Everyone I talked to about Ravnica Allegiance prerelease weekend reported having a good time with the new set. I was only able to play in one tournament, the midnight event at Common Ground Games in Dallas. For my one prerelease opportunity, I expected I would pick either Simic or Gruul because of how much I liked the green commons and uncommons. Then I saw how good the Azorius spindown twenty-sided die looked in white with the triangular Azorius guild symbol on it. I literally made my guild choice based on the die. It was like when I was a little kid picking out a breakfast cereal at the grocery store completely because of the free toy that was advertised on the box.
In a perfect world, I would have played in five prerelease events so that I could try all five guilds. Instead I did the next best thing. Our team, the Texas Guildmages, practices every Tuesday night. I asked the guys if anyone could come over early on Tuesday in order to practice sealed deck before everyone else shows up to booster draft. Three mates magically appeared and so we were able to build all four of the guilds that I hadn’t played with yet. I made up my own seeded boosters for Rakdos, Gruul, Orzhov and Simic, trying to be as fair and realistic as possible.
I’m actually not a fan of seeded boosters for prereleases. I would rather have each player receive six normal boosters at the prerelease, the same as they would in any normal sealed deck tournament. Boo-hoo, I didn’t get to play the guild I wanted. Who cares? Even with seeded packs, there were plenty of cry babies at the prerelease. They didn’t feel like their regular booster packs properly matched the guild featured in their seeded pack. Since I’m such a hater of fun, why would I want to make sure to try all five guilds in their seeded booster prerelease forms? I’m interested in seeing how five sealed decks, one for each guild, each guided by their seeded boosters, can illustrate what each guild can do in Ravnica Allegiance. I want to see how these guilds interact with each other. It’s interesting, the week before the prerelease, to look at the new game mechanic for each guild, but you can’t really weigh how good each mechanic is until you play the actual cards.
Because I created the seeded boosters for the four guilds I didn’t play during prerelease weekend, I wanted the three other players helping me to pick their guilds first. Ian Jasheway, a Texas Guildmage for many years who played in his first Pro Tour ten years ago, selected Orzhov. His friend Conor Cole selected Simic. Chris Weng, a Tuesday night regular lately, chose Gruul. That left Rakdos for me.
I’m not attesting that the five decks we came up with are perfect representations of each guild, not even a little bit. These are simply the five guild sealed decks we were able to build from the pools we had available. The idea is to play these decks against each other and gain an idea of what cards and strategies work well for each guild.
The Gruul deck was built by Chris Weng
This Gruul deck has the one standout uncommon that defined Gruul sealed decks at all the prerelease events, Rhythm of the Wild. There was some debate among the four of us on Tuesday about whether or not it was correct to run two copies of Rhythm of the Wild, even as good as it is. I agreed with Weng’s choice to play both of them. There’s not much downside to playing both of them, other than costing your deck another better card. Rhythm of the Wild wants you to play creatures, so there could have been another creature in place of the second copy. The best reason to play both copies is to increase your chances of playing Rhythm on turn three. That’s my Rhythm method. There certainly wasn’t a better non-creature spell to play in its place.
Riot is a very good mechanic, although I feel like it’s too universally good. What creature wouldn’t be better if it had riot? The trick is, Wizards of the Coast only put riot on certain creatures and on none of them, at least among the commons and uncommons, does riot feel undercosted. Unless, of course, you’re talking about a creature played with Rhythm of the Wild in play. Now ALL your creatures have riot. Your riot creatures have double riot. I love both putting a +1/+1 counter on a new creature AND giving it haste. Sure, the right answer is to put two counters on a creature in many cases. Try to fight the urge to give a creature haste twice. It pays to not be two hasty.
The biggest mistake with Rhythm of the Wild is to not play a creature on turn two when you know you’re going to play Rhythm on turn three. You need that turn two creature to help develop your board position. You have no idea what card you’re going to draw next. The best play this deck can make on turn two is Incubation Druid, he lets you play one of your four-drops on turn three. Creatures get counters so readily in this deck that Bolrac-Clan Crusher’s activated ability becomes a direct damage tool that you can truly count on. I’m a little sad that Nikya of the Old Ways, which was in the seeded booster, doesn’t do much other than serve as a beater. It really doesn’t deserve to be a rare.
My biggest criticism of Gruul is that its strategies are completely straightforward and a little boring. It’s all about beatdown. The deck doesn’t trick opponents very often.
In my testing, the Gruul deck defeated Azorius, Simic and Orzhov but lost to Rakdos.
Here are the MVPs of this deck at each rarity. The best common is Savage Smash, the best uncommon is obviously Rhythm of the Wild and the best rare is Incubation Druid.
