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Attention to Detail #4
by Jordan Kronick
December 8, 2005

All I Want, Part 2

Welcome back to Attention to Detail, after a brief hiatus of holiday fun and computer problems. Everything has come out fine on the other side, and now it’s time to cover the final three guilds of Ravnica block, as they pertain to RRR drafting. For those that haven’t read my previous column, I’ll explain briefly what is going on here. I’m taking a look at guild color combinations which have not yet appeared in Ravnica, to see if there is anything we can do with them, before the guild is released in full.

Last time, I looked at the three guilds of Guildpact – the Izzet, the Gruul and the Orzhov. This week, I cover some of the classic color combinations from the history of magic. First, what is probably the most successful control combination ever – blue/white in the form of the Azorious Senate. Then, on the exact other end of the spectrum, one of the most dedicated beatdown archetypes ever – black/red from the Cult of Rakdos. Lastly, to complete our trifecta, one of the most frequently used combo enabling color combinations – blue/green from the Simic Combine. Here we go.

The Azorious Senate – Blue/White

It is a rare situation when white can do the same job as black, but I feel that that is the state of the Azorious in Ravnica. As far as I can see, the only way to make this guild function before their time is to use the white as a replacement for black in a Dimir milling deck. As usual, blue/white presents us with a lot of great defensive cards. Since milling decks rely on milling cards (obviously) and ways to stay alive, this puts the color combination in surprisingly good shape. The strongest common milling card in Ravnica – Vedalken Entrancer – is mono blue. So that’s a good place to start. As important as he is in blue/black milling decks, I think he is doubly as important in blue/white. Most of your milling strategy is likely to come from blue cards anyway, but in blue/white it will be 100%, every time.

Building an Azorious milling deck is very similar to building a Dimir deck. Your picks should be much the same, though perhaps placing a higher value on what white removal exists than you would for black removal. Cards like Devouring Light are much harder to come by, and you will likely have to rely on efficient blocking more than direct removal to hold the enemy at bay until their deck runs out. Fortunately, white has an abundance of decent small blockers to help out with this. One of the strongest weapons here is the large number of first strike creatures that are available. It’s very hard for an opponent to set up effective attacks when you’ve got a lot of first strikers. This brings me to a card I discussed last time – Concerted Effort. Ordinarily I see this card as being most effective when used offensively. It allows your creatures to share evasion abilities, after all. It can be very good for defensive purposes too, though. A blue/white deck is very likely to have fliers, be they Courier Hawks or Drifts of Phantasms. If you combine this abundance of flying with a few well placed first strikers (hopefully Nightguard Patrol), you will have a very strong barrier between you and your opponent. Flying can also turn your already fantastic Entrancers into even more effective blockers.

Although I’ve come down hard on Lurking Informant lately, I think it shines in the blue/white deck. It serves two very important purposes. One, it helps with the milling. This can’t be discounted. Two, it allows you to block fear creatures if necessary. This is something that can’t be ignored. Ordinarily a Dimir milling deck should have some black creatures that make fear less useful. Things like Dimir House-Guard are very effective for blocking errant fear creatures (like itself!). When you switch the black for white, you are giving up most of your ability to stop fear, but there’s an important tradeoff happening. Suddenly, Swampwalk is no longer a threat. This is actually a big issue, due to the presence of Sewerdreg. I’ve lost more than a few matches with very strong Dimir decks that simply didn’t draw a way to stop an opposing Sewerdreg. With half the available guilds in Ravnica being black, I think playing the ‘dreg maindeck is not a bad choice. Playing blue/white makes it just an expensive Hill Giant.

All in all, I kind of like the Azorious in Ravnica. I’ve only gotten to try it twice, and with mixed results. The first time I tried it, I was forced into it because while the black was simply not happening, I was getting blue in quantities that were hard to ignore. Unfortunately, it was too late before I recognized what was happening and the deck suffered. The second time I attempted it, I tried to force this oddball combination early and was rewarded. My deck was chock full of all the things that you really want to see in this deck. I won the draft handily, and received more than a few comments that I obviously didn’t know what I was doing, playing off-guild. The element of surprise cannot be overlooked!


The Cult of Rakdos – Red/Black

I have to admit that of the three color combinations of Dissension, this is my least favorite. I’ve never liked playing red/black (when no third color was present). Between the three choices of beatdown, combo and control, beatdown is always my last resort. There is one very important time when this wasn’t true, however. Invasion block is often seen as the direct predecessor to Ravnica. It was the last time we saw multicolor cards in quite the same quantity, after all. During that incredibly fun block, I drafted a lot. And by “a lot”, I mean that I was drafting the set easily 10 times a week. This was before Magic Online, so that was quite an undertaking. How did I manage that? Well, without trying to sound conceited, I rarely lost. Between myself and a good friend of mine, we split most of our local drafts between us, nearly every time. His preferred color combination was blue/black/red (“Crosis colors”). My preference was for green/black/red (“Darigaaz colors”). Invasion block was full from end to end with great cards for black and red. The most important of course was Terminate. Terminate effectively displays everything that is good about black/red. When you play this color combination, you will hopefully be getting all the best removal at the table. Your creature quality may suffer slightly, but if you can make up for it by killing all of their blockers, it shouldn’t matter.

