The takeaway here should be what each guild looks like in context of a deck. What points on the curve you are weak at if you have common finishers or card advantage to support a control deck and what spells synergize best with your game plan. In general, Return to Ravnica was mostly two-color decks with some splashes and a couple solid three-color decks each draft. Occasionally a five-color deck would pop up, but it was green based. Gatecrash has one less common fixer, but the lost one was a green card so it should be quite similar. The aggressive nature of the format might streamline down some of the three-color decks a bit, but playable count in a given draft usually is more of an issue there than anything else.
The takeaway here should be what each guild looks like in context of a deck. What points on the curve you are weak at if you have common finishers or card advantage to support a control deck and what spells synergize best with your game plan.
In general, Return to Ravnica was mostly two-color decks with some splashes and a couple solid three-color decks each draft. Occasionally a five-color deck would pop up, but it was green based. Gatecrash has one less common fixer, but the lost one was a green card so it should be quite similar. The aggressive nature of the format might streamline down some of the three-color decks a bit, but playable count in a given draft usually is more of an issue there than anything else.
First thing: There are ten to eleven mono-white commons I'm excited to play as opposed to nine black ones. Of these, the only two that cost two of one color to play are both black (Grisly Spectacle and Deathcult Rogue). I think that because those are highly contested cards (removal and a playable hybrid card) your mana will lean base white.
The big draw to Orzhov some have talked about is that you have access to both of the common unconditional removal, but I'm not sure that is 100% accurate. I can easily see other colors splashing for Angel's Edict, so while you have more of the best removal it is very spread out. You are going to be leaning on Executioner's Swing and Smite much more than the other two. Maximizing your lower picks is one of the key ways to gain a real advantage in a Limited metagame, so prepare to do so
Death's Approach is not really an early removal spell, but at the point you are casting it for -2/-2 or -3/-3, it also comes with extort triggers, which is good enough for me.
There are a lot of perfectly fine ways to block in Orzhov if you know where to look. Dutiful Thrull is huge on defense. It's a guy that always blocks well into bloodrush. Corpse Blockade is also nice as it turns off a lot of combat tricks. Normally their trick would be a one-for-one that leaves them up tempo, and instead it probably becomes a two-for-two that leaves them near par. Not a huge advantage gained, but this deck won't be about those.
Smite and Shielded Passage are going to be your go to tricks as one-drops that let you gain an advantage against bloodrush, even if it just is on tempo in Shielded Passage's case. This isn't like Return to Ravnica where blocking was just turtling up behind 1/4s; your opponents will have hard to play around tricks that you need to respect in deckbuilding.
Your deck is not completely passive. There are lots of small damage output evasive creatures. This deck is going to be reminiscent of past W/U Skies Draft decks where you gum up the ground and chip shot them to death.
You should be able to easily assemble double extort with five common creatures. Both of the two-drops are going to be valued highly in their secondary guilds since one is an aggressive body in Boros and the other is a flier in Dimir, but I would imagine Basilica Guards, Kingpin's Pet, and Syndicate Enforcer all will be yours if you want them. Cheap spells are a big plus with extort, so your curve should likely be a bit lower than you expect.
While your five-drops are going to be crucial to being able to fully stabilize a game, you have access to enough of them to not actively worry about them. The difference between a 3/5 and a 3/4 is fairly negligible against the format, so Horror of the Dim is a fine body to hold the fort even if he isn't quite a Thraben Purebloods.
I don't expect Daring Skyjek or Shadow Alley Denizen to be prime picks, but both serve a reasonable role as a cheap guy/spell that can get in an extra couple of damage when necessary. Slate Street Ruffian on the other hand seems like pure filler. Three is much more than two or one, and you already have an abundance of that drop. That said, Skyjek seems really well positioned compared to a random bear because there are very few 1/Xs and far more 2/3s.
Both cipher spells also trigger extort as the copies are cast. I personally think Midnight Recovery is going to be one of the stronger cipher spells, and it not only gives you triggers off the copy but also off whatever you Regrow with it. Shadow Slice is interesting; I'm not sure if it's a good finisher or not worth a card to cast in this deck.
Lots of these aren't cards I would really be happy playing, but I can see an Orzhov deck that might want them. For example, Boros Elite isn't ideal, but some Orzhov decks could be more aggressive and want the one-drop to drain with that's also a 3/3. Likewise, Cartel Aristocrat is likely to be just a bear and worse than any guy you are sacrificing to save it, but sometimes you just want a bear.
