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By: oraymw, Matthew Watkins
May 09 2013 1:28am
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Welcome back to Ars Arcanum, the MTGO stats-based column. In our last installment, I talked about the Dragon’s Maze prerelease, and I also walked through all of the guilds. This time, I’ll be taking a look at the statistics for all three sets combined together, and I’ll also be walking through each of the guilds. Since this is really just a continuation of my last article, I highly recommend that you read through that article if you have not, and that you at least skim over the first section before going into this article. I’ll be using the same methods as that article, especially the concept of rarity weight, so I won’t go into that concept in depth for this article. Instead, we get right to the data.

Return to Ravnica Block Creature Stats

Converted Mana Costs of Creatures in Return to Ravnica Block

Converted Mana Costs of Creatures in DGR Draft as Compared with RTR and GTC

The two charts above show the average number of creatures at each converted mana cost in a given DGR draft. The second chart compares DGR with both RTR and GTC. The first thing that we should notice is how similar these three formats appear when we look at charts of their converted mana costs. The full block format is definitely skewed slightly to the right, but it has very similar numbers to the other three sets on each part of the curve, with only the six drop slot being a true exception, which is mostly due to Dragon’s Maze having the common maze elemental cycle. However, although the average converted mana costs look very similar, this should not lead us to believe that the full block will have the same speed as the other two sets. We can just compare RTR and GTC for an example; the two sets have fairly similar CMC charts, but they play out at vastly different speeds.

There are a few things that we can learn about these charts. First, WotC has specifically stated that they wanted to slow down the draft environment with Dragon’s Maze. At first, I was worried that they may have tried to do that by printing a higher frequency of expensive cards, but that is not what happened. Instead, they gave us plenty of tools for interacting in the early game. Comparing this format with AVR is a great exercise; while that format was also meant to be slower, it ended up that the best decks in the format were very fast because the slow decks didn’t have anything to interact in the early game. DGR will definitely provide players with enough tools to play Magic in the first few turns. Secondly, since two-thirds of this draft environment comes from sets with which we are already familiar, it is important to keep in mind that this is not a radically new environment. Those two sets will have an important impact on how the format plays out as a whole. Partly, this means that there will definitely be potential for aggressive decks to carve out a powerful niche as people try to play more of their powerful multicolor cards.

Power and Toughness

Power and Toughness of Creatures in RTR Block Draft

In this chart, we see the numbers for the power and toughness of creatures in DGR draft. The first thing we should notice is that creatures with two power show up twice as frequently as creatures with three power. In fact, there are more creatures with two power in a given draft then there are creatures with three, four, and five power combined. Nearly four out of ten creatures in the block have only two power. In a deck with 15 creatures, we would expect to see 6 two power creatures, 3 three power creatures, between 1 and 2 four power creatures, 1 five power creature, and some mix of the other powers. Meanwhile, we see that the number of creatures with 3 power and toughness are relatively the same, while we see a substantially higher number of creatures at 4 toughness than at 4 power. If we were to look at the averages for this same deck of 15 creatures, we would expect to see 4 creatures with two toughness, 3 with three, 3 with four, 1 with five, and some mix of the other numbers. In other words, 60% of the creatures in the set will not be able to attack profitably on average once an opponent has two creatures out.

What does this mean for actual games? First, it means that it will be relatively easy to drop a 3 or 4 toughness creature that can just halt your opponent’s attacking force. This means that aggressive decks will have a difficult time punching through enough damage in the early game. Secondly, this means that there will be more board stalls in the midgame. There will be many situations where creatures simply cannot attack during the midgame, which means that players will reach topdecking situations more often. In this kind of environment, you often need to play more powerful late game cards in order close out a game. Not only are you more likely to get to the later stages of the game where you can cast a more expensive card, but you also need to do that in order to break through the board stalls.

Now that we’ve seen how the two figures compare, let’s look at those numbers compared with other sets:

Power of Creatures in RTR Block Draft as Compared with 3x RTR and 3x GTC

Toughness of Creatures in RTR Block Draft as Compared with 3x RTR and 3x GTC

The power charts for the three sets are fascinating. They are essentially identical, with only minor differences between them. We see the same power distribution between all charts, which gives us an idea of how big the creatures will end up being. However, we see a real difference once we look at the toughness distributions. I should note again that the green line represents the numbers for all three sets combined. The full block draft resembles RTR much more than GTC when we look at toughness, and actually has a higher percentage of creatures with more than 2 toughness than even RTR had. If we were basing things only on the size of the creatures, then it would be obvious that the full block draft would be a little bit slower. The next thing we’ll look at are the average creature stats for these three draft formats.

Creature Statistic Averages

Set

GTC

RTR

Full Block

CMC

3.233326

3.471016

3.488143

Power

2.531024

2.579635

2.540478

Toughness

2.64041

2.789022

2.869151

P/T Differential

-0.10939

-0.20939

-0.32867

 

Once again, we’ll use the creature statistic averages chart to help make sense of how all of this data fits together. We see an average CMC that is a little bit higher than Return to Ravnica. Having the Cluestones at common definitely helps lower this, but we definitely see that the block is skewed a little bit towards more expensive spells. However, although the average CMC of creatures is higher, the average power is fairly close to GTC. Relative to their casting cost, the full set features creatures with a lower average power. We also see that the toughness for creatures in full block draft is pretty high, coming in higher than RTR, even though the average CMC is similar between the two sets. But the most important data point is the Power/Toughness Differential. We see that the full block draft has a pretty large negative differential, which always correlates with a slower format. I’ll reiterate that if we just look at the creature stats, we can see that the format will be slowing down. That is without considering how the guild format changes the way we draft colors.