The Rakdos deck was built by Jeff Zandi
This deck really surprised me. This guild asks you to play a collection of creatures that aren’t particularly powerful on their own. I didn’t expect the pieces to fit together so well. Rakdos’s best trick is speed. The combo for Rakdos is this: cards with cheap spectacle costs (mostly Blade Juggler) and cheap creatures that enable spectacle. The best common spectacle payoff is Blade Juggler, a 3/2 for 4B that you can play for 2B if your opponent has lost life this turn. Okay, what’s the best way to make that happen? At first, I thought it would be Spear Spewer, an 0/2 Goblin with defender that taps to deal one damage to each player. This creature costs just one red mana to play. Obviously, I first read this card as dealing damage only to my opponent. Hotshots tell me this card is still really good for aggressive Rakdos. That hasn’t been my experience so far. Luckily, there are other options. Rakdos Trumpeter is a nice two-drop 1/3 with menace that reliably hits your opponent on turn three so that you can play Blade Juggler for the reduced rate. Trumpeter has a toughness of three, as opposed to Spear Spewer’s inexcusable toughness of two, so Trumpeter can actually block in the early game, when needed. Trumpeter pumps +2/+0 for 3R in the later portions of the game. Also, Cult Guildmage, an uncommon, is useful for enabling spectacle. Spend one red mana, tap the Guildmage, deal one damage to your opponent.
What I really like about Rakdos is that you find yourself in situations where you feel like you can actually win the game on a board state that doesn’t look like much. Obviously, the removal options are pretty good in red and black, though maybe not as good as in black and white.
There are three rares/mythics in this deck, I assure you that it wasn’t because of a ridiculous seeded pack. The rare in the seeded booster was Rix Maadi Reveler. I like this card, but I certainly don’t want to play it for its spectacle cost. I like it on turn two to get rid of an extra land in hand to dig deeper into my deck. Judith, the Scourge Diva, is a great play when you already have other creatures in play, she’s one of the cards that can help you suddenly win games. Skarrgan Hellkite is mostly just a big Dragon. However, its activated ability matters enough times that you usually want to go ahead and put the +1/+1 counter on it with riot.
Five mana casting costs are not a problem in this format. It never hurt this “aggressive” black/red deck to have five five-drop creatures in it. This mostly because the Blade Jugglers don’t usually cost five mana. Rubblebelt Recluse doesn’t seem like much of a creature, but in a format where five-drops are easier to accommodate, this creature can make the cut a lot more often. He’s a two-for-one in your favor most of the time. If you have a combat trick in your hand you can make the Recluse even more effective. It’s interesting how often Cry of the Carnarium is good in this deck even though it is capable of killing a lot of the cards in the deck. On the draw against red/green, your turn two is Rakdos Trumpeter, their turn three is a second creature with toughness two or less, then you play Cry of Carnarium on turn three.
In my testing, the Rakdos deck beat Gruul, Simic and Orzhov but lost to Azorius.
This deck’s common MVP was Blade Juggler. Giving the aggro deck free cards is bad for opponents. The best uncommon card was Hackrobat, a 2/3 that turns into a 4/1 when it doesn’t get blocked and that gains deathtouch when it is blocked. The best rare in the deck is Judith, the Scourge Diva, as much for the second ability as for the first.
The Orzhov deck was built by Ian Jasheway
This is a great deck. Ian spent a lot of time in his matches apologizing for all the good cards. There are sixteen creatures in this deck and most of them are quite annoying for the opponent. This deck is another illustration of how useful the five mana slot can be in this format. Ian has four five-drops in the deck. He pays the full cost of Blade Juggler as often as not. It’s still worth it. Grasping Thrull is good every time you play it. Orzhov Racketeers doesn’t land a punch all that often, which means it doesn’t cause the opponent to discard many cards, but it trades with a decent creature on the other side of the board and then gives you TWO Spirit tokens.
Several people have turned their nose up at the rare Teysa Karlov (yes, it was in the seeded pack). I think the tiny font size has something to do with it. When you have to read text this small on a rare you’re kind of hoping for more. A four mana 2/4 that requires black and white mana to cast. It doesn’t fly, it doesn’t destroy other creatures. You should only play it in a deck that makes tokens or in a deck where creatures have abilities that trigger when they die. So, you know, this card will only be good in EVERY Orzhov deck! The Spirit tokens created by the afterlife mechanic are a big enough problem. With Teysa Karlov in play there are twice as many Spirit tokens and they now have vigilance and lifelink.
The other strange rare that does a lot of work in this deck is Priest of Forgotten Gods. Did you give up on this card when you saw the words “sacrifice two other creatures you control?” I did. Ian put it in his deck and now I’m a believer. Priest is a 1/2 for 1B. He’s not attacking or blocking. You tap him and sacrifice two *other* creatures (WOTC didn’t want you to sacrifice the Priest and one other guy). Your opponent sacrifices a creature and loses two life. You get two black mana (not very important) and draw a card. The Priest turns out to be a very decent card in any situation, but when teamed with Teysa, it’s a very impressive combo. Attack with a small army of Spirit tokens. Sacrifice the tokens that are being blocked by bigger creatures and draw a card while you watch your opponent sacrifice a creature and lose two life. These two rares are great together, I don’t know which one is better by itself.
In my testing, the Orzhov deck beat Azorius and Simic but lost to Gruul and Rakdos.