That strategy sadly does not play out very well in RRR drafting. In Invasion, there was a lot of very effective mono colored removal (not to mention the multicolored removal). Things like Magma Burst, Agonizing Demise and Reckless Spite made it easy to clear away your opponent’s creatures. In Ravnica, most of the best removal is multicolored. Putrefy and Lightning Helix come to mind. In addition to this, black and red seemed to have much higher quality creatures back then. The Kavu were very good to black/red, be they Mire, Flametongue or Vicious. These days, black and red’s creatures are often backups to the more effective colors. If you’re playing Boros, your best creatures are white or multicolored – never red. If you are playing Golgari, green provides the fat beats. If you are playing Dimir, blue provides all the best defensive creatures for a milling strategy. There are some shining examples where this is not true, and those will be important pieces, if you want to try the Rakdos in RRR.

Uncommon cards are the cornerstone of this deck, unfortunately. Creature quality is where the color combination suffers, so pulling some effective creatures will mean having to get lucky with uncommon (if not rare) creature pulls. Things like Keening Banshee and Indentured Oaf are already pretty effective in other color combinations, but they are simply perfect in red/black. In Invasion, playing red/black was a simple matter of choosing good cards every pick, and the deck would often build itself. In Ravnica, you have to be very careful to choose the right amount of removal. This deck will have very little extra space in it for cards that aren’t either creatures or removal. Don’t bother playing things like Grifter’s Blade. That card is often very useful, but not here. It’s just one more slot for removal that you aren’t using.

Another important strategy here is to make use of evasion wherever you can. Black and red have very little evasion generally, but it does exist. The previously mentioned Sewerdreg and Dimir House-Guard are both very important - as is Keening Banshee. These cards will allow you to get in the last little bit of damage, once your initial onslaught of burn and powerful cheap ground pounders runs out – and it will.

All in all, I don’t recommend the Rakdos. As I said when I was discussing the red guilds of Guildpact, it will be very rare that you are getting good red cards passed to you but not good white cards. Similarly, if you are getting good black cards, you will probably be getting good green or blue to go with them. If you find a way to consistently make black/red work, I’m eager to hear about it. I’m always up for a little bit of Invasion nostalgia after all.

The Simic Combine – Green/Blue

Where the Rakdos are beatdown and the Azorious are control, the Simic are combo. Combo is almost always the least effective draft archetype of the three. Most of the best combo cards are rares, after all. It’s going to be very hard to assemble a strong combo when you only have three packs to do it in. Sometimes blue/green goes another way though. The second word that leaps to mind when I think of this color combination is “tempo”. Back in Invasion Block Constructed, there was a very powerful deck that I myself ran when I was testing for the first Grand Prix Minneapolis. It was green and blue and made use of the extremely effective card draw of the time, with some incredible tempo cards. Tempo cards are generally defined as cards which do not generate clear-cut card advantage, but creature “virtual card advantage”. This is generated with self-replacing cards (cantrips generally) that slow your opponent down. Cards like Repulse and Memory Lapse are clear examples of tempo. Lapse doesn’t replace itself, but since it effectively denies your opponent a draw, it falls into this category. Ravnica provides us with another similar card which is tempo if I’ve ever seen it – Remand. The deck also made use of green’s quick effective creatures of the time like Blurred Mongoose and the king of both tempo and quick creatures – Mystic Snake.

When I saw Remand on the Ravnica spoiler, I was quick to examine the rest of the set for other examples of tempo. Green/blue has always been one of my favorite color combinations as it very much plays into my “Johnny” nature. Unfortunately, I don’t think the pieces are quite assembling themselves, yet. I have no doubt that when Dissension comes out, we’re going to be positively up to our knees in combo and tempo elements, but all we have now are unrecognizable bits and pieces. Blue’s presence in only one guild of Ravnica once again becomes a problem for this color combination. While black can be replaced with white to form an effective milling deck, this cannot be said for green. And while the black of Golgari could be replaced with red to make an effective Gruul deck, this cannot be said for blue. We’re a long way from Invasion block, and elements like Repulse, Exclude, Mystic Snake and Fact or Fiction simply don’t exist anymore.

The only way that I can see approaching a Simic Combine deck in RRR drafting is if I wanted to make strong use of one specific card – Halcyon Glaze. This is one of my favorite Ravnica cards, and I have no doubt that it will be a strong consideration for any Simic Tempo decks that appear later on in Ravnica block constructed. In draft, it’s a lot harder to build around it, however. It’s an uncommon, so you’re far from guaranteed to see one. If you do get one, you’re still probably better off going another direction with the deck. However, if you get two, it might be worth trying. There are a few other elements that you need to get together to make this deck theoretically possible. Other quick flying creatures are important, but mostly not available. I would consider trying to use Drake Familiar as this deck could easily function to make use of the strong blue and green enchantments. The Glaze I already mentioned. Fists of Ironwood and Flight of Fancy also come to mind. And of course, one of the cards that actually mentions the Simic in its flavor text – Copy Enchantment.

Another strategy that I’ve actually seen used is a bit more slow, but powerful. Stasis Cell can be combined with Bramble Elemental to create a long term stream of creatures. When you put all these elements together, there’s definitely an idea present. I’m just not sure if it’s an idea that can work. Blue/Green has already proven itself to be quite capable in the current Standard environment, and the Simic haven’t even appeared yet. Both tempo and combo have made appearances using this combination so far. I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing a return of this classic color combination for the next two years, and I’m quite happy for it.

That completes my short series on the off-guild combinations in RRR drafting. I’m going to come back to the guilds of Dissension, once Guildpact comes out. Will this week’s three stand a better chance once the other seven guilds are all present and accounted for, or will they suffer? You’ll have to tune in then to find out.


 

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