Colors, Shards, and Wedges

Almost everyone, including myself, has assumed that RTR block drafts will center on drafting three color decks. However, I have heard many people try to make an argument for drafting two color decks. I wanted to break down some of the numbers that show the implications of drafting these two options. First, let’s imagine that we wanted to draft a two color deck post Dragon’s Maze, and we were going into Boros. We’ll find that there are 17 commons we can play from Dragon’s Maze. After applying rarity weight, we’ll find that there will be 22.61 commons in our colors that are opened between the three packs. By applying the same math, we’ll get 26.14 commons for GTC and 24.55 commons for RTR, for a total of about 73.3 common cards for Boros between the three packs. Since Boros represents two-fifths of the available colors, we should assume that in a balanced environment, 40% of the drafters will end up in those colors, which means 3.2 people will be fighting over those cards with us, which leaves 22.9 commons from which to build our deck. That is a very low number, and if make a generous estimate that we’ll be able to play 70% of our cards, we’ll still be stretching for playables even with the inclusion of Rares and Uncommons.

For comparison, let’s see what happens when we add a single color to our deck to make Naya. Now we are playing Red, Green, and White. In a normal set, this doesn’t make a big difference on our pool of playables. We are adding more cards, but we are fighting for those cards with more people, which adds up to a wash on the total number of commons we can play. However, RTR draft is very different. For example, we’ll be able to pick 27 commons from Dragon’s Maze, 52 commons from GTC, and 50 commons from RTR. Using our rarity weight multipliers, we’ll see that we can draft 35.91 cards from our DGM packs, 69.16 cards from GTC, and 66.5 cards from RTR, for a total of 171.57 cards total. Since this is three colors, we imagine that 60% of drafters will be in them, which means we are fighting with 4.8 drafters for those cards. This leaves us with an average pool of 35.74 cards from which to build our pool. This is 56% more than what we would have in only two colors.

Let me explain this in layman’s terms. If you draft Boros, you can play the Red cards, the White cards, and the Boros multicolor cards. If you play Naya, you get the Red cards, the White cards, the Green cards, the Boros cards, the Gruul cards, and the Selesnya cards which increases your potential card pool much faster than it increases the number of players with which you are fighting to get those cards.  This shows us one reason why you want to draft three colors; you will simply end up with a better pool from which to build your decks. This is especially important because the difference is much bigger than in a typical non-multicolor set.

Add to this the fact that we see indicators that the formats creatures will be encouraging a slower format. This means that people will be able to access their mana a little bit more easily, which encourages them to play these three color decks. Playing three colors also means that decks will often act a little bit more slowly since they are dedicating cards to fixing their mana, especially in the early game. All of these factors together combine to make a perfect storm which leads us to believe that Dragon’s Maze will be quite a bit slower than either Gatecrash or Return to Ravnica. While there will certainly be players that swear by certain two color combinations, the wisest course of action is usually going to be to draft a three color deck in order to maximize your card pool and in order to have strong enough cards to punch through the late game stalls.

Now that we’ve look at the format in general, let’s look at the three color combinations.

Shards and Wedges

Throughout the rest of this article, I’ll be referring to Shards and Wedges. These are two terms which refer to the different color combinations available in a deck that has three colors. There are ten different possible three color combinations. Five of these are called Shards; this means that they are a color along with both of its allies. For example, we have GWU has white and its allies in blue and green. A wedge has a color and its two enemy colors. For example, RUG has blue as well as its two enemies in green and red.

Shards of Alara gave us a common nomenclature for all of the shard color combinations, but we have yet to have a common nomenclature for the wedge color combinations. Because of this, I’ve assigned names to these color combinations in order to refer to them with a more distinct identity. In other words, it’s easier to say Damia and Riku than BUG and RUG because I’m paying more attention to the components of the color combinations.

For reference, the color combinations and their names that I will use are as follows:

Shards: Bant – GWU; Esper – WUB; Grixis – UBR; Jund – BRG; Naya - RGW

Wedges: Kaalia – WBR; Riku – URG; Doran – BGW; Numot – RWU; Damia – GUB

There are also a few important principles that we should discuss before we look at these combinations. One of the things that I keep seeing Magic players do when they think about full RTR block draft is that they refer to the three color combinations as a pairing of two guilds, but this is a drastic mistake. A three color combination combines three guilds. For example, Bant combines Azorius, Selesnya, and Simic. This leads us to an important observation. Every three color combination is represented by two guilds in one of the packs of either Return to Ravnica or Gatecrash, and one guild in the other pack. Bant gets Azorius and Selesnya in the RTR pack, but it only gets Simic in the Gatecrash pack. Many people have speculated on what this means for drafting. Some people have said that it is better to go into a color combination that is represented by two guilds in RTR so that you can have a very strong late packs. This would be drafting Bant, Grixis, Jund, Doran, or Numot. However, other people have suggested that you should take the opposite approach by cutting your color very strongly in pack one in order to get a very full pack two, which would mean drafting Esper, Naya, Kaalia, Riku, or Damia. I think that these two approaches will often yield mostly the same results.

