The Weekly Guild Build: Guildpact!
The first thing you learn in journalism class is to put the most important thing right at the top of your article. It's called “the lead,” and you want it at the beginning so that the reader can't miss it.
The problem is, what happens when what you think is important isn't the same as what the reader thinks is important?
For example, I'm sure you think Guildpact cards are important. (You Magic players are so predictable.) But what's important to me is that you hear about my new Web comic, which is premiering today. So I'd better get my plugs in right now!
The name of that comic is Home on the Strange. It's about a nerdy couple in their mid-thirties who are trying to shepherd a bunch of psychotic younger friends through life, and it's packed with all the humor you've come to expect from a Ferrett article. (If you don't expect a whole lot of humor from a Ferrett article, then maybe you shouldn't click the link.)
Home on the Strange is just starting up today, so there's only one comic (and it's an introductory one), but rest assured I'll plug it again next week. But it'll be updated on Wednesday, and Friday, and then next Monday again, presenting you with more yoks each time... So in the meantime, may I suggest you go visit it? Then bookmark it? And send a big email to everyone you know, telling them about this fantabulous Web comic so that I get a million zillion readers and make ten billion dollars?
It's okay. I'll wait while you email.
Anyway, we'll be getting to Guildpact in just a second... But in case you've forgotten, you should be going to Home on the Strange every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Heck, you can show up more often if you want to post in our forums.
Or just send me a check. I'm okay with that, too.
How I Did At The Prerelease
Considering that I've written six articles on building Sealed decks in the format, I went to the tournament with a vague dread that I'd scrub out and then have to write, “Yes, I have been wasting your time for the past six weeks.”
Fortunately, I did okay; I came in second in my prerelease flight, going a decent 4-1 and losing my only match to the guy who cruised through undefeated. Going home with half a box of new cards is always nice.
The good news is that Guildpact utterly rocks. As much as I'm in the air about Wizards' new anti-spoiler lawsuit, I was personally thrilled to be able to walk into the prerelease completely clean. I had no idea what cards I'd open, and it was a thrill to see new cards as I unwrapped them. And when I did open them, they were beautiful and, for the most part, very well-designed.
Along my way to second place, I discovered quite a few things about how these new cards worked in this environment. And heck, why not share that information with you fine folks? You seem like a friendly bunch — the sort of easy-going people who'd read a Web comic....
Okay, that's my last gratuitous plug. Let's get this Magic strategy stuff started, shall we?
Now, let us talk not only about my cards — which I'll bold — but other cards I ran into at the prerelease that were better or worse than I would have imagined, which are in italics.
A.k.a. “The combat trick from hell.” It's distinctly un-synergistic if you're running a lot of tokens, but this card allows for some amazingly broken tricks in Limited. Oh, it's one turn until I'm dead? What the hell, I'll just attack with everything! You block appropriately and all my creatures will die, taking half of yours with them, and then you'll mop up with the survivors.... Except when damage is on the stack, yoink! My guys leap out of the way and return untapped just in time to serve as defense. Or heck, if you're desperate, you can even attack and Ghostway, giving your critters a free turn of vigilance.
This gets really ugly, of course, when you're dealing with Haunt creatures, since they reset. And let us not forget the ol' “Comes-into-play” tricks you can pull, if you happened to have a creature with a big-ass “comes into play” effect.
What's that? Is that foreshadowing you hear?
For the record, all of the Magemarks are really good (except for perhaps the Green one). You should play them whenever they're in your colors; not only are they great combat enhancers on their own, but they combine with each other. I suspect you'll be lucky to catch almost any Magemark lapping the table in Draft.
Benediction of Moons
Tragically underpowered in duels (and I played a guy in the first round who used this, clueing me in that it would be a fairly easy match), but pretty ridiculous in multiplayer. I mean, one mana could get you ten life; that's a nice deal.
