Back to the Future of Ravnica

Written by Justin Duewel-Zahniser on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited

Back to the Future of Ravnica

Justin Duewel-Zahniser

Justin is a writer and editor for Legit MTG. Rather than pump his ego in this little bio-box, I'll let his writing do the talking.

I started playing Magic the week that Revised came out. However, I missed everything between Urza’s block and Zendikar due to a mistaken impression that I was too old for Magic. I have long since come to grips with the truth: I’m not too old for Magic; I’m just old in general.

But even we old people sometimes get excited. I’ve played Eternal formats in Magic for quite some time, so even though I never played Ravnica: City of Guilds in Standard, I’m well aware of the profound impact it had on Magic. As a Limited aficionado, I’m also well aware of how beloved Ravnica was originally as a draft format.

Due to the awesomeness of my Tournament Organizer and local stores, I had the opportunity to play in up to six prerelease events for Return to Ravnica. Yes, that is a lot. I chose to play in three of them: 5:30am Saturday, 10:30am Saturday and 3:30am Saturday. I chose to sit out of the midnight prerelease because, as I said before, I’m old. I also chose to skip Sunday because I wanted to rest up and not push myself. We had a huge, week-long, offsite conference for work the following week and I needed to bring my A game*.

I’ll be honest. I was also a little gun-shy after Avacyn Restored. I did four prereleases for AVR and regretted it after the first one. My pool had a lot of good black cards. In other words, my pool had no playables. I almost considered skipping the last two and requesting a refund. But I had confidence that Wizards wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. After all, M13 was the most enjoyable Core Set limited I could remember. Like everyone else, despite my advanced age and crotchetiness, my hopes were up for Ravnica 2.0.

Foreknowledge

Like all serious Limited players who don’t have a dedicated team of pro tour veterans who either work or live with them, I listen to Limited Resources. This gives me a slight advantage in pre-release events over other players who either only read a spoiler or who have not even seen most of the set. But this time, I didn’t get as much of an edge. I didn’t manage to get more than 1/3 of the way through the commons and uncommons review before the pre-release anyway, due to not being in the car enough.

That said, I’ve been playing Magic—and Limited in particular—long enough to know how to evaluate cards more or less correctly. The main thing I’m looking to understand is the tempo of the format, the fundamental toughness and how the removal stacks up. Otherwise, you generally know what’s efficient, what’s pushed, what’s weak and what’s dead on sight.

Enough pre-amble. Let’s run this glass house up the flag pole and see who casts the first stone.

5:30am – Rakdos

I tanked on joining this pre-release until the day before. I decided that I was just barely not exhausted enough from the work week to go for it. Sadly, Golgari was sold out, minimizing my chances at getting an Abrupt Decay. I registered for Azorius. And then I thought about how tired I was going to be and decided to turn my brain off. Via the magic of Twitter, I switched to Rakdos. I also assumed that anyone I played who was there for the midnight pre-release would be playing very sloppy.

Round 1 – Chris w/ Izzet/Azorius (aka, Amerrrcuh) – on the draw

I stare at an opening hand that has every 5 and 6 CMC card in my entire deck plus three lands. I visit Paris and pile shuffle ferociously. Luckily for me, Chris also has enough points to get a flight to Paris. It must not be a blackout weekend.

Game 1 goes according to plan. We are swinging guys back and forth, but mine are Unleashed. I played through Azorius Charm, some bounce and an Avenging Arrow by just committing more critters than my opponent. I won from 10 life to his 5 life with a lethal swing. Rakdos Ragemutt connected once, which helped. I may have missed it in my notes, but I don’t believe he put any of my guys in detention. They all got to go out for recess after lunch.

Game 2 goes according to… umm… *censored* based on the fact that my life goes from 20 to 21, then to 19, then back to 20 and I win at that point. Imped.

I felt completely in the driver’s seat the entire time. Which I believe is called “Rakdos.”

1-0 (2-0)

Round 2 – Tony w/ Rakdos mirror – on the draw

I’m excited to play the mirror. I feel like my Unleash decisions, combat math skills and removal evaluation can give me an edge.

