Ravnica Allegiance just got a whole lot better since the initial spoilers.
The card that first caught my eye was Prime Speaker Vannifar. Birthing Pod is quite a card, and reprinting a creature version in Standard piqued the interest of a lot of brewers.
The biggest change from turning Birthing Pod into a creature is that it will have summoning sickness. This means that you have to have your Pillarfield Ox in play a turn before it can start generating incremental advantages, making it much slower than the original. The second problem is that it can die before you use it and give you no value. Maybe even worse than no value, as many of these initial builds will depend on Vannifar to function.
It’s important when brewing with Vannifar to build for the fail case. What’s your plan when you don’t draw it, or when it dies? The answer is either get aggressive, or get grindy. Grindy seems to be the right way to play toward Vannifar’s strengths.
I’ll be honest: I don’t have anything close to a perfect build. I spent hours moving cards around on Magic Online using similarly costed cards as proxies for new cards, trying to find something that looked great. Everything I looked at had some fundamental issues, including this build. This build’s mana is shaky, and has some cards like Riverwise Augur that don’t really have a high ceiling and are just there because it replaces itself. Maybe if we add the explore creature package we can add Zegana, Utopian Speaker as a value creature at the 4-mana slot. This is a toolbox of on-color value creatures, but we can make it more focused as time goes on. I’d like to see just how high up the chain we could go in a game with Vannifar to start.
I really want to explore using Prime Speaker Vannifar with another one of my favorite cards from Ravnica Allegiance, Rhythm of the Wild. By giving Vannifar riot, you are effectively giving it and the creature you’re getting with it haste. This seems like a pretty big game, but also doesn’t feel like it will play out as well as I imagine it will. You play a 2-drop into Rhythm of the Wild into Vannifar, and you miss out on going from 3 to 4 because you spent your turn 3 giving the Vannifar haste. While this is still fine, it’s not getting you too far. You still need Vannifar to live a couple of turns to give you the impact you want out of the card.
Here’s a rough sketch of what I had laid out. This is going fairly deep into casting costs, but it demonstrates some of the options you have with Prime Speaker Vannifar:
I was struggling to find 4-drops I wanted beyond Vannifar. Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and Bishop of Binding came to mind but seemed a bit too loose. The ones I’d really like are Ravenous Chupacabra or Hostage Taker, but fitting HostyT into a mana base that’s already stretched is tough. That is a different deck altogether, likely ignoring Rhythm of the Wild. The possibility of colors you can play and creatures you can include is nearly endless with Prime Speaker Vannifar.
Exploring this shell, Incubation // Incongruity feels like it was designed to be in a deck with Prime Speaker Vannifar. You can find it more often, and these decks are heavy on creatures and light on removal. This is the ideal situation for Incubation // Incongruity. After toying with the idea of combining Vannifar and Rhythm of the Wild, the versions with Militia Bugler make a lot more sense. Militia Bugler finds your key card and the deck can be built with a bunch of high quality hits. I think you want Rhythm the Wild decks to be focused on attacking, so while this is my first draft, I may need to omit red from the deck.
Ultimately, I’m not sure how Prime Speaker Vannifar will turn out. It’s slow but powerful, so it’s tricky to figure out without getting my hands on the card.
Domri, Chaos Bringer looks like an excellent card for these Prime Speaker shells, but I’d rather play it out of the sideboard. It’s the type of planeswalker that has no impact on the battlefield the turn you cast it, so it suffers against decks applying pressure. Against slower control decks and midrange decks, it can take over the game if left unchecked. I expect to see it a decent amount, but mostly in sideboards.
Moving on, the one deck that looks excellent immediately is a pure Gruul Rhythm the Wild deck. One of the best cards spoiled so far is Growth-Chamber Guardian. The fact that it is a 2-drop that scales well into the game is something we’ve been missing in current Standard. Merfolk Branchwalker has been green’s go-to 2-drop, but I think we have a more potent weapon now, at least for aggressive decks. Growth-Chamber Guardian pairs incredibly well with Rhythm of the Wild. You’re able to cast your Guardian for 2 mana, have it gain a counter upon entering the battlefield, which triggers its ability to go find another copy. So on turn 4 after a Rhythm of the Wild you get to play two 3/3s and have another copy in your hand. Add a Llanowar Elves into the mix and this is happening on turn 3. This is a scary battlefield to be staring down after only playing your own 2-drop when you’re on the draw.
Rhythm of the Wild also makes all of your creatures uncounterable, so anything with hexproof is essentially a Carnage Tyrant. Hello and good luck control players.
Remember, riot stacks, so anything with riot already will have two choices of +1/+1 counters or haste. This also counts for redundant copies of Rhythm of the Wild, so the extra copy still has value.
