Ah, the prerelease. Back when I was a kid, prereleases were the best tournaments by far. We didn’t have a lot of tournaments, we had even less big tournaments, and we had almost no Sealed tournaments. The prerelease was a big Sealed event (we’ve always had one big prerelease over small flights; I much prefer this way) that let you play with new cards to boot, so it’s fair to say it was the highlight of my month every time it happened.
I remember, multiple times, not being able to sleep well in anticipation of the event (which is what happens in Pro Tours now).
Then, we started having customs problems. As you may already know, we had a period of years in which we hardly got any cards in Brazil, and those we did get were always months late. As such, prereleases lost all the magic—it’s no fun playing Sealed with the “new set” after you’ve been playing Constructed with it for months.
A couple of years ago, we started to get prereleases back, but they just weren’t as enjoyable. The store had moved to a smaller location (and when you don’t even get packs to sell who can blame them?), and they divided the tournament into two days, because the room would not fit everyone, whereas before we’d have, say, 90 people in a tournament (which definitely classifies as big for us). Now we’d have two tournaments with 30-40.
That’s not very exciting at all—I like big tournaments, they mean something. I don’t play FNM because it’s 10 people and winning it (or losing) doesn’t invoke any feelings, and a prerelease with 30 people is only one or two more rounds than that.
By then, Wizards had also started doing promotional things in prereleases that I didn’t like. I didn’t play the previous one, for example, because I just wanted to play Magic, but wouldn’t want to play against an opponent who was trying to get the “get four creatures with flying into play” reward rather than trying to beat me.
Don’t ge me wrong, I understand why those things are done, they just aren’t for me, and, as such, I stayed home. It didn’t help that I dislike the new store location, either, and that the social aspect has lost much of its appeal. Before, I’d go to a tournament in which I knew over 50 players, and now I barely know 5. I honestly can’t recall the last prerelease I played (though I know it was after Rise of the Eldrazi). I think I won it, but I could be wrong. It didn’t change much anyway, and, when you win a tournament and feel nothing, then why would you play?
Return to Ravnica changed things around. I’m not sure it’s the set, or just the moment in my life, but this set’s got me a lot more excited about Magic than any recent ones. I keep thinking about it—the cards, the interactions; I keep building Standard decks in my head even though I know I won’t play them for the next three months and then a metagame will already be established. My school notepads are full of Modern decklists on the back, just like they used to be (though whether that’s a testament to how awesome the set is or how boring my classes are this semester is unclear).
I decided that, since I was in this “Magic fever,” I might as well play the prerelease. Things got even better when I went to the store website and found out that they were holding the tournament at a different location, which meant not two 40-person tournaments but two 90-person tournaments (one Saturday and one Sunday)! That got rid of the “small tournament” problem AND the location problem all at once! I called them—
“Hey, I’d like to register for the pre-release on Sunday.”
“Both days are full, you can be on the waiting list.”
“How many people do you have on it?”
“40 on each day.”
Oh well, wasn’t that a letdown. Still, it was weird—we had never really had that many players, how had we gotten 260 people to play in a pre-release? Soon the answer was obvious—people were playing in both tournaments. Not only that, but they were on the waiting list for both tournaments.
I asked if a person would be removed from Sunday’s waiting list if they got in on the Saturday tournament, and the attendant said no, they’d just stay in the Sunday list as well, and would play both. Now if this was up to me, it would definitely not be this way – the point of the Pre-Release is to promote the new set, enjoy the new cards and to have fun, after all, and it’s much better to give the experience to two different people than to give it to one person twice. Alas, it is not up to me, so I’ll probably not get a spot.
Anyway, this article is not about me not playing the prerelease, it’s about you playing it. As you probably know, the Return to Ravnica prerelease is different than its predecessors (though every prerelease has been different in some way for a while) in that you pick a guild before you play, and then you get a promo card (that you can actually play), and a special pack of that guild.
Since I’ve gotten many “what Guild should I choose?” questions, I’ve decided to write this article to help you decide (and also to complain about the fact that I don’t have a spot; maybe 40 people who are playing on both days feel guilty and decide to drop from the Sunday competition).
The short answer for the question is just “whichever you want.” Again, this tournament is about having fun, and if you think you’ll enjoy yourself more playing Selesnya, you should do so even if I tell you it’s the “worst guild” to pick.
