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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Aug 23 2017 12:00pm
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Flashback Favorites had a surprisingly quick cadence, with two drafts in less than a month (and then Ravnica was pushed forward a week). While Odyssey was uncharted territory for my articles, Ravnica was covered as part of the Modern Flashback Series. The first time we had a MFS overlap (for triple-Mirrodin) I mostly remastered my previous article, but triple-Ravnica has enough to its format that I can do a sequel to that article instead. As such, I’m not going to cover the absolute basics of mechanics and cards, but instead will delve deeper into the format and its archetypes itself.
High-Level Concepts:
Variance in Triple-Ravnica:
Variance in this set seems very different than a modern set, but somehow it gets to the same place. On one hand gold sets inherently have higher variance than an average set, as getting your colors is more difficult if you’re playing multiple colors (and more of your cards have more than one mana symbol in general), even if you get a decent number of Bouncelands (Dimir Aqueduct) and Signets (Boros Signet). The average power level of cards in a gold set is higher as well, so the disparity is higher if one player gets their mana right and the other doesn’t. On the other hand, two of the four keyword mechanics are specifically meant to reduce variance: Transmute tutors directly, while Dredge both allows you to use the same cards repeatedly and lets you see more of your deck for your Mausoleum Turnkeys and Vigor Mortises. This means that black (and to a lesser extent blue) are set up well to counter some of the variance in the set, while the other colors need to focus on the color fixers more.
Compensating for the Lack of “Damage on the Stack”:
Of all the changes in the Magic 2010 rules changes, the removal of “damage on the stack” has changed design the most, and after a lot of time those changes have clearly been for the better. However, sets were designed around those rules for ten years (1999-2009), and the rules changes have changed the value of many cards in sets released during that period. The most obvious cards that get weaker are effects that sacrifice creatures, and 17 of those cards are in Ravnica. In many cases the cards were fine on their own merits and don’t need the tricks to be great, and those are generally the cards that sacrifice themselves (or just one creature) and have fine stats on their own (Transluminant, Fiery Conclusion, Grave-Shell Scarab). The ones hurt more by it are ones that are repeatable that don’t have great stats—Golgari Rotwurm is still fine as a Spined Wurm with upside, but you’re less likely to play a Thoughtpicker Witch, and Golgari Guildmage is less likely to dominate a game.
The Scale of First Picks:
As a complicated format, Ravnica has many types of first picks you can make. If we ignore value-oriented picks (though you should be taking money in a Flashback environment with relatively low prizes), there are X types of first picks. The obvious choices are bomb permanents, but there surprisingly aren’t that many obvious choices at rare, and most of what I can see are gold cards—Glare of Subdual can be built around, Firemane Angel wins any control game (as does Selesnya Guildmage, Woebringer Demon is an Air Elemental that kills creatures (and can sacrifice itself with its trigger, unlike most downside Demons), and there are various big fliers like Cerulean Sphinx and Hunted Dragon. Next would be the most-efficient removal, and while the Wraths aren’t great (Hex requires six creatures to cast, Brightflame and Hour of Reckoning are expensive, the single-target removal like Ribbons of Night, Lightning Helix, Putrefy, Last Gasp, and (Faith’s Fetters) is very good here (notice how most of them also give you life). However, what comes next shouldn’t be your high-quality but unspectacular creatures (Scatter the Seeds, Snapping Drake, Skyknight Legionnaire), but instead look towards fixing by taking a bounceland. Don’t get me wrong, the top commons are better in most cases (Scatter the Seeds in particular is stupid if built around), but every deck wants a couple bouncelands (even if you don’t use both colors) and it’s good to stay flexible early. After that, you can take those quality commons, look for lesser removal (Brainspoil, Galvanic Arc, the various pingers), or take a Signet, though I’d bias my picks towards colorless/single-color cards if you clearly aren’t picking quality.
Supported Guilds:
I mentioned in the previous article that you have the best card advantage engines, but your power isn’t great (and what you do have can be easily splashed). Looking over the color pair again, the main thing you get is flexibility, both through (Transmute) and your cards serving multiple purposes (Consult the Necrosages giving your Mind Rot upside is good, and Twisted Justice either is a cantripping Edict or a much bigger (Altar’s Reap)). The other problem is that there isn’t much of a reason to focus on Dimir—your rares are situational (Shadow of Doubt), over-focused on mill (Circu, Dimir Lobotomist and Glimpse the Unthinkable), or just slightly better versions of fine cards (Dimir Cutpurse). The one exception is Szadek, Lord of Secrets, which is committal enough to primarily be in Dimir, and while it’s enough of a threat on its own to not be too committed to mill, it can hit once or twice and not meaningfully impact the game (normally hitting once would be enough to get it out of the range of most removal spells since it’s black, but Brainspoil, Putrefy, Devouring Light, and Stinkweed Imp still kill it, and there surprisingly isn’t a Dark Banishing analog to dodge), which isn’t great. Overall I wouldn’t look for a Dimir deck unless I got enough of the mill pieces to make a viable deck on that axis.
