___ _____, dunna dunna dunna dunna dunna
You see where I’m going with this. Or not. I’ve never been one to sympathize with my audience.
And what better way to herald my return than with a throwback to my old format? For those of you not familiar with it, it entails starting the article with some thinly veiled pathetic attempts to be clever before a longer section of actual strategic content. Within the strategy section, if I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I will sprinkle more of the aforementioned thinly veiled pathetic attempts to be clever. This is a change from my most recent format, which unintentionally consisted mostly of blathering. Whenever I try to intersperse the nonsense throughout the strategy, I end up droning on in nearly Rizzoesque proportions without actually getting around to saying anything worthwhile.
The strategic content this week shall involve drafting Green/Black in Ravnica Limited. Don’t get intimidated by the size of the scroll bar, though. It’s mostly actual blank space (as opposed to pages upon pages of nonsense that may as well be blank space). Before I get to the strategy, as I said a distant two sentences ago, I have some gibberish to spew.
Today’s topic is foreigners. Specifically, I think we’ve become a little too accepting of other cultures in recent months and years. It’s supposed to be the melting pot, people, not the still-together-in-clumps pot. We’re supposed to assimilate them, removing traces of their ways of life in every aspect of their existence at every opportunity. I don’t want to live on an Avenida anymore, I’m never going to learn how to use chopsticks, and when I get chinese food, I want it to be served to me by a buxom blonde California college student, not some [deleted – extremely offensive racial epithet].
How does this apply to Magic: the Gathering? Well, look at the names of some of the pros. “Tsuyoshi Fujita.” “Julien Nuijten.” “Gadiel Szleifer.” Who wants to fumble with attempting to say these, or worse yet, waste time and effort learning how to pronounce them correctly? Not me, that’s fer dern tootin’! I’ve already been horrified enough for one lifetime by what I already know.
Well, I’m going to tell you straight up – there’s no way you succeeded since the North American tongue/vocal cords are incapable of producing the sounds necessary to pronounce that properly. If you guessed “jurr-OWN REM-mee,” you weren’t even close. “HER-o-win REM-mee” is, I suppose, somewhat warmer, but still not approaching 100% accuracy. No, the closest our alphabet will allow is “yur-ROO-ihn re-MEE.” The “roen” part is actually one and a half syllables long. That’s…that’s really somethin’.
I’m guessing you said “RAH-jurr MAR-tin,” or if you bothered to read his last name at ALL, “RAH-jurr MAH-tin.” Obviously, neither of these is correct. I’m just gonna dispense with the suspense and bring it intense* and tell y’all that it’s something like “ro-(hocking noise)EER MIT-ten.” That’s right. “Mitten.” You weren’t even close!
Here’s where I come in. If you did guess RAH-jurr MAR-tin, I have some excellent news. From here on in, I decree that that’s what his name is when you’re in the United States. There actually is a precedent for this sort of thinking. Think of the country Spain. Do they call it “Spain” there? Heavens, no. They call it Espana. With a little squiggly over the N!** We don’t even have a little squiggly in our alphabet, as it’s completely pointless. We Americans are known for efficiency, after all, particularly those of us who live or have lived in Carlsbad, California. How did we solve the puzzle of ay-SPON-yuh? We used a little creative license and spun it into the easily pronounced name we use now. Thus, Rogier Maaten translated into English is Roger Martin. Well, I guess technically I mean translated into American. In English it would probably be Rouger Martinsfordshire.
And Jeroen Remie translated into American? Jerry Reynolds. Look at that photo again. He even looks like a Jerry Reynolds! When I told him about it in Salt Lake City, he seemed pretty enthusiastic about adopting it as his own.
So here’s a list of most of the relevant foreigners with their names translated into the language we all love and understand. Many of these were compiled at GP:SLC with help from Josh Ravitz and Julien Nuijten. And remember…these are actual translations. This isn’t just something I made up. I did extensive research to make this list as accurate as possible.
As a final note, I was having some trouble decrypting the Japanese names until noted language scholar Gabe Walls provided me with a very important insight. He informed me that Tsuyoshi Fujita translates to, literally, “John Smith.” I’m not kidding. Look it up yourself if you want.
Jesse Nelson (obv)
Katherine-Mary “Katie” Morgan (“…a churchgoer.” —Josh Ravitz)
Stu Chambers (no relation to Adam)
Gabe Nash (Yeah, some of these are fairly intuitive).
