Hello and welcome to Perilous Research, a column dedicated to the world of Magic Online. The Return to Ravnica Prerelease events start this weekend on Magic Online, just one week after the set's paper release. In preparation for the coming weekend, I've decided to use this column as an opportunity to talk about Return to Ravnica Limited. Prereleases are a great time to get into Magic Online. A good run during a Prerelease weekend can often be translated into a competitive Standard deck for the upcoming format. Perhaps most importantly, playing the Prerelease events on Magic Online will drastically improve your performance in the upcoming PTQ season, which is Return to Ravnica Limited. It goes without saying, but the person who plays the most Return to Ravnica Limited will have a significantly stronger showing in these events. Magic Online lets you play tournaments all day long to get yourself into fighting trim and secure that coveted Pro Tour invite.
I've had a few chances to play Return to Ravnica Sealed, and I've been lucky enough to draft the format a bunch already. Today, I'd like to focus on two specific draft archetypes and highlight some less-than-stellar cards that become absolute necessities when focusing on specific archetypes.
The first archetype I'd like to discuss is Golgari. I've been very successful with all the Golgari decks I've drafted up to this point, but I repeatedly see other Golgari drafters going 0–3 or 1–2. Most players are used to drafting the best on-color cards available in a pack, occasionally eschewing power level for mana curve considerations. (You don't want to fall into the trap of having too many creatures that cost four or five and not enough that cost two or three.) However, the Golgari deck gets a lot of its power from the scavenge mechanic, and drafting a proper Golgari deck requires a player to focus in on this mechanic to maximize the synergy between the cards in the deck.
When building a Golgari deck, you're going to want your deck to accomplish a few goals. First, your deck needs a lot of scavenge creatures. I want at least six monsters with scavenge, but I'm usually much happier if I have ten. Second, you want a reasonable number of creatures with evasion, trample, or lifelink. This often means that you'll have to splash a third color, but something like a Concordia Pegasus has a lot of value alongside scavenge, whereas it's relatively weak in the base-white decks, so you won't have to use early picks on it. Last, you want to make sure you have at least seven creatures that cost two or three mana; Return to Ravnica Limited can be a very aggressive format and it's extremely dangerous to fall behind on the board.
Grisly Salvage is one of the most important tools for a Golgari deck. The card fixes your mana, especially if you're splashing a third color, and, more importantly, it finds a creature and hopefully fills your graveyard with a reasonable amount of scavenge to overwhelm your opponent once you've reached a comparable board state. Grisly Salvage is interesting because you might be able to get it very late in the first pack, but you'll probably be first- or second-picking it in pack two or three if there isn't an unpassable bomb or premium removal spell beside it.
Strangely enough, the strength of my Golgari decks can often be measured by how much scavenge and how many Grisly Salvages I'm able to acquire. Being able to fill your graveyard with expensive pump spells is nice, but many of you are probably wary of simply being overrun by an aggressive opponent. Luckily, Golgari has a lot of cheap creatures that work toward your goals and can effectively trade with opposing creatures or trade blows profitably. Don't be afraid to pick up some Drudge Beetles early. Having enough two-mana creatures can be difficult in this archetype, and Drudge Beetle is one you can usually pick up around the middle of the first pack while everyone is still grabbing the most powerful cards and trying to decide what deck they're drafting.
The biggest unsung hero of the Golgari deck is Daggerdrome Imp. Daggerdrome Imp is pretty bad in a Rakdos deck and not stellar in most places, but this card becomes a game-breaking spell when you're able to scavenge a few +1/+1 counters onto it. Simply scavenge a single Sluiceway Scorpion onto your Daggerdrome Imp and suddenly you have a 3-power lifelink flyer; 3/3 lifelink flyers are incredibly powerful in Limited, especially in a set that doesn't have much removal. Better yet, if your opponent doesn't use a removal spell on the Daggerdrome Imp as soon as it gets counters, you can be sure he or she doesn't have a removal spell, meaning you can freely dump all your mana into scavenging as much as possible onto it and putting your opponent in a situation where he or she needs a specific removal spell off the top.
Daggerdrome Imp is exceptionally powerful here because it gives us a scavenge target with flying and lifelink. There are going to be drafts where you're unable to acquire multiple Daggerdrome Imps and you would be justified in being worried about having a lot of scavenge available when all you have are vanilla creatures that can be chump blocked indefinitely or held at bay by a single regenerate creature. When there aren't any Daggerdrome Imps at the table, you're going to have to splash a third color—usually blue.
Blue gives the Golgari deck some much-needed evasion in the form of fliers and unblockable creatures that love to get scavenged on. One of the most attractive features of the blue splash is that most of the cards we want only have one blue mana in their casting cost, making these cards very reasonable splashes, especially if we decide to play eighteen lands—which should be a common occurrence in the Golgari deck.
