Goodbye RTR (for now), and hello Gatecrash! For the first time in Limited Magic’s history, we will ignore the first set of the block. That leaves us with a lot of ground to cover. Whether you’re headed to your local prerelease, release event, or preparing for the draft format, a review of the set and mechanics should give you a good head start.
To start things off, I’m going to discuss each of the five guilds, their keyword abilities, and what I think about their positions in each format.
Boros and Battalion[draft]Daring Skyjek
Though Boros’s ability is based solely on attacking, it’s not a simple archetype. Most of the cards with battalion are only good when they can trigger repeatedly, and since a lot of Boros’s creatures are small, you’ll end up losing them in combat often. For that reason, evasive creatures, haste creatures, and combat tricks are key to the archetype.[card]Skyknight Legionnaire[/card] is a rather innocuous nod to the guild’s plan. A rather simple (if unlikely) start from Boros could be [card]Boros Elite[/card] into [card]Bomber Corps[/card] (or a better 2-drop) into [card]Skyknight Legionnaire[/card]. It can regularly turn on battalion profitably when the opponent thinks they are safe. [card]Sunhome Guildmage[/card] is one of the few cards in Gatecrash that can produce multiple bodies, another boon for battalion. The Guildmage doesn’t do any work to protect your team in combat, but it still contributes heavily to alpha strikes and productive blocking. The card has the unique quality of being good in an aggressive situation or a stall, and is only slightly worse when splashed, which is why I think it’s one of the highest non-rare picks in the set.
Battalion pairs very well with the Gruul mechanic bloodrush since it gives you the option of creature/combat trick on the same card. There are only four red cards with bloodrush, but it’s not out of the question to dip into green to play additional cards with the ability if you have enough relevant battalion cards.
Boros’s keyword is a build-around-me ability. There are subtle synergies scattered around the color combination ([card]Act of Treason[/card], [card]Court Street Denizen[/card]) that help enable the ability. When getting into the archetype, it’s important to have a lot of the applicable synergies and instances of battalion to make it work.
That being the case, I don’t think the archetype is particularly good in Sealed, especially considering that most of the best cards are splashable anyways. In draft, the best cards are splashable and numerous, and so are great reasons to open on Boros and see where it leads.
And don’t forget to announce those nattalion triggers!
Gruul and Bloodrush[draft]Viashino Shanktail
Like Boros, Gruul’s ability depends on attacking. The difference is that rather than producing a team worth attacking with, Gruul just wants to have something attack, and bloodrush allows that. The prevalence and variety of the pump in this format is going to make blocking harder and bluff attacking common.[card]Skaarg Guildmage[/card] is slightly anti-synergistic with bloodrush, seeing as you will often have to choose between an activation and being able to use bloodrush. If you have the Guildmage in play and choose not to use it, it does create an interesting dilemma for the opponent during blocks though. As with any of the Guildmages, once you get late enough into the game it will be very good.
Bloodrush creates a tension with certain kinds of instant speed removal. Attacking with the intent of using bloodrush to keep a creature alive into as little as one white mana ([card]Smite[/card]) is very dangerous. At the same time, you can use bloodrush to protect against certain removal like [card]Killing Glare[/card] and [card]Pit Fight[/card]. The existence of the ability definitely makes the timing of removal more important.
Bloodrush doesn’t offer much in the way of synergy. There’s [card]Pit Fight[/card], [card]Wildwood Rebirth[/card], and there’s battalion, but for the most part the archetype is just big guys and attacking through blockers, which makes Gruul pretty shallow.
Since Gruul doesn’t require a lot of finesse to function and has a lot of fat, I think it’s a reasonable archetype for Sealed. As for draft, the depth of red and green is a huge boost to Gruul’s playability. And despite not having a lot of synergy, it does get to use the nearby keyword abilities fairly well.
Simic and Evolve[draft]Experiment One
Evolve is a fairly intuitive ability. It wants you to do something that already happens naturally: play small creatures followed by bigger creatures. Because you can run out of creatures quickly, evolve is best abused on creatures costed 1-3, which makes up 8 of 11 total evolve creatures.
