By John McCurdy
I descended upon Dabbers Cards and Games for their Sunday afternoon Ravnica Allegiance prerelease totally pumped to get my hands on the new set and represent the Simic Combine. Two friends and fellow People of the Republic, Al and Steven, were of the exact same mind, and so the three Simic boys cracked our packs and built our decks together!
Out of the box, my prerelease promo was a Growth-Chamber Guardian, a totally solid two-drop that quickly becomes a larger threat. While I didn’t luck into a second copy in my pool, I was happy to start with that and several other solid cards out of the seeded pack, including a Frilled Mystic, Chillbringer, Combine Guildmage and Gyre Engineer.
Until my last regular pack, I didn’t open any on-color rares, scoring stinkers Smothering Tithe and Font of Agonies, the solid-but-not-worth-splashing Tithe Taker and splashy Captive Audience. The last pack, however, had a foil Sphinx of Foresight hiding behind a Rix-Maadi Reveler - bomb acquired!
The deck came together pretty easily, with the focus being on creatures, tempo spells and combat tricks. Of course, we all know Simic’s big weakness is a lack of direct removal, so I tagged my Lawmage’s Binding from the second I saw it as something I’d want to splash. I lucked into an Azorius Guildgate and eventually decided to supplement it with a couple of Plains so I could include the two Azorius Knight-Arbiters I’d pulled.
Here’s how the list came out:
1 Growth-Chamber Guardian
1 Sauroform Hybrid
1 Combine Guildmage
2 Faerie Duelist
1 Steeple Creeper
1 Gyre Engineer
1 Senate Courier
1 Axebane Beast
1 Sphinx of Foresight
1 Frilled Mystic
2 Azorius Knight-Arbiter
1 Mammoth Spider
1 Windstorm Drake
1 Shimmer of Possibility
1 Gift of Strength
1 Applied Biomancy
1 Code of Constraint
1 Lawmage’s Binding
2 Simic Guildgate
1 Azorius Guildgate
The cards left on the cutting room floor included a Rubble Slinger, Humongulous, Silhana Wayfinder, Territorial Boar and two Quench. In hindsight, the Wayfinder might have been a nice way to set myself up for the midgame, whereas Axebane Beast did close to nothing. I also had two Frenzied Arynx and a Bolrac Clan Crusher - plus a Gruul Guildgate and a couple Gruul Lockets - but with no removal in red, I decided the white splash was the better way to go.
Round One: Steven
The Simic mirror! Steven and I didn’t even have to move from our seats with this pairing, and having built across from each other and shown off our pulls, we knew each other’s decks to at least some degree.
In the games, Steven’s mana and creatures seemed to keep ahead of my own pretty reliably. His Sauroform Hybrid was an issue each time it showed itself, quickly becoming a massive threat after adapting. On one particularly memorable turn, he dumped all his counters from a heavily laden board onto a Galloping Lizrog and grew it into a 39/39 monster!
I topdecked a Plains for my Lawmage’s Binding and shut it down quickly - but I was too behind at that point to last more than another turn. I started Game Two with my Sphinx of Foresight in hand - a good sign, I thought - but again got out-valued by a huge Biogenic Upgrade across three creatures already sporting counters. The sweep was complete shortly after, and yours truly was on the receiving end.
Round Two: Sean
I matched up with another People’s Republic member, Sean, in the second round. He mentioned having gone with Rakdos as his guild but abandoning it for this match, having pulled no real power. Thus I went in without much inkling as to what I would be facing.
Game One featured my white splash playing a big role, with an Azorius Knight-Arbiter providing the bulk of the damage, backed by Steeple Creeper leaping through the air. I managed to close it out against what looked to be an Orzhov/Azorius hybrid with a tiny splash of red. Intriguing!
My opener for Game Two featured a familiar face: Sphinx of Foresight. It’s tough to turn down a hand with that in it, and it did considerable work before getting exiled with a Bring to Trial. One of the keys was just remembering the upkeep trigger each turn when it’s in play - don’t hesitate to put a die on top of your deck or use another trick to make sure you don’t miss it.
Back to the action: both Azorius Knight-Arbiters soon came along to finish up what the Sphinx had started, and I scored the match win 2-0. Even heading into Round Three!
Round Three: Doug
My opponent in the third round, Doug, had picked Gruul, and his deck was filled with the Clans’ trademark big, hasty creatures. He did feature a black splash that we’ll get to in Game Two...but as for Game One, I simply couldn’t handle the size of his creatures, and a timely Act of Treason to steal an adapted Scuttlegator sent me packing.
Game Two started with - what do you know - revealing my Sphinx of Foresight from hand and scrying three to kick it off. I hoped to be able to keep up and cast some tempo spells like Applied Biomancy and Arrester’s Admonition in this game to steal the win, as I had dealt a chunk of damage in Game One. Things looked OK once the Sphinx landed, and I was poised to start attacking in the skies.
Then came Priest of the Forgotten Gods on the aforementioned black splash, and with both boards built out, I knew this could put me in some awkward situations. That was exactly what I faced when Doug cast an Act of Treason on my Sphinx, attacked me with it and sacked it with the Priest. While I wasn’t dead on the spot, I was the next turn, and so ended Round Three - back to a losing record, 1-2. Oh well!
Round Four: Wes
Gruul was again the opposition versus Wes. Again, my gameplan was to play tempo spells to delay the big creatures that the guild is known for and meanwhile crack back with fliers and adapted ground-pounders.
The first game let my Aeromunculus and Chillbringer stretch their wings, and while I was pressured somewhat on the ground, Scuttlegator came along to shore up the defense soon enough. I took a big hit when my Aeromunculus was stolen with another Act of Treason, but cracked back for the win.
After deciding Quench was too reactive of a card to side in when racing was the gameplan, I shuffled up, drew my seven for Game Two and once again saw the Sphinx. Talk about luck to have it in the opener four times!
The early turns played out similarly to how they had in the first game, except Wes had a Rhythm of the Wild on turn three that I feared would gain him a lot of incremental advantage over the game. Of course, Sphinx of Foresight affords me incremental advantage - albeit of a different kind - and also beats down to boot. I steadily clocked the opponent in the air, and on a critical turn where he needed to deal with the Sphinx, I was able to flash in Frilled Mystic and counter his Applied Biomancy that would have otherwise bounced my bomb.
I took it the next turn and ended up at the .500 mark, 2-2! Not too bad!
Ravnica Allegiance seems like a fantastic set and perhaps better balanced than Guilds of Ravnica was. While I didn’t face a Rakdos deck, I saw Gruul and Simic decks do their thing and several Azorius cards shine. A couple of Orzhov decks - one with the emerging boogeyman of the format, Ethereal Absolution - also apparently ran extremely well.
While the only one I saw in action was my own Frilled Mystic, I think all of the CCDD cards (four-drop creatures costing two of each color mana from their guild) are seriously good. Sunder Shaman and Basilica Bell-Haunt are fantastic, and Rakdos Firewheeler is a borderline bomb.
Simic (and to some degree Azorius) decks have to be a little creative in how they remove threats. While Azorius gets easy access to commons Lawmage’s Binding, Sky Tether and Summary Judgment, both blue-based guilds have to leverage Slimebind, Code of Constraint and Arrester’s Admonition as pseudo-removal. Titanic Brawl can’t bear all the weight in Simic, and splashing for red or white won’t always be easy.
Anyway, I’m thrilled to dive in more as this new Limited season gets underway, and I’ll see you all at Diesel for People’s Republic drafts on Sundays!