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By: oraymw, Matthew Watkins
Apr 26 2013 12:44pm
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Welcome back to Ars Arcanum, the MTGO stats-based column. We have an exciting column today. The full Dragon’s Maze spoiler is up on the mothership, and the prerelease is less than a week away. As usual, that means that I’ll be doing an in depth analysis of the set.  I’ll be focusing on the creatures, and we’ll try to get an idea of the speed of the format, as well as figure out how the creatures will matchup against each other. We’ll look at the set itself, in order to help us understand how it acts on the format. We’ll also take a look at the guilds throughout the block. I’ll give you some advice on how to succeed at your prerelease, and then I’ll take a deep look at all the available three color combinations. With that, I’ll give my estimates for what the draft format will be like.

This article will be jam packed. In fact, all together I’ve managed to put up a word count of approximately double my already enormous word counts. Because of that, this article is going to end up being a two-parter. I’ll be submitting them in close succession, so you should be able to expect part two of this article tomorrow. I’ll deal with the guilds and the prerelease in this part, and then I’ll look at draft and the three color combinations tomorrow.

As usual, I want to take a moment to discuss my methods. The most important concept that I use is something that I call rarity weight. Rarity weight is a value that is assigned to the different card rarities in order to help us understand how likely a card is to show up in a given draft. For example, Gatecrash has 101 Commons, 80 Uncommons, 53 Rares, and 15 Mythic Rares. There are ten common slots in a given booster pack, which means that any common has a little less than a 10% chance of showing up in any booster. Each of the 8 players in the pack opens 3 packs, which means that any given common will be opened 2.376238 times in a given draft, on average. There are 80 uncommons, which is more than usual, and ends up giving us a .9 per draft rarity weight for uncommons. The rarity weights for rares and mythic rares are .396226 and .2 respectively.

However, Dragon’s Maze has very different numbers. It has 60 commons (since we discount the reprinted gates), 40 uncommons, 35 rares, and 10 mythics (if we discount Maze’s End which shows up in the land slot). If we were to draft three packs of Dragon’s Maze together, we would find, on average, 4 copies of every common, 1.8 copies of every uncommon, .6 copies of every rare, and .3 copies of every mythic rare. This is vital to understanding small sets. A common in Dragon’s Maze is 1.679 times as common as a common from Gatecrash. An uncommon in Dragon’s Maze shows up twice as often as an uncommon in Gatecrash. In fact, uncommons in Dragon’s Maze are almost as common as the common cards in Gatecrash.

It is also important to keep in mind that we don’t actually draft Dragon’s Maze by itself (unless we do triple DGM drafts on MTGO, of course). In draft, we’ll have one pack of RTR, one of GTC, and one of DGM. I’ve included this in my calculations. There are still more things to gum up the works; the prerelease for Dragon’s Maze is a much different format than normal. You choose a guild for the prerelease, and you get a random guild as your secret ally. You then get a guild pack for your main guild, one for your secret guild, and then four DGM boosters. This means that Dragon’s Maze will have an even greater effect on the prerelease than any other limited format.

Because of that, I wanted to take a look at the numbers for Dragon’s Maze as a set before I look at any of the guilds. The numbers for DGM have been adjusted to fit the same scale as a full set draft; this is merely to help us better understand the set in comparison with other sets. Don’t pay as much attention to the actual numbers. Just focus on how the different stats will interact. This will help us get an idea of how the set will affect the prerelease, as well as the influences that it will bring to the table during draft.

Dragon’s Maze Creature Stats

Converted Mana Cost

Converted Mana Costs of Creatures in Dragon’s Maze

Converted Mana Costs of Creature in Dragon’s Maze as compared with Gatecrash and Return to Ravnica

In these two graphs, we see the distributions of creatures in each converted mana cost slot according to how often they will show up in packs according to their rarity weight. While both Gatecrash and Return to Ravnica were mostly similar, with Gatecrash slightly favoring lower curves, Dragon’s Maze is entirely different. It only gets Wake the Reflections at one, which hardly counts as a creature at all, and certainly doesn’t count as a curve starter. For all intents and purposes, curves in Dragon’s Maze start at two.

