Feature: Picking Your Path: A Ravnica Block Draft Primer

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The letter W!hether it's the players or the coverage, you're going to be hearing a lot of things like this now:

    The Boiler, which was previously perfectly respectable, has taken something of a dive along with much of the green in Ravnica that is allied with another colour.

That one comes from a draft analysis by Ted Knutson and Tim Willoughby on Day One. Those that have drafted Ravnica-Ravnica-Guildpact know how tricky it can be getting your colors to work , but throw in Dissension and all hell breaks loose, if you aren't careful.

One of the nice perks working at Wizards is getting product early. Coverage coordinator Greg Collins and I work for Monty Ashley, who is the Managing Producer for our team at Online Media and used to run the Sideboard in the old days. Though Dissension wasn't available at the time publicly, Monty was able to get several boxes of it for us early so that we could get as familiar as possible with the full block before we came out to cover this event. Fortunately for Greg and I, drafting full Ravnica block is easily one of the most fun things to do in Magic's history, so we never had any problem putting together drafts on an almost daily basis coming into the event.

Now, when this set was being put together about a year ago, I was still too busy to get much time at all down in the future future league with the R&D guys. (Fortunately now that we've got Ted on the team as our editor, I have more time to get back in touch with the game!) So for me, these early drafts were my first good look at how the block comes together. Given the timing of Pro Tour-Prague coming right as Dissension hits the streets, I thought I'd use this space to catch up any of the readers that may be new to what Dissension does to drafts.

After our first draft (with webdev and Arcana-master Doug Beyer) Monty charted out how the various colors worked together and sent us the following email.


    Here's an extraordinarily rough analysis of Ravnica/Guildpact/Dissension draft, concerned only with attempting to have guilds available in each pack.
    -Monty


Here's the attachment he sent, in its entirety.

    Drafting Ravnica/Guildpact/Dissension
    A crude analysis done without regard to card values, [here are the guilds by set].

    RavnicaGuildpactDissension
    Green ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen ManaBlue ManaWhite Mana
    Blue ManaBlack ManaBlack ManaWhite ManaRed ManaBlack Mana
    Green ManaWhite ManaBlue ManaRed ManaGreen ManaBlue Mana
    Red ManaWhite Mana

    The first question is: what ways are there to have a guild in each pack? If you restrict yourself to three colors, here are the combinations:

    RavnicaGuildpactDissension
    R/B/GGolgariGruulRakdos
    R/W/BBorosOrzhovRakdos
    W/R/URWIzzetAzorius
    U/B/WDimirOrzhovAzorius
    U/B/RDimirIzzetRakdos

    Now, that means that if you want to combine flexibility with the ability to always draft a guild, you should probably start pack one with either Boros (R/W) or Dimir (U/B). If you start off with Golgari (G/B), you'll have only one path to follow, and if you draft Selesnya (G/W), there is no combination of three colors that will give you a guild in each pack.

    A more significant result is the Dissension pack: note that three of the five combinations end up drafting Rakdos (R/B), while the other two draft Azorius (U/W). This means that if you're at a table with people who have prepared this sort of plan, no one will be drafting Simic (G/U) or Selesnya (G/W). If you're willing to draft four colors, it might be best to metagame into four colors and go with, say, G/W in the first pack, R/G or B/W in the second, and have access to both G/U and U/W in the third.


Now, Monty's a pretty casual player, and wrote this basically right off the cuff, but there's a ton of good info here for players new to drafting the full block. First off, becoming familiar with the five trios that get a guild in each pack is a must. There are several combos that can easily draft outside the five in Monty's chart, but knowing the five trios that get a guild in each pack creates the framework for knowing the block. With that in mind, here are some key thoughts by guild, again working (for now) off the assumption that you want to aim for trios that get guild cards each pack. We're obviously just scratching the surface here, but let's take a look at just the guilds of Ravnica and how they relate to the framework shown in Monty's chart.

Selesnya Signet

Selesnya

As Monty caught on right off the bat, Selesnya is the only guild of all four from Ravnica that simply doesn't fit the framework. Arguably the most powerful guild in Ravnica when drafting only the first set, now that we're drafting the full block I've heard many players say they would prefer to stay out of Selesnya entirely when possible because of the guilds issue.

That said, Selesnya certainly isn't impossible to draft. Thanks to the power of Simic, combined with it sometimes being underdrafted on some tables, a perfectly reasonable WGU (white-green-blue) deck exists which seeks to hammer the curve and keep the opponent on their heels thanks to a powerful tempo game consisting of outstanding creatures backed up by fliers and tricks.

The deck doesn't get any guild cards in Guildpact, but can focus on mono-colored spells in the UGW trio instead. There are other trios as well, but all leave a hole in one set, so experience with the non-framework trios (or adding a fourth or even fifth color) is necessary.

Golgari Signet

Golgari

As mentioned in the quote I opened with, the green guilds in Ravnica have dropped quite a bit in popularity once Dissension hit. Selesnya has zero three-color paths to three guilds, and Golgari has but one: BGR. Worse, this trio can be clunky if it gets too many expensive cards, so the Rakdos element of this deck can often run into trouble taking advantage of hellbent if it isn't drafted carefully.

One alternative is to instead treat this as a base Gruul deck, using black mostly for removal and bloodthirst enablers like Mourning Thrull, Daggerclaw Imp, or Ickspitter. This trio can be quite powerful, particularly since so many players are (so far at least) avoiding Golgari.

