Weekend Windfall – 1/25/13 – Take Back The City
Each Friday afternoon, Still Had All These gets you ready for your Magic weekend by looking back at the past seven days of topdecks, mises, misplays, and whatever laughable fake spoilers show up at MTGSalvation!
Take Back The City For Yourself Tonight
Welcome back to the city-plane of Ravnica! Gatecrash is the second set in the Return to Ravnica block and it takes a look at 5 of the 10 guilds that make up the power structure of the city. In Return to Ravnica, we got the Azorius Senate, the Izzet League, the Cult of Rakdos, the Golgari Swarm, and the Selesnya Conclave. Gatecrash covers the Boros Legion, the Gruul Clans, the Simic Combine, House Dimir, and the Orzhov Syndicate. You'll get to experience the full story firsthand at your local pre-releases tomorrow and Sunday. For now, let's take a look at some of the big hitters from the 5 Gatecrash guilds and those who have eschewed the guild structure, those known as the Gateless. You can see the full spoiler for yourself at the mothership's Card Image Gallery.
Now It's Time To Make Your Own Demands
The white/black guild is the Orzhov Syndicate. The Orzhov run Orzhova, the Church of Deals as a front for their criminal dealings. They are led by the Obzedat, a group of elder ghosts that control all aspects of the Syndicate.
This group of ghoulies can bust a game wide open. 5/5 for 5 outside of green is above the curve as is. A 4 point life swing when it enters play fits perfectly into the Orzhov 'death of a thousand cuts' gameplan. And then, that last paragraph? If you don't need it to block, you get to turn off sorcery speed removal on it, then it comes back and drains 2 more life from the opponent and gets to attack! This is one mythic you want to open for sure at the pre-release.
Orzhov's mechanic is extort as we showed you two weeks ago on Thrull Parasite.
Extort is a keyword for a triggered ability that says "Whenever you cast a spell, you may pay W/B. if you do, each opponent loses 1 life and you gain that much life." It allows the Orzhov player to hide behind its defenses while still dealing damage to the opponent. A little bleed here, a little bleed there. All of a sudden, you've won the game. From what's been spoiled at writing time, it doesn't look like an aggressive Orzhov deck is very viable. You can pick up some of the mono-white guys from Boros, but Dimir isn't going to fill the curve with beaters. Most Orzhov games will be in it for the long haul, holding off opponents with Basilica Guards and Orzhov Keyrunes while bleeding the enemy out with their spells. It doesn't feel like Orzhov's role has changed that much from Guildpact, with cards like Pillory of the Sleepless, Agent of Masks, and Souls of the Faultless allowing an opponent to win the game through inaction.
Ten Thousand Craters Where It All Should Be
The red/green guild is the Gruul Clans. The Gruul roam what savage areas still exist in the city-plane, centering around Skargg, their most recognized meeting place. The de facto leader of the Gruul Clans is the giant cyclops Borborygmos.
I'm not nearly as excited about Borborygmos Enraged as I am about Obzedat. 8 mana for a 7/6 isn't particularly impressive. It's good that he tramples, though. Turning your lands into Lightning Bolts is pretty nice, but it's a hard sell to me that you're going to have a ton of land in your hand when you play this guy in limited. And after I draw this guy, I have 8 mana in play. As nice as land bolts are, I don't want to toss all my action in the bin.
Gruul's mechanic is bloodrush. Bloodrush is an ability word for a series of activated abilities that appear on creatures. The abilities fall under the pattern "
For four mana, you get a 4/4 trampler. A fair deal by most standards. Add in the fact that if you need to, you can pay 2 mana and pitch it to give an attacker a massive stat boost for a turn? Now you're looking at a very powerful card for limited. Gruul decks are going to be centered on getting their fatties online and playing the midrange role. An aggro deck will likely take cards like Burning-Tree Emissary and Skargg Guildmage and pair them with the aggressive elements of Boros and Simic, then either cast their fatties on mop-up duty or bloodrush them to push their attackers through for victory. It's going to be hard to see Gruul take a true control role, which makes sense. They do have good guild-specific removal in Ground Assault and Clan Defiance, but nothing that will help them overwhelm a Boros weenie rush or a Simic aerial assault.
