Selesnya Week: Community and the Common Good
This week is the theme week of Selesnya, the White-Green guild whose loyal following a lot of players joined during the past weekend’s prerelease. It is also the first theme week since Wizards decided to share their theme week schedule with the rest of the community. As this schedule reveals, we’re going to have guilds on our minds for the foreseeable future – hopefully without being fed up with it (though I doubt that, judging from the reception Return to Ravnica has gotten so far). I think Mark Rosewater’s oft-quoted maxim of “restrictions breed creativity” has more than an iota of truth to it, so I sat down to write this article on what the deal is with the Selesnya guild; what can we learn from it, as players, as members of a community, and as human beings? And what can we learn about it in Magic, constructed as well as limited? I’m setting out with a semi-solid structure in this article that will carry over to the articles on the other guilds that I plan to write during their respective theme weeks – hopefully, you like this first one enough to come back for more when the next one rolls around!
How does Selesnya play?
Luckily, this first theme week matches up nicely with my guild on the Planeswalker Points site and (therefore also) of the only prerelease pack I got my hands on this time around, and I’ve also been fiddling a bit with some White/Green new standard build in the Magic Online Beta, so I’m not doing complete guesswork here. That said, the set is young and yet relatively unexplored in both limited and constructed formats, and regular sealed deck is a different beast than the guild prerelease pools, draft even more so.
Nevertheless, we have data and impressions to work with. We’ve got all the cards and have even tried to play with some (or most) of them. And I at least have some hands-on experience with the guild mechanic, Populate. So let’s dive right in, starting with limited: How does Selesnya play?
The short answer is, in my experience, “very well”. White and Green are the “creature colors”, and creatures are absolutely crucial to almost every limited deck. Their guild mechanic, Populate, is a very linear mechanic that rewards you heavily for buying into the token theme of its two colors – but tokens are creatures, and creatures are important. The apparent lack of cheap, instant-speed removal makes the mechanic less of a gamble, and as Mark Rosewater has pointed out in his article on Daily MTG this week, the set also has a limited access to bounce spells, since these make tokens a lot weaker. On top of that, Populate is almost always found on spells that either create tokens themselves or have some other (more or less valuable) purpose. A good Selesnya limited deck should probably have at least five sources of tokens for the Populate mechanic to be more than gravy, but cards like Eyes in the Skies and (Coursers’ Accord) are worth playing in and of themselves, even if they gain value if you have reliable access to tokens with a bigger impact (such as X-sized Oozes or Rats).
Selesnya’s strength comes primarily from its numbers and their size; it spits out creatures onto the board faster than any other guild in the set, and while few of these creatures can stand up to a Corpsejack Menace or one of the pumped-up Scavengers of their morbid Golgari cousins, they are large enough to easily outclass Azorius’ more fragile fliers and arresters, and can trade blows with Rakdos’ unleashed freaks one-on-one, eventually outnumbering and overrunning the Black-Red mages. Indeed, it seemed to me as if Selesnya was by far the hardest match-up for Rakdos players at prereleases this weekend.
The greatest weakness of Selesnya in limited, on the other hand, is tempo. While the guild does have access to a little removal, a few flying or reach creatures, as well as a bit of lifegain, being put on the backfoot from the beginning of the game really topples Selesnya decks’ game plan. Being so pressured that you need to trade off those first Centaur tokens or cast your Slime Moldings for less than you had hoped for inhibits the potential strength of your later turns, and leaves you much more vulnerable to alpha attacks enabled by cards like Azorius Justiciar or an overloaded Teleportal or (Chemister’s Trick). Indeed, both of my losses with my Selesnya deck at the prerelease came from facing a strongly tempo-oriented W/U/R “Izzorius” deck.
The good news is that there are things you can do to strengthen your match-up against these decks if you find yourself heeding the call of the Conclave in your next RTR draft; Sideboarding in (or even maindecking) cards like (Druid’s Deliverance) or Aerial Predation that should come around late enough to be snapped up at no considerable cost can prove to be a critical skill in making your Green-White draft decks competitive. White and Green are also the primary colors for dealing with enchantments, something that seems maindeck-relevant in a set that seems to continue the “auras matter” subtheme of the original Ravnica block.
In constructed, which I admittedly am less proficient in, the Selesnya colors seem mostly to be the colors of ramping into huge things that can bash in an opponent’s brain. Armada Wurm is certainly an interesting card in this respect, and it dodges both Mizzium Mortars and Ultimate Price (albeit its token does not), removal spells that many non-Blue decks might rely on even later in the game to deal with your threats. Trostani seems like she could be a really powerful ace against aggressive Red decks, combining a formidable blocking body with a ton of incidental life-gain. The already-all-star Restoration Angel seems to be very good friends with both of these cards, though it is arguable whether blinking a Wurm with your Angel is just a “win more”. Perhaps the Wurm is more of a finisher in a Bant-colored control deck?
