one would think. You can basically count them on the fingers of one hand: there's been Flame Slash, Mizzium Mortars, and Cut from Cut // Ribbons. They all have additional benefits — reduced cost; expansion to sweeper in the late game; another spell in the other half — and so does Lava Coil with its recursion hate, which has been extremely significant against Phoenixes and suchlike. It's not at all a given for red to get another meaningful four-damage spell in the next Standard. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Legion Warboss: When Legion Warboss was revealed, it was immediately hailed as poor man's Goblin Rabblemaster. Over time, though, it successfully proved to be its own Goblin token maker, having traded Rabblemaster's self-boost with the ability to assign its progeny to defense duty if they survive their first attack. In the end it was one of the most feared three-drops in the meta, great at pressuring planeswalkers and fully capable of running away with the game if left unchecked. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Risk Factor: Before Ravnica Allegiance printed Light Up the Stage, Risk Factor represented monored's main way to replenish its hand — possibly in conjunction with The Flame of Keld while the Dominaria Saga was still around from the previous Standard cycle. Though Risk Factor is more likely to be a source of damage than a card-drawing spell, unless the extent of the damage inflicted has already put the fear of dying into the opponent. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Runaway Steam-Kin: By now, we must admit — the quantity and quality of the monored cards in Guilds of Ravnica has no equal in other colors. Runaway Steam-Kin has been yet another of the foremost moneymakers in red, a mana battery that was also an aggro element and interacted winningly with Experimental Frenzy. Letting a monored player untap with an active Steam-Kin was often a recipe of doom. It's doubtful we will see a red two-drop of this power level anytime soon. Grief Factor: 10/10.
Guilds of Ravnica Green Losses
Beast Whisperer: A trigger caused by creatures being cast or entering the battlefield is green's main form of card-drawing. Beast Whisperer is a honest representative of such mechanic, but still too slow to partake in the top tiers of the competitive world. It's coming down at a point in the curve when monogreen and Gruul decks need to start delivering the fireworks and can't spend a full turn durdling around. Brawl sees the Whisperer differently, though. It's a slower format where players will do whatever it takes to quench their thirst for cards, riding incremental advantage into an explosive late game. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Circuitous Route: After Grow from the Ashes rotated out but before Migration Path was introduced, Circuitous Route was for a time the sole double-land tutor in Standard. It was also one of the enablers of the Gate deck, ramping into Gate Colossus, drawing with Guild Summit, and increasing Gates Ablaze's reach. It later reached the pinnacle of competitive relevance alongside Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and Field of the Dead, for both of which the Gate angle proved important too. Overall, there's not really any reason to grieve for Circuitous Route. Grief Factor: 2/10.
District Guide: Contrary to Elvish Rejuvenator, District Guide is not ramp, it's just fixing with a Gate subtheme. The moment the Gates themselves are out of the meta, there's little use left for this Elf, which saw some amount of play in Vannifar decks but not too much elsewhere. The art was sweet, though, an urban scout looking soulful and elegant while standing at sundown against the windswept Ravnican skyline. Grief Factor: 1/10.
Kraul Harpooner: This fierce little Insect was one of the best enter-the-battlefield fighters green has had in retainer during this cycle. For two mana, you'd get an aggressive 3/2 body and/or the opportunity to eliminate one of those pesky fliers. Monogreen and Gruul decks employed its services extensively, even when not trying to weaponize the Harpooner's temporary power boost by giving it haste via Rhythm of the Wild. Sometimes, though, it offered a great discount on The Great Henge. A great, straightforward card that will be definitely missed. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Nullhide Ferox: For a short while after it released, Nullhide Ferox was seen as the designated centerpiece of a reborn green-based aggro list. The reality proved different. Its hexproof wasn't reliable enough — more of a targeting tax, a la Frost Titan — and the discard clause rarely came into effect. Meanwhile, there are noncreature cards, like Vivien or Nissa, that green decks would like to be able to cast untaxed, but this dour Beast would constantly get in their way. Once alternative, less awkward four-drops like Questing Beast came along, the Ferox had already been put aside. All this doesn't mean it couldn't be effective at times, and its remarkable body/cost ratio will be hard to reproduce. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Pelt Collector: The card that kept Monogreen Monsters somewhat afloat during this past couple of years, while also contributing to Gruul Aggro's more high-profile success. Green is likely to get back an unconditional one-drop accelerator like Llanowar Elves eventually. But to find another one-drop whose power keeps growing turn after turn is a trickier wish to fulfill. Though it's worth noting that the Collector is not bogged down by any single keyworded ability or planar flavor, unlike Experiment One, so it seems fairly reprintable. Grief Factor: 9/10.
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