By John McCurdy
Now that we’ve finally arrived in the City of Guilds and are happily exploring our old haunts and discovering what’s new this time around, there are plenty of hot takes on the format flying around. While I don’t have any groundbreaking analysis to offer quite yet, I did want to look back at prerelease weekend, reflect on a few early impressions and give my hearty recommendation that you get out there and play with this sweet new set!
So, as an introduction: I spent Sunday, Sept. 30 at Dabbers Cards and Games with 29 other like-minded planeswalkers. We all cracked our guild-themed kits - of which I had opted for the Dimir variety - crafted decks, played some matches and celebrated Guilds of Ravnica!
In lieu of posting my whole pool - which would be a little tedious and difficult to process, not to mention of less worth considering the special guild-themed packs that lead you down a certain path - I figured I’d start by showing you the decklist and then explain some of the specifics of what I had and why I made the choices I did.
1 Hired Poisoner
1 Whispering Snitch
1 Nightveil Sprite
1 Passwall Adept
1 House Guildmage
1 Darkblade Agent
1 Whisper Agent
1 Pitiless Gorgon
1 Dimir Informant
1 Spinal Centipede
1 Nightveil Predator
1 Wishcoin Crab
1 Murmuring Mystic
1 Bartizan Bats
1 Citywatch Sphinx
1 Affectionate Indrik
2 Deadly Visit
1 Selective Snare
1 Sinister Sabotage
1 Dazzling Lights
1 Dead Weight
1 Capture Sphere
1 Dimir Guildgate
1 Overgrown Tomb
So, off the bat, the guild-themed pack contained a Ritual of Soot as my promo. Board wipes are powerful, and I assumed that one in particular would be especially good against Boros, but I knew it would wipe a lot of Dimir’s smaller value creatures (of which I had many). So I started with my default being to only consider it in specific stilted matchups.
What I liked out of the seeded pack was a Whispering Snitch, a Deadly Visit, a Nightveil Predator, a Sinister Sabotage and a Darkblade Agent. There’s a great value creature and surveil payoff; a strong unconditional removal spell with surveil tacked on; a nigh-impossible-to-answer semi-bomb; one of the best Limited counterspells we’ve seen in a while; and another solid creature with surveil payoff. Good stuff.
The rest of my packs brough one on-guild mythic rare, but not one of the two you really want - Mnemonic Betrayal. I again defaulted to only bringing it out of the board if I saw just the right matchup for it. I also got a Hatchery Spider, Pelt Collector and Erratic Cyclops - all strong cards, but none made for a no-brainer splash.
Speaking of splashing, though, my last rare was an Overgrown Tomb. My Guildgates included one Dimir, one Izzet, one Selesnya and three Boros. The Tomb and Izzet Guildgate meant to me that a single green or red splash - hopefully higher up the curve - would definitely be doable with the help of perhaps one additional basic of the splash card’s color.
The rest of my cards included some very solid playables in my colors. There was a Capture Sphere, a Citywatch Sphinx, a Murmuring Mystic, a Nightveil Sprite (was really hoping to pull that, if only for the awesome art), another Deadly Visit and a Dead Weight. As for splashes, there was very little in red - only six monocolor cards, the best of which was a Direct Current - and a Piston-Fist Cyclops and Sonic Assault in the gold/hybrid camp.
In green, however, there was the hug monster himself, Affectionate Indrik. That was a perfect splash in my mind: high up enough up the curve that I didn’t need my green right away and not color-intensive, but a solid late-game two-for-one. I also had a Sprouting Renewal, which I figured I could bring in if I faced down a tough enchantment.
The last few slots came down to the Passwall Adept, a second Spinal Centipede, a second Dazzling Lights and the Selective Snare. I went with the Adept and the Snare, but the Adept was definitely underwhelming. It came out for a Disdainful Stroke in several games. Speaking of Stroke, I think it might just be maindeckable in Sealed and Draft alike, even against Boros. It tends to find a good or even great target on turns five or six.
Round One: Alex
My opponent in the first round, Alex, was a great guy who had recently started playing paper after learning on Arena. He was playing Boros with a black splash and had solid rules knowledge, though he occasionally did things a little oddly, like playing combat tricks main phase without clear reason (i.e., no mentor abilities to trigger).
Game one went my way, with me being able to nullify a turn-two Boros Challenger with a Dead Weight and then assemble the uncommon combo of Nightveil Sprite and Whispering Snitch. I was able to trade off a Hired Poisoner for a Hammer Dropper, and while it mentored a counter onto a Healer’s Hawk in the attack, my Citywatch Sphinx came down to close the game out in short order.