Of course, there's also a ton of really powerful ones. Gift of Orzhova seems quite absurd. Easily first pickable. It isn't quite unbeatable, but it does force them to deal with it or die. Holy Mantle seems similarly threatening. Knight of Obligation is huge for the format at 2/4 and has extort, and Guardian of the Gateless seems very difficult to beat. Urbis Protector is a giant flier that also gains life on the chump block, and you have four awesome removal spells to add to your common selection.
Wright of Precinct Six actually seems pretty solid. If there is one creature, it's on par, and if there are more, it's way above. Not stellar, but definitely a good two-drop. Remember, he grows off bloodrush and random Balustrade Spy triggers.
Vizkopa Guildmage is decent but nothing absurd like Rix Maadi Guildmage or Vitu Ghazi Guildmage was. Alabaster Mage was a great card, but the one mana jump on the activation is a big deal. The second ability is effectively a kicker on the first as extorting to gain life is going to already tie up your mana. There is a bit of inevitability with the card because once you hit triple activation each of your creatures turns into a big Drain Life, but I feel like the six-mana mode of using both abilities is going to take an Assault Griffin to make it do good work.
Murder Investigation is potentially playable while Dying Wish isn't. Neither is great, but one is a slow Raise the Alarm (a reasonable card) and the other is a slow Syphon Soul (a very mediocre card). The 1/1s will likely gain you more life on chump blocks and in turn more damage on return attacks than a simple drain would.
My big question marks are Smog Elemental and Vizkopa Investigator. In Smog Elemental's case, I can see the format being a bit too aggressive to want a six-mana 3/3 flying creature. In Vizkopa Investigator's case, again I'm wondering if the format pacing will allow you to pay one or two life on turn 5 to hit a solid spell or if by then you will be needing to make more of an impact on the board than a 1/3 allows.
Color commitments in Dimir are pretty evenly split. You are probably slightly heavier blue due to the blue one- and two-drops being better and one of them having a blue activation, but only very slightly.
Your play style will be fairly similar to Orzhov: block and chip shot back to gain some incremental advantage. In this case, you are looking at using cipher to gain this advantage.
You do need a certain mass of cipher targets, but you should also be sure to prioritize X/3 blockers to hold the ground. All of the cipher cards are expensive and only one of the commons has any immediate effect on the board. Even the virtually vanilla Frilled Oculus seems fine, though I expect to be commonly grabbing Simic Guildgates to activate this and Way of the Thief.
Of the cipher cards, I'm most excited about Shadow Slice here. Of course, I like a Lava Axe more than most, but in a somewhat tempo-based evasive deck it seems like an effect you want. I guess I'm more excited to be casting Hands of Binding, but that's basically a removal spell. Hands also gives them time to find a blocker and stop your engine, while if they are still living after the second cipher trigger on Shadow Slice I would be shocked.
My big question here is whether the low value enablers are worth it. Cards like Beckon Apparition, Shadow Alley Denizen, and Skygames aren't actually good cards on their own, but if you can chain them into a cipher trigger, are they actually worth it? I remember playing some insane U/B Ninja shells in Champions Draft, but all of those were focused on Mistblade Shinobi lining up Time Walks, which Wizards fortunately decided to not allow us to do with cipher. I'm leaning towards the bad enablers just being bad cards, but it's worth a try and then some.
Deathcult Rogue isn't quite unblockable, but it's very close. Here is the list of common and uncommon creatures that can block it: Balustrade Spy, Bane Alley Broker, Deathcult Rogue, Keymaster Rogue, Metropolis Sprite, Shadow Alley Denizen, Syndicate Enforcer, and Undercity Informer. Notice that all of these are cards that are less likely than par to be in your opponent's deck since odds are you took a few for yours.
As for a mill option, it seems like the kind of thing you either end up with an entire deck for or ends up being incidentally there against slower matchups. At common you only have Paranoid Delusions, Sage's Row Denizen, Psychic Strike, Balustrade Spy, and Grisly Spectacle to enable it. The creatures and Grisly Spectacle are just good cards and won't be something you can lean on in a mill-centric deck, and Psychic Strike milling for two is marginal, so you are mostly leaning on Paranoid Delusions. If you can get two or more cipher triggers off it, the card is playable (see: Glimpse the Unthinkable), but I'm not sure I would just shove a copy of the card into a normal deck. It isn't even that fast of a clock, so you really need multiples triggering to make that plan work.
That said, incidental mill has a lot of benefits. Death's Approach is going to be significantly better in a Dimir deck than an Orzhov one, and Totally Lost can often set up the same interaction as Azorius Charm plus Nephalia Drownyard does in Standard where you mill the card you Time Ebbed. Not killing with damage negates the drawback on Devour Flesh, though I expect that to be mostly irrelevant anyways.