But even then, Dragon’s Maze quickly falls behind both GTC and RTR. Whereas the two and three slots were where those sets spiked, we don’t see a spike for Dragon’s Maze until the 4CMC slot. Finally, we see a huge spike at the six drop slot. These two slots are mostly impacted by the Gatekeepers and the Maze Elementals. Both of these cycles of creatures have a huge impact on the format. It is also important to note that there is not a lack of two and three drop creatures; there is simply a greater abundance of more expensive creatures. There are plenty of defensive tools in the early game, though we’ll see that there are very few ways to get aggressive in the early turns. On top of this, we’ll also have the Cluestones to fill in the curve at the three drop slot, which will greatly accelerate players’ expensive game plans. One of the key principles that I mention in my articles is that formats are defined more by what they are missing than by what is plentiful, and it seems like WotC really followed through on that principle in this set. They wanted to slow the format down, so they gave us a greater emphasis on expensive cards. However, they still gave us plenty of tools to interact in the early game. Suffice to say that these first numbers indicate a shift towards a slower metagame

Power and Toughness

Power and Toughness of Creatures in Dragon’s Maze

In this chart, we see the distribution of power and toughness for creatures in the set. This chart shows that this set is unlike any of the set I have analyzed in this column up to now. We see that the power chart spikes at 2, with a decent number of creatures at three. However, we also see that the toughness of creatures is clumped at 3 and four, with a large number of fives as well. In most sets, the toughness is much closer to the power, in this set we see that the creatures are skewed dramatically in favor of high toughness and low power. Four toughness is going to be the barrier that you have to get through, especially since the only common removal spell that can consistently deal with a 2/4 is Runner’s Bane.

Even more fascinating is the interaction between these numbers in Dragon’s Maze with the numbers in Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. We see a big influx of two power creatures, which can’t get past the three toughness blockers in Gatecrash, and certainly won’t get past the four toughness blockers in Return to Ravnica. Meanwhile, we see a heavy number of four toughness creatures for DGM, which will be able to easily block all of the aggressive creatures from the other two sets. Like with CMC, we see that DGM is adding a lot of tools to slow down the environment.

Power Comparison of Creatures in DGM with RTR and GTC

Toughness Comparison of Creatures in DGM with RTR and GTC

These two charts highlight the differences between the three sets. We don’t see a major difference between the three sets in power; however, it is the tremendous difference in toughness that paints a picture of how much slower this set is. We see a dramatic increase in toughness at four and five, which are in exactly the right places to answer the creatures from all three sets. Cards like the Gatekeepers or Murmuring Phantasm mean that it will be very difficult for aggressive decks to consistently punch through enough damage to win the game.

The last set of data that I want to show you from DGM by itself are the creature statistic averages.

Dragon’s Maze Creature Statistic Averages

CMC

3.762234

Power

2.676466

Toughness

3.185371

P/T Differ

-0.50891

 

In this chart we see the average Converted Mana Cost, the average power and toughness, and most importantly, we see the average differential between power and toughness. The converted mana cost is definitely on the high side, coming in even higher than Avacyn Restored. Furthermore, it has the highest average toughness of any set for which I have done this type of analysis. But the most telling statistic is the power and toughness differential. As I’ve mentioned, this is the difference between the power and the toughness, and it is a key indicator for the speed of the format. Whenever we have a format with a P/T Differential that is either a small negative number, or a positive number, we end up having an aggressive format, like with GTC or AVR. When you see a large negative differential, you end up having a much slower format. The number -0.5 is the biggest negative differential that I have seen in any of the sets I have analyzed. The best set to compare this to would be something like Rise of the Eldrazi.