Game two “went a bit differently,” as they say. A reasonable start for both of us saw a Passwall Adept staring down the Boros Challenger, but turn four for Alex was tapping out for Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice. I sweated for a turn, casting a Wishcoin Crab and passing the turn, and then took a big hit from Aurelia, who pumped herself with her ability and mentored a counter onto the Challenger (which I blocked with the Crab).
I got lucky on the next draw step and topdecked one of my Deadly Visits. I snapped it off to kill Aurelia and on subsequent turns was able to again assemble the Sprite-Snitch combo, but I remained on the back foot, as the Challenger remained tough to take down and was soon able to mentor a counter onto a Parhelion Patrol. Still, I was in it, able to gain some life off the Snitch and various instances of surveil.
All that changed, though, when Truefire Captain hit the table from Alex’s hand. At two life, I needed to be able to surveil on my turn in order to gain a life and then block the Captain with a two-power blocker, but I’d had to chump the Parhelion Patrol with my Sprite on an earlier turn, and I didn’t draw a card with surveil.
Thus, the match was tied...and it remained as such. Time had been called before our second game finished, and the judge had us go ahead and draw instead of trying to finish game three in five turns. Worry not, though, the pack for the match win did not go unclaimed; I later approached the judge to ask if I could concede to let Alex get the pack, and he obliged. Good games and more cards added to a new paper player’s collection is a win in my book!
Round Two: Josh
My next match was against the People’s Republic’s own Josh. He’d opened an Izzet prerelease kit but alluded to his deck having failed him in match one and him having subsequently changed things up, so I definitely didn’t know what to expect going in.
Within the first few turns, it became apparent Josh had truly abandoned the League, as he played a Selesnya Guildgate into a Forest and a Swamp and cast an Erstwhile Trooper. I meanwhile played a House Guildmage into a Whisper Agent on Josh’s end step and then decided to swing with the Whisper Agent. I figured if I traded the Agent with a creature in Josh’s hand, I was happy with the exchange.
He did indeed pump the Trooper, and while the creature he discarded was nothing special, I was fine just casting a Dimir Informant and seeing if he’d stick to the Trooper plan. Sure enough, he swung in with the Trooper, and when I blocked with the Informant, he discarded another filler creature to it. Fair enough; I knew I’d seen my Citywatch Sphinx with the surveil and was pretty content to draw it, make my land drops and start tapping the Trooper with the Guildmage before attacks until I could slam the Sphinx.
Luckily, the game went just as planned, and even though Josh was able to add to the board and convoke in a Siege Wurm, I added a Hired Poisoner to the ground to scare off attackers while the Sphinx took Josh’s life total to zero. We went to sideboarding and I quickly sided out the Passwall Adept for a Disdainful Stroke, having seen the Wurm and knowing there was at least some convoke aspect to Josh’s deck.
Game two went fairly similarly, though Josh suffered from a bit of mana flood. The Trooper came back down and attacked a couple of times (once unblocked and pumped, once blocked with a Spinal Centipede and pumped), but soon there were no more creatures with discarding, and my Pitiless Gorgon held off other ground attackers.
On a critical turn, Josh tapped a ton of mana and a couple of creatures to convoke out a 9/9 Worldsoul Colossus, but I was able to Disdainful Stroke it - remember, it has a converted mana cost of two except when it’s on the stack, so as long as X is two or more, Stroke can hit it. Bartizan Bats started getting in via the air, and Affectionate Indrik eventually came down and hugged a ground blocker to death so that a few additional attackers could seal the deal. Match win secured!
Round Three: Michael
In the third round, I faced yet another great opponent in Michael. He mentioned that he really liked his deck, and that while it hadn’t cooperated to the point that it could really do its thing in his previous matches, it was playing well enough. I saw a Selesnya prerelease box, so I had a guess as to what that “thing” might be.
Game one wasn’t particularly kind to me, as a Vernadi Shieldmate and Parhelion Patrol bearing a counter from Guildmages’ Forum did not match up well against my lone Spinal Centipede in the first few turns. I was able to slow things down with a Dimir Informant and a Deadly Visit on the Patrol, but when a Rosemane Centaur and Siege Wurm came down over the next two turns, I was in no position to mount either an offense or a defense and fairly soon asked to go to game two.
