Gatecrash pre-release is around the corner. All the cards have been spoiled, and now's the time to look things over, pick your guild, and assess your initial strategies. I'm here to help with that.
This is the first article in a chain that will analyze each guild individually, including all the cards available to it and an analysis on the guild's mechanic in general.
The rating system is one I shamelessly copied off LSV. I got his permission and he explained that it's actually WOTC's official rating guide for sealed cards, but regardless I got it from him and not WOTC, so kudos to him for explaining things for me and being a great guy in general.
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%)
Of the Boros pump options, this one is my favorite. The power of this combat trick lies in flexibility. Trade this card for a scarier creature, deal with a pesky flyer, give your piddly creature evasion so you can use it to proc Battalion without losing it in combat, or give your beater evasion to swing for lethal. I like this card and wouldn't mind running one or two maindeck.
Expensive unconditional removal is still removal, and this one has the added bonus of sometimes dealing with problematic enchantments. One or two of these will be welcomed in any deck, but don't go too crazy stockpiling expensive cards.
If Serra Angel is a fantastic limited bomb, then Angelic Skirmisher is a step above for one more mana. Just by itself, a 4/4 flyer that has the option of picking between lifelink / first strike / vigilance each combat is solid at 6cmc, but obviously its power is amplified once you have more creatures on the field.
It's a Wind Drake that bumps its power up by 1 for the cost of 1 more mana. Not particularly exciting, but not terrible.
I dig the extort mechanic. Lifedrain is always powerful in limited, which is why cards like Bloodhunter Bat are top-pick commons. So cards that represent slow, gradual lifedrain with no upper limit have potential, even if you have to pay mana for it (which you won't always be able to). The fact that it's attached to a Horned Turtle wall is less exciting, but in control decks I can see it being a strong part of the overall gameplan.
Not particularly useful for control because the amount of haste creatures in Gatecrash is very slim, but for aggro decks (coughBoroscough) this card is a boon, giving you precious time to swing in unmolested, with the bonus of Extort slapped on for good measure.
Without Battalion, this card looks like a waste of space. With the plethora of 1 toughness creatures that I see, however, it might be a little better in this format if it can actually trade with something consistently. With Battalion it's obviously very good. Also going for it is it's sometimes a decent topdeck, something most 1drops can't boast.
I really want to believe that Battalion will be a good and consistent mechanic, despite all the super sweet removal spells in the format saying otherwise. If Battalion is indeed good enough, then this card will thrive alongside the mechanic.
Court Street Denizen
Another way for aggro decks to safely get in there for damage. This one does the job admirably for a fair price.
This is the type of battalion cards that I look forward to: decent/good without battalion, very strong with it triggered. Daring Skyjek fits the bill perfectly. The fact that it's a common gets me very excited for Boros.
I have a feeling Dragon's Maze will have an uncommon that will make these enchant lands actually good and suggest an "Enchant Lands.dec", and when that day comes.. I probably still won't run these crappy cards.
Drudge Skeletons have never been known to be limited powerhouses, but I do like the idea of Boros w/ black decks running this thrull as Battalion fodder.
A 3/3 for 3cmc is great. The battalion ability lets you safely trigger your battalion attacks without fear of losing anything. Keep throwing all your creatures at the enemy, even lil' Jimmy the 1/1 soldier token, and they'll all survive to do it over and over. The final ability probably won't ever see play but it's nice gravy.
Gideon, Champion of Justice
It looks like Gideon has fallen in line perfectly with the Boros guild. Boros only know how to attack, and Gideon has mastered that single-minded goal. He gets big and swings his nigh-invincible butt at the opponent over and over until the enemy runs out of chump blockers and dies. He can't save you when you're on the backfoot and your opponent can most certainly still race you. He's big step down from Gideon Jura, but unstoppable bashing machine is still an unstoppable bashing machine. The ult may be situationally useful as well.
Guardian of the Gateless
Now this is an interesting card. When blocking your opponent's big threat she's a 4/4 flyer for 5cmc, which is okay, but truly shines when she stops aggro opponents from tilting a mob of creatures sideways for lethal. This angel is a respectable attacker too. Looks solid enough, and I'm eager to playtest it.