If we add up all of this data, along with the fact that this is a multicolor format that will almost certainly require you to play three colors, as well as a cycle of ten cluestones to ramp decks to higher mana during the midgame, we are certainly looking at a very slow format. If we were drafting DGM all by itself, it would be the slowest format in years. I suspect that even after adding GTC and RTR, that this will still be the slowest format since Rise of the Eldrazi.

Guilds

As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to focus this first part of my limited primer on the ten guilds. For the rest of the article, I’ll be looking at the statistics for the creatures in each of the ten guilds. For this section, I’ll be using the combined data for the guild from all three sets, which will give us an idea of how the guild will perform in draft, but will also help us decide which guilds will be strongest for the prerelease. I’ll also discuss my perception of how that guild will be affected by the release of Dragon’s Maze. Once I have gone through all ten guilds, I’ll take a moment to discuss which guild will be best for the prerelease, as well as a couple of tips for how to succeed in that tournament. Without further ado, the Guilds of Ravnica!

Azorius

Azorius Creature Stats

CMC

3.3482

Power

2.044126

Toughness

2.884495

P/T Differ

-0.84037

We begin with the guild that forms the backbone of Ravnican law. During Return to Ravnica, Azorius went through a lot of swings. At first it suffered against the field, mainly because of the speed of Rakdos and the strength of Selesnya. Azorius had a lot of two power flyers, but they just didn’t block well against all of Rakdos’s three power attackers. However, as the metagame shifted late in the format, Azorius became one of the better decks in the format. With a pair of powerful bounce spells in Dramatic Rescue and Voidwielder, Azorius became one of the best decks for disrupting the Selesnya game plan, and then winning through the air.

Gatecrash brings two particular bonuses to Azorius: Extort and Cipher. Azorius was already well suited for a little bit longer game, and didn’t really start to shine in RTR until the format had slowed down. We can expect a slower format with the release of DGM, and both of those mechanics should perform quite well in Azorius. Extort gives the Azorius deck another evasive way to win the game, while also padding your life total, while Cipher will let the Azorius deck take full advantage of its large number of evasive creatures in order to leverage the late game.

Dragon’s Maze, however, is a little bit light on goodies for Azorius. It does pick up some evasion from its white and blue creatures, but those creatures are a little bit worse than the Return to Ravnica options that are already available. Azorius will also be getting fewer solid bounce spells and less removal. Overall, I think that Azorius takes one of the biggest blows in Dragon’s Maze. Which isn’t to say that it will be bad, since it will be able to take good advantage of synergies from Gatecrash, but it probably won’t be the strongest color combination in the set.

Orzhov

Orzhov Creature Stats

CMC

3.288122

Power

2.225864

Toughness

2.889063

P/T Differ

-0.6632

 

Orzhov was one of the strongest guilds in Gatecrash. Decks that could put together a mass of extort creatures were able to dump all of their mana into fireballing their opponent’s every turn. Orzhov often worked best as an aggressive deck with cheap creatures, but it also made for a fine control deck. However, as the format progressed and people started to cannibalize the extort cards, Orzhov’s stock dropped dramatically. While the extort cards were extremely powerful, the deck also didn’t have very much power without them. However, in a slower format, Orzhov will probably pick up a lot of power simply because it can extort more over the course of a game.

This guild also seems to be one of the best positioned to take advantage of synergies with Return to Ravnica. Using some defensive spells with Azorius evasion will make for a great Esper control deck. Orzhov can also pair up with Selesnya and Golgari to make an incredible attrition deck that should be a great performer in a slow format. Finally, Orzhov can also join forces with Boros and Rakdos to make for what might be the only real aggressive deck in the new format.

Orzhov also gets several goodies from Gatecrash. Tithe Drinker is in contention for being one of the best commons in the set. Orzhov also picks up a few efficient creatures that do good work in long games, as well as a solid removal spell in Fatal Fumes. It is a little bit lacking in the uncommon department, but I still predict that Orzhov will be one of the strongest guilds with the inclusion of Dragon’s Maze.

