It’s been a while since we’ve had to reevaluate a set for Limited. Avacyn Restored, M13, Return to Ravnica, and Gatecrash were all standalone draft sets, so once you figured out that a card was good it would likely remain good for the entire season. Now, we have to go back to Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash, and reevaluate how those cards interact with cards from the other two sets. Today I’m going to write about some cool interactions that you might have missed because they didn’t exist before.
Before anything, I think it’s useful to analyze the keywords and the guilds a little bit:
Selesnya: Populate got a lot worse in the three-set format because you have less tokens and less cards with populate, which devalues both of them. The third set has [card]Alive // Well[/card], which is very good, but there are only two cards with populate—one is a bomb rare and the other a bad common that you will most likely not play in your deck. By the time you get to the third set you will know how many token makers you have, but in all likelihood cards like [card]Rootborn Defenses[/card] and [card]Druid’s Deliverance[/card] are worse now, and you will therefore have less incentive to pick cards that just make tokens, such as [card]Security Blockade[/card]. Because of this, I think Selesnya is worse than it was before.
Rakdos: Unleash does not change much—either you want attackers or you don’t, and they don’t get better or worse the more you have. Rakdos is still a very aggressive guild in all packs, so all the cards will have support.
Golgari: There was never a “scavenge” deck, cards just happened to have scavenge, and they are not better or worse now. Golgari was always a multicolored deck, at least to me, and I like that it now reaps more benefits, since you can just basically take whatever is good and splash it.
Azorius: Detain is the same, but people will play around it a little bit less now, which is good. It will not impact your choices, but chances are that you might “get” someone who only left one blocker up now more than you did before. Gatecrash and Dragon’s Maze both offer some interesting two-drops to lower your curve, so I think Azorius players should lean more towards being aggressive if they weren’t already.
Izzet: Overload was never really a mechanic to begin with, more like an ability that a couple cards had. In Return to Ravnica, Izzet was an aggressive guild disguised as a control guild, but now it really is more on the controlling end of the spectrum, which makes for awkward decks—you can find aggressive cards in Gatecrash ([card]Ember Beast[/card], the cheap blue fliers), but you have no replacement for [card]Frostburn Weird[/card]s, [card]Pursuit of Flight[/card]s, [card]Teleportal[/card]s, and the red unleashers in Dragon’s Maze. Instead you have cards like 1/4 defenders, 1/5 fliers, and [card]Blast of Genius[/card]. It’s basically a change from being creature-based to more spell-based and I think that lends itself to more controlling decks, usually with another color, even if the aforementioned guys can also attack for a lot once you play a spell.
Boros: I think battalion is fine overall—you get less battalion guys, which theoretically would give you less incentive to try to get battalion, making all the ones you already have worse, but there are some decent cards that you will find in the other packs that might help, such as the new haste Viashino, [card]Eyes in the Skies[/card] and [card]Seller of Songbirds[/card]. The problem is that Boros is not really as aggressive in the other sets as it is in Gatecrash, so your approach suffers a bit. Boros also doesn’t do well with splashes and it’s sometimes hard to stay two colors.
Gruul: Bloodrush got better, because you have less pump effects in quantity right now but way more variations. It effectively means two things: first, people will not play around them as much. In triple-Gatecrash, there was a small number of tricks you had to play against, and people knew all of them. They knew, for example, that no red bloodrusher other than the rare Ogre pumped toughness for more than 1, and they knew that they had to play around them because there were three packs and many bloodrushers are common.
Now there is only one pack, so it’s tempting to just pretend they don’t exist, and there are also more pump spells—all the green ones from Return to Ravnica and Makka from Dragon’s Maze—which by definition makes all pump spells in the format better since it’s possible for them to play around the wrong one and then get destroyed. Second, it means you have less opportunities to get them, especially in red, so you should maybe pick them slightly higher than before, because they are very good in all the red decks. Gruul in general should maybe be more about ramping and less about killing them quickly, since you now have more time, but if you can find the cards for a fast Gruul deck go for it. One added benefit of ramping is that it is usually also fixing, so you can play some better cards in other colors.
