“Play Radical Idea for 1 thanks to Goblin Electromancer. Attack with Erratic Cyclops.”

“No blocks. So I take 2 and go to 18?”

“Actually, first I’ll cast this Inescapable Blaze here.”

“So I take 6? And then 8? This is getting dangerous.”

“Don’t forget about the Thousand-Year Storm you scoffed at two turns ago when I cast it. This brings the total to… well, to 20.”

Anecdotal Evidence of Guilds of Ravnica’s Awesomeness

The stunt above—I pulled it off. In another Draft, I almost drew myself to death with Dawn of Hope before I found Divine Visitation. I did draw myself to death once playing a double Beast Whisperer deck and I avoided the same fate twice by playing a Glowspore Shaman on an empty library. For contrast, another of my decks featured 23 red cards, including two each of Goblin Electromancer, Piston-Fist Cyclops, Hypothesizzle, Sonic Assault, Maximize Velocity, and Runaway Steam-Kin. That earned several concessions on turn 4. But I also drafted multiple multi-color monstrosities with a pair of Guild Summits and eight or more Gates. In one game I drew two cards off of the enchantment on turn 5 and proceeded to draw an extra card with it on each of the following five turns, at which point my opponent rage-quit Magic Online.

A Draft later, I sacrificed Chamber Sentry to Severed Strands when it was stuck in a Capture Sphere, and returned it from the grave and cast it for 5 another five times. In fact, I enjoyed this so much that I repeated it across a number of Drafts. I lost count of the total times I returned the Sentry to the pantry somewhere in the mid-twenties.

My favorite start to a Draft was Vraska, Golgari Queen, followed by Deafening Clarion as the second pick because these cards are a perfect match no matter what the mana symbols say. My favorite end to a game was when my opponent had zero cards in their library but a lethal attack, but I cast the Pause for Reflection that had only landed in my deck because I had mistaken the artwork for Urban Utopia. Did I mention that all of these stories involved 3-0 decks?

My point is, I have drafted a ton of Guilds of Ravnica, possibly more than any other format ever. I have drafted so much that I have found both the definite best target for Quasiduplicate as well as the worst use for Guildmages’ Forum. It’s a bit of a trick question, but do you know the correct answers? Let me know in the comments!

Guilds of Ravnica Booster Draft is almost too much fun, precisely because the possibilities in this Limited format aren’t very limited. Successful decks cover the whole spectrum, from huge and slow and magnificent value machines to Boros, to the very colorful all the way down to, well, Boros.

When you have such a great time playing, who even cares what draft strategy promises the best results? If you do, then read on, but beware: There may be spoilers below.

Remote Surveillance

I spent this past weekend at home on my sofa, bundled up with the flu, equal parts disappointed and happy to miss out on all the hot action in cold Warsaw. 1,836 players not only made for the largest Polish event of all time, it also turned into the biggest tournament to feature Guilds of Ravnica Limited to date, dwarfing Montreal’s 1,070.

Naturally, I took an active interest in the proceedings from afar. I provided some guidance to Olle Råde for whom this marked the first time covering a Grand Prix all by himself. That proved essentially unnecessary rather than essential, but we also collaborated on a little project …

I got Olle to locate all the deck lists of the people who went 3-0 in Grand Prix Warsaw’s first Draft and who were still in contention for Top 8 at that point. More accurately, I got him to get judges to do this—thanks, by the way! He then sent me photos of those 29 lists, I typed them up, and you can now find all of them in the event’s coverage.

Granted, 29 lists isn’t a lot, but it still qualifies as the largest comparable data set ever published. There’s a lot to analyze here, and you can bet I did. First let’s look at the most common cards people used to go 3-0:

119 Swamp
97 Island
79 Forest
75 Mountain
58 Plains
20 Deadly Visit
16 Dimir Guildgate
15 Golgari Guildgate
14 Rhizome Lurcher
14 Spinal Centipede
13 Hired Poisoner
13 Whisper Agent
12 Pitiless Gorgon
11 Douser of Lights
11 Piston-Fist Cyclops
10 Direct Current
10 Healer’s Hawk
9 Bartizan Bats
9 Burglar Rat
9 Dead Weight
9 District Guide
9 Necrotic Wound
9 Notion Rain
8 Artful Takedown
8 Devkarin Dissident
8 Goblin Electromancer
8 Izzet Guildgate
8 Price of Fame
8 Radical Idea

Mainly, this just tells us that the most fashionable color, the new black, so to say, was indeed black. The degree to which it dominated the catwalk comes as quite a shock though. Two thirds of all spells listed here are black, and at least some inclusions may raise eyebrows. I’m not looking at Douser of Lights, which has been called “underrated” so often by now that the poor creature might rightfully wonder why even its friends keep insisting that no one likes it. But, for example, the bipartisan agreement on Bartizan Bats is news. One would think that a blue drafter would find better flyers, but no, more than half of these 3-0 Bats flew for House Dimir.

In white, the biggest player proved to be Healer’s Hawk. Next to it, the most used white cards were Parhelion Patrol and Tenth District Guard at seven copies each. The most represented mono-red card, Direct Current, was followed by Sure Strike and Wojek Bodyguard, also at seven.

With five copies in 29 decks, by far the most common rare (not an oxymoron) was Izoni, Thousand-Eyed, which matches the most common common (not a pleonasm either) among creatures overall. It was an exceptionally good morning for Rhizome Lurcher and company.

In fact, Golgari-based decks won nine of these 29 Drafts, followed by seven 3-0 records for Dimir, five each for Boros and Izzet, and two for Selesnya. In addition, the one deck that doesn’t clearly belong to a single guild was a mix halfway between Golgari and Dimir.

