Guilds of Ravnica draft and sealed kick off this weekend at the Prerelease and on Magic Online, so it’s time to dive into the set.
I went through and made some preliminary card ratings and comments on Twitter last week, but I want to talk about the bigger picture. What decks can you draft, and how does each Guild look?
For the prerelease, Guilds of Ravnica goes back to seeded Guild packs, with one pack for each player being cards from a specific Guild of their choice. The rare is your prerelease promo, randomly selected from rares and mythics of that Guild.
The big question for this weekend is “What Guild do I Choose”. Honestly, choose whichever you want. According to a Wizards employee on Twitter they correlated the cards in the seeded packs to line up with the rares, so it’s hard to choose wrong. I would select Dimir or Boros, but that’s completely personal preference.
One Guild Decks
There are five Guilds in Guilds of Ravnica: Selesnya (G/W), Boros (W/R), Izzet (R/U), Dimir (U/B), and Golgari (B/G). The default Limited deck in this format is going to play one of these color pairs.
If you try to do something weird like play U/W, you won’t have multicolored cards backing your deck. These cards are usually better than average because they have harder cost requirements, and most of the top rares in the set are multicolor. The vast majority of players will play the entire format without drafting a two color deck that isn’t a Guild.
Because there are only five “real” color pairs instead of the usual ten, the risk of taking a multicolored card early drops a lot. If it’s something you want to splash, like Artful Takedown, it’s not that much less likely to end up in your deck than a single colored card. Taking a good multicolored card early is only a slight risk and is very likely to payoff.
Guild with a Splash
Just because you choose a Guild doesn’t mean you can’t dabble elsewhere.
Each of the five Guilds has a enters the battlefield tapped land that produces both its colors, and the five of these show up in packs instead of basic lands. A two color Guild deck doesn’t actually need these, just like a normal two color draft deck doesn’t need fixing.
But Guildgates for Guilds that line up with one of your main colors let you splash things. An Izzet deck with two Dimir Guildgate can play Artful Takedown.
I expect many Sealed decks to end up here. You may even double splash: you have great Izzet cards and the Dimir Guildgate and Artful Takedown for a splash of Dimir, but you also opened Boros Guildgate and Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and a Gateway Plaza to pull it together.
The rule of thumb for splashes is you want two or three dual lands or other ways to make that color, maybe one basic land, and only one or two cards of the color to support.
You can also go full on three color with enough Guildgates and color fixing. This is going to be merging two Guilds that share a color, like Dimir and Golgari. I’ll save you the math: you are going to need four or five of the Guildgates in your colors to have the seven or more sources of each color you need. You also need them to be split between your Guilds or it gets easy to draw enough lands but not ones that cast your spells properly.
Needing to find the right Gates for your cards makes this unlikely for Sealed, but reasonable in draft.
There are also color trios this will work out better for. A three color deck with tapped lands and stretched mana is almost never aggro, so don’t expect a lot of trios that include Boros and expect more Dimir-Golgari hybrids.
Three color decks can also splash a fourth color, but at some point you are just playing too many Guildgates. If you end up with eight enters the battlefield tapped lands your deck is not playing cards on time and that’s a problem. Splashes are likely off any five-color fixing you find, like Gateway Plaza.
That’s a lot of words on mana. Let’s get to cards.
Boros is an aggressive Guild that gets harder to stop as it attacks more. The big keys are ensuring your deck curves out well and can break through larger plays.
Load up on two drops and combat tricks. Only worry about the best four and five drops. Splashing is not advised, just win the game instead.
The Boros mechanic is Mentor, which lets you permanently boost lower power attackers with larger attacking Mentors.
First off, the smaller attackers part means you don’t get a lot out of a 2/2 Mentor creature. You get to make a 1/1 into a 2/2, but then you are just attacking with two 2/2s that die easily.
If you look at the whole format you will see lots of 2/2-ish creatures, some midrange things that generally don’t completely outclass a 3/3, then a huge jump to 5/5 Wurms and stuff at high costs. A 3/3 Mentor creature that boosts something else to a 3/3 matters more means two attacks that outclass a lot of blockers.
Underrated in Boros
Combat tricks that push your attackers over large blockers are great. Mentor forces people to block or you get incremental value, combat tricks punish them for blocking. Sure Strike and Take Heart do this efficiently.
Pumping your Mentor creature’s power and toughness makes it really hard to bring down, lets it pump even more things, and Maniacal Rage is efficient. Again I’m glad the drawback is there to remind us we want to attack anyways.
The exception to Mentor on a one power creature not mattering is fliers. Healer’s Hawk as a 2/2 flying lifelink is hard to race, and I have no clue how anyone beats Roc Charger with a Mentor attacker.
