After Avacyn Restored—with its infamous "Helvault incident" and being one of the less-exciting Limited formats in recent memory—Wizards of the Coast has worked very hard to restore our faith both in their ability to print an interesting powerful set of cards and to hype up a great concept for the Prerelease.
The concept behind the Return to Ravnica Prerelease is innovative: rather than opening six booster packs from the entire set each player will open five booster packs and a single guild booster pack (choosing from Azorius Selesnya Izzet Rakdos or Golgari). The guild booster pack will contain eleven commons three uncommons and a rare (which can also if you're lucky be the appropriate guild leader but not any other mythic in the set). Along with these cards each guild also gets a separate Prerelease card—in each case a rare creature (or in Selesnya's case a way to create a creature via Grove of the Guardian). These are also playable in your Sealed deck. For more information check out the Return to Ravnica Prerelease Primer.
This means that there are several questions you need to answer before you even open your packs. First what time do you want to get to the Prerelease?
Why you ask?
Well most stores will have a limited number of guild packs for each guild. So if you really like Izzet and you think everyone at your store does too you'd better arrive early to lock in your slot for that guild! My local store is running separate signup sheets for each guild—first come first serve—so if you have your heart set on a guild contact your store early to see what their policy is.
The second question is much more Magic-related. Which guild should you pick?
Those of us who have a special attachment to a certain guild or who have taken the guild alignment test and want to try out the guild that they've been 'assigned' certainly should do so. It's a Prerelease after all—one of the most fun-oriented Magic experiences out there!
Others of us might want to take a look at the impact that choosing a guild will have on our pool. That's where this article comes in. The spoiler is fairly large (274 cards) and that's a lot of information to parse in the short amount of time between now and the Prerelease especially for those of us who are busy! So I've worked to find and sort some information for those of us interested in making a more informed guild decision.
It's worth noting that most of the single-color removal in this set is non-guilded. That means that we won't be opening it up in our guild packs. However we still should examine the removal that's out there because we'd rather have removal in our colors than need to splash it (not that the Gates and Keyrunes don't help us with that). So what's out there waiting for us?
This list only covers the common/uncommon cards in the set. The first thing we might notice is that there is a lot of countermagic. It doesn't seem intuitive to include these cards as removal spells but in Sealed a reasonable quantity of countermagic can be very effective in the right deck especially in conjunction with Unsummon effects (of which there are several in this set).
Let's break it down by guild.
Number of Removal Spells by Guild
Of course merely looking at the numbers can be misleading because not all removal spells are created equal. Aerial Predation is a much more limited spell in both scope and application than Auger Spree.
Stab Wound in particular seems like a standout card. The best-case scenario may be placing it on a creature with two power but more than two toughness—two life a turn is a pretty significant leak to plug especially if we're playing a very aggressive deck or an extremely controlling deck.
Further calling the list "Number of Removal Spells by Guild" is misleading to some extent. Izzet has the most countermagic/removal in its combination (U/R) meaning that we have the highest chance of opening a removal spell in our guild pack if we select Izzet. However we're interested in what cards play well with our guild. If we select Rakdos then there is a wide variety of removal spells that effectively strengthen our deck without stretching our mana but that we can't open in our guild packs.
Not everything is related to removal though. What about combat tricks?
Not only do combat tricks often function effectively as removal but they can provide significant card advantage and can often flat out win the game if they are unexpected.
Removal often functions as a combat trick (i.e. our opponent double blocks our Hill Giant with two Runeclaw Bears and we Terror one of them). However even aside from the 26 removal spells listed in the previous chart (FYI that is a lot of removal and countermagic for a single set) there is a wide variety of spells that ensure combat works out in our favor.
Though black and red traditionally excel in the area of creature removal they typically perform worse in the area of 'pure' combat tricks where blue white and especially green tend to shine.
Let's break it down by guild again.
Number of Combat Tricks by Guild
Green has some excellent "bang for your buck" removal in Giant Growth (the gold standard of creature enhancement) and Savage Surge will probably lead to some amazing blowouts in Prereleases across the country.
There are two flash creatures both of which are available to Azorius at uncommon. The ability to flash Hussar Patrol in to block and attack with vigilance is phenomenal. This card is deceptively strong and I think that players will undervalue it at first. Skyline Predator at an increased converted mana cost (+2) provides an extra point of power and flying. Both 'combat tricks' are quite dangerous.
One other thing to consider when playing this set is that there is basically a new 'category' of combat tricks: there are four instant-speed spells with the populate mechanic attached. This functions similarly to having a flash creature except that often we'll see a 3/3 Centaur or a 2/2 Knight rather than a flyer. However two of these cards in particular can simply end the game if we don't watch out for them. With Druid's Deliverance and Rootborn Defenses an alpha strike that is seemingly safe against a return attack suddenly can become fatal when a single card blanks our attack and generates additional power.
All in all there are 43 instant speed spells that can meaningfully impact the game in this set so being aware of what each color can do will be important.
These charts don't really cover the other core mechanics in Return to Ravnica. (Can we build a detain-based aggro deck? A blisteringly fast unleash deck? An effective tokens deck?) But they give us some organized information that we can use when selecting a guild at our Prerelease this weekend.
We'll have to see how it plays but on paper Return to Ravnica looks to be one of the richest Limited sets that has been printed in some time.
I am Azorius. For more information see Guild Charter (GC) section I.03.17.b.