Hans Joachim Hoeh
Henry James Prostitute
If there are some that I’ve missed, please email me or respond in the forums. If you give me the American translations, I’d like for them to be researched and accurate, as was the convention with my own.
That wasn’t so bad, was it? Now we’re ready to discuss how to draft Black/Green in Ravnica.
You’ll notice how I continue to say “Black/Green” and not “Golgari.” There’s a very simple reason for this: Using the “proper” guild names to identify archetypes is nerdy. If you want to talk about the “Golgari Guild” or “nerfing” or “generic mana,” then go back to the chess club with the rest of the Trekkies. It’s not a schooner; it’s a sailboat. It’s not a garage; it’s a car-hold. I have half a mind to toss in a few random malapropisms for the sole purpose of potentially giving all you goodie two-shoes anal retentive freaks who like to call things by their “proper” names an aneurysm.
This week I will focus on drafting straight Green/Black with no splashes. I actually think this is the best way to go if you can swing it, barring the opening of an easily splashable bomb like Glare of Subdual or perhaps Flame Fusillade. I will mention a few tips for splashing, but I’ll save many of the intricacies for a later article. Taka’s gotta go to Worlds, man.***
I’ve divided every last card you could cast with only Swamps and Forests in play into several tiers to give you a rough idea of how good they are. I will go into more detail about many of the cards if their place on the list isn’t intuitive or if discussion will lead to insights about the archetype or the format. Seriously, this isn’t a “pick order” article, and everything written underneath a card name won’t be there to simply extol its specific virtues. As a final note, the cards within each category aren’t in a particular order.
Here are the classifications:
Group One – bombs
Group Two – cards you are very happy to take first
Group Three – acceptable first picks that you’d rather get later
Group Four – picks 2-5, roughly speaking
Group Five – later-pick playables
Group Six – sketchy cards
Group Seven – marginal cards you should almost never play
Group Eight – unplayables
The distinctions between Groups 1 and 2 and between Groups 7 and 8 are largely meaningless. I’m pretty sure I just created the former division as a way of stating that Gleancrawler is not, in fact, a bomb.
The Scarab is large enough to get past most of the other creatures in the format, is efficiently costed, and never dies. As long as you leave a land untapped, you can essentially return it to your hand whenever it would die. If you don’t, you can always get it back during your next draw step. My favorite aspect of the Scarab is that you can basically spend 3BGG to untap it if you have nothing better to do with your lands. Because of this, it’s invaluable in certain race situations. If you and your opponent are both empty-handed, you’re at three with a 4/4 in play, and your opponent’s at 12 with a 3/3 in play, you normally can’t attack. Thanks to the Dredge trick, if your 4/4 happens to be the Scarab, you can still attack with impunity. In short, don’t pass this for anything in the first pack. If you’re Green but not Black when you see it in a later pack, you should take it nonetheless and splash it. (In my opinion, the cards in the first two categories are the only ones you should splash).
Yes, there must be six or more creatures in play for you to cast this. As it turns out, though, that happens an awful lot in this format. This can be a one-sided Wrath or, if you’re desperate, a two-sided Wrath, but it generally tends to involve a 4/2 or 5/1 split in your favor.
The most important creature in the deck, the Golgari Rotwurm is your ideal turn 4 or 5 play. Green/Black doesn’t have much evasion; it aims to win with removal and monsters… and whatta monster the Rotwurm is. It’s considerably larger than just about everything in the format, and it provides you with invaluable late-game “reach.” I won’t use “invaluable” anymore this article. I promise.
This is probably the best uncommon in the set. I certainly can’t think of a better one. [There may or may not have been a number of Moldervine Cloaks in the Top 8 of Virginia States. – Knut, not kidding] Putting this on anything turn 3 will create a creature far larger than your opponent will be able to deal with; he’ll have to absorb huge beatings for a few turns before ultimately chump blocking. If you put this on something with evasion, your opponent just loses. There aren’t many ways to kill a creature in response to enchanting it, and there are even fewer once the Cloak is in place. Thanks to Dredge, the Cloak circumvents one of the typical shortcomings of Enchant Creatures. Sure, it’s still card disadvantage if your opponent Disembowels your man (or Last Gasps it in response), but the Cloak is powerful enough that you’ll be more than happy to skip a draw step to get it back. The most apt card to compare this to is probably Empyrial Armor.