Wojek Bodyguard is a Mentor attacker that takes a lot to bring down and builds up these one power creatures multiple times. I'm glad the drawback is there to remind you how to play and build your deck: More two drops, attack often.
Overrated in Boros
Do you know how much six mana is? Do you want to play enough tapped Guildgates in your curve out deck for Garrison Sergeant? Save these for your three color decks, where they are fine finishers with Izzet cards.
Parhelion Patrol is very good with any power boost, but as just a two power Mentor it’s hard to get a lot out of this card flying solo. Not a high priorty for Boros decks.
Boros decks care more about bigger things blocking their small stuff. If you attack into a bigger thing and Righteous Blow it you spent two cards. If you Sure Strike it just dies for one card. This is a good tool for Boros mirrors or in Selesnya decks to fight Boros.
Selesnya is defensive this set, building to large single threats. It is not a tokens deck. You want to block then start playing bigger things than them.
Focus on solid creatures that block well, including enough cheap ones for Convoke.Block to get profitable trades, there’s many ways to gain life back. Don’t worry much about non-removal spells. Many Selesnya decks will reach for fixing and a third color.
Convoke is back for the third time. Make creatures, cast bigger spells early and without needing all the lands.
The difference this time is a lack of focus on tokens. You aren’t Convoking a big spell super fast without much commitment, and you aren’t overwhelming your opponent on numbers. Focus on raw stats for the cost, Convoke will incidentally happen as you hit your curve. Similarly very large Convoke things are going to be hard to cast and should be taken carefully, and too many Convoke six drops will clog your hand.
Underrated in Selesnya
Selesnya is about surviving long enough to overwhelm your opponent with big stuff. Each of these life gain creatures is also a solid body at a good mana rate, a double whammy on stabilizing.
While I don’t think you want to be an all in Convoke deck, having the ability to curve out from turn one and have some great Convoke games is really nice. The problem with one drops is usually that you spend a card on them to get something that isn’t worth a card if you draw it after turn one, but Portcullis Vine just lets you rebuy a fresh card if you draw it on turn seven.
Green and white are light on removal, which makes reach and flying important to a defensive strategy. Hitchclaw Recluse is solid three drop. Parhelion Patrol also pairs nicely with Healer’s Hawk, which is another one drop you will end up playing just to have some great Convoke hands.
Overrated in Selesnya
I’m asking a lot out of my three and four drops in Selesnya since they don’t help Convoke that much and don’t usually break end games. If they are just going to be bodies, they need to really hold the line. A four mana 4/3 doesn’t trade up well or block down that well. Inspiring Unicorn is only good if I’m already winning then and terrible when behind. Sworn Companions’ 1/1 tokens really don’t block well. If you drafted Ixalan, remember how bad Queen’s Commission was without ways to pump the tokens.
The point of a Convoke pump spell is that you can leave it up while spending all your mana on creatures, but it is really hard to do that when it costs three mana. When attacking the goal would be casting creatures then using them to pay, but you aren’t casting three creatures in a turn. To use Pack’s Favor defensively there’s only a small window where you have three creatures blocking but also haven’t spent your hand and are sitting with extra mana. It’s just going to be an inefficient pump spell all game.
Golgari is classic midrange. You just want to make good trades the whole game and win by lining up your removal with their best cards and having slightly better things the whole way.
Undergrowth looks like the kind of mechanic where you would build a dedicated self-mill deck to support it, but there just aren’t the cards to support that. The majority of the convenient self mill is Surveil, which is small numbers. Honestly you would rather leave the creatures on top to draw a lot of the time.
Undergrowth just makes it better for you to trade and play a longer game. Play Undergrowth cards that don’t need a ton of help to be good.
Your opponents will also try to avoid trading where possible because they know you have Undergrowth cards, so force them to trade by being able to attack and block and not just stall.
Underrated in Golgari
One mana deathtouch creatures always overperform. Hired Poisoner is going to trade efficiently for a three or four drop and also lets you better utilize a Siege Wurm you might steal from the Selesnya drafters.
Bartizan Bats is a bit of a personal favorite. You don’t want many of them, but a four mana 3/1 flier is always a fine finisher.
Overrated in Golgari
Erstwhile Trooper is a bad card. Every time you activate its ability, you are discarding a spell and not a useless land. You trade a creature in your hand for their creature on the battlefield, and that’s just assuming Trooper wins the fight and still lives.
Undercity Uprising is notably a fight effect. Either your creature was bigger than theirs and didn’t need the deathtouch and this is expensive, or you are sacrificing a smaller creature to kill theirs. I’m just unsure you get the three extra mana of value over Prey Upon off the deathtouch on an attack to make this anything but an inefficient removal spell.