Instead, I’ve been thinking of the guilds in a much different manner. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about drafting guilds that have the best balance of a strong combination in their two guild pack, while also have a strong guild for the other pack. Conversely, you want to avoid a combination that has a very weak guild in the single guild pack, so that you avoid have a pack full of junkers. Let me explain this concept with some examples. I suspect that Damia (BUG) will be a strong color combination because it gets a fairly strong representation in Gatecrash, but I also predicted that Golgari will be particularly strong once we add Dragon’s Maze. All the guilds will have a strong pack when they feature two guilds, and Damia won’t be different, but it will also have a strong setup for the RTR pack when it still gets the Golgari cards that are excellent for punching through in the late game. Doran is similar because you get Orzhov in your one guild pack, which means you are sure to have a dense amount of playables. Conversely, Riku is a worse color combination because your one guild pack is RTR and you only get Izzet cards, which is probably the worst guild in that pack for the full block format. I’ll explain my thoughts on this more explicitly as we look at all of the different color combinations.

Bant

Bant Average Creature Stats

CMC

3.450348

Power

2.385596

Toughness

3.006418

P/T Differ

-0.62082

 

Bant is made up of the guilds Azorius, Selesnya, and Simic. Both blue and green are fairly strong in Dragon’s Maze, but white is quite weak. You get one common removal spell, and some decent creatures. You also have a few powerful uncommons, but you just don’t have as many of the powerful uncommon removal spells. The Azorius multicolored cards are particularly weak, with only Jelenn Sphinx giving you a serious reason to be WU. While there are a few reasons to go into Simic during the first pack, there just aren’t very many reasons to be in White. If people do end up being in Bant, it will often be because they were moving into Simic early on and had taken a few white cards in the first pack, but you won’t really be committed to Selesnya or Azorius until the third pack.

Bant gets only one guild in Gatecrash, which is Simic. This was the weakest guild in Gatecrash, but Simic definitely gains a lot of power going into the full block format. Evolve is an ability that is particularly well suited to a format that is based around playing haymakers in the mid to late game. If you get down some early evolve creatures, you will have much more time in DGR to make those creatures bigger than you would have in just Gatecrash. I doubt that people will be fighting too heavily over Simic in Gatecrash, so you should be able to get a decent number of important cards, though something like Cloudfin Raptor will not be coming to you very late.

Bant gets two guilds in Return to Ravnica, which are Azorius and Selesnya. If you are drafting Bant, then RTR will definitely be your strongest pack. The good thing about Bant is that both of these guilds are well-suited to a slower format. If you manage to get some of the stronger Selesnya cards that allow you to build up card advantage over a prolonged game, then you will have a card advantage engine that works well with the Simic cards you’ve already drafted. Additionally, Azorius has some solid evasive creatures that are good in a stalled out board position. The biggest problem with the combination is that Selesnya is a little bit of a crapshoot once we’ve added the full set. If you manage to pick up some powerful token makers, then you’ll be able to really capitalize on your RTR pack. If you open a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage then you will be in an awesome position. But if you’ve put your money on Selesnya and then go into the third pack and open up cards like Druid’s Deliverance or Rootborn Defenses without the necessary tokens to play them, then you are going to have a hard time building a strong deck.

Because of this, I doubt that Bant will be a particularly strong color combination. It definitely has several strengths, especially since you are in green, which gives you a lot of options to build a deck using lots of colors. However, there are also some important holes that the deck has to fill, which means that it will probably end up being one of the combinations that falls in the middle of the pack. Bant is also a very defensive guild as seen by the -0.62 PT differential, but a big part of this is that the creatures just have a low average power. It concerns me to see a dip at the three toughness mark, which means that you will be more susceptible than most decks in the first few turns of the game.  When we go into the full block draft, I won’t be looking to move into Bant early on.

Esper

Esper Average Creature Stats

CMC

3.327512

Power

2.13731

Toughness

2.824706

P/T Differ

-0.6874

 

Esper is made up of the guilds Azorius, Orzhov, and Dimir. In Dragon’s Maze, you get a relatively powerful set of cards. Both blue and black have very strong commons and the set, and you also get Far and Away, Warped Physique, and Haunter of Nightveil at uncommon. The white cards in the set are definitely less strong, though there are certainly a few playable cards. Going into Esper probably means taking some strong Dimir cards early on, and then moving into Tithe Drinker during the middle part of the pack. The Dragon’s Maze packs are definitely the worst ones for this guild, and it’s possible that you aren’t solidly Esper going into the second pack, but that you know you want to be in Dimir. Luckily, the white cards are extremely powerful in the next two packs, so Esper is the kind of deck that benefits from planning for what you are going to open later on. The best advice for Dragon’s Maze is to cut your colors as hard as you can, because you want to make sure that the person to your left is not in your colors.

In Gatecrash, Esper allows you to draft both Orzhov and Dimir, which are the two best guilds in that pack. Furthermore, both guilds actually gain a little bit more value in an environment with a more extended mid to late game. If you cut off these colors sufficiently in the first pack, then you will definitely reap the benefits in Gatecrash by picking up a wealth of powerful cards. Gatecrash gives you the best common removal in the format, as well as several powerful evasive creatures, some extort, and some cipher to build up card advantage later on in the game. It is important that you pick up the bulk of your good cards in this pack, and if you find out that the person to your left is also in your guilds, then you might have more trouble here.

Moving into Return to Ravnica, you get a pack of Azorius. As I’ve mentioned, Azorius is well-suited to this environment, and gives you a strong set of cards to flesh out the cards you picked up in the second pack. Voidwielders and Stab Wounds are the commons you want the most, but there is plenty of depth in picking up a bunch of 3cmc 2 power flyers in this pack. While you won’t have the same depth of playables in the third pack as in the second, you should be able to fill out any holes in your deck.

