Today's article is about drafting, but in a more theoretical way than simply recording a draft and sharing a few insights, like most Limited articles seem to be these days. I am going to talk a little bit about the format as a whole and then discuss the archetypes with white and what is crucial in order to draft them successfully. So let's get straight to it.
Do you remember some of the past Draft formats in which you could leave your options open as long as possible and then choose another color/route deeper in the draft? Or when you could draft twelve two-power two-drops, six three-drops, toss in few removal spells or tricks, then simply bash through anything? Well, that's not the case in Return to Ravnica Limited. Or to be more precise, it's much harder to do with success.
Understanding how the format works is the most important thing. You can know all the existing archetypes and pick orders for each of them, but without understanding how the format works, your feelings while drafting and ability to adapt are going to be less reliable.
What is it that makes this format different from others? First, it's good to commit early. Many powerful cards are multicolored, and they force you to commit. A less obvious reason is that many cards are very archetype dependent (even within guilds). Populate cards, token makers, scavenge creatures, and unleash creatures are very good examples; all can be very good in the right deck and mediocre in another.
I find that my best decks are often drafted when I am able to identify quickly what is open and stick with it or when I am able to cut something off completely in pack 1. Deciding between your Izzet cards and your Golgari cards deep into pack 1 is usually not where you want to be, even though you can figure out better which of the two guilds is more open.
Another important thing is that this format is full of three and four toughness creatures. There are 3/3 tokens, 0/4 Walls, 1/4 Frostburn Weird, 1/3 Concordia Pegasus, 2/3 Sunspire Griffin, 1/4 Voidwielder, 1/4 Trestle Troll, 0/3 Axebane Guardian, 2/4 Towering Indrik, 2/4 Hussar Patrol… The list goes on and on.
What that means is that 2/2s and 2/1s are going to have a hard time unless they're backed up with a good ability or a pump effect. That's why it is usually a good thing to not overdo it with two-drops and make sure you have ways to get through if you intend to be the attacker (Common Bond, Deviant Glee, Pursuit of Flight, Knightly Valor, Ethereal Armor, etc.). All these cards are able to turn random creatures into serious threats. They're much better in this format than ever before since there's not a lot of cheap removal or defensive creatures and only two bounce effects.
Does this mean that the format is slow? Not at all, particularly because of unleash. There are many ways to deal damage. It only means that the way to approach Return to Ravnica is different.
For example, take a look at Azorius Arrester. The card itself looks awesome; the ability is great at both offense and defense. Well, sadly, the 2/1 body doesn't have that big of an impact. It's still a very nice card, but I tend to pick it later than I initially did. On the other side of spectrum, Cobblebrute, a card that is almost unplayable in many other formats, is actually playable in RTR. Five power and two toughness are good numbers here; it can push through many things or trade relatively efficiently. Also, there is the fact that red doesn't have many other four-drops.
There are two ways to build a Selesnya deck: the first is more controlling and defensive with populate cards and the second is aggressive with pump effects. Some cards like Selesnya Charm and Centaur Healer are so powerful that they are good in both archetypes, but most of the cards simply aren't. You can just pick good cards and draft a hybrid of these, but despite the raw power of the deck, your deck will lack the synergy that is extremely important in this format.
The Selesnya noncreature spells are most effective in separate archetypes. Druid's Delivery, Rootborn Defenses, Avenging Arrow, and Trostani's Judgment are better if you defend and slowly build your advantage on the battlefield, while cards like Chorus of Might, Common Bond, Giant Growth, and Ethereal Armor are excellent when attacking.
If you are drafting Selesnya Aggro, you should focus on having enough good creatures and ways to turn them into a serious threats. The key card for this archetype is Common Bond because your opponent is often forced to block and it gets you massive tempo and potential card advantage.
Other powerful cards for this archetype are Giant Growth and Knightly Valor for the exact same reason. Azorius Arrester is way better in Selesnya Aggro than anywhere else because having two-drop creature and way to get through defenders in one card is exactly what you are looking for.
Top 5 Commons:
The pick order for every archetype is very changeable. Your final deck should have sixteen to seventeen lands, sixteen to seventeen creatures, and six to eight pump spells/removal/auras, so try to pick up cards you are currently missing. The value of Ethereal Armor grows with every copy. It's better than anything else if you already have three of them, but you shouldn't take the first Armor in pack 3 if there is a good card for you.
A few cards I feel are worth mentioning:
Ethereal Armor: Another of the playable aura spells in this set, it's often underestimated. While not the greatest card, it has potential when paired up with Arrests, Security Blockades, Knightly Valors, or multiple copies of itself. It serves its purpose to get your creatures through. Turning your 3/3 into a 4/4 first striker is huge in this format. I prefer picking cards like Common Bond or Knightly Valor instead, but if there is nothing exciting in the pack or one of these wheels, I don't mind taking it to see if there are more to come. It also works extremely well with the following uncommons.
