Guilds of Ravnica First Pass for Limited

Posted in How to Play Limited on October 2, 2018

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

Normally, when Wizards asks me to write a first-pass article for a new set, they send me a document containing all the cards, and I study it. I study it long and hard and try to decode what is going on with the set and its mechanics, though I usually haven't actually played with the set yet.

Don't get me wrong—I have some tricks up my sleeve on how to break down such a large set of data and figure out what is likely to be true. I look at the gold uncommons, I look for tribal synergies, I focus on the new mechanics, and I look for cards that stand out as kind of weird.

But when my editors asked me to write the first-pass article for Guilds of Ravnica, I was super stoked. You see, I have way more experience with the set this time around.

Ahead of the World Championship for this year, we broadcast the Team Series Championship between Ultimate Guard Pro Team and Hareruya Latin. I was assigned as a coverage observer for Ultimate Guard Pro Team and spent a full 11 hours with the team as they got their hands on Guilds of Ravnica for the first time and started breaking down Sealed pools.

It was an incredible experience that I won't forget. I also got to commentate the semifinal and the final of the Team Series Championship, which helped familiarize me with the cards much earlier than normal.

In case you haven't read up on it, Guilds of Ravnica features five guilds: Boros (red-white), Izzet (blue-red), Dimir (blue-black), Selesnya (green-white), and Golgari (black-green). The gold cards in the set revolve around these guilds, and you'll be heavily incentivized to base your Limited decks on one of them.

With that in mind, let's go over each guild and get an idea for what each one is doing.

Boros

Boros is the most aggressive of all the guilds, not just the ones in Guilds of Ravnica. Tuned for speed, you have to be extra curve conscious when you put together the ideal Boros deck.

Mentor is the featured mechanic, and it's clearly an aggressive one, since it doesn't even trigger unless you are attacking with at least two creatures! Mentor heavily incentivizes attacking, and you'll want to make sure you have as many ways to enable continued attacks as possible.

I mentioned the gold cards being a big incentive for staying on guild, and I'll be showing you why with two cycles per guild, plus I'll pick a gold common to showcase each one. Each guild has its own Guildmage as well as a four-mana card that is very difficult to cast as it costs two of each of that guild's mana colors.

Truefire Captain encapsulates the Boros mentality.

First, it has mentor.

Second, it always gets that last shot in, even when it trades in combat or with a damage-based removal spell. This isn't the best card of this cycle (we'll see that later), but it is very on theme and quite powerful nonetheless.

Legion Guildmage is also very on theme for this guild as either ability is great at the primary goal: getting the opponent from 20 to 0 life as quickly as possible. In the late game, 3 damage per turn adds up quickly, and in the midgame, you can set up boards where you do the ol' "tap your blocker on your turn, tap another one on my turn, kill you" thing.

Skyknight Legionnaire was printed in the original guild-based set, Ravnica: City of Guilds, then saw a reprint in Gatecrash, and now it's back again. It's been great in every set it's been printed in, and this one will not be the exception to that rule. This card is the perfect common for this archetype, and you should play as many of these as you can get your hands on.

The card you probably shouldn't overlook for this archetype:

Healer's Hawk might not look like much at first glance, but this is the perfect recipient of the mentor triggers you'll have available in this deck. It has evasion, so it's not likely to get blocked, and it's cheap enough that you'll already have it on the battlefield by the time you get to attacking with your mentor creatures. Don't overlook it!

Dimir

Dimir is the color pair that lets you see a lot of cards and make a good long-term plan, but it can be tricky to find out how to actually win the game if you focus too much on its core mechanic, surveil.

Surveil is nice. It will remind you of the scry mechanic, but with the very real bonus of putting cards in the graveyard rather than the bottom of your library. They are much more accessible in your yard, and it creates cool cross-synergies with the mechanics from both Golgari and Izzet.

Control is the name of the game with Dimir, and Nightveil Predator allows you to transition from impossible-to-get-around blocker to punishing attacker in the air once you feel the time is right. It's almost impossible to get rid of cleanly.