There is some tension with the one-drops because they become bad soon after the early turns (as with most one-drops), and they don’t trigger most other evolve creatures. At the same time, they can be very strong when played on turn one, so they are still good cards. With the cipher mechanic in the mix, getting an evasive or big regenerative guy in play early could be important.
Another awkward thing about evolve creatures is that duplicates (or duplicate P/T) can never trigger each other. It will be important to draft accordingly if you’re looking to trigger the ability frequently.
Similar to the Boros-Gruul link, Simic also benefits from playing additional creatures because of its keyword, so the Simic-Gruul link is strong as well.
The worst cards featuring the ability are [card]Clinging Anemones[/card] and [card]Adaptive Snapjaw[/card], but they are still playable cards. The gap in P/T makes them trigger other evolve creatures easily, as well as themselves. With that said, they are still pretty late picks/adds.
Moving beyond evolve, Simic also has numerous synergies among its cards, and most of the commons and uncommons in its gold section are good. It has a synergistic and strong [card zameck guildmage]Guildmage[/card], a good [card simic charm]Charm[/card], and pairs well with both of the aligned abilities, bloodrush and cipher. All of these things make Simic look like a good choice for the prerelease and a good archetype in draft.
Dimir and Cipher[draft]Hands of Binding
Call of the Nightwing
Cipher makes for the fourth ability geared towards attacking, and is another ability (opposite battalion) that makes evasive creatures important, but it’s rather difficult to abuse. Most of the cards that feature the ability don’t interact with the board and are expensive. If you’re encoding your best creature because that’s the one that can get through, then you’re also opening yourself up to removal.
Aside from expensive and low impact cards that need creatures to connect, Dimir also dips into mill. The theme isn’t represented very well. It’s mostly incidental mill that intends to be taken advantage of in odd ways like [card]Wight of Precinct Six[/card] and [card]Death’s Approach[/card]. Abusing things like that without playing weak mill cards is still possible, but it’s not what I’d prefer to be doing.
Drafting a dedicated mill deck is going to be a challenge. The cards that allow for repeated mill, like [card]Consuming Aberration[/card] and [card]Duskmantle Guildmage[/card], are perfectly good cards without requiring you be completely dedicated.[card]Bane Alley Broker[/card] is an interesting take on a looter. Looters have always been very strong in Limited. This one is on the expensive end and doesn’t let you abuse the discard, but it does give you the new option to redraw cards you’ve lost later on in the game, which makes it better in a slower format. In Sealed, it could even be worth splashing for, but if the draft format is as fast as I think it will be then this card will not be as desired as a regular looter might be.
In Sealed, where the format is slower, I might see myself playing some of the expensive cipher cards but in draft I don’t think I’d play anything but [card]Hands of Binding[/card], [card]Voidwalk[/card], and [card]Stolen Identity[/card]. Since the format looks so fast, cipher and Dimir in general are going to be fairly maligned.
Orzhov and Extort[draft]Basilica Screecher
Knight of Obligation
Extort is an interesting ability. It’s really very simple, but it’s hard to gauge how much it’s worth. As the game progresses, the ability is more likely to be activated but you’ll also start running out of spells to cast. The ability is so minimal there’s no way you’re going to wait on casting a spell just to get the trigger, so it makes sense to think of the ability as “insurance” rather than extort.
The real beauty of extort comes from multiple instances of it. If you have a reasonably low curve, you can just have a couple extort guys out and drain for 2 with every spell you cast. How effective is that really? If you’re doing a good job of stalling the game, then it can be very effective which is why the ability is far better suited for a midrange or control deck. That’s perfect, because Orzhov looks like it has a knack for prolonging the game in addition to plenty of removal.
Extort also benefits from cards that add more cards to your hand, and cipher triggers. This makes [card]Midnight Recovery[/card] a potential winner in a good extort deck. [card]Orzhov Charm[/card] can produce multiple extort triggers, but I find it unlikely that it will be anything but [card]Vendetta[/card].
One thing Orzhov has going for it is that it has three removal spells in its gold section that all are playable. Though, [card]Executioner’s Swing[/card] does come with the inability to inhibit a cipher hit, a bloodrush activation, or a surprise battalion trigger, so it’s noticeably worse than a lot of other removal.[card]Gift of Orzhova[/card] is reminiscent of [card]Armadillo Cloak[/card], but is capable of being played in numerous archetypes. It’s a card that can turn a game around if the opponent isn’t careful with their removal. It’s certainly best saved for the right moment, considering the many removal spells in the format.
