An Epic Experiment

Posted in Serious Fun on November 13, 2012

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

A few weeks ago I showed a few guild-based decks for sharing Magic . At the end of the article the results for a poll were shown: You chose the Izzet, in a narrow victory over the Golgari, as the guild for an unspecified purpose.

Welcome to Izzet Week, where no thing's purpose is unspecified.

You see, everything has a purpose and use, at least if you're an Izzet. Finding the use you need may be an altogether different tale. For us, what guild you chose set me down the path to playing as that guild.

As I clarified in last week's Sealed adventure from yesteryear, I did not manage to discover time travel. That is a Guild Prerelease pack, and it was played after the Return to Ravnica Prerelease has passed. So what gives?

While I admit I'm not the model family man like Mark Rosewater, I help out as best as I can. Due to the combination of a class my wife was taking and an unavoidable family function, I wasn't able to attend a Prerelease for Return to Ravnica.

Yes, I do plan to show Kate this article as proof that I love her more than Magic.

Thanks to my friends in the area, I was put in touch with one of the stores that did not sell out of the Prerelease: Beyond Comics in Gaithersburg, MD. Getting my hands on the Prerelease packs was the easy part. What to do with them was harder.

Like an Izzet, I puzzled and tinkered with many ideas.

As Pro Tour Return to Ravnica creeped closer, I remembered the format I learned at Worlds 2011: Star Draft. With a thud of dropped mizzium it hit me that each of the guilds in Return to Ravnica share a color with only two other guilds. If you laid them into a pentagonal grid, you'd have a star shape.

Guild Star Sealed was born. Each player would have a Guild Pack from the Prerelease, but play a game of Star Magic where the goal was to defeat the two guilds you didn't share a color with.

It's was an overcharged contraption to be sure, but I couldn't imagine anything less than silliness with this much multicolor firepower floating around.

I recruited a few familiar faces around my local game store to fill in for the four other guilds.

Dorian is a stern figure in most of our games, enjoying both the insanity that Commander and other formats bring as well as the strategy of plotting a victory through it all. He also has a killer beard.

Min is a Level 2 DCI judge and connoisseur of casual contraptions. He always enjoys a Limited event, and he was very glad to hop in. He also has a killer goatee.

Russell's one of the few faces I see every week I can make it to the shop. Without fail, he wears a grin and carries a bag full of decks. I've never caught him without something in hand to play. He also has a killer beard.

John isn't somebody I had the chance to play many games with, but he's always willing to give something a shot. Thanks to him being the fifth volunteer, we were able to fire my personal Prerelease. Thanks John! He also has a killer goatee.

With our Movember-suitable table of contenders, we each set about building from our Guild Packs. These are where we ended up, in turn order.

John's Rakdos

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Adam's "Izzet"

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Russell's Azorius

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Dorian's Selesnya

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My Izzet options were fairly lean. As much as I love cards like Mizzium Skin and Dynacharge, I knew I wanted as many big creatures as I could find. Corpsejack Menace promised to do big things with unleash. I did shoehorn Hypersonic Dragon in my deck. I just wouldn't be Izzet without!

Corpsejack Menace
Hypersonic Dragon

Min and Russell went head-to-head for the greediest decks. Russell's five-color special looked powerful, but Min "splashing" Sphinx's Revelation from exactly one Plains and two Islands is the definition of greed.

Sphinx's Revelation

John and Dorian locked firmly into their respective guilds and planned to make the most of the consistent mana and spells they would have. They built the type of deck that I prefer. Alas.

John led off the game with a Rakdos Guildgate, and everyone followed suit with a land. The second cycle of turns was more interesting:

Through the third turn, nobody missed a land drop, and everybody who could attack, did.

  • John pricked Russell with Daggerdrome Imp before adding an unleashed Splatter Thug to the team.
  • I shredded Dorian another turn.
  • Russell's Sunspire Griffin looked to be a blocker.
  • Dorian still didn't play a creature.
  • Min put a fearsome Trestle Troll on the battlefield. That guy can block.