Balustrade Spy is one of the guys that ties everything together. It blocks well as a 2/3, flies in cipher spells, and has a mill trigger. That said, you will get him later than you "should" because there are just so many four-drops to choose from.
On the subject of four-drops, Keymaster Rogue does some good work on the mill plan. Bouncing a Balustrade Spy or even just a blue creature for Sage's Street Denizen is good value. You might even have an extort creature or two to gain some value off of if you aren't milling. If things go super late, you can set up the loop of bouncing the Keymaster itself for Denizen triggers. Leyline Phantasm serves a similar purpose on top of just being a giant dude that is very difficult for your opponents to brawl with.
Very few of these cards stand out as huge bombs. Gift of Orzhova I've already talked about and Aetherize seems like it can create some insane blowouts, but beyond that it's a lot of expensive fliers, random creatures, and a few more solid removal spells. If you are playing Dimir, don't count on your uncommon opens to bail you out.
Wight of Precinct Six was a card I already liked in Orzhov, and here it shines even more. This is yet another way to make the incidental mill triggers matter. I can easily see this hitting 4/4 or 5/5 in a Dimir deck.
Call of the Nightwing is a very real reason to be ciphering people. This is your cipher card that creates an immediate board impact. Even on an empty board the spell will be picked up by the Horror token, meaning it will always have an evasive carrier. Pick it highly.
Remember, repeatedly milling to a land is basically counting to seventeen. Knowing when Undercity Informer goes lethal is big, and if your opponent gets you with the card game 1, I might even consider boarding an additional land to throw off their math.
Coerced Confession draws between one and two cards on average against the average thirteen to eighteen creature Limited deck. If you are playing this card, the mill effect has to be worth a significant amount to your deck.
With all this talk of 2/3s, Rapid Hybridization will upgrade many of its potential targets. I expect to use it as a flash 3/3 or a bloodrush counter more often than a "removal spell."
Simic appears to lean slightly green in playable counts. This is amplified because the red spells are generally more splashable than the black ones, meaning your multicolored splash cards will be more likely green (Gruul) than blue (Dimir). I mention this here specifically because of the presence of an additional common fixer, but I don't expect that card to see much play in a normal Simic deck since it simply isn't a creature.
The best way I've figured out to think about evolve is that the creature has set max levels based on what cards you have access to. That said, I don't think you can reliably build an "evolve deck" because all of the cards are so good. Even assuming you just have a bunch of 2/2 and 2/3s (standard for the format), Shambleshark is a 3/2 or 4/3 for UG, Cloudfin Raptor gets to a 2/3 flier, and Crocanura is a three-mana Giant Spider.
If you ever do assemble this deck, things get insane very fast. Every five-drop you play is an automatic Gavony Township activation, and Leyline Phantasm does a good imitation of the reusable land in this case. Adaptive Snapjaw is a bit awkward in a world of 2/3s given his base stats, but if you save one of yours to evolve him, you get a near automatic two for one that evolves all of your other creatures when it enters play.
That said, the common creature quality doesn't drop from there. Ivy Lane Denizen seems nothing short of amazing. There isn't a token generator to go wild with it, but in a format full of 2/3s being able to repeatedly upgrade your team is insane. Both of the bloodrush creatures are great pump spells and reasonable bodies. Drakewing Krasis is "fragile" in the sense he trades with any other flier, but he is still huge and you have bloodrush.
The big downside is a huge lack of removal. Instead of these cards you have a surplus of mediocre common spells, also known as the Avacyn Restored Draft standard. Pit Fight almost requires an evolve or bloodrush card to kill a lot of things without being a Bone Shards. You are a bit light on evasive bodies for Hands of Binding. Hydroform is a decent Rebuke because it lets you ambush the many 1/X or 2/X fliers in the format, but it's still vulnerable to bloodrush. I'm not saying you won't play these cards, but I would gladly take an evolve or bloodrush creature over them. As much as I really don't like Disciple of the Old Ways, I can honestly see myself playing the card as a Grizzly Bears being better than your seventh mediocre combat trick that doesn't attack.
I'm not immediately writing off Forced Adaptation. It's just one of those effects that has historically had a lot of drawbacks on it (Primal Cocoon), so people will write it off, but it may or may not be semi-reasonable. At the least, it isn't much worse than a lot of other Simic spells.
Simic has a lot of really sweet stuff here.
Zameck Guildmage is probably the second best Guildmage in the set. With an evolve guy, it gives your creatures Kicker UG – Draw a card. Even without one, it lets you start chaining through your deck very quickly and gains value incrementally as it draws you more lands to activate it.
