Welcome to Selesnya theme week. I actually wrote about my favorite Selesnya card for Constructed last week, so this week I am going to examine Selesnya in Limited. I got to play with the new set for the first time this weekend at my local prereleases, so I also want to look at how the “pick a guild” mechanic worked out, what cards/mechanics seemed powerful, and what left me slightly disappointed.
But first, Selesnya. As any self-respecting Unicorn-lover would do, I chose to play Selesnya as one of my guilds this weekend. I was really pleased with my choice—populate is strong and G/W has plenty of power and tricks. I never felt like I was in a situation I couldn’t get out of, which is exactly where I want to be in a game of Magic. Selesnya also provides lots of ways to get extra value from your cards at the expense of your opponent. Often my opponent would have little or no board state and one card in hand while I’d have a couple of creatures in play and four cards in hand.
The best commons in my deck were easily Centaur’s Herald, Centaur Healer, and Rootborn Defenses. My pool was not loaded with bomb rares, but it did have two copies of Rootborn Defenses which is how I won most of my matches. You can get so much value from this card and it is incredibly hard to play around. Unless I only have one token and you have a removal spell, I am going to get another creature before blockers, and then I will mercilessly slaughter your attackers. I also used this card to negate removal spells and generally make my opponents cry. I found this card indispensable (I started with only one of my two copies in the deck but quickly saw the error of my ways). For any draft strategy involving Selesnya, this card has to be a top pick.
I was unexcited to be playing two Centaur’s Heralds, but I only had five token producing effects, and with [card trostani, selesnya's voice]Trostani[/card] and a handful of other populate effects in my pool I wanted the tokens. It turns out the cards slowness isn’t an issue. Stick it on turn one then block and convert on turn three (or it will hold off a 2/2 which the Centaur could kill). Late game it’s a four-mana 3/3 which is perfectly respectable. By the end of the day I was singing the praises of this card to any who would listen.
I really don’t need to say much about Centaur Healer—a good value body with a relevant ETB abilty. It was invaluable against the aggressive Rakdos decks, and I would run as many copies as possible in any Limited deck.
The best uncommon in my pool and probably MVP in my deck was… Rogue’s Passage. I know this card isn’t actually from Selesnya, but it was in my deck so it counts. It is excellent at breaking an impasse, especially when your creature happens to have vigilance as many Selesnya creatures do, so as to not even expose you to the back swing. Any Sealed pool I don’t get one of these in will make me very sad. A land that can make a creature unblockable was obviously going to be solid, but this format seems especially weak to it. I recommend land destruction spells after sideboarding.
A card that actually underwhelmed me was Common Bond. It felt like it should provide a nice combat trick, but most of the time I would have preferred Rootborn Defenses or Giant Growth. One of the few times I remember using it was as a pump spell to end the game with both counters going on the same creature. It may be a better fit for a more aggressive deck rather than my all-value deck.
Moving onto rares, I was lucky enough to open a [card trostani, selesnya's voice]Trostani[/card] in my Selesnya pack. This card is as good as it looks. Even with no tokens to populate, the life gain is significant—and as soon as you have a token the whole thing gets out of hand. She works especially well with the promo, Grove of the Guardian. I did manage to combine these once, although it was rather unnecessary—the Centaurs were doing just fine.
Speaking of Grove of the Guardian, being able to play with the prerelease promo for once was kinda odd. It was a shame that I knew one of the cards to expect whenever I sat down for a match. It was yet another restriction the “choose you guild” gimmick imposed on your deck building decisions (but more on that later). It also felt like the Selesnya one was by far the best. It doesn’t take long to kill someone with an 8/8, and because it has vigilance they don’t even get a decent chance to fight past it. Don’t get me wrong, the other promos were all reasonable, but I think everyone I spoke to agreed the Selesnya one was the more feared.
Those are the insights I gained from my deck, the full contents of which are here:
Notable sideboard cards:
I had a few opinions about Return to Ravnica Limited in general. The obvious cards I have yet to discuss are Charms and Guildmages. I was unlucky enough not to open a single Guildmage all weekend, and I only managed one off-colour Charm, so I have yet to play with one myself. However, I did see them in play against me and in other matches.
The [card vitu-ghazi guildmage]Selesnya Guildmage[/card] is a complete back-breaker in the late game, but it’s not particular good early without another token. It can be some time before you can afford to make one. However, once you get going and are populating twice in a turn, victory is basically assured. Sealed doesn’t seem too fast, unless you are burning things with Rakdos, so it will be a relevant finisher.
I had the Azorious Guildmage played against me and died because of its ability to give multiple creatures flying in the same turn. I love that the Guildmage abilities do not require them to tap, and it is this that makes them so potent. It did not detain my creatures, but I imagine that if I’d had some fliers it might have done. The much cheaper evasion guaranteeing ability does seem more useful in general.
The Izzet Guildmage is reasonable—who doesn’t love a repeatable loot effect? The Twincast ability seems more conditional and rather expensive, I don’t think I spoke to anyone who had actually used it. I’d probably always run it as it’s a 2/2 for two that can loot, but it’s definitely not my favorite.
The one Guildmage that seems most likely not to be an auto-include in decks of the right colours is Rix Maadi Guildmage. It feels like it would be very strong in an extremely aggressive deck, but otherwise mediocre. I didn’t actually see one in play, so I’d love to hear if you experienced something different.
Just to complete the set we have the Golgari member, Korozda Guildmage. Another Guildmage with the ability to grant evasion, at least in some matches, and can recycle those Gatecreeper Vines into more useful permanents. Sadly I was also denied the opportunity to witness this one in action, so hopefully I’ll get to draft a copy sometime soon.