Esper seems like one of the strongest color combinations in the format. Having a weaker pack one is a little bit worrisome, but that really is the pack that you can most afford to miss out on strong cards, and Esper easily makes up for that first pack with a powerful set of guilds in the second two packs. Esper decks are also very defensive in nature, since their creatures are lower in general on power, but fairly high on toughness. The best part of the combination is that all three of the guilds combine well together to make for an efficient long game machine.

Grixis

Grixis Average Creature Stats

CMC

3.42577

Power

2.462993

Toughness

2.859714

P/T Differ

-0.39672

 

Grixis is made up of Dimir, Rakdos, and Izzet. If you were to describe this color combination in one word, it would be removal. In Dragon’s Maze, your commons include Runner’s Bane, Fatal Fumes, Ubul Sar Gatekeepers, Punish the Enemy, and Morgue Burst, which are all decent midpack quality removal spells. What really makes the combination shine are the uncommons; Far and Away, Warped Physique, Blast of Genius, and Turn and Burn are all very powerful uncommon removal spells, and these guilds are also backed up by a powerful set of creatures. While we’ll see that Grixis suffers from being strongest in the first pack, it is worth keeping in mind that there will be a lot of reasons to be Grixis after Dragon’s Maze.

This combination continues to be fairly strong in the Gatecrash pack. Dimir still has plenty of powerful removal spells at both common and uncommon, which allows you to continue to build a control deck that can remove virtually any threat on the board. There are plenty of powerful defensive creatures to fill out your curve, as well as some strong evasive options, and Cipher cards allow you to build up some card advantage once you’ve entered the later stages of the game.

The problems for Grixis are mostly in pack three. You get both Izzet and Rakdos, which are not very strong in the DGR draft environment. Up until this point, you’ve been picking up removal spells and defensive creatures, but suddenly you find yourself having to take Unleash creatures or Cobblebrutes, and so on. There are definitely some strong cards, like Frostburn Weird, Stab Wound, or Voidwielder, but there is also a high density of cards that are just mediocre. Luckily, the pack with your worst cards at least has two guilds worth of cards to pick from. This means that you should be fine in putting together the pieces that you need to complete your deck. It is much better to have your strong guild in a pack by itself than your weak pack, because you will definitely be able to put together a solid set of cards when you have two guilds to choose from, and Grixis demonstrates this marvelously. While I believe there are stronger options than Grixis, it is definitely a powerful combination, and one that is worth exploring in the early stages of the format.

Jund

Jund Average Creature Stats

CMC

3.553435

Power

2.789273

Toughness

2.856307

P/T Differ

-0.06703

 

Jund is made up of Golgari, Rakdos, and Gruul. It is one of the color combinations that got much better with the release of Dragon’s Maze. Both black and green have a great set of common spells including removal and good sized creatures. Red is not as deep, but it does add a few things like Punish the Enemy and Rubblebelt Maaka. The best part about this combination is that it gets a very good set of uncommons. Putrefy and Korozda Gorgon are very powerful commons on the Golgari side, while Armed//Dangerous and Scab-Clan Giant give you a really good top end. Zhur-Taa Druid is another great card that allows you to ramp up to your big creatures, while giving you a constant damage source. The other good thing about Jund is that you have big creatures. On average, Jund creatures are bigger than any other creatures in the set.

However, things don’t look as good once you get out of Dragon’s Maze. Gruul was never anything special, and it is your only guild in the Gatecrash pack. Luckily, there are plenty of black cards that are powerful and that can go in your deck, and if you end up going towards Jund, I would recommend keeping an eye out of Basilica Screechers and Grisly Spectacles. In the meantime, you’ll mostly be picking up big creatures. Things could be much worse, but Gatecrash is definitely not an exciting pack for you.

In the Return to Ravnica packs, you can make up for a lot of the ground that you lose in Gatecrash. You can continue to put together a collection of large creatures, as well as picking up some Scavenge cards to let you punch through in the late game. You get a few good removal spells as well, and you generally will have a high enough density of playables in the third pack that the second pack won’t hurt you too much. One thing to keep in mind is that cards like Mutant’s Prey are especially good in Jund since you will have access to Unleash creatures, which will allow you to easily turn it into a good removal spell.

A deck with large creatures and a decent removal suite can never be too bad, and Jund cracks the top half of decks that I would recommend playing in the new format. It is a very solid choice that should give you a depth of playables. However, it doesn’t have as much too really put it over the top of the other combinations when we look at the Gatecrash and Return to Ravnica packs. You really need to pick up your powerful cards in the first pack, otherwise you should start looking somewhere else in Gatecrash.

Naya

Naya Average Creature Stats

CMC

3.535413

Power

2.763211

Toughness

2.847121

P/T Differ

-0.08391

 

Naya is made up of Selesnya, Boros, and Gruul. This is the other combination that is centered around big creatures. The creatures in Naya are a little bit smaller than the creatures in Jund on average, and Naya doesn’t get as powerful of a removal suite. In the first pack, these three guilds are probably the worst of the bunch. White is not good at all, and red is bad except for a handful of cards. Green is the only color you want to be drafting, but you still don’t get access to the top quality uncommons that all the other colors get. You have a short list of cards that you want to first pick, and your colors aren’t very deep. Some people will be sucked into this guild because of Warleader’s Helix followed by a Zhur-Taa Druid, but Naya will definitely leave players wondering what went wrong in the first pack.

