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By: Stormsinger, Storm Singer
Jul 07 2007 1:34pm
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Riding the Rainbow
Planning Your Way Through Ravnica Block Draft

 

I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to Ravnica block draft. I'm willing to wait ages for the RGD queue to fire, even while the TPF queue goes off like a machine gun. Time Spiral block isn’t bad (esp. full block), and it has its own unique draft flavor, particularly with that kinky color-defying Planar Chaos pack thrown in the middle. But my heart belongs to the unique beast that is RAV-GPT-DIS, where 3 to 5-color decks run rampant, and drafters are torn between drafting as many powerful multicolor cards as possible, drafting as much fixing as possible to enable them to play those cards, and just aiming for a more consistent deck. It always seems you’re like walking the line between draft bliss and disaster, and that’s why it’s fun!

Perhaps the biggest key to RGD draft is planning, and that is what I’ll focus on in this article. Even though RGD drafts will only be on MTGO for several months more, the logic behind planning ultimately extends to any block.

In any case, there are two main aspects you must plan:

 1) First, from the very first pick, you have to start planning your possible colors and guild combinations. Don’t just think about the colors you’re taking now, but also what colors you’re likely to take later.

 For example, if you’re drafting Selesnya in RAV, you should know that you will not be able to draft a guild in each set without going 4-color.

2) Second, the further along you get in the draft, you must start planning for your deck to be a cohesive whole, capable of doing what it needs to do. This not only means filling in gaps in your deck now, but also filling in gaps that will be hard to fill later on in the draft. It means making sure your manabase is consistent (bouncelands!). In addition, it means orienting yourself along the aggro-control spectrum, taking into account whether future picks are likely to help your aggro deck or your control deck.


Note that the term I use “aggro” here to mean trying to win by racing to knock 20 life off before the board ever becomes stable, and not being too concerned with enemy offense. I use “control” to mean trying to get to the point where the board is stablized and the enemy offense is not getting through, in order to let the deck’s card advantage, slow win conditions, or late game heavy hitters carry the day. Of course, all limited decks are capable of wearing both aggro and control hats, but some definitely skew one way or the other to varying degrees.

Dryad Sophisticate

 




COLOR/GUILD COMBINATIONS

 

Let’s start with the color/guild combinations from the perspective of the Ravnica pack, since that’s where it all starts. This has been done before in other articles, but it’s a useful starting point. The 3-color combinations:


If you start with Boros (RW) in RAV:

RWU: Boros (RW) in RAV, Izzet (UR) in GPT, Azorius (UW) in DIS
RWG
: Boros and Selesnya (GW) in RAV, Gruul (RG) in GPT, no guild in DIS
RWB
: Boros in RAV, Orzhov (BW) in GPT, Rakdos (BR) in DIS

 

For Dimir (UB):

UBW: Dimir in RAV, Orzhov in GPT, Azorius in DIS
UBG
: Dimir and Golgari (BG) in RAV, no guild in GPT, Simic (UG) in DIS
UBR
: Dimir in RAV, Izzet in GPT, Rakdos in DIS

 

For Selesnya (GW):

GWR: Boros (WR) and Selesnya in RAV, Gruul (RG) in GPT, no guild in DIS
GWU
: Selesnya in RAV, no guild in GPT, Simic and Azorius in DIS
GWB
: Selesnya and Golgari in RAV, Orzhov in GPT, no guild in DIS

 

For Golgari (GB):

GBW: Selesnya and Golgari in RAV, Orzhov in GPT, no guild in DIS
GBR
: Golgari in RAV, Gruul in GPT, Rakdos in DIS
GBU
: Dimir and Golgari (BG) in RAV, no guild in GPT, Simic (UG) in DIS

 

A GUILD PER SET

 

As shown above, there are five 3-color options that let you draft a guild in each set:

 
RWU (Boros-Izzet-Azorius)
RWB (Boros-Orzhov-Rakdos)
UBW (Dimir-Orzhov-Azorius)
UBR (Dimir-Izzet-Rakdos)
GBR (Golgari-Gruul-Rakdos)

 
Thus, these five color combinations are often a fairly easy choice to draft, since you choose your first two colors (and guild) in RAV, choose your third color (and 2nd guild) in GPT, and by then your DIS guild is already chosen for you. A Guild Per Set is often a good choice, but more powerful (and riskier) options also exist. Notice how this method will NEVER draft Selesnya or Simic. If you start with Selesnya, you cannot end up with a Guild Per Set in just 3 colors.

