After so many years of playing Magic at a regular pace and countless Limited formats as well as Constructed formats, you’d think I would have gotten better at evaluating cards. Sure, understanding that removal is great, or that Squire is worse than Glory Seeker, or that big flying monsters are great in Limited—that’s easy, but when it comes to a bit more than that, I still keep getting it wrong.
Magic is a complex game. Seeing a card in its context is how we can finally evaluate a card properly, but since it’s hard to see that context without manually playing the games, we misevaluate cards constantly. Because of this, evaluating Limited cards is often even harder than evaluating new cards for Standard, even though there are more cards legal and available in Standard. While there are more cards to evaluate the context from, there are actually fewer cards that are good enough to see play.
Today, I’ll go through all the cards I misevaluated in Guilds of Ravnica Limited and take a look at why they are worse or better than I first expected.
Guildgates have actually gone up and down like an electrocardiogram for me. In almost all formats, dual lands have been fantastic. They help you splash powerful cards of other colors, help you get a higher number of sources in your 2-color deck to curve better, or even help you reduce your land count. After my first Drafts, I realized that the enters-the-battlefield-tapped clause was too much of a hindrance and I couldn’t play too many of them.
I expected as much in decks that want to curve from the start with a high number of 1-drops, like Boros. What I didn’t expect was that so many of the best archetypes would want many 1-drops as well. Dimir, which I expected to have a much higher curve, has five different playable 1-drops between common and uncommons. The same goes for Selesnya. It tries to get on the board early to amass a board to convoke creatures faster, like Rosemane Centaur on turn 3.
Most people have gotten to this point, where they have de-valued the Guildgates to the point where you see them late. Not a lot of people think this way, but Limited formats are metagames much like Constructed formats, where evaluations of cards and decks change as the format progresses. The downtick in interest in Guildgates makes it so that it’s easier to get a large number of them and that opens new possible archetypes.
Recently, I’ve found myself drafting straight 3-color decks, built mostly on cards that don’t fit the low-to-the-ground efficient strategies people usually draft. I’ve gotten a lot of Jeskai and Abzan decks lately with 5-7 Guildgates. The Jeskai decks get fantastic finishers like Garrison Sergeant and Swathcutter Giant, and are the best home for Deafening Clarion based on the swath of interaction found in these colors.
The Abzan decks spawned from being two of the least liked guilds in Draft, and sometimes you can get an entire deck filled with gold cards. Abzan decks usually encompass the Golgari strategy, where you have a high creature count to synergize with undergrowth, but you exchange your creatures for even more powerful ones—if there’s something both Golgari and Selesnya are good at, it’s creatures. For these archetypes, whether it’s Abzan, Jeskai, or something else, Guildgate synergies become a lot better. There aren’t too many playable options in that department, but I can say that my Gatekeeper Gargoyles regularly become 7/7s and 8/8s!
At first when I saw Healer’s Hawk, I thought to myself that it looked like a pretty decent card, that it might be especially good with Equipment, or that perhaps slapping something like a Maniacal Rage on it could be a thing. But I could never have expected exactly how good it turned out to be. Healer’s Hawk can play a huge part in determining how good a Boros or Selesnya deck can be. Both decks care a lot about curving out and getting on the board early.
In Boros, the most basic reason why Healer’s Hawk is the best 1-drop is because it’s the best creature to mentor. It makes all your 2-drops with mentor a lot better. If you have three Healer’s Hawks, Sunhome Stalwart and Boros Challenger become bombs in your deck.
The second, more complicated reason, is based on the fact that Healer’s Hawk makes it a lot easier for you to race the opponent. Since Boros is an aggressive archetype, it tries not to trade too easily because it wants to set up more complicated board states where you can get more damage out of your creatures.
That’s why I think mentor is such a beautifully made mechanic. It helps players learn that basic principle, since you don’t really want to trade off your mentor creature until you can at least get a +1/+1 counter out of the deal. Sometimes, you might even be strategic or lucky enough to get two counters out of the same creature, which is often overwhelming enough to win the game. But while you are trying to set up attackers so that you can get the most value out of your creatures, it can mean that you won’t be attacking or blocking with some creatures, and that’s where Healer’s Hawk comes in. It keeps you at a healthy pace in the damage race while setting up.
