Welcome back! Ravnica has Returned and it's time to get our draft on. I have had the opportunity to draft the new Ravnica set seven times so far and am really enjoying the format. With that being said seven times isn't enough to make any brash claims that I've solved it by any means; however I do feel that I am getting a grasp on how the format works what is important and what seems to have been working for me thus far.
Right off the bat in the first week of drafting the format there seems to be a consensus that straight Selesnya and Rakdos appear to be strong strategies. They are fairly straightforward (the Selesnya deck wants a lot of things that make tokens and cards with the keyword "populate" and the Rakdos deck wants to have an aggressive curve of 'unleash' creatures and removal) however as we are not always so lucky as to be passed the nuts two color guild of our choice sometimes we need to branch out beyond the obvious.
WHAT DOES A BLUE CONTROL DECK LOOK LIKE?
With that being said I wouldn't deter people from looking for 'the nuts' on color guild deck-in fact my two best draft decks so far have been a GW and a BR deck. However in both of these cases the deck tailor made was passed to me and I was simply in the right colors. The next two best decks that I have had the privilege of playing were three color control decks. One was Bant (UWG) and the other was RWU.
To start out here is what one of my control decks have looked like so far:
- 1 Archon of the Triumvirate
- 2 Armory Guard
- 1 Azorius Arrester
- 1 Frostburn Weird
- 2 Hussar Patrol
- 1 Izzet Guildmage
- 1 Izzet Staticaster
- 1 Seller of Songbirds
- 1 Skyline Predator
- 2 Voidwielder
Here is the other:
- 1 Armory Guard
- 1 Axebane Guardian
- 1 Azor's Elocutors
- 1 Azorius Arrester
- 1 Centaur Healer
- 2 Gatecreeper Vine
- 1 Hussar Patrol
- 1 Isperia's Skywatch
- 1 Loxodon Smiter
- 1 Seller of Songbirds
- 2 Towering Indrik
- 1 Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage
- 1 Voidwielder
I ended up 2-1 with both of these decks but I think that they were both good enough to be 3-0 decks. With the RWU deck I ended up making a play mistake that resulted in me getting blown out by an onboard trick (the UW Guildmage has two abilities d'oh!) and I ended up getting badly color screwed in a match with the Bant deck. I understand that mana screw is going to be a potential problem with a three color deck but it was one of those games where if I ever draw my third color I easily win so it was within reach for both of these decks to be 3-0 decks.
It is also relevant in at least in my mind that these decks that were capable of winning two or three games and that they are not really rare or bomb heavy. In a sense they seem to be reasonable decks to be able to consistently draft. The RWU deck has the 7cc Arbiter and a Martial Law and the Bant deck has an Azor's Elocutors and a Loxodon Smiter. Good cards to be sure but Jaces Hypersonic Dragons or Mizzium Mortars they are not.
With all of that being said let me talk about what these two decks have in common and why I think these commonalities are really important for the control archetype. First of all both of these decks have four four-drops with four or more toughness. One thing I noticed about the staple "best archetypes" BR and GW are that both decks rely really heavily on the aggressive board presence created by three-power creatures. In particular a lot of the unleash creature end up being 3/2 3/3 or 3/4s and also importantly the most common token that Selesnya wants to be populating are 3/3 centaur tokens.
"Centaur Token is the 'card' that RtR limited revolves around."
Havning an abundance of creatures that can effectively defend against Centaurs and Unleashed three-drops is a really good way to make it to the late game. Having two 2/4s in play creates a ton of problems for the aggressive creatures as it will often create a situation where they simply cannot attack you anymore without simply sacrificing a creature every turn if you double-block.
I also like having a lot of four drops that fit this mold because of this specific scenario: You drop a 2/4 and they attack with their 3/3 they attack and you block...even if they have a combat trick to kill the guy most of the tricks (aside from a few of the GW tricks) cost two or more mana so it will cost them their turn. In which case you can often just untap and play another fatty which will brick them again.
"I like big butts and I cannot lie."
I think that these three cards are really the key to making three color blue decks work. I have not gotten a chance to draft Grixis yet (which would be the last tri-blue control deck) but I assume the Ogre Jailbreaker would be the man of choice to fill that niche.
Also and this goes without saying:
"Um this card is ridiculous."
I'm happy to be casting 4cc creatures with four toughness in this format and this is a 2cc creature with four toughness. I know that when I was playing Rakdos and Selesnya and had those "good beatdown" hands that this guy was really good at making hands that I thought were unbeatable have to work really hard. With that being said as of right now I actually think this might be the best common in the set or at least really close to it.
