For Guilds of Ravnica, we’re back to seeded boosters! This means you’re going to choose a guild and receive five normal packs and one seeded pack of that guild. The goal of this article is to help you a bit with the prerelease in general, and to figure out which guild you should choose. Keep in mind that this is still the prerelease, and any guild can perform well, so if you really like one then don’t let me dissuade you from it.
It’s not entirely clear what makes a seeded booster, but my understanding is this:
- All the cards are in that guild’s color.
- There is always a Guildgate of that guild (there is one Guildgate in every pack regardless).
- There is always a Locket of that Guild.
- The packs are somewhat “pre-made” so that they synergize with your rare. For example, if you get a Venerated Loxodon, you’re more likely to get token cards than if you get a Knight of Autumn.
- Rares that are completely unplayable in Limited have been removed from those packs. I don’t know how strict the definition of “completely unplayable” is, but I imagine that it excludes things like Unmoored Ego.
- Watermarked cards and non-watermarked cards of those colors can appear, but you cannot have a card that is watermarked for another guild (this is not confirmed—it’s speculation). So, for example, both Dimir and Golgari can have Midnight Reaper as their rare, since it’s not watermarketed, but only Dimir can have Doom Whisperer and only Golgari can have Mausoleum Secrets, since those are watermarked.
I’m going to start with some general considerations about the format, and then move onto the specific guilds and what you should be looking for.
Guilds of Ravnica seems to be a fast format. Mentor is a strictly aggressive keyword that rewards pump effects, and Selesnya can deploy big creatures very quickly. Izzet also seems to be aggressive—you wouldn’t think so, based on its mechanic, but there’s a lot of evasion and especially a lot of reach. It’s also a very snowbally format, because mentor and convoke can take a small advantage and amplify it, so if you fall too far behind you will lose. This means you have to pay special consideration to your curve and you can’t keep horrible hands just because it’s Sealed.
In Guilds of Ravnica, I’d expect curves to start earlier than normal. Most of the time, you aren’t interested in 1-drops in Limited, but they seem much better in Guilds of Ravnica because mentor, convoke, undergrowth, and even jump-start (since you can ditch them late game) all encourage them. Here are some 1-drops I’d be happy to play in this format:
This is at least one per color, and there are even more in some colors. I can’t remember the last time we had a set where every color had an actively good 1-drop, so plan accordingly.
You should also keep in mind that decks in this prerelease will be a little more powerful than normal Sealed because of the seeded pack. You’re more likely to be curved on by a Selesnya or Boros deck than you are with six regular packs.
Every booster of Guilds of Ravnica has one Guildgate in it. If we pair that up with Gateway Plaza at common, the Lockets at common, Urban Utopia, Circuitous Route, and District Guide, we end up with a format where it’s relatively easy to splash, especially if you’re playing green.
Whether you will want to splash or not will depend on the contents of your deck. My inclination is that Boros and Izzet usually don’t want to splash, Golgari and Selesnya usually want to, and Dimir will depend on what exactly you have. The key here is that even though splashing is possible, it might not be advisable, because I believe this will be a fast format, even in Sealed. I’m still going to splash for something great if I have the means to, but adding a Locket and three Gates to your deck might not be worth it if you can’t afford the time to play a tapped land.
You should also keep in mind whether you have the XXYY flagship uncommon of your guild—cards like Truefire Captain and Conclave Cavalier. These cards are very powerful, and it’s usually not worth being unable to cast them on time because of a small splash, especially if you have multiples. In those spots, you should prioritize fixing that adds your splash color and not your two main colors.
For example, imagine you’re playing Dimir with Nightveil Specter and you want to splash Hypothesizzle. If you have three Izzet Guildgates, then this works, because you’re not going to be hurting your Nightveil Specter at all, but if you have three Dimir Guildgates, then you can’t just jam three Mountains and be done with it, even if the total number of mana sources is the same.
Also, it probably goes without saying, but you should not play a color combination that isn’t a supported guild.
Play or Draw?
This is always contingent on what your deck looks like, but my default in Guilds of Ravnica will be to play. If I’m playing a more controlling deck and I have cheap answers (multiple Dead Weights, for example), then I’ll be happy to draw, but without any information, I think play is better.
So, how about the guilds?
Dimir is historically a control guild, but in Guilds of Ravnica it loses some of its control role and instead adopts a more tempo-centric approach. You can still have card advantage, card selection, removal, and late-game threats, but it seems that curving out is more important here than it usually is for U/B decks.
Dimir’s mechanic is surveil, and it’s a very good ability. It’s good early because it makes sure you hit your land drops and your curve, and it’s good late, because it makes sure that you hit relevant cards. There are also several positive interactions with surveil in the set—not only does Dimir have multiple surveil-matters cards, but it also works with the Izzet mechanic (by putting relevant cards in the graveyard) and also with the Golgari mechanic (by putting creatures in the graveyard).