Dimir

Dimir Creature Stats

CMC

3.347355

Power

2.149341

Toughness

2.975492

P/T Differ

-0.82615

 

Dimir was considered the weakest guild in the format for the duration of Gatecrash. This was despite the fact that it put up an incredible win percentage. I’ve talked about Dimir’s strengths many times before. The combination of a powerful suite of removal spells, along with evasive creatures, good defenses, and built in card advantage made Dimir a force to be reckoned with, provide that the pilot could build the deck correctly. Dimir is a guild that is built entirely around the long game. It tries to defend early and build up a gradual advantage until it wins out of nowhere. A slower format is likely exactly what Dimir wants. I suspect that with the release of Dragon’s Maze, even the naysayers will begin to respect Dimir.

The biggest challenge for Dimir comes from its pairings in Return to Ravnica. In this slower format, both Azorius and Golgari will probably be strong companions, since they give Dimir even more tools for winning the late game. However, if Dimir is paired up with Izzet and Dimir, then it will lead to an awkward situation. These kinds of decks could certainly be powerful by pairing strong Rakdos creatures with powerful Dimir removal, and closing out the game with things like Teleportal, but it will probably be a problem for Dimir’s more defensive nature.

In Dragon’s Maze, the Dimir guild made out like bandits. They pick up a couple of strong removal spells at common, as well as two powerful removal spells at uncommon. This is along with a very solid set of both evasive and defensive creatures. There aren’t many mill cards or cipher cards to power up the synergies from Gatecrash, so the deck will probably lose a little bit of synergy, but it will definitely be able to pick up some powerful role players in the first pack.

Izzet

Izzet Creature Stats

CMC

3.375061

Power

2.455752

Toughness

2.827444

P/T Differ

-0.37169

 

Izzet was considered the weakest guild in Return to Ravnica at the beginning of the format, but that was mostly because no one knew how to build a good Izzet deck. As the format progressed, it actually became one of the stronger decks in the format. Every Izzet deck felt incredibly strange and flavorful. Essentially, you played high power creatures, and then found ways to sneak in damage. Then, you would suddenly win the game with a well-timed Teleportal. This kind of strategy could actually be quite powerful in the new format. Izzet has several ways to bust open a stalled board, which it will be facing quite a lot of in the future.

The problem with Izzet is the entirely unpredictable and conflicted nature of its cards. There could certainly be a powerful Izzet/Dimir deck, and Izzet would probably pair up well with a combination of Gruul and Simic. A RWU deck with a Boros base that uses Overload to power through a massive battalion in the late game seems amazing as well. The problem is that Izzet is pulling in so many directions. Each of these decks would play so much differently, and it will be challenging for players to use Izzet correctly. That isn’t to say that it is a bad guild, but I suspect that Izzet will be underrated again during the first few weeks of Dragon’s Maze.

Luckily, Izzet gets a powerful set of spells in the first pack. It gets three very good uncommons; two of them are removal spells, and one of them, Turn and Burn, could quite possibly be the best uncommon in the set. It also gets a powerful set of commons on the blue side, along with a powerhouse creature in Nivix Cyclops. In fact, I would say that Izzet is the strongest guild in Dragon’s Maze. The real question will be whether players will be able to figure out how to take these pieces and put them together correctly with the other two sets.

Rakdos

Rakdos Creature Stats

CMC

3.319912

Power

2.654965

Toughness

2.729265

P/T Differ

-0.0743

 

Rakdos started out as one of the most powerful guilds in Return to Ravnica. It really set the pace of the game for the first two months that the set was drafted. But then, something very strange happened. People started to figure out how to answer Rakdos. In the last half of the Return to Ravnica season, Rakdos’s win rate began to plummet until it had the lowest win rate of the entire set. That isn’t to say that the guild doesn’t have a lot of innate power. It simply means that there are certainly ways to answer Rakdos. The biggest problem that I foresee is that it will be difficult to build a true aggressive deck in such a slow format.

