Adventures in Standard: Ravnica Allegiance, Graded
Prerelease weekend has come and gone. Release weekend has just passed by. We've gotten some time with Ravnica Allegiance, and I have to say I'm pretty impressed with it so far. It's put in some nice work for me in limited and it's already gotten my brewing gears going. However, you're not here for me to gush about the set. You want to see this set graded and compared, so let's get right to it.
As a Ravnica set, I'll be grading it based on the Guilds included and how it interacts with the current Standard meta. Without any further delay, let's begin!
This was the guild I had the highest hopes for. I was looking forward to a set that looked at Orzhov as more than just, "holier than thou vampires". What better for a true return to Ravnica than by having it represented by the humans, spirits, and ghouls that created the Extort mechanic? I mean, it was truly something I anticipated playing with.
Orzhov's newly introduced mechanic is Afterlife, which always follows a number. The mechanic basically says that when the creature with Afterlife dies, you create as many black and white 1/1 spirit tokens as the Afterlife number shows. Pretty simple, right? That's pretty much the whole show as far as Orzhov is concerned. It's produced some real treats for all formats but the biggest cards that did work for this Guild was Teysa Karlov, Seraph of the Scales, Tithe Taker, and Priest of Forgotten Gods.
Afterlife has been mostly disappointing as Teysa requires four mana to play, making her kind of slow. Plus she doesn't stand alone enough to make her worth being a curve topper in Standard. It's fun as hell but you won't see a strict Orzhov deck being competitive anytime soon.
If you like saying "wait, I have something" or "nope", Azorius is the Guild for you. I've never been keen on the pure control outfit, but they've brought some very interesting archetypes to the game through the years. Azorius also plays a part in one of my favourite Tribes: Esper. This archetype brought me my first big loss since I started playing Standard again almost three years ago, and it annoyed the crap out of me. Getting pecked to death by birds does that.
Their new mechanic this time around is called Addendum, which basically states that a card will have an extra effect if you play it on your main phase. That just translates to, "play this as a sorcery and you get extra stuff." Most of the time, that stuff isn't all that great. But, it is good for situational awareness and, honestly, that's kind of Azorius' bread and butter anyway.
My picks for huge cards from Azorius are Dovin, Grand Arbiter, Absorb, Deputy of Detention, and Lavinia, Azorius Renegade. While Lavinia in particular may not be a great bomb in Standard, she hits so many good spots in Commander and lands straight in flavour country. All of these cards round out a pretty effective control package that may see a resurgence in White Weenies in the meta.
Gruul, where the wild things are. This Guild is just Flavourtown, USA. It gets big, it gets dirty, and it just starts stomping on everything in the most unpredictable of ways.
While this Guild still harbours some of the weaknesses it's gotten around in non-Standard formats, it doesn't feel that much worse for it. There's a solid way to ramp your mana quickly, drop anthems, make your creatures big, fight it out for dominance, and swing low and strong.
Gruul's mechanic this time around is Riot, and any creature with Riot comes in with your choice of a +1/+1 counter or haste. This mechanic is amazing for Limited, but once it hits Standard it could be even better. I could see this in an aggro strategy that just basically says, "I only fall to Red Deck Wins." There are several cards that put out efficient work, but the stand out card for me is hands down Rhythm of the Wild. This card makes you, essentially, unstoppable.
Nikya of the Old Ways is amazing in tandem with the former, and when both are on the battlefield they say the following: You're only casting creatures. They cannot be countered. They each get Riot and when you tap a land for mana, you get one additional mana in that land's type. There's so much value in a lot of the cards presented in this set alone that it could almost sit alone with very little help from Standard sets.
Yet another Guild that does exactly what it should be doing: inflict pain in a way that only appears unpredictable. Welcome to the carnival of chaos! Playing this Guild in constructed relies heavily on cards from other sets. However, it can explode if not contained early on. Personally, I find Rakdos, the Showstopper feels kind of bad for the cost while reading, "maybe I'll board wip, maybe I won't." On the other hand, cards like Bedevil, Judith, the Scourge Diva, and Theater of Horrors do some serious work in these colours.
Simic is somewhat on point for flavour here, both in mechanics and actual cards. While WotC seemed to have hit their stride with mechanics with the rest of the Guilds in this set, I would beg to differ where Simic is concerned. Simic is usually concerned with four things: Counters; Water-based creatures; Things looking and acting weirdly; And just basically turning already odd creatures into science experiments that usually go, "put counters on things. Get effects for putting counters on things."
Simic was somewhat effective at this, though it could have been much, much better.
Their mechanic this time around is Adapt. Adapt, with a following number, is an ability that goes like this: "pay mana to put X counters on a creature where X is the number after Adapt." It's pretty simple, like a mini Monstrous. Unlike Monstrous, the synergy here isn't nearly as effective and it relies on a couple of cards to make it really nonsensical.
Growth Spiral would have been amazing if it didn't force both colours, but it certainly doesn't hurt in a Simic deck. Zegana, Utopian Speaker can do some work if you're constantly able to Adapt. Biomancer's Familiar makes getting Adapt on creatures a lot more feasible and lets them Adapt more than once. Then there's the Simic card everyone's talking about, Prime Speaker Vannifar, which is essentially Birthing Pod on a stick. Playable in Standard.
Interactions With Standard Sets
There's a lot to unpack here so let's get straight to it.
A lot of the Guilds in this set and the last seem to try to stand on their own. Some succeed, like Gruul or Izzet, but most of the others highly depended on cards in Standard rotation to be played as intended. Some archetypes, like the Tribes from Tarkir, are a little easier to splash for if you want to keep it as limited as you can in Constructed. But that's still not exactly advisable.
As a standalone set, I found that Ravnica Allegiance hits a lot more flavour points than Guilds of Ravnica. Mechanics on the whole felt more flavorful and effective as a playstyle. As a draftable set, I had a lot more fun here too. Even though I didn't get the cards I wanted to put into other decks straight away, I still had a lot of fun and got to discover so much about this set just from playing. I didn't get that feeling nearly as much playing with the last set in Draft and Limited.
Grade as a Standalone Set: C+
When you consider the rest of the cards legal in Standard right now, you have a set that compliments the format very well. Plus it adds some nice flavour and playing styles for other formats.
While it doesn't produce as many incredibly overpowered chase cards that are viable in many formats like Guilds of Ravnica did, it definitely did well to fill out the mid-to-high range in terms of cards, making creating a fun deck viable again. Something that adds to the health of Standard as a whole. Yes, Red Deck Wins got a nice shot in the arm here and things weren't as shaken up as much as I thought they would be. However, the format has still been shaken up a lot more than people thought, and that's still a good thing.
Grade as a Compliment to Standard: B-