Another card worth taking a look at is the huge anthem, Collective Blessing. If an opponent is tapped out, this might just end the game at the top of a token-deck’s curve. The common Rootborn Defenses is an effective way to counteract sweepers in those decks, even the new uncounterable one, but Terminus is still a thing, and Cyclonic Rift is going to put a serious dent in that plan as well. Rest in Peace is obviously one of the most effective tools against graveyard-shenanigans, and Phantom General might make a splash in Spirit token decks alongside the well known (Drogskol Captains) and Geist of Saint Traft.
Call of the Conclave is probably not good enough to make a lot of decks, but I don’t want to dismiss it altogether, and (Heroes’ Reunion) is a thing if there is a dedicated lifegain deck (Chalice, anyone?) or perhaps a viable sideboard card against an all-in aggressive or burn deck. Selesnya Charm seems like an excellent card against a controlling deck (dealing with their huge finishers or flashing in a Knight post-wrath to keep up pressure) and there will probably be token decks whose creators try to work in Growing Ranks. I don’t know what to think of Grove of the Guardian yet; Gavony Township seems like a much better colorless land in almost all White-Green decks. Dryad Militant and Loxodon Smiter obviously each have their role as “hate” cards while simultaneously being powerful enough to merit inclusion in some decks.
What is a lesson we can learn from Selesnya?
Stepping back from the mechanics of the game for a moment and concentrating on our growth as players, I’d like to try and see if there is one thing that most players can take away from each of the guilds. The lesson we can learn from the Selesnya Conclave is, hopefully unsurprisingly, one about community. It’s well-known – and not a bad thing – that Magic is a game where ego investment means a lot: Some players take pride in their performances at constructed or limited tournaments, others that they are the “best” in their local playgroup, others again that they’ve put together the most interesting Epic Experiment deck or the ultimate mill-myself deck. Yet Magic is also, perhaps more so now than ever before, a community.
My suggestion – on behalf of the Conclave, of course – is this: Do something to help grow and strengthen that community, something free from self-interested motivation. My conviction is that you will not only help develop the community; you will also develop as a person and a player. To try and take myself as an example – and I hope you will understand this in the right way, that is, free of arrogance or pride – I recently graduated my L1 Judge exam, and I am now regularly judging FNM at a local card store here in California. I simply found my nearest store with the Wizards Locator once I arrived here and had moved in, and went down there and asked if they needed a judge. They did.
In the month I’ve been here, I’ve grown to know some of the regular players down there – one of them drove me and three other guys to our RTR prerelease – and made some really great friends. I’ve found a new angle from which I can look at the game I love, and it’s looking even better than before. Out of an effort to help the community, I’ve also managed to help out myself. You can do the same, be it judging, writing, throwing together crazy deck ideas with your friends, helping to put together a local playgroup, or something completely different. All you have to do is to start doing it.
Sign-Off: The Common Good
I want the sign-offs for these articles to be different for each guild. Since we’re just entering the season of RTR limited, and since Limited play is what I know best – and because the pun in the title was too good to pass up on - here’s a few Selesnyan common cards that you might be picking lower than you should in RTR drafts:
Keening Apparition: Bears seem to be valuable in this format no matter if they’re busy blocking (Gore-House Chainwalkers) or attacking, backed up by Detainers or pump spells, and maindeckable enchantment removal is very valuable in the format. This is a card that should almost never make it all the way around a draft table.
Knightly Valor: Many people with some draft experience tend to shy away from creature enchantments, since these can lead to being on the wrong side of a 2-for-1, but this card has a lot going for it; the size boost definitely matters, vigilance is not insignificant, and the Knight token means you’re not losing two whole cards if your opponent untaps and destroys the enchanted creature. Just make sure not to play it out into an opponent’s untapped board.
Swift Justice: This combat trick is cheap, deadly and potentially game-swinging. First strike and evasion is kind of scarce in the format, as is instant-speed removal, all of which makes this card better and more reliable, and the life-swing is not insignificant.
(Centaur’s Herald): In a Selesnya deck, this might be better than Centaur Healer, and it is mono-colored to boot. While having two of these in your opener might be awkward, having more than one in your deck drastically increases your chance of actually being able to get the first one out there on turn one, and it is not at all useless later in the game.
Common Bond: Resolving one of these for full effect (that is, saving two creatures that would otherwise have traded) is a huge game-swinging play, and the cost is not prohibitive enough that it is very hard to pull off early in the game. It is also very hard to play around. A very strong card if you’re playing Green-White.
That is all for Selesnya Week for my part, I hope that you all enjoyed it and are looking forward to Azorius Week at the end of the month. I much appreciate any comments you might have either here or on Twitter at @Lobster667, and if you liked my writing, there’s more of it on my blog at Lobster667.tumblr.com.
Thanks for reading! -Marcus