Feature Article – Better or Best (English and Japanese)

English Translation by Emily Porcher.

Click Here to Jump to the Japanese Version

Once again, it’s been a while since my last article.

This will be my first article of the new year, and for various reasons starting now, I will be writing one per month. Thank you for understanding.

Well, for today’s article I will be writing about Gatecrash draft, the format I have practiced the most with over the past month.

Although I have now been playing the format and getting a strong sense of it, I have found that it is difficult to master. It really feels like the natural progression of Return to Ravnica Limited. Sometimes it is like there are enough cards and other times there are too few. Moreover, I am often struck by a sense of the polarity between strong and weak cards, a feeling that comes and goes during a draft.

I think the biggest reason for this impression begins and ends with the question of how you avoid guild overlap.

Ben Stark has mentioned this already, but I agree with him that an eight-player draft allows for two Boros players, two Orzhov players, one Gruul player, one Simic player, and one Dimir player. I think that the guild the eighth player chooses will decide the loser.

In this format, I try to draft an open guild as much as possible. For this reason, I prepare to make considerable sacrifices. I think this is the first milestone for success in this draft environment.

For example, if three or more people start drafting a guild and continue to choose from it, based on the cards that come back around these people have a general understanding of the trends in what each other person is picking. At pick nine of pack one it may be better to change to a completely different guild.

When I practiced, there were quite a few drafts where I went into a guild I believed to be open and then succeeded by changing over to the colors I had chosen as insurance in picks six or seven through nine. In a typical environment, you might expect this to end with a loss.

In Return to Ravnica, there was a lot of risk associated with switching colors, but in this environment I have the impression that being willing to discard your early picks is quite good. Additionally, you want to guarantee that you have insurance in case you need to change colors early on. On the other hand, you never really want to cut cards from someone else, as this may cause confusion in the middle of the draft. Rather, pass strong cards along to signal your intent and help divide up the draft.

This strategy forms the groundwork of my thinking, but there are also certain cards that, while mono-color, essentially go with a specific guild. In this environment, it isn’t a problem if you overlap with only one of your neighbors’ colors. For example, if the person to my right sends me strong signals that he is in white but is clearly in Boros and I decide to go Orzhov, we can still easily avoid conflict. The reason is that there are countless different cards whose power varies greatly depending on the guild you are playing.

A very good example of this is [card]Smite[/card] in Boros versus [card]Smite[/card] in Orzhov. In Boros, where making a battalion-based aggressive deck is best, the removal condition of a “blocked creature” almost never comes up. If you have no choice but to include one copy of [card]Smite[/card] in a Boros deck, my impression would be that the deck is not very strong.

On the other hand, in Orzhov where you can win exclusively by casting spells and taking advantage of the extort mechanic, being able to take down a creature with a combat trick makes this card the second most powerful removal spell.

Playing three copies of [card]Smite[/card] in Orzhov? This is going to be one powerful deck!

This is the kind of thing I would think if I was drafting Orzhov and Smites came around late, a good sign if you’re playing this deck. Moreover, if I were to pass them I am sending a signal to my neighbor that Orzhov is open.

Of course, there are also powerful mono-color cards that have no guild affiliation. [card]Grisly Spectacle[/card] and [card]Mugging[/card] are obvious; they are strong in their two related guilds, not to mention even in unrelated colors. These are the kinds of card that I place special priority on when drafting. They are cards you should pick up early on.

However, you also need to keep in mind the existence of cards that, more so than those mentioned above, offer a wide range of choices and bring out the true flavor of the environment. These are the hybrid cards. For example, [card]Deathcult Rogue[/card]. Based on its colors this card is Dimir affiliated, but actually it can be used in Orzhov and Simic too. The mono-colored cards discussed previously can really only be used in two decks, whereas these can be used in three.

Because the common hybrid cards have a more limited power level across the board, picking them early can be a little rough, but if you have yet to settle on what guild you’re playing picking these cards highly leaves room for more flexibility and gives you a wider choice range going forward. When comparing hybrids to powerful multicolor cards affiliated with a single guild, the choice between flexibility and commitment is tough.

