Today’s article is about the merits of each of the five guilds for the prerelease. Last time, I focused on the guild pack—this time, I’m going to focus simply on the guild colors, which means I’ll talk about cards that can be found in the guild pack but also cards that overlap.
From my experience with the Return to Ravnica prerelease, you are very likely to play the guild you chose, though you might end up playing three or four colors. You’d see people choosing Selesnya and ending up with Bant or five-colors, but it was very rare to see someone choosing Selesnya and ending up with a Rakdos deck. I expect it to be the same for this prerelease.
My first inclination while looking at the spoiler is that this set is a lot more aggressive than the previous one, because three of the five mechanics are suited to attacking. In fact, this set reminds me a little of Zendikar in the sense that you really don’t want to be blocking. When people have battalion and bloodrush, you really want to be the one attacking, because those don’t do anything on defense. At the same time, you don’t really want to block, because if you do, then you will never be able to trigger your own battalion. Evolve works similarly to unleash in that if you’re both playing similar creatures, attacking will generally be more profitable than blocking. Now onto the guilds:
Boros is obviously an aggressive guild—all your guys do better things on offense than on defense. You probably don’t want to trade early, and you can make excellent use of the red bloodrushers because you want to be attacking anyway.
It seems to me that the promos this time around are weaker than the ones in Return to Ravnica. As such, the promo offers less incentive than it did before. That said, I think Foundry Champion is probably the best of the five, even if it isn’t great—he’ll always be decent, and he is a Flametongue Kavu, albeit a very expensive one. Removal is at a premium in this set, and making sure you have one guaranteed for a pesky creature is nice. He’s also quite decent off a splash, and is a good finisher for stalled games, even if he might look like he doesn’t fit a deck that just wants to get three creatures in play to trigger battalion.
Sunhome Guildmage is definitely the best of the bunch, and only slightly worse than the first Selesnya Guildmage, which is probably the best of the 20. I suspect a lot of Boros decks would like 2/2s for 2 anyway, and this guy has two very relevant abilities—He helps trigger battalion and he pushes your small creatures past big blockers that would otherwise outclass them. More than that, if left unchecked he will win the game by himself. One of the premium uncommons in the set, no doubt.
This Keyrune is definitely one of the worst on average, though it is going to depend on how many bloodrushers you manage to get. Historically, double strike is good with power-enhancing effects (for obvious reasons), but you can’t really enchant a Keyrune profitably.
The best Charm for Constructed is not so great for Limited. Definitely not a bad card—it’s rare that a card with three different abilities is outright bad, but it's certainly not a push towards the color.
I’m comfortable saying that Aurelia's Fury and Firemane Avenger are two of the best five cards in the set for Limited play. Aurelia is a six-drop, which will make it your second (after Foundry Champion), which is not necessarily great in an aggro deck that wants to rush people, but there is a very high chance it’s a six-mana Coalition Victory, so it deserves the bomb status. All those come in the guild pack.
Good Rares: Boros Reckoner, Assemble the Legion, Foundry Champion, Frontline Medic /// Angelic Skirmisher, Hellkite Tyrant, Wrecking Ogre, Gideon, Champion of Justice. (the cards before the /// can be found in the Boros pack, the others cannot).
The two six-drops could be bomb rares, but I think they’re worse because a) you already have a six-drop and b) I believe the format is going to be fast. If it turns out to be slower, those cards are definitely bombs. In any case, I can’t imagine not being happy that you have them. Boros Reckoner is also very good (even if his two abilities don’t work that well with each other), and Frontline Medic is great if you’re in the business of attacking with three or more creatures (and you are, aren’t you?), since he makes sure you can attack with your small dudes just to trigger battalion and you aren’t going to lose them to blockers.
I could be overrating Assemble the Legion, but I think that in Sealed you’ll actually have time to make full use of it, and if you do, then it’s very hard to lose the game—you use the early tokens to buy time, and eventually it just takes over. I have no idea how good Gideon is—I’m pretty sure I’d play him in all my Boros decks, since he is a hard to kill attacker and the ultimate is real, but I think he is definitely worse than the previous tier of rares, so I put him here.