In Selesnya, the reason is because you want to get on the board early to get your big convoke creatures online earlier, and Healer’s Hawk is the best common for the job. Something that’s similar to the Boros deck is that you also want to have that damage race buffer from the Hawk since you don’t want to really trade your creatures, but not because you’re trying to set up an attack, but because you want to keep them to convoke larger creatures down the road. Sometimes you also get some mentor creatures along the way, much like the Boros deck, whether it’s Sunhome Stalwart or Blade Instructor, to make it even better.
Righteous Blow should be pretty good in a format where a lot of the decks run a lot of cheaper, smaller creatures, but finding a home for it has been hard. Boros isn’t really interested in it and neither is Selesnya. Boros is an aggressive deck and these effects tend to be worse in proactive decks because your opponent needs to have blocked before you get to use it, and if it doesn’t kill the creature, it might not even help your creature survive like a pump spell would. In Selesnya, you also want to be proactive, but mostly, you want to have a high creature count, and the room for noncreature spells becomes more constrained.
That was until I found the archetype that it truly shines in: the Jeskai control variants, and especially the U/W version! Azorius is so good that it was actually an archetype even before the guild was released. The archetype idea was originally inspired by Jan van der Vegt and the beautiful deck he streamed.
The archetype plays creatures with low power that don’t threaten to kill much in combat but high enough toughness to survive combat, like Wall of Mist, or just not any creatures at all, making it so your opponent will keep attacking each turn. Very similar to how Seal Away works for U/W Control decks in Standard, Righteous Blow is great in this archetype in Draft.
Burglar Rat, a functional reprint of Ravenous Rats, has impressed me a lot more than I thought it originally would. Ravenous Rat has always just been fine in Limited because a lot of the time, a player will have excess lands to discard once you draw your Ravenous Rats. Unlike Constructed, it’s often hard to find enough discard spells to get the sheer number needed to make discarding cards painful. But in Guilds of Ravnica Limited, it’s different.
First off, most decks in the format try to curve out, whether they’re aggressive or not. That makes it so discarding becomes slightly more painful, because you want those lands to hit all your land drops to curve out perfectly, as well as spells to cast. This means that sometimes the Rats can carve out a hole in your opponent’s curve. Second, there’s a fair number of 1-toughness creatures in the format the Rat can block, so the body is often useful, something Ravenous Rats seldom was. Speaking of making the body useful, I’ve found it to work great alongside Severed Strands in Dimir and especially Golgari.
Burglar Rat is also great against some of the mechanics in the format: jump-start and surveil. Jump-start makes it so that every card you have matter, whether or not it’s blank cardboard like an excess land in the late game, since you can use it to recast a jump-start spell. The Rats help you discard excess cards, making it harder to get full value from jump-start.
Surveil, on the other hand, manipulates the top of your deck, making it so that it’s a lot harder to actually flood or draw excess cards you don’t need. It also means those cards are valuable to you since you’re more often drawing live later in the game and that even later in the game, the discard ability from Burglar Rat becomes better.
Wary Okapi looks sheepishly mediocre at first and cards like it have been filler at best in previous formats. But in Guilds of Ravnica Limited, I’ve actually found it to be a cornerstone alongside Vernadi Shieldmate in one of the most underestimated guilds, Golgari. Golgari wants to have a high creature count to make the undergrowth mechanic as powerful as possible. But it’s not enough to have all those creatures in your deck—you also need to get them into your graveyard in a meaningful way. Since there aren’t many cards that mill cards into your graveyard naturally, except Glowspore Shaman, and you’re not really interested chumping and throwing away your cards either, you need an efficient way to trade.
That’s where vigilance shines and becomes the bread-and-butter of Golgari. The creature will keep attacking if they don’t trade with it, and of course block if they try to race back. Deathtouch is also a fantastic way to trade with your creatures, but while deathtouch creatures like Hired Poisoner or Pitiless Gorgon are good at trading up, they do so defensively and only if your opponent allows it. This means that these creatures aren’t good at pressuring your opponent to trade with them, and don’t pose much of a proactive threat to slower, grindier decks like Dimir or Jeskai control variants and therefore are less efficient at doing Golgari work.
What cards have impressed you the most in Guilds of Ravnica Limited?