Dimir: Most cipher cards remain pretty bad. You can find some cheap fliers in the other two sets, especially if you’re UW, but nothing that wasn’t available in Gatecrash. Dimir as a whole is a lot better, since the new set actually has Dimir cards in it. The actual Dimir mechanic, milling, also got better—you now have more cards for a slow deck and [card]Doorkeeper[/card], which is a legitimate way to kill them, and the format being slower means standoffs are more common—a Golgari deck for example is going to be very bad against a deck that wants to mill them. The new [card]Divination[/card] is also interesting because it powers up your [card]Death’s Approach[/card]es.
Simic: The new format offers both good and bad things for evolve. It’s better because you have different sized creatures now, but it’s worse because most of the Simic guys in Dragon’s Maze are actually quite small (the best common is a 2/2 and the best uncommon is an aura, for example). I suspect most Simic decks will have less creatures now, and they will often splash a color, which is a problem for curve purposes when you need to play a one-colored guy turn one, for example, but at the same time the format has slowed considerably which will give your guys more chances to grow—you no longer need to trade them off early to stay alive.
Orzhov: There wasn’t a single extort card that was truly bad, and that remains true with the addition of Dragon’s Maze. In fact, the mechanic only got better, since games will go longer and you can use the ability more often. In Gatecrash, you would sometimes have to trade your [card]Syndic of Tithes[/card] or [card]Basilica Screecher[/card] with their two-drop because you wouldn’t have time to use them if you didn’t, but now I suspect this will be a rarer occurrence.
Now, onto individual card interactions that I think might be interesting and might be missed (if you’ve played a lot with the set these might be obvious to you, but we actually missed a lot of those in our testing when we first played with the set, so I hope they’ll be helpful to people who have not had the chance to play much with it but have a Limited tournament coming up):
Interactions with New Cards[draft]vizkopa guildmage[/draft]
• [card]Vizkopa Guildmage[/card] and [card]Tavern Swindler[/card]: You don’t normally use [card]Tavern Swindler[/card] unless you are gunning for specific amounts of life (i.e. you’re at 5 and they can deal 5 or 2 but can’t deal 8), but with [card]Vizkopa Guildmage[/card], for each three mana you have then you have a 50% chance of dealing them 6 damage at basically no cost. If you have six mana and two turns, you can deal 24 damage with just those two cards! If you have [card]Vizkopa Guildmage[/card] (or two!), make sure you value [card]Tavern Swindler[/card] higher.
• [card]Vizkopa Guildmage[/card] and [card]Alive // Well[/card]: Just use the Guildmage ability and dome them for a lot. If you activate it twice, it only costs 7 mana and deals 4 damage for each creature you have, so they’re probably dead.[draft]bioshift[/draft]
• Simic +1/+1 counters and unleash: Keep in mind that unleash doesn’t care about how creatures get counters, just whether they have them or not. You could [card]Common Bond[/card] or scavenge onto your opponent’s creatures in Return to Ravnica, and now you have some of the Simic cards that let you do the same. [card]Simic Fluxmage[/card] is the easiest one to achieve, but [card]Krasis Incubation[/card], [card]Burst of Strength[/card], [card]Bioshift[/card] and [card]Give // Take[/card] are also possibilities. You can also use [card]Bioshift[/card] to leash back your guys and surprise block with them, and there is also some overlap between cards like [card]Crowned Ceratok[/card] and [card]Sapphire Drake[/card] with scavenge and unleash, as well as [card]Corpsejack Menace[/card] and evolve.[draft]Deathcult Rogue[/draft]
• [card]Deathcult Rogue[/card] versus their Rogues: We’re used to the Gatecrash Rogues, but we have no idea what is a Rogue or not in previous sets because it was never important, so it’s very easy to just assume your guy is unblockable and end up chump-attacking—especially if they have some of the non-black Rogues. In Dragon’s Maze we have [card]Hired Torturer[/card], [card]Bane Alley Backguard[/card], and [card]Notion Thief[/card], and in Return to Ravnica there’s [card]Faerie Impostor[/card], [card]Ogre Jailbreaker[/card], [card]Golgari Decoy[/card], [card]Tavern Swindler[/card], [card]Viashino Racketeer[/card], and [card]Stealer of Secrets[/card].[draft]Guttersnipe[/draft]
• [card]Guttersnipe[/card] and cipher: [card]Guttersnipe[/card] triggers for each spell you cast, and cipher casts the spell every time it hits—it works much like extort, except it deals 2 damage and you don’t have to pay anything.[draft]voidwalk[/draft]
• [card]Voidwalk[/card] versus Selesnya: [card]Voidwalk[/card] was completely unplayable before, but now you have a chance to actually kill things with it, because tokens don’t come back. I suspect this will still not come up very often, since, as before, populate got a lot worse and so did token makers, but some of the tokens are still very good and you’ll want to side this in. Just make sure you don’t bring it in just because “they’re Selesnya,” I think you need to have seen some good targets for this to be good.