Hey, look! A sideboard card!
Hold the Gates
If you find yourself running 5+ Gates, this enchantment might actually be powerful. Otherwise, don't bother.
Spirit Mantle is back in a crappier form, but it's still a great card that can turn the game around for you. You gain a serious advantage when suddenly you have a beefy creature that is unblockable and also the perfect blocker (put it on a creature with vigilance for extra win). The only problem is removal, and Gatecrash looks like it has plenty of it. Like, an abnormally high amount of it. That tanks creature enchantment ratings significantly.
Knight of Obligation
If I could give ratings based on artwork alone this one would be a 5. Artwork aside, this is a solid creature that is flexible enough to fit in both slow Orzhov (defensive, Extort) and Boros (can attack, Battalion) decks.
Well, that's one way to trigger Battalion. It feels too pricey for the effect, however. If we got a 3/3 and a 2/2 for 5cmc it would be a different story.
Unconditional removal on a very big stick. 7cmc is pretty steep, but the combination of fatty and removal is definitely worth it.
I dismissed this card at first glance, but I'm warming up to the idea at least. Look at it this way: all Boros wants to do is attack with Battalion up. Creatures will die. This enchantment is one of the most cost-efficient token makers (aka Battalion enabler) in the format and fits an aggressive curve. At worst, its making your creature unblockable. At best, it's generating 2+ tokens right after you play it and attack. It has potential.
Nav Squad Commando
Thraben Purebloods that can sometimes attack as a 4/6 with vigilance. Looks solid enough.
Sometimes an alpha strike, sometimes just a good way to push damage in and have your dudes survive for more Battalion strikes in the future. Sorcery speed instead of instant really hurts it though.
A big step down from Stave Off and its ilk. There are much better combat tricks to choose from in this format.
You need to be able to block your target first, so creatures with evasion may evade this, but removal at 1cmc is still pretty good.
Syndic of Tithes
Bears are traditionally playable in limited, and a bear with Extort slapped onto it for free is an awesome bear indeed!
If you can bounce/blink this guy to abuse his ETB effect then he's the nuts. Blue has quite a few ways of doing exactly that, if you stretch your mana into that direction. By itself he's decent but not terribly exciting.
Underwhelming body for 4cmc but flexible enough to gain life in stalemates or whatever. It's okay, I guess.
Act of Treason
I liked Traitorous Instinct in RTR aggro decks, and this one is even better, being cheaper and enabling Battalion!
Not too exciting at first glance, but I'm looking at all the Gatecrash spoilers and I'm shocked at just how many 1toughness creatures there are. It looks to me like this battalion ability can be a repeatable removal more often than not, and that's amazing.
Slow, clunky removal is still removal, I guess.
"You want reach?! I'LL GIVE YOU REACH! BWAHAHAHAAA!!!!"
Don't listen to the talking magic card in your head, friends. It's not worth playing this card.
I like Mogg Flunkies when they cost 2cmc, not 3. It's still not bad, but definitely a significant downgrade.
Unlike Bomber Corps, this card has its power and toughness values the right way around and its Battalion ability is more consistently good, stopping their biggest creature from blocking so you can attack in more safely, keeping more creatures alive so you can Battalion again and again. Another sexy staple for all red aggro decks.
Combat damage, not damage to a player, makes this MUCH better. Creature-heavy decks will be dropping counters on it all the time and repeatable burn is such a powerhouse in limited. It's a miserable topdeck if your board is empty or if your creatures are horribly outmatched, but even games will be soundly crushed once this enchantment hits the table.
Foundry Street Denizen
This card makes Bellows Lizard look good. That makes me sad.
We have Smite in white, and we also have this worse version of Smite in red. They'll usually do the same thing, but Smite is a little more consistent about it.
In most cases he's a slightly worse Chaos Imps, aka still amazing.
Haste is strong. Really, really strong. All aggro decks love it since it lets you kill your opponent that much faster. But the downside will make you cringe sometimes as your forced to run creatures into certain doom. Worth it? I don't know.