I don’t care for most of the mana fixing/acceleration cards in this set. I will avoid playing them whenever possible unless I have a high-end curve or unless I can sub them in for land on a one-for-one basis. (A little more on that later). The reason, naturally, is that cards like Farseek and Signets are horrible topdecks in the late game. Additionally, if you try to go more than three colors – or sometimes just three – you can get horribly inconsistent draws even with all the mana fixing present in the set. Gauging when the additional power granted by a splash is worth the possibility of incredibly sketchy hands is one of the most important skills for drafting this format. Having said all of that, Civic Wayfinder is a great mana fixer. Because of this removal one of the disincentives of splashing – specifically, he’s not a dead draw in the late game – he makes playing a third color a much more attractive option.
Gaze of the Gorgon
Cost be damned, this is probably the best combat trick in the format since it trumps all other combat tricks. It’s great whether you’re attacking or blocking. It doesn’t matter how big your creature and your opponent’s creature(s) are; yours is gonna live, and his is gonna die, and that’s all there is to it. You can even play it out of combat in response to a Galvanic Arc or whatnot if you’re so inclined. Certain Eli Kaplan and other individuals seem to be a little skeptical of this card because of its relatively high cost. Clearly, you should not be passing to your opponent on turn 4 with four lands up when you could have played your Greater Mossdog because you’re hoping he will fall into your obvious trap. There’s no sense in playing reactively when you should be developing your board. You’ll be able to play the Gaze later. I would go as far as saying that I want one of these in every Green or Black deck.
The Guildmage is a creature that’s good early and late, a trait that is the hallmark of the best Limited cards. It isn’t nearly as impressive as the other Guildmages, though. In the late game, the Red/White one gives all of your creatures first strike, the Blue/Black one can give you insurmountable card advantage, and the Green/White one makes lots of creatures, then makes them all huge. The Golgari Guildmage’s Black ability actually costs upwards of seventeen mana per activation, and five mana is a considerable amount to spend on a single +1/+1 counter. Sometimes the Green ability is worth it, though, particularly if you have nothing else to do with your mana. At times, the threat of its activation can make it a Kabuto Moth proxy, allowing your creatures through unblocked while still leaving you mana to play another creature. I’d be happy having as many of these in my deck as I could draft, but I’m more than likely to find a better first-pick if it’s in my opening pack.
This is a great card, but I’m not sold that it’s a bomb. The three Black mana in its casting cost can be a nuisance, but that’s not really a big concern. The biggest concern is lack of trample or other evasion. Another downside is that its ability is frequently irrelevant. Usually, you don’t want to screw around with killing a land when you could be bashing with a 6/5 monster. Granted, if your opponent has a nonbasic land, the Dozer becomes insane. It’s also rather nice if you can kill all the lands of your opponent’s splash color before he can cast the splashed spells. Rare will be the occasion where you’re happy to just sit back and decimate one of your opponent’s lands per turn starting on turn 7, though. Lastly, it’s meaningless that Helldozer is Black. If being Black meant the common removal couldn’t kill it, I’d be more likely to first-pick it.
I’m not keen on maindecking Sundering Vitae because there really aren’t that many artifacts or enchantments that concern me. Many people are blinded to this fact when they consider Faith’s Fetters, Glare of Subdual, and the Signets. The truth is, the Signets are generally not worth wasting a card on, Glare of Subdual is rare, and Faith’s Fetters is only one card. Galvanic Arc and Fists of Ironwood aren’t exactly the best targets for removal. Your average opponent will have about one card that would make you want to play the Vitae, and that’s simply not enough. Sometimes, you might get burned by noncreature nonland permanents game one, and that’s where Nullmage Shepherd can rescue you. Much in the same way that Civic Wayfinder is far superior to Farseek, the Shepherd is a great card since it’s got a reasonably sized body to go with the built-in insurance policy against the Sunforgers and Pollenbright Wings of the world. And if you happen to be able to kill a Signet with it, eh mise. It didn’t cost you a card.
This is a first-pick in Green/White, but it drops off a little here. You’re not specifically attempting to assimilate a horde of smaller creatures, but you’re going to have some early drops to fill out your curve, and sometimes you’ll get a few Scatter the Seeds. If you cast this with three or four creatures in play, you’re probably going to win the game. The convoke isn’t much of a factor because even in Green/White, you’d rather not be tapping potential 4/4-or-larger attackers to pay for the spell.