None of these is great, but they’re not bad either. They’ll probably make it into your deck (particularly the first two, if you’re a fast battalion dude), but they certainly don’t have the power level of rares—they look more like uncommons.
To be honest, Luminate Primordial is not that bad, and certainly playable, but he is worse than his red counterpart for sure in a Boros deck, and seven mana is a lot more than the six you’re paying for Foundry Champion. Five-Alarm Fire is very hard to evaluate, since it’s going to depend so much on the specifics of a given game—sometimes it’s going to do nothing, but if your opponent has a bunch of walls then it’s good. It goes well with the, “suicide your guys to get battalion triggers,” theme, so maybe it’s better than it seems, but my first inclination is that it’s not good.
Wow, Boros really knocks it out of the park with its rares. In the guild pack, the worst rare you can open—by far—is Sacred Foundry, followed by Spark Trooper and Legion Loyalist, both playable. You have a 3/10 chance to get a ridiculous bomb, and 7/10 to get a good card.
Sunhome Guildmage, Truefire Paladin (I think this guy is a lot better than he seems—he’s very hard to block, especially when you hit four mana, and he is one of the few guys in the guild that can actually defend), Arrows of Justice /// Righteous Charge (Overrun! Sort of. Also how is this not a Boros card? When is Orzhov Righteous Charging anyone?), Guardian of the Gateless, Holy Mantle, Homing Lightning, Cinder Elemental.
Boros also seems to have done well for itself with uncommons—there are few awesome ones, but many solid ones, though most of them are not in the guild pack.
The commons also seem good. It’s not as much that there are many excellent ones, but there are a lot of solid ones and few bad cards. There is not as much removal as one would hope (though you get to borrow the Prey Upon from Gruul) but that’s the case for most of the set.
Overall, Boros seems very strong. I imagine that, if you’re Boros, you’re going to be straight two colors, since your best guys to play on turn two cost WR and missing your curve is disastrous. If you play against Boros, be careful of your life total, since everyone is going to have Foundry Champion and some people will also have multiple Massive Raids.
Orzhov is the obvious defensive guild. It has a bunch of blockers and aims to kill slowly with extort. Big guys are much better here than in Boros, since you want the game to go longer. It looks hard to beat a Dimir deck with Orzhov, but I don’t think many people will play Dimir so it’s not that much of a problem.
Not a bad card, but not insane either. The ability is quite good, but you have to attack for it to work, and they’ll likely be able to block a 4/4 by then, so you don’t gain much. It’s very annoying that he will probably lose in combat to the Boros, Gruul, and Dimir promos, so if both players draw their card then you can’t attack very well (though this guy is better if you’re getting milled).
Vizkopa Guildmage isn't exciting. Not only are the abilities not that great (though they can be used in combination to generate a pseudo-double-strike/unblockability, and they stack with more uses), but Orzhov already has a lot of ways to use its excess mana due to extort, so you don’t need Vshfahkjdk Guildmage for that. It is obviously a good card—it’s a Guildmage—but, as far as those go, it’s not great.
I rather like this Keyrune. It’s a decent blocker that gains some life if no one has anything. More importantly, Orzhov seems like the guild that wants the mana. You will have expensive creatures, and you have extort, so it’s always going to be useful, whereas in most Boros decks the seventh mana is going to be a waste.
This has one real mode, but it’s a very good one, especially since you have a ton of life gain to offset the cost. The bounce mode might come in handy, but that’s not what you play the card for.
These are good, but they’re not as good as the Boros rares, I don’t think.
All these are good, but cards like gideon, champion of justice are much worse here, since you don’t care much about attacking—he will get substantially bigger than in Boros, since you will have a lot more blockers.
High Priest is very mediocre but I assume you’ll always play him. Frontline Medic is a 3/3 for 3—you’ll play him but he’s not great.
I think Blind Obedience is kind of unplayable here, since you don’t care about blocking. The other two cards are just very bad.
Overall, Orzhov has not fared very well when it comes to rares—there are few excellent ones, many bad ones, and the ones that are “good” are just that.