• [card]Voidwalk[/card] with enters-the-battlefield triggers: There weren’t many interesting creatures to flicker in Gatecrash, but now you have [card]Seller of Songbirds[/card], the Arresters, [card]Gatecreeper Vine[/card], all the Gatekeepers, [card]Slum Reaper[/card], [card]Voidwielder[/card] and the dream targets, [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] and [card]Trostani’s Summoner[/card].[draft]korozda guildmage
ivy lane denizen[/draft]
• [card]Korozda Guildmage[/card] and [card]Ivy Lane Denizen[/card]: This is actually an awesome combo that takes two already good cards to pull off. The idea is that you sacrifice a guy, making a bunch of tokens, and use all the Denizen triggers on the same guy which you then sacrifice to repeat the process. If you have two 3/3s, you sacrifice one, end up with three 1/1s and a 6/6, sacrifice the 6/6 and end up with nine 1/1s and six +1/+1 counters to distribute however you want.[draft]fencing ace[/draft]
• [card]Fencing Ace[/card] plus enchantments: You could always use the green pump spells on him, but nowadays you have access to more enchantments—[card]Madcap Skills[/card] and [card]Gift of Orzhova[/card], for example. You also get [card]Pursuit of Flight[/card] and [card]Burst of Strength[/card]. Those are in the same block, but they didn’t share a guild, so you would rarely play them in the same deck. He also works well with cipher spells, though it’s harder for him to connect if he doesn’t have some sort of bonus.[draft]beetleform mage[/draft]
• [card]Clan Defiance[/card] versus [card]Beetleform Mage[/card]: If you have two mana up, they can never kill this guy with Clan Defiance, since you can give it flying and the spell will lose its target. Shahar tried that in one of our drafts and it didn’t work very well.[draft]smog elemental[/draft]
• [card]Smog Elemental[/card] versus Bird tokens: The Elemental was usually a sideboard card against some blue fliers, but nowadays you will also hit white decks—[card]Seller of Songbirds[/card], [card]Eyes in the Skies[/card], [card]Vassal Soul[/card], and [card]Sunspire Griffin[/card] are all common, as is [card]Steeple Roc[/card] in the new set.[draft]Deputy of Acquittals[/draft]
• Two [card]Deputy of Acquittals[/card] and extort: If you have two of those, you can block forever, but you also get an Extort trigger for every two mana. They also work well with the Denizens – With the White Denizen you can tap multiple guys for UW each or use the Blue one to mill them out relatively quickly in a stalled game. [card]Voidwielder[/card] also works – it’s more expensive and sorcery speed, but you only need one since it can bounce itself.[draft]grisly salvage[/draft]
• [card]Grisly Salvage[/card] and [card]Rot Farm Skeleton[/card]/[card]Drown in Filth[/card]: [card]Grisly Salvage[/card] was a good card before and you’d always play it, but you might value it a lot higher now that you have two incentives that are much bigger than randomly hitting a scavenge guy. The Skeleton is a fine card and you’ll play him in most decks that are remotely aggressive, but [card]Drown in Filth[/card] fluctuates wildly in value depending what you have and I would not be comfortable playing it without some ways to make sure it works.[draft]spark trooper
• [card]Spark Trooper[/card] and the “gating” guys: People normally don’t block [card]Spark Trooper[/card], since it’s going to die anyway and it tramples, but you might be able to punish them with [card]Faerie Impostor[/card] or [card]Deputy of Acquittals[/card] bouncing your Spark Trooper before the end of the turn.[draft]whispering madness