Conversely, dealing with triple symbol hybrids like [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] and [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] is a different matter, and it is a good idea to be cautious. They don’t require very much mana, but the restrictions on the colors needed are quite harsh and may force you into a certain guild. In most cases when you pick Boros Reckoner you have to continue with Boros, and the Specter is the same way. However, there are also cards like Rubblebelt Raiders which have strict color restrictions and cost more mana but compensate with a high power level. You should be conscientious of the boost in value these cards receive from their basic specs and hybrid flexibility.

I think that it is a good idea to use these observations and try considering when playing the card you are picking will have a real effect . Until what turn is it relevant? If you can ensure that you have around thirteen white sources in an Orzhov deck, it is possible to play [card]Boros Reckoner[/card].

A high ratio of uncommon, rare and mythic rare hybrid cards fall into the early pick category, but whether these cards will lock you into a guild or expand your options varies greatly depending on how your deck is constructed. There is no doubt, however, that hybrid cards are the oil that greases the mechanisms of the draft.

I think that these are the general characteristics of this environment, so I’d like to move to a detailed discussion of the individual guilds. However…

It seems that assigning an order to the guilds based on power level as I usually do won’t function very well in this format. But if I were to assess it based on the strength of each card pool, perhaps the order would be:

Boros > Orzhov > Gruul > Simic > Dimir

There is clearly room for two players each of Boros and Orzhov in an eight man draft and I think I would choose Gruul as the next guild. However, I feel that in this format each guild has its own optimum strategy. It is easy for the deck that follows its guild concept most closely to go 3-0.

Even if more than three players at a table go for Boros or Orzhov, one among them will sometimes have an excellent deck. Moreover, it’s also completely possible that a table’s one Dimir player will come out with a useless one.

I’d like you to read my commentary on each color while keeping that in mind.

Now, I’ll write about what I believe to be each guild’s optimum strategy based on my experience. I’ll also specifically discuss things that can go wrong.



Boros’ strategy is clear and simple: you just need to set up three creatures and strike. While that’s really all there is to it, Boros becomes a real threat when this simple concept is backed up by two-mana three-power creatures.

A perfect Boros deck has the speed to end a game just as fast as a constructed deck. The essential thing when putting your deck together is to maximize only cards that cost two or less. Playing a creature on turn two is Boros’ lifeline.

One can understand from the fact that there are almost no four-mana 3/3s that most of the creatures in this set are inferior in size compared to the norm. However, white alone has superior two drops. Somehow, the commons are brimming with three power creatures and spells that grant bonuses.

If you can, by turn four you want to have a board state where you have three creatures and can continue to attack with battalion. This in particular is Boros’ biggest strength.

When compared to two-mana cards, three-mana cards are somewhat less important, and [card]Skyknight Legionnaire[/card] may be the only remarkable one. Because it has haste, you can attack with battalion one turn earlier than your opponent expects, an advantage beyond those specifically mentioned on the card itself.

Then, there are the cards that complete the deck as the deciding factor. It suffices to say that [card]Madcap Skills[/card] and [card]Holy Mantle[/card] fit the deck concept. [card]Act of Treason[/card] is also good.


Boros is characterized by its keyword ability, battalion, which has both good and bad aspects. Because it is more or less a deck which simply lines up creatures and strikes, it is appropriately weak to decks which stave off attacks using walls. Additionally, responding with combat tricks is also a good way to deal with Boros.

Because Boros is an aggressive guild, Boros decks need to attack in the opening turns. However, you will often encounter the dilemma of being unable to maintain having three creatures for battalion. In particular, Orzhov shines in this match up, and even if the two decks have a slight difference in quality the Orzhov deck is often able to overcome any disparity. I have said this many times, but you can’t simply rely on the superior quality of your creatures to win every game.



Extort, extort, and also… extort.

The extort keyword is truly spectacular. Even if you don’t attack, you can win the game using this ability. That being the case, you construct a defensive deck. However, Orzhov draws its strength from the defensive white cards that are almost useless in Boros: I’ve already mentioned [card]Smite[/card], and [card]Basilica Guards[/card] is also an effective card that can be cast on the cheap. Orzhov’s removal ranges from [card]Grisly Spectacle[/card], which anyone would recognize as powerful, to the more situational [card]Executioner’s Swing[/card]. Simply from the standpoint of removal, another strength of Orzhov is that the variety of cards it has access to far surpasses that of the other guilds.