The biggest strength that Rakdos has is that it picks up two very powerful allies in Gatecrash. Pairing up Boros and Orzhov was already a good idea in Gatecrash. Adding those powerful cards to the Rakdos arsenal could definitely create a powerful aggressive deck with a solid extort late game. The only worry is that such a deck would depend fairly heavily on the cards it gets in Gatecrash. While there are certainly plenty of goodies that this deck can pick up from white in pack three, if your WBR deck doesn’t see the right cards in pack two, then you could be scrambling for playables in the end of the draft.

These problems are exacerbated in Dragon’s Maze. While Rakdos does pick up some good black commons, we should keep in mind that those cards will go early to the other guilds. Meanwhile, Rakdos’s uncommons just shout mediocrity. I wouldn’t say that Rakdos faired as poorly as Azorius in the DGM packs, but it is certainly a close race. The biggest worry with Rakdos is that it will be difficult to build a fine tuned aggressive deck in a format that encourages slow decks and three color decks. However, I should note that this does leave open a powerful option. If you can put together a focused aggressive deck, then you could probably take advantage of the other slow decks in the format. While everyone else is trying to fix their mana, you could certainly beat them down with Chainwalkers, Dead Revelers, and Splatter Thugs. I just think that this deck will be an exception, instead of the norm.

Golgari

Golgari Creature Stats

CMC

3.46434

Power

2.505634

Toughness

2.917452

P/T Differ

-0.41182

 

Golgari was probably the weakest guild in Return to Ravnica. People liked Izzet less at first, but Golgari’s win rate really plummeted in the first few months of the format. However, at that time, the aggressive decks started to get really polluted. Azorius decks started to disrupt things really well, and the format suddenly became a bit slower. When this happened, Golgari’s win rate jumped to the top of the set. The thing is, Golgari cards are naturally strong, but they need time in order to work their magic. Scavenge is a powerful mechanic provided that you have enough time to use it. Because of this, I predict that Golgari will be one of the strongest guilds in the format once Dragon’s Maze is released. Not only does it get a very powerful set of creatures, it also allows you to play Gatecreeper Vines and Axebane Guardians, which will give you a base for a potentially dominating five color deck.

The other thing that Golgari gains is a powerful set of allies in Gatecrash. It can pick up a versatile and efficient suite of removal spells from the black cards in the set. It can pair up with Dimir and Simic at the same time to make a deck with a devastating late game. It can also pair up with Orzhov and Selesnya to form a dominating core of the most powerful cards out of the first two sets. Extort will allow the Golgari deck to live long enough to use its scavenge abilities. Evolve pairs up beautifully with scavenge and the large Golgari creatures. Even Bloodrush is quite good when your opponent has to double block in order to trade with a creature with a few +1/+1 counters.

Golgari is another winner from Dragon’s Maze. Green has several efficient creatures, along with Thrashing Mossdog which is another contender for best common in the set. It gains some removal spells along with the awesome long game engine of Korozda Gorgon. I’m not entirely sure which guild is the best in the format, but for now, I’m putting my money on Golgari. It is a versatile guild with a powerful late game plan that can also find the necessary fixing to leverage to multicolor nature of the format.

Gruul

 

Gruul Creature Stats

CMC

3.609365

Power

2.914807

Toughness

2.815527

P/T Differ

0.09928

 

The core strategy of Gruul is to play a lot of big dumb creatures. In Gatecrash, Gruul always managed to run in the middle of the pack. Since GTC was such a fast format, playing expensive Gruul creatures was often a liability. Playing a 5/4 for 5 mana was often just too slow to make a real impact on the game. Instead of being able to play to its strengths, Gruul decks were usually forced to play its less expensive, but also less impactful creatures when compared with the other guilds in the set. Playing big creatures was never really bad, it’s just that it was never really good either.

