Ravnica Allegiance First Pass for Limited

Posted in How to Play Limited on January 22, 2019

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.

Even though Ravnica Allegiance is brand new, you may know more about it than you realize.

If you've drafted Guilds of Ravnica before, many of the same principles and patterns carry over and will be applicable in this new format.

First, the color structure of this set is identical to that of Guilds of Ravnica.

The color structure of a set, for those new to this whole thing, makes up the fundamental underpinning of how a set operates. Some are "normal" sets, with individual colors as the focus, and maybe a few gold cards here and there. Some are gold sets, which are based on subsets of colors like color pairs called guilds or three-color groupings called shards or wedges.

Both Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance are gold sets focusing on five of the ten possible color pairs in Magic.

The Guilds of Ravnica spotlight was on Dimir, Izzet, Golgari, Boros, and Selesnya.

That leaves the other five for Ravnica Allegiance, which are: Azorius (white-blue), Orzhov (white-black), Rakdos (black-red), Gruul (red-green), and Simic (green-blue).

As a first pass, we'll be going over the baseline game plans for each guild. Before we do, let's look at the things we know we can expect given that we know the design aesthetic will mimic that of Guilds.

CCDD Uncommons

Cards like Crackling Drake and Nightveil Predator helped define their guilds, and this template is back in Ravnica Allegiance. "CCDD" is an R&D term meaning the card specifically requires two mana of one color and two of another color to cast; off-color and colorless mana will do you no good here. Extremely difficult to splash, but so good in their guild, these cards will surely be signposts for their respective guilds once again.

  • Conclave Cavalier
  • Truefire Captain
  • Nightveil Predator
  • Golgari Findbroker
  • Crackling Drake

We'll look at the example from each guild as we go through them on here as they'll likely give us context into what the guild is trying to do.


Hybrid Split Cards at Uncommon

Every guild also gets its own split card consisting of a hybrid mana cost for the first part and a guild-specific mana cost for the second.

  • [Flower] [//] [Flourish]
  • [Integrity] [//] [Intervention]
  • [Discovery] [//] [Dispersal]
  • [Status] [//] [Statue]
  • [Invert] [//] [Invent]

Also, the pattern has been to have a more minor effect on the first and a more powerful one on the second. This aligns with hybrid mana being easier to cast than the actual gold cards on the second half of each of these.


Guildgates

  • Selesnya Guildgate
  • Boros Guildgate
  • Dimir Guildgate
  • Golgari Guildgate
  • Izzet Guildgate

The Gates are back! And there is still one per pack at minimum. These are fantastic in a format like this for two reasons. First, they are the glue that keeps the mana bases in the format together. Second, they open the opportunity for three-or-more-color decks and even build-around decks for Gates to exist.

And yes, the supergate is back as well.


Guildmages

The Guildmages are back, each guild getting its own Guildmage with two activated abilities—one for each of its colors. These were powerful but not broken in Guilds, and we'll see if that trend continues for Allegiance.

  • Conclave Guildmage
  • Legion Guildmage
  • House Guildmage
  • Swarm Guildmage
  • League Guildmage

Lockets

The Lockets didn't end up being essential pieces of the Limited puzzle for Guilds of Ravnica, but they did see frequent play, and if the format is slower overall, they could see even more in Ravnica Allegiance.

  • Selesnya Locket
  • Boros Locket
  • Dimir Locket
  • Golgari Locket
  • Izzet Locket

It's powerful to take this much knowledge about a format into a new format, and we'll leverage what we know to our advantage.

With that, let's get into the guilds of Ravnica Allegiance. We'll be looking at three types of cards to act as signposts for our predictions: the CCDD card for that guild, the Guildmage for that guild, and I'll choose a common that seems to typify what the guild is doing.

The rares are great, but it's the commons and uncommons that will shape the format, so we'll focus on those for this first pass.

Azorius Senate

When I think of Azorius, I think of control.

Counterspells, removal, big bombs, and some card draw thrown in for good measure.

But white-blue as a color pair is also closely associated with the classic fliers deck in Limited. High-toughness blockers on the ground, a good suite of removal and bounce spells, and a curve of fliers have been winning games of Limited for years.

So, which is Azorius?

Perhaps Azorius could mimic Izzet from the previous set and have two game plans? (Izzet could be an aggressive tempo deck or a much more controlling build.)

Azorius's signature mechanic is called addendum, and it rewards you for casting things you would normally cast on your opponent's turn during your main phase. This means that there will be a lot of things you could cast at instant speed, even if you choose not to sometimes.

Sphinx of New Prahv is a difficult-to-kill flier at a pretty good rate. This isn't the type of card that gives us card advantage, but it still looks like a good threat. It doesn't really have a controlling vibe to it, fitting perhaps best in a fliers deck like we discussed earlier.

Senate Guildmage is super powerful. The abilities only cost one mana each, and the blue ability is especially fantastic. Looting in Limited is one of the better things you can do, and I expect this card to over-perform in that way.

This is a nice common. It allows you to leave up instants like counterspells, removal spells, or combat tricks when it's not your turn and still get value when your opponent doesn't do anything worth responding to. But if you know you are casting it anyway, you can just fire it off on the main phase and get a bonus.

Overall, Azorius looks like it's leaning toward the tempo fliers end of the spectrum, but it has a healthy dose of controlling elements as well.

Orzhov Syndicate

Traditionally, the word I would use to describe Orzhov is "grindy," meaning it's looking to slowly grind its opponents into dust. Normally, sitting back and developing your game plan is the name of the game, and that seems to be the case here.

The signature mechanic is afterlife, which makes having your creatures die not seem like that big of a deal. This incentivizes blocking and sacrificing, both hallmarks of grindy strategies.

