Chilly autumn winds of change are upon us. It was a blast to revisit Dominaria Limited over the past week or so, but I’m glad to be back in the Ravnica groove. In fact, GRN is one of my favorite Draft formats in recent memory. It’s a format I can replay, and it always feels like I’m discovering something new.
Hot take: “Guilds of Ravnica Limited is fun…”
It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned grinder looking for a refresher or a new player just getting started with Arena—it’s always good to start with solid fundamentals in a format as complex as GRN Draft.
I really enjoy the casual Drafts on Arena. I’m working on building a playset of Standard, and that task requires some serious grinding if you don’t want to spend a ton of money on packs. I’ve found the casual Drafts to be the best value on Arena for collection building, since you can rare draft like a maniac and still recoup the entry fee pretty easily.
I assume that a significant percentage of my opponents are doing the same thing, so it often feels like the highest EV play for me is to snap up shocklands and Standard staples whenever I see them.
Today’s article is geared toward helping players of all skill levels get the most value out of their Arena Drafts. It’s not necessarily the strategy I would use to draft at a professional level event, but I think it’s a very solid approach to level up your collection through chaining Drafts together on Arena.
Drafting Arena is Different than a “Real” Draft
Let’s start with: “I’m writing an article about how to draft at a virtual table of all robots…”
I’ve been drafting and streaming so much Arena that I don’t even know if I’m real anymore.
When you do a casual Draft on Arena, there aren’t other human players in your pod. Arena is comparable to Hearthstone, where a predetermined algorithm evaluates and selects cards to simulate what other players would do.
The system has pros and cons, and nothing compares to the depth of strategy present in a real Draft with actual cardboard cards. If I’m going to play against opponents who were not in my Draft pod, I prefer a balanced simulation to the variance of having my Draft torpedoed by human error.
The point is to understand that Arena Draft is different than other Drafts and to adjust your strategy accordingly. Also, keep in mind that one of the primary reasons people draft on Arena (aside from the fact that GRN is fun) is to build up a collection for Constructed play, i.e, rare draft.
Judge me if you want, but I’m trying to acquire a playset of Standard and will shamelessly snap off every playable rare I don’t have that comes my way. It takes so much grinding to make a rare or mythic wild card that whatever equity is lost in the Draft is made up for in saved time.
Let’s talk about the format.
GRN Is a Guild-Centric Format
Spoiler alert! GRN Limited is all about selecting a 2-color guild and building a deck that plays to your color’s strengths. The emphasis on guild is literally scrawled across every virtual booster pack you tear open!
There are a total of ten guilds in Magic (one for every 2-color combination in Magic), but only five are featured in the Guilds of Ravnica set: Selesnya (green and white), Izzet (blue and red), Golgari (black and green), Dimir (blue and black), and Boros (red and white). Each guild has its own keyword ability. For instance, only Dimir cards utilize surveil.
If you want to make life easier for yourself, I advise sticking to the aforementioned color combinations. There are many aspects of GRN Draft that reward creativity, but coloring outside the lines into non-supported guilds or into too many colors is more likely to hurt than help.
There are five guilds and you should be looking to settle into one of them. Color outside the lines at your own peril!
Let’s take a look at the basics of the five guilds.
Dimir (Blue-Black), A.K.A.
Dimir is my favorite guild to draft. Not only do I enjoy the card advantage oriented style of play, but I also believe it to be the most synergistic guild.
The Dimir uncommons are all exceptionally powerful and a great way to start off a Draft. If your goal is to chain as many Arena Drafts together as possible, you could do a lot worse than simply forcing Dimir every time.
I think there is a “gaming the system” element to forcing the best archetype at a table full of AI drafters, but it is a viable strategy if you are just trying to acquire more cards on a budget.
Dimir is straightforward to draft: you want cards with surveil and cards that reward you every time you surveil. The more the better. High-toughness blockers are also a must to defend against R/W beatdown decks.
Here’s an example of a 7-0 Dimir deck I drafted.
In general, blue and black are both deep and have great threats and removal. Dimir is the best control archetype but its cards are often powerful enough to run you over as well. You know an archetype is good when you can consistently X-0 without a bunch of insane rares.