The 2for1's shouldn't come up often, but when it does it's amazing. Otherwise this card is a weaker Annihilating Fire, though still very good.
This brave little goblin will most assuredly die in his first valiant charge. Even so, that's quite a punch for one mana. If you're lucky enough to slap on some survivability on him, like Holy Mantle, you've got yourself a pretty nasty board position.
I feel like this will often trade evenly with two of your opponent's creatures, with the added bonus of being "unblockable" for a turn or two. It looks promising for the cost. As I said about Holy Mantle, however, my main worry with creature enchantments in Gatecrash is the high volume of solid removal. Being 2for1'd is a very scary risk. We'll see how it plays out.
Mark for Death
Definitely a unique removal spell and alpha strike wrapped into one. It's very situational, however, and seems overpriced for what it does.
Situational burn like this is always a risk, but in creature-heavy aggro decks it should work just fine. Be wary of opponents with untapped mana and in colors of removal (black/red mostly) when casting this spell for just enough damage, because it'll suck to have one of your creatures killed in response to this spell and have your removal do nothing.
This is the type of card that will win you the game out of nowhere. Play primordial, steal a 4/4, swing for 10, boom, done. That's what you want from a 7drop, after all. No evasion means he can be chumped though, and a threaten effect usually isn't as good as straight removal.
Ahhhh, flexible 1cmc removal, how I missed you. You're bound to get a good trade with this spell, which is as much as you can demand from a 1drop.
A 6/5 for 6cmc is pretty good already and the pseudo-removal makes it quite formidable. Throw on an appropriate bloodrush pump when it does get double blocked and you've got yourself an easy 2for1.
1toughness on a 4drop is very low, especially with stuff like Bomber Corps roaming around. The bloodrush pump can add lava axe damage at a discounted price, so the flexibility is appreciated, but the creature itself isn't anything to write home about which drags the playability down.
Good offensive body, good offensive pump, good price for both options. The flexibility of having both makes it great.
In most cases this will just be 3 to the face. Maybe you'll cast it in response to an Extort trigger so you prevent 1 lifeswing too. Not worth a maindeck slot.
You don't get to choose which artifacts or lands are destroyed and the damage goes to the face and not a creature? Blech. This card is just too expensive for too little impact. If I need to side in hate against a problematic artifact, I'd want something like Naturalize, not this.
Tin Street Market
See Debtor's Pulpit.
Looks like a more consistent Nav Squad Commandos. Solid, but nothing to write home about.
1 toughness makes me uneasy but I do love me some First Strike. I'm a fan of the pump option as well.
Decent enough without Battalion, sweet with Battalion, me likey.
Another "win out of nowhere" card. You can easily wrap up a game by pumping an unblocked creature to deal a lethal 10+ damage. The creature version is great as well and loves being pumped up too.
Arrows of Justice
More conditional removal. I like this one more than RTR's Avenging Arrow, which I was never too happy running in my deck, but this one deals with most creatures and doesn't require me to take damage before I can use it.
Assemble the Legion
This card is a slow-roller, but if you hold out for a couple turns with this in play you eventually just win with an ever-growing mob of 1/1's that will overwhelm your opponent. Your opponent must either deal with the enchantment itself or try to race with evasive beaters, otherwise he straight-up loses. When he breaks down and starts crying at the sight of your 10+ soldier tokens, you can feast on his delicious tears.
Aurelia, the Warleader
6cmc for a creature that immediately swings for 6 evasion all by herself, and oh yes, she doubles the damage output of all your other creatures? With some vigilance on top? Yeah, that's the good stuff.
It's removal, swing for lethal, burn for lethal, one-sided board wipe, all wrapped in one. Yes, it's that good. Yes, you should nab it.
Reach, mass protection and combat trick all wrapped into one card. Fantastic versatility, each part useful.
Of the keyrunes, this is probably the most underwhelming. Maybe tied with Izzet Keyrune. I'd only run it if I was desperate for ramp and mana fixing.
Jeez, now this is one scary mothertrucker. Flexible cost, 3/3 for 3cmc, can get first strike easily, and threatens to be removal on a stick if your opponent chooses to outmuscle it. Bonus points for being a Minotaur Wizard that shoots lightning.
