When Guilds of Ravnica was first released, I did a lot of Drafts at once because I knew I wouldn’t be able to draft much in the upcoming weeks. I formed an opinion of the format (which you can see in my P1p1 articles from early on) and then I didn’t touch the format again until a week before the PT. Now I have a pretty good idea of where I stand on the format, so I’m going to give you my run-down of the important aspects of it and each of the five guilds.
The Gold Cards
In drafting, I’m usually a fan of staying flexible—position yourself in the open colors and you’ll be rewarded. This has been true in almost every Draft format I’ve played, and because of that I tend to value versatile cards that don’t commit you to an archetype. I will always prefer an artifact or a single-colored, potentially splashable card over a gold card unless the gold card is significantly better.
In Guilds of Ravnica, this changes a little bit because of the guild dynamics. I still very much want to be in an open guild if I can, but I do not value first picking flexible cards that highly.
In a normal Draft, if I pick a U/B card, I will only play it in U/B. If I pick a blue card, I will play it in U/B, U/W, U/R and U/G. This is four times as many decks.
In Guilds of Ravnica, if I pick a U/B card, I will only play it in U/B. If I pick a blue card, I will play it in U/B or in U/R, but I’m still not going to play it in U/W or U/G because those decks just don’t exist. Therefore, I’m only leaving myself open to twice as many decks. This is a huge difference.
Because of this, I don’t mind first picking a gold card, even an un-splashable one like Nightveil Predator and the rest of the cycle with similar costs. Then, if I end up in Dimir, I’ll play it, and if I don’t, I won’t. There are a lot of fillers in Guilds of Ravnica, which means it’s OK to abandon some of your cards.
In the end, I’d like to put myself in a position to draft any guild that is open, though the definition of “open” varies from guild to guild. If there is only one other Boros drafter at my table, I’ll consider Boros “open” to me, but if there is another Selesnya drafter, then that won’t mean Selesnya is open. Since I believe drafting is only self-correcting to an extent, and people drafting guilds tend to be in Selesnya or Golgari more than they should be, relative to the strength of each guild, I prefer being in Boros, Izzet, or Dimir. Those are just intrinsically more powerful and you can easily share them.
Because Izzet, Dimir, and Boros are the best guilds, I put more weight on cards that are blue or red early on, since they go in two different guilds I prefer. If I pick a blue card, I’m only going to go Dimir or Izzet, which are two “premium” guilds. If I pick a white card, I can go Boros or Selesnya, and I don’t truly want to be Selesnya, unless I identify that it’s super open.
The presence of guilds also interacts with splashes in an interesting way. Every pack has a Guildgate, and not everyone wants them, so it’s not unusual for a player to get 4-6 of them, which is plenty to splash any single-colored card. Guilds like Golgari and Dimir are easy to splash in, so you should pay attention to this when you’re picking your first cards.
Take, for example, Beacon Bolt. Beacon Bolt is an Izzet card, so in theory it only goes in 1/5th of the decks, but it’s also a very splashable card—I’d wager that over half the players who are Dimir could end up playing Beacon Bolt if they had it. So, instead of being a card that goes in one guild, it goes in, say, 1.6 guilds, which is not a lot less than the 2 guilds a mono-colored card actually goes in. So, while in certain formats it would make sense to take Dead Weight over Beacon Bolt, I believe that’s a big mistake in this one.
Boros decks are one-dimensional—they attack and that’s it. Boros is my favorite guild because it’s incredibly easy to draft. A Boros deck doesn’t demand any particular piece to work other than a solid curve, which is easy to get in this format (as opposed to a deck like Selesnya that often doesn’t work without a rare, or a deck like Dimir that needs removal spells).
In Boros, removal is good, but it’s not necessary, since the pump spells often act as replacements for them. So, if you are Boros, you should prioritize the good creatures over the good removal spells—Skyknight Legionnaire is better than Luminous Bonds in this archetype, for example, and Wojek Bodyguards is better than Direct Current. If I am already solidly in Boros I will take Skyknight Legionnaire over Justice Strike (though I will first pick Justice Strike, since it’s splashable in Izzet or Selesnya).
