Hey there. Are you interested in Gatecrash Limited? Me too. I played five prerelease events and a draft in order to bring you my early views on the format. Rather than put you to sleep or make you suicidally depressed with a million excruciatingly detailed match reports, I’m going to approach this more like a survey of discovered information about the format that you can hopefully use to hit the ground running. As always, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments. Especially if they’re wildly different from mine.
From following the spoiler and discussing it with friends, I went into the format with these assumptions and questions:
- Boros and Gruul looked like they would set the pace for the format and be the decks to answer, much like Selesnya and Rakdos were in Return to Ravnica. Between battalion, bloodrush and the other combat tricks, both guilds looked nearly impossible to block profitably.
- Dimir’s commons and uncommons looked perfect … for some other, slower format. Dimir looked like the Golgari of the set, with a powerful ability (“grind”) but with cards and abilities costing too much to be Tier 1, alongside a severe identity crisis regarding how they wanted to win games.
- Simic was the big question mark. I wanted it to be good. It looked like a potential Izzet, in that it would take the longest to figure out, but might end up being a combo deck that could be mastered and abused if you had the patience. However, it would not be easy to draft and relied very much on curving out. I resolved to put a lot of effort into Simic because it seemed like the least obvious strategy to understand without practice.
- Orzhov looked like it would be my favorite. I love control strategies that grind opponents out and I love maximizing my options with cheap spells. As soon as I saw Basilica Guards, I was a happy man. The question was whether the format would be too fast to get enough extort triggers off to make up for the underwhelming bodies on your creatures relative to their mana cost.
I’m too old, employed and parenty to play midnight prereleases. So I was only able to play in a measly five Sealed flights on opening weekend. I signed up thusly:
- Simic – Saturday morning
- Simic – Saturday afternoon
- Dimir – Saturday evening
- Gruul – Sunday morning
- Orzhov – Sunday afternoon
As you can see, I tried out all the guilds. Except Boros. I know I’m supposed to be doing this for you guys and bringing you all the information that I can, but I’m also working on a Simic EDH deck for another article, so I double down on getting some of those sweet, sweet mythics.
I was not happy with my first pool. For starters, I had only three playable two-drops in the entire pool and only one of them was a creature. I opened three Boros rares, so I actually considered just playing Boros. However, I was about three playables short of a deck there. So I decided to stick to my Shark Human Fish Crab Ooze Guns and see what I could make of it.
Unfortunately, I was only able to manage a 2-2 finish with the first pool. I defeated Orzhov and Gruul, falling to Boros and Gruul. In the former matches, my creatures got out of hand and dwarfed their creatures pretty effectively. In the latter matches, their creatures were all better than mine at the same relative mana cost, without requiring any evolve. Also, the lack of two-drops mean that Boros had a field day.
The second pool played me to a 3-1 finish, with a narrow win over my Boros opponent with Gideon, Champion of Justice in the final round to avoid repeat mediocrity. I felt like the second pool was slightly better, although it was again very anemic in the playable two-drop spot. Now that I had experience playing against infinite Truefire Paladin, I knew this was even worse than I suspected in the morning. My loss was also to Boros, with wins against Dimir and a concession from a 4C control player who had to leave during the event (and who would have crushed me).
Here are the key things that I learned about Simic:
- Bioshift is useless and you should pretend it doesn’t exist
- Simic Fluxmage and Fathom Mage were very underwhelming
- Experiment One exceeded my expectations
- Adaptive Snapjaw is really well designed
I felt like Simic matches up well against Orzhov and maybe Dimir, but was simply outclassed by Boros (everything has first strike and haste!) and Gruul where the creatures are basically pre-evolved and you can’t block very well. I was able to get all the Commander cards I wanted, so there’s that.
I liked my Dimir pool. I ended up sticking to the guild colors, playing a few extort cards in black and treating the “grind” mill sub-theme as purely incidental. However, I wasn’t clear how I was supposed to beat Boros or Gruul without way, way more removal.