With surveil, my advice is that you don’t get too greedy. There’s always a feeling of “this card is OK, but the next card could be great” that makes you want to bin everything that isn’t the absolute best, but sometimes “OK” is all you need. You have to evaluate your position—if you need something great to win, then yeah, go for greatness, but if you’re even or slightly ahead, then most of the time anything that has a meaningful effect (isn’t a land) is going to be good.
Boros is, as you’d expect, a very aggressive guild. It’s also very snowbally—it seems like you have to try to win the early game and win it hard, otherwise it’s going to be difficult to get back in the game.
Its ability, mentor, is tricky to evaluate, because it’s a powerful ability but much more narrow than it appears. You have to be attacking with two creatures, one of which has to have mentor, and the one with mentor has to have more power. A lot of the time you’ll have a card with mentor in play and won’t be able to trigger it, either because you lack a target or because you just can’t attack with either the mentor creature or the target.
Mentor is also worded in a way that it checks on triggering and on resolution, and you have to meet the condition both times. For example, if I attack with a 3/3 mentor, a 2/2 mentor and a 2/2, I can’t make the 2/2 mentor a 3/3 and then use that to make the 2/2 into a 3/3, because it was a 2/2 to begin with. If I have a 2/2 and two 3/3s with mentor, then I cannot end up with a 4/4.
Mentor is the most influential mechanic in terms of how its existence affects the value of everything else. Cheap evasive creatures get better because it’s easy to pump a creature from 1 power to 2 power—a lot of mentors have 2 power. So, for example, Healer’s Hawk becomes much better than it normally would be since it’s very easy to grow it into a 2/2, at which point you’re getting way more than you paid for.
Cards that pump some of your creatures also get better, since you’re pumping your other creatures as a consequence—growing your mentor from a 2/2 into a 3/3, for example, will also grow your other creature from a 2/2 into a 3/3. A card like Gird for Battle, for example, can be much better than it appears in a deck full of mentor creatures. Even normal combat tricks should sometimes be used pre-combat, just so that they work with mentor.
Ways of getting your creatures through also become better, since they let you attack with either mentor or mentee in a situation where you otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Pegasus Courser was already pretty good in previous formats, but Roc Charger is even better here, as it works with mentor as both enabler and recipient.
Finally, creatures that just bounce off each other aren’t good blockers against mentor decks. If your opponent attacks with a mentor and another creature, and you block with your 0/5 Wall, this means that your opponent’s mentor lives to attack again next turn.
Another characteristic is that red has a lot of reach in this set. Direct Current offers 4 points of burn at common, and Inescapable Blaze deals 6 at uncommon. Even Gravitic Punch is playable in the right deck and can deal a lot of damage that bypasses combat. So if you’re playing against a red deck (either Boros or Izzet), be very mindful of your life total. You can easily stabilize the game and still lose.
Boros is the guild that improves the most with the seeded pack compared to how it is in normal Sealed, since it’s easier to hit the good curve that you need for this deck to work.
This time around, Selesnya isn’t as token-based as it was in the previous two Ravnica formats—they exist, but you’re not necessarily trying to flood the board with them (except for a couple of rares that actually do this). You’ll still have small creatures to convoke, but the sheer quality of the creature seems higher, as opposed to the focus on quantity—everyone is just beefier overall.
Convoke is straightforward—it was a good Limited mechanic the first time around, and it’s a good Limited mechanic now. Most Limited decks are creature-based anyway, and virtually all Selesnya decks will be, so you don’t have to make any sacrifices to convoke stuff—you just play creatures and at some point take a turn off to deploy something huge, like a Flight of Equenauts or a Siege Wurm.
For Selesnya, just like for Boros, it’s very important to curve out, because if you miss the early game, then you won’t even be able to play your convoke cards in the early game. For example, someone who plays a 2- or a 3-drop can play a Rosemane Centaur turn 4, which leads to having two creatures in play, but someone who doesn’t have a 2- or 3-drop is resigned to having nothing in play on turn 4 and only a creature on turn 5.
Golgari is in a weird spot. Its main mechanic, undergrowth, requires you to have creatures in the graveyard, but at the same time there isn’t a lot of self-milling in the set to fuel it (ironically enough, the best way to fuel it is the Dimir mechanic, surveil), so you have to rely on combat for creatures to die naturally. Luckily, most Golgari creatures seem to be made in a way that really incentivizes trading—either they have good enter the battlefield abilities, like Generous Stray and Burglar Rat, or they are cheap deathtouch blockers, like Hired Poisoner or Pitiless Gorgon, or they have sacrifice abilities like Pilfering Imp or Portcullis Vine. There are also some effects that lead to sacrificing your own creatures, such as Severed Strands or one of the many fight effects.
It’s also interesting that undergrowth has the opposite effect on blockers compared to mentor—whereas them having mentor wants you to trade, them having undergrowth specifically wants you not to trade. I think that, in this exchange, mentor wins out, so low powered creatures are still a little worse than normal on defense.