A deck that can come out this quickly and punishes sweepers by following up with hasty haymakers on every turn, while also shoving hexproof creatures at the opponent, is certainly enticing. Gruul Rhythm looks scarily good to me at first glance.
There are some cards you may want to play in here that I haven’t included.
Going down the curve, I’m not sure what the best second 2-drop is to Growth-Chamber Guardian, but Kraul Harpooner seems ideal. Giving it haste means that the undergrowth bonus will apply later in the game and hit for a ton of damage, and gives you game against cards like Lyra Dawnbringer that this sort of deck would typically be weak to. Thorn Lieutenant is another option, as is Zhur-Ta Goblin, or even potentially plain old Merfolk Branchwalker to make sure you hit your land drops. Dire Fleet Daredevil has potential as well. It impressed me in the last Standard format but didn’t have a great home.
Nullhide Ferox, while great here, could also be Vine Mare. Vine Mare would be better against decks playing a lot of cheap interaction like Cast Down because permanent hexproof, and uncounterability from Rhythm, are a big deal. Gruul Spellbreaker is a slam dunk here. Settle the Wreckage could mean a tough time for this deck, and it’s a great aggressive card on its own. Regisaur Alpha’s token won’t get a bonus from Rhythm of the Wild, but Regi himself will. The 7 power at 5 mana is a touch better than Skaargan Hellkite. Skaargan Hellkite is a bit tougher to cast, and I want as much power on the battlefield as possible.
If we had a heavier red build we could play Skaargan Hellkite and Rekindling Phoenix, but I’d like to start here first. Speaking of Rekindling Phoenix, it’s one of the many reasons we’re playing Lava Coil. There are so many creatures with 4 toughness and with afterlife coming in that exiling a creature is more important than ever.
Post-board we can diversify our threats with planeswalkers like Vivien Reid and Domri, Chaos Bringer, and try to gain some reach against Settle the Wreckage control decks with Banefire.
Regisaur Alpha was one of the best cards in Ixalan and never saw much play because of Glorybringer. Stomping Grounds and Gruul cards are finally around now, so I expect to see Regi get some playing time finally.
Maybe there should be another Carnage Tyrant main. Maybe not. Another card competing with Carnage Tyrant at 6 mana is Ravager Wurm. Ravager Wurm can take out some problematic creatures like Lyra Dawnbringer and Niv-Mizzet, but it’s also going to trade down to removal spells often, and won’t get to fight anything if met with a Cast Down, Bedevil, or Vraska’s Contempt. Right now it feels like we should be shoving uncounterable hexproof creatures at our opponents.
Another take on Rhythm the Wild is a Dinosaur build. This was inspired by a deck Jacob Wilson played at GP New Jersey several months ago, before Stomping Grounds was legal. Here’s Dinosaur Rhythm:
This deck will potentially be more explosive, but at the cost of having less resilient threats. Regisaur Alpha does a ton of work in this deck, and Commune with Dinosaurs will make sure that we have it extremely often here. Savage Stomp is the real deal as long as you can constantly turn it on, which this deck is very good at. The deck doesn’t have much wiggle room because it’s focused so heavily on the Dinosaur package. It’s either going to be good or bad—there’s not much room for tuning.
The Dinosaur build will have better mana because of Commune with Dinosaurs. If we fit enough Dinosaurs into the other version, maybe we can have a Dinosaur subtheme, remove Pelt Collector, and fix the other version’s mana as well.
Of the two versions of the deck, I like the non-Dinosaur build the most at a glance, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Dinosaur build performs better. One thing is for sure—Rhythm the Wild will create an archetype, and potentially make Llanowar Elves the most important card in Standard again.
Last up for this week is a fun deck. One card that’s pretty cool that I never thought would have a home in Standard is Arcades, the Strategist. While it’s not a Ravnica Allegiance card, it got a lot of help from a Ravnica Allegiance uncommon, High Alert. Here’s a defender deck:
With Incubation // Incongruity for Arcades the Strategist and our new addition High Alert, our walls will often be ready to battle. Since Arcades is so important we’re protecting it with Dive Down, which also doubles as a Giant Growth if either High Alert or Arcades, the Strategist is in play. Vivien Reid is your card engine that allows you to find Arcades and kills anything that’s flying over your defenders. This is extremely unlikely to be tier 1, but I also think it’s a bit better than any Wall decks I’ve seen in the past. So maybe these Walls will have legs? At the time of writing this there’s still about half the set left to be spoiled, mostly at lower rarity. If there’s one thing this deck could use—and it’s a card I’d love to see back from Ravnica anyways—could we please get a Carven Caryatid reprint?
What cards pique your interest for brewing? There’s a ton of exploration to be done with Prime Speaker Vannifar, and I know I haven’t gotten close to an optimal build yet, but once I can start playing, it’ll certainly be the first card I explore in depth.