If I can’t be Dimir, my second choice is to move into Boros. In my experience, these two color combinations are deeper on choice playables and have stronger keyword mechanics than the rest.
Mentor is all about making small creatures into a big problem for the opponent.
In particular, this card can really bury people quickly when it is paired up with a mentor. It is very difficult to race a 2/2 flying, lifelink creature.
A good Boros deck has a low curve and combat tricks to continue pushing damage through. The key is to continue picking up mentor triggers as a way to gain advantage on the board.
Don’t be shy about picking up lots of combat tricks. Not only are they a great way to punch through bulky blockers in your way, but they are also a way to generate extra mentor triggers later in the game.
With Boros the game is about creating and sustaining pressure. You are the beatdown and have fast, evasive threats that continue to grow thanks to mentor.
Izzet (Blue-Red) A.K.A Nimble Tempo
Most of the successful Izzet decks I’ve had have felt like red-based tempo burn decks (and have a bunch of rares).
The keyword for Izzet is jump-start, which are spells that can be cast from the graveyard by discarding a card from your hand. It’s basically flashback without the card advantage.
Unsurprisingly, the guild with a keyword that is “bad flashback” isn’t my favorite.
The cards that you’ll find in successful Izzet decks:
Drafting multiple copies of cards like these is the reason to be Izzet since nobody else can use them. Murmuring Mystic is also a pretty sweet uncommon to take full advantage of “double-spelling” the jump-start cards.
I’m too embarrassed to post any of my seven winning Izzet decks since they are just a pile of rares. Basically, that is what it takes for me to draft Izzet on Arena.
Izzet decks tend to be tempo driven and can deal damage in big bursts (but have a hard time sustaining pressure). The strength of Izzet is nimbleness, speed, and evasion.
It Ain’t Easy Being Green (G/W Selesnya and B/G Golgari)
Green is pretty commonly thought to be the weakest color in GRN Limited. It doesn’t mean it isn’t good—it’s just not as potent as Dimir and Boros.
Green does have a few nice things going for it. If you are going to venture out of safe 2-color guilds, green is the best color to help facilitate a splash.
The green decks, in my opinion, suffer from a lack of identity. Unlike Boros and Dimir, which have keywords that are easy to build a powerful, focused deck around, both green keyword abilities (convoke and undergrowth) lack focused enablers and payoffs.
Selesnya has convoke, which can be as big of a liability as an advantage if you don’t draw a bunch of early creatures or your opponent has a lot of removal. Also, tapping your creatures down (so they can’t attack or block the turn you convoke) is often inefficient and puts the caster in a vulnerable position on the board.
I can’t tell you how many times a Selesnya mage has tried to convoke out a creature and lost the game on the spot because I had a removal spell for the one big blocker.
Undergrowth is the Golgari keyword, but it doesn’t have a ton of enablers to quickly juice up your graveyard to get large payoffs. The Golgari decks want to trade off resources in order to get bigger bonuses in the late game.
I actually like both of these commons as late-game finishers for green decks. The key to building good green decks on Arena is to aim to match up well against Boros. Gum up the ground with fatties, and use removal and reach creatures to take away evasive flyers. Eventually, your stuff ends up being bigger than theirs and you can turn the corner.
Dimir has the best set of cards to grind an opponent into the dust, which is why it is the most formidable control color combination.
At the other end of the spectrum, Boros is the best aggressive strategy in GRN. It has great creatures up and down the curve, solid combat trips, evasive flyers, and even removal.
The other colors fall somewhere in between, which makes them a little trickier to actually build and play well, since they need to operate somewhere in the midrange middle. Green decks face the challenge of needing to be awkward control decks against Boros and awkward aggro against Dimir.
I will say that if you are just trying to grind wild cards on Arena through casual Drafts that forcing Dimir or Boros is the way to go. Green and Izzet get better in an IRL Draft against other human beings, (rather than AI) since those weaker colors will tend to be “more open.” But it has been my experience in Arena that you can game the system a little bit to chain Drafts together to earn a bunch of wild cards. As always, if you’re bored or want to see some of these drafting tactics played out in real time, drop in on my Twitch.