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Attention to Detail #9 – Ravnica: Episode 2
by Jordan Kronick
January 20, 2006

It's an exciting time for Magic. Something that happens only three times a year (or four times, this year). There's a new set on the horizon. As I write this, I'm a mere 34 hours away from my local Guildpact prerelease. I'm sure that Guildpact information is going to be impossible to avoid, just about everywhere that there's words about Magic for the next couple months, but that's no reason not to get in on the action. We've got 165 new cards (yes, yes.. there's some reprints so they're not all new) and each one of them is going to have some impact on the game – even if that impact is to cause you to curse loudly every time you open one in a pack.

Spoilers and rumors and little tidbits of info about Guildpact have been leaking in for the past month or so, all over the internet. As happens with just about every set, it's taken until the 11th hour for the information to truly form a cohesive mass that can be called a set. Usually when a new set is released, we've got a whole new theme to examine. This is not the case with Guildpact. Or at least, it's not quite that black and white. Guildpact uses the same general theme as Ravnica, but due to the structure of the block, you won't be seeing your favorite mechanics from the last set, which is a first for a Magic block. What I'm going to do this week is talk about the three new guild mechanics that arrive with the second set of the block. They're all very different and will define the environment just as much as their Ravnican counterparts.

Haunt – When this card is put into a graveyard from play (or from the stack if it's an instant or sorcery), remove it from the game haunting target creature.

The Orzhov present us with a curious new mechanic. It's easily the most subtle guild mechanic that we've seen so far. It takes time to do it's stuff and the power of each card depends greatly on the ability to control when your haunt triggers happen. Also, Haunt doesn't just appear on creatures. It also appears on spells. And every haunt trigger is slightly different. With the mechanics of Ravnica, you could generally assume that they would work together in a relatively concerted fashion. Your dredge cards would play off one another, dredging more into the graveyard with each use. Your convoke cards all depend on the same factor – large numbers of creatures. Your transmute spells, while having a wide range of casting costs, all do basically the same thing when you activate the ability – they search your deck. But Haunt is different. There are haunt triggers that improve your position by making your creatures larger, gaining you life or other effects. There are haunt triggers that work against your opponent by draining their life, causing them to discard or destroying their permanents. The secret to analysis of the mechnic is to look at what all haunt cards have in common and finding a way to make them all better at once.

So here's some quick facts about Haunt as a whole. They may seem obvious, but it's important to look at the lowest common denominator in times like these.

– All Haunt creatures generate an effect when they come into play.
– All Haunt cards require a creature to be in play when they go to the graveyard for their haunting ability to work.
– That creature doesn't have to belong to you or your opponent – any creature will work.

So, starting at the top, let's go through this. There are a number of ways of taking advantage of comes into play effects. For instance, Ravnica gave us a curious little Aura called Flickerform. With this one card you can reuse your haunt creature over and over. And if that doesn't do it for you, well the Orzhov have their own trick in store. I present, for your edification;

Ghostway 2W
Instant
Remove each creature you control from the game. Return those creatures to play under their owner's control at end of turn.

That's a big tricky card right there. First of all, it allows you to dodge mass removal with all of your creatures. Second of all, it allows your team to survive otherwise lethal blocking, en masse. And most importantly, it allows all of your Haunt creatures to reuse their come into play effects. However, there's a word of warning to go with this. If you're planning on abusing Ghostway, make sure that you don't have any Haunt triggers on your own creatures when you cast it. If a creature that is being haunted is removed from the game, the card haunting it forgets it's existence and you'll lose the chance to use that haunt effect.

The second item on our list – Haunt cards require creatures to be in play for maximum effectiveness. It seems like a simple statement, but it's one not to be taken lightly. One of the most standard ways of making use of lots of goes-to-graveyard effects is to incorporate lots of massive removal like Wrath of God. That's not going to work so well with haunt, though. You want at least one creature to remain in play when your haunters die. Preferable something that you can control the lifespan of. So a better option than mass removal is selective creature sacrificing cards. Currently, there's a limited supply of these. When Mirrodin rotated out of Standard, we lost one of the best options available in Spawning Pit. The black and white colors of the Orhov also seemingly prevent the use of one of the most popular creature sacrificing engines of the current environement – I'm talking about Greater Good of course – from being reasonable. The number of black and white cards that allow for selective creature sacrifice are somewhat limited, and I would expect this to be intentional. Having control over your hauntings is extremely important. So remember when you're drafting RGG this weekend that if you think you want to try the Orzhov, picking up a Thoughtpicker Witch might be more important than ever.

Another important factor here is that if your opponent has a way of sacrificing their own creatures to some end, it's probably a bad idea to try to haunt them. If the creature is no longer in play when the leaves-play haunt trigger resolves, then it won't work. There's a lot of things to keep in mind when playing with haunt.

The third item on the list gives us an interesting split in just how haunt plays out over the course of a game. Either you can use your haunt triggers on your own creatures, expecting to having a greater degree of control over their lifespans, or you can haunt your opponent's creatures if you have a way of then killing the creature, hopefully generating even more cool effects. Triggered abilities are the new black.

That's a lot of talking about haunt, and I expect to have a lot more to say about this very interesting mechanic in the coming weeks. I definitely want to give it a shot this weekend. Anyone who knows me knows of my love for black/white decks, and I'll be hard pressed not to go nutty with the Orzhov.

That brings us to the oddball guild of Guildpact – the Izzet. They've often been described as the silly guild, but the mechanic is no laughing matter.

Replicate – When you play this spell, copy it for each time you paid the replicate cost. You may choose new targets for these copies.

