What do we know about Guilds of Ravnica Limited? What really matters when you're playing professional Magic? How do you go 9-0 with a single Sealed deck? The 1,070 players who arrived for the first day of Grand Prix Montreal gave us a few answers.
The Jump-Start on Guilds of Ravnica Limited (Frank Skarren, Pascal Maynard)
Dominaria is in the past. Core Set 2019 is no longer new. Guilds of Ravnica upends the Limited format status quo with a clear multicolor focus. Sealed Deck and Draft is a new world, and we're just beginning to make sense of the landscape.
Frank Skarren notched his first Grand Prix victory during Gatecrash in our last trip to Ravnica, and put in the practice to learn Guilds of Ravnica coming into the weekend. Compared to recent sets, "The biggest thing is the power level of uncommons is much higher," Skarren said. "Multicolor cards tend to be stronger than single-colored cards. You're looking at a lot of cards that can win the game on their own even in the uncommon slots. It's not just nuts and bolts—meat and potatoes—Magic; there's much more powerful things going on."
"You definitely want to find the two colors to focus on, but open to splashing," Skarren said. "There's only a handful of cards with two of each color of mana required, and if you can play then you get really powerful cards. Boros and Izzet really like to be more two-color since they have more aggressive decks. Dimir, Selesnya, and Golgari are slower and you can splash things easier."
Skarren wasn't alone in prepping for Guilds of Ravnica opening weekend.
With 13 Grand Prix Top 8s to his name, Pascal Maynard is among Canada's elite professionals and part of the cadre here to claim a trophy on home soil. However, his conclusions about Guilds of Ravnica led a different direction.
"My first conclusion is the cards are weak," said Maynard. "You always have to work to win the game. It's good for the format—it makes games interesting. You don't just get run over. The games are low power so the last long."
"Dimir is a deck I was tried first but I was asking myself 'How do I win a game?'" Maynard said. "I can make sure I don't lose, and I can stop your creatures, but how do I win? It makes Douser of Light pretty good. At first it was a filler and I wasn't happy about but now I need them to win."
Compared to recent sets, Guilds of Ravnica is radically different because of how far that multicolor focus went. "There's five color combination that don't exist," Maynard said. "There's five guilds and 'the Gate deck' with all of the Gate payoff cards, so basically only six archetypes. In my mind it makes it simple—the format's not simple but it's quicker to learn since there's less things to learn."
Of course, we've been to Ravnica before, so the lessons from Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash a few years ago might still apply—is everything was the same. "It's definitely different," Skarren said. "There's similarity—Boros you want to get a lot of creatures in and start attacking; Selenya is still token focused and goes wide—but Dimir is better than it's ever been. The biggest difference are the Guildmages. Their abilities require tapping which means you only get to use them once a turn. Legion Guildmage is definitely good, but overall they're less power."
"It's the same Ravnica feel but a different focus in the guilds."
Another change is that each pack of Guilds of Ravnica provides a Guildgate, rather than a basic land, which expands the number of picks and opportunities to fix mana. It also features a cycle of Lockets to pile up the options for making mana work.
Maynard felt the mana fixing wasn't as critical as you might think. "I rarely play Lockets, and would say the fixing is mostly correlated to the double-color uncommons you play," said Maynard. "If I have those cards I want one or two Guildgates in my deck but I don't take them highly—there's so many. I think it's a good thing you don't feel you have to take them since there's one in every pack."
But between Skarren and Maynard there was one thing they both appreciated: How well Dimir played. Why is Dimir so good this time around? "Surveil is great," Skarren said. "I would say the biggest thing about surveil is they put it on a lot of cards and it's often surveil 2," Skarren said. "There's a huge difference between seeing one and two cards. For example, Deadly Visit: On turn 5 you kill their best thing and dig into something great. Dazzling Lights has surveil 2. You can chain them together and keep finding your next best card."
"If you have undergrowth cards or something like Gruesome Menagerie it adds up. If I'm playing an opponent and they surveil five or six times it almost feels like I can't win."
Trying to surveil every turn has payoffs, which show up with the focus on Dimir. "The one card I wouldn't have looked twice at is Enhanced Surveillance," Skarren said.
