The Ravnica Allegiance Prerelease Primer

For Ravnica Allegiance, 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 of the cards are in the colors of that guild.
  • 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 rare you get is a random rare from your guild, but the packs are pre-generated and the commons and uncommons will be synergistic with each other. There are several possible pre-generated packs.
  • 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 Simic and Gruul can open Enraged Ceratok since it’s not watermarked, but only Simic can open Trollbred Guardian and only Gruul can open Rampaging Rendhorn.

This time around, I’m going to focus mostly on the guilds, and I’ll talk about some specifics of the format as they pertain to each guild. Here is how I would rank them:

#5: Azorius

The Azorius mechanic is very “goodstuff”y—you’ll play a good addendum card if you have it, but it’s not going to impact anything else that you play. It’s different from, say, having to play more creatures because you have undergrowth, or watching the size of your creatures because of mentor. In fact, none of the mechanics in this set require any specific commitments. They’re just kind of there for you to use regardless of what else your deck looks like, with the possible exception of Rakdos, which informs some of your curve considerations.

The Azorius pack has some pretty strong commons: Azorius Knight-Arbiter and Lawmage’s Binding, for example, both look very strong. My biggest issue with Azorius is the rares. Emergency Powers, Lavinia, and Absorb are all weak, which is the highest concentration of “busts” that we have, and there’s nothing incredibly busted to make up for it.

In the commons department, the weak point seems to be the creatures. I like the Knight-Arbiter and Senate Griffin, but past that there’s no beef —it’s all just a bunch of combat tricks. There’s some card drawing, and then you have the tricks and some removal, but it feels to me that Azorius is doomed to put itself in a race that it’s going to lose most of the time since its creatures are so small. I think this is mostly a problem with white in the set, so your Azorius deck will probably enjoy a lot of the Simic creatures.

If you’re Azorius, you likely want to be the classic U/W Flyers deck, unless you have one or two mega bombs. Windstorm Drake is a very good uncommon here (especially with white’s afterlife), and Chillbringer is a strong tempo common. Neither is watermarked, so you can still open them in your Azorius pack. You should also keep in mind cards that help swing a race, like Rally to Battle and Sentinel’s Mark.

One individual consideration for Azorius (and Orzhov) is that I don’t think you want to maindeck enchantment or artifact removal in this set. There’s just not that much to hit, and the fact that the Pacifism is dual-colored, so only about half as many people get to play it, is a huge hit. There’s also no blue “doesn’t untap” enchantment. So even though Expose to Daylight is a pretty good Disenchant, I still wouldn’t not maindeck it in Sealed.

Overall, Azorius is playable, but it doesn’t excite me as much as the other guilds.

#4: Orzhov

The Orzhov mechanic, afterlife, looks good—flying creatures are not to be underestimated, especially in multiples. Take, for example, Imperious Oligarch. In the early game, I’d rather have a 2/1 than a 1/1 flyer since it attacks for more and trades better. Then once it’s the mid-late game and a 2/1 ground creature becomes obsolete, you make use of the 1/1 flyer. This flexibility is powerful, not to mention straight-up card advantage.

The presence of afterlife does three things to the format. First, it makes x/1 creatures a little bit worse, since they can be more easily blocked. Second, it means ping effects are likely to be better, especially mass ping effects—like Dagger Caster. Third, it means flying (or reach) blockers are more important (think Senate Courier, which just brickwalls all tokens). That said, don’t go overboard on the first two. There are not that many Orzhov cards with afterlife (four commons and four uncommons), so it’s not like every creature with 1 toughness is suddenly unplayable.

You also have to be careful not to lean too much on the “Aristocrats” angle. Just because your creatures have afterlife doesn’t mean that they must be sacrificed, and that you can now play any number of sacrifice effects as if they cost 0. Creatures have a way of dying in a normal game of Magic, so you don’t need to go too much out of your way to make afterlife happen for the most part.