House Guildmage's activated abilities are both pretty good; the first one lets you keep something tapped during the midgame, and the latter ability is good when you've secured the board but need to find your finishers in the late game. Neither ability is particularly mana-efficient however, so you'll really need to be in good shape to start taking advantage of this Guildmage.

Artful Takedown is a common that you should get used to seeing and playing around. It has a big effect on the game almost no matter when it's cast. Sometimes it's a huge tempo swing where a key blocker is tapped while a big creature gets killed. Sometimes you do it after blockers to take down a massive threat.

The cards you probably shouldn't overlook for this archetype:

Since surveil itself isn't the most overtly powerful mechanic, Dimir has quite a few build-around cards that care about you surveilling.

  • Enhanced Surveillance
  • Disinformation Campaign
  • Dimir Spybug
  • Whispering Snitch

All four of these uncommons incentivize you to put as many surveil cards in your deck as possible. Try each of them out (or even many at the same time) and see which ones you like the best.

Izzet

Izzet is known for, among other things, uncertainty. And I'll tell you, when you are sitting across from an Izzet player in this format, you'll feel very uncertain about your future at any given moment.

Izzet has a strong instants-and-sorceries-matters sub-theme and has the ability to pile on massive chunks of damage out of nowhere. That's what makes it so scary; you'll feel like you have a nice stable board and everything is fine, then the next minute you're taking 11 damage and figuring out what went wrong.

Jump-start is the signature mechanic for Izzet, and it's a clever riff on flashback. You can play instants and sorceries with jump-start from your graveyard by paying the mana cost of the card plus an additional cost of discarding a card.

For my mana, Crackling Drake is the best of this cycle. It's got 4 toughness, huge power potential, and it draws you a card when it enters the battlefield. This card does serious work in a dedicated Izzet deck and is a reason to be in that color pair.

League Guildmage is the most finicky of the cycle, but if the game ends up going long, it's an all-star. The first ability is obviously powerful, if a bit clunky at four mana. The second ability looks even more clunky, but you only have to fire it off about two times before you're in a dominant position anyway.

Hypothesizzle has some weird new rules around it, but underneath the weirdness is a very powerful instant.

First, it's five mana to do 4 damage to a creature at instant speed. Second, it's a card-draw spell. Third, it's a discard outlet for jump-start cards and to fuel other cards that care about how many instants and sorceries there are in your graveyard and exile zone. Fourth, the name of this card is just insane.

About how it actually works in game: When you cast Hypothesizzle, you do not target anything. You are simply drawing two cards. If you choose to not discard anything, you're done. You overpaid a bit for an instant-speed Divination, but you can live with that.

But if you choose to discard a nonland card, a triggered ability will go on the stack, and at that time you will target a creature with that ability. This is called a reflexive trigger. Your opponent may react to the trigger like they would any other trigger, and if it resolves, the targeted creature will take 4 damage.

The thing to look out for is when someone says, "I'll cast Hypothesizzle targeting your Skyknight Legionnaire."

That's not how this card works! The reason why this situation is important to remember is because sometimes when we point a burn spell at our opponent's creature, they respond with a pump spell to save it. With Hypothesizzle, the caster could simply decline to discard the card once they see that the pump spell has been cast.

I know it's a little in the weeds, but this is a new way to do cards like this, so I want you to be aware of how they work.

The card you probably shouldn't overlook for this archetype:

You can get rowdy with the Piston-Fist Cyclops almost every turn in a good Izzet deck if you build it right. Remember, it will trigger off the first time you cast an instant or sorcery, but also if you jump-start an instant or sorcery. And if you are getting a 4/3 for three easy-to-cast mana, you are a happy Izzet player.

Selesnya

Selesnya is a bit of a throwback this time around, being the only guild to not get a new mechanic. Instead, it reuses the tried-and-true convoke mechanic.

Convoke is a seriously powerful ability that allows you to have downright explosive turns. Convoke lets you tap your creatures to help cast the spell with convoke. This puts a special pressure on your mana curve, as early creatures and spells that make multiple creatures start to enable seven-mana boom-booms to come down way ahead of schedule.