"I've have people play it against me and it plays out like a combo deck where they dig through their deck with surveil, sacrifice it and then play their cards all over again. I'm not sure it's good but it was interesting to see."
"Another card is Devious Cover-Up," Maynard said. "It matters in Dimir that you often run out of win conditions or cards altogether."
"Also Disinformation Campaign. It's a card I looked as and thought it was pretty good but now I think it's the best card period," said Maynard. "I thought you'd have to something to surveil every turn but now you just cast the card twice and feel so far ahead. You trigger it twice and the game's over—the format is the kind where a card like that is very good."
Quickly evaluating cards again as you experience the format is critical to succeeding, as Maynard and Skarren can attest.
Why Is Seth Manfield Playing This Weekend?
When you consider competing in Magic there's a short list of goals most players look to accomplish in their career. Qualify for a Pro Tour. Win a Pro Tour. Qualify for a World Championship. Win a World Championship. Get elected to the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
Seth Manfield had accomplished all of that and more. Fresh off one of his biggest years of Magic ever, with a Player of the Year playoff looming, you'd forgive him for taking a breather to enjoy his accomplishments. But that's not how Manfield rolls.
"I feel like you don't need a reason to play Magic. I love playing Magic," Manfield said. "That should be enough—but I hadn't figured out if I was playing here or in Mexico City this weekend. After doing some drafts there was no way I could miss the first Grand Prix of this format. It's just too much fun to play."
"A lot of pros were going to Mexico City," Manfield said. "Even though I figured this would be a larger event, and it was a 12 hour drive from the DC area where I live, I had been playing all week and it felt wrong to not be here. Historically the Limited Grand Prix right after a new format is the best one for me. It helps me prepare for the upcoming Pro Tour and Team Limited in Denver next weekend. I'm playing with Corey Baumeister and Brian Braun-Duin, a little TCGplayer.com team."
We can all agree that Magic is fun to play, but when you've accomplished so many things already what is the motivation to keep going?
"I wouldn't say the goalpost is any one place," Manfield said. "Player of the Year is something I've been close to multiple years, but I'd never gotten to play in the World Magic Cup. I'm locked to play in that, and it's not easy to be the United States captain."
"I'm still learning from other great players. I'm just enjoying the game," said Manfield. "I don't feel like I need one goalpost to define me. Every year I feel like my goal is to make it to the World Championship. It's one of the only tournament where you just play elite player after elite player. I didn't do great at the last Worlds and now I just want to get back."
"I don't feel it's healthy to set a goal and feel like you failed if you don't hit it, like winning a Pro Tour. But I also don't feel the need to sit back and relax. I feel like if I sit back and take a breather I'll have too much catching up. The only thing I'm looking forward to next is the Hall of Fame induction. It's the one thing you can't earn every year."
We have a feeling that if Manfield could earn that every year he would. Being among the best players is a never-ending quest.
Going 9-0 With Guilds of Ravnica Sealed Deck
While getting to a coveted Day 1 undefeated record is no assurance of an excellent finish, it is among the best ways to be in the best position possible to earn it on Day 2. At Montreal, four players notched a flawless start to the tournament.
Brad Bonin began the day on a white-blue-red plan—Izzet splashing a copy of Tajic, Legion's Edge—but quickly settled into a defensive Izzet deck. The splash "wasn't correct" Bonin said.
The heroic card that did stand out from his deck? "Disdainful Stroke always countered a rare or mythic, always for more mana and with Goblin Electromancer it was just one mana; it didn't cost anything to leave up.
Chris Ha played across blue-black-green for colors, but highlighted two Dimir choices as standout cards from his deck.
"Nightveil Predator and Artful Takedown were two really strong cards," Ha said. "The Predator, when you cast it when your opponent is tapped out, just takes over the game. There's very little that interacts with it. And you can protect it with Artful takedown. If your opponent tried something like blocking and then using Surestrike you can just give it -2/-4."
Alexandre Cadieux also leaned into blue-black, but had added green for more removal. His take on Dimir options was similar, but found unexpected benefit from playing four Gates in his deck.
Congratulations to Chris Ha, Alex Watt, Brad Bonin and Alexandre Cadieux for earning a 9-0 record to finish Day 1 at Grand Prix Montreal!