I saw a lot of people playing this guy, and I'm not sure why. I mean, to me he strikes me as being the worthy successor of Aven Trooper; five mana to change a 1/1 into a 2/3? Total dross. And yet he was hanging around some players at the top tables who otherwise seemed fairly competent.
I wonder if I'm missing something.
Not exactly a power card, but it's aggressively costed and actually fairly efficient. I discarded my share of cards to it over the day. I'd certainly play it if I had any chance of getting a Black mana out, and even without it'd be a good filler critter.
A very irritating combat trick, but remarkably efficient. It saved more than a few creatures from the hails of Pyrostatics out there.
Chord of Calling
Fists of Ironwood
Scatter the Seeds
How ironic! I come to the prerelease to take the new mechanics for a spin, and instead I get a damned fine Convoke deck. I mean, between Fists of Ironwood, Scatter the Seeds, Siege Wurm, Chord of Calling, Nullmage Shepherd, and (I'm spoiling you slightly, I know) the Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi I plucked later on, this is actually a decent Selesnya deck.
Not to mention that I have some very good cards here on their own. When you know you'll have to go three colors, Farseek is great for much-needed mana fixing, and Goliath Spider is pricey but a house if it hits and sticks.
Then there are the new cards...
I never actually got to play this, but I'm not sure whether it's worth the trick. Yes, I like the idea of it... But realistically, if I'm ahead on creatures I want to be attacking and killing off their guys, and if I'm behind this is useless. Furthermore, I don't want to play this unless I win that turn, because their creatures still do damage to mine and I'll be tapped out. So I thought this was a very narrow card, and the five-slot was choked enough.
It might be excellent in a Bloodthirst deck, but then again you want to be able to cast something after you hit, meaning that you'd need at least ten mana open for it to really affect things. My suspicion was — and still is — that this isn't nearly as good as it looks.
A perfect example of a card that is a house in some matchups and near-useless in others. Against Green, Red, or Black, this is an excellent card that thumps onto the ground as a 5/6, shutting down almost any offense instantly and putting them right on the back foot.
Against Blue, they bounce it. Whoops.
Still, this was an incredibly potent card that wasn't too hard to activate if you're splashing outside of Green/Red. White and Black have fliers, Blue has sneaky critters. And when it hit, the world went boom.
It's a fine combat trick. Then again, I'm completely addicted to cantrips. You could give me a card that says, “You lose the game. Draw a card,” and I'd be saying, “Dude! You draw a card!”
I didn't see it played, but I'd just like to congratulate Wizards on creating what I'd consider to be a perfect card; it fills a hole in Green's defense (taking down flying creatures at instant speed), it's incredibly flavorful, and it's not overpowered. This isn't going to break open tournaments or anything, but it's a gem of design.
I know of two people who opened this piece of crap at the prerelease. I'm sorry. Maybe there's a use for it in Constructed, but in Limited this is an utterly wasted slot (except maybe if you crack Svogthos and Woodwraith Corruptor).
It's expensive, sure, but I think it's gonna be a staple in Bloodthirst-using Limited decks. The Red ability makes it very nice, and all you need is an enchantment or two to bust the problem wide open.
Pretty much every competent player who cracked this ran it, and you really should too if you're playing Green at all. The problem with Ravnica Sealed is that given you invariably have to go into three colors your mana bases are always terrible, leaving you at the mercy of your draw. This is mana fixing, albeit slightly expensive mana-fixing... But it comes with a reasonable butt and a nice secondary ability. As such, it falls into that category of “Not a card you'd want to build a deck around, but a great support card if you're in Green.”
Given that I hadn't looked at the spoiler, I had no idea how weak pure Red was in the environment. All of Red's power is in the Guild cards; there are only fifteen unadulterated Red cards! Surprise, surprise.
The Red here is weak. Hammerfist Giant is large, but with a drawback that's usually gonna hurt me more. And after him, the creatures are tiny, and there aren't nearly enough of them. Cleansing Beam is a potent splash, but I don't think that's gonna do it. Or Izzet?