Savra, Queen of the Golgari
She may not be that exciting on her own, but she makes some pretty sick two-card combos with Shambling Shell and Golgari Rotwurm. Other enablers include Dimir House Guard, Thoughtpicker Witch, Elvish Skysweeper, and Golgari Guildmage. If you’re several picks into pack two and have no sacrifice mechanism, there’s no shame in shipping her along. If this were an enchantment, I’d be hesitant to maindeck it, but since she’s a 2/2, she’ll never be worthless. Cards that have great synergy with the rest of your deck but are passable on their own are good, people. Write this down.
Sisters of Stone Death
A.K.A. Sisters of Stone Nothing, these chickenheads are relegated to this tier since eight mana is an awful lot.
This card is considerably better than I initially gave it credit for, especially in Black/Green. This color combination’s major weakness is that it has very few ways to contain fliers; its primary method of dealing with them is destroying them with Black removal. The Imp holds down the fort, making your opponent’s Conclave Equenauts and Skyknight Legionnaires look foolish while you send Rotwurms and Elementals lumbering over to the other side of the board. If your opponent has bigger ground creatures than you, the Imp can hold those off as well. Finally, obviously, naturally, truly madly deeply, chumly, endless nameless, gibberty gibberty rat-a-tat-tat, you can always fly over for one damage if you’re so inclined. You will want one or two of these in every Green/Black deck unless you have a Trophy Hunter or “DI” removal, as the kids say. Barring these scenarios, you should really try to get your hands on an Elvish Skysweeper.
Remember, you won’t always be able to play this on turn two. It’s probably worthy of a first pick anyway, considering its potential Constructed/binder applications.
Sometimes he’ll be awesome, and sometimes he’ll suck. Sure, it’s a 4/4 flier for five, but it’s too situational for me to be happy about taking it first.
I guess I have to live up to my word that I’d discuss more about “subbing cards in for land” here. Those with a critical Limited eye may often have a difficult time deciding between, say, 17 and 18 lands. If you have a card like Farseek, this decision becomes considerably easier; simply play 17 lands plus the Farseek. The other situation is where you know you want 17 lands, but your curve is reasonable enough that you can just play the Farseek over the 17th land straight up. Before I went down to 15 lands, though, I’d want at least three cards that can act as lands. Oh, and screw all this 14-land hogwash. 15 lands are the bare minimum, but I’d rather draft a deck with 23 real cards + 17 lands than 20 real cards + 15 lands + 5 stupid mana fixers that don’t do anything else. Not only would you be playing fewer real cards, you would run the risk of being forced to mulligan (or even worse, to keep) hands with only one land. Farseek is particularly lame if you’re not splashing, since all it can get is a Swamp. If you do have a nice Moroii or Loxodon Hierarch along with a Civic Wayfinder, this lil’ sorcery is a fine addition to your deck.
In straight Green/Black, this isn’t anything to proudly display to the hull of your choice. However, this is a card that would make splashing a third color worthwhile, so its placing within my grouping system is something of a conundrum. All told, I guess you should take this pretty early and plan on drafting some quality splash enablers since it can win games by itself.
Likewise, this isn’t anything spectacular if you can only use its Black ability, and it’s likely to be scooped up by a Blue/Black mage before you’d be willing to take it. This is much less likely than the Green/White mage to be worth compromising your mana base over.
Scion of the Wild
Naturally, this is better in Green/White or if you have lots of Scatters.
Golgari Rot Farm
Having to skip playing something for a turn isn’t as big a deal for this deck as it is for the other color combinations, so it’s fine and dandy to play this even if you’re straight Green/Black. Don’t take it over a nonland playable, though.
It doesn’t matter where I put this one, really. Just take it and sell it.
Chord of Calling
This is pretty expensive. It moves up the list in Green/White, but not much.
Dark Heart of the Wood
I have officially set the number of Forests required to play this at 9. Anything less than that and you shouldn’t even consider it. If you have 9 or 10 actual Forests (as opposed to Rot Farms or Selesnya Suchandsuches), this can be a worthwhile tool for racing against decks with lots of fliers.