Return to Ravnica presents some interesting options to Gruul. It can pair up with Golgari and Rakdos, which allows it to continue to produce the biggest creatures in the format. A RUG deck definitely has potential for some tempo blowouts, but it also seems to hang on a very delicate balance. Naya decks seems like they could be very powerful, but Selesnya will likely take a major hit with the release of DGM, and fast Boros creatures get much worse in an environment that is designed to slow them down.

In the end, I think that Gruul really isn’t going to see any major changes. It will continue to run in the middle of the pack. It gets big creatures, but not much else beside that. Gruul will probably end up being more of a support guild to other decks. However, it is worth noting that Gruul does have the singular distinction of being the only guild in the format with a positive P/T Differential. The converted mana cost average is likely to high for a dedicated Gruul aggressive deck, but these stats do show that Gruul will be a solid role player, though not one of the dominating guilds.

Boros

Boros Creature Stats

CMC

3.285562

Power

2.510898

Toughness

2.52978

P/T Differ

-0.01888

 

Boros was considered one of the strongest guilds in Gatecrash. It was aggressive and one of the defining decks of the format. It was also the most popularly played deck in the format. Again, this is a topic I’ve discussed many times, but Boros was certainly overrated in Gatecrash. While it was certainly possible to draw a perfect Boros dream curve, it was also equally likely that you just drew your cards in the wrong order. Regardless, Boros definitely set the pace for the format, and it was the major contributor in making Gatecrash one of the fastest draft formats in recent years.

Boros gets some interesting allies from Return to Ravnica. It is already an aggressive guild, and adding Rakdos to its strategy could certainly make for a relatively fast deck in a very slow format. In fact, Boros was a viable niche deck in the format, with some players seeing success with RW decks that were built to take advantage of RTR’s slightly slow format. I suspect that something similar could still happen with the release of Dragon’s Maze. A disciplined played could certainly put together a streamlined RW deck that is splashing for a few key Black cards from both RTR and GTC.

Boros certainly picks up a few useful cards in Dragon’s Maze. Warleader’s Helix and Blaze Commando are both likely to draw players in to the Boros deck. Blaze Commando also allows the Boros player to get a little bit more value out of teaming up with Izzet. The problem is that there just aren’t really any aggressive commons for the Boros deck. Boros Mastiff is a decent two drop, but it isn’t really anything to write home about. Riot Piker is probably a very weak card in a defensive format. A few strong uncommons is just not going to make up for the lack of depth in the common slot. As I’ve said, Boros could be an important part of the format, simply because it will likely form the backbone of the only real aggressive strategy in the format. This could be a powerful metagame choice in an environment where people will likely be playing a lot of Guildgates and Cluestones. However, there are certainly answers for the deck, and it requires getting fairly lucky with the cards that you open in all three packs.

Selesnya

Selesnya Creature Stats

CMC

3.574315

Power

2.548767

Toughness

2.943249

P/T Differ

-0.39448

 

One of the bigger surprises about Return to Ravnica was the strength of Selesnya. The parasitic nature of the Populate mechanic meant that the guild would either be very strong or very weak, depending on the availability of token creatures. Early evaluations of the format tended to underestimate the strength of those tokens, assuming that you wouldn’t be able to populate regularly, but in my primer article for the set, I showed that that simply wasn’t the case. Instead, Populate often meant that the Selesnya player was able to produce a steady stream of 3/3 creatures at a reduced cost. Selesnya ended up being the strongest deck in the format simply because of the way that it could snowball its board position from turn to turn.