• [card]Whispering Madness[/card] and [card]Notion Thief[/card]: Two rares, so probably won’t come up, but they’re both relatively bad, so if they’re in the draft there’s a chance you can get them. If you combo the two, then they discard their entire hand and you draw like 20 cards (and that’s not even an exaggeration—if you have five cards in hand, you’ll play this, draw 10, then cipher, attack and draw 20. (Watch out not to get decked—the drawing is not optional, though casting the card through cipher is.)[draft]hidden strings
• [card]Hidden Strings[/card] plus [card]Contaminated Ground[/card]: You’re unlikely to play either of these cards, but if you find yourself extremely short on playables, well, they’re a combo! This guarantees 2 damage a turn, and if they end up having to use the land, you can always untap it and then tap it again. The first turn you play this, you can do it twice for 4 damage.[draft]Stab wound
• [card]Stab Wound[/card] plus [card]Treasury Thrull[/card]: Normally people forget that Thrull brings back enchantments—you could already bring back [card]Death’s Approach[/card], but [card]Stab Wound[/card] is a card you’ll always play and it might come up.[draft]boros reckoner[/draft]
• [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], indestructible, and lifelink: the popular infinite life combo is available for you in Limited as well. For those who don’t know it, the idea is that you give you make your Reckoner indestructible (with [card]Rootborn Defenses[/card], [card]Boros Charm[/card], or Ready), give it lifelink (with [card]Gift of Orzhova[/card], [card]Unflinching Courage[/card], [card]Azorius Charm[/card], [card]Vizkopa Guildmage[/card], or Willing), and then find a way to have it be dealt damage—you will then trigger his ability and deal the damage to itself, gaining 1 life in the process, and you can repeat ad infinitum. Of course you could already do that in Gatecrash Limited, but now you have some different options.[draft]pyrewild shaman[/draft]
• [card]Pyrewild Shaman[/card] with first strike guys: Normally you can only return this guy once per combat, but if you have first strike damage you can discard him, return him with the first strike and then discard him again before normal damage is dealt (and then return him again if you have a ton of mana).[draft]balustrade spy
• [card]Balustrade Spy[/card] and [card]Undercity Informer[/card] with scavenge: In Gatecrash, the only thing stopping you from milling them was the [card]Raise Dead[/card] spell. Nowadays, you add scavenge to the mix, as well as cards like [card]Rot Farm Skeleton[/card] and [card]Drown In Filth[/card], so if the opponent is in those colors (or if you have any of those cards) then it’ll usually be better to mill yourself—in all likelihood, the game won’t be decided by decking.[draft]runner’s bane[/draft]
• Pump spell against [card]Runner’s Bane[/card]: The way enchantments work, if at any moment the creature stops being a legal “target” (not technically a target but the best word I could come up with) the enchantment will fall off. That means, for example, that if your opponent plays [card]Runner’s Bane[/card] on your 2/3 and you pump it to a 4/3, the enchantment will be instantly gone. A lot of the pump is bloodrush, but you can also use scavenge and any of the Return to Ravnica pumps (and [card]Savage Surge[/card] and [card]Burst of Strength[/card] are especially good here since you can untap the guy and attack straight away). If you see multiple [card]Runner’s Bane[/card]s, then consider boarding some pump spells in.
Well, that’s what I have for today—I hope you’ve enjoyed this and I hope it was useful! See you next week at GP Portland.