Hee hee hee. You're gonna get sick of that joke within a week (BDM's already used it), so I might as well get it out of the way now.
A nice burn spell that's not overpowered, but can turn the tide of a board. Obviously, the longer you can wait to use it, the better. A staple everywhere, all day.
This guy annoyed the heck out of me, bouncing all my good guys, which indicates that he's probably pretty good. An excellent tempo card, or just good for ditching a troublesome enchantment.
Flight of Fancy
Muddle the Mixture
Train of Thought
Wow, that's some nice Blue. You've got some strong critters in the form of Tidewater Minion and Snapping Drake, some excellent support in Flight of Fancy, and a bomb enchantment. Most of the good cards are from Guildpact, and I'll go into them in a bit, but I could probably go Blue here and not look back.
Make no mistake: This is a B-O-M-B. All day long, I saw people suiting up their biggest fatties with a Magemark and smashing face. Who had a Benevolent Ancestor or a Carven Caryatid? Nobody, that's who. And if they did, who cares? It's got +1/+1! They're not gonna keep that Wall for long!
And if you happen to have a Galvanic Arc laying about to put on some other fattie of yours... Yeah. It's good. Real good. I suspect it's a very high pick in Draft.
It's as good as you think it is... Which is to say that it'll come in handy nine times out of ten and really gain you some breathing space, and that tenth time you won't have the mana to bounce the gigantor critter your opponent's laid down.
Still worth a slot, though.
Train of Thought
This could be totally excellent if the environment plays out the way I think it will, and if you play it right. See, I saw a lot of players burning this early to draw two cards, but it's a late-game card.
In Ravnica Sealed, particularly if you're playing against an aggro deck, you often have these huge annihilation wars where you burn all your removal on each other's bombs and wind up in topdeck mode. Oh, one of you will often be at a distinct advantage, but who wins comes down to whatever the other person draws. In those cases, you bank the Train, refill for three or four cards, and then start clawing your way back.
The problem is that the Izzet decks I saw were pretty low on creatures; they had tons of tricks, as you'd expect, but they were like Dimir decks and running creature counts in the elevens to twelves. That can work, but you don't have the unconditional removal that Black does, so you're a little more vulnerable. Thus, you might not have the time to get to the late game.
We'll see how it works out, I guess. I have a feeling Izzet's going to be almost purely a tempo strategy.
Okay, it's a solid (if unexciting) card... But what's with that name? Gigadrowse? Jeez, are we playing Pokemon? I'll give Wizards points for Crash Landing, but this is the suxx0r when it comes to flavor.
(That said, I'm sure someone adores this as much as I hate it. Remember, kids, your personal preferences are not automatically shared by the rest of the world!)
It sounds good (“Dude! It's a cantrip!”), but I didn't see anyone using it. This is probably for the best, since it's so situational I have a problem believing it'll be good against anything but the curviest decks.
Have I mentioned how insanely great the art is in this set? Matt Cavotta should win an award or something. Guildpact is just flat-out beautiful.
The Black is solid, but not golden. It's got the great staples of Stinkweed Imp and Disembowel, and I'm never unhappy to play Carrion Howler or Mortipede... But it's not magnificent. It could be a solid second color.
I played him, and he came in great all day long. Admittedly, I didn't play against that many flier-heavy Blue decks, but usually I just threw him into the breach, did my three to six damage, and then took out a creature along the way. For three mana, I'll consider that a success.
He seems good, but I don't like him. He makes my opponent skip a combat phase, which indicates that I want to play him when I'm losing a race. But he does nothing to affect the race afterwards, since I can't attack with him the turn he comes into play and I can't block with him after he's out. He's probably good in multiples, which may make him slightly better in Draft, but I'll give him the pass for now.
I've already all but told you that I'll be going into a Selesnya strategy here, and this card dang near killed me when it came out. When Scatter the Seeds reads, “Pay three life and five mana,” it looks a lot less intriguing. Plus, it's a pretty decent body. If you know someone's got Selesnya, it's a good card, and probably worth picking up as a sideboard slot in Draft.