In the second pack, Naya gets the opportunity to pick up more playables. The problem is that its guilds in Gatecrash are Boros and Gruul. These guilds were just run of the mill in Gatecrash anyway, and they got worse now that the format is better equipped to deal with fast starts. Naya decks will find that their mana is often too diluted to form a solid aggressive base, especially without strong Boros cards to give them direction in the first pack. However, if you do end up in Naya, Gatecrash is very important, since it will give you the bulk of your playables.

Going into Return to Ravnica, you really won’t know what to expect for Naya. Selesnya has some very powerful cards, like Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage for example. But you also run the risk of getting the lower end of Selesnya cards. Since you won’t have enough tokens to populate, you’ll often find that you have to pick mediocre cards just to scrape enough playables together to form a deck.

If I were to warn you to avoid any deck, it would be Naya. I think that it is only the second worst color combination, but it doesn’t have the same upper range of power as the other contender for last place. Mainly, it comes in a little bit ahead just because you can always win some matches if you have a bunch of big dumb guys. Naya is weak in every single pack, and there just aren’t going to be many opportunities for it to shine. If you want to go a more aggressive route, it is much better to go the Kaalia or Numot route, instead of trying to put together a bad Naya deck. However, I bet that this combination is overdrafted in the first few weeks of the format since people like Naya a lot during Gatecrash, even though it wasn’t very good there either. Don’t fall into this trap.

Kaalia

Kaalia Average Creature Stats

CMC

3.348102

Power

2.501129

Toughness

2.662703

P/T Differ

-0.16157

 

Kaalia is made up of Rakdos, Boros, and Orzhov. This is another example of a color combination that just doesn’t get very much from the Dragon’s Maze packs. This is a color combination that is focused on aggressive creature strategies, but Dragon’s Maze simply doesn’t provide very many aggressive creatures. If you are in Kaalia, there are two basic directions that you will want to take your deck in the first pack. Since white is so much stronger in the second three packs, you typically want that to be your central color, with either black or red as your other main color, and the other more like a splash color. This is so that you can consistently get the colors you need in the first few turns in order to be the aggressor. In Dragon’s Maze, this means that you will typically be basing your deck around either Viashino Firstblade or Life Drinker. Both of these creatures form a very solid base for an aggressive deck, and you’ll build on that base in the next two packs.

The best pack for this deck is definitely Gatecrash, where you get to choose from Orzhov and Boros. Again, you’ll want to be going down one route more heavily than the other, which means that you want to focus your early game creatures within one of those two colors. Essentially, you’ll either be drafting the Wojek Halberdiers deck, or the Basilica Screecher deck. If you go down this route, then you are definitely giving up some power in multicolor cards, but it will be worth it if you can get a very focused aggressive deck that can punish your opponents for playing the slow decks that this environment encourages.

The most interesting pack for this deck is Return to Ravnica, where you only get Rakdos as your guild. However, there are also several very good aggressive white creatures that can be played in the early game. Typically you’ll be taking the Rakdos creatures that best fit whichever color out of red and black that you focused on; for example, the more Boros deck will be taking the Gore-House Chainwalkers and the Splatter Thugs, while the more Orzhov deck will be focusing on Dead Reveler and Grim Roustabout.

One of the things that makes this deck have a lot of potential is that it can put Knightly Valor and Ethereal Armor to incredibly good use. You’ll typically be playing creatures that are very good in the early game, but that lose their usefulness later on. Slapping a Knightly Valor on one of the creatures suddenly turns it into a very potent late game threat, while adding to your board position. Ethereal Armor lets your creatures with high power and low toughness get through a defensive board state. You definitely want to be cautious about when you play those cards, but they are central to the strategy. Though most aggressive decks simply won’t be powerful enough in the full block draft, I think that the Kaalia decks have the most potential. If I were to draft a deck that want to focus on being as aggressive as possible, this would be the one that I pick. The three guilds fit together perfectly to make a high powered aggressive deck with a lot of reach. I don’t think this will be the strongest deck in the format, but it will often be a very good metagame choice in a field of slower decks.

Riku

Riku Average Creature Stats

CMC

3.544095

Power

2.717367

Toughness

2.935442

P/T Differ

-0.21807

 

Riku is made up of Izzet, Simic, and Gruul. I can also tell you that this will be my Achille’s Heel. I have an inordinate fondness for RUG decks, and it is quite possibly my favorite three color combination, though BUG has been growing on me more and more lately. I just love the ability to play big creatures, and then use tempo and burn spells to clear the way. In this set, Riku will also seem very attractive in the first pack. You’ve got access to an incredibly powerful set of removal spells in Izzet, along with Nivix Cyclops for a cheap and efficient beater. You also have Krasis Incubation, Runner’s Bane, and Punish the Enemy for powerful removal spells. On top of this, you have the most efficient creature base in the set, with Beetleform Mage, Thrashing Mossdog, Rubblebelt Maaka, and Zhur-Taa Druid filling in a very good mana curve. In the Dragon’s Maze packs, there is probably not a more tempting color combination than Riku.

I’ve also mentioned that I suspect people will often be slightly open at the end of pack one, and then move unconsciously into one of the color combinations that has two guilds in Gatecrash. Riku gets both Simic and Gruul in this pack, which is definitely a less than stellar representation. You don’t have the same list of powerful removal spells that you had in the first pack; instead, you just have a string of large creatures. This leaves Riku with one of the highest average creature sizes in the set, but also one of the highest average CMCs.