If you were to view Orzhov in terms of creature offense, it is the slowest of the five guilds. However, its clock is faster than it appears.

For example, you attack with [card]Kingpin’s Pet[/card] for two damage and then cast a spell and extort three times. These three points of damage plus your three points of life gain and the damage incurred from the Pet represents an eight point life swing all in one turn.

And that’s only attacking with a 2/2.

A large quantity of defenders and a just a few attackers should be enough. Additionally, I like to add just a few cards with the Dimir keyword cipher. When cipher triggers, it counts as “casting a spell”, and this effect is very good at inflating the number of times you can extort. If used more than once the advantage derived from cipher itself is also enough to decide a game.


There is one thing you need to be careful of when putting together an Orzhov deck. If you are going to make use of extort, you have to consciously aim to build a deck with low mana cost cards. This is because you lose an opportunity if you find yourself without the mana to pay for extort even though you are casting spells. It’s important to be extremely cautious of the significant gap between what appears to be your mana curve and the cost you will likely be paying in an actual game. In practice, a simple rat becomes a [card]Highway Robber[/card] and is far superior to [card]Zarichi Tiger[/card]. Even if you summon the cat, it is unlikely you will use its ability for a while.

However, in this guild you always face the dilemma of wanting to play slightly larger creatures.

Orzhov has a good match up against the more direct Boros and Gruul decks but is weak versus Simic and Dimir. Attackers that grow over time and the cipher and mill strategy cause more problems for this deck. Because you can lose to being too defensive and having no way to target your opponent’s weak points, it is good to be aware of your own offense when putting together your deck.



Gruul’s basic strategy resembles that of Boros quite a bit. Nothing but attacking. That’s it.

Unlike Boros there’s no need to maintain three attacking creatures, and it is not as necessary to worry about having low mana cost cards. Most Gruul mana curves will top off with [card]Zhur-Taa Swine[/card], and the game plan revolves around considering your bloodrush options while trying to overwhelm your opponent with bigger creatures. I think that an alternative would be maximizing the number of bloodrush cards you have and using [card]Spire Tracer[/card] with [card]Madcap Skills[/card] and [card]Scorchwalker[/card] to make an extremely fast draft deck, but because this build is a real gamble, I imagine it would be easy to go 3-0 or 0-3 with it.


For the most part Gruul’s weaknesses are the same as those of Boros, but what you do need to be more careful of here is not just becoming a Boros deck with a higher curve. Because Gruul’s two mana options are poor compared to Boros’ under normal circumstances, in this format not consciously picking up lower cost cards leads to a deck that is just slow and top heavy. As you draft, you need to be constantly aware that you will be dealing the killing blow with bloodrush. Against Orzhov, which is Gruul’s worst match up, it seems that applying pressure via the size difference in creatures or taking extreme strategies like the ones discussed above might be better with regard to deck construction.



If you see cards with “evolve” written on them, pick them up. Aside from the weak [card]Clinging Anemones[/card] and nonessential [card]Adaptive Snapjaw[/card], it seems the only time you want to to pass on an evolve creature is when there is another stronger evolve creature in the pack.

A Simic deck gets stronger simply by having a progression of creatures to play, and the more low cost evolve creatures you assemble the stronger your deck will be. The problem is the number of people at a table that can reasonably play this archetype.

This can be said of any guild, but for Simic, which must have a way to abuse evolve, it is definitely a matter of life or death. Having three Simic players at a table results in decks that are so terrible as to be almost painful to look at. On the other hand, when constructed skillfully a Simic deck can be amazing. Of the five guilds, I think Simic has my favorite “optimal” deck.

