Drafting the Five Guilds

Posted in Limited Information on October 17, 2012

By Steve Sadin

Pro Tour Return to Ravnica begins this Friday in Seattle. The constructed format for this Pro Tour is Modern, (a format which was recently featured at the 2012 Players Championship) and the limited format is Return to Ravnica Booster Draft.

And while only a few hundred of the world's best players have earned the right to compete at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica– everyone can follow along from home as top players from every corner of the globe compete for their share of $233,500 dollars in prizes, Pro Points, and the right to call themselves a Pro Tour Champion.

I'm definitely looking forward to finding out what decks will perform well in Modern this weekend (I'm particularly curious to see if anyone will be able to replicate the success that Shouta Yasooka had with his Æther Vial/Eternal Witness/Cryptic Command deck at the Players Championships). But, at the end of the day, I'm a limited fanatic – and I really just want to learn more about Return to Ravnica Booster Draft.

Our collective understanding of how this draft format functions is sure to be shaken up a lot this weekend as Magic's top pros show off what they've discovered. But before that happens, let's take a look at some of the archetypes that are currently defining the format.

Rakdos Beatdown

During my few Return to Ravnica Booster Drafts, the majority of the players in the drafts (myself included) were trying to put together 3-5 color decks full of powerful spells and enough mana fixing to allow them to cast those spells.

Invariably, these decks got trounced by the players who had put together aggressive Rakdos decks.

Now, aggressive Rakdos decks are not without their faults (for example, they tend to have a lot of trouble against good Selesnya decks that are able to quickly generate armies of Centaur tokens) – but if your opponent's deck is even a little bit on the slow side, then they're going to be in a lot of trouble.

If you're going to play an aggressive Rakdos deck, then it's important to prioritize:

  • Removal spells like Stab Wound, Annihilating Fire, and Auger Spree
  • Stab Wound
    Annihilating Fire

    Removal spells are the backbone of any good Black-Red deck. And while you'll often need to pass along cards like Electrickery, and Explosive Impact because they're either too narrow, or too expensive (respectively) – premium removal spells like Augur Spree are typically worth taking over everything but the bombiest of rares.

  • Cheap aggressive creatures like Rakdos Cackler, Rakdos Shred-Freak, and Dead Reveler
  • Rakdos Cackler
    Rakdos Shred-Freak

    Is Rakdos Shred-Freak good?

    If you're able to complement it with other cheap creatures, removal spells, and cards like Traitorous Instinct and/or Pursuit of Flight that can help you hack away at your opponent's life total – then yes, Rakdos Shred-Freak is good.

    But other times, such as when your deck is slow, or you deck doesn't have any pump or removal spells – then it's just another creature that's bound to get outclassed as the game progresses.

    If your opponent's deck is too slow, then cards like Rakdos Shred-Freak will allow you to run circles around them while they just stare at hands full of "powerful" cards that they can't cast.

  • Cards that will help you punch through damage like Traitorous Instinct and Pursuit of Flight
  • Traitorous Instinct
    Pursuit of Flight

If there aren't any good cheap creatures or removal spells in the pack (or you already have a lot of cheap creatures, and you just need some spells) then you're going to want to look for other cards that can help you punch through damage.

In order to put together a good aggressive Rakdos deck you need a lot of cheap creatures, at least some removal, and hopefully a couple of cards like Traitorous Instinct that will help you put your opponents down before they can put up much of a fight.


There are two main types of Selesnya decks: a beatdown deck and a dedicated populate deck. Both of these decks benefit greatly from top uncommons like Call of the Conclave and Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage but you don't need any single card to make these decks work. You just need to make sure that the cards in your deck work well together.

If you're drafting a Selesnya populate deck, then you need to make sure that you can actually generate tokens.

Centaur's Herald
Call of the Conclave

Cards like Centaur's Herald and Call of the Conclave are great in this type of deck because they allow you to populate in additional 3/3s with cards like Eyes in the Skies (rather than settling for an extra bird).

So while I tend to take Centaur Healer over Centaur's Herald when I'm drafting an aggressive Selesnya deck – if I'm trying to go populate, I'll take the token generator (almost) every time.

Once you've got some token generators at the ready, then you're going to need to start grabbing populate cards like Rootborn Defenses, Druid's Deliverance, and Eyes in the Skies to keep your token chain going.