You need four creatures in your graveyard to make Golgari Raiders good. That’s about a quarter of the total creatures you play in a Limited deck. Without a reliable common way to self-mill in larger quantities, I’m just not seeing this being reliably good. To compare, the common Rhizome Lurcher only takes two creatures to be a 4/4, which is really easy, and only grows from there.
Dimir is a similar midrange deck to Golgari, but fueled a bit more by counterspells, instant creatures and removal, and card draw. Your goal is to get into a position of parity timing your effects right, then pull ahead with card quantity and selection over the rest of the game.
Surveil is a subtle mechanic. It just does its thing regardless of what else you to with it, so you don’t have to theme your deck around it. If you want the base effect of the card, Surveil is just a nice upside.
There are cards that don’t Surveil but provide extra effects when you do, which is where any build around aspect occurs. Each Surveil digs you closer to the next one making these cards a little better.
Surveil is also best when it’s clear what you are selecting for: lands or spells. That’s really play-by-play dependent, but I’m inclined to not play mediocre four and five cost spells in Dimir decks. That reduces the odds you care about your seventh land to play two spells in a turn and can Surveil it away safely.
Underrated in Dimir
Both of these cards imply you want a ton of Surveil to make them work, but that isn’t true. Thoughtbound Phantasm is a fine early drop even if you don’t Surveil, and Dimir Spybug only needs one counter before it becomes great. If you are in Dimir these cards are good enough even if you aren’t overloaded on Surveil.
To set up the midgame turns where you turn the corner with well positioned answers, you need to establish yourself. Wall of Mist, Piston-Fist Cyclops, and Wishcoin Crab are unexciting on the surface, but block well for their mana cost. You aren’t going out of your way for them, but they will be important role players to fill your mana curve.
Overrated in Dimir
These Surveil payoffs on the other hand ask a lot. Enhanced Surveillance does nothing on its own and doesn’t return a card of value until around the third Surveil. Disinformation Campaign is the reverse. It’s clunky, and by the time you start reusing it your opponent is empty handed and you are paying a lot for a small payoff.
These self-mill payoffs just aren’t good. They are worth basically nothing when you draw them, and even if you mill them and get the best case scenario you are gaining a fraction of a card of value. Don’t play them in Limited. Please.
Izzet is somewhat combo, somewhat aggro. Your tools to win the game give you the ability to set up and take huge chunks out of your opponent’s life total. Finding the right balance of threats and tricks is key, but in return you have a deck that ways to break open fast races and long games.
Because things are so precise, card slots are at a premium. You are going to want to play a lot more spells than usual, which means each of your creatures has carry weight and play a key role. With spells you are also in danger of overloading on any specific conditional effect. Drawing all removal is usually fine, but having too many of any of the other effects can lead to draws that fail.
Jump-start is similar to Surveil. It’s just a tool, and you build your other cards around it.
Jump-start requires a discard. This makes some of the conditional cards Izzet wants better, as you can turn them into a Jump-Start if they aren’t good. Similar to Surveil it also makes you want to have a leaner mana curve so you can discard extra lands to Jump-Start.
Most of the Jump-Start spells are costly, or they are cheap but too low impact to load up on.. They let you have a spell cast over several turns, not necessarily a bunch of spells in one turn.
Underrated in Izzet
Izzet is perfectly set up to force through a Barging Sergeant. Not only is that a giant smack in the face, getting multiple four-power Mentor triggers adds up fast.
There’s a lot going on with Hypothesizzle, so I just want to make sure everyone understands it reads backwards. Hypothesizzle is a five mana removal spell with huge upside. You end up even on cards while your opponent loses a creature. The non-creature discard is a small price to pay for this swing, especially when you can discard a Jump-Start card and get a partial effect.
Overrated in Izzet
These are fine 2/2s I’ll gladly play, but they are only slightly better than the average bear. Goblin Electromancer and Beamsplitter Mage are minor upsides on a fine two drop and won’t win games on their own. Don’t overrate them.
This is another case of the cards still being fine, but not amazing. Izzet is much more proactive than Dimir and you can get bonuses for casting spells on your turn. Reactive countermagic is fine, but you won’t be able to optimally leave mana untapped the way Dimir can.
Despite the multicolored cards looking a bit daunting, Guilds of Ravnica is possibly simpler than a normal draft. There are five main options, and from there you can decide if you dive into three colors.
The key to Guilds of Ravnica draft is going to be finding your Guild or trio and sticking to the right plan for it. If you look at them as a whole, the cards tell you a lot about what each deck needs to do. Do that, or find a three color pair where you can value fixing and multicolored cards high and do something similar but slower with a bit more power.