Golgari Decoy: The name says Golgari, but Decoy is a first pick in an aggressive Selesnya deck. You are able to make it big quicker than other decks. It is also another option for how to get rest of your team past your opponent's defenses.
Fencing Ace: Really shines with pump spells—another top pick quality card.
Rogue's Passage: I've seen people first picking this card. That might be little bit much, but I agree with their point. This card is actually very good in Selesnya (and in other decks with bigger non-evasive creatures) and shouldn't table like it often does. It allows you to get past those big toughness Walls, and it is mana source that gives you more options.
Obviously, token generators are important here. 3/3 Centaur tokens are the best, but you can get away with 2/2 vigilance Soldiers or 1/1 Birds as well. With enough of these, every populate card is going to become good. The plan is to build your board presence and then run over your opponent. Cards like Trostani's Judgment and Centaur Accord are able to do just that.
The card that can lead to huge blowouts is Rootborn Defenses. Attacking into this is sometimes like banging your head against the wall. Pick this card highly. Usually, you should be able to get one or two copies because it's not nearly as good in any other archetype.
Top 5 Commons:
Axebane Guardian: This card is solid in this archetype by itself; it goes with what the deck is trying to do and defends and accelerates you to your six-mana cards. It is also fairly easy to splash something in this archetype, and Axebane Guardian helps with that.
Towering Indrik: Another card that fits what Selesnya Populate is trying to do. Good on defense, and flying creatures can be problematic for your ground tokens, especially when you are not that fast.
Many people underestimate power of this guild, but it won two out of three RTR Grand Prix. It's hard to argue with results. Creatures like Lyev Skyknight and Skymark Roc are some of the most powerful uncommons in the whole set.
The important thing here is to realize is that Azorius is usually a tempo deck and not a very fast one in Return to Ravnica. There is no two-power flyer for two mana, and cards like Stealer of Secrets, Fencing Ace, and Crosstown Courier are not scary in a U/W deck at all, so leave those for Izzet/Selesnya mages. The easiest route to go here is to put all your attack forces in the air; even expensive flyers like Isperia's Skywatch can get the job done provided with enough time and tempo.
Luckily for us, there are plenty of options to do exactly that. Cards like Hussar Patrol, Voidwielder, and even Armory Guard can stall long enough to emerge victorious. The detain mechanic can help too.
And best of all, there's Dramatic Rescue. I don't think it is news to anyone when I say this card is good, but what I am trying to point out here is that this card is more than just good. It is the bread and butter of Azorius decks. It is not only a huge tempo swing, but it is also the perfect answer to everything that Azorius can't normally handle: a creature big enough to get past your Turtles (like an expensive creature or a creature enhanced by an aura), Stab Wound, and a creature powered by a pump spell or something similar. Having a couple of these is essential, and I am always happy to first pick this card when I am already in U/W.
Top 5 Commons:
Now on to some other cards:
Knightly Valor: We nicknamed this card "Serra Angel." It's even better in Azorius than in Selesnya. When you manage to enchant Sunspire Griffin with it, the 4/5 vigilance flyer is going to dominate the game more often than not. This card shines when attacking and defending at the same time. It's also a good way to make random bodies like Azorius Arrester more relevant on the battlefield.
Syncopate: Countering something on turn 2 is often better than playing a two-drop in Azorius.
Frostburn Weird: A good card that fits into our plan of defending and attacking. Despite it costing double blue mana, it is still a very high pick.
Swift Justice: I am not as big a fan of this card as most people are, but lifelink can be very relevant in UW. You usually want to have one in your deck.
Azorius Guildmage: Even though this card looks amazing, as the other Guildmage do, it's slightly worse. Five mana to detain a single creature is a lot. Don't get me wrong; the card is very good, but I tend to pick commons like Dramatic Rescue over it most of the time.
This might be really surprising, but I've drafted this archetype more than ten times and have found it to be the only playable archetype without multicolored cards in RTR. It's not possible to force this deck, but it's really good to know about it because it gives you another option while drafting.
The key cards for this deck are auras, namely Ethereal Armor, Deviant Glee, and Knightly Valor. You also have very good creatures for carrying auras because an enchanted Daggerdrome Imp can give you massive life swings and creatures like Grim Roustabout, Dead Reveler, and Sunspire Griffin are almost unstoppable if they are enchanted with an aura.
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Focus on keeping your curve low and ending with Knightly Valor as the most expensive card. The final deck should contain sixteen to seventeen lands, fifteen to sixteen creatures, some removal, and four to seven auras. If you don't have enough auras, you can play Swift Justice, but enchantments are better. If you have enough auras, the value of Daggerdrome Imp goes up, so it is often better than Sunspire Griffin.
At first, I didn't like to draft white decks in Return to Ravnica at all. At Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, I picked Voidwielder over Arrest because I wasn't able to draft good white decks at that time. Many things have changed since that point, and I really like drafting white decks now.
That's it for today. I hope you enjoyed this article and wish you good luck in RTR Draft.