5.0: I will always play this card. Period.
4.5: I will almost always play this card, regardless of what else I get.
4.0: I will strongly consider playing this as the only card of its color.
3.5: I feel a strong pull into this card's color.
3.0: This card makes me want to play this color. (Given that I'm playing that color, I will play this card 100% of the time.)
2.5: Several cards of this power level start to pull me into this color. If playing that color, I essentially always play these. (Given that I'm playing that color, I will play this card 90% of the time.)
2.0: If I'm playing this color, I usually play these. (70%)
1.5: This card will make the cut into the main deck about half the times I play this color. (50%)
1.0: I feel bad when this card is in my main deck. (30%)
0.5: There are situations where I might sideboard this into my deck, but I'll never start it. (10%)
0.0: I will never put this card into my deck (main deck or after sideboarding). (0%)
Now, before you guys start scrolling past the grading scale, allow me to explain --
Woah there, slow down! You won't understand what my ratings mean if you just --
HEY! WAIT A SECOND! READ THE DISCLAIMER FIRST!
Did I get your attention? Good! Okay, I'll keep it brief. All you really need to know is this: a rating of 2.5/5 is NOT equal to "50% maindeckability" or whatever. If you want to use that term, then 1.5 = 50%. There. Now carry on.
It's a little confusing at first, I know, but read the grading scale. It's the one Wizards uses and also popularized by LSV in his set reviews. It makes a lot of sense when you read it over. I feel it does a good job at showing the magnitude of how strong a "bomb" card is compared to an "average" card.
For you readers that played any Return to Ravnica limited events, this is what I'd call a "50% maindeckable" card:
Nothing exciting, but a decent enough body for its cost. I'll run it if I need to fill a 4cmc creature slot and won't feel bad about it. At the same time, I'll happily take it out of my deck if better options are presented. So my rating for the card is...
1.5 (maindeck 50% of the time)
Again, Armory Guard isn't unplayable, horrible, or anything of the sort. It's decent.
Keeping with the Return to Ravnica theme, here's a card that I end up running in my deck 90% of the time:
I liked seeing the Crew whenever I was in red. It was a good blocker and good consistent damage for a solid price. I almost always ended up having one in my red deck if it was in my card pool, but there were one or two occasions where it didn't fit, maybe I had too great 3drops, or just too many great cards in general, and Lobber Crew would get cut. So my rating for the card is...
2.5 (maindeck 90% of the time)
Alright, are we clear? Let's get on with the review then!
A decent body that will mill about 2 cards on average. It seems pretty reasonable, especially if you're going for mill. Things get much spicier if you combine it with some of blue's bounce spells, getting more and more value from the ETB effect. A 3.0 in a mill deck designed around abusing the ETB, a 2.0 elsewhere.
Evasion is nice, it means this lil' guy will probably get a few points of extra damage in on top of Extort. With so many 1 toughness creatures in this format, it might even trade for something, double bonus.
I probably like this card far more than I should. If you play this on turn 2, you have a good chance of really screwing up an opponent's manabase, buying yourself time to set up while your opponent can't cast the spells he wants. Things only get better if your opponent is tricolor, which is more popular in RTR block in general. The lifeloss is deceptively strong as well. I doubt many opponents will hesitate to tap the land early for mana, making it likely for this card to net 6+ damage over time. Sure, they can stop tapping it when they get too low.. but then Extort can finish them off.
On the other hand, this sure is a miserable topdeck.
It may be bad or it may be amazing. You can bet I'll be trying it out at my pre-release!
I dismissed this card at first, but after reading Ars Arcanum: Gatecrash Prerelease Primer (which you should do, too!), it seems like 4toughness is again the magic toughness to hold back nearly everything. This has the added bonus of trading your worse creature for their better creature. A solid control card.
Suddenly black-heavy decks have all the mana! Easiest application of this mana is to pay for all your extort effects, which is a nice start. It also plays very nice with the shades. Crypt Ghast won't win you the game by itself, but it's a strong enabler.
Crippling or outright killing a creature for 1cmc sounds very good to me. It's the nuts in mill, decent but unpredictable everywhere else. Especially poor early game but a superb lategame topdeck removal.