Runewing is a fine card for Izzet and Azorius decks, but the card seems like it was made for the Golgari deck. Dumping a lot of +1/+1 counters onto a creature with flying will instantly put a mark on that creature to be destroyed at the earliest chance available. You won't really mind if your opponent spends a card to kill Runewing because you'll get an extra card in the process. This makes your deck extremely resilient to more controlling archetypes that are trying to grind out an advantage. Meanwhile, more aggressive decks will be forced to trade creatures with you in the early stages of the game and will eventually lose to the extra value you acquire through scavenge in the late game. Soulsworn Spirit is going to be an early pick for anyone, but I wouldn't be afraid of grabbing this for a Golgari deck as a first or second pick even if I didn't have a splash yet. Unblockable with scavenge is Invisible Stalker + Equipment good, and Soulsworn Spirit has the base stats and abilities to make it absurd even when the scavenge engine isn't in place yet.
This is why it's important to take mana fixing early and often. Transguild Promenade is currently my favorite common piece of fixing in the format. The common five-color land is definitely worth an early pick, especially if the pack doesn't have removal or a key card for the archetype. Gatecreeper Vine is good, but I feel like it's currently being overvalued in many draft circles—I even witnessed someone first pick a Gatecreeper Vine earlier this week. I have an unhealthy love for mana fixing, but Gatecreeper Vine is not a first pick by any stretch of the imagination.
Golgari is a powerful draft archetype that seems to be struggling to win in the earliest drafts of the format. Hopefully, this explanation of the archetype gives you a more solid understanding of the greatness that's possible if you construct the archetype correctly.
The next archetype I'd like to look at is Selesnya. There's a lot of room to breathe when drafting Selesnya, but it's important to get a feel for what types of cards you're picking up. I've seen a number of successful Selesnya decks that ignore the populate mechanic completely. These decks rely on the strong pump spells and efficiently costed creatures that one routinely acquires by playing green and white. Common Bond is one of the best commons in the set, but I wouldn't be surprised if you were able to acquire copies very late, especially in the first few weeks of the format. Removal is at a premium in Return to Ravnica and Common Bond can often win a trade and create a monster that a non-blue opponent will have a lot of trouble dealing with in the coming turns.
However, the card pool for the non-populate Selesnya deck is quite small and you might find yourself sharing the same desirables with Golgari and Azorius mages seated near you. Analyze your picks after the first pack and try to correctly identify if you're going to need to be populating to have a reasonable twenty-three cards. I've seen a lot of Selesnya decks fall on their face because they have a lot of populate and nowhere near enough token production.
Centaur's Herald is a card you'll see going around the table, randomly being snatched up by a green mage as filler. Wait! You need that card, stop looking at that Sunspire Griffin and take the time to realize that a single 3/3 token drastically improves your game plan. The populate cards can be picked up really late, meaning you can devote early picks to bombs, pump spells, and things like Centaur's Herald. One of the biggest deciding factors in whether or not a Selesnya populate deck is worthwhile will be the type of tokens it's producing. If you're spending tons of mana and just getting 1/1s out of it, you're probably not going to win many games, but if you're making a 3/3 with each populate, it's going to be really hard for your opponent to win.
Make sure you properly assess the contents of your first two or three packs, try to count the number of cards with populate and pick accordingly. You can expect populate cards to table, especially in pack one. If you've passed a good amount of populate you'll want to value cards like Centaur's Herald much higher than traditionally more powerful cards like Sunspire Griffin. You can snatch up all that populating goodness when it comes back and have an excellent start to a very well-constructed Limited deck.
Trostani's Judgment is an exceptionally powerful card when you have the token generation to support populate. This is one of the few removal spells you're going to see after the first or second pick. It might seem expensive, but exiling any creature on the battlefield is a huge effect in Return to Ravnica Limited, where a single bomb has the ability to take over the game.
Slime Molding is a great Limited card, fitting into the curve where it's needed and never being clunky unless you're plagued by severe mana issues. This card is obviously the nuts with populate, but you're going to have to take this one pretty high because every five-color good-stuff deck and Golgari deck will be happy to grab this in a pinch. Again, don't be afraid of passing "good" cards if it means you're going to be picking up a card that's perfect for your archetype.
Selesnya has the ability to be the best aggressive deck in the format, and it has an excellent fallback plan based on the populate mechanic. Be sure to recognize what cards are available and coming in the middle of pack one to build the best deck available and not end up with a deck that's trying to populate an army of 1/1s.
I hope you all enjoyed this look at Return to Ravnica Limited. I didn't want to analyze a bunch of Standard decks in a format that's soon to be dead, so I decided to take a look at the upcoming Limited format and share the lessons I've learned thus far. Be sure to hit the forums and let me know if this is something you'd like to see before every Magic Online Prerelease!
Don't miss the Return to Ravnica Prerelease events taking place this weekend on Magic Online. This is a great chance to polish up your Limited skills for the PTQ season or local events. It's also a great time to get into Magic Online. Many of the players will be new to online play, just like you. The set is new, so you won't have Magic Online sharks who know all the ins and outs of the format and systematically crush you. Who knows? Maybe you'll become one of those sharks.
Knowledge is power!