Friday, September 21, 2012

Top 10 Return to Ravnica Cards for Limited: RTR Prerelease Primer

Hello, Magic players and welcome back to Untap Target Player!



OK, one sentence of chit chat is too much.  On to the show!  The time has come; Ravnica is HERE!

At long last, our questions are answered!  The full spoiler for Return to Ravnica is out, and I know that you all are abuzz with everything you want to do with each rare, each land and each color. 

The start of a new block is fun and exciting for everyone; a smaller Standard pool so you have a chance to “catch up,” a new block Constructed environment, and you get more tools to refine and tune your stack of decks.  But my favorite part is what you do when you first open those packs, a new Limited environment!

The best part about playing Limited is working with what you have, not what you need.  For those of you unfamiliar with the way I handle Limited primers, I won’t just list the top 10 best cards in all of Return to Ravnica, I’ll choose from the uncommons and commons only.  I have had plenty of successful draft and sealed decks that didn’t have a single rare in them, sideboard and all.  Most of the cards you’ll be using in your Sealed decks on the 29th or in your Draft decks for the months to come won’t be rare.  So, in order to prepare for the reality of Limited, I’ve only selected what I call the “meat and potatoes” of the set to highlight.  You know, the guts and grime, the salt of the earth…the stuff that makes your deck consistently powerful, viable, and repeatable.  If you want to be good at Limited, you’ve got to know your meat and potatoes. 

Ravnica offers a unique challenge, so we’ll tackle this primer in two parts.  First off, I will give what I believe to be the 10 best cards for Limited from Return to Ravnica, but there are some cards I have left out of consideration in this initial list.  Because Ravnica focuses heavily on the use of guilds and cycles of cards within them, I will highlight the best of those cycles, as well as some discussion of each guild in Limited after my top 10 list.  These include the new Guildmages, Guild charms, and the new Keyrune cycle.  Don’t worry, we’ll get to the guild stuff!

This may be the hardest list of 200-odd cards to narrow down I’ve ever seen, but after long deliberation, I feel confident in this list.

First, an honorable mention for a card that didn’t fully make the cut.

Honorable Mention

Archweaver

Ron Weasley would vomit.
I love spiders.  Yeah, in real life, too.  They’re a hastily-judged, misunderstood creature that keep the cycle of life as clean and fluid as possible.  Arachnophilia aside, Archweaver is a very interesting beast.  A french vanilla doesn’t often belong in these kinds of lists, but I like him for his exceptionally synergetic design and I wanted to take a moment to spotlight that.  As this is a mostly multicolored set (well, that’s the focus, anyway), monocolored creatures need to fill the gaps between the guilds while also providing an attractive option for any guild that uses those colors.  Archweaver provides that. 

If you consider the two green guilds in RTR, Selesnya and Golgari, each loves this kind of creature.  Selesnya loves the large, battering ram quality of a big, trampling creature as well as something able to stop those pesky flyers from getting in overhead.  This eight-legged giant is also wonderful in the mirror match.  Chump blocking with tokens is much worse with trample, and this is often a threat that another Selensya squad couldn’t deal with.  You can’t get past it and you can’t stop it.  Golgari’s potential is even greater; with Scavenge, its keyword ability for this time around, you can pour counters onto this guy for maximum punch.  Scavenge onto him to stop a monstrous flyer or pump him up for a mighty swing.  He takes pumps very well also, and he’s a nice one-stop shop for any deck that can cast him.  I’m not as worried about the seven-mana cost as I normally would be, as I feel like this trip to the City of Guilds will also be a slow Limited environment, so casting an Elesh-Norn-costed dude shouldn’t be an issue.  It’s possible he’s just a big fella and that’s all…I did love (and almost cube in) Goliath Spider.  Still, I think he’s good in Limited and great in Sealed.  People played Archangel, after all…

<3
Onto the Top 10 Limited cards from Return to Ravnica!

10. Elecktrickery

Matchstick of the Damned.
Elecktrickery is an interesting card; it’s common removal that provides decent value and flexibility for the low cost of 1R.  We’ve seen the likes of these one toughness squashers before; M13 had several.