In the rares department, Orzhov has some pretty good ones: Seraph of the ScalesEthereal Absolution, Kaya’s Wrath, and Teysa Karlov if you have the deck for her. But it also has some busts, like Revival // Revenge, and Tithe Taker is simply worse than the gold common (though you’ll still always play it in any white deck).

In the end, I perceive Orzhov to be a little weak in comparison to the others because I think white is just lacking. Every common white creature is unexciting, and what is historically the best white common in every set (a Pacifism variant) doesn’t exist in this set, and is instead Azorius. I also think Orzhov will suffer a little because there are a lot of cheap flyers in the set have stats to blank all potential tokens: just look at Faerie Duelist, Senate Courier, and Concordia Pegasus.

#3: Rakdos

The Rakdos mechanic is aggressive-only. Most of the spectacle cards can be serviceable for their normal cost, and become quite good if you can spectacle them, though I would expect spectacle to happen normally. If you have a lot of cards like Blade Juggler, however, then you really want to make sure that you can trigger them by having a 2-drop—Rakdos Trumpeter is excellent for this.

That said, even though the mechanic is aggressive-only, I don’t think Rakdos decks have to be aggressive. The Orzhov cards can be grindy, and you can have a Rakdos control deck full of removal, some grindy cards, a Dead Revels, and some bombs—that will work. You can also have a normal, midsized deck that’s not balls-to-the-wall aggro. I still expect most Rakdos decks to be aggressive, but you should not get so tunnel visioned into “Rakdos is aggressive because it’s Rakdos and because of spectacle” that you miss a good but slower Rakdos deck, because it can definitely exist and will be pretty good if the right cards are there.

Due to Rakdos’s snowball nature, it can be hard to catch up if you fall behind against it. After all, if you took damage last turn, then you’re certainly taking damage now if they added an undercosted beater to play. Because of this, I recommend making trades early rather than taking damage, and always choosing to play if a Rakdos (aggro) deck is involved, because the difference between a turn-3 Blade Juggler or not can be game winning. The Rakdos control deck, however, is potentially one that wants to draw.

Rakdos has some of the best commons in the set: Skewer the Critics is great, and Get the Point is also very good. But where Rakdos really shines is in its rares—every rare ranges from good to broken. The worst is Rix Maadi Reveler, which is still a good card. Compared to Azorius, for example, where you’re almost 50% to hit a card that’s not good among the pool of watermarked cards (though you can still hit regular white and blue rares), this is a huge improvement.

One important combo to keep in mind with Rakdos is Dagger Caster + Bladebrand. This is a combination of a common and an uncommon, both of which are playable on their own. They are simply game winning when played together. For 6 mana you destroy all of your opponent’s creatures, and you even add a 2/3 to your board and draw a card for your troubles. This is the best and easiest to assemble combo in the set and you should keep a strong eye on it if you’re playing either with or against Rakdos.

#2 Simic

I am pretty comfortable drawing a line in the sand between the last three guilds and the first two (meaning I think Simic and Gruul are both reasonably better than Azorius, Orzhov, and Rakdos), but the distinction between Simic and Gruul is a lot less clear to me. I think they both look incredibly powerful, and I’m picking one to put ahead because I basically have to, but they have almost equivalent strength in my mind.

The Simic ability adapt is very powerful, as most Limited decks (especially Sealed decks) want a late-game mana sink. Most of the Simic cards already offer rates ranging from fair to great even without adapt (like Sauroform Hybrid, Aeromunculus, Trollbred Guardian, Sharktocrab, Skitter Eel), and with adapt in the mix they become very strong. Simic is overall an aggressive guild that is interested in the blue tempo effects, but it has late game too.

The right way to play adapt is to keep the threat of it early on, but use it late. Cards like Skitter Eel, Aeromunculus, and Growth-Chamber Guardian can usually attack unimpeded early on because the threat of adapt will stop any blocks, but as a general rule it’s better to deploy more to the board than to make one single card bigger if all you’re doing is dealing more damage. Most of the adapt costs are more expensive, though, so they already scream late-game.

