Conducted by John McCurdy
The spirit of unrest on Ravnica is palpable, and allegiances are being forged in anticipation of a showdown. The new set is upon us, delivering the five remaining guilds upon the eagerly waiting masses of People’s Republic spellslingers!
As we did at the release of Guilds of Ravnica, five of our faithful are representing their guilds for a fun roundtable. Hear what Joshua Therrien, Leo Espinosa, Kelly Wright, Scott Hanenberg and Neil Banchero-Smith have to say on gameplay and flavor issues!
Those crazy Izzet scientists are known for going wild with their science, but any Ravnican can enjoy when a hodgepodge of creatures and spells somehow works out well. So what’s your favorite on-guild deck - Constructed or Limited - that you’ve ever assembled?
Joshua Therrien, Gruul Clans: Science for the weak. Bloodrush for the strong! My favorite Limited deck in Gruul was at a Draft in a smaller pod while we were playing Dragon's Maze, Gatecrash and RTR. It seemed like every pack I had a crack at had either a good two- or three-drop in red or green or a sweet bloodrush creature. Not every deck gets 11 combat tricks, 20 creatures and two pieces of removal (both Pit Fight). There was a game where I got to pump Riot Piker with Rubblebelt Maaka three times and Ghor-Clan Rampager once. Those were the days…
Leo Espinosa, Azorius Senate: So I think my favorite Limited deck ever assembled was an Azorius deck during M19. “What?! M19 produced someone’s favorite Limited experience? What was it?” Limited Spirits!
Somewhere near the first few picks I saw a Supreme Phantom passed to me, which, for M19, was not a particularly great card. Thing is, I was very strongly hoping I would pick up a second copy of it which, much to my happiness, I did! I had already picked up a couple Departed Deckhands and was pretty deep blue-white at the time. I also picked up a Remorseful Cleric and, to top it all off, a Mirror Image. There was one particular board state in which I was beating my opponent down with a 5/5 unblockable Departed Deckhand.
This being my favorite Limited deck actually encouraged me to attempt a janky UW Spirits during M19 Standard, which didn’t fare too well but was still super fun. And then I decided to build Bant Spirits for Modern, which is a nearly complete deck!
Kelly Wright, Cult of Rakdos: The unleash mechanic in Return to Ravnica was one of my favorites for Limited deckbuilding. Who wants to block when the objective is to get your opponent to 0 life? Rakdos’s Return also had special significance to me, because it was the best I could get to express my contempt for Sphinx’s Revelation.
Scott Hanenberg, Simic Combine: My all-time favourite format is Cube Draft, and it’s a very Simic format - it rewards stitching together things that might not look like they belong together. A few years ago, a group of my friends in Toronto started doing “Rotisserie” Cube Drafts, where you take turns picking from the whole Cube and everyone’s deck lists are public knowledge.
My first deck in that format was a Frankenstein’s monster. I got Channel early and tried to make it work with Kozilek and Ugin, backed up by blue counters and powerhouse cards like Time Walk and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The deck was powerful and a lot of fun to play but didn’t always work the smoothest. Simic in form and function!
Neil Banchero-Smith, Orzhov Syndicate: I’m currently in the process of building an Esper Midrange deck for Arena Standard. A lot of value creatures and featuring Basilica Bell-Haunt as a key player in the deck.
The Azorius are going to detain you if you don’t submit Form 61807-B, on which you must indicate the single card that represents your guild best. Better send it in to the Senate ASAP - what’s your pick?
JT, GC: Bah! Azorius forms only good for cleaning your enemies blood and guts off battleaxe! This stops axe from slipping from your hands to let you kill more! The card that feels Gruul-est and I'm most excited about throwing down with is Gruul Spellbreaker. All this thing does is smash faces. Three mana for a 3/3 with haste or a 4/4 already seems fun. Then add the trample, then on your turn you both get hexproof? It just screams out Gruul! While your opponent is crafting strategies and making careful decisions, the only choice you have to worry about is whether to punch their face faster or harder. That's the Clans in a nutshell right there.
LE, AS: I think I have to go with the big baddie, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. That’s the kind of card that screams NO FUN - Which is why I play Jeskai Control (sometimes you gotta deal punishment via physical damage, hence the red in Jeskai) in Standard – NO ONE IS ALLOWED ANY FUN.
KW, CoR: Captive Audience is easily my pick. The Rakdos don’t care who chooses the next act of the show. We’re guaranteed to have a good time, even if our opponent picks their own demise. When you party with the Rakdos, “choose your own adventure” games always end with a bang!
SH, SC: In Ravnica Allegiance, I have to go with Simic Ascendancy. You grow your creatures; you grow the card itself with growth counters; you even grow the game by working towards an alternate win condition! It’s all about innovation and creativity, while never losing sight of the endless pursuit of making the humblest 1/1 dorks into terrifying behemoths. I wish Slippery Bogle was back for this set, so I could dump counters onto it with the Ascendancy!
NB-S, OS: Ill-Gotten Inheritance. Playing with this card feels like lending a loan to your opponent, then cashing it out as the game plays out, eeking out value and their inevitable demise.
Take a page out of the Cult of Rakdos’ book and revel in the pleasure of on-point Magic flavor. What do you like most about the personality and themes of your guild and how it’s reflected on the cards?