My image of a Simic draft is as follows. Short of a a start where you decide to go Simic with a bomb like [card]Prime Speaker Zegana[/card], Simic is not a guild you actively draft. Rather, I think it is a guild which you can choose to play as the cards come around the table. If you are being passed [card]Cloudfin Raptors[/card] you pick them up, and seeing a relatively late [card]Shambleshark[/card] is often a sign. And, as I said earlier you want to make a serious effort to keep picking up evolve creatures.

The thing to be careful of when constructing your deck is to include not just evolve creatures. Cards that trigger evolve are also important. Including only evolve creatures with inferior stats will result in limited growth. The fact that [card]Leyline Phantom[/card] is large and has the “disadvantage” of needing to be replayed is actually amazing in this deck. I’d like to have two copies in a Simic deck.


Because there is a lag between when you play your creatures and when you evolve them, Simic’s creatures are just as weak as Dimir’s when viewed through the lens of sheer speed. From there the game plan is to gradually grow your creatures and make a comeback, but surviving through Simic’s slow starts can be very difficult.

Against Boros and Gruul it is essential to somehow compensate for this difference in speed. As I said in an official interview, this is exactly why I like having access to cheap spells in Simic.

Against Dimir and Orzhov I have the impression that Simic generally has a good match up, but because this deck wants to play its most important creatures first, you are often the victim of [card]Devour Flesh[/card]. Having your creatures picked off while they’re still small is poor, so it’s a good idea to be careful of this sort of game plan.



This goes along with its dark and mysterious flavor, but Dimir is a guild that is very hard to get a good handle on. I believe that there is a cipher archetype, as well as a control build that uses [card]Devour Flesh[/card] and [card]Death’s Approach[/card]. Additionally, there is the mill plan. It seems that only this guild lacks a true optimum strategy.

Among these options, I am going to talk about the cipher beatdown and control decks. As for mill, Conley researched it while preparing for the Pro Tour and I feel that there is a pretty fixed build. However, the real issue is that I myself have barely tried it and won’t be able to make useful commentary.

As with Conley, I feel that the key points for mill decks are tempo and flexibility.

But as for tempo, the same thing can be said about beatdown and control decks. Both clearly make use of the same powerful cards, like [card]Grisly Spectacle[/card]. And there are other cards that are strong in both archetypes. [card]Balustrade Spy[/card] falls into this category. If you are playing beatdown it serves as a creature that you can cipher spells on to, and for control it also puts cards into your opponent’s graveyard for free.

In the case of control, cards that put your opponent’s creatures in the graveyard are extremely valuable, since they allow for the practical use of [card]Death’s Approach[/card]. Although you can use cards exclusively dedicated to mill in control decks, because you generally only lose advantage you don’t want to play too many.

Once you’ve assembled these basic parts, it is necessary to judge what sort of cards you can easily acquire and decide what direction you want to take your deck in.

Because with Dimir it is almost like there are several sub-guilds within a larger whole, you absolutely need to have a unified deck. Decks which include cards that don’t really fit like a Boros build which includes [card]Smite[/card] or an Orzhov build which includes [card]Act of Treason[/card] might appear reasonable, but they shortly fall victim to their creator’s carelessness. It is important to be aware of what type of Dimir deck you are aiming for as you draft.


In most cases, Dimir is quite weak in terms of brute force.

The biggest issue is that when you compare card for card this guild seems to be the worst. If you are going to win, you always have to try to be the only Dimir player at the table. If there is another person at the table playing Dimir, your other opponents’ decks might become even better. This can be a real nightmare.

And yet, trying to build your deck carefully is the most important thing. Honestly I often ask the advice of others, so if you have anything to share please do so. When I get a powerful Dimir rare like [card]Consuming Aberration[/card] my usual plan is to start thinking about including a splash.

Well, I think that’s about it for today.

Until next time, thank you for reading.