The problem with Riku comes when you hit Izzet in Return to Ravnica. The mono green cards in RTR are just not very strong, so you can’t expect much for that color in the pack. Instead, you have to focus on drafting the Blue and Red cards. While there are several cards in that set that are powerful, the problem is that they just don’t mesh very well with the cards that you have already taken. You’ll want to focus on being aggressive, but you’ll often be forced to take defensive creatures. You also just don’t get access to the same number of powerful commons that the other colors get in that pack. The one saving grace that you have is that Overload spells can be quite good with a bunch of large creatures; Teleportal gets pretty good if it is powering through multiple large creatures.

While there is potential in the Riku decks, I also predict that it will be the most difficult combination for drafting a cohesive deck. I think that the powerful cards for this color combination are actually something of a trap in the first pack. Often, they will be enough to hook you into the color combination, and then you will be stuck picking mediocre cards for the next two packs. As much as it pains me to say this, I think that Riku might be the deck that performs worse on average than all the color combinations. With that said, I won’t be avoiding it as much as I would Naya, simply because it has more upper potential if you do manage to draft the right cards together, and there is a possibility that RUG is a powerful base for a five color defender deck that is supported by Gatecreeper Vines, Axebane Guardians, and Doorkeepers in the third pack.

Doran

Doran Average Creature Stats

CMC

3.401609

Power

2.425223

Toughness

2.875408

P/T Differ

-0.45019

 

Doran is made up of Selesnya, Golgari, and Orzhov. It is a guild that is based around three mechanics that perform admirably in the long game. However, these mechanics also give you powerful tools for surviving the early game. The Dragon’s Maze packs aren’t particular good for Doran. Neither Orzhov nor Selesnya really have a strong showing, simply because white is so bad in that pack. Luckily, Golgari more than pulls its weight. Putrefy is an incredible uncommon, and Korozda Gorgon is another card that makes a powerful basis for a deck. Thrashing Mossdog is a powerful staple creature. You also get Fatal Fumes and Ubul Sar Gatekeepers in black. Since most of the power of Doran is in the following two packs, I would highly recommend taking these strong cards in the first pack, and then devoting several picks to taking gates. You’ll have less time to focus on gates in the next two packs, and this can allow your Ubul Sar Gatekeepers to be very powerful, but you will also reap benefits when you get to pack three and get to load up on Ogre Jailbreakers.

In pack two, Doran only gets to draft Orzhov. However, this is a fantastic guild to have by itself. You’ll be focusing on taking Extort cards and removal spells, but there are also a few good token makers that will pay off when you hit the third pack. Orzhov is deep enough that you’ll be able to put together a deep set of commons. The only thing that might be concerning is that it might be hard to fight over slots for your creature curve, but you’ll be able to fill those in more reliably in the third pack, so it’s not anything to worry about.

In Return to Ravnica, Doran gets an embarrassment of riches. For an environment that is a little bit slow, these strategies are perfect. I have mentioned earlier that one of the problems with Selesnya is that you have a few very powerful cards, but that without populate, there are many cards that get significantly worse. The good thing about Doran is that if you are lucky enough to open a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, you can just take it, but if you don’t, you can always settle in to draft from the powerful midrange commons for Golgari.

Doran is a deck that is well-poised for this metagame. The mechanics come together beautifully to make a deck that is good at stabilizing in the midgame and then grinding out advantage during the late game. It gets powerful and diverse options in all three packs, and it is in a good position to take advantage of the block format. Doran is one of my choices for the top two decks in the format. I’m not entirely sure which of the two is better, but Doran is definitely a strong contender, and it is one of the decks that I’ll have my eye out for in my first drafts.

Numot

Numot Average Creature Stats

CMC

3.326557

Power

2.349985

Toughness

2.755724

P/T Differ

-0.40574

 

Numot is made up of Azorius, Izzet, and Boros. This is another color combination that suffers from having to draft terrible white cards in the first pack. This is compound by having to support those cards with terrible red cards. Izzet can be strong in the first pack, but those are your only really good options. You do have a few salient powerful cards in either Boros or Azorius, but those cards are exceptions, and the first pack is just generally not very deep if you are in Numot.

Going into Gatecrash, you only have access to Boros. There are a few blue cards that are worth picking up in that pack, but generally you’ll be much more focused on prioritizing early game Boros creatures. Numot is a color combination that wants to be aggressive, and so it is important to pick up these powerful early game creatures while you still can in Gatecrash. This color combination suffers from the problem of having a guild that is weak to draft by itself in its one guild pack. If you decide to be in Numot, you’ll go through two packs with fairly slim pickings.

This is not improved dramatically in Return to Ravnica. You get to draft both Azorius and Izzet, and there are several cards in these two guilds that support what you have done earlier with Boros. However, both guilds also have about half their cards dedicated to defense. You won’t have a powerful suite of removal to draw on in the third pack, and you’ll be trying to support your aggressive deck with other aggressive creatures, but often you’ll just be stuck taking something defensive.

Numot is one of the three color combinations that I’ll be expressly avoiding in draft. There are certainly some powerful interactions, but it is the kind of deck that will consistently find its cards fighting at cross purposes, and it will often be struggling for playables by the end of the draft. I do recognize that this color combination has potential for fast starts with some reach in Overload cards, but overall, this is the kind of deck that is not going to perform well against a format that gums up the ground.