However, the very thing that makes Selesnya strong will cause it significant problems with the introduction of Gatecrash and Dragon’s Maze. Gatecrash had a total of 5 common or uncommon token makers in green and white. This is compared with the 14 common or uncommon token makers for Return to Ravnica. Even worse, the common token makers cannot even make a 3/3. This is a serious problem for Selesnya, since they won’t be able to have the consistent number of populaters that are necessary to turn the guild into a powerhouse.

This problem is even worse in Dragon’s Maze. While Selesnya definitely gets a few powerful cards in the set, there are also no common token makers. Furthermore, there are only two uncommon token makers. Both of those are very strong, but they just won’t give the deck enough consistency. Cards like Eyes in the Skies or Rootborn Defenses start to be pretty bad when you can’t find good tokens to populate. Wake the Reflections will likely not even be playable unless you get very lucky in the tokens that you open. This problem will be the worst at the Dragon’s Maze prerelease since the bulk of your pool will be made up of Dragon’s Maze packs which will simply not give you a critical density of token creatures. Overall, I predict that Selesnya will be the biggest loser in the new format. It will go from being the strongest deck in RTR to being one of the worst guilds in the format in DGR.

Simic

Simic Creature Stats

CMC

3.504119

Power

2.508766

Toughness

3.00542

P/T Differ

-0.49665

 

Simic has always been my favorite guild, so I took it very hard when I saw how badly Simic performed in Gatecrash. Early on in the format, I forced Simic in every draft, and the results simply weren’t good. By the end of the format, people started avoiding Simic, and you could sometimes put together a powerful Simic build, but I really wanted it to be better than it was. Simic put up terrible win rates in my Gatecrash studies, and it made me very sad. The one thing that Simic did well was build up large creatures over the course of a few turns. If Simic was let alone to pursue its game plan, it would often start attacking with 3/4 or bigger Cloudfin Raptors (the biggest I saw was a 7/8), giant Shamblesharks or massive Crocanuras.

The good thing for Simic is that it pairs up very well with the guilds from Return to Ravnica. It can easily take advantage of the tempo oriented cards from Azorius. Voidwielder seems amazing in the Simic deck since it will often evolve things on account of its 4 toughness, while also getting creatures out of the way for a devastating attack. Simic should also pair up quite well with Golgari, especially when it can put in the black Rakdos cards like Dead Reveler. These options will give Simic even more ways to abuse +1/+1 counters, along with a solid set of large creatures to play on curve in order to evolve to absurd proportions.

Where Simic really shines is in the Dragon’s Maze packs. Not only does it get to take advantage of powerful Blue and Green commons like Runner’s Bane or Thrashing Mossdog, but it also gets to take advantage of particularly Simic cards. Mutant’s Prey is likely borderline playable in most green decks, but in a Simic deck it will really shine. Beetleform Mimic is a flying Rootwalla and will be a powerful tool for closing out long games. Krasis Incubation is one of the most powerful removal spells in the format, and Species Gorger is a particularly synergistic Simic creature.  Simic seems like the second most powerful guild in the set, but unlike Izzet, it also gets powerful guilds to pair with in both of the other two packs. Because of this, Simic is one of my picks for best guild in the format.

Prerelease

As I mentioned earlier, I want to take a moment to talk about the Dragon’s Maze prerelease. I’ll be putting up another article soon in which I talk about the ten three color combinations, and in that article I will focus on specific strategies for drafting the three set format. However, the prerelease is going to be a very unique experience. I’ve touched on a lot of the details earlier in the article, but I want to focus on a few key things to keep in mind.

First, you should be playing three or more colors in almost every case. This is not to say that there won’t be potential for some powerful two color decks that are merely splashing a third color, but that will definitely not be the normal case. Since you are getting two guild packs that span three different colors, and since the ten guilds are spread out through Dragon’s Maze, you are going to need to take advantage of playing three colors in order to get a high enough playable count to do well in the prerelease.

