Pro Tour Gatecrash is behind us, and, boy, did it deliver! I was privileged enough to be in Montreal to do coverage, and I got to see all of the action up close and personal. There were six rounds of draft and the coverage team did a great job covering all the angles, I thought.
Included in the text coverage were five feature articles about drafting the guilds of Gatecrash. My partners in coverage crime, Nate Price, Josh Bennett, and Blake Rasmussen, wrote the articles. They feature a range of pro Magic players, each giving his input on the guild in question.
I originally was going to do a write-up on each guild, similar to last week's Boros article.
I have decided against that.
Instead, I'll combine the articles written by our coverage team and the Magic pros here today, to get a good picture of how the guilds work. I have stated before in this column that I think it's important to listen to other people's viewpoints when it comes to Limited.
This is me doing that. I just happen to be lucky enough to have a bunch of pros' opinions to listen to, presented by some of the best coverage writers ever to cover this game.
Pro Tour champion Tom Martell and Reid Duke show Nate the ropes in this piece.
The most interesting thing about the article is that Gruul seems to be underrated. Being an underrated but powerful archetype in a draft format is a special thing. The people who figure it out quickly benefit greatly. The ones who don't simply miss out.
Gruul has powerful creatures, a nice keyword mechanic in bloodrush, and solid removal options. While it's a bit slower than Boros, it's more straightforward than Simic, and the tools to win are there.
Reid Duke uses a fascinating approach to drafting Gruul. He prioritizes the same cheap spells as the ideal Martell version of the deck, but then later in the pack he will pick up the huge, expensive beasts that seem to wheel freely in Gatecrash draft. By concentrating on the removal and cheap spells early, he can coexist with another Gruul drafter at the table. If he happens to be the only one, all the better.
One card that both pros made sure to mention was this little piggy. I have to say, this card has really impressed me. The fact it is a common and you can get a bunch of copies is pretty awesome.
It battles well on the ground on offense or defense. Being an affordable, massive combat trick to boot means you don't have to worry about lack of lands as much. Our opponent has to be worried about not only double-blocking but also getting Lava Axed for 5 damage out of nowhere. I know it's not as flashy as some of the other cards in the set, but that hog rocks.
Do you underrate Zhur-Taa Swine?
Veteran coverage writer Josh Bennett has a chat with Pro Tour Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz to talk about mutants and plants and things that grow. Well, not grow, but evolve.
I have been drafting a lot of Simic lately and have really found a nice stride with it. It rewards my natural tendency to want to curve out and use up my mana every turn. Zvi puts a premium on Cloudfin Raptor, and I put Experiment One on that list as well. Experiment One is harder to pick up as it's an uncommon, but having any one-drop with evolve is a major key to success in Simic.
I have found these two creatures quite important in my Simic drafts as well, as they will often evolve what is on the battlefield. If they aren't evolving creatures, then they are being bloodrushed onto my attackers to enable entire combat steps. I usually won't take them over actual evolve creatures, but I am very happy to pick up some of them.
The biggest point I got from Zvi was his awareness of how Simic has a combination of factors that need to happen for it to be awesome. Simic is a fairly fragile archetype to attempt, but when it works well, it works very well.
Blake Rasmussen corrals draft master Ben Stark to discuss drafting cards from The Syndicate in this next piece. Ben feels confident with his early assessment of the format and, in fact, is put in charge of telling people how to draft on his rather prestigious testing team.
Ben drafts Orzhov differently from many people. The absolute premium is on cheap spells. Ben's goal is to get as many extort permanents on the battlefield and start extorting for three or four every turn until his opponent is dead.
I have adopted his approach and, guess what? It works. Getting huge life swings from creatures that are either mediocre attackers or can't attack at all is pretty sweet. You haven't lived until you have quadruple-extorted on back-to-back turns.
The only way to accomplish this is to have a plethora of cheap spells to compliment the cheap extort creatures. The extent of importance for low-cost spells is shown when Ben ranks Syndic of Tithes higher than Kingpin's Pet on his Top 5 commons list.
If you are already in Orzhov, it's a pretty tough sell to take a Syndic over a Pet. Kingpin's Pet is the extort equivalent of a Wind Drake, which I would take any day over "Grizzly Bears," by normal standards. But extort changes how we have to view cards, as Ben even mentions: "If all of your spells come with 'deal 2 damage, gain 2 life,' that's incredibly powerful and it almost doesn't matter what the cards do. Your opponent won't live long".
The interesting part to me is the "...it almost doesn't matter what the cards do."
How crazy is that? This is the impetus behind Basilica Screecher being an integral part of the archetype. A 1/2 flier for is not a particularly good creature. Add extort to the mix and you have an archetype staple.
If you take away nothing other than that point from the article, you are still coming out ahead. Orzhov wants the cheapest, extortiest cards possible. Grab those, pay for extort often, and experience happiness.
Nate is back to talk some blue and black. This time he brings in three different pros: Conley Woods, Andrew Cuneo, and Alexander Hayne.
Dimir has had the label of worst guild in draft from just about the get-go. Unfortunately, that hasn't changed a lot. Don't get me wrong: Dimir decks have won plenty of drafts. There are people out there who really enjoy drafting it, as well. That said, it still feels just kind of underpowered compared to some of the other strategies.
One thread we see throughout the draft articles is the priority put on cheap spells. This format is thought to be fast, and players have quickly recognized that anything above five mana had better pull some serious weight to be included.
Dimir is no different. Prioritizing cheap spells is critical to the success of the deck using cipher with extort, and is a common thread among good Dimir decks. Even though the extort creatures are technically affiliated elsewhere, they fit right at home in a good Dimir deck.
All three pros agreed that the best and most important part of Dimir is the removal. With access to two of the format's best removal spells, I can certainly see why.
The pros cited two different Dimir builds, and they each had one thing in common: great long game.
Not many decks can deal with endless spells being ciphered (and sometimes extorted), or being slowly ground away by milling. The key question becomes, "How do I get to the late game?" The answer is removal.
Now, I consider myself a pretty good Boros drafter. I have won many drafts with it, and I have a good grasp on how it works and what to prioritize. Paul, however, eats, breathes, and lives Boros. He plays red and white whenever he can, including in multiple Constructed formats.
After going over some of the basics, he gets to the overrated and underrated section, which is always interesting (if largely subjective).
Some of the cards on the underrated side?
I have to say, I still underrate these cards. I have yet to be truly impressed by Beckon Apparition and the same goes for Foundry Street Denizen. I made it pretty clear that I didn't like Hellraiser Goblin too much in the Boros article. I tried him out even more this weekend, and he was more of a liability than anything else.
I had a play where I cast him and two other creatures in the same turn, which was a huge blowout in my favor. In other games, though, he just sat idly in my hand as I struggled to find a board state to actually cast him into.
Paul mentions that there are a few builds of Boros, specifically a heavy-red version and a normal one too. I can see the Denizen being pretty good in the heavy-red version, but less so outside of it.
Beckon Apparition I just don't understand. I get what the card does, but it just doesn't do much. If I were desperate for playables I would run it. But in an average Boros deck, a conditional (if instant-speed) 1/1 flying token for a whole card is still very unimpressive. I know BDM likes to make some tokens after he has Court Street Denizen on the battlefield, getting an instant-speed tap effect.
Next time I see Paul, I'll have to pick his brain about it.
- Applied Knowledge
You have a lot of information to work with now.
Not only the opinions of multiple professional players, but also mine. The key is to take in the things that make sense to how you play the guilds. You can try out the strategies as the pros have described them and then meld that with your own experience to get the most out of it.