The Simic Combine

Celebrate Simic Week and prepare for Grand Prix Charlotte this weekend with Zvi’s guide to Simic in Gatecrash Draft!

Simic decks in Gatecrash Limited have many requirements that you must fulfill. If you fail to provide all of them, your deck will have a serious problem. A large number of powerful cards is not enough. In order to function, you need to have enough evolve creatures, enough early drops, enough evolve enablers, evasion, and ways to interfere with opposing bombs.

If you don’t have the early drops, you’ll fall behind and be forced to block instead of forcing them to block, and blocking is the worst. Threatening to block is fine, but actually doing so is terrible and never works.

If you don’t have the evolve creatures, your deck won’t do anything powerful enough to win matches; you’ll be playing a bad Gruul deck. If you don’t have the evolve enablers, your evolve creatures will be unable to win fights against guilds with better combat tools or be unable to force through enough damage against Orzhov and Dimir. If you don’t have the tools to force through, your opponents can select their battles, and even one problematic creature can buy large amounts of time. Then there’s the issue that opponents will have trump cards that you cannot easily deal with.

These requirements, especially the dynamics of the particular evolve creatures that you have, make the pick order for Simic far more fluid than the other guilds. Finding your missing pieces and making sure you hit your targets take priority over card quality in pack three—and can do so even in pack two. Here are the targets in detail:

1. You must play at least eighteen creatures.

There is no way to operate Simic without enough good men. Even the supplemental early drops are crucial to evolve’s progress in order to avoid wasting powerful creatures on the first or second +1/+1 counter, and make sure that your creatures at least get enough power to be useful. Virtual creatures like Miming Slime and Stolen Identity count as men in this equation.

Since you’ve got a bunch of other requirements to fulfill, ideally you won’t want to go above twenty creatures, but going as high as 24 (look ma, no spells!) has its advantages if you have enough evasion combined with virtual spells from bloodrush.

2. You must have at least five two-drops.

Not playing a creature on turn 2 is very bad, especially against Boros or Small Gruul, and lets many other decks off the hook. An evolve creature is much better than a non-evolve creature, but given you intend to have Cloudfin Raptor at one, how bad it is to miss, and how important it will be eventually to be able to double cast in the same turn, cards like Disciple of the Old Ways are fine.

Sometimes even a vanilla 2/1 is better than missing out, but a lot depends on your evolve creatures. A creature that can’t properly evolve your men is a liability. Playing more than eight two-drops will prevent proper evolution, especially if you’re not playing an unusually large number of creatures; the ideal is six or seven.

3. You must have at least six evolve creatures.

Simic needs to evolve. You’re going to invest heavily in drafting a deck that can properly evolve your creatures, so you’ll need evolve creatures to pay you off on that. Adaptive Snapjaw doesn’t count and the more of them you have the better, but the danger is too many copies of the same one. Getting five Shamblesharks is a mixed blessing since they can’t evolve each other, although if you know about it early, you can invest heavily in keeping the counters coming.

Cloudfin Raptor is a partial exception, but more than four of even Raptor starts to create awkwardness. Almost every creature in Simic has rapidly decreasing marginal returns, especially after the second copy.

4. Your creatures must properly evolve and be capable of getting four power.

Keeping the curve low is important to set up and get your evolve creatures ready quickly, but a curve that doesn’t go high at all will leave you stuck with a bunch of Hill Giants where you would otherwise be able to create an unstoppable army. This means drafting a few creatures that can do the job.

Leyline Phantasm is perfect for the job, and you very much want one and are usually happy to run two. If you have nothing else that does the trick, you’ll need to go deep with cards like Adaptive Snapjaw. Your early drops that aren’t evolve creatures need to have power/toughness combinations that allow them to start the evolutionary process.

5. You must have combat tricks, evasion, or ways to remove blockers.

Bloodrush is perfect for this, so if possible steal some of it in the form of Slaughterhorn and Ghor-Clan Rampager, both of which are excellent for making sure evolution continues. Burst of Strength can help fill this role if you need it.

If you have multiple Drakewing Krasis, a lot of Cloudfin Raptors, or otherwise have a lot of flying or evasion, it makes having other tricks less important. It’s much better to have good men with no tricks than tricks with no good men, but you still very much want them. One Gridlock can go a surprisingly long way here.

6. You must have an answer to bombs.

This isn’t always possible since there are only a handful of cards that do this and fit into your plans. Simic Charm is perfect for this, but no commons are. The ones that come closest are Spell Rupture and Hands of Binding, which are far from ideal; Spell Rupture is at best a necessary evil.

7. You must get enough playables.

This does not go without saying, as much as you would like it to. You need eight playable cards per pack. Simic has a very thin line between playable and unplayable cards. Even when you are the only true Simic player, often there will only be one or two solid cards that don’t make the cut, and if there is anyone fighting, the packs are strange, or you take a few picks to figure out what is open, you often end up having to go deep to round out your deck.

It’s therefore important to pick up cards that can serve as emergency finishing glue for your deck, especially large men that can enable evolve, rather than using your late picks in other ways. Guildgates are great to have, but taking them over playables is very risky, so don’t do it unless and until you are ahead of the clock and almost never take them over a card that solves your problems.

