This weekend, I had the pleasure of playing some Guild of Ravnica Sealed events, both online and in person at my local prerelease. I had a blast, and I find Guilds of Ravnicato be very fun, as well as filled with interesting decisions. Mentor and Jump-Start in particular lend themselves to impactful choices, and in very different ways.
Jump-Start forces you to make choices about how many lands to play and how many expensive cards to put in your deck, and since so many of the cards are situational, it heavily incentivizes you to craft situations where the effect is powerful. Deliberately crafting a plan or trap and realizing it is one of my favorite things to do in Magic, and I was very happy to have chosen the Izzet guild for my prerelease.
Meanwhile Mentor leads to hard combat decisions. Should you attack and trade with your mentor creature to get a +1/+1 counter while you can, or should you try to wait to draw a removal spell or combat trick? How valuable is the +1/+1 counter? Which creature should you mentor onto?
These are all tough questions with no clear answer, which leads to fun games in my opinion. This article isn’t just a vehicle to sing the praises of GRN though. I’ll be talking about my impressions of Sealed as a whole, as well as each guild and their important commons.
The Guilds of Ravnica Sealed format is medium-speed. Most decks are relatively slow and midrange-y, but some decks are fast, aggressive, and snowball quickly.
Boros and Selesnya in particular can get out of hand quickly if you aren’t prepared to fight off early creatures. The Mentor mechanic very obviously snowballs advantage, as if they have a profitable attack to get one +1/+1 counter, they probably have a profitable attack next turn to get more +1/+1 counters. The Convoke mechanic can also put quite large creatures into play quite quickly, and you should be prepared to face down a swathe of early 4/4s.
That said, these types of decks are not uncommon, but neither are they the norm. Pretty much every guild will usually have midrange builds, even Boros. Guildgates entering the battlefield tapped slows down both players, and there are lots of good expensive cards. My advice is to build your deck with mostly midrange mirrors in mind, but try to include some cards for aggro, and at least make sure you have access to them in a sideboard. I also would not draw first if you do not know what your opponent is playing.
The commons and uncommons in Guilds of Ravnica are very good, and many have a power level on-par with that of the rares. As a result, when building a sealed deck, I am more interested in figuring out my deepest colors. I want to play as many gold cards of my guild(s) as I can, and will generally gravitate towards whichever color combination allows me to do so.
Of course, since you are guaranteed six guildgates, splashing powerful cards can often be easy, and you shouldn’t be afraid to branch out to a third or possibly fourth and fifth color. Make sure you have a legitimate reason for doing so, however. Guilds of Ravnica has a lot of playables, and many of the cards are very good, so you can frequently build a very solid two to three color deck and not have to take the hit in consistency to play your other rares.
Below, I’m going to talk mostly about the individual guilds, and in particular I’m going to talk about cards that should draw you to that guild specifically. Everyone knows Luminous Bonds should draw you to white, but it doesn’t really help you decide between Boros and Selesnya. I’m not going to talk about building 4-5c midrange decks, because they generally follows the same rules as other formats: Play a lot of mana fixing, a lot of removal, and a lot of bombs. The only noteworthy thing about this format is that you must have a plan to beat Nightveil Predator. Many opponents will play it because it is so powerful, and I’ve seen it single handedly dismantle very good decks. Even if that plan is just to sideboard in 3/1 fliers, make sure you have some way to beat it.
The Boros guild leans aggressive, but can play a midrange game because its expensive cards are still quite good. Swathcutter Giant, Book Devourer, Hellkite Whelp, Inescapable Blaze, Command the Storm, and Garrison Sergeant are all good cards that cost 5+ mana. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into playing 15-16 lands and ignoring all but one or two of these powerful cards. Boros decks value combat tricks highly, because of their ability to keep a Mentor creature alive after a combat step. Many of the Mentor creatures have high power and low toughness, which makes them surviving a combat step unlikely without help. I believe Take Heart is a bit better than Sure Strike, but both are good.
I think Boros cards to look for in your pool are Skyknight Legionnaire, Inspiring Unicorn, Roc Charger, and Mentor creatures. There are a lot of Mentor creatures and they roughly fall into two camps: creatures with two or less power, and creatures with 3 or more power. If you see you have a lot of the smaller ones, you should make sure to include enough creatures with 1 power to mentor onto, like Healer’s Hawk or Torch Courier. With the larger ones, it’s more important to have evasive creatures to Mentor onto, which is why Skyknight Legionnaire is so important. Round out your deck with a few removal spells and you should be good to go.
My favorite guild, Izzet can be built as a control deck or as an aggressive deck, depending on what cards you open. Izzet has multiple good removal spells like Hypothesizzle and Beacon Bolt that fit in control as a way to remove threats, and aggro as a way to remove blockers. Opening cards like Piston-Fist Cyclops and Sonic Assault should make you want to build the more aggressive version, as both cards really shine when trying to reduce your opponents life total to zero.
Sonic Assault in particular I think is pretty underrated. The card is capable of dealing an enormous amount of damage to your opponent. If you unlock an attack with a 3 power creature, that’s TEN damage over the course of two turns! Maximize Velocity and Maximize Altitude are also playable aggressive cards that lean into the spell theme of Izzet.