In short, I went 2-1 by winning the Dimirror twice and falling to Boros, validating my concerns that they would simply run me over before my game plan could even come online. Some of the mirror matches were won via damage (mostly extort) and some via mill. It definitely seemed like whoever got an unchecked Consuming Aberration first won the game by either method. I was unimpressed by Cloudfin Raptor in these decks and saw lots of people putting them in. Don’t be that guy.
I could tell you more, but then I’d have to kill you. Actually, that’s a cop out. I don’t feel like I learned a whole lot, largely playing against the mirror. I think you need a lot of removal, Hands of Binding, evasion and as many AEtherize as you can get to survive the non-mirror decks in the format.
POOL HAS DUDES BLOODRUSH SOME KILL STUFF CARDS I BEAT FACE FOR WIN MORE THAN TWO DASH ONE RECORD DYING ONLY TO CHURCH TAXES RAGE
I went 3-1, if you could decode that “sentence.” Other than the loss to Orzhov, all my wins were 2-0 and very fast. I beat Boros, Gruul and Simic.
Here is what I learned playing Gruul:
- Gruul is easy mode and great practice with the fundamentals of Limited combat. I would recommend it if you are new to drafting and want to ease in and establish your comfort zone.
- People will basically never block your creatures if you hold up the right mana. You can bluff a lot of attacks by holding up mana and holding back lands in hand.
- I saw other Gruul players making two critical errors:
- Not playing one-drops or enough two-drops. I don’t care if it’s a 1/1 Goblin or a 2/1 Greenside Watcher. Play it. Bloodrush lets you swing it into dragons!
- Bloodrushing for non-lethal player damage instead of developing their board. This is especially important with Devour Flesh being all over the place. If your opponent is at 16, Bloodrushing him for an extra four instead of playing your four-power creature is a mistake. Unless you can kill him on the spot, you need to develop your board.
I feel like Gruul basically has reasonable game against everyone. The Orzhov loss was basically to High Priest of Penance, which is like a huge stop sign. It gets even worse with Treasury Thrull. Anything but that Priest and I feel like the match would have been easy.
Oh, and you want Act of Treason. But then again, who doesn’t?
I will also mention that if you are Gruul, this is how you have to open your boxes:
I couldn’t complain about this pool. I was a little light on extort creatures, having only three. However, I had some decent removal and a great top end with two Treasury Thrull (the loop!) and a Luminate Primordial. I managed, however, only a 2-2. I defeated Orzhov and Gruul, falling to Legion Loyalist Boros and an Esper deck that had the game plan of exiling all my creatures with Merciless Eviction and then sticking a Consuming Abberation in Game 1; then cutting me to a four-land hand after a mulligan that subsequently drew five land in a row and did nothing. Oh well. We remember the games were we got screwed far more vividly than the easy ones we took down because our opponents stumbled.
Here’s what I learned playing Orzhov:
- When playing against Orzhov, prioritize removal against their extort creatures, even if there’s a bigger “threat” on board. You do not want your opponent to get multiples. Extort cannot be chumped or traded in combat. Use your judgment, obviously.
- Death’s Approach is probably better in Dimir where they have access to more grind cards. That said, several of the grind cards are perfectly fine in your deck, so adjust accordingly. I would still take Smite instead, though.
- Watch out for the clash between Devour Flesh and One Thousand Lashes.
- Keep your curve low. You definitely want bombs when you can get them, but unless you don’t get many extort guys, you will get a lot of value out of cheap spells. Unlike a late game Cloudfin Raptor in Simic or Dimir, drawing a Dutiful Thrull when you have three extort cards out is pretty sweet.
- Holy Mantle is really difficult for Gruul to beat. The creature goes out of Mugging range and can’t be Pit Fight. It also becomes either unblockable or the best blocker ever. Just watch out for a card like Massive Raid.
Orzhov is a bit tricky to play, relative to a more aggressive deck. A given turn with extort has many times more options than without. Although cheap spells lets you keep a large number of hands, you have to hit your land drops because your creatures get out-classed pretty early and you will rely on extort to keep you in the game and to finish off opponents.
