The Speed Demon of Ravnica Goes Fourth

After my last article, I was criticized in the forums for talking about the guild pairs as basic archetypes of Ravnica Sealed, since actual Sealed decks are almost always three or more colors. And it’s true that the three types of archetypes are all in some way related to the guilds, as not harnessing their power would just be foolish. Let’s take a look at them,. and see how they apply to drafts.

Grand Prix: Nottingham is almost upon us — so it’s time to get the thoughts and experiences on Ravnica Limited into some kind of order so we can to put it all to good use. I will be facing this GP with a whopping zero byes, as the cut-off date for rating-based byes was a week to early and I failed miserably in the two GP trials I managed to attend.

At this stage, I need to give mad slops to the English Tournament Organizers for not running more of these. C’mon, guys — the GP circuit only hits England once a year. Would it really hurt to run a little GP trial? The difference between having three byes and having one or no byes is gigantic, and it would be nice if more locals were given the hometown advantage of trial byes.

Having no byes whatsoever makes the task of making day 2 at the GP infinitely harder. With three byes, all you need is a winning record, 3-2, and you’re into day 2. With no byes, the required record is 6-1-1. Remember, this is at the highest level. I guess I’ll just have to knuckle down and beat the odds, as well as at least six of my opponents on Saturday.

Some Last Notes On Sealed
This past weekend were release events for ye olde city of guilds. They’re still fundamentally flawed as preparation for a Grand Prix, as they still use three boosters… But even flawed preparation can be useful, though, and I finally got to play with a good G/B deck. Furthermore, I lost my second round to either bad mulliganning or to mana screw/flood (however you prefer to look at it), and then had to pull myself out of it. In round three, both my opponent (Richard Collins, who used to be the highest-ranked Limited player in England) and I played atrociously, making more mistakes in any given turn than I made in the rest of the tournament. In the end, I somehow emerged victorious and from then on picked up my game to end the tournament in 5-1 and fourth place.

If I can show that mental strength on Saturday, all should be well.

Did I say good G/B deck? I should kick that up a notch and say "ludicrous" G/B deck. Here’s that particular beauty queen.

Creatures (17)
2 Thoughtpicker Witch
2 Transluminant
1 Golgari Guildmage
1 Roofstalker Wight
1 Carven Caryatid
1 Centaur Safeguard
1 Trophy Hunter
1 Stinkweed Imp
1 Savra, Queen of the Golgari
1 Mausoleum Turnkey
1 Mortipede
1 Scatter the Seeds
1 Golgari Rotwurm
1 Drooling Groodion
1 Sisters of Stone Death

Other Spells (7)
2 Farseek
2 Last Gasp
1 Disembowel
1 Putrefy
1 Moldervine Cloak

Land (16)
1 Dimir Aqueduct
1 Plains
6 Swamp
8 Forest

Having played a full six rounds with this deck, where much face-smashery ensued, I feel obliged to talk about some of the more interesting cards here.

Thoughtpicker Witch:
While removing good cards from an opponent’s library is nice (and doing so at the cost of one mana and a creature that’s dying anyway is quite cheap), it’s still not enough to convince me that this guy is awesome. I hear many people talking about how this guy was initially underrated, but now players are coming around to its power.

I’m not sold yet. It’s obviously good in a base G/W deck where there are many ways of generating many, many saprolings each turn, and it’s clearly also the bee’s knees in a deck like this one here, where there is some cannon fodder and Savra makes any sacrifice outlet golden. But how useful is this 1/1 when your opponent already has all his best men on the board and best spells in hand?

That being said, this creature definitely has its place and its ability is much better than Lurking Informant’s somewhat similar ability. I do think that those going around calling this a bomb are soon going to be silenced, as will those who wouldn’t play two of them in a deck like this. Playing Scatter the Seeds with this and Savra in play feels deliciously unfair.

Savra, Queen of the Golgari:
In case you weren’t aware, her abilities only trigger when you actually sacrifice a creature to something, not just when they regularly die. I never thought much of this queen, as her stats are rather unimpressive and her abilities require you to have some fairly specific card or other around.