All solid Boros cards, but we've established that both White and Red are weak. These three cards can't carry a deck on their own.
Did I say my Blue was good? Well, gosh, my Blue is now insane. These are both excellent cards for the Blue strategy, and they tip me a little farther into going into a Dimir-based deck.
These are strong Gruul cards, but they're kind of narrow. The Scab-Clan Mauler in particular is merely a conditional 3/3, which doesn't have the kind of power I really need to be comfortable with it. That said....
This card is amazing, and I wouldn't be too surprised to see it turn up in Constructed. (Then again, my predictions for Constructed are always weak, so take that with a grain of salt.) It shows up early, it attacks, it taps for Convoke, and it fixes your mana in a pinch. It's a glorious card that won't win you the game on its own, but definitely will help you to get where you can win.
But you know what I like best of all? The name. It's like crazy Jews gone wild! I just picture a quiet guy with good hair, in his mid-twenties, at the temple dutifully preparing for the ceremony... And then suddenly, out nowhere, he flings his yarmulke to the ground and screams, “F&%k it!” Tearing off his clothes, he runs into the woods as the rabbis chase him, gurgling madly.
He's the Wild Cantor. Shalom, muthaf&%ker!
This card, and this card alone, almost pulled me into Red/Green. It is a house, and whenever I saw it played with Bloodthirst, victory was not far behind. “I attack you, do three damage, summon this and sacrifice my Wild Cantor to do an additional six to your face; game over.”
If you get this card, do what you can to play it. It's a little pricey, but six damage on a stick never hurts. Well, it never hurts you.
Both nice cards, but... You know. Eh.
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
This card is so broken it brings me right back to the days of Onslaught Block, when you got smashed by cards you couldn't do a damned thing about. The guy who won my flight at the prerelease was a decent player, but having this backbreaker basically rode him straight to victory. “Yeah, I'll draw my card and ping your guy there, then I'll Train of Thought and decimate your team, and if I can't find the card I want I'll ping you and draw it at the end of your turn.” Yeepers.
I could deal with everything else, but the Mizzet was smashtacular.
(Incidentally, to find out what the formula in the flavor text says, turn the card on its side. It says, “Niv-Mizzet 90-degree tap = 1.” Isn't that frickin' awesome? Go, Wizards!)
Mana problems aside, this is as good as it looks in Limited. A bee-yoo-tiful combat trick.
Holy crap! Just three cards, but one's a bomb and the other two are solid.
Angel of Despair
She's expensive, sure, but the whole “Destroy a permanent” is an awfully nice ability to have. In addition, nobody can block five in the air without some horrific rare to match this, meaning that games are over toot sweet when she comes in.
I shall also note that I opened up a Chord of Calling in this pool, which can summon her as an instant to totally screw with someone's combat math. I did this three times in the course of the tournament, and it never ceased to be entertaining.
(Although you could tell I was at a prerelease when I said triumphantly, “Yes, in response to you enchanting your guy with some killer card, I will Chord of Calling for... Oh, crap. How much did that Angel cost? I'll just tap out and hope it's enough....” Fortunately, it was.)
A really, really good card. Okay, he comes in, and swings the life total difference by four points. That's good. Then he attacks in the air, taking a few points with him. And when he dies, he becomes an enchantment you stick on a ludicrously fragile creature to once again buy you some time.
You had me at hello.
This card was like the mousy girl in every teenaged movie. I didn't pay attention to her until the day she stepped on stage at the senior prom. Then she shook out her hair, and took off her glasses, and she was beautiful.
This isn't a bomb card, but it was the reason I won quite a few games. They were coming after me on the ground, but I took to them in the air, slowing their offense and pecking away at their life. It bought me time I needed to stabilize.
I thought this would really be fun with a Wild Surge, but I never got the chance. A shame!
...that's about it. You've been playing these cards for weeks. Do you really need commentary at this point?