The Simic rares are not very exciting (this is probably its weakest point), but there are no real busts. Repudiate // Replicate is probably the worst and I would still be happy to play it, given that there are a number of abilities that might be useful to counter (such as adapt or afterlife) if the clone plan doesn’t work.

One important thing about Simic (and Gruul) is that I think Sagittars’ Volley is a maindeckable card. It can destroy an Orzhov board, and it’s very good versus Azorius and Simic. Because of afterlife, even Rakdos is likely to have targets, so the only deck where this is a bust is Gruul. Unless Gruul is somehow way more popular than anything else, I think the cost-benefit on this one means that you should main deck it in green decks.

#1 Gruul

Gruul also seems to be aggressive, which is no surprise given that its mechanic can give all its creatures haste. As a general rule, if you’re playing a creature that is small, then you want to use riot to give it +1/+1. If it’s big, you want to give it haste. I expect, for example, the majority of Frenzied Arynx to be played as 4/4s, and the majority of Wrecking Beasts to be played as 6/6 haste tramplers. Rampaging Rendhorn is about the line, where I think we will see it cast as a 5/5 some of the games and as a 4/4 haste in others—both perfectly respectable sizes for a common 5-cost creature. Even the cards without riot have solid rates (Rubblebelt Runner is a 3/3 for 3 with an upside), and the guild also has a premium common removal in Savage Smash, on top of Titanic Brawl, Scorchmark, and Skewer the Critics (though the last one is a Rakdos card so you’d only have 5 packs of it).

Where Gruul smashes (ha ha) the competition is in the uncommons. Rhythm of the Wild is incredible if you play it early (the same thing applies here—choose +1/+1 on small creatures and haste on huge creatures as a general rule), Zhur-Taa Goblin is a 3/3 for 2, and Sunder Shaman is a casual 5/5 for 4 with upside.

The rares in Gruul are a bit worse than Rakdos’s, but there are still two very strong cards (Skarrgan Hellkite and Ravager Wurm). The closest thing to a bust is Cindervines, which I would maindeck in a Gruul deck, and Nikya of the Old Ways, who can be a big liability if it gets pacified.

The Gate Deck

In Guilds of Ravnica, we had multicolored decks, but they weren’t exactly Gate decks. With Ravnica Allegiance, the “Gates-matter” cards are better, so building a multicolored deck full of Gates gets easier. Every pack is guaranteed to have a Gate, so every person is going to have six, which is a good number to turn on synergies, especially since there are a couple of cards that can help you find them.

There are five cards that care about Gates. Of these, one is a card that will be good even without many Gate synergies (Gateway Sneak), and four are cards you likely only want to play if you are “the Gate deck.” Archway Angel can be played as a curve-topper if you’re desperate, but it’s not good and not enough of a reason to go all-in—more like, just throw it in there if you are. The next three are big payoffs: Gates Ablaze is never getting played in a deck that can’t cast it for a lot, but it can be extremely good in the right build (though creature sizes in this set are a bit inflated, so it’s not really a wrath most of the time), and Gatebreaker Ram is incredible. Just playing this as a 4/4 trampler, vigilance for 3 is way ahead of the curve, and it grows as the game progresses.

The last Gate-related card is Gate Colossus, and if you have multiple Gates it can be very good. Gates effectively tap for 2 to cast it, and it’s a recurring threat that is hard to block and comes back, so it’s probably the best way to close out a game. At 6 Gates it’s not unreasonable to cast it for 6 mana every time and then have it come back once or twice in a game, and that’s way above the curve for an uncommon.

The three Gate-specific cards are strong enough that “the Gate deck” is a very real thing if you can get it. The big question for me is: assuming you want to be the Gate deck, which guild should you choose? You don’t have to commit to a guild in deckbuilding—you can just be 3 colors with two splashes or 2 colors with three splashes or whatever your heart desires, but you still have to choose a seeded booster.

Gate decks are generally interested in three things: First, fixing. They are multicolored decks, after all, and there’s no guarantee you’ll hit exactly the right Gates. For this we look at green—Open the Gates is a pretty good card, especially since it increases the number of Gates you have for your Gates-matter cards. There’s also Saruli Caretaker and Silhana Wayfinder.