It also illustrates what I love so much about drafting this block so far: the better you know this trio's strengths and weaknesses, the better you can adjust your draft picks to build the best deck possible, rather than a deck with just the best cards available. It may sound like splitting hairs, but the difference is everything if you're looking to move up your results. More than any other block in history, Ravnica rewards (and punishes!) based on a player's understanding of how each trio in question comes together.

Boros Signet

Boros

This guild took a big hit in popularity when Guildpact joined the environment, but it's back on the upswing thanks to Dissension. For ease of conversation (and mind) I often refer to trios by picking a guild and then using another guild as an adjective to show the whole combination. This guild offers two of my favorites: "Burning Azorius" (RWU) and "Dark Boros" (RWB). And yes, those names are pretty arbitrary; they could just as easily be "Light Izzet" and "Light Rakdos" or whatever you prefer. For me, I find it's a handy mental shortcut, and as I get more experienced some of these names do actually imply how I draft them, such as Burning Azorius.

Speaking of which, I've had the best results with Azorius of all the Dissension guilds so far, so I'm admittedly partial to any combination with that guild. One of the advantages to starting with Boros is, as Monty pointed out, the ability to keep your options open going into Guildpact. Often I'll try to stick as closely to red-white as possible unless there's something very strong to consider straying. Like nearly all decks, the karoo lands are important to watch for, and any red or white producing one is a high pick since they can both fix your mana and offer ease of splashing should your deck spread more than intended. Signets are similar but less powerful options in my experience, at least until you get to a critical point of badly needing mana fixing and still not having enough, at which point any fixing becomes crucial unless your third color is very minor.

By staying on target pack one, the Boros give you the luxury of jumping into Izzet or Orzhov depending on which guild offers you the most powerful cards. Both colors offer a good deck here. I've found that the Izzet-Boros combination is stronger when you get the best cards, but that Izzet is so highly sought right now that I'm often more likely to get a deep run of Orzhov cards here instead.

There's also a more subtle thing going on here, which I think some drafters haven't caught onto yet: By staying strongly on target as Boros in pack one, you have (hopefully) been cutting as many white cards off as possible from those on your left. Now, since you're taking Boros, that just leaves Selesnya as the other white combination for those on your left in Ravnica. Given many players' reluctance to draft GW, plus the fact that you're yanking so much white, it should come as no surprise that you're likely to get gifted with lots of WB cards come Guildpact.

Should the Izzet cards come (and they often will, since you were cutting off red as well), I'd suggest snapping them up thankfully, as that also allows you into the Azorius guild come Dissension, a powerful guild whose aggro strategy fits your deck perfectly and may be less drafted than Rakdos thanks to the implications of Monty's chart.

Dimir Signet

Dimir

Dimir has always suffered a bit from its split personality. Now that you're down to just one Ravnica booster, the milling strategy almost always ends up a poor one short of extraordinary Ravnica circumstances. That said, cards like Vedalken Entrancer still hold the ground for your fliers to get their work done, and if you end up running into circumstances where the milling pays off, it's a nice bonus.

Like Boros, Dimir offers two options for drafters sticking to the five trios that offer a guild in each pack once you get to Guildpact. By staying on target for UB in pack one, you get the option of jumping into Izzet (and then Rakdos) or Orzhov (and then Azorius). My experience so far is that the Izzet Dimir deck can end up fighting itself, sometimes being too slow and drawing too many cards for Hellbent, which can only compound the issues Dimir itself brings by being a guild already split thank to milling vs. evasion. These decks can feature outstanding card advantage, but extreme care has to be taken that the deck not be too slow to compete and that the deck manage to work well with itself.

By contrast, I find that the Orzhov Dimir deck comes together much more easily. This trio offers more evasion than any of the other nine trios possible, and the cards come together very naturally. Like most guilds the mana can spread easily if you aren't careful, so put some effort into fixing mana when it's not too costly. You're very likely to end up with a high number of playables, so yanking a few karoo lands or signets if you're low is perfectly acceptable even when it's over a relatively strong creature. In my experience, this guild tends to have plenty of cards to work with if you didn't force it in a chair where it doesn't belong, so you can sacrifice here and there to make sure your mana works, plus you really do want all three colors as soon as possible so you can reliably pull plays off like turn two Azorius First-Wing followed by a discard-forcing Shrieking Grotesque.

Now, that's just working with the four Ravnica guilds, drafting only three colors, and staying on a path that gives access to a guild in each pack, with just a paragraph or two on each. That alone gives plenty of articles worth of material, and yet that's only the beginning. As mentioned in the Selesnya section, there are several perfectly reasonable trios that can be drafted outside of the "one guild per set" framework, and in fact that's mandatory if you want to take cards like Selesnya Evangel.

With that in mind, one of the most talked about decks coming out of Day 1 is a Gruul-Simic archetype that exploits the synergy of +1/+1 counters as well as having flying creatures plus bounce to enable your bloodthirst. In fact, given the right circumstances, I could see myself drafting any of the five non-framework trios. Additionally, this format, much like Invasion-Prophecy-Apocalypse, easily supports four- and even five-color builds, particularly for decks focused on green. Oh, and all that is before we even get to all the other major strategic decisions like "do you take the best cards early, or just take all the mana fixing you can get so that you can yank the best cards that come to you later?"

With so many options, there's no question it's one of the most interesting and challenging draft formats ever. The best news, however, is how much fun drafting this block is. If everything I just wrote above sounds intimidating, don't be. Just jump in, learn as you go, read articles like magicthegathering.com's Limited Information column plus those on other sites, and you'll see for yourself why so many people are saying that Ravnica is the best block to draft in the game's history.

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