All of the uncommon evolve guys are insane. Elusive Krasis blocks everything and then ends up as a Phantom Warrior or more. Experiment One is basically a Wild Nacatl. Simic Fluxmage is probably the worst, and even then it's an Ivy Lane Denizen that triggers off anything.
Crowned Ceratok is just huge. I almost said he awkwardly trade for things like Syndicate Enforcer, but then I realized that's trading four-drops plus trample damage plus the potential for bloodrush blowouts. Rust Scarab costing one more makes it less of a bargain, but the power of a 4/5 can't be argued with against Orzhov and Dimir's small creatures.
I've slotted Nimbus Swimmer as a five-drop since that is when you see exciting returns for the cost. No one is excited by a four-mana 2/2 flier, but a five-mana 3/3 is generally a Limited mainstay.
Alpha Authority is likely unplayable, but I have it on here because I have dreams of suiting up Adaptive Snapjaws and creating The Abyss. It really isn't much worse than a lot of the random common spells, so depending on your exact deck it probably could be a fine 22nd or 23rd card.
Merfolk of the Depths is somewhat a trap. As a 4/2, it trades with any 2/3. It still is a fine instant speed evolve your team or flash blocker, but it doesn't attack very well.
The strength of Gruul appears to lie in its gold cards. The color split in most Gruul decks should be fairly even between the two colors, though red has a couple double red spells that may change this.
I'm not extremely happy with any of the Gruul two-drop options. This is not a very bear-friendly format. You obviously have a surplus of pump spells to force them through, but you are going to have to do that on almost every block. You did win that exchange, but the end game is still you having a terrible creature in play. Skinbrand Goblin is a semi-reasonable pump spell to win 2/3 mirrors with and Greenside Watcher does things outside of being a Goblin Piker, but neither is something I want to be attacking with.
Fortunately, the rest of your curve is quite awesome. All of the three-drops are above par on size or ability. Your fours are as well, and literally nothing can battle with your five- and six-drops. They can't even double block because you will always have the pump spell.
On the four-drops, Scorchwalker seems much better than it looks at first. Of course, I'm always in for a Lava Axe, but even a 5/1 body is better in a format where there aren't many incidental 1/1s to trade with it.
Madcap Skills makes your opponent double block. Bloodrush punishes your opponents for double blocking. Combo.
The same interaction applies to Adaptive Snapjaw, which is considerably better in Gruul than in Simic. Gruul also has four more X/4 or larger commons than Simic does to take Snapjaw to the next level.
Everyone was super harsh on Primal Visitation because haste doesn't make sense on a five-mana aura, but it's still +3/+3. I'm fine casting that in a format with such a stark creature-sizing cutoff.
Despite all my talk about the X/3 barrier in the format, I think Mugging is awesome. All of the evasive guys you want spot removal for are X/2s. You may have to argue with the flavor draft judge one on this one though: how does a minotaur catch a bird and mug it?
I was harsh on Pit Fight in Simic, but here it is really good. You have a 4/4. No one else does. Fight.
It was pointed out to me Wildwood Rebirth "combos" with bloodrush. I'm still unimpressed with the card. This interaction doesn't provide a real resource advantage in any way.
Similar to Simic, we have a bunch of real game changers at uncommon.
Ghor-Clan Rampager still floors me. I would play this card in Constructed even if the bloodrush cost was one more mana. Imagine how much better it is in a combat-centric format like Limited, especially when 4/4 is oversized for the format, let alone for four mana.
Skaarg Guildmage does some good things. On a recurring theme, 4/4 is big in the format. There's some anti-synergy with bloodrush here, but I don't know how much that actually matters.
Viashino Shanktail is awesome even just as a creature. 3/1 first strike wins all of the fights against 2/3s, and again double blocking against Gruul is not going to end well. He then has a split card mode that does even more.
Ripscale Predator is another giant dude that forces double blocks, this time literally. See recurring theme two: Gruul smashes double blocks.
I want to like Hellraiser Goblin in this guild, but everything I want to do with him involves curving out on monsters and running him into their 2/3s without bloodrush mana open.
Miming Slime is much better in Gruul than in Simic. With two common +5/+X pump spells, you can easily make 8/8s or larger with this spell.
Mark for Death is much more of another Pit Fight than a Falter. Assuming you make attacks that have no profitable blocks, they will always chump your biggest guy. There is an upside of a few extra damage, but I have to see how much games stall out with Gruul before determining if this card is just a reasonable kill spell or a super flexible finisher.