Another thing that I've found interesting about this format is that counterspells actually seem to be better than they normally are in Limited formats. Both Syncopate and Cancel have been finding their way into my draft decks routinely and are actually outperforming my expectations. One reason for this is that I often find myself setting up board stalls and my opponent will wait to make an attack until he or she sets up a profitable combat trick. By having a counter in hand during the attack step one goes from getting two for one'd to blowing the opponent out of the water. Counterspells also have the added bonus of simply stopping a 6cc mythic rare bomb as well.
Another thing to keep in mind is that after the first game when the opponent sees that you have a bunch of x/4s they are likely to bring in combat tricks. I have been keen to pick up a thirteenth-pick Dispel to jam in my sideboard and am pretty liberal with sideboarding it in if I think extra pump spells are likely to come in. I'm not bold enough to jam Dispel in my maindeck over a Cancel (yet) but I've been pretty impressed with the card and will likely try it out soon.
WHY WOULD ONE DRAFT A THREE-COLOR BLUE CONTROL DECK AND NOT A TWO-COLOR DECK?
I have already stated that I think BR and GW are probably the most powerful and consistent performing decks I've seen so far. So with that being said: "Why wouldn't a player just draft BR or GW every time?"
Well the answer is quite simple: if it were that easy every single draft table would have four GW drafters and four BR drafters. An eight-man draft simply cannot support every single player trying to force straightforward archetypes.
When I start out a RtR draft I am always ideally looking to draft a two color deck. However a lot of the time (and this is especially the case with a multicolored set like Return to Ravnica) one can spend their first three or four picks taking reasonable cards in a two color combination only to find the wellspring drying up really quickly.
For instance when I drafted the Bant control deck my first three picks went like this:
I was feeling pretty good about these picks-I mean Selesnya is clearly open right?
I wasn't going to just abandon three insane GW cards and start over in a new archetype. Since blue seemed to be the most open color I simply dipped into that vein and expanded into a three-color deck that could use what I already had while moving toward what appeared to be more open.
The guy to my right didn't want the Giant Spiders in his populate deck so I was able to steal those from him and because Green was being cut so hard from the right I was able to get more GW in pack two. Essentially I was able to switch into UW from the right and take the GW from the left.
The other thing that is kind of nice about the three-color versus two-color decks is that the Guildgates are cards that are pretty reasonable to pick up in the middle of a pack. Unlike the original Ravnica bouncelands as the mana fixers at common which were clearly first picks almost no matter what the Guildgates are cards that the two-color decks don't really need as they are not so insane that one can't not pick them. However having dual lands at common is really important for enabling three-color decks to consistently fix their mana.
If you are building a three-coor deck and know it going into pack two I don't think it is unreasonable to first- or second-pick a gate. They are basically the best cards in a three-color deck because they allow a player to simply play with all of the best cards from two guilds (as opposed to two-color decks that only get one guild). I have ended up being able to draft 3-4 mana-fixing lands in my three-color decks but I pretty aggressively take them. If I know I am roped into playing three colors I value the gates higher than almost anything: the exceptions being bomb rares and first-pick-quality on-color gold cards such as Guildmages Frostburn Weird Izzet Staticaster Skymark Roc or Centaur Healer. Depending on how late it was in the draft and how many gates I had to fix mana I could see picking a gate over these cards late in a pinch. I wouldn't like it but it might be the play.
One might also want to branch into a third color to accommodate playing a really really powerful bomb rare opened in the second pack.
For instance if I were drafting a UW deck and I opened up:
"Too good to pass…"
It is reasonable to expand from two colors into a third to accommodate a really really good card like a dragon.
CARDS THAT ARE MUCH BETTER THAN THEY LOOK IN THREE-COLOR BLUE CONTROL DECKS:
"(Not) every body's heard about the bird."
When RTR came out a lot of people described this card to me as "unplayable" and as somebody who plays it often I am going on record as saying those people are wrong.
Seller of Songbirds is good for the same reason as:
"A blockade that makes a blocker."
Both of these cards are fairly cheap but come with a lot of value attached. Perhaps most importantly about both these cards is that they are straight white cards that make tokens to populate. While UWR is not generally going to be a deck that revolves around populating for obvious reasons sometimes there is simply value to be had for the taking. There are few decks in this format that play white where I wouldn't play Trostani's Judgment for instance but I'm pretty unlikely to have a token to populate. Cards like Seller of Songbirds and Security Blockade are decent cards on their own and the fact that they are mono white token generators is simply put gravy.