For this to be good, you have to have already drawn a good card; that good card must already have been played, or, in the case of a creature, must already have died; and you have to have enough time to spend three mana on something that doesn’t affect the board. Tonight’s homework assignment: Think of at least one way this card is inferior to Eternal Witness. Bonus question: Do you think this will be as good as Witness in Constructed? Why or why not?
Consider bringing this in if they have Saprolings or a splash (or both, preferably). [I’ve actually been thinking this is maindeck material lately, at least partially because of all the two-mana lands people are playing and partially because there are a lot of one-toughness dudes/plants out there. – Knut]
Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
Unless you have a considerable amount of Dredge cards, this probably won’t become large enough to be worth playing…plus you have to spend five mana just to create an attacker/blocker for one turn… plus it doesn’t tap for colored mana. Rough break.
Better in sealed. Feel free to bring it in against Green/White though.
How random is this guy’s ability? It’s kinda like giving a creature “T: Destroy target Greater Realm of Preservation” or a land Protection from Blue. Sacrificing a creature – even a Saproling, at times – is a prohibitive cost. It would be especially awful to topdeck this when you had no creatures in play. Maybe if it had a certain ability that everyone always says would make anything 3/3 or larger “better”…
This doesn’t affect the board. Don’t play it unless you have 1-2 ILL things to transmute it into. Good is simply not enough. They have to be ILL. E-mail me if you don’t understand ILL.
Probably worth putting in against other Green decks in place of whatever your most worthless card happens to be.
If you take this, do it knowing full well that it’s a raredraft. It’s nearly impossible to tailor draft decks around this card, and it’s likely to bite you in the ass when you flip over Siege Wurm or even a Greater Mossdog. It provides card advantage at the cost of having a chance to win any damage race.
Life From the Loam
This wasn’t particularly well-written, but then again, I have a plethora of viable excuses for that. I’m rusty; I read and edit other people’s writing now so it makes it harder to remember my own writing style; I’m lazy; I’m depressed; I’m stupid; I’m ugly; I’ve long since run out of ideas; my Blindside is distracting me; pick any or all of these – the world is your oyster. My writing might get better in the ensuing weeks. If it doesn’t, you can always eschew my articles in favor of the potential Pulitzer material on the “other” websites. Your choices are “bad” and “worse,” folks. You’re doomed. DOOOOMED.
I leave you all with an important reminder:
Have a wonderful week, and wish me luck in LA. Maybe if all of you wish hard enough, and all of my opponents drop dead, I’ll be able to get second place, losing to Masashi Oiso lifeless corpse in the finals.
Post Signoff Bonus
Let’s ease back into this with a nice, simple Top Five Songs of the Week list.
5. The Strokes “Juicebox” – God, what a stupid song name. I despise these cooler-than-thou hipsters more than you could ever imagine. Listen to the first sive seconds of the song, though, and you’ll find out why this makes the list.
4. Death Cab for Cutie “Soul Meets Body” – There isn’t too much to say about this one. It’s just a really good song if you can tolerate wuss music on any level. It’s in its 7th week in the top 5 and is a solid contender for my illustrious Top 20 Songs Of The Year, for those of you who love meaningless irrelevant charts.
3. Finch “Bitemarks and Bloodstains” – I may look like an ugly, grizzled 50-year-old man, but I’m really a fat, ugly 15-year-old emo girl at heart. I like melodic songs from this genre so much that I’m willing to overlook 1) the title of the song; 2) the metaphor “on a bed of lack of passion;” and 3) the “word” subsequentially. Did the singer of Incubus write this song or something?
2. Fall Out Boy “Dance, Dance” – Far superior to “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down,” but then again, how could it not be? People must like the “going down in an earlier round” line an awful lot. That’s my only explanation. Anyway, Mr. Stump’s voice doesn’t sound nearly as stupid in this song, and it’s like… faster, I guess? Seriously, get this one and delete Sugar from your memory. Thanks to Cedric Phillips, among others, for turning me onto this one before the general public knew about it.
1. Avenged Sevenfold “Bat Country” – The higher we get on the list, the more effort it seems like I should be spending trying to defend myself. I love the trite quasi-angsty “introspective” lyrics in the chorus, which happens to have a killer melody to boot. Throw in some tempo changes and a minute-long guitar solo – yes, you read that correctly – and you’ve got the makings of an instant classic.
*I chat with Mike Abraham on AIM too much.
**I know what it’s called. Thanks, though.
***Don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense to you.
****(Baby bye bye bye etc).