Not a very reliable removal spell, but its cheap cost makes up for that. Can also be used on yourself to get out of the red zone against an aggro deck swinging for lethal.
I don't like using a card purely for lifeswing, especially situational lifeswing like this one. I want cards that have board impact, and this one has none.
I don't mind having a shade or two in black-heavy decks. They're pretty weak early on, but get more and more deadly as the game progresses. This one has a neat added bonus with gates.
4cmc unconditional (basically) removal is great. It becomes the nuts in mill decks, because this is potentially a very strong mill effect for free.
Like I said, bears are traditionally playable in limited, so this one is decent enough.
Horror of the Dim
A good way to safely play creature enchantments. A little overcosted otherwise, but hexproof on a beefy body is always strong.
Illness in the Ranks
Side this in against Boros decks that generate a lot of 1/1 tokens.
Kills anything at instant speed. What more could you want?
Lord of the Void
Anyone who has played a few limited games knows 7cmc is pretty steep, but this one is worth the price. A 7/7 flyer is hard to beat, and each time this demon punches the opponent in the face you get to play his creatures for free and mill a whopping 7... yikes. One hit is all it takes to get far, far ahead.
Mind Rot is okay. I felt bad having it maindeck in my RTR black decks, but it was good enough as a sideboard card.
Mental Vapors is a slightly more expensive Mind Rot. Same role, just slightly worse at it.
"Return creature card from your graveyard to your hand" spells never really excited me. This one promises to be actual card advantage, however, so it's worth at least trying.
Stuff dies, you make deathtouch tokens, more stuff dies, and you make more deathtouch tokens. Slumlord can shut down ground aggression handily and even if your opponent has evasion, you can probably race them down with your ever-growing army of rats.
Even if you don't nab a great creature, any creature is value, and you're left with a 5/4 with evasion. Not the strongest of the Primordials, but still quite strong.
Shadow Alley Denizen
A great Cipher enabler and racing enabler, assuming your opponent isn't in your colors. It's also a 1drop, which there aren't a lot of, so that helps boost its rating.
This card is a huge boon for evasive cipher decks, giving the archetype a very powerful racing tool. 6lifeloss on the first cast + hit, then 3 on top of every other hit, maybe more due to Extort? That kills stuff fast! On the other hand, it's pretty miserable in any other type of deck, making this card very niche. An amazing card in the right deck, but definitely not for everyone. A 3.0 in an evasive deck, a 1.0 elsewhere.
Slate Street Ruffian
A very interesting 3drop. If you want to eke out as much value as possible, using a removal spell on the blocker after the ability is resolved is pretty sweet. I'm not sure how often that's a smart idea, but it's something I'd like to try out. Ruffian also isn't the best creature for a control deck as the discard only triggers on the offensive.
Basically all guilds outside of Gruul have enough fliers for this card's ability to be relevant sometimes. Otherwise it's just an overcosted flier.
Probably my least favorite Extort creature, but still very much playable. Easy to kill but 3 power is enough to trade with most things.
This is the cheapest extort card you'll find, with the bonus of having a strong anti-Simic ability. Like I keep saying, there is an abnormal amount of 1 toughness creatures in Gatecrash, so odds are you'll find a card to trade this with if you want to.
Decent body for cost makes it playable as a vanilla creature. The mill ability is deceptively good. Pay 1 and sacrifice a creature to mill roughly 2 cards. Your creature is targeted by removal? Mill. Chump block? Mill. If you're going for that route, this can be a strong workhorse for the strategy. Otherwise the rating drops to around 1.5 if you're just looking at the body.
Assuming you get a hit off, making your opponent sac 2 permanents, lose 2 life, and discard 2 cards is pretty good, but not amazing for 6cmc. Your opponent might lose a good card or two and sacrifice two lands which he doesn't really need. But if you hit more times, the permanent sacrifice will start to really hurt, trust me.
Wight of Precinct Six
Could be quite the contender in serious mill decks. It takes some time before it gets scary, though. Also pretty inconsistent outside of mill, maybe a lategame 3/3?
If I have a 6/6 out on turn 4, I don't care if you gain some life while I crush your creatures. Even if you draw it late, few creatures can compare to a 6/6 anyway. I like this beast.