Overall, my recommendation with undergrowth is that you don’t worry too much about it, and instead just let it happen. Don’t go around playing mediocre surveil cards and binning every creature you see just to increase your creature count in the graveyard. The payoff for undergrowth isn’t really there. Instead, just play a normal game of Magic, perhaps with an extra block or risky attack, and enjoy when your undergrowth starts working.
Izzet is normally a control guild focused on spells. In Guilds of Ravnica, those elements are present, but Izzet still strikes me as more of an aggressive guild than anything. It’s basically like Boros, except with fewer pump spells and even more ways of getting damage through with cards like Sonic Assault, though it can actually be a control deck, which Boros usually cannot. Even cards that you might be a bit skeptical of, like Maximize Altitude, seem like they have a place in Izzet because they interact so well with mentor.
Izzet’s mechanic, jump-start, isn’t a build-around mechanic. It’s more of a sweet bonus than anything else. Most jump-start cards have very mellow effects. If you have a lot of jump-start, you can lean more towards playing 18 lands or a situational card (like a Disenchant effect, or a Counterspell), since you’ll definitely have a use for anything in the late game, but barring that you should not radically alter how you build your deck because of it. There are spell-matter cards that get a little better with jump-start, but the difference isn’t noticeable.
So which guild should you choose? Here’s my ranking:
I think that, on guild-power level, Izzet is third, but its seeded pack is so weak that I think it’s the worst choice for the prerelease specifically. A lot of the watermarked cards are very specific to aggressive decks, which makes it very awkward if you choose an Izzet pack and then want to end up in a slightly more defensive Dimir deck, where you aren’t looking to push through damage nearly as much. Its hybrid common, Piston-Fist Cyclops, is also annoying because you might not even be able to play it in a non-Izzet deck. It might be OK in some Dimir decks but most Boros decks will absolutely not want it.
Another issue is that, if you choose Izzet, you miss out on the best blue common (Watcher in the Mist) and the best blue rare (Dream Eater), and also on one of the best red commons . Izzet also has the highest number of bad (or at least unexciting) rares that you can open: Risk Factor, Ionize, Firemind’s Research, and Thousand-Year Storm are all Izzet-watermarked. The combination of all of those things makes Izzet the last pick for me, at least for the prerelease in terms of choosing your pack (it will be better once we get to normal Sealed without a seeded pack, and you can of course end up with a good Izzet deck regardless—I do think that Izzet will often produce better decks in normal Sealed than the next two guilds).
Golgari’s mechanic is weak, but it makes up for it a little with the strength of its gold cards and the fact that splashing is very easy in this color combination. The issue with Golgari is similar to the one in Izzet—a lot of the powerful cards in those colors belong to another guild. If you pick the Golgari pack, you miss out on a strong black common (Deadly Visit) and the strongest black uncommon (Price of Fame), and you also miss out on Siege Wurm, which might be the best green common (though perhaps Prey Upon is). Green is already a very weak color, and missing out on one of its best cards is unfortunate.
Your hybrid common (Pitiless Gorgon) is just OK, but there aren’t any really strong cards in this slot, and you’ll probably play it in most black or green decks.
The creatures in Selesnya are just so big! Rosemane Centaur and Siege Wurm are both excellent, and you don’t miss out on any of the common removal in your colors (on top of having access to Conclave Tribunal at uncommon). The hybrid card is the second weakest in the context of playing it in other decks, though it is cute that you get to attack with it and then use it to convoke in the same turn.
Boros has some pretty great cards, and I expect the best deck in each prerelease to likely be Boros, but I think it’s also the one guild where things can go wrong the most, because a bad Boros deck is not going to win very much. You really need a good deck and you need to draw your cards in the right order if you’re Boros. Luckily, the seeded pack makes it much easier to have a good Boros deck.
Boros has the advantage of pairing well with either Izzet or Selesnya—both archetypes are aggressive, so you’ll always be able to use any white or red cards you open. Its hybrid common (Fresh-Faced Recruit) is a curve filler that you will often play in red-white decks, even if it isn’t good. Boros also has some good rares, but they’re not the most splashable for the most part.
Another good thing about Boros is that white’s best common, Luminous Bonds, isn’t watermarked, so anyone can get it.
The real strength of Dimir is that it has the best seeded pack—everything good in these color combinations is Dimir. The frontrunner for best common in both colors is in there (Watcher in the Mist and Deadly Visit), as well as two incredible gold commons (Artful Takedown and Darkblade Agent). You get a great uncommon in Price of Fame, and you also get Dream Eater and Doom Whisperer as mega bombs, and Thief of Sanity as a very strong rare.
The black cards pair very well with the Golgari theme if you want to end up in this color combination, and the common hybrid card, Whisper Agent, is probably the best common hybrid, and will be good in any black or blue deck for the most part (it’s especially great in Golgari because of undergrowth as well). If you go Dimir, you don’t miss out on the other great black common either (Dead Weight).
So there you have it! Again, please remember that this is just a guideline on what I would choose if my goal was to win the tournament. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t choose a different guild or that you can’t win the tournament if you do.