This is not a new effect, but there are a couple subtle things I like about this card.  First, it hits all the right creatures.  Some cards, like Seismic Shudder, Rain of Embers or even Magmaquake are either global effects or leave out something important, such as flying, from their range.  Elecktrickery doesn’t have those awkward riders, instead anything they’ve got for 1 for a bargain.  Secondly and more importantly, red needs this card in this format.  Although this has Izzet’s keyword, Rakdos really needs this more.  In the Rakdos pilot’s crazed, flea-infested mind, they’re just getting in the red zone as much as possible with their unleashed creatures.  However, who cares about the size of your creatures if you’re stuck ramming into little tokens or if you’re unable to stop puny fellows rambling past your X/2 guys?  This cleans them up.  Sweep sweep sweep, under the rug they go!  Now go on, bash with those big guys! 

You see what I’m getting at?  Pushing through your big guys past a squad of tokens is what Rakdos needs to do to overcome the Conclave, and a little Izzet instant will do the trick.  The existence of this card along with the ubiquity of a common means token decks will always worry about this, and X/1 utility creatures, flyers and defenders blocking a rumbler will be looking over their shoulder for this little zapper.

9. Transguild Promenade

Why is this not just Rupture Spire?  This is a city!  Rupture…SPIRE?  I…I don’t understand the world anymore…
I feel weird putting a land on the list at all, and even more so that it’s not in by the hairs on its chinny-chin-chin…or it’s sidey-walk-walk.  Anyway, the Promenade is more than just a common mana fixer, I’d go so far as to say it’s a metaphor of our own fallibility.  Let me explain.

When you sit down to draft a multi-colored set, everyone’s got the game plan.  “Aww, yeah, I’m going Jund all the way!” you might say, or, if you’re old enough, “Simic/Izzet/Gruul for the win!”  Then, as pack two dwindles down, you’re looking at a three-color pile of nonsense, usually consisting of about three bulk rares, five creatures and a ramp spell.  I know.  I’ve seen it before.  The Promenade is meant to be the duct tape that holds your disaster together, allowing you to reach a little farther into other colors and bringing you to the 23-24 playable mark. 

So as proud as you might be, never be afraid to play the ‘Nade.

8. Phantom General

The PHAAAANTOM of the Sap-ro-ling is here….
Ok, so this guy looks a lot like a conditional Limited spell from last year, but I can’t put my finger on it. 

See? I literally can’t put my finger on it.  Get it?  Intange…OK, moving on.
This neat Anthem from Innistrad was an amazing 12th pick if you happened to have already drafted three Midnight Hauntings, a Lingering Souls, two Gather the Townsfolk and a Geist-Honored Monk.  If not?  Well, it probably just rotted in your sideboard. 

The General belongs on this list because of its broader and deeper appeal.  First of all, it’s an easy to cast, non-irrelevant creature if you just need a guy.  Yeah, I’ve seen better four drops, but you don’t always get everything you want, so you’ll probably play him if you’re in white regardless.  His color requirement is low, too, meaning you can hit him on time. 

What really makes him awesome is the fact that there is dedicated token love in this set.  Permanent anthem effects are great in Limited, as they make your scrawniest guy a moderate contender in combat, and it give your biggest guys the scale-tipping muscle needed to get through that stubborn defense.  With Selesnya being so focused on the token theme, this card will be the lynchpin of so many more decks than Intangible Virtue ever could have been.  You can feel safe drafting this early and/or if you see a couple token makers go by.  This fellow’s a winner, and he could even see a Constructed table or two.

7.  Izzet Staticaster

Who else has been saying “Stratocaster?”  Who else is going to keep saying “Stratocaster?”
What an interesting little poppet.  While obviously created to counter the token matchup (remember, tokens that don’t have a specific name are just named by their type and toughness), but they also give Izzet something it needs; punch.  Izzet has the unfortunate trait of fielding some of the weaker stock of creatures in Return to Ravnica.  The flashy zapper gives each of your creatures a little more mileage when you need it; if you have this out, or in hand, consider that your opponent’s creatures have one less toughness.  It can help finish off a wall, smack some X/1s, or even be a surprise blocker.  Leaving your mana up for burn or counter is the name of Izzet’s midgame in Limited, so giving this flash is highly synergetic, and giving it haste is also neat.  With a pump, he can get in the red zone right away.  I wish he had a point of power, but I’ll just be happy with this.  Also, they are sick in multiples. 

6. Common Bond

Prepare to Travel INSTANTLY!
In both its essence and its design, Common Bond is a throwback to our old Ravnica friend, Seeds of Strength. 


