Welcome to part 2 of my Guilds of Ravnica Limited guide. You can find part 1 here.
There seem to be a lot of people saying that green is bad, to the point they consider it almost unplayable. While I don’t think that’s the case, Golgari could certainly use some help. Satyr Wayfinder or Grisly Salvage would go a long way toward making Golgari more exciting to draft. But the fact that people seem to be avoiding green makes up for it. This means you are going to get a lot of good cards fairly late. Getting a late pick Status // Statue or tabling a Conclave Guildmage is pretty common.
There are two ways to draft Golgari. Both involve trying to fill their graveyard with creatures without actually having any cards in the set that do that other than Glowspore Shaman, so it’s quite a challenge. The first is basically a normal deck with creatures, tricks, removal, and some Rhizome Lurchers as finishers. You should be focusing on deathtouch creatures and a good curve with a lot of 2-drops and 3-drops (this is a common theme for Golgari, Selesnya, and Boros) you are looking to pressure your opponent with into trading and filling your graveyard naturally that way.
This deck has tons of synergies going on. I’m looking to use Ironshell Beetle mostly to put a counter on my Ochran Assassin and kill two of their best creatures that way. Beetle and Stray are good fodder for Severed Strands. Swarm Guildmage is another way to have Assassin take down two creatures at once. Lotleth Giant is a great finisher for these kind of decks because by the time you play it, your graveyard can easily have 5-10 creatures in it. Hatchery Spider, while not usually too exciting, has a lot of good hits highlighted by two Golgari Findbrokers. Kraul Harpooner is the perfect kind of creature for this deck as it fills a lot of different roles. It’s an aggressive 2-drop, it can take down a big flying creature while adding a creature in your graveyard, and the fact that it has reach means you don’t have to feel bad for playing it early when there are no targets because you can still block a Skyknight Legionnaire with it later.
The “combo” cards like Generous Stray and Burglar Rats are only really serviceable if you are using them as fodder for Severed Strands or Undercity Uprising. Otherwise, their bodies are just too bad to have any real impact on the game. If you are Golgari, there are very few cards that you should pick over Rhizome Lurcher. Playing it as a 4-mana 10/10 later in the game isn’t unusual. You are just looking to trade a bunch of creatures, use removal on what you can’t block with deathtouch, and then play a big Lurcher. Pump spells are usually mediocre in Golgari decks as you actually do want to trade instead of saving your guys.
Make sure you sideboard appropriately. Hired Poisoner is the perfect card against another green deck because you will be trading 1 mana for 3-5, but it’s really bad against Izzet or Dimir because they’ll ignore it and kill you with flyers. Against blue decks, I’m usually looking to bring in more high power creatures like Spinal Centipede and take out the low impact, 1-power guys. Similarly, cards like Hitchclaw Recluse should absolutely not be in your deck when you are playing against Golgari or Selesnya.
Kraul Foragers: This card can completely turn around a damage race and get you back to a comfortable life total. The 4/4 body is also very solid.
Prey Upon: Don’t play it without a lot of high-toughness creatures. Using it in combination with deathtouch creatures like Hired Poisoner might seem like a good way to kill anything, but you are still 2-for-1’ing yourself, and that’s never a winning strategy in Limited.
Erstwhile Trooper: This card looks much better than how it actually plays out and is very unexciting. If it said “discard any card,” I’d be happy to play it, but as is, your opponent is just going to block it with their 2-mana 2/2, and what are you going to do? Discard your 4-drop to save it? I’d still play it if I were desperately looking for 3-drops in a deck with 20 creatures, but otherwise, stay away from it.
Severed Strands, Undercity Uprising, Generous Stray, Burglar Rat: As I mentioned above, only play these cards together if your deck can support it. Using Burglar Rat as just another 2-drop in your curve when you are trying to be aggressive is not going to work.
Izzet is the guild with the highest ceiling. There are two ways to draft it. One way to end up in Izzet is by opening a Niv-Mizzet or Murmuring Mystic and just drafting a control deck focusing on removal spells and card draw. It’s not unusual to end up splashing black for Notion Rain and Artful Takedown.
Even though some of the cards in the deck aren’t what we would like to play, he correctly identified that if you have two Niv-Mizzet in your pool, you should do whatever it takes to play them. There are many things wrong with this build, though. First of all, if I have two 6-mana bombs that easily win games on their own, I need to make sure I can actually cast them. 16 lands in this deck is criminal, even with so many cards that cost 2. I’d almost always play 18 and just cut some of the bad creatures. Splashing white for two extra spells is trying to make Beacon Bolt and Niv-Mizzet even better, but I don’t think we need that here. I’d rather make my deck as consistent as possible. I looked in his sideboard, and this is how I would build it.
17 lands and Izzet Locket is a good compromise between 17 and 18. You can also discard Locket to Hypothesizzle. It’s possible that there should be an 18th land anyway over Passwall Adept. I’d rather have good mana and a weaker Beacon Bolt than risk drawing my 6th land and have it come into play tapped when I am holding a Niv-Mizzet. Wishcoin Crab is a perfectly fine high-toughness blocker that I am happy to have in a deck like this. Halberdier, Adept, Leapfrog, Urchin, and Sure Strike are all cards I am quite unhappy to have in this deck, but two Niv-Mizzets are worth the trouble.