Damia

Damia Average Creature Stats

CMC

3.462221

Power

2.401058

Toughness

2.985622

P/T Differ

-0.58456

 

Damia is made up of Golgari, Dimir, and Simic. In the first pack, this is easily the most powerful color combination. Damia has some of the best removal spells in the set, including cads at each point in the mana curve. Even more, it also has the best creatures. It is the color combination that avoids drafting all of the bad white and red cards, and it definitely has the deepest pack one. People still think that Dimir and Golgari are bad, so I expect many of them to undervalue the Damia cards in pack one, which means that you can get an awesome set of cards in your first pack.

Unlike some of the other color combinations that are strong in Dragon’s Maze, Damia does not really get weaker in the next two packs. Gatecrash means that you get to draft Dimir and Simic. Both of these guilds are perfect for a metagame that has slowed down. Dimir was already the best guild in Gatecrash, but it needed to play some of its less efficient cards in order to slow down the other decks. In the full block, you’ll be able to focus a little bit more on your most powerful cards. Dimir has access to tons of removal, and you’ll be taking as much of it as possible in this pack. However, you also get a powerful set of creatures from Simic. Cloudfin Raptor was an amazing creature before, but now that it gets a handful of extra turns to get better, it will be one of the dominating forces in the format. This is a color combination that has powerful removal and evasive creatures, as well as synergies that allow you to build a lot of value in a long game. These are powerful things to have in a format like Return to Ravnica block.

Return to Ravnica is the pack where you only get one guild, but that guild is also Golgari. This means that you’ll be picking up a powerful suite of creatures that can become potent threats in the late game. Scavenge is at its best in a deck where it can put the counters on evasive creatures in the late game, and the Dimir pairing means that this will happen frequently. You also still get access to good removal in Stab Wound, and this might be the deck where that card is at its best, since you’ll often be winning with evasion anyway. Voidwielder is at his best in this deck, giving you tempo and then holding the ground while your evasive creatures do their work. Not only that, but Damia also has access to all of the best fixing in the set, as well as the ability to capitalize on powerful defenders.

Damia is my pick for the strongest three color combination in the set. It has an incredibly diverse set of strategies, but unlike Grixis or Numot, those strategies all complement each other. It is a color combination that is perfectly suited for a three color format, since its cards are built for longer games. This is the deck that I’ll be looking to draft at the first opportunity.

Conclusion

Thanks for sticking with me through both of these long Dragon’s Maze walkthroughs. This is easily the most complicated set that I’ve ever analyzed, and this is evidenced by the sheer number of words that I’ve put together about the format. Here are my recommendations:

1.       Return to Ravnica block is going to be a slow format. This is because of a perfect storm of factors including a variety of early game defensive options, a large negative P/T differential, and the multicolor nature of the format.

2.       Drafting three colors is almost always going to be the best option, since it gives you almost twice as many cards from which to build your deck, and also gives you access to powerful multicolor spells.

3.       There is room for aggressive decks to take advantage of the people depending on the slow nature of the format, but it is often going to be correct to plan for the late game.

4.       It is important to choose a color combination that has a solid pack where it only gets to draft one guild.

5.       The best color combinations will probably be Damia (UBG), Doran (WBG), and Esper (WUB).

6.       The powerful secondary options will be Grixis (UBR), Kaalia (WBR), Jund (BRG), and Bant (GWU).

7.       The combinations to avoid are Naya (WRG), Numot (WUR), and Riku (RUG).

8.       Although I’ve made predictions about the best guilds, this is also an incredibly complex format, and there is likely to be a depth to the guilds that means that each option will be the best choice at different times, depending on the metagame.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been more excited to really dig into drafting a set. I’m excited to see which of these predictions prove correct, and which ones are just way off. I’ve never poured more work into analyzing a set than this one, and I truly hope that you are able to use this data and analysis to find a useful framework for approaching your early drafts. In a format like full Return to Ravnica block, it can be incredibly daunting to face a pack full of so many options without knowing what direction to go. At the least, I hope this will help you develop a framework so that you can dive into those first few drafts with confidence that you at least have a plan, and that you aren’t going to have to flail around until the more experienced drafters share their guarded wisdom with you. Good luck in your RTR block drafts!

As always, you can follow me on twitter @oraymw for updates about articles. I’ve also put up a Tumblr account at http://oraymw.tumblr.com/ where I post links to my articles. You can go there and subscribe to the RSS feed, and then you’ll be able to get updates whenever a new article goes live.

Finally, I encourage you to check out the podcast that I do with my buddy Zach Orts, which is called All in the Telling. In it, we look at stories from a professional standpoint in order to get a better understanding of why they are important to the human experience. But mostly, we just talk about what makes awesome stories awesome. You can also follow Zach on twitter at @zvazda and read his limited focused series here on PureMTGO, which is called The Slow Bleed.

Ars Arcanum Archive

 

 

14 Comments

Thanks by kelvinmai at Thu, 05/09/2013 - 03:18
kelvinmai's picture
5

Thanks, this is very helpful. I was having a lot of trouble in some practice drafts and it is very hard to make sense of so much variation.

Just wanted to point out that by oraymw at Thu, 05/09/2013 - 19:43
oraymw's picture

Just wanted to point out that I've been getting questions over on Reddit about this article, and you can see how I responded to them here:

http://www.reddit.com/r/magicTCG/comments/1e0grf/ars_arcanum_dragons_maz...

Re: Dimir by JXClaytor at Fri, 05/10/2013 - 07:24
JXClaytor's picture

I think Dimir gets a bum rap because it's by my understanding so hard to build properly. When it's done correctly (I've never done it.) it has been tearing me up.