I was super excited about the Charms cycle, so it was kind of a letdown to only see one copy all weekend, and it was [card izzet charm]Izzet[/card] when I was in GW. I left the prerelease feeling kind of mixed about them. Selesnya Charm looked beautiful when I saw it in action, and I imagine holding one in hand feels amazing. You can make an instant speed guy, pull off a combat trick, or simply get rid of a 8/8 Elemental token. I love that amount of flexibility in one card—you are always going to be able to work something like that to your advantage.
The other Charms are not quite as awe-inspiring, but I would run each of them in Limited every time, even Rakdos Charm. Rakdos has been attacked as the weakest Charm, but in Limited I am happy to run some artifact destruction. There are often targets, and it doubles as some scavenge hate. If nothing else, it can be used as a burn spell to the face. If you have doubts about any of the Charms I don’t expect you will once you have had the chance to play with them. Yes, some of them are less good than others, but all of them can be useful in enough situations that they are worth running.
I don’t have any other specific cards to discuss today, but I did want to look briefly at the five guild mechanics and what they bring to Limited.
As it is Selesnya week, we should probably start with populate. Any spell that says populate can be made into a 2-for-1. That might not quite be true, but you get my point. This mechanic provides free stuff, and in a game about resource management that is powerful. What surprised me is how few token-producing effects I needed for populate to still be good. I don’t think I ever cast Rootborn Defenses or Druid’s Deliverance without a token to copy, yet I only had six token-producing effects in my deck. I am going to have a hard time not drafting Selesnya exclusively during RTR.
Unleash is a really aggressive yet surprisingly skill-intensive mechanic, especially in the mirror. At first glance you think, “oh, I’ll just unleash everything and race to victory,” but actually choosing what to unleash and when leads to very interesting games. If you don’t give it some thought it is likely to end badly, most likely due to a Stab Wound which is a real pain on an unleashed Thrill-Kill Assassin.
Azorius has detain, which is a very tempo-orientated ability. I was unimpressed by the decks I saw using it, but I also spoke to one player who vented at me about how ridiculously overpowered it was. I think it is something that will be better in a draft deck where one can carefully sculpt a tempo-based deck around it. It strikes me as a difficult ability to build around correctly in Sealed, so maybe it is one of those strategies that will improve as we progress through the format.
Scavenge provides a good long-game value plan for Golgari, and I was always happy to finish matches against GB players quickly before they could reach the very late game—particularly if they had found their Corpsejack Menace. I didn’t get a chance to play Golgari myself, so I’d like to hear your impressions of the mechanic if you did.
Some overload spells are amazing! Mizzium Mortars and Cyclonic Rift in particular blew me out this weekend. However, many of them are pretty mediocre—Electrickery, for example. This left me feeling like the Izzet selectors got a very rough deal this weekend as, unless you get the very exciting powerful spells, you will end up with a rather mediocre deck. The mechanic as a whole does not feel standalone, but more like it should be complementing another strategy. I’m sure it’ll manage this much better in draft but I’m yet to be impressed.
The choose your guild mechanic was Wizards’ gimmick for this set’s prerelease. I had a number of reservations about this. Mostly that you would be forced into playing those colors, because the weighting towards would make it impossible not to. I’m sure this was the point—prereleases are aimed at the more casual audience to get people excited about the set so that they buy more product. It certainly made deck construction easier, and I’m sure that many players were happy about this.
I did a survey at one of my prereleases to find out how many people did end up playing both of their guild colors in their deck. I didn’t repeat this at the second event, because of the 59 players I asked, all but one of them were in both of their guild colors (and the remaining player was in one of the two). I have very mixed feelings about this. I didn’t mind my decks, but I missed the flexibility to explore other options or builds. Plus it’s pretty bad practice for upcoming Sealed events, and possibly has given me a poor idea of how multicolored sets work in Limited.
The other aspect that bothered me about this idea was that some guilds certainly felt stronger than others. For example, Izzet seemed to get a pretty rough deal. It had probably the worst promo, and its mechanic, as I’ve already discussed, feels underwhelming except on a few specific cards—so if you didn’t get those in your pool you were left with an underwhelming deck. I worried that this was all confirmation bias, so I actually surveyed people at the two events I attended to find out what guild they had selected and their overall standings:
This particular format will never get played again, but I was interested to see the results (I’m a scientist, what do you expect?). I didn’t manage to get everyone’s results, but I got about two-thirds of the players from each guild at random as I just asked everyone I could grab before they left. I thought the best way to display the mess of the numbers I gathered was simply to examine the % of players that had a better than 50% record. As I expected Izzet, was by far the worst on both days, and Selesnya members were the most successful. In fact, on day one I couldn’t find a Selesnya player that went less than 3-4. Interestingly, Rakdos did less well on Sunday. I suspect this is because players adapted their strategies to deal with the unleashed onslaught those decks could produce.
In the interest of over-analysis, I also asked people how many colors were in their decks. At prereleases you can change your deck around, so some people had changed the number of colors they were running—but I finally have something to try to convince people about that third color splash in Limited they always seem so reluctant about. Looking at a better than 50% record, three-color decks did much better than two. 31% and 44% of two-color decks on days one and two respectively broke 50%, while 55% and 52% of three-color decks did likewise. Of course I didn’t get enough data for that to be statistically significant, but it is interesting.
There you have it, my contribution to Selesnya theme week and my thoughts on the new set in Limited. Let me know about your prerelease experience, and what cards surprised you on Twitter @oniopixie.