Next is removal—these decks just want to make sure they don’t die. Red and black generally have the best removal, but in this set green has two common fight cards that are pretty good (well, one green one Gruul), so if you have big bodies then they can work as removal too (though for control decks fighting is sometimes hard to accomplish).

Third is bombs. Rakdos is the best booster for bombs, but really I’d mostly just avoid Azorius in this regard. The key with bombs is that some of the Gates-matter cards will be bombs in this deck, and I think you want to hit as many as you can, which gives the nod to green, red, and blue, but particularly green and red. It seems like a spew to choose a black guild since they don’t have a Gates-matter card that you can open, and the white one is pretty mediocre compared to the other two, so this would leave any of the two green combos, which also helps your fixing.

Picking either Gruul or Simic would be best, which is another reason why I like these guilds more than others. Gruul is overall stronger, and Gates Ablaze is better in this deck than Gateway Sneak, though Gateway Sneak is also very good. The main point in favor of Simic is that the Simic cards are overall better in the late game, and this is a late game deck.

It’s also going to depend on how exactly they configure the boosters. They said every seeded booster is going to be synergistic, but what does this mean exactly? Does this mean you can’t get a Gates-matter card in a seeded pack, or does it mean that there’s a seeded pack somewhere that has Gates Ablaze, Open the Gates, and Gatebreaker Ram in it? It’s not truly going to matter (Simic and Gruul are still the best choices for Gates regardless) but it’d be good to know.

The Mill Deck

There is a mill subtheme in the set. Historically speaking, mill subthemes are either very good (original Dimir, Dampen Thoughts) or very bad (every other time). In this set, I think it’s somewhere in the middle. You can build a deck whose win condition is milling without necessarily building “turbo mill.” Wall of Lost Thoughts and Thought Collapse both incidentally mill, though the Wall is a pretty bad card and even mill decks might not necessarily want it. Screaming Shield can be your win condition in a slow deck. Personally, I would not start under the assumption that I want to mill my opponent out, but I would analyze milling as a win condition once I had a control deck. If you lack bombs, it can be quite effective. Milling is also a good sideboard plan versus other slow decks that might have trouble closing out the game. And it’s also not irrelevant that there aren’t a lot of cards in the set that your opponents want to mill, so you’re not giving them a benefit by doing it.

If you do want to play mill, then you should choose one of the blue guilds: Azorius or Simic.

Play or Draw?

I would choose to play with most decks. Some of the mechanics are pretty aggressive, and there’s not much cheap removal like Dead Weight to catch you back up if you fall behind. There is Scorchmark, but that’s a Gruul or Rakdos card, and the two are aggressive decks. I would especially choose play if Rakdos decks are involved, since getting the first attack in can be pretty important. If you have a Rakdos control deck, I think that’s the deck that most wants to choose draw.

To sum it up:

#5 – Azorius
#4 – Orzhov
#3 – Rakdos

—– Gap —–

#2 Simic
#1 Gruul

  • Gruul and Simic are the best and a tier above the competition on both mechanic and card quality. The creatures are just so big in both guilds, and the spells for the other colors don’t make up for that.
  • The Gate payoffs are really strong in this set, and it’s definitely a real deck. This is yet another reason to put Simic and Gruul a tier above the others.
  • There are a lot of flyers in the set, so I would main deck Plummet effects.
  • There are not a lot of enchantments in the set, so I would not main deck Disenchant effects.
  • I wouldn’t try to build turbo mill in Sealed but I think milling your opponent out is a valid win condition for a control deck.
  • The Rakdos keyword is aggressive, but this doesn’t mean every Rakdos deck has to be aggressive. There are Rakdos (or multicolored Rakdos-based) control decks out there, or at least normal Rakdos decks.
  • Dagger Caster + Bladebrand is an incredibly potent combination that you must keep in mind when playing with or against Rakdos.
  • I would choose to play as default.

Good luck at your prerelease!


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