Boros decks virtually never splash—I’ve never had a Boros deck that had more than just the two base colors. The colored requirement in this deck is too great, and the cost of playing taplands is too high because you really want to hit your curve. I will play one or two Guildgates if I have them (especially if I have multiple Truefire Captains), but I’ve never played three. The theoretical most common splash in Boros is Rosemane Centaur, which you can enable by virtue of having Vernadi Shieldmate. For example, if you have three copies of Vernadi Shieldmate and a Selesnya Guildgate or Temple Garden, you can splash the Centaur if you want, but I’ve never done it.
Since Boros decks don’t need much other than creatures and some spells that are interchangeable, the Boros guild can support a high number of drafters. If 2 or 3 people are Boros, they will usually have fine decks. If only one person is Boros, they will have a broken deck and will very likely 3-0, unless the packs end up being unusually shallow in Boros cards.
Part of this is because there are a lot of 2-drops in this set in the Boros colors. A lot of the time, aggro decks are constrained by their curve, but this isn’t the case here. Even if there are three Boros players, it’s very possible that they all end up with six or so 2-drops. So, yeah, Fresh-Faced Recruit is better than Tenth District Guard, but if you are just looking for a creature to fill a spot in your curve and to mentor, then the Tenth District Guard will do just fine.
Since there are so many 2-drops, I think it’s important to have a rough rank of them, so you know when to pick one over the other and so you know when to pick an extra one to replace it. Here’s how I would rank the uncommon and common Boros 2-drops (they are in order, and the tiers identify significant drops in power):
This is just a general idea. Some of the list is dependent on what else you have (for example, if you have a lot of mentor 2, then Fire Urchin becomes better, and if you have a lot of convoke, then Vernadi Shieldmate goes up in value).
Unlike Boros, Izzet is two-dimensional. You can have a very controlling Izzet deck or a very aggressive Izzet deck (and sometimes even something in the middle). This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you aren’t pigeonholed into a certain archetype, which means that you can adapt more to the type of cards you’re seeing, and it’s a curse because it means that you can get things wrong and pick cards that are in your color but you’ll never play. If I take a Boros card and I end up in Boros, I will almost certainly play it, whereas I could feasibly take an Izzet card that would be great in one type of Izzet deck and then end up with an Izzet deck that can’t actually play it because the focus is different.
Control Izzet decks are similar to Dimir decks. You want removal, card advantage, and finishers. Hypothesizzle is a big part of these decks, functioning as both removal and card advantage, and Chemister’s Insight should be a big priority. Jump-start cards like Direct Current and Radical Idea also work as virtual sources of card advantage, as they let you exchange useless lands for extra cards in the late game. These decks also very commonly splash for cards like Justice Strike or Deafening Clarion.
Some Izzet decks have an aggressive component to them to end the game (for example, my Izzet deck at the PT was mostly controlling, but I had a Sonic Assault and a Barging Sergeant in it, and I was able to quickly assume the aggro role with the help of Piston-Fist Cyclops), and some are just very grindy decks that aim to win with Devious Cover-up, potentially looping two copies of it. Both strategies are valid.
The aggro Izzet decks are also on a spectrum. Some are just a normal Limited deck—creatures in a curve and removal—and some are more dedicated “cheese” decks, with cards like Beamsplitter Mage, and multiple copies of Maximize Altitude and potentially Sure Strike. I think that both strategies here are also valid.
Overall, I think Izzet is a strong guild that supports two or three drafters per table, and you really can build it any way you want. The biggest trap you can fall into is playing cards that fit in one strategy when you are another. For example, if you’re just a regular aggro deck with creatures and some pump/removal, then you probably shouldn’t even play Piston-Fist Cyclops, even though it’s pretty good in other versions of Izzet. Similarly, if you’re the super control version with a Niv-Mizzet, Parun and two Devious Cover-Ups, then you have no reason to play Sonic Assault or Wojek Bodyguards, even if they are pretty good cards in the right Izzet deck.
Selesnya also has two different types of decks. The first one is what I like to think of as “Selesnya Rares.” That’s just a control deck that happens to have a bomb rare or two that it’s trying to get to, like a March of the Multitudes. Since Selesnya is not really ripe with card advantage, you really do need an ultra-powerful card that can single-handedly win the game. Otherwise, this archetype doesn’t work. You’ll just be outclassed by both Dimir and Izzet later on. Because of this, I wouldn’t recommend drafting Selesnya Rares unless you start with the rares, because going this path and hoping to open a bomb is very risky.