Comparisons aside, Common Bond will be a crucial player in any combat-based deck in Limited.  If your opponent has seen this card from you, they will be forced to play around it in combat or while applying burn.  You can make your measly 1/1 Bird token into a reasonable 3/3 beatstick.  Execute an early blowout when your opponent blocks your two early guys, or pump your trampler for that final domesmack.  It’s incremental power, sure, but G/W loves this kind of effect, and the buff is semi-permanent, making it a reasonable and potent choice for someone striding down the Conclave’s path.  Also, in a world of disruption, you can feel safe casting this knowing that, even if your opponent kills or removes one target, it’s still a Battlegrowth.

5. Skymark Roc

Watch out, he’ll sell you SKIN CARE PRODUCTS!
This new bird puts down the beats; an efficient 3/3 flyer that can also keep your opponent on the backpedal.  I think this bird will swing a lot of games, and I mean that in both senses.  Being able to bounce a fairly small guy means you can move more guys through on the ground, reverse Swat away a low-toughness flyer for a turn to push him through, or kill a small token for good.  Even when he has no exciting targets, he’s still an aggressively costed beater.  He also synergizes subtly with the new Azorius paradigm, which we’ll discuss later.  He’s nothing back breaking, but he’s mind-bouncing.

4. Bloodfray Giant

Be afrayed.
I LOVE this guy.  He’s an enormous mound of flesh at a point on the curve where red really needs a mound of flesh.  Being mono-colored gives this man a ton of flexibility in his play and you will just always play this guy if you can cast him.  He’s an enormous dude.  Five power on turn four with no ramp and pseudo-evasion is pretty amazing at uncommon, and your opponent will have to deal with this guy or it will kill them all by himself. 


Remember this guy?  Shatterskull Giant was amazing in Zendikar because mono-red was a real deck in Limited.  Now, with Rakdos’ clan getting tons of juiced up red-zone monsters, this guy stands above almost every non-rare at its cost when unleashed.  Trample is just really crucial for red to have so you can keep the pressure on.  For red, “stabilize” is a four-letter word, and this forces them to use spells and creatures defensively.  Even in a pinch, he’s a nice defender, providing four blocking power for four mana.  I am excited to hear people tell stories of how this card just wrecked their opponents board of 1/1s and 2/1s.  Bring on the pain!

3.  Assassin’s Strike

Sorcery: Kill a dude and clear their hand
In a format that appears to be lacking in the no-nonsense-kill-it removal suite full of Murders and Shatters (in Scars block), three unimpeded words, “destroy target creature” is pretty relevant.  It’s expensive, don’t get me wrong.  There are a lot of decks that will not be able to play this effectively.  However, I think this is a Sealed MVP, and here’s why it’s better there than in Draft.

There are two reasons this will be an essential for a receptive Sealed deck.  First, Sealed pools are very bomb heavy.  You are guaranteed a Limited bomb by just playing in the Sealed Prerelease, and some people will be lucky enough to just open the answer!  People are more willing to strain their mana base and consistency to play bombs, and for good reason.  Some Sealed pools cannot answer certain bombs effectively or even at all.  So, when they play their moneymaker, you will have a surefire way to deal with it. 

Secondly, Sealed pools are far clumsier than comparable Draft decks.  Sealed matches aren’t as smooth, either in goal, execution or mana base.  In a format where you’re encouraged to take multiple colors, people will have a tendency to overextend, meaning they’ll often have good cards in hand that they just can’t cast.  By the time you get to six mana, they’ll probably be down to a card or two left in hand.  This amplifies the value of the discard significantly.  On turn two, a Ravenous Rats will probably just hit a superfluous land or an expensive spell, because the opponent has plenty to choose from.  Casting a single card discard like this stapled to a perfect removal spell means you’ve killed their best creature and you are forcing them to pick one of their major threats left in hand on occasion.  Don’t think you’ll play it?  People said that about Death’s Caress…people will play six-mana Sorcery Murders.  If anything else, it just reminds you how good you had it in M13.

2. Dreg Mangler

Boggart Ram-Gangler
Bam!  Now this is where Scavenge is awesome!  This is an awesome tool for Golgari to step up its offense.  Golgari, in my opinion, is fairly boring as far as creatures and efficiency is concened this time around.  A bunch of scavenge creatures is fine, but any graveyard disruptions mean the power you were betting on to finish off your opponent just became dead, useless vanilla creatures.  Scavenge, from what I’ve seen, forces you to play average creatures to later get value from their corpse to put on your…average creatures.  Not so with this botanical gentleman.  A 3/3 haste for 3 is outstanding, and he is about the best play any deck in this format could hope to have on turn three.  Very little can kill him, and his comparably cheap Scavenge ability means you can pass off three power to another guy when he dies.  Golgari decks will want a million of these, as you just can’t lose with a pair of these out early.  Don’t underestimate this guy.  He hits as hard as Delver, after all, just one turn later. 

