GP Warsaw is coming up, so today I want to talk about Guilds of Ravnica Limited.
I don’t want to focus on Sealed too much, as you will most often just play your best cards, though there seems to be more edge to be gained by solid deck building and sideboarding than usual. With a Guildgate added to every pack, your mana is usually pretty good and allows for easier splashes. It’s enough to make 3-color decks possible, but not by a crazy amount where everyone would always pick the best card out of every pack and then play 5 colors without a problem. I just like to be able to cast my spells and splash reasonably. The entire set also only has maybe 10 unplayable cards, so you will almost always have a decent deck.
In Draft, this makes staying flexible more important than usual. Even if you lock into a guild, it still gives you more options for how to draft it. Two people in a row can be drafting the same color, but looking for completely different types of cards. There are lots of synergies you need to focus on, so you aren’t just taking the best card from every pack in your colors.
The first thing I do when a new set comes out is learn how to draft all the archetypes. I naturally lean toward the more aggressive ones, so as soon as Skyknight Legionnaire got spoiled, I knew I would be enjoying the fast Boros decks. But focusing on and perfecting just one archetype isn’t going to help you when you are sitting in the Top 8 Draft of a PTQ or GP Day 2 and you are forced into a color combination you haven’t drafted before.
Boros is all about cheap creatures and mentor. You are giving up individual card quality in exchange for speed. You need to have as many 2- and 3-drops as possible. You aren’t going to take cards like Tenth District Guard early, but it’s a perfectly fine playable if you need a 2-drop. The more mentor creatures you have, the better. Removal is important, especially the ones that can get rid of a high-toughness creature. Luminous Bonds is perfect, but cards like Righteous Blow and Command the Storm aren’t great. As you will be the aggressor, removal is to some degree replaceable by pump spells. Cards like Take Heart and Sure Strike are decent playables. If your curve is low enough (and it should be), it’s fine to play 16 lands. It’s important for your deck to have some reach, so I always try to have a couple of cards like Legion Guildmage or Cosmotronic Wave. This was my most recent Boros deck.
Usually you are going to be either more white or more red, so keep in mind the mana costs of your spells. You want to have at least eight white sources to be able to play Healer’s Hawk on turn 1 and you also want to have enough red sources to be able to cast Direct Current. So, for example, if I’m in a Draft and I already have three Healer’s Hawks and my next pick is between Direct Current and a slightly weaker card, I’m going to take the weaker card because I know my mana base is most likely going to be 10-7. Because of this, you are also almost never looking to splash.
The good thing about Boros is that it’s very deep and you can easily 2-1 a Draft with a deck sporting no bombs and a bunch of mediocre cards. For example, in the deck above, it would be perfectly fine to run something like Candlelight Vigil if you were struggling for playables. It’s always going to be a great combo with Swiftblade Vindicator, but even in combination with Fresh-Faced Recruit it can 1win you the game on its own. I usually don’t want to play Barging Sergeant, but it’s a perfectly fine playable because it fits into your game plan of staying aggressive while mentoring on your creatures. There is an abundance of playable 2-drops, and even if you end up with the really bad ones like Fire Urchin, they can still do some work with the 3-drop mentor creatures. While it’s not something I am looking to do, I’ve won my fair share of matches with cards like Maniacal Rage as well. I believe Yuuya 3-0’d his second Draft pod at the PT with a deck featuring multiple Garrison Sergeants and Street Riot. My preferred 2-drops are Fresh-Faced Recruit and Skyline Scout because they are good at continuously dealing damage without any extra help.
Cosmotronic Wave: Not only does this give your deck reach, but dealing 1 to all of your opponent’s creatures is very relevant. If you look at the deck above, almost half of my creatures will die to it, which is not uncommon. Even if it doesn’t make your main deck, look for one during the Draft for sideboard purposes. I am always looking to play 1-2 cards with this kind of effect.
Wojek Bodyguard: One of the most important creatures for your deck as it has a really good body and makes your 2-drops attack through your opponent’s 2-drops. It’s not really a secret that Boros wants to play many of these, but people should be picking it higher.