Second, remember that you are getting four Dragon’s Maze packs. Even with the more focused nature of the guild packs from Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash, you are still going to be building the bulk of your deck from cards from the four new packs. Because of this, Dragon’s Maze has an even more pronounced impact on the format. Red and white will probably be pretty weak overall since they aren’t as strong in DGM, while Blue, Black, and Green are all very strong. The format will probably be incredibly slow since it has DGM’s natural slowness on top of the fact that sealed is generally slower than draft anyway. One implication is that there will be many matches that go to time, so remember to play quickly.

This will also have a huge impact on the amount of fixing that you have in your pool. You will get a guildgate in each of your guild packs, as well as in all of your Dragon’s Maze packs, which means you will have six guildgates in total. Furthermore, the density of Cluestones at common in DGM means that you will open six of them on average. When you add in the chances of pulling Shocklands, Rupture Spires, Prismatic Prisms, and Keyrunes, and you will probably have 15 or more fixers in your pool. Playing three colors should not be difficult, but this also means that it is certainly possible to play a five color deck at the prerelease. In fact, it is entirely possible that that will be the best strategy in the format.

For those of you that have been waiting to make a decision on which guild to pick for the prerelease, I’m going to echo the advice from many other sources: play the guild that you will enjoy the most. There is a lot of balance to these sets, and you will get the most enjoyment out of playing a deck that you like. However, I know that there are still many of you that really want to maximize your wins, regardless of what guild to end up with, so here is my list of the best guilds to pick in their respective orders: 1. Golgari, 2. Orzhov, 3. Dimir, and 4. Simic. I’m betting that the best deck in the format will be BUG, followed closely by WBG. These decks take advantage of the best cards from Dragon’s Maze, while also building on the best guilds from Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash. Bant will also likely be a strong strategy. The one guild I would recommend not picking is Selesnya, simply because there won’t be enough token makes to justify playing your populate cards. The other wild card is Izzet; since it gets such powerful cards in the Dragon’s Maze packs, it could certainly be one of the best choices, but it could also be a major flop if you end up with a bad pairing from Gatecrash.

Conclusion

In the end, here are the pieces of advice I have for Dragon’s Maze:

1.       Dragon’s Maze will slow down the format by a significant amount. Expect to see dramatic changes in the playability of cards and guilds because of this fundamental shift.

2.       The best guilds will be the ones that are best positioned to take advantage of a slow format. This means that we’ll be seeing good showings from Golgari, Orzhov, Dimir, Simic, and Azorius.

3.       Opening four Dragon’s Maze boosters has a huge impact on the prerelease experience. The format will be even slower, and the decks will be based much more on the power of cards from the new set.

4.       Aggressive decks are going to be hard to build in this format. There are plenty of tools to slow down the early game, as well as plenty of incentives for making the game go longer. This doesn’t mean that aggro will be impossible. In fact, a good aggressive deck will often be a good metagame choice. It just will happen less frequently.

5.       Selesnya takes the biggest hit out of all the guilds because of the significantly reduced frequency of token making cards at common and uncommon.

I apologize if this article is a little bit rough. I’ve been making a point of putting my article through a more extensive editing process. However, in the case of these primer articles, I have to get them up quickly after the spoiler goes up, and I am almost always working up until the last minute. On top of this, Dragon’s Maze presented an even greater than normal challenge since I was having to crunch numbers from all three sets. Hopefully the article is still helpful. Make sure to tune in again when I put of the second part of this article which will detail the three color combinations and Dragon’s Maze, Gatecrash, Return to Ravnica draft.

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


2 Comments

It is here! by Dessiker at Fri, 04/26/2013 - 18:31
Dessiker's picture

Been waiting for this! Great article, all the work you put in on these is appreciated! Glad that it appears the format is in for a big slow-down.

I'm glad that you enjoy these by oraymw at Fri, 04/26/2013 - 20:26
oraymw's picture

I'm glad that you enjoy these :) Hopefully it ends up helping you. This format is truly the most difficult format I've analyzed so far.