Orzhov Charm, One Thousand Lashes, Gift of Orzhova (could be very good in this removal-lacking set) /// Guardian of the Gateless (better here than in Boros), Angelic Edict, Killing Glare, Undercity Informer (could be your kill condition).
I also am not a fan of Orzhov’s uncommons.
The commons in Orzhov are also not great, though I expect that every card with extort is playable, so you will definitely not lack for them.
Overall, Orzhov seems very weak to me, and its strength as a guild will depend solely on the strength of its mechanic, since the individual cards are not very good. If extort ends up being good, then Orzhov will be good—if it’s not, then Orzhov will be bad. I dislike the defensive role in this format, since you don’t stop battalion and evolve if you are blocking and not killing their guys, but I think you’re forced into it in Orzhov. I don’t think the mechanic is good enough to make up for the lack of overall power, but we shall see.
If you do play Orzhov, you might as well splash something, there aren’t heavy color commitments and the ability can be paid with either black or white mana.
Dimir puzzles me. It effectively has two mechanics—milling and cipher—and the two are radically different, because one wants you to attack and one wants you to block. The cipher cards all seem especially terrible, so I guess we’re left with milling, which was actually good back in Ravnica.
I don’t think that’s a very winning strategy. I’m not sure the good mill cards and the defensive cards are there—but it seems to be the best we’ve got, so I’m going to evaluate most Dimir cards assuming we’re playing a mill strategy. In this set, most milling is “mill until you hit a land,” which, in a 17-lands deck mills (according to my Twitter sources) an average of 2.27 cards. If we assume the opponent will draw 16 cards over the course of the game, it means we need to use 11 activations of this new ability to kill them.
This card is all right. If you’re not playing a mill deck, then it’s actually not good, and it kind of sucks to not be able to play your promo. If you have incidental milling, this will probably be a 3/3-ish by the time you play it, which is OK, and it will probably be your kill condition. The game stalls and then they can’t play many spells. It’s highly annoying that if they don’t have any cards in their graveyards you can’t even play this. All in all, though, it’s probably the second best promo behind Foundry Champion.
Duskmantle Guildmage follows the theme of the guild in that it has two very conflicting abilities—mill you and deal you damage?! I’m surprised this isn’t a 2/2 infect. I suspect this Guildmage will find himself blocking on turn two most of the games, but he is a very good trump in stalled games. Be sure to note that his first ability stacks!
Dimir Keyrune is great for ciphering (since it stays on it), but the fact that you have to pay two more to begin with (since you can’t cipher on an artifact) makes even that interaction pretty bad. In any other Guild, this would be great, but in Dimir I think it’s lacking.
Dimir Charm is, again, mostly a one-mode Charm—you kill a small creature. That is not bad, though. It stops battalion, it “counters” bloodrush on a small guy, it kills almost every extort guy, and it is an early play. The two abilities are circumstantial, but you’ll always play the Charm.
Bomb Rares: None
Uh, ok, Dimir sucks.
Nightveil Specter might be a bomb rare, though he gets worse because I suspect blue and black will not be popular colors. Simic Manipulator is also potentially bomb-ish. Duskmantle Seer would be a potential bomb in any other archetype, but Dimir is the deck that wants the effect the least of all—it can’t afford to take damage, and it doesn’t care if they take damage or not. It’s going to be great in some Dimir decks, but in others not so good.
Mind Grind is reasonable if you are super dedicated to milling, though I would generally not play it if you are not. If it’s the middle of the game and they’ve drawn 9 of their lands, you need 11 mana to kill them, which is quite a lot.
These range from completely unplayable to just very bad.
It goes without saying that Dimir is lacking in the bombs department.
…and also in the uncommons department
And also in the commons one! This means Dimir has a bad promo, a bad Keyrune, an OK Guildmage, an OK Charm, horrible rares, horrible uncommons, and horrible commons! To top it all, pretty much all of the guild pack’s slots are filled with cipher cards, which are not very useful—you want mill cards and defensive cards, but those won’t be found in that pack. Unless I underrate cipher very much, I’d stay away from Dimir, because it doesn’t look like you’ll beat anything but the Orzhov decks.