Light of the Legion: It’s hard to imagine that a big flying creature with two extra abilities is bad, but this card is way too slow to have any real impact on the game. I’d still play it in Sealed, but don’t expect it to be a bomb.
Flight of Equenauts: This card is way too expensive. I am only going to play it if I end up with a horrible deck because it might give me a shot to win. But normally it does the exact opposite of what Boros is trying to do.
Command the Storm: This card is also way too expensive. You should aim to keep your curve as low as possible and ideally play 16 lands. Only play this as a last resort if you have no other removal.
Haazda Marshal: Much worse than Healer’s Hawk, as evasion is key. I’d rather play Hunted Witness, but even that one I am not very excited to put in my deck. You do want as many early drops as possible, but they should have either evasion or 2 power.
There are two kinds of decks you can draft. The aggro version focuses less on spells, and more on convoke creatures and the early drops that also essentially function as mana creatures to cast them. One of the key cards is Rosemane Centaur. You need to have a lot of creatures, especially 2-drops, and very few spells. You don’t want to play cards like Centaur Peacemaker or conditional removal like Crushing Canopy because you want to win the game as quickly as possible. This is my 3-0 deck from Day 2 of GP Mexico a few weeks ago.
Notice the sideboard. I chose not to play cards like Affectionate Indrik and Bounty of Might. Now this is very extreme and I would normally almost never do that, but I felt like all I wanted to do was cast some early creatures, ramp them into one of the six convoke monsters, and win the game quickly. I’m not interested in a card that costs 6 mana because if it’s rotting in my hand when all I need is a 2-drop to cast everything a turn earlier—it can be the difference between winning or losing. Basically, I am giving up the power of Bounty of Might for the cheaper cost of Take Heart because I am guaranteed that I will be able to cast it and I think it’s going to end in the same result. If my deck was weak, I would definitely put Bounty in it to try to steal some wins that way, but I felt that my deck was so good that I didn’t want to risk having an uncastable card in my hand.
This was also early in the format when Boros and Izzet aggro were the most popular decks, and almost no one wanted to draft slower decks like Golgari, which made my decision even easier. I chose to play Pack‘s Favor because I thought it gave the creature trample (the cards were in Spanish). Now I would replace it with a second Take Heart. Sworn Companions was also a concession to Boros being very popular. Now I’d just play Fresh-Faced Recruit and Devkarin Dissident instead. Hunted Witness normally isn’t great if you can’t mentor on it, but here it can allow a turn-3 Rosemane Centaur, which is good enough for me.
Being the only Selesnya drafter gave me access to tons of sideboard cards that I was able to utilize in my last round playing for Top 8 against a very fast Izzet deck with at least three copies of Sonic Assault and other aggressive cards like Leapfrog, Gravitic Punch, Maximize Altitude, and Sure Strike. I lost game 1 handily as by the time I was able to get a Siege Wurm into play, my opponent tapped it twice with a Sonic Assault and easily finished me off with a flyer and an army of Goblin Electromancers.
Let’s do a little What’s the Play exercise. Take a look at the sideboard, and think about what you would do differently for games 2 and 3.
This is obviously a very specific scenario, and usually Izzet decks will be more spell heavy, focusing on cards like Hypothesizzle and finishers like Crackling Drake and Niv-Mizzet, but I want to use this example to demonstrate how you can turn an entire matchup around by sideboarding correctly. You aren’t going to win if your plan is to take an entire turn off from attacking by tapping your team and resolving one big convoke creature. That’s exactly what your opponent, who is holding a Sonic Assault, wants to see. So you need to change your game plan. Lower your curve as much as possible, bring in the life gain cards, and try to go under your opponent. Cut all the expensive convoke creatures and replace them with more early drops. You will now also be able to freely trade your 2/2s for Electromancers and other early drops because you no longer need them to stick around for convoke.
You also make their cards much worse now. Gravitic Punch and Cosmotronic Wave are only good if you are finishing the game with them. They are not very effective when you are spending 4 mana and your entire turn to take your opponent from 16 to 12. Similarly, Sure Strike is much more effective when you are pressuring your opponent into blocking your 2/2 with a Siege Wurm and trading your 2 mana for their 7, but much less exciting if there are only small creatures fighting each other on both sides of the board.