The common MVP for the deck is Imperious Oligarch, the best uncommon is Forbidding Spirit, the best rare is Revival/Revenge.
The Azorius deck was built by Jeff Zandi
This deck represented my first time to touch Allegiance cards. There were enough blue and white cards to fill my deck, but I felt naked without access to hard removal. My first move was to put two Consign to the Pit in the deck. Once I had decided to splash black for removal, I found it easy to add a third black card, Dead Revels. I felt the deck would need Dead Revels because my win condition was Flyers With Three Power. Those creatures die fairly easily in combat, too, so I decided I needed Dead Revels in order to reload. If I had known how good Chillbringer would be, I might have chosen not to play the black cards at all. At the last minute, I took out the second Consign to the Pit and replaced it with Justiciar’s Portal. Blink spells like Justiciar’s Portal have always been useful in limited. Your deck doesn’t need to be full of enters-the-battlefield effects to make a card like this good.
Azorius was the least chosen guild at my midnight prerelease. The word on the street is that the white cards are boring and slow. I understand that point of view. I think the way to go with blue/white is a deck full of flyers and tempo-oriented tricks. I love Sage’s Row Savant on turn two in order to find my third or fourth land. I like Senate Guildmage. It’s not considered to be powerful but I think the way you rank the Guildmages in this set is on how many times you are likely to activate them. I activated the blue ability of Senate Guildmage many, many times. The ground pounders in this deck are not at all exciting, except for Gateway Sneak. Even with “only” six Guildgates in my deck, I was always able to get a few free cards out of Gateway Sneak. It also blocks. As for the chumpy-looking ground creatures in this deck… I was glad to have them against the early plays from Gruul and Rakdos.
On the play, I like using Arrester’s Admonition on my third turn to move a minor creature (it’s a minor creature because my opponent was able to play it on their second turn) in order to draw a card and push through a couple of points of damage. It also sets your opponent back one turn, enough to give you an edge. Dovin, Grand Arbiter, is not a planeswalker that lets you take over the game. It’s a small card that lets you get one or more Thopter tokens in the air while also drawing some fire from your opponent.
Consign to the Pit is slow, but not too slow. Five is the new four when it comes to casting costs in Ravnica Allegiance, and six-drops aren’t fatal to your deck’s curve. When this deck’s tempo strategy works, Consign to the Pit is just as important as a damage spell as it is as a removal spell.
In my testing, the Azorius deck beat Simic and Rakdos but lost to Gruul and Orzhov.
The MVP common was Chillbringer without a doubt. The best uncommon was Gateway Sneak. The best rare was Dovin, Grand Arbiter.
The Simic deck was built by Conor Cole
Conor had Guildgate shenanigans on his mind from the moment he entered my front door. His splashy choices for this deck are nothing compared to the twelve Guildgate deck he drafted later that evening. I made one or two changes to his original design. He ran a basic Mountain and I replaced that Mountain with Open the Gates. This deck is happy to have the extra Guildgates to improve Gatebreaker Ram but I think the white and red splash are entirely fine. The only white card is the second half of Warrant/Warden. The only red card is Domri, Chaos Bringer. Domri typically went like this: play Domri, remove three counters, put two creatures into your hand from the top four cards of your library, Domri dies next turn because your opponent just can’t allow Domri to survive. Even in this scenario, Domri is very solid. He’s better in Gruul, but still good in this deck.
Simic has the best collection of common and uncommon cards. There are plenty of reasonably costed, and even undercosted, creatures. When these guys get leveled up either from riot (just a few of the green ones) or with adapt, they are ridiculously good. Sauroform Hybrid is just a chumpy little two-drop. Later, he turns into a 6/6. That’s very good. Now the bad news. The green and blue cards have a hard time getting rid of opposing creatures. Also, no matter how big your creatures get, they hardly ever have trample.
Zegana, Utopian Speaker is a beater on turn four and a giant monster after it adapts. I never got a free card from her on turn four, only when I played her much later in the game. With the Simic decks, there’s a very serious tension about whether or not to put a +1/+1 counter on a creature with adapt before you’ve used the adapt ability. I think you will usually be happy with the way Stony Strength saves your unadapted creature from destruction, or else the way Stony Strength helps you blow out an opponent during their attack step. The fact that you might end up putting a counter on something with Stony Strength that you would later like to adapt is just the cost of doing business.
In my testing, the Simic deck didn’t win any of its matches. This doesn’t mean I think Simic is bad. I like it, though maybe not as much as other people do.
This deck’s MVP common is Aeromunculus. The best uncommon is Gatebreaker Ram. The best rare is the solid but non spectacular Zegana, Utopian Speaker.
Ravnica Allegiance is Good for Limited
I’m excited about Ravnica Allegiance both for booster draft and sealed deck. I think there are challenging card selection issues and challenging play situations in all five guilds. I love that there is a true five-colored Gate deck that can be drafted. Both the sealed deck and booster draft formats with this new set are wide open.
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