I'm beginning to sense a pattern of ridiculously good Boros-keyed cards...
3/3 flyer for 4cmc with the added bonus of being a situationally repeatable Lightning Helix. What's not to love?
For 5cmc you have a 6/3 attacker and a 3/6 blocker. I appreciate that flexibility. A solid card.
An odd combination of a shade plus Flametongue Kavu leaves us with a creature that is situational removal on a stick, but the stick is probably going to beat up your opponent's sticks anyway.
Flexible pump is my favorite sort of pump. I like Aerial Maneuver a bit more, though this one is pretty good too.
Bad without Battalion, good with Battalion. I wish he was at least 4/1 so he'd trade better. Decent enough.
Haste, evasion, this is definitely one of the better 3drops in the set.
6 lifeswing for 4cmc is solid. Nothing mind-blowing, but it's a superb racing tool and quick Battalion enabler.
You need to trigger battalion as much as possible for boros cards to be good. The guildmage does that. It ain't cheap, but he'll churn out them hasty 1/1's to proc it for you. As a bonus he can also make blocking a nightmare for your opponents with the pump, or just churn out extra damage. He's no Rix-Maadi or Vitu-Ghazi guildmage, but he's still one of the better guildmages.
2/2 vigilance for 2cmc is perfectly playable by itself, and the pump option is deceptively powerful. So long as you have the mana open for it, your opponent will be loath to send other early creatures to block or attack into it. That often means free damage on your turn before you cast your spells. Also the pump lets it scale decently into the lategame, double bonus!
3/2 for 2 is already fantastic, and Battalion makes this card bonkers good. These guys hit hard and with first strike most other early drops can't even think of trading.
Boros is a highly synergistic guild like, for example, Selesnya, but their synergy is more subtle. Boros wants to have Battalion up as much as possible to really maximize their creatures' powers, and they do so with a wide variety of goals: haste, evasion, removal, pump, token generation. Numbers matters. Keeping their creatures alive matters. They need to have at least three attacking creatures on the field or else their creatures are under whelming for their casting costs.
Boros looks well-suited to being a very powerful aggro archetype. They have so many high quality early drops, Wojek Halberdiers, Truefire Paladin, Sunhome Guildmage, Skyknight Legionnaire, Firefist Striker, Daring Skyjek, etc. to fuel this style of play. These cards are good even without Battalion triggered. That's the key here. Creatures that are still good without the mechanic will be the reason why Boros makes it. Battalion cards also pretty good topdecks, as their triggered abilities are very relevant to breaking stalemates.
The biggest problem, however, is that Battalion is slow to set up and hard to maintain. Realistically, you'll have Battalion up and ready on turn 5 earliest, assuming you play a creature turn 2, 3, and 4 (I only count one "good" 1drop for Boros to play and it's an uncommon). Until then, your creatures are underpowered. That's not a good sign for aggro.
This problem is worsened by the fact that it's so susceptible to disruption from removal and combat tricks, and Gatecrash is full of quality removal and tricks in multiple colors. In fact, it has the most disruption of a recent limited set that I can think of, and most of it is on the cheap side. It sounds too easy to keep a Boros player from attacking with the three creatures necessary to trigger their mechanic.
Let's talk colors. White and Red look STRONG. There are tons of quality creatures to be found, especially in the 2drop department, so having an edge in the early game seems like a given. There's also a surplus of solid removal to be found here. Mugging, Arrows of Justice, Aerial Maneuver, Homing Lightning, Massive Raid, Smite, Angelic Edict, all playable and all on the cheap side. Naysay about the mechanic all you want, you can't deny that white/red has some power.
So, how will it turn out? Honestly, I'm hopeful. Battalion is clearly the hardest mechanic of the guilds to manage. So it depends on two things: 1) Is the payoff worth it? 2) Can Boros function well enough without their mechanic being triggered often? I would hope so. There are certainly enough creatures that work well with or without Battalion up, but the question is if a Boros player can cobble these cards together consistently enough in a limited environment for it to matter. With such strong colors, however, I think it's doable even if the mechanic is a dud.