Even if that was not the case, though, I’d say they did a very good job balancing the guilds—they each have weaknesses and strengths, and any guild can win the tournament. They’re also so close in power level that I could be completely wrong in my evaluations, so if you feel tempted towards one, don’t let me sway you. Barring that, though, let’s take a general look:
You should definitely play a guild (which means no BW decks or anything), but you don’t necessarily have to play the guild you choose. Yes, it will generally be correct, but to say you have to is to restrain yourself for no reason. A lot of the time, it will be correct to play a different guild, and then splash the second color from your original guild. There are many fixers in the set, and this is definitely a possibility.
Interestingly enough, there is no “perfect” three-color combination. There are none that let you get three guilds (surely this is not an accident). Furthermore, every guild has a color it isn’t likely to play—If you’re main Izzet, for example, you’ll have a hard time playing green with it, since Simic and Gruul are both unavailable. Azorius should avoid black, rakdos should avoid white, Selesnya should avoid red and Golgari should avoid blue. Other than that, most things are fair game.
To analyze the cards from each guild, I’m going to use these as a baseline.
This is not official, and we don’t really
Other possible theories are “only cards with a symbol” (not likely, since not enough variation I think—Selesnya for example has only eleven commons with watermark, and though it is possible that all of the packs have the same commons, I don’t think it’s likely), or cards from those colors with any symbol, which I think is less likely too because you shouldn’t be Selesnya and be playing [card]Martial Law[/card]—it’s just not right.
Promo: Archon of the Triumvirate[draft]Archon of the Triumvirate[/draft]
Archon is the most powerful promo by a significant amount, since it’s usually game over if you ever untap with it. That said, it does cost seven, which means it’s great in some decks but not that good if you’d rather be more aggressive. It’s very splashable, and, if you pick Azorius, you’ll play it in any control deck whether you actually play the two colors or not.
Breaking down the rares:
Very good: [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], [card isperia, supreme judge]Isperia[/card], [card]Martial Law[/card], [card]Sphinx of the Chimes[/card]
Good: [card]Detention Sphere[/card]
Decent: [card]Precint Captain[/card], [card]Azor’s Elocutors[/card]
Playable: [card]Righteous Authority[/card], [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card], [card]Palisade Giant[/card]
Sideboard: [card]Rest in Peace[/card], [card]Conjured Currency[/card] (I guess? I’m not boarding this in… let’s call it unplayable)
Unplayable: [card]Search the City[/card]
What’s interesting is that every one of these cards has a much higher likelihood of being in their deck than normal—one in thirteen, aside the normal packs. If you’re serious about it, you should watch out for them. More decks than normal will have [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], for example, but if someone plays a [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card], then you can generally go back to “standard percentages.”
If this is correct, you have a 5/13 chance of opening something good, and a 3/13 chance to miss.
As far as uncommons go, you have one of the best we’ve seen lately: [card]Skymark Roc[/card]. Really, is this card beatable? The [card new prahv guildmage]Guildmage[/card] and the [card azorius charm]Charm[/card] are both of average strength I’d say (compared to the other guild’s Guildmages and Charms, that is—Guildmage is obviously a much better than average card). [card]Arrest[/card] and [card]Lyev Skyknight[/card] are also very good.
For commons, you have A LOT of very solid fliers at three or four mana, to the point where I’ll be very surprised if an Azorius deck doesn’t curve a flying three-drop into a flying four-drop. If you’re playing against Azorius, watch out for [card]Hussar Patrol[/card].
You have some defensive cards, but the bulk of the archetype seems to be aggressive fliers, which diminishes the power of your promo card somewhat (not that it isn’t still great). Detain is an awesome ability, but it gains more value on offense, particularly in a racing situation, because it stops both a block and an attack. If you’re on defense, then you’re just going to use one half of it.
Promo: Hypersonic Dragon[draft]Hypersonic Dragon[/draft]
The Dragon is probably the best of the promo cards—it’s going to be good in any deck, and it’s also splashable.
Very good: [card niv-mizzet, dracogenius]Niv-Mizzet[/card], [card]Mercurial Chemister[/card], [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card], [card]Sphinx of the Chimes[/card]
Good: [card]Cyclonic Rift[/card] (Rift might be very good)
Decent: [card]Ash Zealot[/card]
Playable: [card]Counterflux[/card] (Don’t forget you can’t counter [card supreme verdict]Wrath[/card]!), [card]Steam Vents[/card]
Unplayable: [card]Search the City[/card], [card]Conjured Currency[/card], [card]Guild Feud[/card] (only because I have no idea what it does), [card]Nivmagus Elemental[/card], [card]Firemind’s Foresight[/card]
Well well… Izzet’s top end is a lot more powerful than Azorius, as those cards are REALLY good, but its medium/lower end is so much worse. A third of the time you’ll get a bomb, but every time you don’t your card will be mediocre to unplayable.