And finally, the best meat and potato from Return to Ravnica –

1. Civic Saber
SHEEN!  (sparkle sparkle...)
Bonesplitter is one of the best Equipments ever printed for Limited.  Now bear with me; I don’t think I’m just saber rattling here. 


Even things that have been close to it were very high picks in their respective formats; Trusty Machete, Darksteel Axe, and Shuko were each awesome cards for Limited and they still see casual play at kitchen tables everywhere.  They’re simple, cheap and ruthlessly efficient.  Rancor, Bonesplitter’s grandfather, is good for the same reason.  Turning anything on your field into an offensive threat is invaluable in a format with a fair amount of variance.  Your guilded guys can treat this as a Bonesplitter, while the rest treat it like a Bonesaw, but its one mana equip!  THAT’S what I like!  Machete and friends were always good, but good equipments can quickly slough into mediocrity with an expensive equip cost.  A single colorless mana will mean this sword is useful in every single Sealed and Draft deck.  Period. 

Although some might claim that an always-good card like this is a mark of bad design, I disagree.  It offers further incentive to commit to a guild and to experience the flavor and power within those two-color combinations.  Out of the guilds, I feel Azorius, with its team of flyers, may find the most use from the Saber, but there isn’t a deck that won’t want this.  In a pack with a bad rare and no removal or fixing, this is probably a windmill-slam first pick.  I can already hear single pieces of inferior Equipment disappearing from peasant cubes (mine included) around the world, making room for the first Saber their owners pull.  After seeing this first game, I guarantee you your opponent will be rifling through their sideboard for that Naturalize variant they grabbed or, alternatively, wished they had drafted an NCP-killing color. 


And there’s the list!  It’s the first time an Equipment has made it to the top, but Bonesplitter and friends tend to land themselves there. 

The Guilds

One of the biggest features of Return to Ravnica as a Limited set is the inevitable decision you’ll have to make each time you play, whether it’s at the Prerelease or the 89th time you’ve drafted it with your friends; what guild will I play? 

The half we get this time around provide an outstanding number of unique and intriguing interactions, and choosing the right one will mean the difference between finishing first place or well out of the money.  First, I’d like to discuss what I’ve seen of each guild’s cards and surmise an optimal strategy for drafting and piloting each.  

As a disclaimer, most Sealed and draft builds will almost certain require a third color to meet your mark, but I wanted to provide this as an broad, abstract comparison of the guilds.  Don't be afraid to sleeve up three colors, but in case you do just run one guild, I hope this section helps.

Azorius

Back in 2006 and the era of Dissension, Azorius was known for its ability to stall the game and eventually lock down the opponent with tapping, negation and large, insurmountable flyers.  It worked best in concert with unblockable threats and incremental advantage through neutralizing attackers, life gain and ignoring blockers.  Although that is still their plan in 2012, its keyword is now the center of their strategy.  Detain, basically a one-turn, well, detention of a creature or permanent, signfies a change in Azorius strategy that fits more in line with how U/W normally plays in both Limited and Constructed environments.  In Constructed, most recently with the current U/W Delver monster, tempo, permission and undercosted, consistent threats were the “guild’s” M.O.  In Limited, U/W usually plays a large number of flyers or other blocker-dodging threats to provide inevitability in their matches.  Azorius rises to meet this style of play.

Detain provides the tempo you need to keep you ahead in combat.  It’s powerful enough to provide you both options of what you’d need (whether you stop an attacker for a turn or suspend a blocker), and as such, you gain tempo by reducing your opponent’s efficacy  in battle.  Much like their original incarnation, Azorius still likes evasive threats, but it also provides the controlling element to actively protect you and your creatures from shenanigans without sacrificing board or card advantage.  Using the detain ability will be a test of skill, as most applications are one time only, but it nevertheless puts Azorius players where they are most comfortable: in the driver’s seat.

Against Izzet – Keep the pressure on; it is unlikely Izzet can overpower you with most of their threats, and your aggression will often be rewarded with your opponent’s quickly dwindling life total as they seek an answer.  Just remember there are a lot of one-toughness killers in red, and they will be the biggest killjoy to you.