In this deck, however she truly shines. With five cards that let you sacrifice any creature you want and two more that can sacrifice themselves, she rarely finds herself unable to do her thang. Sometimes she’s a bomb; other times a crappy 2/2 for four.

Trophy Hunter:
Trophy Hunter is one sexy human archer (though her nose suggests to me that she’s actually a Bajoran), but my experience with her didn’t let her get very big. Why is that? Simple, she’s the first target for removal in decks full of flyers and has nothing to shoot otherwise. However, many times it didn’t matter. As a 2/3 for three she can deliver the beats, and sometimes she can strand flyers in opponent’s hands, and keep Transluminants from turning into flying nuisances rather than ursine irrelevances. Just because a card isn’t fulfilling its primary function doesn’t mean it’s not making its contribution to the war effort.

I think I would’ve been better off playing the two Selesnya Signets in this deck. The big problem with this card is that, barring dual lands, it can’t get forests — which can be a problem when you’re waiting to cast that Carven Caryatid or Bramble Elemental. If your deck is very green-heavy, then you’re likely to want another forest many a time, when your deck is primarily non-green you oftentimes won’t even have the first green mana that allows you to play Farseek. So remember that sometimes an off-color signet is preferable to this.

Moldervine Cloak:
Still a bomb, in case anyone forgot.

The Land:
One of my opponents questioned why I was splashing blue just for the Roofstalker Wight. But I don’t consider this deck to be splashing blue, the Dimir Aqueduct is there to fulfil two purposes: 1) It gives me an additional mana source and 2) it gives the Wight flying. As it is basically replacing a swamp it doesn’t hurt my colored mana production one bit, so I think playing these lands in this way should become quite commonplace. The Plains is there to make the most of my Transluminants, and it doesn’t hurt the mana base too much, while being quite good at showing up when needed thanks to Farseek.

It is quite nice to be able to play things requiring four different colors in a two-color deck that doesn’t give up any of its consistency and doesn’t contain any cards that can be dead because you don’t have mana in the splash color.

The True Archetypes of Ravnica Sealed
After my last article, I was criticized in the forums for talking about the guild pairs as basic archetypes of Ravnica Sealed, since actual Sealed decks are almost always three or more colors. I think I was justified to talk in that way in principle, though there is indeed more to it. I find that there are three types of archetypes, and all are in some way related to the guilds, as not harnessing their power would just be foolish; U/G/r is not a viable archetype in this format.

Single-Guild Archetypes:
These are simple two-color decks following one of the guild combinations, with perhaps a splash or two. Their nature is dictated by the guild they’re based on, and it is such decks that I was primarily talking about last week. Just because they may have cards in four different colors doesn’t mean they’re not pure as rain Golgari or Boros decks.

Double-Guild Archetypes:
These come about mainly if you have a very deep bridge color (either B, G or W) and can hence utilize the power of both guilds that color is associated with, although you will also find four-color monstrosities in this category. These are potentially the most powerful archetypes if you can get them, but they also carry greater risk of color screw and may be a bit at odds with themselves.

Guild With Crutch Archetypes:
I had two examples of these in my last articles, where I called them “off-guild archetypes." Here we have a strong but somewhat shallow guild that is being propped up by a third color that isn’t associated with either of the guild colors and doesn’t need any help from its own guild brethren. Of course this is only if the crutch color is a main color, a U/B deck that splashes some Galvanic Arcs is still a single-guild deck.

I’m not entirely sure how this classification helps when building sealed decks, but it’s always useful to be a bit clearer about what you are doing and not just throwing random cards together hoping the result is a deck.

Right. That’s all I’m going to say about Sealed deck for now; it’s time to delve into drafting.

Draft Archetypes: U/B Aggro
This is definitely my favorite draft archetype in this set at the moment. Lots of reasonably efficient flying men and awesome black removal, with some defensive defending ground-pounders thrown in for good measure, leads to good times to be had by all. I also like how subversive this deck is in a way, as you’d expect U/B to be milling and generally to be defensive — and then this comes along and beats the crap out of you with a flying crowbar.