As much as I view the prerelease as a learning opportunity regarding the Limited format (and a chance to grab EDH singles), I recognize that for many people the weekend is all about having a blast, getting to know the guilds and doing crazy stuff. I’m introducing a new category into my prerelease reports: superlatives. You know, most likely to succeed, least likely to reproduce. Those stupid high school things. I’m doing those for prereleases. Let me know what you think.
Most Likely to Obtain Value
Magic players love value. Limited players, on balance, love value even more than the average Magic player. We go to sleep at night with visions of 2-for-1s dancing through our heads. We brush our teeth and floss at the same time. We melt a bowl of ice cream into our spaghetti. Some of us even drive to work while technically sleeping!
But if you’ve chased the value dragon long enough, eventually a 2-for-1 just doesn’t cut it. You’ve had that rush plenty of times. Your serotonin reuptake has been thrown off kilter. You need more. More value. You’ll do anything to get it. You know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the 3-for-0. Yeah, you read that correctly.
Mental state: Jon Stollberg is worried that Experiment One is approximately One Experiment away from getting out of hand.
- Jon casts Mugging on my Experiment One, dealing two damage and rendering it unable to block this turn.
- Jon then casts Pit Fight, targetting his 2/2 and my Experiment One, dealing lethal damage to his creature and to mine.
- I respond by removing two counters from Experiment One to regenerate him/her/it.
- The graveyard now contains Jon’s Mugging, bear and Pit Fight.
- Experiment One continues to get Epic.
That, ladies and gents, is value. Don’t worry, though. Jon gets his revenge. You just have to keep on reading.
Best Impression of Emrakul
This award goes to Consuming Aberration, whom I saw several times over the weekend achieve a power and toughness in the low 20s.
Least Likely to Succeed … and then Succeeding Anyway
This one goes to me. I managed to kill my Dimir opponent using my Orzhov deck via extort triggers with zero cards left in my library. I introduced my opponent to Swedish tax rates, minus the free education.
Most Likely to Pass Out Mid-Match
This award goes to Laureé. In fairness, it probably should have gone to both her and to me, although I had slightly more control over my motor functions at this point in the event, even though it was my third prerelease of the day. Laureé managed to screw up casting Murder Investigation on her creature, resulting in a Murder Investigation sitting alone on the board, with the intended target creature instead enchanting another creature. Somehow. Of course, she was playing Boros and I was playing a blue deck, so we know how that ended up.
Most Likely to Kill When You Blink
Hardest Fought Battle
There’s this running joke about how Jason Clark (@realevilgenius) is actually my son Jason from the future, traveled back in time to pester me twice as hard in the same timeline. For the final prerelease, we both chose Orzhov and built our decks together. I joked that we would obviously get paired in Round 1. Then I knocked on wood.
Knocking on wood doesn’t work. Just FYI. We obviously got paired Round 1. Despite Jason having the better card pool for the mirror (six extort versus my three extort, and better removal), per both our estimation, I managed to take the match 2-0. They were long, grindy, intense, narrow victories. Although I’d like to say that I massively outplayed him with my strategy of killing extort creatures instead of “bigger threats” and playing brinkmanship with my life total, it honestly came down to out-bombing him with good draws. We threw some haymakers. At one point, Jason had two Primordials to my one Primordial and Treasury Thrull. All the pews in church were empty that day.
Regardless, both games were the most skill-intensive and enjoyable games of Magic that I’ve played in a very, very long time. Hats off to Jason for that one. At the end, I had the luxury of telling him, “ah, you have so much yet to learn, son” and then making jokes about infanticide. This was great practice for our inevitable future of Orzhov mirrors. Even if their bomb looks really, really scary, you probably still need to focus on the extort guys. Death and taxes, my friend. Death and taxes.
Most Likely to Peak in High School and End Up Living at Home
Simic. If you thought casting a 1/1 creature for four mana that might, on a cold day in Hell, draw you a card before you died was good, you were right. Your Boros opponent considers it very good that you just conceded the game to their army of 3/3, 3/2 and 4/3 creatures with First Strike, Haste, Double Strike, Indestructible, Trample, Sextuple Strike and How Does That All Cost Less Than Three Mana? abilities.