This is what my deck looked like for games 2 and 3.
It worked out exactly as intended, and I was able to win both games by gaining enough life from my Centaurs, lifelink tokens, and Take Hearts to make most of their deck ineffective. Normally I’d bring in Affectionate Indrik to have some late game and an answer for flying creatures. I would also probably bring in Loxodon Restorer, but I expect to see Disdainful Stroke after sideboard and want to have as few targets for it as possible. I could see going to 16 lands, but with the two Conclave Guildmages, I still have something to do if I draw a lot of lands. I took out Prey Upon as well because I didn’t have big creatures anymore.
Cards you should be focused on for the aggro convoke deck: Rosemane Centaur, Conclave Cavalier, Vernadi Shieldmate, Kraul Harpooner, Skyline Scout, Ledev Champion, Roc Charger, Might of the Masses, Luminous Bonds
The other deck you can draft is Selesnya control, where you often end up splashing black for removal like Status // Statue, or red for something like Integrity // Intervention. You usually end up here by first picking some of the slower rares like Camaraderie and March of the Multitudes.
This was my 2-1 deck from Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. This one is more midrange than control, but it gives you an idea.
I am not interested in cards like Healer’s Hawk here because I am trying to win the late game with cards like Find // Finality and Vivid Revival. In this draft it was clear to me that there were probably multiple people drafting Boros and Izzet, as I saw almost no cards in those colors. I ended up in this slower version of Abzan with a good mix of removal, card quality, and enough fixing to be able to get away with not playing a Swamp. I don’t mind playing Crushing Canopy as the games will go long and I’ll be more likely to find a good target for it.
Cards to look for in this archetype are going to be mostly the rares and uncommons. Let’s say you open your Sealed deck and look at Divine Visitation, Dawn of Hope, and Trostani. I would try to build a slower Selesnya deck that focuses on the late game, with cards like Sumala Woodshaper to find my bombs and combo pieces. I’d be happy playing cards like Hitchclaw Recluse and Generous Stray to help me get there because I am not trying to be aggressive.
Generally, these are the Selesnya cards that I find over or underrated by most players.
Might of the Masses: In most games, this card isn’t far from a 1-mana Fireball. Pick it highly. It’s both a finisher and a way to save your guy from Artful Takedown, and every time you trade 1 mana for 4, you are coming out ahead.
Guildgates: Especially if you are green, splashing is very easy. District Guide, Urban Utopia, and Flower // Flourish are even more ways to easily splash in a green deck. There are many gold bombs like Trostani, Find // Finality, and Response // Resurgence that you want to be able to play if you see them.
Parhelion Patrol: On turn 4 I want to be able to convoke a big creature, not get a 2/3 into play. You don’t need the evasion if you have enough fatties. You also very rarely have anything to mentor.
Sumala Woodshaper: The above example with multiple rares that I can find with its ability is pretty much one of the very few scenarios where I want to have this card in my deck. If my deck is relatively fast with all small creatures and Siege Wurms, I don’t want Sumala Woodshaper anywhere near my deck, as the tempo you are giving up by paying 4 mana for a 2/1 creature is just too big a price to pay.
Arboretum Elemental, Flight of Equenauts: Don’t put these cards in your deck. They will rot in your hand and by the time you finally have enough guys in play to convoke them into play, your opponent will most likely have enough in play to attack you back for lethal. It’s a similar trap to Venerated Loxodon in White Weenie mirrors in Constructed.
Sprouting Renewal: If this card were an instant, I could see it. Being able to blow up Luminous Bonds at instant speed could be a game-winning play. But as a sorcery, this card is just too weak and 3 mana for a 2/2 is just too much.
Intrusive Packbeast: I see way too many people put this guy into their Selesnya deck. The card is barely playable in Boros if you really need something to punch through for the last couple points of damage with your small creatures, but your game plan here is to win with Rosemane Centaurs and Siege Wurms, and they don’t need this kind of help.
I’ll focus on Golgari, Izzet, and Dimir next time!