Shuhei Nakamura

Japanese Version:








《忌まわしい光景/Grisly Spectacle》だったり《強盗/Mugging》というのは当たり前だけど隣接している二つのギルドはおろか非ギルドカラーをやっていても当然強い。

それがハイブリッドカード達だ。例えば《死教団のならず者/Deathcult Rogue》。

逆に《ボロスの反攻者/Boros Reckoner》や《夜帷の死霊/Nightveil Specter》のようなトリプルシンボルのみの要求は挙動が逆になるから注意したほうが良い。
運用を想定するマナ域に対して要求するマナ拘束があまりに厳しくて逆にギルドを固定させてしまっている。ほとんど場合《ボロスの反攻者/Boros Reckoner》を取ってしまうとボロスに進まなくてはならないし、死霊についても同様だ。
逆にマナ拘束の辛さがありつつも5マナカードとして考えても充分に見返りがある《瓦礫帯の略奪者/Rubblebelt Raiders》くらいになると、元のカードスペックに加えてこの色選択の幅の広さというところでカードの価値を大きく押し上げているのは意識すべきだね。





《空騎士の軍団兵/Skyknight Legionnaire》だけは別格かな。速攻があるので対戦相手が予想するより大隊達成を1ターン早く達成できるのはカードに書かれている以上のアドバンテージだね。
《向こう見ずな技術/Madcap Skills》や《聖なるマントル/Holy Mantle》なんかはデッキのコンセプトにも合うし言うことがない。
また《攻撃的な行動/Act of Treason》なんかもよいね。


誰がみても強い《忌まわしい光景/Grisly Spectacle》のような除去から《処刑人の一振り/Executioner’s Swing》といった微妙なものまで。

例えば《重要人物のペット/Kingpin’s Pet》で攻撃して2点、このターン呪文を唱えて強請を3回したとすれば。3点プラス3点のライフゲインで都合8点分の得失点差が1ターンでついている換算になる。

ただのネズミが実際は《街道筋の強盗/Highway Robber》で、
召喚してもしばらくは能力を起動できない《ザリーチ虎/Zarichi Tiger》より遥かに優れている。

ほとんどのグルールにとってマナカーブ最高到達点は《ザル=ターの豚/Zhur-Taa Swine》であり、沸血というオプションを見据えながらサイズ差で圧倒するというゲームも考えるというゲームプランが軸となる。
1マナエルフから《向こう見ずな技術/Madcap Skills》、《焦土歩き/Scorchwalker》を沸血というトップスピードを求めたドラフトもありだと思う。


カードとして弱い《すがりつくイソギンチャク/Clinging Anemones》とそれほど重要ではない《順応する跳ね顎/Adaptive Snapjaw》以外の進化クリーチャーより優先して取るのは隣により強い進化クリーチャーがある時だけだろうね。


初手に《首席議長ゼガーナ/Prime Speaker Zegana》のようなボムが現れて覚悟を決めてスタートする時以外は
もし《雲ヒレの猛禽/Cloudfin Raptor》が流れきたら確保だけはしておいて、比較的遅い順目に《シュラバザメ/Shambleshark》が来ればこれをサインとして参入する。

《力線の幻影/Leyline Phantom》はサイズ、出し直せるというデメリット共に全てにおいて素晴らしい。2枚はデッキに入れておきたいね。

一番重要なクリーチャーを一番早く戦場に出したいというデッキの要請から《肉貪り/Devour Flesh》がよく刺さる。

暗号を用いたアグレッシブなデッキがあるかと思うと、《肉貪り/Devour Flesh》と《死の接近/Death’s Approach》を使ったコントロール型。そしてライブラリーアウト戦略とこのギルドだけは確実にこれだと最適戦略というものを持たない。


両方のデッキで共通して明らかに強いカード、例えば《忌まわしい光景/Grisly Spectacle》なんかがそうだね。
その次にどちらのアーキタイプでも強いカード。これは《欄干のスパイ/Balustrade Spy》なんかがあてはまる。
コントロールの場合は《死の接近/Death’s Approach》を活用する為に只で墓地にクリーチャーを落とすというシステムを持ったカードは非常に重宝する。

ちょっと見た目がよくても《強打/Smite》入りのボロスや《反逆の行動/Act of Treason》入りのオルゾフみたいなデッキに噛み合わないカードが入ってしまっているデッキに油断しているとすぐなってしまう。

何か強力なディミーアのレア、《破壊的な逸脱者/Consuming Aberration》くらいを引いた時に将来的にはタッチ含みを込みで考えてスタートするというのが普段の僕の方針だね


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