Against Rakdos – Blunting Rakdos’ assault can be a challenge, so don’t be afraid to trade guys on defense.  Rakdos main line of attack is just that.  Save your biggest threats, but put your head into the game and react accordingly to the cult’s aggressive, smashing playstyle. 

Against Golgari – Prioritize killing creatures with reach, and don’t be afraid to take a hit or two.  Golgari’s power comes from being relentless, but controlling the board in response to their pumping decisions will keep you on top.  Always be a step ahead of the rotmage’s plans.

Against Selesnya – Detain will not be as helpful against an army of tokens, so take your time and do your combat math.  More than any other guild, Selesnya can turn the tables with an effective combat trick.  Save bounce and removal for those crucial moments and Selesnya will be disarmed.

Against the Mirror – When fighting your own strategy, make sure you keep your fliers alive, as whoever has the most birds in the air will likely carry the day.  Quantity over quality wherever possible; Azorius’ weakness is the ability to consistently deal with multiple threats at once, so just deal with the ones that matter.

Izzet

Out of each of the five guilds listed today, Izzet has probably changed the least.  Unique and entertaining interactions  are boiled into their instants and sorceries, and underpowered, but highly intriguing creatures complement tomes upon tomes of spells.  Izzet is not one-note, and assuming so is a major mistake; a talented nivmagus can bend combat and spells to fit their plans and they delight in foiling yours.  Sometimes they can ignore anything you do, opting to destroy your life total directly.  In Constructed, as with our visit to the guild this time, U/R is about combo.

Building a synergetic deck for Izzet is one of the hardest but most rewarding experiences I imagine players will have during this Limited season.  Izzet, along with its overload mechanic, offer flexible board control solutions in burn, bounce, counter and manipulation.  Izzet relies the least on combat for victory, making use of gimmicky creatures or utility men to finish the job.  Izzet mages won’t get a break from match to match – they’ll have to work hard in each round to maximize the seemingly endless options available to their impulsive clan.

Against Azorius – You have the upper hand in this matchup.  Most of the time, your opponent’s creatures will be underpowered and weak to your removal.  Keep their small creatures squashed and save any counter or manipulation magic for the unstoppable flyer, back-breaking sorcery or crippling enchantment.  Keep as much gas in your hand as possible, as the lawmakers are only good at controlling the board.

Against Rakdos – Reducing the power of Rakdos’ tempo is essential to stopping the Cult.  Make them stumble and, like Azorius, don’t be afraid to trade your creatures for theirs.  Preserving your life total is essential to dominating the demon.  You’ll rely more on the blue part of your mana portfolio, as small-time burn can’t kill an unleashed creature.  B/R is not known for its card advantage, so don’t be afraid to sacrifice a little bit to stop the onslaught.

Against Golgari – Being in control at instant speed will keep you ahead of the creep.  Weakening Scavenge with bounce and burn will keep the Golgari’s offense anemic, and clever use of your own smaller creatures can gain you slim advantages against a board and graveyard-based guild.  Let them spend their turns pumping and attacking, then spring the trap at the right moment, and the lumbering loam beast will fall.

Against Selesnya – A bunch of little creatures make wonderful kindling for your overloaded spells.  Just make sure to use them wisely; most of the time, you won’t get to use them again.  Setting up the blowout is worth taking a hit or two.  Be aware of what your opponent actually has when it comes to token-based threats and play accordingly, and don’t get surprised by a big ground beater. 

Against the Mirror – Crazed mages battling one another is enough to bring a crowd, so the goal against the mirror is to outsmart your opponent.  You’ll be playing a lot of draw-go, so take note of your opponent’s win conditions, whether it’s a Guttersnipe, large, evasive creature or a powerful, earth-shattering burn spell.  Move yourself into a position to be able to counteract their condition.

Rakdos

Rakdos has the luxury of being one of the most played color combinations in all formats of Magic, and this combination has always lended itself particularly well to Limited.  They make a stronger and more focused stance this time around, Hellbent being a dangerous and reckless mechanic that provided a player few options in exchange for marginal benefits.  Creatures with unleash offer that same flavor of recklessness while coupling it with real aggression and board presence.  Playing Rakdos will be fun, quick, and primitively gratifying.  You will wear an evil grin at least once each time you sleeve them up. 

Rakdos decks don’t have to be synergetic, but they do need to be focused.  Unleashed creatures do nothing outside of the red zone, and your goal is to overpower your opponent before they can mount much defense or race them to the point where they must defend sub-optimally.  The discard subtheme present in the black cards of this set go well to defuse threats and extricate answers before they become a problem.

