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Attention to Detail #3
by Jordan Kronick
November 21, 2005

All I Want

I need to start this week with a little story. Back when Ravnica was shiny and new and the prerelease was only a few days removed, I made a bet. A guy I know on Magic Online told me that he thought white-blue would be a more effective color combination in Ravnica-Ravnica-Ravnica drafting than red-white. He’s since admitted that he was most likely wrong, and I’m well on track to win the bet. That bet got me thinking, though. The guild structure of Ravnica lends itself to four color combinations, based on the guilds that are present. But those aren’t the only color combinations that exist. And sometimes it’s possible to win with something that breaks the boundaries. This week I want to take a look at the dark horse of Ravnica drafting – off-guild combinations.

Of course, anybody who pays attention to current events in Magic knows that each two color combination has a representative guild. Once Guildpact and Dissension come out, over the next 6 months, we’ll get to see just how effective each of them is. However, even when you’re drafting RGD, the draft still starts with Ravnica. And if you want to play an Izzet (red-blue) deck, you’re going to have to start with off-guild cards in the first pack. So I believe that examining the later guilds now will serve not only as an oddball strategy in the current draft environment, but as a way of preparing for environments of the future. I’m going to go through each of the six later guilds and evaluate their effectiveness as the black sheep of Ravnica drafting. This week is the guilds of Guildpact. Next week, I’ll take a look at the last three from Dissension.

The Orzhov Syndicate – White/Black

I’m starting with this combination because I’ve always had a soft spot for it. My favorite deck has always been a variation on my old Chains of Mephistopheles deck, and it has almost always been white and black. I love Scrublands and Vindicates, what can I say? The Orzhov are an important place to start for another reason. This guild forms the third piece of a guild triad (which is to say 3 guilds that share 3 colors among them) of which the other two guilds are already available. The Selesnya and Golgari are the other two pieces, and a combination between them is already very popular in sealed deck, though somewhat less so in booster drafting. However, this means that sometimes we’re already playing Orzhov, even though the guild won’t be around in force until Guildpact. Playing a three color deck is about more than just combining two complimentary guilds and playing off their common color. You need to find ways to balance and abuse the other colors as well. For the case of a Selesnya-Golgari deck, this means balancing the black and the white – the Orzhov. See how this works? It’s fun to think about this stuff.

So how can we reconcile the differences between black and white in Ravnica? And is it an effective color combination without green? Unfortunately for us Scrubland-lovers, I think it is not. In order to examine an off-guild combination, we need to look at the mono-colored cards from the two colors. White has the advantage that it has cards from two guilds in Ravnica, and the mechanics play well together. Convoke conjures images of lots of creatures, and white’s Radiance cards also operate well with lots of creatures on your side. Black carries the same advantage, with the other two guilds. It has Transmute cards from Dimir and it has Dredge cards from the Golgari. That’s four guild mechanics appearing among two colors, split evenly among them. It’s a wide open field with not much in common. Although Convoke and Radiance both operate well with large masses of creatures, neither black nor white has an exceptional ability to produce token creatures. That ability is generally provided for by green. There are exceptions, such as Twilight Drover, but even that requires some tokens to get it started. And for once, black isn’t producing Zombie tokens.

I think you’ll find that sometimes the only way to make an unguilded combination work is if you manage to pull a very specific keystone card. In white-black, one such card is Concerted Effort. This enchantment is obviously very effective in guilded combinations where white’s small fliers can give evasion to green and red, and first strike and vigilance are abundant. When used in white-black, there is an even more important ability to share however. Fear is extremely strong in any format where artifact creatures are not abundant. This is one such format. And there’s an extremely effective fear creature that’s common, too. Dimir House-Guard combined with Concerted Effort is an extremely strong combination. Not only does it provide all of your creatures with an evasion ability that can end games very quickly, the House-Guard can regenerate, which makes the combo even harder to break up. When combined with one of the effective vigilance creatures in white (of which there are many in Ravnica), you’re in extremely good shape. White and black both have the strength of evasion abilities in Ravnica, be it flying or fear. This is an important consideration that will come into focus when we look at one of the more land locked combinations.

There’s one other strong combination in black white, which is only worth mentioning because the one time in a hundred when it wins the game will be memorable. Conclave’s Blessing is a bad card. Carrion Howler is (in my opinion) also a bad card. However, when combined, they can be devastating. The two cards combined form a Hatred-like effect that can be hard to overcome. This is the kind of combination that I would never base my deck on, but if I had found myself in an Orzhov combination I would be sure to watch out for.

The Gruul Clans – Red/Green

Classically, red and green have been one of the most effective two color combinations in the history of the game. From early synergies between cards like Berserk and Ball Lightning (with a touch of Blood Lust) to more clearly defined cooperative cards like Tinder Wall and Kird Ape, red and green have gotten along famously since Magic was created. It just goes to show that Ravnica was designed well that this is not the case in the current draft environment.