It seems that the grind is well and truly in play, as Basilica Bell-Haunt is about as grindy as it gets. The opponent discarding a card is usually a two-for-one in your direction, and the 3 life gained is fine. This isn't a powerhouse like some of these CCDD cards are, but it's solid and seems on plan for a grind.

Syndicate Guildmage is more evidence that we want to build up our board and get the game to go long. It can tap down big threats on the other side of the battlefield, or even just win the game if the board is sufficiently stalled out. Again, the key here is that none of these cards are telling us to attack.

We want to set up a board stall and then begin the grind.

Afterlife isn't the only payoff for sitting around and letting the board get stalled—we also get a really solid common here in Grasping Thrull. Draining the opponent for 2 and getting a 3/3 flier is a fine deal, and if we can blink it or buy it back from the graveyard for multiple enters-the-battlefield triggers, all the better.

The game plan looks to be in place here. Sit back, collect your taxes, hit their hand and life total, then once you have the board stalled out, go to work on them with your repeatable damage effects.

Cult of Rakdos

Rakdos is normally all about attacking, with some mild sacrifice stuff going on. Here in Ravnica Allegiance, that seems to be exactly what's happening.

The signature mechanic, spectacle, heavily incentivizes attacking, and I expect Rakdos to be one of the two aggressive decks in the format.

This card is fantastic. We see the bend toward aggression by having higher power than toughness (think Truefire Captain), and the triggered ability when it hits the battlefield is just perfect for this guild.

The 2 damage to a creature will often kill something on the other side. The 2 damage to the player is a little more interesting because at first you think it's a great spectacle enabler, but then you remember that you just spent BBRR on this thing and probably won't have much mana left over to cast spectacle cards.

No bother though, as a 4/3 for four mana that tosses 4 damage around when it arrives is not only powerful, it's perfectly on theme for Rakdos.

Cult Guildmage, on the other hand, is a perfect spectacle enabler thanks to its second ability. It's not super powerful to only do 1 damage, but it is annoying for the opponent and sets up spectacle beautifully.

The first ability is also quite strong as you can dump mana into this after you've curved out and use it as a powerful mana sink for a deck that often runs out of gas.

Look for other early plays that turn on spectacle, as they will be essential to the best draws for this guild.

This isn't gold, but it shows the raw power of spectacle in a way the gold commons don't. Both costs of Blade Juggler are acceptable, but you are getting the same card for a full two less mana if you get spectacle enabled. That's insane.

Two mana is a game-changing difference in cost. Also, this is just a good card,* which helps.

*Do not try juggling blades at home.

Gruul Clans

Ah, the other aggressive deck in the format.

Traditionally, Gruul tends to keep it simple: smash faces.

That's kind of it.

And that's what Gruul is doing here. Which simply leaves us questions regarding the efficiency at which faces get smashed rather than whether they are getting smashed or not.

Riot is the signature mechanic, and it's really good at getting damage through. Either through haste to get it right now, or a +1/+1 counter to ensure profitable attacks next turn.

Sunder Shaman is just the most Gruul-y of Gruul cards I can imagine. It's massive at 5/5, difficult to interact with in combat because of its first ability, and while it's smashing your face, it also smashes your stuff.

I love this card. Its simplicity may obscure its raw power, but don't sleep on this one.

The face-smashing vibe is alive and well with Clan Guildmage. Both abilities are focused on getting the opponent dead via combat, either by removing a blocker for the turn or by creating another big attacker. Gruul isn't one for nuance when it comes to the primary objective.

(It's still smashing faces.)

When it comes to the question of efficiency regarding the smashing of opposing faces, Frenzied Arynx leaves little doubt. This card reads like an uncommon and hits like a rare.

There is just nothing not to like about this guy. Trample. The seemingly free activated ability. Riot for good measure.

Not only do we know exactly what Gruul wants to do, it looks like it will be very good at doing so in this set.

Simic Combine

Simic is weird, kinda by definition.

This also applies to the green-blue game plan in Limited, which can vary from set to set. Here, it seems things are pretty simple: get +1/+1 counters on your creatures and then take advantage of those counters either in combat or through specific payoffs.

The signature mechanic is adapt, which quite handily puts those +1/+1 counters on your creatures. Then either beat down your opponent or find a payoff for all of those counters, and do it all over again.

The liz wiz. This is my kind of card, I'm not going to lie. Old school players will be reminded of Mystic Snake, and this will play similarly. It's a very strong card representing a big tempo swing, but the setup cost is also significant in that getting all the mana together at the right time might prove tricky.

Still, it is a very solid two-for-one and a card I can't wait to play. Make sure you recognize when it's correct to just play it as a 3/2 flash creature and not counter anything. That will come up more often than it seems.

This is a great example of a signpost uncommon. Combine Guildmage tells us everything we need to know about Simic in this set. It puts counters on creatures and then moves them to other creatures.

This is especially important in the context of adapt, as once a creature with adapt gets a +1/+1 counter, any future instances of adapt won't do anything—unless you can move that counter to another creature and then adapt again later. Which is literally what this card does, so yeah, makes sense.

Again, we see the game plan clearly. Cast some adapt creatures, start attacking and adapting when it makes sense, then try to find some ways to do it again.

Easy game.

Wrap Up

What stands out the most? Azorius seems controlling with a hint of flying tempo. Gruul feels like the most focused guild with the strongest game plan. Rakdos has the highest upside (a good spectacle curve out will be nearly unbeatable) but with the least consistency. Simic is a question mark but looks solid as an attacking guild. Orzhov feels like it has a game plan, the question is whether the power level of that plan matches up well with the other guilds.

And these questions, of course, are why we do this.

Have fun and smash faces with the new set!

Until next time,

@Marshall_LR

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