Against Azorius – You are faster, you are more efficient, and you will win a race against these walking books.  Detaining only delays you for a turn, so playing against Azorius should be based solely about crashing every single turn unless they are representing lethal that you could otherwise stop.  Discard will be very important against Azorius, as it not only removes controlling elements of that guild, but it means fewer blockers and a quicker death.

Against Izzet – The guild of adventure is one of weakness and gimmicks.  Much like the Azorius, living in the red zone each turn will keep the experimenters on the backpedal.  Don’t overcommit to the board, as often just a couple creatures is enough to bash through their small defenders, and overloaded spells can wipe you out if you overextend.

Against Golgari – Play as many creatures as fast as possible.  Overwhelming the Golgari will leave them without creatures to scavenge onto.  Sideboard out discarding spells and focus instead on direct damage spells where possible, as a little bit of lifegain or creature advantage can leave you without a definitive win condition.  Don’t be afraid to leave some creatures leashed, forcing their squad to be chump fodder for your bigger attackers. 

Against Selesnya – This will be your hardest matchup, as your powerful attackers often don’t matter when a token can shrug off an attack and lifegain can nullify your advantage.  You will have to play against type, leaving attackers back so as to not be overwhelmed by a swarm of tokens.  Keeping one powerful attacker swinging each turn will often be enough to dwindle the innumerable Conclave to a manageable size.

Against the Mirror – Fighting someone as reckless as you can lead to interesting combat situations.  Rakdos is not as reactive as some other guilds, so sticking to your guns often leads to your opponent being forced to stuff your big guys with blocking unleash-ables.  The important concept for Rakdos v. Rakdos is play the hand your dealt, as your draw will often dictate whether you take an offensive or defensive stance that game.  Remember that Rakdos is red, and red’s never been a good shot-blocker.

Golgari

The Swarm’s return marks an on-flavor but wildly different change in gameplay.  Dredge felt strange in a Limited setting, often asking you to sacrifice a large chunk of your library for a marginally interesting card.  Scavenge allows you to craft the best possible attackers and blockers you can.  Golgari decks will rarely be truly explosive, but the potential for inevitability on the ground is intimidating.  Striking the opponent where it hurts with your removal and biding your time until that right moment will reward the thoughtful rotmage.

Building a Golgari deck will be challenging, as you’ll want to balance slightly underpowered scavenge creatures with welcoming, Voltron-like targets that you can safely suit up with your counters.  Fungus doesn’t grow in an hour…it takes time and the right conditions for it to proliferate.

Against Azorius – Your primary goal is to nullify their unblockable offense as much as possible.  You can stop them on the ground, and protecting your reaching and flying creatures is very important.  Spread out your threats as much as possible. 

Against Izzet – Izzet will try to control your attack, so don’t rely on your own plans to always go through – take the surest bet when you can, not leaving yourself open to blowouts, and do what you can to make them exhaust their tricks defensively.  Staying on the offensive is a good way to keep an Izzet mage on his or her toes and increase the likelihood of a mistake. 

Against Rakdos – This is a good matchup for Golgari, as you don’t mind trading off your creatures for theirs.  A single powerful threat that you can protect is often insurmountable for a Rakdos assault.  Waiting for the window of opportunity to push through is essential, so don’t rush in.  Make sure you always have a blocker ready.

Against Selesnya – Evasion will be the most desirable attribute for a Golgari creature in this instance.  Although difficult without tons of token support, match them number for number and be patient.  Like Rakdos, having one strong creature can give you a battering ram to smash their small squad and defensively, it can keep their whole team at bay.

Against the Mirror – Graveyard control is only relevant in the mirror, so you should be prepared to side in an answer to your opponent’s binned threats.  During the match, though, forcing your opponent to make suboptimal blocks is ideal.  Don’t be afraid to trade; based on your deck, your Scavenge targets could be much better then theirs. 

Selesnya

The Conclave returns at the perfect time.  Green/White has enjoyed unprecedented popularity in Limited over the last few sets, providing powerful and efficient creature threats and enough situational removal to hit what counts.  In the interest of consistency, Populate aims to duplicate your best tokens to provide an overwhelming, dependable army.  Global removal, although infrequent, still threatens you, so having other options is important.

When building Selensya, remember that removal is going to be most useful defensively (in most situations), dealing with a powerful offensive threat from your opponent, as you often won’t have trouble outnumbering your opponent.  Synergetic, midrange creatures will make up the backbone upon which your token spells rest, and aiming for consistency will help keep your deck reliable and relevant.  You will often have more power on the board than any other guild, so throwing your weight around will help get the job done. 