Golgari Goldmine (Nine Decks)

Back when the set was new, I often read that Golgari was the weakest guild in Booster Draft. For the coverage of Grand Prix Mexico City, for instance, Marc Calderaro got plenty of quotes from pros that he then summed up as follows: “As far as guild ranking goes, players are high on both Dimir and Boros near the top, with Izzet next, Selesnya a close fourth, and a bottom out for Golgari.”

The results now don’t prove that Golgari is the strongest guild by any means. But one surely can’t continue considering it the weakest. Speaking of strengths, let’s look at some of Golgari’s!

Our nine Golgari mages were alone among the successful drafters in their ability to pay 7 mana for a creature, and together their decks contained four times as many 6-drops as 19 Selesnya, Boros, Izzet, and Dimir decks combined. Not having to fight with anyone over Affectionate Indrik means more chances to fight with Affectionate Indrik.

On average, they ran 16.8 creatures with an average casting cost of 3.3 mana, divided up along the curve like this:

Despite considerably more expensive creatures than Dimir or Izzet, they managed to pay for everything with minimally fewer lands: 16.9 instead of a universal 17. One reason is District Guide and Generous Stray. On average, Golgari’s 3-0 decks included 0.9 and 0.7 respectively of these 3-drops. Successful Selesnya decks, on the other hand, steered clear.

This connects directly to another point. Members of the Golgari Swarm didn’t just use a higher percentage of their own 6-drops—they used more of everybody’s. There were more copies of Citywatch Sphinx in Golgari-based decks than in Izzet and Dimir decks combined. Likewise, there were more copies of Conclave Tribunal than in actual white decks—almost as many Artful Takedown as in Dimir.

Consequently, Golgari players formed the most gated community too. Their decks averaged 3.2 nonbasic lands, which is almost double what the next guild in line uses. A somewhat extreme example:

The 3-0 Deck from Pod 27

David Hagedorn

Simply put, Golgari makes use of more of the available card pool than any other guild, both in regard to curve and splash options. The Swarm scavenging for resources that other drafters leave lying around? Now that’s a flavor win!

Dimir Dimensions (Seven Decks)

Our Dimir players ran between 11 and 16 creatures—an average of 13.9. Typical for Limited is that the fewer creatures a deck contains the bigger each individual gets, but no. The average casting cost here came to 2.9 mana per creature, and the average deck included almost two 1-drops, 3.6 creatures for 2 mana, and more 3-drops than 4-, 5-, and 6-drops combined.

Everyone who went 3-0 at the top tables with Dimir ran 17 lands, including an average of 1.4 nonbasic lands per deck.

Boros Borders (Five Decks)

Our Boros decks averaged 17.4 creatures, and their pilots spent 2.6 mana on them. One Venerated Loxodon was included in the calculation of the first number, but was left out in the calculation of the second number. It’s also not included in the creature curve below.

Two of five Boros Legionnaires went with 17 lands instead of the more common 16, and two ran a single Boros Guildgate instead of none. 80% of these 3-0 decks contained one Cosmotronic Wave. Beware of the cosmotron!

League Leads (Five Decks)

(Staking out the Dimir dimensions and the Boros borders was easy enough. But going with the naming convention of Guilds of Ravnica split cards, whose halves always share the first three letters, forces us to follow the leads when it comes to the Izzet League.)

In a curious outlier, one Izzet player splashed a Justice Strike off of three Boros Guildgate, meaning the land was more popular here than in Boros itself. Other than that, 17 lands, including 1.8 nonbasic lands and 2.9 mana for the average creature, matches almost exactly what we saw with Dimir.

One can see a difference in Izzet’s creature curve, though. With only Goblin Banneret as a potentially interesting 1-drop, Izzet mages are the least likely to play anything on the first turn. Likewise, the total number of creatures was lower here than anywhere else. 12.4 per deck was one-and-a-half fewer even than Dimir’s average. This left ample room for all the instants and sorceries that Izzet in general, and in particular the average two Goblin Electromancer per deck, enjoyed so much.

Selesnya Selection (Two Decks)

Two is not a sample size suited to anything, really. But the lists offered enough striking similarities to suggest that Selesnya indeed needs to hit a couple of notes in order to go 3-0 at the highest level.

First of all, both players ran 15 lands and got away with it thanks to Flower // Flourish. One ran 18 creatures, one 19 creatures. One had three creatures with convoke, one had four. And the average creature without convoke that one put into play cost 2.31, while the other spent 2.19 mana to cast his nonvoke creatures, both well below even Boros’s 2.64.

Of course, on top of everything settled a thick film of congealed—I mean convoked—fat. You can tell it apart in the creature curve above by its more milky color. Bon appétit!

General Notes

The takeaway here is that Selesnya is disgusting.

Just kidding. One takeaway is that people who went 3-0 at the top tables really didn’t spend a lot of mana on their creatures. Their curves were super low, definitely lower than what I see at my local Wednesday Night Magic and clearly lower than what I have in my own decks on Magic Online so far (see beginning of the article). Time to limbo!

Another takeaway is just how different draft decks of the five guilds look. Each has its own very clear identity. Finally, we learned that Golgari isn’t as weak as initially thought and, to come full circle, Selesnya may indeed be as bad as many experts have been saying for a while now.

Until next time, I hope I’ll finally be able to go crazy with Experimental Frenzy in this week’s drafts. What points remain unchecked on your bucket list?

TL;DR

Background photos courtesy of Olle Råde.