Uncommons: [card]Street Spasm[/card] is pretty good. Solid removal plus a [card]Pyroclasm[/card] for them at six mana, kills most guys in the set for eight, which means it’s not as good as [card mizzium mortars]Mortars[/card], but still a very versatile and potentially powerful card.
The biggest problem is that it doesn’t hit fliers, and Azorius is all fliers—if you play against that, consider siding it out. Other than that I think the best you’re looking at is [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card], which is not that impressive . The [card nivix guildmage]Guildmage[/card] is underpowered and the [card izzet charm]Charm[/card] is average.
Commons: [card]Annihilating Fire[/card] is the best common by miles, but other than that things dry up pretty quickly. You share some of Azorius’s fliers, but not a critical mass. I can’t even tell what the next best common is because they’re all mediocre.
Overall, Izzet seems like it wants to go big or die trying with its impressive spells. You have decent late game with overload, you have some removal, but the average card quality seems to not be very high.
Promo: Carnival Hellsteed[draft]carnival hellsteed[/draft]
The Hellsteed is a powerful card, but not as powerful as the Dragon or the Archon. It is splashable in any deck, so you’ll always play it. I recommend not “unleashing” it unless there is specifically a six-toughness creature you want to get through (or if you are
Very good: [card rakdos, lord of riots]Rakdos[/card], [card]Chaos Imps[/card], [card]Desecration Demon[/card]
Good: [card]Underworld Connections[/card], [card]Pack Rat[/card], [card]Dreadbore[/card]
Decent: [card]Ash Zealot[/card]
Playable: [card]Cryptborn Horror[/card], [card]Blood Crypt[/card], [card]Grave Betrayal[/card]
Unplayable: [card]Havoc Festival[/card], [card]Guild Feud[/card], [card]Slaughter Games[/card] (fun fact: you can always name their promo card and hit blindly. It’s still not playable)
You have about 50% to get a good card, and, if it’s not good, then it has a 50% chance of being playable. This gives the same miss percentage as Azorius, and the power level in those cards is, I think, similar.
Uncommons: Average [card Rix maadi guildmage]Guildmage[/card], bad [card rakdos charm]Charm[/card]. Two of the uncommon unleash guys are really powerful ([card]Bloodfray Giant[/card] and [card]Hellhole Flayer[/card]), and, in a set without many two-drops, [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] might be very good. For all of those you do want to unleash in the dark, since you’re probably going to be aggressive.
Commons: I think [card]Annihilating Fire[/card] is still the best common, but [card]Augur Spree[/card] is also insanely good. Most of the time it’s removal—it’ll rarely be a pump spell, but it’ll make the difference when it does come to that. [card]Stab Wound[/card] is also premium, which puts Rakdos as the best color regarding top commons by a significant amount.
Overall, Rakdos feels very powerful—it has a ton of removal, and it is much faster than the rest of the format; though Azorius, for example, is also aggressive, it has no early drops. The problem with Rakdos is that you’re a man with a plan, and if that doesn’t work, you aren’t left with much—your unleash guys are extremely powerful if you unleash them, but underpowered if you don’t, so if you have to play a blocking game then you’ll be left with a bunch of bad cards in your deck. Even if you’re attacking, not being able to block doesn’t come free—most attackers double as blockers, but yours don’t.
Promo: Corpsejack Menace[draft]Corpsejack Menace[/draft]
The strength of this card depends on your deck (well, duh)—it’s always going to be very solid, but it could be just that or absurdly good. It’s definitely a good splash if you’re Rakdos, since it doubles up unleash, but probably not a very good one if you’re Selesnya.
Very good: [card]Deadbridge Goliath[/card], [card]Desecration Demon[/card] (though it is worse here than it is in Rakdos)
Good: [card]Underworld Connections[/card], [card]Pack Rat[/card], [card jarad, golgari lich lord]Jarad[/card], [card]Lotleth Troll[/card]
Decent: [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], [card]Jarad’s Orders[/card], [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]
Playable: [card]Grave Betrayal[/card], [card]Wild Beastmaster[/card] (becomes very good if you have a ton of cheap scavenge, unplayable without), [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card]
Unplayable: [card]Mana Bloom[/card], [card]Death’s Presence[/card]
Golgari is definitely outclassed when it comes to rares—its best cards are not as good as other Guild’s best cards. And it doesn’t have a bunch of solid cards to make up for that—it’s good and decent cards are not that great either.
