Alright, Ravnica has returned and we have had access to it for Limited for the past week. Testing in the ChannelFireball house means that I have been fortunate enough to get in a double-digit number of drafts, which I would assume is more than the average player.
While I can hardly claim mastery over the format by now, I am getting a grip on most of the archetypes and I wanted to discuss each guild and its specific archetype and direction.
Grand Prix San Jose is this weekend of course, and Return to Ravnica will be in the spotlight. The format for the Grand Prix will be teams, so some of the things we discuss today might not apply, as I will be focusing on the 1v1 formats, but I am sure most of it will. With the Pro Tour only a week away, you can’t expect to find anything too secret or tech-y in here, but hopefully the information will still be helpful/useful as a baseline to work off of.
Let’s kick things off with the most lawful of the guilds:
So historically, blue/white has been known as the Skies combination in Limited. Despite UW control being the Constructed deck of choice for Azorius, the Limited archetype tends to be centered around tempo. Therefore, it should not be surprising that when the UW guild needed an identity for Limited, Skies is the direction they wanted to showcase the most.
Azorius really has two main identities within Return to Ravnica: The first is the epitome of the UW Skies archetype, even if it is slower than UW archetypes in other formats. The base is the 3- and 4-drop fliers that blue and white have in plenty. Sometimes, such as in M12, the deck can be much more aggressive due to cards like Stormfront Pegasus starting us off on the right foot. In Return to Ravnica though, this aggressive 2-drop flier is basically not present.
Sure, Concordia Pegasus exists, and you will play it a decent amount of the time in this archetype, but it does not provide the same pressure that a 2-power flier would. Once you hit your 3-drops though, you have at least three common fliers with 2-power, and a very powerful uncommon in Lyev Skyknight. Skyknight is exactly the type of card that will push you into this archetype, as it provides a powerful tempo option with a legitimate clock.
Every Wind Drake variant is good of course, but they are the reward for being UW and not necessarily the reason to get there in the first place. UW then has a ton of viable 4-drop options, highlighted by Skymark Roc, which is arguably the best uncommon in the set.
In general, I think you want to prioritize fliers in the archetype over ground guys, even if they are slightly lower in power level. Tower Drake versus the [card hussar patrol]2/4 flash[/card] should never really be a decision you agonize over for example. But the archetype still needs help from its spells to actually close games.
Dramatic Rescue and Blustersquall are both pretty strong tempo cards that will buy you time, or allow you to make an aggressive shift. Finding ways to make your 22nd and 23rd card count in this archetype is usually going to fall on the shoulders of the tempo cards. Maybe you need to play a Downsize or a Mizzium Skin to round out your 40, but all of these cards can get the job done from a tempo standpoint if they have to. Of course, sprinkle any number of bombs into the mix that you can.
If you really don’t enjoy the tempo game of UW skies, you could try to pull off the UW control deck, but it requires a lot of things to go right. You will have infinite access to counterspells, but all of your tempo cards now become mostly unplayable, requiring you to bunker down with Armory Guards or some 0/6 walls.
This can work with the right set of cards, but you might need to splash for hard removal as the Azorius permanent removal is scarce, thanks to detain taking up so much of that space.
Golgari in Return to Ravnica does not necessarily have a hard identity without some rare pushing you in that direction. If you happen to have a Corpsejack Menace for example, you are going to to go deep with things like Grizzly Salvage and scavenge, but you are only mildly incentivized to go that direction without a rare like that.
Scavenge does not cascade into a huge advantage the way that a bunch of detain creatures or populate effects can. That said, most of the scavenge cards are still going to be solid pick-ups.
Golgari can definitely fill the role of the aggro green deck that Selesnya does not pull off that well. Leading off with an unleash 2-drop or a bear into a 3/3 haste or something of that nature can just be brutal, considering that in the late game, should that plan fail, your 1/1 flier or bear is going to get much bigger thanks to scavenge.
You do not have to draft a specific archetype to make Golgari work though, as it has decently-sized creatures and pretty good removal across most of the guild. Playing Golgari Longlegs as a finisher might not be an exciting option, but it does get the job done, especially when you have given a few of your opponent’s creatures a Stab Wound or made one pay the Ultimate Price.
[card korozda guildmage]The guildmage[/card] is the perfect example of Golgari’s versatility. You can play it on curve and start getting in unblockable damage early with its intimidate ability, or you can slow the game down and win with a bigger creature that picks up the unblockable text in the late game. His token-making ability can buy a slower Golgari deck enough time to start playing its more expensive threats as well.
Most Golgari decks will boil down to some type of midrange strategy in the end, with efficiently-costed creatures and some decent removal. If you happen to end up in the dead guy guild, you really can’t go wrong with just drafting the best black or green card each time and disregarding any type of unified strategy, even though those strategies can exist.
Our UR friends are probably the weakest guild in terms of having a cohesive red/blue strategy that is mostly self contained. Instead, these guys seem to have borrowed from the Golgari philosophy and taken it even further, really being at the core of bits and pieces of other guilds and strategies.
Overload in and of itself does not give you any real build-around me incentives—even less so than scavenge. There are a few cards, like Goblin Electromancer, that do help the mechanic out a little bit, but you are never going to tell someone you are UR overload, as that would mean nothing to them. Compare this to UW detain or GW populate and you can see how the guild keyword can help define the guild, but with Izzet it falls short.