The action continued to rise with John's fourth turn. His Splatter Thug put 3 damage into Russell, but Daggerdrome Imp flew into Dorian's Eyes in the Skies. The post-combat unleashed Gore-House Chainwalker shouted the Rakdos plan.

With a handy Golgari Guildgate now untapped, I could play a Corpsejack Menace. While I was hoping it would slide under the radar, everyone at the table seemed to understand he was a scary guy so early. Russell and Min just played lands, but Dorian finally added a Centaur's Herald to his side. He left three mana open to use it well.

Golgari Guildgate

John's turn wheeled and the attacks didn't stop. However, his only attack was Splatter Thug into Russell, who flashed down Hussar Patrol to block. John threatened a greater attack next turn with an unleashed Spawn of Rix Maadi.

My attack was similarly stunted. Dorian blocked Corpsejack Menace with Centaur's Herald but sacrificed it after blocking. My follow-up Perilous Shadow wasn't intimidating, either. Russell found all of John's creatures being unleashed helpful, as Hussar Patrol dug in. Dorian just Mana Bloomed for one again, and Min brought forth a tall Golgari Longlegs.

Hussar Patrol
Golgari Longlegs

John didn't relent attacking, sending his whole team at Centaur-token-defended Dorian. Druid's Deliverance prevented the ton of damage and added another Centaur for Dorian's team. My turn let me spice things up with an unleashed Spawn of Rix Maadi, which featured two +1/+1 counters thanks to Corpsejack Menace.

Russell continued to poke John with Hussar Patrol, and Dorian ramped up his tokens with another Eyes in the Skies: His count stood at three Centaur and two Bird tokens.

I groaned when Min played a second Trestle Troll. "How will we ever attack through two of these guys?" No one offered anything helpful.

John's next turn featured another big attack, with an unleashed Gore-House Chainwalker at Dorian and everything else at Russell. Dorian just took the hit on the chin, dropping to 13, and Russell cast Rootborn Defenses to safely block the Spawn of Rix Maadi and fall to 13 too. Another unleashed Gore-House Chainwalker from John left nothing unclear for the table.

Gore-House Chainwalker
Rootborn Defenses

I could only add a Golgari Longlegs of my own before passing to Russell, who Arrested John's Splatter Thug before sending in Hussar Patrol. Dorian scoped my battlefield and sent his two Birds in to me, then re-upped his Mana Bloom for one and played Armory Guard. Min decided to Seek the Horizon to find a Swamp, Forest, and Island.

Armory Guard
Seek the Horizon

John didn't attack on this next turn, but did play Sewer Shambler. Russell cursed the Blood Crypt he played. "Why didn't I just use a Rakdos Guildgate to splash?"

My turn featured a double-unleashed Splatter Thug, and Russell poked John before he shared his Korozda Guildmage with us. Dorian joined in the attacked, sending the vigilant Armory Guard at John—now at a precarious 12 life—and Birds at me. Min just had another land.

What was he planning with all that mana?

Splatter Thug
Korozda Guildmage

John untapped with Sewer Shambler still alive and returned the favor to Russell. The follow up Zanikev Locust seemed huge. Without any solid attacks I added a double-unleashed Gore-House Chainwalker before handing off the turn baton. Russell still attacked John with Hussar Patrol, who, after agonizing a minute, decided to block with Zanikev Locust.

Sewer Shambler
Zanikev Locust

John sighed in relief when Russell didn't have a trick and instead added the massive Archon of the Triumvirate to the board. All eyes on Russell. Full stop.

"Can anybody deal with that thing?" Min asked. The silence was deafening.

Dorian continued his Bird assault on me, but it was Min who stole the show at end of turn with a Sphinx's Revelation for five. With a cackling giggle he drew five cards from a "splashed" spell and untapped to add both Korozda Monitor and Corpsejack Menace. He said nothing when he discarded an extra land at the end of the turn.

John didn't wait around to see what Russell's Archon of the Triumvirate would do, and put an Assassin's Strike in for it. He didn't have an attack, though, and neither did I after finding a second Mountain to cast Frostburn Weird. Russell sent an interesting attack at John with the Hussar Patrol, but with enough mana to active the pump ability on Korozda Guildmage.