I streamed something like 12 by oraymw at Fri, 05/10/2013 - 15:07
oraymw's picture

I streamed something like 12 Dimir drafts and put up an insane win record with them. It was definitely a difficult deck to draft, and it required you to make a lot of tough decisions between different kinds of synergies, but it was very powerful for the people who did figure it out.

I always tried to force mill by JXClaytor at Fri, 05/10/2013 - 16:08
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I always tried to force mill because I enjoy milling people but ended up with like 2 paranoid delusions and never enough men to cipher it.

Yeah, people got really by oraymw at Fri, 05/10/2013 - 16:26
oraymw's picture

Yeah, people got really focused on the mill deck. I never played a single Paranoid Delusions in any of my Dimir decks. But I did mill a lot of people out. You just wanted to be playing incidental mill, not dedicated mill.

I realized that I did have a by oraymw at Fri, 05/10/2013 - 09:15
oraymw's picture

I realized that I did have a glaring hole in the analysis, since I didn't talk about five color:

To be brief, I think that five color could definitely be a contender for the top deck. The power level is certainly there, and it looks like the format will be slow enough that you can fix your mana. It is certainly a dangerous archetype because the fixing is less powerful in this format than it has been in other multicolor formats.

One of the reasons that I think BUG will be so strong is because it is well positioned to go into five color control. I do think that it will be difficult to build 5 color control decks at the beginning of the format. This is because the exact make up of your deck is very metagame dependent. But I think it will end up being an important archetype in the format.

Let me ask you this, do you by MarcosPMA at Fri, 05/10/2013 - 09:42
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Let me ask you this, do you think that there is an aggressive deck to be drafted in an 8 man pod if people decide to draft at least 3 colors? Is forcing a two color deck 100% a bad idea, or is it something that is high risk/high reward? What guild should you be drafting if you decide to throw conventional wisdom out the window?

shouldn't the Color Wedges be by Paul Leicht at Fri, 05/10/2013 - 13:30
Paul Leicht's picture
5

shouldn't the Color Wedges be named after the original dragons of those colors (Oros, Intet, Numot, Teneb, and Vorosh) rather than the newer and equally silly commander set names?

We could have also used the by oraymw at Fri, 05/10/2013 - 15:03
oraymw's picture

We could have also used the volvers, or the commanders. You'll notice that I used a mix. That's mostly just because I wanted to pick short names that were easy for me to remember, and that didn't take as much energy to type.

When I do the articles where I watch games and record the results, I use these names to note the deck archetype. I've changed the names around a little bit based on what is easiest for me to type.

For example, I actually don't like Doran/Damia because excel will often autocomplete whichever one I last used. I don't use Vorosh, though, because I always misspell it as Vorsh or Vorohs or Vrosh, which makes it more of a hassle to organize the results. I originally used Teneb, tried Ghave, but settled on Doran just because that is what people tend to use to refer to that wedge, but it's still annoying.

I also really hate "Numot" because it autocompletes to Naya, but I don't like Zedruu because it is hard to spell and has too many letters. I would use Ruhan, but when I did use that, noone knew what I was talking about. People remember Numot a little bit better.

I guess there are just a ton of factors to consider, and I mostly chose the names for ease of typing. I would love it if WotC would make a "wedges of alara" kind of set, so that we could have a standardized nomenclature.

The other options are Ana, Ceta, Dega, etc. But I found that I always got those ones confused :(

For me the ones I recommended by Paul Leicht at Fri, 05/10/2013 - 17:24
Paul Leicht's picture

For me the ones I recommended are easier to remember because they were for a long time the best default for commander when discussing color id. "Oh I am building an Oros build or a Teneb build." Not necessarily meaning those particular dragons being used as commanders, just those color groups.

In other news Auto complete sucks. Turn it off. :)

That definitely makes sense. by oraymw at Fri, 05/10/2013 - 18:03
oraymw's picture

That definitely makes sense. I didn't get into Commander until the Commander product was released, so I am much more familiar with that product.

This was a good article by Vainhope at Mon, 05/20/2013 - 22:19
Vainhope's picture

This was a good article EXCEPT for the wedge names chosen...they really threw me out of concentrating on the content, and I had to keep going back to the top of each section to remind myself which guilds were in it, because the names are wholly non-evocative of the combinations.

Grixis, Esper, et al, I immediately know...and I was on a long-break during the Alara block. They were just entrenched well enough (and official) AND mostly unique enough that they embed themselves in new players.

The Commander stuff...I've never played Commander (only been back since RTR) so they were completely non-helpful for identification.

As for the others...when I'm talking about a wedge deck, and someone says something like "RBW? Oh, you mean Dega." I just can't help but picture them as Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, and I usually have to just frown, shake my head at them, and find someone else to talk to...because man, this card game is nerdy enough, taking something that was referenced on THREE cards each, from what, 12 years ago and insisting that's the proper name for a given color combination? Seriously...

It's just simple, RUG and BUG are easy to say, America pisses people off because lots of countries use red, white, and blue, but it's easy to remember. RWB hardly rolls off the tongue, and Borzhov is fun to say, but I'd never expect it to become common koine, and Junk is one of those ones I had to research to figure out, but it really just works...

I'm not going to touch the by Doctor Anime at Sat, 05/11/2013 - 13:33
Doctor Anime's picture

I'm not going to touch the stats, but I will say that Dimir is the best guild in DGM/DGM/DGM. For one reason: Woodlot Crawler. Holy crap, what a bomb in draft.