If you’re planning to do a Guild Per Set, notice how Boros and Dimir both have two paths (RWU, RWB for Boros; UBW, UBR for Dimir), and Golgari only has one (GBR). If you don’t do a Guild Per Set, it’s generally best to drop the RAV guild, since RAV tends to have better mono-colored cards then GPT and DIS. However, this depends on the color, so let’s take a closer look.



THE GOOD MONO-COLORED COMMONS

According to me, myslf, and I.

 

For red (RAV ~ DIS >> GPT):

RAV: Viashino Fangtail, Galvanic Arc, Fiery Conclusion, Goblin Spelunkers (marginal)

GPT: Pyromatics, Petrahydrox (marginal)

DIS: Cackling Flames, Seal of Fire, Ogre Gatecrasher (marginal*)

 *"Marginal” simply means cards that are fine to have in a deck, but can only marginally be considered “good”.

 
GPT is awful in terms of mono-red, only having one bona fide good card! RAV and DIS are about the same, given that DIS is a smaller set.  Note that while cards like Ogre Savant and Tin Street Hooligan can be played mono-red, they need other colors to be considered good. Goblin Spelunkers was included because you have at least a 60% chance of playing against red in a given match (everyone has 3-color decks, remember?).

 

For black (RAV >> DIS > GPT):

RAV: Brainspoil, Dimir House Guard, Disembowel, Last Gasp, Stinkweed Imp, Lurking Informant (marginal), Clinging Darkness (marginal), Sewerdreg (marginal)

GPT: Douse in Gloom, Orzhov Euthanist (marginal)

DIS: Seal of Doom, Macabre Waltz, Demon's Jester (marginal)

 
Again, GPT is awful for mono-black, DIS is not much better, and RAV is very sexy. Note that Orzhov Euthanist becomes quite good in a deck with pingers and sacrifice outlets.

 

For green (RAV > GPT > DIS):

RAV: Bramble Elemental, Civic Wayfinder, Siege Wurm, Scatter the Seeds, Greater Mossdog, Gather Courage, Elvish Skysweeper (marginal), Elves of Deep Shadow (marginal),

GPT: Ghor-Clan Savage, Silhana Starfletcher, Wildsize, Silhana Ledgewalker (marginal)

DIS: Aquastrand Spider, Cytospawn Shambler, Simic Ragworm (marginal), Utopia Sprawl (marginal)

 
RAV shakes her thang with style, and GPT is not awful, either. DIS is pretty mediocre, but not a total disaster if you end up guildless for this pack.

 

For white (DIS > RAV > GPT):

RAV: Faith's Fetters, Conclave Equenaut, Veteran Armorer, Screeching Griffin (marginal), Nightguard Patrol (marginal)

GPT: Shrieking Grotesque (good even without black), Ghost Warden (marginal), Withstand (marginal)

DIS: Freewind Equenaut, Guardian of the Guildpact, Minister of Impediments, Carom (marginal)

 
Since DIS is a small set, the concentration of good mono-white cards is indeed higher than in RAV. GPT again brings up the rear.

 

For blue (RAV >> DIS > GPT):

RAV: Snapping Drake, Compulsive Research, Vedalken Dismisser, Peel from Reality, Drift of Phantasms (marginal), Tidewater Minion (marginal), Lurking Informant (marginal), Terraformer (marginal)

GPT: Repeal, Torch Drake (marginal), Train of Thought (marginal), Petrahydrox (marginal)

DIS: Minister of Impediments, Helium Squirter, Ocular Halo, Silkwing Scout

RAV blue is just very deep, while DIS has a few solid picks, and GPT is again quite barren. Train of Thought is marginal because it’s often too slow, and a great deal of its power is taken away in a multi-color format (unless blue is your main color).


To recap:

black (RAV >> DIS > GPT)
red (RAV ~ DIS >> GPT
)
green (RAV > GPT > DIS)

white (DIS > RAV > GPT)
blue (RAV >> DIS > GPT)

In general, RAV is the best place to rely on getting decent mono-colored cards, and GPT is the worst. However, mono-white, mono-blue, and mono-red are OK in DIS, and mono-green can survive with GPT. Obviously, you can also get lucky if your color is underdrafted or if you pick up great uncommons and rares, but usually, it’s safest to drop the RAV guilds, and it’s worst to drop the GPT ones. In any case, be aware of what kind of mono-colored cards you can expect to get when going guildless for a set.