I sided back in the Disdainful Stroke, and then we each mulliganed to six and somewhat reluctantly kept our hands. I was able to get the House Guildmage down on turn two and follow it up with a Spinal Centipede, and Michael suffered from a lack of lands for several turns. I chose to use the opportunity to get aggressive, tapping down his Vernadi Shieldmate with the Guildmage and repeatedly bash with the Centipede. In hindsight, this wasn’t a great plan, but I was hoping to punch in a lot of damage before the big guns got convoked out.
Soon, the drought was over for Michael, and he powered out both Emmara, Soul of the Accord and a Sumala Woodshaper bearing counters from Guildmage’s Forum. While his board got bigger and wider, mine stayed mostly the same, though a Dimir Informant was able to surveil away a couple lands, and a Dazzling Lights cast on Emmara after she’d been blocked by the Spinal Centipede resulted in the legend going down and another useless land from the top of my deck going to the bin.
As the lands began to come for Michael, I noticed two Boros Guildgates among them, and started wondering what kind of splash was in store. The answer came soon, with the massive Swathcutter Giant coming down, and the Response side of Response // Resurgence showing my Citywatch Sphinx to the graveyard on its first attack.
I was able to give the Giant a Deadly Visit and continue to surveil away lands, but I still had no offense and was staring down a pretty big board. Michael then put Vivid Renewal to excellent use, grabbing Emmara, the Swathcutter Giant and Response // Resurgence back from the yard. I could feel my demise fast approaching as Emmara came back to the battlefield, and while I countered the Giant, two alpha strikes the following turn via Resurgence sent me packing.
Round Four: Aiden
The final match of the day was against Aiden, who was a bit more reserved than my previous opponents but no less pleasant to play against. In game one, he stalled on two lands, and I felt a little shame in immediately casting Dead Weight on his first play, a Vernadi Shieldmate. I continued to chip in with a House Guildmage and Dimir Informant and soon added the pincher himself - Wishcoin Crab - to the squad.
Aiden landed a good blocker in Hitchclaw Recluse, but I continued to swing out with my team. I countered a larger creature with Sinister Sabotage, swung again on my turn, then added a Whisper Agent to the board on Aiden’s end step. While he’d added a blocker, I was able to Selective Snare it back to his hand and deal lethal with one more swing.
Game two played out similarly, with a couple key differences. First, Aiden had a Guildmage’s Forum that added some beef to his blockers, which again included a Hitchclaw Recluse, as well as a Wild Ceratok. My Darkblade Agent kept getting in, though, with the threat of instant-speed surveil up and a Pitiless Gorgon on defense. Then, Aiden’s bomb finally reared its ugly head.
Okay, Light of the Legion actually has a very pretty head, but I stuck it in a Capture Sphere immediately and maintained my gameplan. The next turn I drew Nightveil Predator for the first time all day, and I swung out after playing it, knowing that hexproof would keep it safe until it could attack and help close things out. Aiden somewhat suspiciously attacked with his Hitchclaw Recluse on the following turn, and I opted to not block, fearing a combat trick would take out my flier and not minding the two damage.
As it turns out, it was just a bad attack, as he conceded on my swing the following turn. And that wrapped up my Guilds of Ravnica prerelease - a 2-1-1 record and a whole lot of fun!
First things first: as the first Ravnica set I’ve got to experience (outside of our RTR block sealed event a few weeks ago), I love this plane and the guild setup. Multicolor sets have always been among my favorites, and the flavor is on point.
Secondly, I see why people speak so highly of Dimir, at least in Sealed. Surveil is terrific - it has the key elements of being both a positive effect (getting better card selection) and triggering some decent payoffs (Whispering Snitch, Darkblade Agent, Blood Operative and Dimir Spybug if you open them).
The format doesn’t seem too fast, but I know anyone who went up against a committed Boros deck would beg to differ. The ideal Boros aggro deck won’t come together in regular Sealed quite as often as it did at prereleases without the seeded packs, but it’s most certainly a very real thing in draft.
The Guildmages this time around aren’t busted, but they’re quite good - in fact, I’d go so far as to say that most of the gold cards really pay you off for committing to casting a spell of multiple colors. And of course, that’s easier than ever with Guildgates flying around; I’m sure four- and five-color decks will have some success, though I don’t know if I’ll ever have the guts to go for it.
In general, I’m just really excited to play more GRN Limited, and I can’t wait to draft over the next several weekends with the People’s Republic at Diesel. Hope to see you there!