The first thing to evaluate is whether battalion is worth actively trying to trigger. At common, we have Wojek Halberdiers, Daring Skyjek, and Warmind Infantry that get significantly better with it, Bomber Corps, which doesn't do much either way (1/2 in a world of 2/3s), and Nav Squad Commandos, which doesn't really fit the theme but is definitely improved with it. In general, it seems like battalion is nice to trigger but not game ending to miss and not something that won't just happen anyways. Playing a bunch of one-drops to do so is likely a trap, but I've included them regardless as I could easily be wrong. That said, Massive Raid has pseudo Battalion since it hits the usual burn spell point at three creatures, but they don't necessarily have to attack to make it work.
Honestly, I'm not very inspired by most of the Boros cards. They seem to make you want to play a very generic aggressive Limited deck. There aren't really cards that push a super linear aggressive strategy at common beyond Madcap Skills.
Draft a curve, draft good creatures, and don't play bad ones (read: random 1/1s, bad 2/2s). Draft removal highly. The deck will end up being aggressive on the back of the two- and three-heavy curve compared to the three- and four-heavy curve of all the other guilds.
The only semi-interesting card is Tin Street Market, which I feel is hated on because it costs so much and just looks bad. Looting is a fairly powerful effect, and while this card might be a little expensive, I don't think it's snap unplayable.
Truefire Paladin is also quite good. Pushing through a 2/3 at value requires four mana up, but often you won't have to spend that mana. Of course, the threat of Firebreathing might make them block. Odds are this card Abysses them quite often.
Boros Elite is the kind of card I'm willing to work for battalion on. You get a significant upgrade from the boost. Of course, it's uncommon, so the odds of getting enough incentive cards to want to play bad cards for it is low. I will likely just jam the Elite in a normal curve of good creatures and win the games where it gets active. The same applies to Firefist Striker and Ordruun Veteran.
Both of the six-drops you have access to are awesome, but they don't really fit with the low curve of the commons. One is probably great, but the second six-drop is likely much worse. Same with the glut of four-drops. Feel free to undervalue the ones that are only moderately good, though which those are exactly I'm not sure. I'm leaning Ordruun Commando and Knight of Obligation as the less good options of the five.
Righteous Charge was the kind of card I was looking for at common to push a hyperaggressive deck. It's pretty awesome, and if you get three or more I can see drafting around it, but it's fine as is in a "normal" Boros deck.
Hold the Gates seems significantly better here than in Orzhov. Adding toughness to X/2 attackers seems more relevant than adding toughness to X/3 blockers.
Armored Transport is basically a Boros card. Randomly profitable attacker sounds like exactly what the aggro deck signed up for.
Prophetic Prism is pretty awesome, but I expect most two-color decks to not really want it since they are fairly focused on board presence. If you plan on playing three or more colors, you should be able to pick these up fairly easily. I expect a lot of these decks to be base Jund (for big Gruul guys plus removal) or Orzhov (for their defensive spells).
The Keyrunes are going to be worse than in Return to Ravnica but still fine. The Gruul, Dimir, and Orzhov ones are the best and likely in that order. Gruul Keyrune jumps the curve to the giant monsters that guild leans on, Dimir Keyrune randomly adds to a clock, and Orzhov Keyrune is a fine blocker, even if it clashes a bit with extort to activate it.
Orzhov: The deck you usually think of as W/U Skies, only with a bit more grind to it.
Dimir: A very similar blue evasive deck, only with more removal and better in a mirror due to the mill potential.
Simic: Play dudes. Play more dudes. Turn big dudes sideways.
Gruul: Play big dudes. Turn them sideways. Opponent has no good blocks due to bloodrush.
Boros: Average aggressive Limited deck.
2/3 is the key size point to break through.
The removal in this format is much better than in Return to Ravnica. There are multiple unconditional kill spells at common and more instants.
The near complete lack of six- and seven-drops across the common slots makes me think the format is going to be quite aggressive, but there aren't a lot of the random oversized commons Zendikar had that made game end super early. Blocking is profitable if you build well for it. Just plan for Gruul's bloodrush, know when to not double block, and have the ability to fight the random evasive creatures of Dimir.
White has the most splashable removal for Dimir and Gruul, red has splashable big dudes for Simic, and Dimir may lightly splash green to turn on Way of the Thief and activate Frilled Oculus. In general, this means that Dimir Guildgate will go around latest, while Boros Guildgate will likely go first as the extra removal is needed more by Gruul than Dimir.
Overall, this seems like a pretty "average" Limited format for a non-core set. The closest thing on first glance appears to be M12, only the uncommons aren't quite as bomby in this set. Personally, I'm ready to battle some good old-fashioned Limited. Either that or make some dinosaurs.
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