 

RAV STARTING POINTS

 

When beginning an RGD draft, I usually just take the best card in the pack for the first few picks, with each successive pick being more and more influenced by the cards I’ve already taken. I never force an archetype, as Ravnica block’s colors are generally balanced, though I do have preferences. As you find yourself falling into a guild (or a non-guild color combo, as the case may be), little motors in your head should start trying to figure out where to go. Let’s look at the different starts:

 

GOLGARI

The only Guild Per Set option for Golgari is GBR (Golgari-Gruul-Rakdos). This path tends to be among the strongest mid-game archetypes, with access to efficient creatures like Shambling Shell and Streetbreaker Wurm, as well as a plethora of removal. Its main weakness lies in lack of evasion, but that seldom matters if you power through on the ground while removing enemy evasion. Since GBR is preferable to other Golgari archetypes, it’s good to try and position yourself to get access to Gruul for the GPT pack. You can do this by passing as few good green cards as possible during the RAV pack, once you know you’re Golgari; cutting off red cards is less important because GPT has two red guilds, and, as seen above, the mono-green commons in GPT are generally better than the mono-red ones .

To illustrate the point about deck planning earlier-- notice how in DIS, Rakdos gets four good common removal spells (Seal of Fire, Cackling Flames, Seal of Doom, Wrecking Ball), but generally has weak creatures. Knowing this, whenever I draft a combination that includes Rakdos, I tend to take good creatures over mediocre removal (like Pyromatics) in GPT.

Golgari Rotwurm

BGW (Golgari-Selesnya-Orzhov) is a possible backup option for a Golgari start, but this means double-guilding in RAV and leaving yourself guildless come DIS. The BGW combination works best when you’re getting great Golgari AND Selesnya cards in RAV; you want a high number of playables before even entering GPT. After looting all the Orzhov cards from GPT, you can get decent mono-white and mono-green picks from DIS to round out your deck. Since this deck tends to be more controlling, having access to cards like Minister of Impediments and Guardian of the Guildpact in the guildless last pack is a relief.

 
BGU (Golgari-Dimir-Simic) again has you double guilding in RAV (and sacrificing the GPT guild), which is not a great idea, considering that black, blue, and green all have great mono-colored cards in RAV, while GPT (with the exception of green) tends to have that stuff you scrape off the bottom of your shoes. This archetype can work, though you really want to have a ton of playables from Dimir and Golgari before entering GPT. An evasive deck built around Dimir and Simic cards like Snapping Drake, Assault Zeppelid, and Silkwing Scout could work, and you do get a little help in GPT from Silhana Ledgewalker and Torch Drake. Meanwhile, dredging groundpounders like Greater Mossdog can hold the ground. Still, it would often be temping to go 4- or 5-color instead (more on that option later).

 

BOROS

The Boros cards tend to be very aggressive, with lots of small drops, flyers, and a mish-mash of removal and underappreciated tricks (Rally the Righteous and Boros Fury-Shield are underdrafted gems these days). If I end up with Boros cards in RAV, I usually want to do a tight Guild Per Set focusing on aggro cards. Don’t be tied to that, however; if the controlling cards come, you can always orient yourself in that direction. Thundersong Trumpeter can be used defensively just as well, for example.

 
RWU (Boros-Izzet-Azorius) is often very fast, with a strong evasive bent to it; there are at least two playable common flyers in every set. Like with most archetypes containing both blue and red, you really want the good Izzet cards in your deck. Steamcore Weird and Ogre Savant are great mid-range tempo plays, helping to keep the momentum going. However, if you’re picking a bunch of Boros cards in RAV and shipping off the good blue, chances are your downstream neighbor will be in blue and looking to snag the Izzet cards for himself. If I find myself in RW in RAV, wanting to go RWU, I often will go ahead and dip into blue immediately instead of waiting for GPT in order to lessen the chances of being cut off from Izzet cards. Obviously, it’s not a good idea to take something like Drift of Phantasms over Thundersong Trumpeter, but if the Boros and mono-blue card are about the same power level, it’s often worth gambling and grabbing the blue one.