In the end, if you want to play the Dimir colors, I think the best alternative is an esper deck. You get the milling from Dimir and the defense from Orzhov. If this is your plan, then I think the Orzhov pack actually offers better cards for you—you lose the Dimir promo, which is better, but instead of useless cipher cards you get 1/4 defenders and regenerating Thrulls.
Simic seems to be all about curving. You want to keep evolving your creatures, so you want to play creatures with more power or toughness turn after turn, making stats such as 3/1 or 1/4 much more valuable than 2/2. You really want a critical mass of creatures, though they can’t all be small evolvers or you’re not going to evolve anything past a certain point.
Fathom Mage is a very grindy card. It’s not fast and it’s not explosive, but if left unchecked it will most likely win you the game. There are not a lot of ways to kill it—two of the common removal spells only hit attackers and blockers—so the potential is there. He seems pretty good versus Orzhov, OK versus Dimir, and not that great against Gruul and Boros, since I suspect you just want to race those, and spending your turn four playing a creature that can’t fight and that doesn’t evolve any of your guys to boot is not a great way to do that.
Zameck Guildmage is pretty good—both abilities are relevant and capable of dominating the late game. It’s cool that it combos with evolve in so many ways. You can pay to play a bigger guy (and thus evolve your dudes), or you can remove a counter from your evolve guys so that they will get bigger again (and hopefully you draw into more guys to trigger them).
It’s not like anyone wants to kill a 2/3 with no enchantments on it, so this might as well not have any abilities, which makes it “all right” on its own. Since Simic cares about playing creatures, though, I suspect a three-drop of any sort is generally going to be better than this card.
Simic Charm is pretty good, one of the best for Limited play, since all three abilities are somewhat relevant. Unsummon and Giant Growth are both good cards, and you’d be happy to pay two for them in many situations, so the versatility really pushes this over the top.
All three of these are found in the guild pack, and they’re all very good. Prime Speaker Zegana is insane, Master Biomancer doesn’t look like a real card, and I think Simic Manipulator gets bomb status here, since you naturally want to play more creatures and you have a ton of stuff that interacts with +1/+1 counters.
I think Goliath is a great finisher, though you can just treat it as a spell as it’ll rarely be cast. Biomass Mutation interacts very well with evolve (since they keep their counters—so, if you have an 0/1 with three +1/+1 counters on it and you cast Biomass Mutation for 5, it’ll be a 5/5 with three counters, so 8/8), which might make it a bomb rare.
Ooze Flux is deceptively strong—it’d be almost unplayable in any other set, but it’s a very good combo with evolve. Imagine that you have two guys with evolve in play—then you pay 1G, remove one counter from each, and make a 2/2. This will trigger both evolve creatures, who will regain their counters, then you repeat. This card basically reads, “1G: Make a x/x where x is the number of evolve creatures you have in play with power smaller than X,” (plus a couple upsides, like making big guys now and then) and it could very easily win the mid-long game for you.
Mystic Genesis could be a much better card than I give it credit for, but, again, I think the format will be pretty fast, so you can’t go around passing turns with five mana open, and bloodrush getting around that is very annoying. Draining Whelk was a bomb, but it had flying, the format was slower, and stuff had suspend, so you could pass the turn and
Overall, Simic seems good for rares, though there is a very large gap between the good ones and the bad ones—you have a ton of bombtastic cards, and some very unplayable ones. In the guild pack, four are pretty good and two are very bad (plus Breeding Pool).
I like the uncommons in Simic—there isn’t a very large gap between them, I think most of them are pretty decent.
None of the commons really stand out as super powerful, but they’re all solid. Most of the evolve guys are decent and when you have a ton of evolve guys you don’t need much more than a curve to beat your opponent. Slaughterhorn seems very good, since it is either a combat trick or a well-costed guy that has enough power to evolve all your dudes.