The other Selesnya deck is the more traditional one—cheap creatures and convoke cards. This type of deck has historically been very good, but it’s not that good in Guilds of Ravnica because there aren’t many token makers and there is a lot of hard removal, so you often spend time convoking out a big creature only to get it 1-for-1’d.
That said, it’s still a viable deck, provided you have a critical mass of cheap creatures and convoke threats, which means that it’s not an archetype that supports a lot of drafters. For me, it’s really only acceptable to be Selesnya if I’m the only person picking up Rosemane Centaurs. Rosemane Centaur is far and away the best convoke creature, but Siege Wurm is also good, particularly if you have multiple Sworn Companions.
Similar to Selesnya, Golgari can also be built in two ways. The first (and, in my opinion, better) way is some sort of “5-color green” deck (though in reality it’s usually 3-4 colors). The main idea here is to have a control deck that is base green and splashes for powerful cards in other colors. This is easier to do in Golgari than in Selesnya, because the black cards lend themselves more to a control style than the white cards, and because Golgari is paired with blue. The Dimir cards are certainly better for control than the Boros cards—it’s very common to splash for Artful Takedown in Golgari, and even sometimes a card like Notion Rain.
This archetype would also like some finishers, but it doesn’t need to be a bomb rare like the Selesnya control archetype, because the black/Dimir cards can be a source of card advantage for the late game. This archetype, much like control Selesnya, is also happy to play Glaive of the Guildpact.
The other Golgari build is the one I like least, and is the “traditional” undergrowth Golgari. The idea here is to play creatures that trade and give you small advantages, and then play some of the good undergrowth threats.
The issues here are twofold. First, the Golgari creatures don’t always trade. Burglar Rat and Generous Stray often just chump, and no one attacks into Hired Poisoner anyway. So instead of creating a clear board with stacked graveyards, it ends up producing a stalemate and a stacked board with empty graveyards while you lose to flyers.
The second issue is that the payoffs for undergrowth aren’t that strong. Rhizome Lurcher is OK, but that’s about it at common—past that, we have to go all the way to Izoni, Thousand-Eyed to find something that’s actually worth getting creatures in the graveyard for. So the combination of it being hard to set up plus not actually being great when you do manage to set it up makes the undergrowth decks pretty unappealing to me.
I think that Golgari can potentially support two drafters, as long as both are drafting the “5-color green” type of deck. If both players are trying to draft the “undergrowth” deck, then it won’t work for either of them. Personally, I only like being Golgari when I’m the only person drafting Golgari at all, which means that I am wary of picking Golgari cards early.
Dimir also has two decks, though they are not that different from each other. The first version is the more proactive (I like proactive here more than aggressive because the deck isn’t really aggro in either version), and it’s the one where you play Thoughtbound Phantasm, Darkblade Agent, or Dimir Spybug, and then play a surveil card almost every turn for the rest of the game (which isn’t that hard to do, since each surveil card helps find the next one).
The second version is just a control deck, like Izzet. This version uses surveil cards as a form of virtual card advantage to make sure that it has an edge in the mid-late game, as the opponent is drawing lands and you’re drawing spells. Then, you finish them off with a super powerful card or with one or two copies of Devious Cover-Up. This card is very important for this deck, as without it it’s kind of prone to decking, since you surveil so much and games go long.
There are two creatures that overperform in control Dimir, compared to expectation: Wishcoin Crab and Douser of Lights. Normally you wouldn’t be interested in these types of vanilla creatures, but 5 toughness is very important in this format (since they survive Hypothesizzle, Artful Takedown, Lava Coil, and even some of the combat tricks from the Boros decks), so you actively want these cards in your deck. You’ll get them pretty late, so don’t make them a priority, but know that they are better than they look.
It’s also relevant to mention that, in Dimir decks, the 5 slot is very crowded and cards in it are often replaceable. Because of this, I put less priority on cards like Watcher in the Mist. I know that I can get a card like Douser of Lights later on, and, though the Douser isn’t as good as the Watcher, it’s often good enough, so I’d rather not put a premium on this type of 5-drop.
In the end, I believe every guild is draftable, but not equally draftable. So I’m not going to be one of the players who won’t ever pick a green card, but I think the green guilds only work if you’re the only person in them, so I am wary of picking a Selesnya or Golgari card very early on unless it’s fantastic. I’d rather pick a good card in another color or guild, and then, if by the end of pack 1 I see that I’m getting a lot of Selesnya and Golgari late, I don’t mind moving in.