In order to accomplish these seven things, you basically have to finish the Eightfold Path with…

8. You must be the only Simic drafter.

Splitting Simic is not a good idea. It’s fine if a few cards are stolen, but another player trying for an evolve curve doesn’t leave either of you with enough playables. You can split Orzhov or Boros without a problem, but that’s not the case here. That is why it is so important to consider “the leave” in every pack; creating a Simic player on your left is very bad, and even when that doesn’t happen, the card has to go somewhere. Writing more extensively on draft dynamics would be another article, so I won’t say more about this here.

Now for the card rankings. It’s early in the drafting season, so the rankings for rares and especially mythics are very rough. Several of them seem very strong but I have yet to see them in play, so the ranking in those cases is based mostly on deck theory. In pack one, you want to focus more on cutting off tempting Simic cards from other players and in securing your base of evolve creatures since those are the issues that cause epic Simic train wrecks. In pack two, either you’re desperately trying to get your evolve base together or you’re looking for the proper supports and tricks. If you have your base together, you can draft more on the basis of raw power.

In pack three, you can try to wheel uniquely Simic cards without worrying they will not only not come back but contribute to a war over the guild, so taking shared cards like Slaughterhorn and Cloudfin Raptor early to try to table gold cards is a strong play. This is also when you know whether you’re desperate for a certain piece of the puzzle; if you still don’t have it, suck it up and take the third pick Leyline Phantasm or otherwise draft out of sequence rather than risk the card not coming back.

Note that this list does not factor in the signaling dynamics of the cards you are passing. This is how happy you are to have the card in your pile, not how unhappy you are to pass it along to the left early. If you know this is where you want to be, this changes the order dramatically in favor of gold and uniquely Simic cards. This is because it’s fine to pass a Slaughterhorn or even Crocanura or Cloudfin Raptor if you have to, but if you pass an Elusive Krasis or Shambleshark, as far as I’m concerned that is a very high price since you can easily create another Simic player that way. The door must be closed and other doors opened.

The list also doesn’t factor in the value of these cards in Gruul or Dimir decks. Starting with Cloudfin Raptor, Crocanura, or Slaughterhorn is the place you want to be in commons when looking Simic if possible since you can slot them into a second guild, but don’t do this at the expense of passing Shambleshark or Drakewing Krasis (or do it but look to go Gruul, which is obviously fine).

Here are my current rankings:

Windmill Slam

Master Biomancer
Simic Manipulator
Ooze Flux (only a slam when you’re all-in, but wow when you are)
Stolen Identity (makes unblockables much better)
Prime Speaker Zegana
Zameck Guildmage (but don’t be afraid to trade him off)
Gyre Sage

Happy First Picks

Cloudfin Raptor (only common you actively want 4+ of)
Experiment One
Elusive Krasis
Simic Charm (windmill slam if you’re set on your curve)
Crowned Ceratok
Shambleshark (you’ll run up to five if you have them)
Skarrg Goliath (if your bases are covered, move this up)
Biomass Mutation (slam if you’re already fully there)
Slaughterhorn (very good if your evolve leans toughness)
Drakewing Krasis (very important to not pass these)
Rubblebelt Raiders (ridiculous, but you need mana help)
Fathom Mage (it can be very good but isn’t as good as it looks)
Frilled Oculus (excellent, but often doesn’t solve your problems)
Wasteland Viper

Always Want At Least One

Sapphire Drake (if you need a way to win, move this up)
Nimbus Swimmer (ultimate curve insurance policy)
Mystic Genesis (need to play with it to know)
Rapid Hybridization (can rise to slam level if you have zero bomb answers late)
Ghor-Clan Rampager (if this solves two problems, it’s a first pick)
Pit Fight (moves up once you cover the basics)
Leyline Phantom (but you can table this or get it later)
Hands of Binding (decreasing marginal returns, do not overpay early)
Simic Guildgate (until you get ahead, you can’t take it over playables but want 2-3)

Happy Running

Mindeye Drake
Diluvian Primordial
Greenside Watcher (move up/down based on Gate count)
Disciple of the Old Ways (don’t run Gruul Guildgate for this alone)
Gridlock (they’re mostly free, and you want one but usually not two)
Incursion Specialist (better if your evolve curve loves him)
Burst of Strength
Agoraphobia (a lot of good things can happen)
Spell Rupture
Giant Adephage

Willing to Run

Rust Scarab (perfectly good)
Metropolis Sprite (if you’re short on two-drops, but you’re looking to not play it)
Totally Lost
Keymaster Rogue (only if your curve cooperates or you’re desperate to evolve)
Ivy Lane Denizen (high variance)
Adaptive Snapjaw (pick these up late in case you need them)

Card 24

Nightveil Specter (gets better if you can lean and/or Guildgate)
Bioshift (gets no respect, but pick it up for free)
Way of the Thief (moves up if you have lots of Gates, worthless without 2+)
Simic Fluxmage (this plays much worse than it looks)
Clinging Anemones (wants to be sideboard material)
Last Thoughts
Burning-Tree Emissary
Verdant Haven (bomb splashes only)
Urban Evolution (need bombs to draw into)
Biovisionary (for power-leaning evolve curves)
Voidwalk (sometimes you go deep)
Merfolk of the Depths (desperate times)

Sideboard Material

Hindervines (actively good to have available in your board)
Naturalize (surprisingly rare that this gets brought in)
Tower Defense
Forced Adaptation
Scatter Arc
Predator’s Rapport
Sage’s Row Denizen (stop trying to make this happen outside Dimir)
Spire Tracer
Sylvan Primordial
Wildwood Rebirth

Worthless Paper

Enter the Infinite
Alpha Authority
Serene Remembrance