Guilds of Ravnica Standard is a Chupacabra format
The joke goes that Ravenous Chupacabra is so hungry because he lives on Ixalan, and there are no goats on the island. There are pirates, merfolk and vampires aplenty, but nothing that truly satiates this beast horror’s thirst for flesh like a goat.
Then again, like the madman sprinkling salt along the road to keep away elephants, maybe there aren’t any goats on Ixalan because the dog is working overtime…
Either way, Ravenous Chupacabra is a brilliant Magic card. I love the little guy. He was a first pickable draft card during Ixalan and I was just waiting for him to become playable in Standard.
Well now he is, and he’s not only playable, but in my eyes he’s format-defining. Just look at the powerful threats he answers – oh yeah, it’s pretty much all of them.
The only things he doesn’t kill are Planeswalkers and hexproofs. So at the moment, that’s largely Teferi, Vivien and Carnage Tyrant.
Luckily, if you’re playing Chup, you have access to Standard’s premium answers to those cards: Vraska’s Contempt, The Eldest Reborn, and Plaguecrafter.
Can you tell, by the way I’m talking, that I play Golgari Midrange?
Look, it may be dull and boring to play the format’s best deck, but you know what it means? It means winning games of Magic, and that’s fun and interesting. Trust me, I’ve tried the other way. Playing your home brew with spicy cards feels like a good idea at first. Then you keep losing. And losing. And losing. And suddenly you hate those cards, because in actual fact, the reason nobody is playing them is because they’re bad.
Anyway, I was on Sultai Midrange before anyone even released a decklist this format. I was trying to brew something that abused Muldrotha, The Gravetide. I wanted her to be the next Scarab God.
Turns out she’s not. She dies too easily and costs too much. But in the process I stumbled upon this Explore mechanic. Turns out it’s a deck all in its own right. Then sure, I netdecked and now here I am, playing something that’s close to what I intended, that actually has a proper win rate.
And the reasons Chup is so good in this deck are manifold. Firstly, he’s a two for one, guaranteed. Seems strong already. Then he’s also unconditional removal. Finally, he’s a creature, meaning you can find him with Vivien Reid, bring him back from the dead with Find – or its more expensive cousin, Findbroker – and he gets around Niv-Mizzet triggers, which is just swell.
All of this for 2BB.
Okay, so there are a couple of minor downsides to the very hungry dog. First of all, he costs double black, and the deck is slanted towards green. Llanowar elves taps for green, as does Druid of the Cowl if you’re playing the ramp version. The leadup to turn four often goes T1 Llanowar [G], T2 Jadelight Ranger [1GG], T2 can’t play my Chup because I haven’t got double black.
But that’s just fine, because a large majority of the time you’re not after a kill spell yet. In fact, often you’ll want to sandbag the dog anyway, to hit their best thing.
Chomping down on a Lyra, Niv or even a Crackling Drake feels so good.
The sandbagging can feel like a minor downside too sometimes. Passing a turn with 4+ mana up because you’re not getting full value from your 4 drop can feel bad. But that’s what playing a patient deck like GB Midrange is about, I guess. Getting the maximum drop of value out of every play. It all adds up until you have a glass full of the sweet taste of victory.
I’ve lost count of the number of games I’ve played with GB where the way I win is through board and hand accumulation. After ten turns you look up to find your opponent topdecking, while you’re generating a tonne of value by drawing extra cards with Viv or Karn, recycling creatures which explore to find more value, and generally just grinding them into the dust. It’s only then when you need to even glance at life totals to decipher what sort of clock you have them on.
Threat vs Answer
The only other issue I have with Chup is that he’s a T4 answer, as opposed to a threat. A starting hand with three other creatures and three lands is great, but unless you draw into your 5 and 6 drops, it can sometimes lead to you stalling a little, failing to push towards a win when your mana is screaming out, “Play a threat, damn you!”
This is why I’ve followed Seth Manfield’s advice and brought Karn into the fold. It was something I’d been toying with for a while, but the speed of the format still seemed to necessitate extra removal instead of a “do nothing” card like Karn. I use do nothing very liberally there, because as any aficionado will know, he gets through a hell of a lot of work.
But against a white weenie or mono red deck, which we were seeing a fair bit a couple of months ago, Karn felt like doing nothing sometimes. Especially when on the draw.
However, fast forward to a format dominated by Golgari Midrange and Jeskai Control, and Karn feels just fine. Mini Vraska is an option too though I continue to be underwhelmed by her, which is disappointing because I was so excited to get my hands on her when she was spoiled. She feels like she needs a deck with Stitcher’s Supplier and even more graveyard shenanigans than the current Golgari list, to really maximise her potential.
Playing extra 5 and 6 drops seem to be the consensus, with Vivien rapidly going from two to three copies in most successful decks, and the same with Carnage Tyrant. Big Vraska is mainly relegated to sideboards now, but she’s still a good option in any position, ahead or behind.
I guess I’ve been spoiled in that when I started competitive Magic a year ago, the nearest thing to Chup was Glorbringer, a 5 mana haste dragon that basically read: Deal 4 damage to target player or planeswalker, and 4 damage to target creature. In two turns time, rinse and repeat for free.
Compared to that, Chup is a little underwhelming, largely because he’s not the instant threat that Glory B provided. To be honest though, the downshift in power level was a welcome thing and the format is better off for it. The latest Fact or Fiction article on Star City had two out of three pros declaring this the best standard format ever.
It’s nice that Chupacabra is one of the best cards within that format. After all, if you subscribe to the first theory stated in the intro, then the poor guy has been kept hungry for ever so long.