Against Azorius – Being aggressive against Azorius is a good line of play.  Continually committing threats to the board will confound their offense, and forcing them to just detain you from attacking is the right place for this deck.  You are able to manipulate combat more effectively than Azorius, so use that to your advantage.  Don’t afraid to pump your tokens and push enough damage through to force them to be defensive.

Against Izzet – This matchup will require you to be your most watchful self.  Knowing your opponent’s cards and potential will keep you and your army out of harm’s way.  If an attack looks too good to be true, it probably is.  Don’t overcommit to the board, as Izzet has easy access to cheap sweepers.

Against Rakdos – Your opponent will want to get in whenever possible, but so can you.  You will outnumber them nine times out of ten, so use combat to press your advantage and dissuade attack.  There rarely will be a need to play too many tokens, and be ready to deal with tramplers or first-striking creatures that can’t be effectively gang-blocked.

Against Golgari – The swarm provides a tough challenge for you, containing removal and power that you lack.  Remember, though, that you are a locomotive; even if it takes a while to get going, it’s nearly impossible for even the biggest barrier to stop you.  Save your limited removal for their pumped bombs and feel free to trade off tokens for their creatures, even when it doesn’t seem advantageous; it is likely the advantage you perceive you’ve lost may have actually foiled their plans more than you think.

Against the Mirror – Out of all the guilds, this may be the hardest mirror match.  Selesnya lacks access to a ton of evasive threats, but anything you can do to help your team or marginalize theirs is helpful.  Combat tricks will be essential to getting ahead in the mirror, and you should save removal for any evasive threats on their end.  Eventually, one of you will gain enough advantage to push past the others line of blockers.  Keep that in mind as each turn plays out and make sure you can be the pusher.

Guild Bests

Return to Ravnica (and Gatecrash, inevitably,) provides us several cycles of guild cards, giving an option for each color combination.  Although it is hard to judge them abstractly, there are certainly ones that stand out as the best possible choice when considering a guild to pursue in the Prerelease or in Draft.  I’ll review three of those cycles (each being uncommon), and then we’ll look at my pick for the best guild on Prerelease day.

Keyrunes

The Azorius Keyrune, currently unspoiled, makes a 2/2 Bird with Flying for WU.
The cycle of Keyrunes, meant to replace the Signets from years past, indeed provides the same fixing and ramp that the Signets did, but they also provide a body when you need it.  I’m a big fan of man lands in Limited (and Constructed, too), but they are especially nice here.  I imagine that each keyrune, regardless of the guild, will be high picks.  Of the five, one seems to stand out as the best.

Rakdos Keyrune

Making a 3/1 first striking creature is essential on offense or defense for a combat heavy guild, and this keyrune is relevant on each side of combat.  While the others are situational, I believe that this is by far the best one, not only in the abstract, but also as a complement to the guild’s needs. 

Charms


One of the most talked-about cycles in the set, the idea of Charms harken back well beyond Ravnica, so updating these modal spells to fit the guilds seems like an excellent choice.  The Charms are flexible, cheap and powerful.  However, one stands ahead of the rest by far for Limited. 

Selesnya Charm

Bam!  This is everything this guild will ever need to do.  Creating a 2/2 Knight with vigilance and pseudo haste for two mana is a great bargain; although you’ll only sometimes catch their attacking 1/1 offguard, it’s still relevant to just add one more man to the board that’s ready to attack, especially one that your opponents weren’t expecting.  The Wildsize pump effect is pretty standard; helping a big guy bash through is never irrelevant, and using it as just a reactive spell or combat trick is fine, too.  Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, the ability to completely eliminate any large creature threat is astounding in these colors.  It’s not quite Path to Exile, but it sure does a good impression.  In a strategy meant on spawning a billion little guys, a big guy can look fairly scary.  It kills most bombs and can even catch them off guard if they pump one of their guys to the five-power range.  The worst part of the Charm is knowing when to use it.  It will get better in game 2 for sure, as you’ll know which mode will give you the most upside.

Guildmages


Finally, the representatives from each guild, the guildmages, stand for the basic tenets, goals and modes of the guilds.  Much in the vein of their hybrid-mana predecessors, they encourage powerful interactions while providing an on-curve body.  This was the hardest choice, but one edged above the other as the prime mage.