Where the Orzhov gave us a very sublte mechanic with a lot of variations on just how it works in game play, the Izzet have seemingly given us the opposite. Replicate spells not only do the same thing – they do the same thing over and over. I'm sure you can imagine some of the effects that Replicate spells can produce, even if you haven't seen them on the spoiler yet. Doing damage, drawing cards, etc. Note that taking more turns is fortunately *not one of the replicatable effects. Of course, there's always Djinn Illuminatus for that.

So what should you be thinking about with Replicate? It's a simple mechanic, but there might be more going on here than you realize. Replicate is in many ways the ultimate test of a player's ability to decide whether they should bide their time or go for it. Let me give you an example, with one of the simplest Replicate cards that you'll be seeing this weekend and for the next couple years:

Train of Thought 1U
Sorcery
Replicate 1U
Draw a card.

Some replicate cards, like this one, are simple because they have no targets. Train of Thought produces copies of itself, but it's best thought of as one large spell. If you cast it without replicating, it is an expensive cantrip with no effect. Hardly worth 1U, and sorcery speed to boot. If you replicate it once, you're getting a sorcery-speed Inspiration. That's looking a bit more reasonable. If you replicate it twice, you're paying 3UUU for 3 cards. That's two mana more than you'd be paying for those three cards from Concentrate at the same speed. There is no point at which the mana to cards drawn ratio becomes very strong. You're always paying two mana for each card drawn. Does that mean that this is a bad spell? It's certainly outclassed in terms of raw power when matched up against most other card draw spells. It's not a bad card though. With Replicate, the name of the game is dynamism. Replicate spells fill whatever mana supply you have available. Train of Thought could be used to quickly try to pull a land drop on the second turn (pray that you don't end up in this situation). It could be used to make up a mid game slump and get a burst of card advtange. Or it could be that you rip it off the top of your deck during the late game, and use it to draw 5 cards. That kind of sudden card rush can quickly turn a late game stall into a rout.

Like Haunt, there are a wide number of effects that replicate can generate. Each spell is going to do something different. By virtue of the mechanic, however, you don't need a lot of copies of each one to generate the effect multiple times. Izzet draft decks and sealed decks will seemingly be a toolbox of assorted effects. The ability to use these effects multiple times in quick succession means that the red/blue guild will be less likely to run out of firepower than the other guilds. More bang for your buck, as the saying goes.

Bloodthirst X – If an opponent was dealt damage this turn, this creature comes into play with X +1/+1 counters.

The Gruul Clans present us with what is certain the most simple and straight-forward guild mechanic yet. What more could we expect from a guild that is devoted to smashing civilization and all things delicate and subtle. Still, even a Johnny like me has to respect the sheer power that this mechnic represents.

The first thing I'm going to do is present you with what may be the most important Bloodthirst creature in Guildpact:

Scab-Clan Mauler RG
Creature – Human Berserker
Bloodthirst 2
Trample
1/1

It's so simple. Deceptively so. Either this is a really bad 1/1 trampler for 2 mana or it suddenly becomes one of the strongest two-drops we've seen in years. It's even better than Watchwolf. So how do we effectively use the Mauler? There are generally two ways of dealing damage to your opponent. Either you can use a spell or you can hit them with a creature. Now, when we're talking about getting the best use out of a two-mana creature, the first option is pretty much right out. We want to be dropping a 3/3 Mauler or turn two. This means that we need to play a creature on turn one and hope it scan swing through for a point right off the bat and let us play our guy. This has a couple implications:

– Firstly, quick creatures are extremely important for a fast Gruul deck.
– Playing first might be a necessity.

What I mean by the second part there is that if you are playing second, then the chances that your opponent will be able to drop a blocker in time to stop your little guy from swinging are greatly increased. So if that happens, we certainly don't want to be playing our Bloodthirst creatures when they are less effective unless absolutely necessary. So we're back to drawing board. How best to deal damage to the opponent?

Shooting a burn spell at your opponent is almost always a bad idea. There are three reasons why it should be done:

– The burn spell can only target players.
– It's enough to kill them or bring them within range of a kill.
– It's going to let you get some real good use out of your Bloodthirst creatures.

I added the third one there purely to service this section of the article, but the more I think about it, I might be wrong. The number of times when I would wish I had held a Shock for a creature target rather than using it as a way of getting out a Bloodthirster (not to be confused with the Greater Daemon of Khorne) will be many, I fear.

So where does that leave us? The unspoken third option: evasion creatures. Red and green are generally not known for their large numbers of evasion creatures. The only time red gets flying is when it's attached to a big huge dragon. And green only seems to evade when it's Forestwalk. However, Guildpact gives us a very important creature for getting our Bloodthirst on:

Silhana Ledgewalker 1G
Creature – Elf Rogue
Silhana Ledgewalker can't be blocked except by creatures with flying.
Silhana Ledgewalker can't be the target of spells or abilities your opponents control.
1/1

That's a couple of very solid abilities for a cheap little elfin package. The ledgewalker lets you get your pokes in against an opponent just when you need them to make sure your bloodthirst is sated. And that second ability is very important as well. You won't be losing this little guy to Darkblast or anything like that. But you can still slap a Moldervine Cloak on it, turning it into an incredibly deadly weapon in it's own right. I expect to hear stories of Cloak/Ledgewalker all weekend long, really. There's many decks that simply can not handle this sort of thing.

Okay that's all I've got to say about these three mechanics, this week. I'm going to make sure to follow up on a lot of my assumptions next week. Two solid days of drafting will certainly give me a whole new view on the set and the tricks it has to offer. I'll be at the Minneapolis, MN prerelease both days from early to late drafting it up. If you happen to be in the area, I highly recommend it. Steve Port from Misty Mountain Games in Madison puts on a great tournament and the Minneapolis Convention Center makes for a very comfortable location. Have a great weekend, everyone!


 

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