JT, GC: First, just the whole idea that in this intense worldwide cityscape, the Gruul really have no place or role in society. They're just there as this primal force which would tear apart the whole world if not for the other guilds working to keep them in check. It reminds me of seeing roots tear through sidewalks or pavement at abandoned malls getting swallowed and grown over by turf. Nature is ultimately indifferent about everything we build and accomplish and is ready to swallow it whole as soon as we let our guards down.
Additionally, from an art perspective I love that while so many other guilds have art where characters are posturing or standing at attention, Gruul cards are always all about the action. Just flip through any set, you'll see walls being broken down, faces getting smashed and large boulders being hurled. Staying static ain't in the Clans’ nature, and the cards reflect the wild, unrelenting aggression that they embody.
LE, AS: Azorius is really all about having stability on the board and finding incremental value via evasiveness and control. I think the single most representative card for this in RNA is Azorius Knight-Arbiter. It’s a free 2 damage every turn while still being able to hold down your side of the board – I’m not sure what more a Limited control deck is looking for. I’d like to point out its ridiculous synergies with High Alert and Angelic Exaltation (I’ve already lost games to these combos).
KW, CoR: Rakdos proactively moves the game forward, damaging your opponent’s resources (creatures, life total, etc) in unconventional ways. Perhaps I’m sacrificing my own goblins to deal non-combat damage or flipping coins to let luck determine our fate. Win or lose, the Rakdos put the “fun” in “funeral.”
SH, SC: The thing I love about the Simic is their “everyone’s welcome” attitude. Be ye jellyfish-hydra-beast, elf-lizard-wizard or crab-turtle-crocodile, there’s a place for you in the Combine. The art for this set is on point in bringing this inclusivity to life. Scroll through the Simic section of the visual spoiler, and you see all sorts of imaginative creatures and they’re all depicted with these gorgeous, vibrant colours.
Look at Sharktocrab; that’s one proud marine mutant. It goes right down to the lands. Look at the basics - first of all, they’re beautiful. I mean, there’s probably some messed-up stuff going on behind the walls of these laboratories, but you know everyone gets into it when a food fight breaks out in the mess hall.
NB-S, OS: It’s really cool to see the guild’s cards really hinge on two things we always know to be true: death and taxes.
I love the focus on incremental value. When playing with the cards, you really feel like you’re cashing in debts, playing for the long game and gumming up the board with your afterlife tokens. While the afterlife mechanic is straightforward, I really think it highlights what Orzhov is best at doing.
Cards like Pitiless Pontiff really highlight the guild’s opulence while also being on theme by cashing in your own creatures for profit. Some other great art on Basilica Bell-Haunt and Seraph of the Scales.
Orzhov also has some cards with haunting art like Debtors' Transport. Look at those human hands on the thing. Your nightmares will thank me later.
We all must adapt and move forward, even if we’re not forcing the matter by stitching on tentacles and claws like the Simic. In the spirit of innovation and progress, what’s one card in your guild’s colors from Ravnica Allegiance that you’re looking forward to adding to your collection?
JT, GC: I'm a big fan of chaos, and have a Cube based on making games for multiplayer madness. In that spirit, I can’t wait to add Rampage of the Clans to my collection. Everyone wants to be cute, ramp up with artifacts and throw down a bunch of silly enchantments? Whoops! How bout instead the entire table is covered in rampaging 3/3 beasts ready to tear each other apart? Now that's what I'm talking about!
LE, AS: As a person who is trying to somehow make spirits a reasonable deck in Standard, I was very strongly hoping for a valuable spirit. Well, I got more than what I asked for – I got an entire mechanic! Afterlife seems like it could make a reasonable Esper Spirits deck. How that deck looks is still a hotly-debated topic in my Spirits community (just me).
KW, CoR: Without a doubt, Spawn of Mayhem will be a welcomed addition to my mono-black EDH deck. Not only is it a cheap 4/4 flying demon, it ensures I’m whittling away 1 point of damage to all players each turn. There is nothing I love more than cards that drive EDH games to the finale.
SH, SC: Repudiate // Replicate is something I want to try in EDH. Getting to run a Stifle effect as part of a split card is a nice way to make sure that it’s never dead, and spending three mana to copy a creature in EDH - where you’re naturally playing more powerful, high-impact creatures - sounds like a good deal to me.
NB-S, OS: I can’t wait to add the new Hallowed Fountain into my collection. I was lucky enough to see one of these in foil at the prelease, absolutely stunning and one of my new favorites.
You just cruised to a convincing 4-0 at the prerelease with an expertly crafted Sealed deck. What’s the soundtrack for your celebratory drive home?
JT, GC: I hope anyone carpooling with me is ready to listen to the "Conan the Barbarian" soundtrack on repeat, ‘cuz that's all they're getting! Gruul for life baby!
LE, AS: Oh man. This is such a hard choice. I think we go with “Mozart’s House” by Clean Bandit. It has all the rhythmic consistency of electronic music (some might call it boring and repetitive) with the classiness of classical music, without letting you forget that you just rocked an Azorius control deck to the top.
KW, CoR: Nicki Minaj’s “Did It On ‘Em”…’cuz all these bitches is my sons.
SH, SC: Dinosaur Jr.’s You're Living All Over Me, including classic Simic titles like “Little Fury Things,” “The Lung” and “In a Jar.”
NB-S, OS: “Drain You” by Nirvana.