It's A Mess, It's A Start, It's A Flawed Work Of Art
The green/blue guild is the Simic Combine. After [card Momir Vig, Simic Visionary]Momir Vig[/card] and [card Novijen, Heart of Progress]Novijen[/card] were destroyed in the events of Dissension, the Simic were thought to be lost to the plane at large. That is, until a whirlpool pathway to underground oceans opened up. (Yes, this is as stupid as it sounds.) Merfolk from the depths took over the mantle of the Simic, lead by Prime Speaker Zegana.
Zegana is an interesting fish. By herself, she's not going to have much impact on the board. With one of green's big friends, though, and playing Zegana makes a game quickly get out of hand. You do have fat green creatures in your deck, right? She needs the most support to make you want to play her in your Sealed pool, but you can't deny the effect is supremely powerful.
Simic's mechanic is evolve. It's a triggered ability that appears on creatures. It says, "Whenever a creature with greater power and/or toughness than this creature enters the battlefield under your control, put a +1/+1 counter on this creature." You can see this ability on Shambleshark.
Evolve chains are likely going to define Simic drafts. Starting at 1 with Experiment One and Cloudfin Raptor, you can go to Shambleshark on 2, then Crocanura or Elusive Krasis on 3, and then a Drakewing Krasis will add even more size to the team, or a Zameck Guildmage will turn that size into more resources for you. Good Simic decks will have a lot of power and toughness variety across the curve, valuing things other decks might not want. Because of the nature of Simic decks having a lot of initially undersized creatures, they're going to want a lot of card draw to keep the creatures flowing, so cards like Zameck Guildmage and Urban Evolution will be very important. Simic decks will get a lot of value out of Gruul's mono-green fatties, but will probably avoid all but the bombiest Dimir cards. Expect a lot of tempo-based, mid-range decks from the Simic, with a range closer to aggro than control.
Your Say, Your Call, Every Crack, Every Wall
The blue/black guild is the House Dimir. The Dimir deal in secrets, hiding from the other guilds and each other. Their center of command is the shadow hall Duskmantle, and their leader is Lazav, the Dimir Mastermind.
Lazav is a very subtly powerful card. Imagine your opponent's best creature on your side of the board, except now it has hexproof! Lazav fits very well with one of Dimir's themes, milling the opponent. The more creature cards that enter the opponent's graveyard, the greater your options. The mana's a bit rough on casting Lazav (as with all the guild leaders), but the reward is well worth it when you get some gigantic monster from your opponent.
Dimir's mechanic is cipher. Cipher is a static ability on instants and sorceries that can add a triggered ability to your creatures. Ciphers means "you may exile this spell encoded on a creature you control. Whenever that creature deals combat damage to a player, that creature's controller may cast a copy of the encoded spell without paying its mana cost." You can see it in action on Undercity Plague.
Cipher's pretty interesting. To get maximum value out of it, you need a lot of creatures with evasion. Typically that isn't hard with blue and black, between flying and intimidate, but you have to think evasion will be placed at a premium with a mechanic like cipher in the set. On the front end, most of the cipher spells are overcosted a bit (Undercity Plague by itself is a weaker Assassin's Strike at a higher rarity), but if you're able to get a second cast out of them, the cost seems to level out. For the limited player, Dimir's other theme, milling, is probably more interesting. Back in the original Ravnica set, Dimir mill decks were incredibly powerful, backed by cards like Vedalken Entrancer and Induce Paranoia at common, and Lurking Informant and Psychic Drain at uncommon, backed up by the powerhouse Glimpse the Unthinkable. In Gatecrash, things appear to have moved up in rarity, making it harder to get the bonkers mill deck, but the tools are still powerful. Mind Grind, Duskmantle Guildmage, and Whispering Madness can all quickly shred an opponent's deck. Consuming Aberration can come down and play cleanup from there. Most Dimir decks are going to play out like soft control decks, with pieces of evasion here and there, some permission, and a big finish. If there is a lot of evasion in the set, I could definitely see Dimir borrowing some of Simic's cards to make an aggressive deck utilizing tempo and fliers alongside removal. If you're looking for more control, taking a page from Orzhov's playbook to get more control elements and some extort triggers will serve you well. All in all, Dimir looks to be the most fluid and flexible central guild, although it won't be the dominant aggro, tempo, or control deck. You should be able to adjust to packs better and make the best of any draft, though.