Game 1, I deal 20 points of damage with a single Daggerdrome Imp and a single Stab Wound. I believe I used one removal spell as well, because I remember thinking that I won via three non-land spells. My opponent played Lobber Crew twice, which was the perfect target for Stab Wound and which couldn’t race the Imp. His triple Shrieking Affliction did approximately nothing. I was very proud of myself, even though I didn’t earn it. Which I believe is called “Rakdos.”

Game 2, I win from 16. My opponent had a five turn sequence that went like this:

And then he died, because my non-best guy each turn kept getting in and he didn’t have any pressure on the board. Sometimes, kids, infinite removal is not infinite enough.

After the match, I help my opponent rebuild his deck to remove three copies of Shrieking Affliction and replace the walls for aggressive creatures. I believe he easily won out from there on the back of his insane removal suite.

2-0 (4-0)

Round 3 – Dzi w/ Selesnya/Azorius (aka, Bant) – on the draw

After joking about playing Dzi at 2-0, which almost always happens, I play Dzi at 2-0. I joke about being on the draw all day. Never, ever, ever do that. Trust me.

Game 1 goes to Dzi. The only thing relevant that I have to say is that he had Skymark Roc and I did not have removal for it. Oh, and he also played Swift Justice. That card totally crashes the Rakdos party. I make a note about the Roc for later and move on.

Game 2, I Rakdos him from 20 life.

Game 3, we play a tight, back and forth game. Dzi almost breaks it open with a Swift Justice and a Palisade Giant, which I read a few times and started crying. But then I realized that I can Stab Wound. So I did that and forced him to trade it off. Then I landed a Necropolis Regent, nailed him for 6 and drop a 6/6 Cryptborn Horror. I debated not playing that card because it seemed really unreliable. It still is, but it worked out this time. I had two in my pool, but I definitely did not play both.

3-0 (6-1)

Round 4 – Jersey Mike’s Sub Shop – on the level

Serg likes to force me to play the final round instead of ID’ing, despite the fact that the results of this decision have not favored him historically. In this case, I am able to convince him that the taste of food would be better than the taste of defeat (his or mine) and we grab David Salus and go find something hearty, but with vegetarian options.

Also, I’m convinced that Serg needed a Surge:

3-0-1

10:30am – The Guild w/ Abrupt Decay

Let’s get this over with up front. Golgari was a mistake. I haven’t been able to draft it yet to figure out the plan, but it under-performed in guild-pack sealed. Therefore, I will refer to it here as “The Guild w/ Abrupt Decay” since that was the plan—get value by opening Abrupt Decay.

I check out my pool. No Abrupt Decay. After staring at it a few times, I conclude that if the card says Reach, you play it no matter what. So I line up all my Reach cards and removal and then work on the curve from there. I’m a bit skeptical:

Round 1 – Travis w/ Golgari mirror – on the… draw

I sit down across from my opponent and come to a snap conclusion: he is not actually awake. Breathing, yes. Eyes open, check. But not awake. For game one, it doesn’t matter if he was awake or not. I curve Drudge Beetle, Unleashed Dead Reveler, Sluiceway Scorpion that’s all she wrote.

Game two goes differently. He lands a turn 4 Desecration Demon and then Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord to demonstrate that his deck is better than mine in the abstract. I lose this game and board in Aerial Predation. I am able to narrowly squeak out game 3 because my opponent is not actually awake. He misses on-board kill two turns in a row by not realizing that he can just nuke me out with Jarad sacrifice triggers.

Chalk one up for the “don’t play the midnight pre-release” strategy!

Jon Stollberg lends me his sweet playmat for a round.

1-0   (2-1)

Round 2 – Dzi w/ Selesnya – on the [take a guess]

Okay, this is starting to get a little ridiculous. I’m 0-6 on die rolls. And, what’s more, Dzi has the perfect answer to my dinosaurs. He has fliers and enough removal to kill my two Reach guys (although I only drew them game 1). The second game was actually close. I had him dead on the crack-back, but it wasn’t enough. My only consolation was a mulligan, without which maybe I could have gotten there and forced a game 3.

Note to self: the weakness to fliers is definitely an issue.

1-1 (2-3)

Round 3 – Brian w/ Selesnya – on the… drum roll please… DRAW!

So that’s two entire pre-releases without playing first.