Assassin's Strike
Frostburn Weird

"If he blocks you've got to kill that thing!" was Dorian's suggestion. John thought about it for some time and decided to block anyway. And, just as suggested, Russell pumped to kill the Zanikev Locust. With the way clear, Dorian sent Armory Guard into John again, alongside some Birds at me. Towering Indrik put Dorian behind an even bigger wall of blockers. Min laid a Stab Wound on my Perilous Shadow before he played Ogre Jailbreaker.

The game began accelerating to the end.

John attacked Russell with the swampwalking Sewer Shambler, then cast his second Daggerdrome Imp. This time, though, he scavenged the Zanikev Locusts into it, offering a much stronger 4/4 with lifelink to block with. I took 2 life from Stab Wound and cast Traitorous Instinct to steal Min's Corpsejack Menace. While it would have been sweet to play an unleash guy, instead all I could do was attack Dorian with it. The Centaur token he chump blocked with was disappointing.

Stab Wound
Traitorous Instinct

Russell's Street Sweeper was a solid body, but Dorian's new Risen Sanctuary was even better. However, his Birds pecked me to 7 life—a de facto 5 life with to Stab Wound. Min had a Perilous Shadow of his own.

Street Sweeper
Risen Sanctuary

John took aim at Dorian with his supersized Daggerdrome Imp, which took out Towering Indrik on the block. Rakdos Ringleader was another surprising blocker from John, who looked much better than a few turns before. After falling to 5 life I unleashed a massive attack at Dorian:

Dorian dropped to 9 life and asked to see the Electrickery that would finish off a Centaur and Risen Sanctuary. "I wish this was Electrickery," was my response as I paid for Street Spasm, which killed only a handful of things, but not the Birds or my own Perilous Shadow that were killing me.

Russell aimed his team at John, and put him down to 10 life. Dorian split his attack, Birding me to 3 and sending enough Centaurs to put John to 1. Min did a quick count of blockers and decided to crack at me with the team:

While I couldn't block one creature, the Perilous Shadow would force Min to pump enough mana into it to kill me. But I was betting on what I knew about Min: He'd only put one round of into the Shadow and let the Stab Wound finish me with style. It was a gamble that would still leave me dead on my upkeep, but would let me untap the mana to cast something before I died: Annihilating Fire.

I was right about Min.

Min dropped me to 1 life and passed to John. John felt the hopelessness of his 1 life and decided to act as a good Rakdos ought: He unleashed Carnival Hellsteed and aimed some attacks.

At Dorian:

At Russell:

Where did Russell get some Saprolings? Street Sweeper's sacrifice to Korozda Guildmage. While John gained some needed life, Russell fell to just 1. At the end of John's turn I asked Min a simple question: "Do you want to win?"

Min avoids politics in multiplayer, but those words piqued his interest. "What would I have to do for you to get me to win?"

"Get rid of this Stab Wound." I pointed.

Min shuffled his hand and thought about it for a moment, then sighed. "I don't have anything I can do about that."

I untapped and put Stab Wound's trigger on the stack. While I couldn't win the game, I could end it. I looked to Russell and grabbed his shoulder.

"I'm sorry."

Annihilating Fire jerked the table to attention. Dorian could only shake his head as Russell died, followed by me. In one stoke, I made Min the king. The Golgari had won this round of Guild Star Sealed.

Annihilating Fire

Guild Star Sealed is a very peculiar way to play, and finding more packs from the Return to Ravnica Prerelease would be very tough. Looking ahead, the same special plan is in place for Gatecrash, so that's the next chance I'll have to set up a war of the guilds again.

Since I'm gathering data from experiments, here's one question you can help me with.

It's been a while since I've checked the pulse on game recaps, and planning for future articles can certainly be changed with your feedback. Don't be afraid to share with me though email or on Twitter—I'm @the_stybs!

Join us next week when I share the results of a different experiment. See you then!

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