Thundersong Trumpeter
 
RWB (Boros-Orzhov-Rakdos) tends to have a lot of redundant cards, which is good for keeping a focused theme. For example, each set has a 4-mana 2-power flyer (Screeching Griffin, Blind Hunter, Demon's Jester) and other flyers, a tapper-like creature (Thundersong Trumpeter, Ostiary Thrull, Minister of Impediments), and decent removal. Like with RWU, if good mono-black RAV cards are coming, it may be a good idea to take them and settle yourself into RWB right away, in order to try and ensure access to the good Orzhov cards. Also, try to figure out whether you’re more aggro or control, as this archetype has good cards for both. For example, late in the RAV pack, you may have to decide between Benevolent Ancestor vs. Sell-Sword Brute, and your choice will pull you one way or another along the aggro-control spectrum. Also note that DIS will still contribute to your control deck-- even though Rakdos tends not to help controlling decks too much, its four common removal cards are just fine, and mono-white cards like Minister of Impediments and Guardian of the Guildpact are great defensive creatures. Just try to stay consistent.

 
RWG (Boros-Selesnya-Gruul) has you double-guilding in RAV, and like with BGW, you already want a lot of playables before entering GPT. As with BGR, cutting off green in RAV is your best bet to getting access to Gruul in GPT. Also, while you have access to a lot of quality creatures, removal is somewhat scarce with this archetype (GPT and DIS only have 3 common removal spells between them), so keep that in mind during close picks.

 

DIMIR

In terms of commons, the mono-colored black and blue cards in RAV are better than the black-blue multi-color ones! Compulsive Research is better than Consult the Necrosages, Snapping Drake is better than Tattered Drake, etc. Usually the only reason I end up in Dimir is if I happen to be picking up good mono-blue and mono-black cards, or I have some good Dimir uncommons (like Moroii).

 
BUR (Dimir-Izzet-Rakdos) can easily go both aggro and control, with cards like Drift of Phantasms and Lurking Informant wanting to be control and cards like Snapping Drake and Gobhobbler Rats wanting to be aggro. Note that if you find yourself on the offensive, Drift of Phantasms can be transmuted for something more aggressive, and Lurking Informant can be used on yourself to get you more gas or on the opponent to deny them answers to your threats. Dual-use cards are a welcome addition to any deck. If you do end up with a controlling deck, be wary of cards that may hurt your cause. For example, Daggerclaw Imp is a great aggressive creature, but in a controlling deck, you’re likely not going to have much pressure to go along with the imp, and the Imp’s inability to block may hurt your chances to assume board control before it’s too late. Also, as with RWU, cutting off blue in RAV is probably your best bet to getting access to Izzet in GPT.

Moroii

BUW (Dimir-Orzhov-Azorius) is another archetype that can swing both aggro and control. Like RWU, you can count on getting decent flyers in every set, so evasive aggro is a nice option, especially with relatively late picks like Benevolent Ancestor and Soulsworn Jury gumming up the ground, and cards like Blind Hunter really helping to swing the life race in your favor.

 
BUG (Dimir-Golgari-Simic) - see Golgari section.

 

SELESNYA

Selesnya seems underdrafted these days, which isn’t too surprising considering it’s lacking a Guild Per Set option. Still, cards like Selesnya Evangel, Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi, and Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree can all be quite powerful, and often go far later than they should during the RAV picks. To be honest, I often shy away from Selesnya, but sometimes 6th and 7th pick Evangels make me dive in anyway.

 
GWB and GWR (covered in previous sections) both get their jollies in early, eschewing the DIS pack for RAV and GPT goodies. I’m not a big fan of either, but they are both doable, considering that mono-white is actually decent in DIS, and mono-green isn’t terrible.

 
GWU (Selesnya-Simic-Azorius) double guilds in DIS at the expense of GPT, gaining access to virtually all the good creatures in DIS. If you manage to prevent the GPT pack from being a total disaster (usually by nabbing the good mono-green stuff), you’ll often find yourself with both an impressive ground army and a great air force. However, this is easily the worst archetype in terms of raw removal, so stuff like Faith's Fetters, Condemn, and Plumes of Peace become essential picks. Looking ahead, you know that you’re likely to get a bunch of playable creatures in DIS, so passing up good creatures for removal in RAV or GPT is often worth it. Bounce should also be taken highly, as it’s quite scarce (Peel from Reality and Repeal are all there is at common), and this archetype has very few ways of actually getting creatures off the board.

Selesnya Evangel

 

GUILDLESS IN RAV

One strategy for the RAV pack is to stick mainly to one color, without committing yourself to a guild. This can work quite well with black, green, and blue, since they have a lot of good mono-colored playables. This lets you be extremely flexible during GPT, as you can just take the most open guild (or guilds), while still ensuring that you’ll only be in three colors.