Snapping Drake is your marquee common, though as with all black archetypes the first few picks should be removal, barring a real bomb like Cerulean Sphinx or Helldozer.

The problem with U/B in general is that because there are two distinct archetypes and there aren’t very many cards that are useful in both, neither can really support more than one drafter at an 8-player table, and switching halfway through the draft can be difficult. I also don’t think that a hybrid deck works, as watering down either strategy with a completely unrelated secondary win condition just seems foolish to me.

The one exception to this is Szadek, Lord of Secrets, as he can win the game on his own in a measly three attacks, or act as an enormous blocker in a pinch (especially if you get an attack in first).

Taking black removal spells in your first few picks is a good way to start the draft and allows you to go into this deck, U/B mill or G/B at your leisure when it becomes apparent which archetype is open. If the Snapping Drakes come round, you are sorted. Of course the best cards for this deck are the bigger flyers, such as Moroii. If you got lots of black removal, then Dimir Cutpurse is obviously nuts. The Cutpurse also turns the otherwise not-so-impressive Flight of Fancy into a house. Defensive creatures are often good, but they aren’t as essential here as they are in the mill deck, though you shouldn’t always rely on getting them late.

U/B Control-Milling
I’ve only drafted this archetype once and it went completely wrong, even though I had four Entrancers. That’s because I didn’t realise that the key card in the archetype is Induce Paranoia. You need countering ability. Lots of countering ability. All the Entrancers in the world aren’t gonna save you if your opponent isn’t paranoid. Of course if your opponent is naturally paranoid you might get away with it, otherwise you’re better off with them counterspells.

People with more experience with this deck than I have written at great lengths about this archetype, including Aaron Cutler and Nick Eisel. Many are touting this as the best deck around, and they may be right.

However, this deck has no chance of being the best deck if everyone tries to have a piece of it. This deck cannot handle overdrafting in any way, shape or form. Much like last year’s dark horse archetype, Dampen.dec, this deck cannot handle the hype. While it is easier to draft and won’t die to people stealing your key spells the way Dampen did, it still won’t work if several people try to draft it. Take this as a warning; trying to force this deck will almost always put you either in the 3-0 bracket or the 0-3 bracket — with very little in between. Draft at your peril!

From my sealed deck experience I would say that this is best seen as a control deck, but I have never ended up in this color combination no matter how often I first-pick Putrefy. I am not sure how people get into this color combination, although it could be that I just always get hated out of this because everyone loves it so much.

I prefer more aggressive archetypes, anyway, so I really have nothing to say here.

G/W Saprolings
A lot of my friends consider Selesnya Evangel insane, including StarCityVs featured writer Tom “All Cards Are Either Insane or Rubbish” Reeve and Tomi “Stand-Up” Walamies, the man with the plan. Or was it the man with the number one composite rating in the world?

Anyway, the Evangel is awesome and should frequently be first-picked, though it can’t be entirely relied upon. Almost every time I’ve seen it played, it got nuked straight away.

I should get to the point. Selesnya Evangel is the card that exemplifies and defines G/W like no other. It’s vital as a cheap creature and awesome as a creature generator. It also personifies the problem of G/W; the necessity for a horde of creatures that can at times be too slow to come out or too fragile to get the job done. The convoke guys can be difficult to get out without the army to crittercast them.

All I’m saying here is that Selesnya is like U/B milling: a high-risk, high-reward strategy, though I think this has a much better claim at being the best archetype in the set because it is so much deeper.

Another interesting point I discussed with a certain number one ranked player in the world (composite) is whether or not G/W requires some splashed removal to be truly viable, like it often has in the past. Of course white has two excellent pieces of removal — Faith’s Fetters and Devouring Light — and green has Gaze of the Gorgon, which is very situational but gets many a job done. It’s still a bit thin, so a splash can often be good, and it is the color combination for which splashing is easiest, as there is allegiance with both black and red.