New Prahv Guildmage

Azorius’ guildmage is excellent for all that it does.  It can make any of your threats evasive, even your small ones, providing a level of inevitability without breaking the bank.  The second ability, while expensive, is invaluable when you just have to stop something.  The fact the he doesn’t tap to use it (much like the old guildmages) means you’ll always be one creature up when considering combat states.  Tappers have always been great, but the ability to lock a creature and still attack or block is very relevant.  He’s the best mage because he provides the clearest path to victory through each of its abilities. 

Finally, with the Prerelease in mind, each participant will be able to choose a guild.  This isn’t just a gimmick; you’ll get a pack of cards that revolves around the guild’s cards and strategies and you’ll be able to use the Prerelease rare in your deck.  So, when it comes time to choose, who should you pick?


Based solely on the rare, I believe the Archon of the Triumvirate is the best one.  Detaining two creatures a turn means you can safely swing him in and push the rest of your team in, too.  Sure, he’s expensive, but he ends games; the only other creature in this group that can say that is the Hypersonic Dragon, which makes him a close second.  But we have to remember all the cards that we’ll be getting to support our rares, too, so it’s a contest of which guild, on average, will make the most consistent and effective sealed pool.

After noodling on it for days before writing this post, I’ve come to the conclusion…the best guild to choose on Prerelease day is...


Selesnya!

Rakdos, a close second, runs the risk of getting a sluggish start or missing a land drop.  An explosive Rakdos start may be nearly unstoppable, but I feel confident that Selensya can get an equally powerful opening but it can last much longer.  A skilled and patient Selesnya mage will be nearly impossible to stop; mass removal, often relegated to the rare or mythic rare slots, is Selensya’s worst opponent.  With a shot at the best Charm in the set and with an acceptable rare, I feel that Selesnya is the safest choice. 

This is an opinion, if you see a case for any of them being better, please tell me in the comments.  Frankly, I probably won’t be picking it myself, as I’ll probably go Azorius or Rakdos, as they’re more my style for Limited.  If you want to know, here’s my order for Prerelease Saturday.

  1. Selesnya
  2. Rakdos
  3. Azorius
  4. Golgari
  5. Izzet

It was tough to put Izzet there, but blue is easily the weakest color in monocolored offerings, and unless you pull in some good creatures, you might have trouble sealing the deal. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my primer to the Return to Ravnica prerelease.  I happily welcome discussion and would love to hear your thoughts about the cards we’ve seen.  There are combinations and interactions I haven’t thought of and biases I find difficult to discard, so please let me know below.  If you like what you see, please follow my blog to be kept up to speed on each article and/or leave a comment below!

I am super excited to compete on Saturday, and I’ll be going up to BluegrassMagic to experience all the fun.  If you’re in the Louisville area, I’ll hope to see you there!
 

Until next time, don’t forget to untap all your guild’s colors!

- Matt

6 comments:

  1. Really good article! Keep the good work going man :)

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  2. Thanks for explaining your look on the format. Some things were common base and that's good for new players; and some other were just revealing. Can't wait for you to start writing about new/reformed deck brews!

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  3. I really enjoyed your article, and I myself was analyzing all the pool cards by rarity and by guilds, and I've come to the same conclusion as you.

    Mainly due to the fact of the wide variety of threat answers that salesnya provides (not just of guild cards but monocolored) as the plummet green card for all the flyers (like the izzet rare) and the ton of removal that white offers, specifically 2 commons, one an expensive 2x1 and another relatively cheap conditional removal, and finally the commonly known arrest.

    And as a guild, salesnya provides 3 very relevant good commons, the pump spell you mentioned, the 3cc 3/3 centaur and a 6cc sorcery that gives you 2 3/3 centaurs. All this backed up by 2 other white guild commmons that throw some populate to the table (one being the indestructible trick).

    So summing up, this guild could be the most reliable one, and it greatly welcomes the support of blue or green, being astonishingly synergetic (azorius and golgari) with the aforementioned salesnya.

    Thanks again for the article and good luck in the pre realeases!!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the nice comment!

      That's a very good point. Selesnya sidles right up along Azorius with ease. I've been poring over the set since I wrote this, and I still feel Selesnya is the best guild. Azorius' tempo would be better in a faster, more consistent format.

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  4. Nice article man.
    But now that we've all done RTR enough to be sick for a week, I wish to see Skymark Roc moved up to at least #2.
    I look forward to seeing that guy on the other side of the table like bowel surgery.

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