Magical Christmas Land
Now, keep in mind that the prerelease is a Sealed event. What we’re going to be doing, most of the time, is drafting Gatecrash. I’ll spare you a rant about guild boxes, but suffice to say that guild box Sealed is even less representative of the draft format. Good cards are still good and bad cards are still good. However, guild performances can vary due to artificially inflated consistency, the strength of the guild rare and other factors.
Luckily, I had the chance to draft Gatecrash once before finishing this article. Although the sample size is small and our understanding of the format is still young, I now have a bit more confidence in my early conclusions.
We had 14 players register to draft, so we ran a pod of 8 and a pod of 6. Unfortunately, I ended up in the pod of 6. This skews decks a bit and also causes weird pairings. I first-picked One Thousand Lashes out of a pack that had no other obviously stronger cards. The signals coming from the right suggested that I could stay in Orzhov.
It turns out that three people at the table drafted Orzhov. One was sitting to the left of me and got cut. The other switched out before the end of Pack 1 as cards started drying up. Many players went into three colors. I stuck to two colors and played zero Gates or Keyrunes. My general strategy was to pick in this order:
- Obvious bombs first, duh
- Cheap extort creatures
- Barring all that, cheap spells
I ended up drafting only four extort creatures, but managed 7-9 removal, depending on how you count (e.g. High Priest of Penance being more or less removal)
Here’s how it went:
- Defeated Boros 2-0.
- Lost to Naya 1-2.
- Defeated Naya 2-0.
I did not manage to draw my High Priest a single time in all seven games. That was a real bummer since I played against all blocking-heavy matches and even had an Orzhov Charm to bring him back. I was forced to win the matches almost exclusively with commons. I took so much removal in the first two packs using the above heuristic that I forced myself to focus very heavily on creatures in the final pack.
The best record in the pod ended up being an undefeated Simic deck. This is interesting to me, because playing Simic at the prerelease was very underwhelming. I think the result may have reflected the fact that no one else at the table took Simic and several players didn’t realize Biomass Mutation could be used in a Gruul deck, sending it a full rotation around the table to the Simic player. The lack of Simic removal may have been less of an issue than in Sealed — guild pack Sealed in particular — where bombs are more plentiful and rule the roost. Also, my Simic pools were nearly empty of two-drop creatures. I saw enough Frilled Oculus going around to confirm that it may have been a fluke.
The worst record in the pod was the 0-3 Boros player. I would consider the pilot one of the better drafters and players in the pod. It’s hard to generalize this result, but I did go in expecting Boros to be one of the strongest strategies and looking to draft it myself. Perhaps the lack of a guild box and a guaranteed supply of multiple Wojek Halberdiers makes the guild more work in draft. Perhaps other guilds having more chance for removal and controlling their curve gives them a greater ability to fight in the early game. Perhaps the fact that I played against four Boros Reckoner and five Frontline Medic in my pre-releases is an indicator that our Boros pools were just randomly insane.
Based on this six-event experience, I’m going to take a stab at stack-ranking the guilds on power level. This is a very imprecise process and we’ll certainly want to revisit this as the format gets solved. But, for now, assuming an average drafting and playing skill, here’s how I view things right now:
Many of these are close and could be even, but I like stack-ranking without equivocation because I don’t have some reputation that I need to protect by hedging my bets. The aggressive, hard-to-block, creature based decks with Madcap Skills appear to be the best. I think Orzhov sits in the middle because it has game against the field, as far as I can tell. Simic and Dimir appear to be the most work and have the most expensive cards. Simic has almost no removal (hint: take Pit Fight — I keep seeing people think it’s a red card), but Dimir’s identity crisis puts it on the bottom line.
As the format matures, I suspect that Orzhov and Simic may move up a bit. If I’m dead wrong about anything, it’s probably Dimir. I’ll especially be watching out for which deck, if any, proves to be the Izzet of the format. It took quite some time for the community to figure out Izzet. In the end, I was forcing it almost every draft and having great success. What do you think? Is Dimir the sleeper?
You’re overvaluing Cloudfin Raptor.
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