If you're instead drafting a Selesnya Beatdown deck – then sure, you might still have a little bit of populate in your deck – but if you can't reliably get a 3/3 centaur token into play then cards like Druid's Deliverance aren't going to be worth it. Instead, you want to supplement your cheap creatures with pump spells.

Giant Growth
Common Bond

While Rakdos decks tend to have access to ample removal spells, Selesnya beatdown decks must instead rely on pump spells like Giant Growth and Common Bond to stay on top.


Perhaps more than any other guild, Golgari has the ability to just overpower their foes. But keep in mind that just because you have a lot of good cards doesn't mean you have a good deck. You need to make sure that you are able to win races against decks with a lot of fliers and you have to keep a close eye on how you're planning to use your mana.

While it's easy to dismiss Daggerdrome Imp because of its lowly stats – this little lifelinking flier is actually one of the most important cards for the Golgari archetype. If you're able to grow your Daggerdrome Imp by scavenging +1/+1 counters onto it – then your opponent is going to have a very tough time outracing you.

Daggerdrome Imp

But if you don't have the ability to build up a big Daggerdrome Imp, then cards like Towering Indrik and Trestle Troll become invaluable as they give you a way to hold off evasive foes.

Towering Indrik
Trestle Troll

When you're playing Golgari, you're usually going to have a lot of raw power. This means that you'll likely have a lot of good things to do with your mana late in the game. And ideally at least a couple of ways to kill your opponent's best creatures.

However, it's important to keep in mind that if you have a lot of high-end scavenge cards like Korozda Monitor, and Drudge Beetle then you're going to have a difficult time using those and casting expensive spells like Horncaller's Chant.

Izzet Aggro

When I was doing coverage at the Team Limited Grand Prix San Jose last weekend, I was very happy that I got to see a good Izzet Aggro deck in action. Hall of Famer Raphael Levy was able to easily 2-0 a draft with a deck featuring Frostburn Weird, 2 Guttersnipes, a Blustersquall, and a Chemister's Trick.

Frostburn Weird

While Chemister's Trick has limited applications in slower decks, if you have an abundance of cheap creatures – then you can use the Izzet instant to eat a problem creature early, set up a killing blow by forcing your opponent to attack with all of their creatures (leaving them tapped and thus unable to block), or devouring a bunch of creatures by forcing your opponent to attack with all of their creatures when you have a lot of high-powered blockers.

Chemister's Trick

When you're drafting Izzet aggro, it can be very difficult to deal 20 damage with just your creatures. Consequently, it's important for you to grab a couple of cards like Blustersquall, Chemister's Trick, Teleportal, and Explosive Impact which you can use to finish your opponent off before they can completely stabilize.


There are a lot of different ways to draft Azorius, but the detain evasion decks certainly seem to be the most effective.

These decks tend to do the bulk of their damage with fliers like Sunspire Griffin, Tower Drake, and Lyev Skyknight – while keeping their opponent's best creatures out of commission with cards like Azorius Arrester, and Azorius Justiciar.

Azorius Arrester
Azorius Justiciar

Surviving and Thriving in Return to Ravnica Booster Draft

The best decks in Return to Ravnica Booster Draft are all capable of some pretty fast starts. Consequently the slow, controlling, five color decks that hope to (more or less) ignore their board development in the early game so they can fix their mana – then take over later, have a very difficult time winning.

  • Make sure that your draft decks can survive early onslaughts.
  • Draft tends to be a lot faster than Sealed Deck. While it's often worth it to dip into additional colors in Sealed to make sure that you have an abundance of answers for your opponent's best spells – in draft, you run the very real risk of dying before you can cast your "superior" spells.

  • It's relatively easy to find good expensive spells

While the best expensive spells such as Hypersonic Dragons, Armada Wurm, and Vraska the Unseen are still worth taking over just about anything else they could reasonably be seen next to (provided you're in the right colors) – cards like Golgari Longlegs, Skyline Predator, Risen Sanctuary, and Horncaller's Chant are all extremely replaceable.

Even if you have to "settle" for an Isperia's Skywatch, a Minotaur Aggressor, or an Axebane Stag as that last big spell in your deck – you just aren't losing very much.

Because there are so many reasonable expensive spells in the set, and you only need a couple of expensive spells, you shouldn't have any problem finding a couple of good 5+ casting cast spells to round out the top of your curve.

Now, with all of that said, go draft Return to Ravnica on Magic Online and also try out the new Beta client!

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