First Look: Guilds of Ravnica Future Future League

Posted in Play Design on October 19, 2018

By Michael Majors

Michael Majors is a former professional Magic player and content producer who now works as a contractor on the Play Design team within R&D.

Welcome to First Look! This will be a repeating column every quarterly release (similar to the M-Files) where Play Design will share decklists and their thought processes from the Future Future League focus period of the most recent set. The FFL focus period is the three months during set design where we handle most of the competitive balance tweaks to the card file.

Andrew Brown promised he'd be back a few months ago during our look at Core Set 2019, but I guess you're just stuck with me instead.

A Re-Return to Ravnica, Rotation, and a Point of Pride

There's a lot going on with the release of Guilds of Ravnica, through both micro and macro lenses. First, Ravnica is sweet. The guilds are back, and with that comes some level of expectation in terms of tone and mechanical execution.

Guilds of Ravnica features the five following guilds:

  • Boros (red-white)
  • Selesnya (green-white)
  • Golgari (black-green)
  • Dimir (blue-black)
  • Izzet (blue-red)

The five remaining guilds will be featured in the upcoming Ravnica Allegiance.

Secondly, there's a rotation in Standard. Say goodbye to Kaladesh and Amonkhet, it's time to embrace some multicolor goodness! Five-set Standard after a rotation is naturally going to highlight the fall set most thanks to its percentage share of the format. The focus on guilds and their respective shock lands as mana fixing means it is natural to gravitate toward these two-color strategies in the early exploration process of the brand-new format.

Ending our introduction on a personal note, GRN is also the first set for which I participated in the entirety of development as a part of Play Design. It's been an awesome experience so far seeing players reactions to the cards, and I hope you all continue to enjoy playing with them as much as I have.

Let's get to some decklists!

Boros

Boros players want to attack, but that doesn't mean that they don't enjoy a bit of complexity. Mentor is a perfect combination of creating battlefield complexity that rewards aggression. One of the FFL's basic aggressive decks that we would frequently pit against our newer decks throughout the testing process was a Boros deck featuring two especially key creatures with mentor.

FFL Boros Soldiers

Tajic, Legion's Edge went through a variety of iterations before picking up the "Prevent all noncombat damage that would be dealt to other creature you control" text. This accomplished two specific things to grant the deck additional angles: it gives a Boros player some additional insulation against damage-based sweepers, and it also strengthens the play pattern of mentor. If I have a damage-based spell, I can no longer wait to see how an opponent will choose to utilize their mentor triggers with Tajic on the battlefield; I must first kill Tajic before attackers have been declared.

Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice's development largely started from the stance that we knew she needed some immediate impact on the battlefield as a four-mana creature, but we weren't interested in overloading Boros cards with haste. Her beginning-of-combat triggered ability is a nice compromise that makes her strong when you have an existing battlefield presence while still being a powerful individual threat.

Late in the process, Aurelia picked up a critical fifth point of toughness. One of Lava Coil's key roles in GRN is granting additional counter play to one of the all-stars of Rivals of Ixalan, Rekindling Phoenix. We didn't want the presence of Phoenix in the format to incidentally keep Aurelia from having an opportunity to shine. Ultimately, we're much happier when metagames can churn; a Boros deck might be interested in fluctuating between playing either four-drop based on the context of the metagame and the types of removal that players are choosing to register on a particular weekend.

An anecdote: Donald Smith quickly became our keeper of creature types for Unclaimed Territory. There are many implications to the creature types that are ultimately chosen to represent Magic cards, and especially so when a card like Unclaimed Territory is in Standard. There are many ways to choose the creatures you'll play in your Boros deck, but Donald often chose Soldiers to help maximize his mana.

Selesnya

Convoke represents the only returning mechanic from previous Ravnica sets in GRN. There was no outstanding goal to create all-new mechanics or to have a number of recurring ones—Set Design simply concluded that tapping your creatures for mana just feels right.

FFL Selesnya Convoke

This Selesnya deck features two cards for which I'm especially proud of the end results. The first, Flower // Flourish, is a card that took Play Design a lot of work, but ultimately ended up in a spot I'm very happy with. As split cards often function, neither side of Flower // Flourish is typically strong enough to show up in your Constructed deck, but give me the opportunity to smooth out my draws early and kill you late? That's all I could ever ask from a card.

Knight of Autumn was similar. Ideally you can develop a modal card into a spot where it isn't obvious which mode you will be choosing the most frequently, and the additional utility in a variety of situations will encourage you to play it in your deck. Knight of Autumn seeks to accomplish this by being main-deckable artifact and enchantment removal (a boon to MTG Arena best-of-one games as well) that can function as a slightly-below-rate creature or give you the ability to stabilize. It's an answer that's a viable option when you're either ahead or behind, but it's never going to be the most efficient choice for any specific role.

I can't close this discussion without giving a shout out to District Guide, the glue that holds it all together and the subject of Play Design's "great three-drop" debate. This is a perfect segue into . . .