Selesnya is still the guild with the strongest commons/uncommons in the set, so you can easily start a draft with a Selesnya Guildmage or Scatter the Seeds and be happy. The problem is that the rares don’t really put you over the top in most cases—yes, Glare of Subdual is a true bomb, Loxodon Hierarch is very efficient, and Tolsimir Wolfblood is a nice curve-topper, but the other four cards are just too expensive for what you get. As such, that means the power is in the non-rares, which means multiple players can get good Selesnya decks. The key is that you have to abuse your synergy enough to get past the greedy decks, and I’m not sure an “average” Selesnya deck can do that reliably.
In my last article, I talked a lot about how sacrifice isn’t as good now, but what I didn’t cover in that article were the rares, and it turns out they help Golgari a lot (other than Bloodbond March). While a some of the cards require hooking into the sacrifice themes to do well (Savra, Queen of the Golgari, though that ability is worth building around), a lot of them are good enough just on raw stats. Vulturous Zombie is the key example here: the ability is weird and won’t trigger enough in most losing situations to be relevant, but it’s still a 3/3 flier for 5 baseline. Other than that, Dredge still isn’t great except when you aren’t paying much for in it card quality, but it’s a nice assurance that you’ll have relevant draws to push you over the top in the late game.
Boros’ role is still to punish all the greedy decks, and unfortunately the rares don’t help much with that. In exchange, most of the rares are bombs on their own: Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran works great as a curve-topper in an aggressive deck, but the trio of Firemane Angel, Brightflame, and Razia, Boros Archangel aren’t great in that deck (though you obviously should still play Firemane Angel, even if you almost never will reanimate it). Instead, those cards want to push you towards a more-controlling deck with lots of removal and all the good RR cards (Viashino Fangtail, Blockbuster, maybe even Seismic Spike).
Three-Colors or More:
Abzan (Selesnya/Golgari):
As you might expect, Abzan is full of efficient cards, but other than that the main combination is the number of relatively worthless creatures you have to sacrifice to things. The main benefit here is Golgari Rotwurm, as cards like Drooling Groodion, Elvish Skysweeper, and Golgari Guildmage have expensive sacrifice costs and Caregiver isn’t that great.
Sultai (Dimir/Golgari):
Another traditional combination, Sultai combines all the variance-reducing mechanics I mentioned earlier, and you have the possibility of a bit of self-mill to find the good Dredge and graveyard-interaction cards (though obviously you have to be weary of milling too many cards such that you can’t Dredge enough times). This also lets you use Dimir’s non-mill cards that are just efficient for another deck full of quality cards.
Naya (Selenya/Boros):
As always, when Naya leans aggressive (as Selesnya/Boros clearly does), it’s hurt in limited by the lack of mana fixing, in particular lands that don’t enter the battlefield tapped (this is why Naya in Alara was primarily a ramp deck). That means this could be the place where the Boros control cards go (especially since aggressive Boros decks don’t really want the fixing either, especially Boros Signet.
Other Three-Plus Color Decks:
While Ravnica block has a reputation of decks where you play everything, that’s harder in Triple-Ravnica since you only get fixing in the four supported color pairs (other than Terrarion, Spectral Searchlight at rare, and the green fixing like Civic Wayfinder and Farseek). However, it can still work because Signets and Bouncelands are so good at fixing multiple colors at the same time—a normal fixer like Boros Guildgate either gives red or white, but both Boros Signet and Boros Garrison give both at the same time, allowing you to play a Boros spell with only a single fixer, even if your base colors are Golgari. I feel like the power of the green fixing is so good that your many-color decks have to be green—in fact, I’m guessing a lot of the 4/5-color decks in this Flashback environment will be Selesnya decks that don’t get there and pivot to picking up cards from the open guild, though I’m sure some of them will people who just want to play everything.
This was an interesting article to write, since I don’t normally go that far in depth in my limited articles, mostly since I’m afraid of being wrong in my evaluations (since for the Flashback articles I don’t research, but instead look at them as someone looking at the set for Limited for the first time). It was annoying that I had to rush it a bit (since it was pushed up a week), but I still got it done in plenty of time. Now back to Masters 25 and other reprint set things—Iconic Masters is coming soon, and I need to fit in my predictions of From the Vault: Transform somewhere (as they certainly aren’t enough for their own article without a lot of padding). Until next time.

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