One thing you see a lot of in Selesnya is vigilance. It's on flavor for this color pair but also has a sneaky hidden ability to let you attack with your creatures while still taking advantage of convoke. Conclave Cavalier is a flat-out excellent four-drop, hitting hard, blocking well, and being difficult to get out of the way. This card has a massive board impact virtually every time it hits the battlefield.

Conclave Guildmage has two very different abilities, but when you think about it, they exemplify the extremes of how this guild plays out. You play a lot of very small creatures in order to play out your huge threats via convoke.

You're left with a bunch of tiny creatures and a few big ones. If you have the big ones, the first ability will come in quite handy. If you need more board presence late, you can start dumping six mana into making a bunch of 2/2s. It doesn't sound that exciting—and six mana ain't cheap—but it's enough to start taking over the game in a board stall. And that's about all you hope for from your two-drop.

Rosemane Centaur is the go-to convoke payoff at common. It's not fancy, but getting this guy down on turn three or four is plenty powerful and a good place to be.

Think about it: You'd be okay paying full price for this card, but you will almost never have to. You'll play it on turn four easily, and turn three if you have a creature to play on turn one and turn two.

The card you probably shouldn't overlook for this archetype:

Birdy is back! One-mana creatures have multiple uses in this new format, and while Healer's Hawk isn't a powerhouse, it does just fit in the curve nicely enough with convoke that you'll want some one-drops—and this is one of the better ones. And yes, I'm as surprised to be writing this as you are to be reading it.

Golgari

I saved Golgari for last because I think it's the weakest of the five guilds. I don't have enough data points to put anything definitive on it quite yet, but from what I've seen, getting Golgari to work the way you want it to has been difficult.

Here's the thing: Golgari's signature mechanic is incredibly variable. On each card with undergrowth, you have to read exactly what it does before you'll have any idea of how powerful it is. Just the fact that it says "undergrowth" on it means almost nothing.

The truth is that the payoffs are fine, but the enablers are tricky to figure out. If you have a discard outlet, it's pretty difficult to talk yourself into discarding actual creature spells since they are so important to compete in a game.

Better is to mill yourself or use surveil on the black cards to get creatures in your graveyard. Another factor to keep in mind is that you need to have a critical mass of creatures in your library if you are hoping to get a critical mass of creatures in your graveyard.

When in doubt, put more creatures in your deck.

Golgari Findbroker's stats aren't incredible when you factor in the casting cost (even though 3/4 is my favorite power-and-toughness combo), but the enters-the-battlefield trigger is very powerful, netting you a spell almost every time you cast it.

Swarm Guildmage's abilities leave a bit to be desired if I'm honest. Sure, on a stalled-out board, the first ability could lead to a victory. Or it could help you seal the deal in a close race. But given that it's five mana, it's a little clunky. The second ability is incidental at best. It can add up over time, but generally this isn't an exciting ability, even at just two mana.

Pitiless Gorgon is an annoying common, as it trades for anything on the ground thanks to deathtouch and can work with any fight cards (like Prey Upon, which is in this set) to take down virtually any creature regardless of size, though admittedly at a high cost to the caster.

The card you probably shouldn't overlook for this archetype:

The little Wall-that-could blocks early, turns into a card at some point, and counts as a creature in your graveyard for undergrowth.

Seems. Good.

Wrap

Zooming out a bit, Izzet struck me as the guild with the highest ceiling. A well-built Izzet deck feels very difficult to beat once it gets going with its combination of removal spells, card advantage, and big game-swinging plays.

I found Golgari to be the weakest, but I have seen a few mixed-guild builds combining the flexibility and undergrowth-enabling power of surveil by adding blue cards to the Golgari deck and forming a kind of Sultai graveyard value deck.

Boros is likely to be the fun police of the format, depending on how you look at fun. It's powerful, fast, and consistent.

The first order of business after you get your sea legs for Guilds of Ravnica will be sorting out where you can splash and blend guilds that have similar or overlapping interests. Just as important is figuring out which guilds really don't want their mana bases stretched. Boros likely will stay just Boros, for example.

I really hope you enjoy drafting this format. I have high hopes for this one.

Until next time!

@Marshall_LR

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