The other way to draft Izzet is aggro. It’s usually what happens when things go wrong, but the advantage is that your opponent almost never plays around the cards that are actually in your deck, and they end up dying to cards they did not see coming.
This was a deck my friend took to a 2nd place finish in a Magic Online PTQ. It looked horrible, but actually played out really nicely. The key to make decks like these work is cards like Sonic Assault and Wee Dragonauts. This is the only version of Izzet where you are interested in Wojek Bodyguard. Ideally you want to discard jump-start spells to Hypothesizzle.
There are some nice tricks you can do with Izzet decks like attack with Vedalken Mesmerist, give a creature -2-0, and then kill it with Invert by switching its power and toughness. Alternatively, you can use Connive // Concoct to steal a 4-power creature this way.
The best Izzet decks are somewhere in the middle—midrange decks with solid curves, removal, and tricks. You can still use Sonic Assault in the control version and set up two big attacks with Piston-Fist Cyclops.
Dimir is all about surveil and controlling your draws to make sure you never run out of gas. You want to focus on getting the cards with surveil first and take the payoffs later. So start with something like Deadly Visit or Watcher in the Mist and pick up those Darkblade Agents later to make sure you have enough ways to trigger them. Counterspells are solid playables here, especially Devious Cover-Up. You will often be fairly low on win conditions, so getting to shuffle some of them back is important to avoid running out of ways to close out the game.
Disdainful Stroke is also a fine main deck card, and both counterspells also work well with Unexplained Disappearance. Ideally you want to have a couple big flyers in addition to something like Dimir Spybug and Whispering Snitch. Make sure you don’t play too many vanilla creatures that don’t actually do anything, like Passwall Adept and Wall of Mist. Walls are especially bad in this set because of the high volume of deathtouch creatures and creatures with mentor.
This was a perfectly good looking Dimir deck.
Dimir isn’t easy to draft as it can be tough to find the right mix of surveil cards and payoff spells but if you get it right, you will be rewarded. Something as simple as Thoughtbound Phantasm into Nightveil Sprite is one of the best openings you can possibly have in this format. Chaining spell into spell while watching your opponent draw a bunch of useless lands in the late game is pretty sweet. Disinformation Campaign and Nightveil Predator are two of the best cards in the set and it’s perfectly fine to move in on Dimir if you open them. Both Dead Weight and Deadly Visit have an important role, and ideally you want some number of each rather than multiples of one.
Dazzling Lights: Cheap way to win combat and get a surveil trigger, especially in combination with deathtouch creatures.
Douser of Lights: I don’t mind playing this guy, as the 5 points of toughness mean that it survives some of the top removal spells like Hypothesizzle or Lava Coil, and it can take down Rosemane Centaur while also being a solid attacker. I much prefer Douser over cards like Wall of Mist.
Mephitic Vapors: Great sideboard card, especially against Boros.
That’s it for the guilds! Here are some general thoughts to close things out:
If you look into your sideboard, you will almost always find at least 3-5 cards that you should bring in for different matchups. Don’t be lazy.
Even though a lot of the cards have just one color, they very often function only in one of the guilds. For example, cards like Gird for Battle, Parhelion Patrol or Intrusive Packbeast are all cards that you can put into a Boros deck, but they don’t at all fit into Selesnya. This also often allows two neighbors in the Draft to share the same color without really screwing each other too much.
This set can be very punishing when it comes to down to playing your lands or keeping cards in hand. For example, having Notion Rain in your deck incentivizes you to play a land every turn, even if it’s the last card in your hand and you have some bluffing equity. On the other hand, jump-start means that keeping a useless land in hand is usually a good idea. When playing against black, you have to keep Burglar Rats in mind and try not to get into a position where the last card in hand is your most powerful.
I’m not a big fan of the 5-color “Gates” archetype. Having over half of your lands come into play tapped is a real downside and there aren’t actually very many game-winning bombs like we are used to. Splashing for Guildmages, Artful Takedown, and Rosemane Centaurs isn’t exactly why I would want to be in 5 colors. Glaive of the Guildpact is sometimes “accidentally” good in your deck, but not something I would want to build my deck around.
Rampaging Monument is pretty good with 4-5+ multicolored spells and easily goes into every archetype. Gatekeeper Gargoyle is too slow for Draft but it’s a great Sealed card where you always happen to have some Guildgates lying around.
The format is a bit slower unless you are playing against a Boros deck, but you still usually want go first unless you have a lot cheap removal like Dead Weight or play a slow matchup. For example, if I am playing a Golgari mirror where we both have a lot of Hired Poisoners, I’m going to choose to draw because the extra card will matter much more than going first. On the other hand, if I have a Dimir deck with a couple Darkblade Agents, then I for sure want to play first.
I think the general consensus is that Dimir and Izzet are the best guilds, followed by Boros, and far behind are Selesnya and Golgari. When you look at the best commons and uncommons, it’s hard to disagree with that. But when everyone knows that and tries to draft blue, it makes all the Izzet and Dimir decks weaker and the one or two players drafting Selesnya and Golgari usually end up with pretty strong decks, so the format actually kind of balances itself out. Just make sure to read the signals and figure out what’s open.
Good luck at GP Warsaw or in your next local Draft!