Pick A Side, Pick A Fight, But Get Your Epitaph Right
The red/white guild is the Boros Legion. The Boros are the standing army of Ravnica and enforcers of its laws. Centered in the sky fortress Sunhome, the Legion answer to the archangel war leader, Aurelia.
Do you remember Lightning Angel? This is Lightning Angel with a little extra spiciness. For two more mana (and not having to play blue), you get a little Relentless Assault attached to your angel. This can be problematic if your 3/4 angel isn't the biggest creature patrolling the skies, but a couple turns of Aurelia on your side should lock the game up for you.
Boros's mechanic is battalion. Battalion is an ability word that covers a set of triggered abilities on attacking creatures. It follows the structure of "whenever this creature and at least two others attack, get a bonus." Check it out on Firefist Striker.
Battalion rewards you for having a lot of little creatures, especially those with evasion or strong combat abilities. Sometimes, like Frontline Medic or Legion Loyalist, the battalion bonus is a powerful combat ability in and of itself. The other thing battalion rewards is token creatures, which Boros can make en masse with cards like Sunhome Guildmage and Assemble the Legion. Against the control-focused decks, though, 1/1 creature tokens often don't cut it, and you'd think an aggressive guild like Boros would have problems with the long game, but Foundry Champion and Aurelia's Fury can crack any stalemate. Boros also gets just enough evasion with Skyknight Legionnaire and Firemane Avenger to keep the battalion bonuses flowing. Unfortunately, in those long games, cards like Boros Elite and Firefist Striker aren't the best topdecks in the world, so you do want to close early with your Boros decks. Pull together some of Gruul's beef to give your deck a better midgame, and grab cheap extort spells like Syndic of Tithes and (the dream scenario) Blind Obedience to make your topdecks all live should the game go long. Stay aggressive, but have a plan should high toughness stand between you and victory for the Legion.
It Bears Its Teeth Like A Light And Spits Me Out After Days
For the citizens of Ravnica that aren't part of one of the 10 guilds, there is another path. There are forces out there that don't ascribe to the old structure. There are those would like to see the city guildless... and Gateless.
While about half of Gatecrash is assigned to guilds by color or mechanic, it's always important to look past the guild watermark and find tools for your deck. Drafting an aggressive Boros deck with no way to come over the top? Good thing you just opened that Luminate Primordial up there. Remember that each color is shared by two guilds, often with two different gameplans. White is in the aggressive Boros and very defensive Orzhov, but green's two guilds, Simic and Gruul play similar roles, so most of green's cards are interchangeable between the two guilds. Just like in Return to Ravnica and the original Ravnica block, flexibility is key. You might open and draft a powerful two-color card like Mystic Genesis, but if the blue isn't coming, you very well may have to abandon that pick and start drafting from another guild.
Also remember that in any three-color combination, you'll only have at most two guilds, like Return to Ravnica. At first glance, the most synergistic combinations look like Orzhov/Dimir (W/U/B) and Gruul/Simic (U/R/G) - the plans between the guilds are similar enough that the cards you want from the splashed guild fit well with your plan.
The most important thing to consider in a limited format is removal. Return to Ravnica was pretty removal-light, and Gatecrash looks like it's following the trend. Orzhov looks to have the most removal, both in Orzhov Charm and Merciless Eviction, and as of writing, very little mono-colored hard removal has been shown to us, all of it being rare except for Pit Fight and Rapid Hybridization. Control decks have to take a different tact then, prioritizing high toughness creatures and creatures that can block excessively well, like Crocanura and Basilica Guards. Aggressive decks can play a little faster and looser with their creatures. And the main combat trick mechanic is in a fairly aggressive guild. Gatecrash looks to favor metered aggression and haymakers over the top of crowded board states.
But it's up to you to find your own path. Find your winning combination at the Gatecrash pre-release and show Ravnica who's boss!
I Love This City Tonight! I Love This City Always!
That's it for our Gatecrash preview! I'll be loving this city from the first ever pre-release at sea on the Magic Cruise, thanks to Legion Games! Next week I'll be back with a recap of the trip and my experiences from the pre-release. Until then, you can get a hold of me on Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch! Sail safe!