I wish I could say Golgari makes up for its rares with its uncommons but it doesn’t—it has the second best [card Korozda Guildmage]Guildmage[/card], and [card]Dreg Mangler[/card] is great, but after that it lacks in comparison to even Rakdos’s commons.[card]Commons:[/card] [card]Stab Wound[/card] and [card]Axebane Guardian[/card] are the best commons here. Since you have [card axebane guardian]Guardian[/card] and [card gatecreeper vine]Gatecreeper[/card], more attention should be paid to the black cards you can splash, since you could easily be Selesnya with black (or just play four colors, but then you’re on your own).
Unfortunately, all of black’s top rares present a heavy commitment. Also keep in mind that you have [card]Aerial Predation[/card] against all the Azorius mages.
Overall, Golgari has the strongest mechanic in Limited, but a weak card pool to balance for that. A Golgari deck is never going to be bad, it’s rarely going to lose to straight mana flood, but it’ll rarely demolish the opponent with powerful cards—slowly defeating them with your card advantage seems to be the way to end most games.
Promo: Grove of the Guardian[draft]grove of the guardian[/draft]
Grove is not as good as the other promo cards, I don’t think, but it’s still pretty good. Obviously awesome with populate, it’s also splashable, though if you do that you probably want 18 lands.
Very good: [card]Collective Blessing[/card], [card]Growing Ranks[/card], [card]Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice[/card]
Good: [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card], [card]Wayfaring Temple[/card]
Decent: [card]Precinct Captain[/card]
Playable: [card]Temple Garden[/card], [card]Palisade Giant[/card], [card]Wild Beastmaster[/card]
Sideboard: [card]Rest in Peace[/card]
Unplayable: [card]Death’s Presence[/card], [card]Mana Bloom[/card]
Good rares, but not as good as Izzet’s—overall unexciting but solid.
Now we’re talking! Selesnya has the best [card Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage]Guildmage[/card] and the best [card selesnya charm]Charm[/card], as well as the very efficient [card]Call of the Conclave[/card] and the very powerful [card]Arrest[/card]. Other than that, you gave some solid guys.
Commons:[card]Centaur Healer[/card], [card]Common Bond[/card], and [card]Coursers’ Accord[/card] all seem very good. The common populate spells are potentially awesome (you get at least one good target in Guardian), and often offer two-for-ones, and all your guys are very beefy—at least 3/3s, costing usually less than Rakdos’s would, and they can block! You also get [card]Sunspire Griffin[/card] and [card]Aerial Predation[/card], two Azorius counters.
Overall, Selesnya seems very strong. Its guys are cheap enough that it can overpower you with a quick offense, yet many of the cards are two-for-ones or very big guys, letting you play the long game just as well.
Before we wrap up, some rankings!
#1 – Izzet
#2 – Azorius
#3 – Rakdos
#4 – Golgari
#5 – Selesnya
#1 – Selesnya
#2 – Golgari
#3 – Azorius
#4 – Rakdos
#5 – Izzet
#1 – Selesnya
#2 – Izzet
#3 – Azorius
#4 – Golgari
#5 – Rakdos
#1 – Rakdos
#2 – Azorius
#3 – Selesnya
#4 – Golgari
#5 – Izzet
#1 – Azorius
#2 – Selesnya
#3 – Rakdos
#4 – Golgari
#5 – Izzet
So, this is my order overall. I think Izzet is the most underpowered, but it has the best rares of all guilds and balances it out with the best promo, which is huge because you will always have it. Overall, though, I still think it’s the worst choice—which doesn’t make it a bad choice, because, again, none of the choices are bad, and Izzet is certainly playable and able to win the tournament like any other guild.
As a bonus, I think Izzet has the best Constructed cards. Golgari gets fourth because it’s solid, but unexciting. Rakdos gets third place because it’s inconsistent, and it can only do one thing, and a thing that’s generally not good in Sealed at that—this is no ordinary Sealed, though, and if it resembles drafting more, then Rakdos will be better.
I suspect the very best decks (that do not necessarily contain multiple bomb rares) will be Rakdos, or Selesnya if they get the key commons and uncommons. Selesnya gets second because, as I mentioned before, it looks like it has superb early and late game.
Azorius is first because its commons are very good and fliers are always awesome, and it has a very good mix of powerful cards and consistent cards. I think the average Azorius deck will always be good, whereas the good Rakdos and good Selesnya decks will be better but their averages worse. So, Azorius is the safe choice—which, again, doesn’t make it the correct choice!
Well, that’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and good luck at your prerelease, whichever guild you choose!