Game one, Brian has to mulligan. This ends up being largely irrelevant as the game takes 44 ^&%*( # minutes. I play tons of big dinosaurs and he populates. The board is too clogged to do much at all. Except for one thing:

My lone Deathrite Shaman deals 24 damage to him, winning the game on the back of the Populate spells in his graveyard and the removal in mine. We shuffle up for game 2, which goes somewhat differently. I curve out perfectly and steamroll him in under 3 minutes without taking any damage. Phew. I was pretty tired of staring at Centaur and Bird tokens, let me tell you.

Another note to self: Grove of the Guardian is a real pain with these guaranteed-to-open-one guild packs.

2-1 (4-3)

3:30am – The Guild w/ Abrupt Decay, Again

At this point, I’m not really feeling Golgari for sealed. I open my pool and once again it does not have Abrupt Decay. Bust.

Round 1 – Dalton w/ Golgari – on the obviously

Screw you, universe.

At this point, I’m tired enough that my notes are starting to devolve. For example, I’m not sure whether I won or lost this round. I easily won the first game after drawing four extra cards with Underworld Connections. That card is sweet. Dalton wins game 2 after I miss three critical land drops, post-mulligan. It looks like I won game 3, but I honestly don’t remember.

Unde-maybe-feated.

?-? (?-?)

Round 2 – Tobias w/ Rakdos – ON THE DAMN PLAY, THAT’S RIGHT, WHAT?!?!

“Look menacing!”

Not only is Tobias playing Rakdos, but his shirt says “Unleash” on it in red slashes. Being the TO’s son, I’m assuming this was not mere coincidence. At any rate, his deck is a little unfocused and I take two games pretty easily. The highlight of this match was that I killed Rakdos, Lord of Riots with a Launch Party on a Daggerdrome Imp.

Me: “Hey Rakdos.”

Rakdos: “Yeah?”

Me: “Cool party, man. Here, take a shot of this?”

Rakdos: “What is it?” *gulp*

Me: “Doesn’t matter now does it?”

Rakdos: “I love you man. No, I mean, I freaking love you. It’s like this whole… thing. Reallly. What did you say this was aga…” *snore*

After the match, I help Tobias improve his deck by removing cards that don’t do anything and replacing them with sweet Unleash creatures.

?+1-? (?+2-?)

Round 3 – Mike w/ Selesnya – and we’re back on the draw

My no-land mulligan reveals a two land hand. I keep, on the draw (of course) and proceed to spend the next four turns at two land. His Trostani and Guildmage put me away pretty easily. Game 2 goes better for me, as I cement an important fact about the Selesnya match into my memory: Deathrite Shaman is a boss. I do twelve damage with my Shaman and win pretty easily.

In the final game, Mike mulligans a no-lander and then proceeds to mulligan zero-landers three more times. I hate it when this happens. No one feels good about it. But I don’t hate it enough to switch hobbies into competitive Castle Risk, mind you.

I finish in ? place and win some more packsIOUs!

GG, Wizards

You probably heard stories of product shortages. All over the place, organizers had to short prize pools, cap attendance and in some cases even cancel events with a day’s notice due to not having enough cards to play. It’s times like these that separate the boys from the men.

One man in particular (well, technically two—the store owner, Patrick Darby and the independent TO, Don Wiggins) came up with a great solution. They printed booster pack IOUs with unique IDs and a signature. Out of town or otherwise non-local players were awarded booster packs and the local players agreed to be awarded IOUs. Once the second wave of product came in, we were all able to turn in our IOUs for boosters. It worked out flawlessly. In fact, it even gave me the chance to capitalize on people’s cognitive biases and trade for their IOUs at pretty reasonable rates.

Nice try, Mark Rosewater. Your sneaky attempts to kill Magic have been thwarted for another season.

Afterwards, I searched for a way to replenish the precious calories lost in such intense wizard battles:

Sealed “Launch Party”

I registered for this event from work the day-of. I was not planning to attend originally, so I had neither my match-recording software (e.g. Notebook and pen) nor my draft sleeves. Thankfully, my TO graciously lent me the sleeves I needed to protect my bulk rares. But he could not compensate for the fact that I had no means to record my progress. I will provide you with these bullet points instead:

  • My pool had very good Jund cards, but it was about 5 cards short of playables.
  • I went with a slightly weaker Azorius build because all the cards were playable.
  • I went 2-0 without too much trouble. Fliers are still good.
  • In the final round, my opponent consulted with his brother and refused my offer of an ID. Mistake.
  • My opponent defeats me game 1. He has Supreme Verdict, Collective Blessing and Populate engines. I can see why he turned down the ID.
  • Given the power of his spells, I recognize that he’s a bit light on creatures. I bring in more bounce and some tap-down spells to focus more on the mid-game. I take game 2 on a razor-thin margin with Collective Blessing on a flier for lethal+1 before dying horribly the next turn.
  • For game 3, on the draw, I decide that my best hope is to gamble and apply enough pressure that he has to trade off creatures and severely weaken his Collective Blessing. And I have to hope that I can play around Verdict or he doesn’t draw it. I switch decks into Jund, mono-Unleash and smash him without taking damage.

Never turn down my IDs in Limited. It’s just math, people.

Draft #1 – Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Azorius

By this point, I’m guessing you’re as tired of reading match notes as I am of writing them. So I’m going to talk about this draft from a high-level mechanical standpoint. I played against Rakdos three rounds a row (although one was a Jund splash). I wanted to share something I learned:

Detain + Voidwielder is good against Rakdos.

All the games pretty much went the same way. The Rakdos deck came out of the gate Unleashed. I took some early damage, but was able to Detain some attackers, play out fliers and even up the tempo. Then, I used Voidwielder to bounce the scariest Unleash guys. This is a critical moment in the game. Now, they can replay them Unleashed, but they can’t get through the Wielder’s 4-butt. Or they can leave them as mediocre blockers, but you’re flying over. This worked like clockwork every time and really upgraded my opinion of Azorius.

Drink and Draft

As I was finishing up this article, a friend from my local shop invited me over for a late night of drink and draft debauchery. I decided to hold out long enough to toss in anything I learned from this event. I went 5-0 (one draft and then two rounds of the next one, but we all tapped out before round three because it was 2:30am) and here’s what I learned:

  • I still like Riesling. It’s dry, like my wit.
  • Riesling gets even better the more you drink.
  • Populate with three Eyes in the Skies is very good.
  • Once everyone is drunk and tired, you can do well with the weirdest decks.

For example, here are some key cards from my undefeated Dimir deck w/ a two double red card splash:

Catacomb Slug really pulled his weight, although he did slime everything in the process.

The real point of this section was to trick you into reading my favorite joke from the night. I am passing cards to Kevin. We are all seasoned drafters who know each other well, so we do fire-at-will and queue up packs for people. Kevin was really mulling over a decision pretty hard and had three packs backed up. So I blurt out “At this rate, I’m going to just buy the tank so I can start charging you rent.”

Everyone at the table stares at me for a second. I follow up with an explanation: “He’s in the tank…”

Raucous laughter and high fives ensue.

Let’s Put a Bow on This

If I were to rank the guilds in order of Limited value in a vacuum, here’s where I think I stand right now:

  1. Selesnya – the best long game available. Key cards: anything tokens, Populate.
  2. Azorious – if you can play tempo, Detain is strong. Key cards: Fliers, Voidwielder.
  3. Rakdos – switch this with Azorius instead of yelling at me in the comments if it helps. Key cards: three-drop Unleash guys, removal.
  4. Golgari – what do you do when you live in the sewers? Durdle, I guess. Key cards: Trestle Troll, Towering Indrik, Pernicious Deed.
  5. Izzet – WTF do I even? Key cards: rares?

If we’re talking Sealed, though, I’d put Rakdos up to the top. Now, this is a view on average. Adjust for play style, play skill, what happens to come in the packs. I’m willing to admit that Izzet might be higher than Golgari, but I have no idea how Izzet is supposed to work without rares. I feel like it might be the strategy of Goblin Electromancer, Guttersnipe, Walls and way too many spells. In other words, it’s like Single Malt Scotch. It’s really for connoisseurs. You don’t roll in a keg of the stuff for a $5-per-cup frat party featuring Beast Light. I look forward to forcing it and reporting back. Izzet. Not Beast Light.

Tapping the so-you-don’t-have-to card tappers so you don’t have to,

@justin_dz

Sanctuary Cat helps me write this article by laying across the keyboard. This particular Sanctuary Cat is a 1/6.

 

*After leaving a private party involving a $10,000 minimum bar tab which we easily crushed, I was asked to demonstrate Gangnam Style in the elevator. I like to believe that I performed admirably. Open condom style!

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