Golgari

As published decklists are beginning to show us, there are many, many different types of ways to build Golgari. Here is an example of one of my favorites, affectionately known as Black-Green Traction.

FFL Black-Green Traction

I love District Guide.

There are many ways to maximize undergrowth and the graveyard; Play Design has had many games end in a swarm of Insects from Izoni, Thousand-Eyed and the trigger of a massive Lotleth Giant, but this deck is more reliant on the former and a classic game plan of slowly but surely grinding your opponent out with a stack of two-for-ones.

Glowspore Shaman is an interesting parallel to Flower // Flourish. Enablers are especially important in a graveyard-based deck, and it can be a disappointing feeling when you draw some enablers but can never get off the ground and cast your more expensive pay-off cards. Glowspore Shaman seeks to bridge the gap a bit by turning on your synergies and allowing you to hit land drops so you can properly transition into the late game. Having the third power also makes it an effective card at trading in combat, which gets another creature in the graveyard to power up undergrowth!

We chose to position Underrealm Lich in a manner that mirrors the previous example of Aurelia and Rekindling Phoenix. Typically, a five-mana creature with no enters-the-battlefield effect isn't going to cut it without extremely strong stats. For that matter, Underrealm Lich only offers additional card selection when you do get to untap with it. However, the Lich's resilience to removal can lead it to being the perfect way to run away with a game over a long period of time. The card selection is no joke when it's finding the perfect answer and filling your graveyard, further cementing your inevitability with undergrowth finishers like Izoni. Whenever players are sleeping on exile-based removal is a great time to maximize the Lich.

An interesting note about our Golgari decks: Assassin's Trophy was a card we quickly knew would be strong—especially in Eternal formats—but not a card that we were defaulting to many copies of in our main decks. The flexibility is beautiful for handling any type of problematic permanent, especially the transformation lands from Ixalan block, but having to rely on Assassin's Trophy to answer an opponent's two-drop can get dicey quickly.

I look forward to seeing how the environment handles the presence of the card, and what types of more expensive spells players will choose to punish each other for that flexibility.

Dimir

While the deck that I'm choosing to show you today from Dimir isn't the most surveil-heavy build (and it's been rad seeing those decklists pop up online), it does feature my favorite creature with surveil in Guilds of Ravnica.

No, I'm not referencing the one that costs five.

Dimir Menagerie

Lazav, the Multifarious didn't actually change a ton over the course of GRN development, but that doesn't mean I didn't pay him attention. The deck-building puzzle he represents is a great example of what I enjoy most about Magic—should I try to lean into activations, static abilities, die triggers, or just hard-hitting threats?

This take on a Dimir midrange deck features Gruesome Menagerie, which also creates some interesting parameters to work with in deck construction.

Despite the presence of undergrowth in GRN, we want players to have an opportunity to utilize their graveyards in another manner than just stocking up creatures toward an inevitable conclusion if they desire. Gruesome Menagerie asks you to think differently.

Ultimately, we're trying to kill some creatures, generate card advantage, and grind our opponent down, but the way we go about doing that is anything but normal.

Surveil, along with Dimir as a whole, is about giving yourself more information to make better decisions, and that information will ultimately dictate Lazav's form.

Izzet

Izzet has a pretty clear identity of wacky experiments that tend to involve lots and lots of spells. My favorite Izzet card isn't multicolored, but I think it's obvious which guild this bird aligns with.

Arclight Izzet

There have been a variety of Phoenix's that recur in various ways in Magic, but none that encourage you to cast a ton of spells (no, Chandra's Phoenix doesn't count). Getting the number of spells cast, the trigger condition, and adjusting the power and toughness of Arclight Phoenix was all a fairly intricate process. We decided that we didn't want to encourage players to save up their spells and play a huge flurry during an opponent's end step to keep returning the Phoenix, so we moved to a beginning-of-combat trigger.

To compensate for this, we made sure the fire bird had haste, which also makes it a stronger card when you want to avoid all the complexity and simply cast it from your hand.

A side tip: casting the Phoenix from your hand is a fine way to get started! I often noticed players getting a lot of tunnel vision with the idea of discarding the Phoenix initially, which made it difficult for them to return it multiple times.

Three spells ultimately felt right. With these types of "quests," we want players to feel like they can achieve their reward when they put the effort in and that there is sufficient impact to incentivize them to do so (returning to the battlefield instead of hand, for example), but it's not so easy as to cheapen the experience or make the play pattern too repetitive.

Bonus Decklist

Since I've been having so much fun casting Niv-Mizzet, Parun on MTG Arena, I thought I'd give one last parting decklist to begin your three-color adventure.

Grixis Dragons

I hope you've enjoyed this look at the Future Future League's take on Guilds of Ravnica. Someone will be back for Ravnica Allegiance, where we'll cover the five remaining guilds. Until then, keep enjoying GRN!

—Michael Majors
@MichaelJMajors

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