Overall, Simic seems great. It is a bit like Boros and Gruul in that you’re probably attacking more than blocking, but there are enough defensive cards (and, due to evolve, enough guys with big toughness) that you can just sit back and defend while your guys get bigger. This set seems to be two guilds that are clearly offensive, two that are clearly defensive, and then Simic, which could go either way (but most likely attacking).
Gruul’s strength lies in its mechanic, which is awesome for Limited (by far the best). Bloodrush allows you to play the early game well—with small creatures and pump effects—and then play the long game well, when your pump effects become monsters on their own.
Skarrg Guildmage is all right. Giving trample to all your guys is fine when you have monsters (such as Rubblehulk!) and when you’re pumping your dudes way more than is necessary with blooodrush. Since some of the combat tricks cost 3, it’s likely you lose your entire turn by playing them, and the Guildmage gives you a way to spend the two extra mana you have left to deal 2-3 points of damage.
The second ability is also good—it might discourage attacking, and it is very good for stalled games, making for a great topdeck. Overall this is not on the top of the Guildmage list (it’s worse than the previous Gruul one), but it’s certainly not on the bottom.
This one, on the other hand, is on the bottom... It’s cute that if they have fliers you kill them, if they don’t then they can’t block, but I can’t imagine I’ll maindeck this very often.
3/2 trample is much worse than 3/3. It seems like a common theme with the Keyrunes in this set that they’re very good with power-enhancing effects, but that’s very hard to do when you’re already paying two to activate it and you can’t enchant it. This Keyrune is the same, but some bloodrush is cheap enough that you can still use it with this, and, more importantly, Gruul decks seem like they’ll have a ton of uses for excess mana, such as multiple bloodrush or playing an expensive guy that you were playing for the pump effect to begin with.
Bomb Rares: Clan Defiance
Clan Defiance is one of the best rares in the set, but it’s the only one that’s very good from those colors.
All of these seem decent enough. Hellkite Tyrant is probably better in Gruul than he is in Boros, but the format is still fast here.
The three 7-drops are pretty decent and I would probably play whichever one I got every time (but maybe not two, depending on my deck). If you have to choose, I think Giant Adephage is the worst of the three, since it has no immediate impact. The Elf is potentially a lot better here than in Simic, where it can actually accelerate into more meaningful threats, but still not a great card.
I think all of these are completely unplayable.
The Gruul rares are not very good. About half of them are very bad, though there is a 50/50 chance you’ll be happy with your Guild rare.
The commons for Gruul seem mostly good as well. It’s hard to have a bad card with bloodrush—even the Centaur, which you’d normally not want in an aggressive deck, is probably decent.
Overall, I like the strength of the Gruul commons and uncommons, but I find the rares to be a bit lacking—including your promo. You will not lack for playables, but you will not have many cards that win the game by themselves.
There is a large power gap between the three offensive guilds (Boros, Gruul, and somewhat Simic) and the two defensive ones (Orzhov and Dimir), with the first three being substantially better. This leads to my thinking that, if you want to win, you have to be able to beat fast decks. Of the defensive decks, Dimir seems to be able to beat Orzhov in the “bad decks mirror,” but is worse than Orzhov against everything else.
Regarding the good guilds, Boros has the best promo, the best bomb rares, and the least amount of bad rares (i.e. you will very rarely be disappointed with your Boros pack, whereas you might get an unplayable in both Simic or Gruul). If you want to win, I think Boros is your best choice, though Gruul and Simic are not bad options, and Simic does seem particularly interesting to play. It seems slightly worse than Gruul to me in the commons department, but much better where the rares are concerned, so I think it is a slightly better guild for the prerelease (plus the good cards from Gruul are splashable whereas some of the Simic cards work much better in context).
I expect most Boros decks to be mono-Boros, whereas Simic and Gruul can potentially splash, and Orzhov and Dimir likely have to. If you can play in two prereleases, I’d recommend picking Simic and Boros. This way you try four different colors and get two of the good guilds. As for myself, I might try Dimir and Boros, since I want to make sure I am not completely underrating the Dimir cards and the only way to do that is to force myself to play with them.
1st - Boros
2nd - Simic
3rd - Gruul
4th - Orzhov
5th - Dimir
I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and good luck in your prerelease!