Red and green simply doesn’t work well in Ravnica. Sure, there’s synergy between saprolings and cards like Fiery Conclusion, and both colors have a common ally in white. However, it’s very hard to reconcile the differences between the colors with the current pool of cards. Ordinarily, red/green decks rely on fast mana from green to play big threats of both colors, and effective burn from red to hold the ground until then. Unfortunately, red has taken a hit in the effectiveness of its burn, and mana generation is as prevalent in other color combinations (due to the Signet cycle) as it is in this one. With only one red guild in the set, there is a deficiency of effective cards for the color, and playing it without white sacrifices most of the power.

The real problem with red/green in Ravnica stems from the way the guilds are currently provided for. If you are getting strong red cards in the draft, but not getting white to go along with them, it means the white is being cut close to you in the draft. If this is the case, then the white is being grabbed most likely by someone playing white/green. This means that although you might receive strong red cards, your green pool may be lacking.

However, where some color combinations would be rendered completely ineffective by these factors, the classic friendship between red and green is strong enough that it can sometimes pull out a win. Managing an effective red/green deck in RRR drafting requires a pool of red burn that is beyond reproach. As usual, green has no removal cards of note, so you’ll have to make up for it elsewhere. Unfortunately, one of the most effective red burn cards may be a problem in your deck. Cleansing Beam is ordinarily a very strong card. However, mixing your colors in this way means that often times your creatures will be of similar colors to your opponent’s creatures. There’s nothing worse than staring down some green creatures with a Cleansing Beam in hand, knowing that to use it will wipe out some of your own creatures.

The saving grave is the strongest red burn in the set – Galvanic Arc. The arc is most effectively used when it is put on a large creature, which is now even stronger. Green can provide many options for that large creature, including the perfect target – Bramble Elemental. Combining this strong green beater with the best common Aura in the set is a huge play that can lead to a quick win.

Another problem with red and green is the inability to deal with flying creatures. Elvish Skysweeper becomes an even more important card in this archetype than it usually is. With the most effective “spider” in the set being white as well as green (Selesnya Sagittars), you’re going to have to try to kill flyers with burn and the Skysweeper rather than just block them.

With all this advice, I still find it unlikely that many people will ever end up in red/green without a dash of white. With both the Boros and the Selesnya to connect these three colors, the opportunities to go for three will likely be many. If you’re forced to go it with only these two, the draft has gone very strangely.

The Izzet – Red/Blue

With all the talk of shared colors and colors that appear in multiple guilds, it’s amusing that the one color combination in which both sides appear on only one guild is also the most effective. Red/Blue is a combination which is not merely a curiosity, but often an effective strategy. Although they share no common ally in Ravnica, and are often playing drastically different strategies, the Izzet have granted us an extremely effective strategy nonetheless.

This strategy is based almost entirely on two cards. The first is the above-mentioned Galvanic Arc. The second is the often-overlooked Drake Familiar. When combined, these two cards can be absolutely devastating. Reusable burn combined with cheap flying creatures is the kind of strategy that is very hard to beat. In order to build this deck, things have to go just right. If you’re noticing a situation like I mentioned above where the powerful red cards are coming through but there is very little white, then this strategy could work. If you can pick up at least two Galvanic Arcs (hopefully three, as it is the cornerstone of this strategy), then you can probably make it work. Drake Familiars will be going late, as there are very few decks that can make effective use of them (I expect this will change drastically once Guildpact and Dissension are released).

There are two other cards that it’s very important to mention, when we’re talking about the Drake-Arc deck. The first is Cloudstone Curio. Although it is a rare, it is a pretty bad rare. So if there’s one in the draft, you’ll often see it go around the table a bit. When combined with the bouncing tricks you’re already performing, Cloudstone Curio can be the tombstone on the whole match. It allows you to bounce your Galvanic Arcs back and forth with each other (or with other effective Auras like Flight of Fancy). It also allows you to reuse your Drake Familiars, if you find yourself with only one Aura to abuse. I’ve played this strategy a couple times, and while it’s not always effective – sometimes you just don’t draw the right cards – it is among the most fun I’ve had yet in a Ravnica draft.

The second card that is important to mention is Mark of Eviction. It may be a bit obvious, but this card interacts incredibly well with Drake Familiar, Galvanic Arc, Flight of Fancy and Cloudstone Curio. It also serves to slow the early game down until your combo comes on line.

This deck requires a decent amount of defence, but that’s alright. Using Drift of Phantasms here is a very good idea. The drift provides a resilient target for your Auras that can also hold off damage until you can deal with the threat. And while I’m on the subject of holding off threats, not enough can be said here about Peel from Reality. This card can allow you to bounce your Drake Familiars along with their creatures, allowing you yet another way of abusing your Auras.

If you get the chance, I highly recommend giving the Izzet a shot in RRR drafting. It can take a bit of practice to get used to the increased number of card interactions. Not everyone likes to play combo decks in limited, but this is one of the best in years.

That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll present the Azorious Senate, the Cult of Rakdos and the Simic Combine. Can any of these colors hold a candle to the Izzet, when it comes to unguilded drafting? You’ll just have to tune in then to find out. For those of you in a country that celebrates it, have a very happy Thanksgiving. And don’t forget that there’s Braingeysers being given away on Magic Online this week. It’s definitely a time to be thankful.

 

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