Orzhov is a rather boring guild considering that its keyword mechanic is completely incidental and a lot of its cards, including the [card vizkopa guildmage]Guildmage[/card] and [card orzhov charm]Charm[/card], are unexciting. But is it good? As an archetype that would do well in stalls, I think it would be a good choice for the prerelease, but I don’t see myself getting excited about drafting Orzhov.
It’s hard to decipher the draft format and best guild without touching a single card, but from what I can tell Simic is the frontrunner and Boros is behind it. The speed of the format is an important factor in determining the best guild and that is also hard to gauge. From all the focus on attacking, I assume the format will be on the quicker side of things but that could fall apart with experience.
With that in mind, here are my initial high picks in the draft format:
White Common – [card]Angelic Edict[/card]
White Uncommon – [card]Knight of Obligation[/card] There are certainly other good white uncommons, but I have a much harder time evaluating them this early, and would rather stick to what I know. I may have an unhealthy love for 2/4 creatures.
Blue Common – [card]Keymaster Rogue[/card] [card]Hands of Binding[/card] is my next choice. Keymaster Rogue has a lot of synergy with many of the mechanics, so I think it’s a better early pick.
Blue Uncommon – [card]Rapid Hybridization[/card]
Black Common – [card]Grisly Spectacle[/card]
Black Uncommon – [card]Killing Glare[/card]
Red Common – [card]Mugging[/card]
Red Uncommon – [card]Cinder Elemental[/card] While not quite a [card]Blaze[/card], I think Cinder Elemental still trumps [card]Homing Lightning[/card]. All the bloodrush creatures are also very close.
Green Common – [card]Scab-Clan Charger[/card] Scab-Clan Charger is basically a tie with [card]Slaughterhorn[/card]. Curve and evolve considerations will make one better than the other most times. Being a 2/4 was the tiebreaker here.
Green Uncommon – [card]Wasteland Viper[/card] [card]Experiment One[/card] is good, but the fact that it becomes a bad draw quickly puts it lower for me. [card]Crowned Ceratok[/card] is also a quality option.
Boros Common – [card]Wojek Halberdiers[/card] One of the most important things for Boros is to hit its early drops. Halberdiers is perfect for that and edges out [card]Skyknight Legionnaire[/card] for that reason.
Boros Uncommon – [card]Sunhome Guildmage[/card] Currently this is my highest non-rare pick in the set.
Gruul Common – [card]Pit Fight[/card]
Gruul Uncommon – [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] [card]Skarrg Guildmage[/card] is close, but it’s not as splashable and I value bloodrush creatures highly.
Simic Common – [card]Drakewing Krasis[/card]
Simic Uncommon – [card]Zamek Guildmage[/card] There are a lot of good options for this one, but the Guildmage really brings everything Simic together. Taking something splashable like [card]Urban Evolution[/card] is also a strong consideration.
Dimir Common – Do I have to choose…?
Dimir Uncommon – [card]Bane Alley Broker[/card] Awkwardly, there’s barely a Dimir card I value high enough to take when starting a draft. I’m not sure I would even splash for any of the cards so that makes things even worse.
Orzhov Common – [card]Executioner’s Swing[/card] Very close to [card]Kingpin’s Pet[/card] but if I’m going Orzhov I want to pile up on removal and get the extort guys later on if possible.
Orzhov Uncommon – [card]One Thousand Lashes[/card]
Hopefully that gives you a pretty good sense of the format but just in case, here’s a helpful cheat sheet for things to be aware of in-game:
Hands of Binding
Remaining Removal[draft]Debtor’s Pulpit
Mark for Death
One Thousand Lashes
Arrows of Justice[/draft]
Combat Tricks and Instants[draft]Aerial Maneuver
Burst of Strength
Signal the Clans
Merfolk of the Depths
Arrows of Justice[/draft]
That should do it. Let me know if you think I’m right/wrong or just your opinion in the comments! I’d be glad to see what others think. And have fun in the prereleases!
Thanks for reading!
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