Given that I was playing Green, and Green is the only color this doesn't require, I wasn't playing this. It's not worth going five-color for.
A confession: Voyager Staff is one of those cards I keep opening and thinking, “This looks good. I should play it. It's probably better than I think.” And then I wind up at forty-one cards, and I wonder what can go, and the Staff always gets the boot.
It's probably not that great, but I guess I'll never know. Also see: Tootsie Pop, how many licks.
Hey, look. Lands to help facilitate the two colors I'm almost assuredly not going into!
In the end, the Green was good, but I also knew that I needed to make room for Angel of Despair. That meant lots and lots of mana fixing, which was my top priority, since getting both double-Black and double-White in a base Green deck would be tricky at best. (Then again, if things went the way I wanted, I'd just be Chording her out anyway.) I actually spent some time calculating what the ideal mana base would be, using paper, and I chose my creatures based on what would be the easiest to cast.
Here's what I wound up with:
Chord of Calling
Fists of Ironwood
Scatter the Seeds
Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi
Angel of Despair
I made one big mistake here, which was to maindeck Sewerdreg over the Absolver Thrull. With Black much less prevalent (Dimir and Golgari had been reduced), the swampwalk wouldn't be nearly as potent, and the double-Black was a strain on an already-creaking mana base. The Absolver, however, would combat the ubiquitous Magemarks. Fortunately, I realized this right before the first round started, and sided it in every time.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: One of the downsides of going into the prerelease naked is that, well, you don't know the cards. I thought Haunt effects counted as enchantments; instead, they're just very much like enchantments, but the Thrull won't remove them. The Prerelease FAQ confirms this, so I apologize to anyone who read that bit of misinformation.)
I really, really wanted to go with the Goliath Spider, but I was already very mana-heavy here, with the curve really choked at the top end; I didn't want to weight it any more. It was the last card I cut, and lo, it was like chopping off my arm.
I should also note: In a previous article, I found the Vinelasher Kudzu to be disappointing since it always got Last Gasped or Disemboweled before it got to be big. In the Black-light environment of the prerelease, it did much better, though Repeal was certainly no fun.
In the end, I did well, losing only to the guy who had that damned Niv-Mizzet. I came in second place in my flight, getting half a box.
I did, however, break an opponent.
See, it was the final game of the final round, and he'd been beating me down with his Gruul/Izzet strategy, and he had out a Courier Hawk, a Screeching Drake, and a Djinn Illuminatus. All I had was a Guardian of Vhitu-Ghazi, a Blind Hunter, and three tokens. I was down to nine life, and I hadn't so much as laid a glove on him; he sat serenely at eighteen, the only sign of damage from my Blind Hunter.
Then I said, “At the end of your turn, I'll Chord out my Angel. You're tapped out, so you won't mind, right?”
“That's not fair...” he said, joking.
“No. This isn't fair,” I said, swinging with everything on my next turn. Realizing he was on the back foot, he double-blocked the Angel with the Drake and the Illuminatus to kill it, and chump-blocked the Guardian with the Courier Hawk.
“That seems okay,” he said, pushing the cards into place.
“No, it really isn't,” I said. “I'll assign five damage to your Drake, and now that damage is on the stack I'll Ghostway. When my Angel comes back into play, it'll pop your Illuminatus. Oh, and lose two life from the Hunter coming back into play. I'm at eleven.”
He'd ended his last turn with a full board, ready to start a huge offensive. He started his next turn with nothing but land, facing eleven damage a turn. He had some nice cards in the deck, to be sure, and played some powerful cards over the next three turns to stall me... But the defeated slump in his shoulders told me that I'd beaten him already.
In that moment, I crushed my enemy, and saw him driven before me. I'm pretty sure I heard the lamentation of his women. And isn't that what Magic's all about?
* - Illuminatus courtesy of the Wild Cantor! Raaaaaargh!
....Or so I think. The essentials of my board are correct, but his may be slightly off. But in any case, he went from four (and possibly five) creatures to none in a single turn.