I have been really impressed with the Seller. Making two permanents is really important when trying to stabilize against aggressive decks. Not to mention the absolute look of disgust your opponent will inevitably give you when he plays Brushstrider on the draw and you play Seller. Ick!
I actually had a game where I Dramatic Rescued a Seller of Songbirds that was blocking a Rakdos monster which was pretty sweet value.
The Blockade is basically "make a 2/2 Knight and prevent six to eight damage over the course of a game." I kept count in my last draft; in a three-match draft Security Blockade prevented 32 damage for me (not including whatever value that my Knight ended up getting me). I can only imagine how sweet it would be to have two copies of this card going at once.
"I'm saved and in epic fashion!"
Dramatic Rescue is a card that has exceeded my expectations in this format. For one is awesome at blasting Centaurs off the board. Second it is great at protecting 2/4s from combat tricks. Third it is sweet when somebody plays a card that "populates" and then suddenly they don't have a token to populate. Gaining two life is also surprisingly relevant especially against Rakdos decks that will often sacrifice cards to push through damage.
For instance it isn't uncommon for a Rakdos player to attack a 3/2 3/4 and 5/4 into your board of 2/4 and 2/2. With a Dramatic Rescue this tactic ends up working out rather poorly for them…
"Inaction Injunction what's your function? Locking down fatties fliers and blockers…"
Inaction Injunction easily passes the eyeball test as being a solid card but when I've put the card to use it has exceeded my expectations. It is a really versatile card and it basically does every thing I want it to in a control deck. It buys time makes my opponent's attack step awkward and digs me through my deck toward my finishers. One can't go overboard on drafting these in extreme multiples and they can't replace playing creatures but I always want a copy or two of this card in my deck.
"Better than advertised."
I actually think that the Gates are better than the Keyrunes by a pretty wide margin. I don't want to fix my mana on turn four. I want to fix it on turn one for free. I can't even begin to explain how much easier it is to win a game of RtR draft when I start a game with a Gate in play than when I don't.
Casting my spells whatever spells I want whenever I want is a tremendous boon and the Guildgates make it so easy. I strongly suspect that three color decks are going to be important in this draft format especially as we move forward and learn more about the how RtR draft works. I am certain that getting and utilizing Gates will be paramount.
Experimenting and learning about RtR draft format has been a really fun and rewarding format for me thus far. It seems like there are a lot of possible avenues to explore moving forward and the new cards are really fun to play with. So far I think that populate is the most interesting mechanic from the new set and it appears to be powerful. "Unleash" while not as interesting also seems to be rewarding to build around as overpowered-undercosted aggressive creatures are always worth casting.
So last but not least my five favorite RtR cards that I've gotten to play with in limited thus far!
"You've got to appreciate that Vintage Fender design."
Playing with this card makes me feel techy even though it is basically designed to create cute blowouts. It is almost impossible not to play this card in some sweet dramatic fashion and out of nowhere wreck an opponent's day making what looked like a profitable attack quickly devolve into a rout.
It is also worth noting that in a RWU Control deck (and this play came up frequently) an attack of multiple three-toughness creatures into two 2/4s was met with a Staticaster to finish off both attackers…
"Block don't block it doesn't matter because you're dead either way…"
This card makes combat for the opponent absolutely miserable. All of the Guildmages are completely off-the-charts awesome but this one is particularly miserable to play against (and for that matter gleeful to play with!) as it creates situations where they literally cannot block without losing all their guys but must block or else take even more damage! Rawr Rakdos!
"Every single time I've cast this card my opponent died."
I don't know what else to say. Every time I cast this card in an aggressive deck my opponent dies on the spot. I don't ever remember a Threaten being this good.
"When Izzet a dead draw? Nivix."
It seems like every time I have this card it creates some sweet blowout in my favor. I wish all of my draft decks could play four.
"Pleased to Vitu."
Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage is absolutely amazing because it can simply overwhelm and defeat opposing decks all by itself. At the top of the GW deck's curve its best non-rare spell is Courser's Accord and once you get to eight mana the card lets you essentially cast Accord without using a card every turn. It is hard to live long in a world where your opponent gets two free Hill Giants every turn.
Hope you guys are all enjoying RtR as much as I am…