It is good to keep in mind that in many ways, it is good to not have to fight everyone else and their grandmother for black removal. If removal comes round, by all means take it and splash it, but I — unlike Tomi — don’t think you should feel too bad if you don’t have any. (Then again, this is Tomi we’re talking about – The Ferrett)

R/W Aggro
This is my second-favorite archetype. Drafting this is like solving a puzzle, and building your deck from the cards you drafted even more so. You need many creatures, all of which need to be aggressive and they have to follow a nice curve. Fliers are particularly valuable here, then you need some burn (and possibly other removal like Faith’s Fetters), and finally, the most important, and easily the most difficult, slot in the deck: finishers.

I could write a whole article about finishers in Boros decks. This guild is so dependent on tempo and almost always gets the opponent down to about five life before they can stabilize, at which point something has to deliver the final death blow. Sometimes the job can be done by flyers, Screeching Griffin being the obvious standout. Sometimes you can ping people to death, perhaps even by untapping your Viashino Fangtail with Rally the Righteous.

And speaking of Rally the Righteous, there’s the first card that can reasonably be called a finisher, allowing for an Alpha Strike victory of the greatest caliber and displaying superb synergy with the Fangtail and Thundersong Trumpeter. Another card that can allow for a lethal Alpha Strike is Bathe in Light, which of course also seconds superbly as a trump for many shenanigans your opponent may be up to. As a final alpha strike enabler we have Incite Hysteria, probably the best of the bunch (not counting the rare Master Warcraft) as it will almost certainly stop any blocking.

Another category of finishers is direct damage. This includes Sparkmage Apprentice, Rain of Embers, Lightning Helix, Blockbuster, Dogpile, and the rares Char, Searing Meditation, and Hammerfist Giant. The best of the lot is possibly Boros Fury Shield, though, especially against G/W decks that Convoke out big guys and then block with them.

So the question here is how many (and which) finishers do you play? Some of them are obviously versatile enough to make the cut regardless — but others will have one purpose and one purpose only in your deck. Then again, that purpose is so important that not having the right one may mean the difference between a 3-0 deck and a 0-3 deck. In my experience you need at least three or four cards that can finish, and it doesn’t usually hurt to have up to three designated finishers that are no good for anything else. After all, many of them combine quite nicely with each other — for instance, double Incite Hysteria for back-to-back Alpha Strikes, or Incite Hysteria for a non-lethal all-in, followed by Boros Fury Shield on their Siege Wurm on the counterattack.

Other R/W
No. Just no. Really. It does not work. I opened Razia, Boros Archangel in a draft the other day and tried drafting a more defensive R/W deck, playing things like Dromad Purebred and Torpid Moloch over the likes of Flame-Kin Zealot and Dogpile. The deck itself worked quite well, but that was because it played like an aggressive R/W deck most of the time anyway. The losses came to slower decks that most R/W decks can just overrun, whereas there was only one game I played where the defensive cards were better than the aggressive ones… And I would’ve won that one anyway thanks to the Archangel, without whom I would have lost in spite of the great defences.

Stick with mindless aggression.

U/R (A.k.a. Galvanic Arc.dec)
This is a puzzle like R/W — except with virtually no redundancy. There are many nice combos here, such as Viashino Fangtail + Tidewater Minion or Galvanic Arc + Drake Familiar, but if you don’t get the specific cards you will end up with a pile loaded with dis-synergy. Don’t get me wrong; this is quite draftable, but there are risks of not getting the cards you need, since there are no real alternatives to them. I haven’t been in a position to draft this so far and I don’t think it’ll come up often, but there is potential here that you should keep in mind.

Ravnica is still a blast, and I’m really looking forward to GP Nottingham. It’ll be a very different experience to the other GPs I’ve been to, which were always in the middle of the Magic release year and used much better known metagames — not to mention the fact that I had byes that took the pressure off my tie-breakers.

Have a good one!