For example, I do not think it is uncommon for UR to lead off with a [card gore-house chainwalker]Chainwalker[/card] and then follow that up with a Vassal Soul. While this is hardly a bad draw, it is just doing half of what Rakdos wants and half of what Azorius wants. While that is not the worst thing, it does limit the number of cohesive playables that the guild can have.
In that world, all of the mono-blue and mono-red cards from other places work out fine, but there are not too many UR cards that this sort of deck gets to take advantage of.
Teleportal is probably the big exception here, as it does provide an Overrun effect when you need it, but is that better than splashing that card in either Azorius or Rakdos? There are no Rocs or Hellhole Flailers to really reward you for moving in on an aggressive version of Izzet.
That is not to say that UR cards cannot be powerful. Izzet Charm and [card izzet staticaster]Staticaster[/card] are both solid, but neither one gives you a direction to move in. Because of this, Izzet really needs some good rares or uncommons to have a solid deck rather than relying on a bunch of internal synergy. I think Izzet will most often be the recipient of splashes in terms of both it needing to pick up a 3rd color to have a cohesive strategy, as well as other archetypes picking it up as their splash color.
As would be expected, the Rakdos guild offers the most aggressive deck in the format. In fact, some believe that it is the only actual aggro deck available. While I do not necessarily agree, I do think that a well-built Rakdos aggro deck can be one of the scariest things in the format.
One big issue with the deck is a lack of one-drops that actually have an impact on the game. Bellowing Lizard is not exactly a high quality card, nor are the [card drainpipe vermin]Rats[/card]. Obviously Rakdos Cackler is ideal in this archetype, but it is an uncommon and you are rarely going to get two of them, let alone enough to consistently have a 1-drop on turn one. Because of this, there is even more pressure on the 2-drop slots for the deck. Luckily for the guild though, it has an abundance of solid 2-drops.
The best thing about Rakdos aggro is its way to finish the game after the ground builds into a stall, or you have simply lost all of your creatures. [card explosive impact]5 damage to the face[/card], Lobber Crew, [card rix maadi guildmage]the Guildmage[/card], and Traitorous Instinct are all more than acceptable finishers and Rakdos has access to all of them.
If you are not interested in being aggressive, but still want to be Rakdos, you need to rely on the copious removal and then pick up as many defensive options as you can. If the card says defender and is black or red, it is probably worth considering assuming you do want to go down this route. You really don’t lack in big creatures to end the game with or removal, so really it is just about slogging through those middle turns when the Hill Giant’s and 3/3′s for 3 are putting pressure on you and you aren’t staring at a hand full of removal.
Despite Selesnya being the creature color, it actually does not make for the best aggressive deck. You would initially think that with a 2/1 for 1 mana, and a 3/3 for 2 mana, explosive starts would be a feature of the color combo—but because both of those are uncommons, you cannot reliably open on that. If you manage to assemble the perfect storm of aggro cards, feel free, as your deck will likely be awesome, but the midrange, or grind-it-out style of GW game has a lot more support.
Consider that the common 3/3 for 3 in the guild gains you 3 life and you can see how the aggressive tools in the guild actually lend themselves to a slower game plan as well. Populate, in general, rewards you for increasing the length of the game as you continue to build up a big advantage by constantly adding additional creatures to the table.
This is compounded by the reusable populate cards, such as the [card vitu-ghazi guildmage]Guildmage[/card], or [card trostani, voice of selesnya]Trostani[/card], who really just snowball a board advantage until you can actually swing in for the win. Green/white does have a lot of combat tricks to abuse, which also lends itself to the more aggressive versions of the deck, but when you lose out on the good rate uncommons, it just is not as good as you would want it to be.
Selesnya is definitely one of the most versatile guilds, however. Every rare in their colors can send the deck a different direction than the norm, and many of them actually allow for different styles within the same card. Collective Blessing for example, seems like a great finisher in an aggro deck, and it is, but it can also just be your way to advance a board stall that you created in order to draw the game out.
When you draft Selesnya, you really just need to read the draft and have a specific angle in mind at all times. If you have correctly evaluated your deck as aggressive (or a grinding stall deck, etc.) your pick orders need to constantly change. Some cards will bridge that gap, such as Centaur Healer, which is just always good, but if you reach a pick between Giant Growth and Eyes in the Skies and have trouble deciding between the two, you probably have not crafted your deck in the right way up until that point.
While any guild can find itself able to do just about anything given the right cards coming your direction, I think it is important to know the strengths and weaknesses of each guild so that your expectations are fulfilled rather than shot down. It really sucks going into a draft, or pack, or even pick, thinking that your strategy needs card X—when in reality, no amount of help will get that style of deck working.
I expect to see some unique strategies come out to play this weekend as 3-man teams battle each other in a very exciting Grand Prix that we have been waiting for for quite awhile. Specific card strategies and secret tech might come out, with more sure to follow as the Pro Tour is the week after, but this should be a good starting point for those that have not gotten in as many drafts as they would like. To anyone playing this weekend, good luck, unless you happen to be seated across from me, Efro, or Owen! Thanks for reading!