I can't think of a scenario where I'd need to sideboard against GY shenanigans, but when I do, I may or may not run this.
A bear with benefits. An excellent aura target to boot.
A huge evasive beater that is incredibly difficult to kill? Sign me up!
A cheaper Avenging Arrow. Dropping down to 2cmc makes all the difference.
Gift of Orzhova
A great racing tool at a great price. This would probably get a higher rating in other formats, but with Gatecrash having such plentiful removal it's solid, not amazing. Luckily Orzhov has cards like Cartel Aristocrat as perfect aura carriers for this, and Dimir too if you splash blue.
High Priest of Penance
For a mere 2cmc, it trades for anything you want. Sometimes it will even kill something in combat to become a 2for1. Now that's value!
An overpriced method of getting back your bomb, maybe sometimes 2for1'ing. It's unpredictable and expensive, but sometimes glorious.
2/2 is much better than 1/2 and worth the extra mana. An evasive beater with lifeswing potential is a great 3drop.
Wrath effects are much more situational in limited than they are in constructed play, but I do like the versatility of this one. The mana cost is not too outrageous either.
Obzedat, Ghost Council
A 5/5 for 5 that immediately drains 2, dodges all sorcery-speed removal, then drains another 2 and can swing? Yeah, good luck beating that.
One Thousand Lashes
Cheap, unconditional removal that also races your opponent. It's as ridiculous as it sounds. If you thought Stab Wound was good, this is even better.
It's an unconditional instant speed removal for 2cmc. The rest is gravy. Play it, love it.
Keyrunes are never terribly exciting, but this one's pretty darn good. It blocks most anything and the lifelink is a nice touch. Plus, Orzhov is probably the most mana-hungry of guilds due to their mechanic, and this is a nice way to help pay for all those nasty fees.
Purge the Profane
Paying an extra mana for lifegain on my Mind Rot might make it a little better against aggro, but then again Mind Rot was never good against aggro to begin with.
A 4/4 extort creature for 6 is pretty good by itself. The fact that it may net me some card advantage on top is perfect. Definitely a strong promo card.
Hmm. The body is pretty terrible at 5cmc. The ETB effect is decent enough, and don't forget it's abusable with blue cards if you go tricolor. Extort is always good. Honestly I'm not thrilled with the total package, maybe if it was a 1/4, but it feels a little weak to me.
Lifelink helps you live into the endgame where Orzhov is most powerful. Both abilities are also superb racing tools. A very strong card that can do no wrong.
I'll echo what everyone else has been pointing out and say that Orzhov looks like one of the stronger guilds. Extort is powerful and by far the safest mechanic of the bunch. You don't need to "set up" anything, just plop down your Extort creatures and reap the benefit without much effort. Lifedrain has always been powerful in limited. It keeps you alive, helps you race, gives you reach. That's not to say that you'll be Extorting every time you cast a spell. Slow and safe it is, but Extort is hard on the mana base. This is a mid/lategame mechanic. You usually won't have the mana to Extort early in the game, not when you're trying to stabilize against fast aggro decks. Early game is where you're most vulnerable.
Thankfully, White/Black is well-suited to handle early aggression. The 2drop slot is solid with Syndic of the Tithes (my favorite), Basilica Screecher, Cartel Aristocrat (though uncommon), even Daring Skyjek if you really want something that can trade, but the 3-4drop slots are where you can really buckle down. 4 toughness is the magic number to hold back most aggression, so Basilica Guards, Knight of Obligation, and Corpse Blockade immediately come to mind.
These defensive creatures will be a pain to get around, and often require your opponent to use removal or combat tricks to try and get around them. Because of that, Smite actually becomes a premium removal for defensive Orzhov control decks. You want to be blocking anyway, and 1 mana is easy enough to keep open while still casting spells. Your opponent attacks into your wall, responds to blocker with a pump spell, and you respond with a Smite. Easiest 2for1 in the world.
So there we go. Orzhov is very good. Slow-rolling, but has access to amazing removal and defensive creatures to get to the lategame and really shine.
Next up: Blue and Dimir!