Cards like Chemister’s Insight, Hypothesizzle, and Watcher in the Mist (yes I know it has a Dimir watermark) should make you lean in the other direction however, as these cards are best in a more controlling build. They are still good cards and you’ll play them no matter what, but they should inform if you want Fearless Halberdier, a 3/2, or Dimir Informant, a 1/4, for example. I believe that most Izzet control decks will actually tend more Grixis than purely Izzet, but it’s certainly possible. I also believe that good aggressive Izzet decks are more common than good controlling Izzet decks, due to cards like Sonic Assault and Wee Dragonauts.
Dimir is by far the most controlling of the guilds. The Surveil mechanic lets you accumulate advantage over time, firstly by not drawing as many lands as your opponent, and secondly by triggering all your other “Surveil matters” cards. The longer the game goes, the more likely your cards become better on average than your opponent’s, and the better your land / spell ratio will become.
Dimir is also the guild with the highest density of good removal spells, and those spells are important to have when you’re building a control deck. I think some number of Deadly Visit, Artful Takedown, Price of Fame, and Capture Sphere are important to have in any Dimir deck. After those premium removal spells, Darkblade Adept and Notion Rain are the other important cogs in the machine.
Keeping with the card advantage theme, Disinformation Campaign is a certified bomb, and better than many rares. The amount of card advantage you can get from that card is totally absurd. The other Surveil payoffs like Dimir Spybug are also good, but none can really compare to the power of Disinformation Campaign, which aligns with the rest of what your deck is doing much better than the Spybug. After these pieces, you should fill your deck out with filler cards that Surveil. Whisper Agent, Unexplained Disappearance, and Dimir Informant are fine playables that boost your synergy.
Dimir is also in the rather unique position of having access to the hexproof flying Nightveil Predator, a card that is borderline unbeatable for many Sealed decks (in particular other Dimir decks). Be aware of that, and make sure to include ways to deal with it.
Golgari is the most midrange of all the guilds. It doesn’t really have the tools to play a real control game as it lacks card advantage, but it does have access to the premium black removal and relatively large green creatures.
Games that Golgari wins usually play out like this: Both players play some creatures and some removal spells. Both players deal some damage to each other. Then the Golgari player plays a Moodmark Painter, Lotleth Giant, or Vigorspore Wurm to suddenly deal a ton of damage to, or even outright kill, their opponent. I would not want to play a dedicated Golgari deck without access to these effects.
Since Golgari has no clear self-mill, it can be a little difficult to get creatures into your graveyard. Because of this, I like slanting my Golgari decks aggressive. Attack with creatures and force your opponent to kill them or die, and then try to finish them with an Undergrowth fireball. As an example, I like the 3/1 flier Bartizan Bats in this archetype. It trades off easily and is an evasive threat you can use to punch through a bunch of damage. I’m also happy to play Spinal Parasite as an aggressive creature that lets you keep being aggressive when it dies.
I believe that Golgari will be the rarest of all the guilds in Sealed, because it requires the most synergy. I think to really maximize the cards in your color, you have to have a game plan to trade off your creatures and gain advantage from that. To do this you need a high creature count and specific creatures. If you don’t have this, you might as well just take your good black cards and play Dimir instead.
Selesnya walks a line between having big creatures and going wide with lots of small creatures. It has a number of token-making cards, which are used to fuel the Convoke mechanic and create big creatures.
Selesnya is an aggressive guild, which is trying to play big creatures fast and overwhelm the opponent with them. Siege Wurm, Flight of Equenauts, and Rosemane Centaur are the key Convoke cards. Rosemane Centaur is actually pretty large for the format, and you can play it pretty fast. The other cards are your “finishers” that you want to play as early as you can, and hopefully kill your opponent before they are able to deal with multiple large creatures.
Because of Convoke, Selesnya decks will have to play a large number of creatures, and you won’t have room for many non-creature spells that are not premium removal. You can play some combat tricks here and there if you want, they aren’t unplayable, but they are definitely not great. Overall, I don’t really like Selesnya because I don’t think it’s capable of being aggressive enough.
The Selesnya cards are in kind of an awkward place because the guild needs to be aggressive against the more controlling Dimir, Izzet, and 4 color decks that leverage card advantage, but a lot of your spells aren’t aggressive enough. Centaur Peacemaker and Loxodon Restorer are defensive spells that gain you life. Ledev Guardian is just not impressive stats-wise and Sumala Woodshaper would be nice card advantage if the 2/1 body were relevant enough to matter. For these reasons I think unless you have a lot of strong Selesnya rares, the best Selesnya decks will be sideboarded-into as anti-Boros decks. The Selesnya cards match up really nicely against the aggressive Boros decks (Centaur Peacemaker in particular is amazing), and kind of poorly in every other matchup.
I think Guilds of Ravnica is a really fun set for Limited. I had a ton of fun at the prerelease, and I think each guild has a very unique play style that is going to make the set fun to play for quite a while. It has a little of something for everyone, and I’m really looking forward to trying out the draft format as well. Until next time!