Another strategy is to aim for URG (Izzet-Gruul-Simic), one of my favorite archetypes. It can be quite powerful, since it gets to choose cards from arguably the two most best multi-color guilds in the block (Izzet and Gruul), while still getting good mono-colored cards in RAV. To begin with, I usually focus on the mono-colored blue and red cards, as this helps cut off Izzet, who are led by three great comes-into-play commons (Izzet Chronarch, Ogre Savant, and Steamcore Weird). To be fair, in terms of drafting URG, it’s probably not necessary to focus on any particular color in RAV; if your downstream neighbour does end up in blue, you’ll just end up getting more Gruul cards in GPT, instead of Izzet ones. However, drafting mainly blue and red cards in RAV gives you the additional (though worse) option of just sticking to Izzet in GPT, and then finishing off with Azorius in DIS. I only enter this backdoor into RWU if the green cards are just not coming in both RAV and GPT, signalling that green is overdrafted.

 

 
4-5 COLOR


4-5 colors is always a risky move, as it tends to strain your mana base and puts you at significant risk of color-screw. However, it also opens you up to the possibility of grabbing most of the bombs you come across. I’ll be honest here; when I end up in 4-5 colors, it’s usually because I started with Selesnya and wanted a guild in all three packs. Three times has been because of Glare of Subdual, which I can’t bear not to play—it’s that good. 4-5 color decks in RGD are almost always 2-3 colors main, with 1-3 splash colors. Splashes are sometimes as few as a single card; for example, both times I’ve opened the bomb-a-licious Simic Sky Swallower, I’ve had to play it as a 4th color single-card splash. The key to 4-5 color decks is to figure out that’s what you’re drafting as soon as possible, and then plan accordingly (i.e. start grabbing those fixers!).

For example, you first pick a Glare of Subdual, and then get four great Dimir cards. You decide that you don’t want to give up on the Glare, and presto, welcome to 4-color land! At this point, it’s still early enough to start taking bouncelands and signets very highly. Silhana Starfletcher, barring a bomb, becomes a first pick. Along those lines, if at all possible, green’s good to have as one of your main colors, as it gives you access to its fixers (like the Starfletcher and Civic Wayfinder). Of course, you have to take the powerful cards that make going multi-color worthwhile, but make sure they’re worth it. Removal’s usually considered quite valuable, but Starfletcher vs. Douse in Gloom or Pyromatics is an easy win for Starfletcher here. Starfletcher vs. Skeletal Vampire, on the other hand... (hint: take the bomb).

Let’s look at another scenario. Say you’re buzzing along happily with a three-color deck, and then suddenly open up an off-color bomb in DIS; now you really have to evaluate whether the added power is worth the hit to the consistency of your mana-base. If you have no fixers in the bomb’s off color at this point, it’s probably wise to just give it up (even though you have a chance at snagging the corresponding bounceland in later picks). If you do already have some fixers, it becomes much more worth it. For bombs like Simic Sky Swallower, which can win the game on its own AND is virtually impossible to remove, I have made an exception by taking it with no fixers at all, just the hope of getting some later. It’s definitely a judgment call (are you feeling lucky, punk?).

 

Simic Sky Swallower
One way to accommodate unexpected bombs is to plan for it by take the fixing first, even if you’re already settled in your three colors and the fixer is not in your colors. For example, I’m drafting RWU, it’s late in the GPT pack, and my choices are Bloodscale Prowler and Gruul Turf (RG bounceland). Prowler might make my deck if the DIS pack goes badly, but probably not. Thus, I take the Gruul Turf, which gives me a better chance of splashing a Simic bomb (like the Sky Swallower), should I open one.

 

LE FIN


So, there you have it. This is not an exhaustive tome by any means, but it’s a fair representation of how I try to plan out my RGD drafts. I hope it was helpful. I’m thinking about doing a draft walkthrough for next time, if there’s interest. Feel free to blast me in the forums; I look forward to it!

- Stormsinger (also Stormsinger on MTGO)

0 Comments

by Stormsinger at Thu, 07/12/2007 - 07:28
Stormsinger's picture

Well, I saw this article less like a newspaper and more like a walk through the different archetypes and planning concepts. I assumed that those who bother to read it would actually get through the end, but clearly, you've shown me that people will barely skim it and judge the article based on that-- instead of saving the best for last, they need it up front and center. 

I guess I'll keep that in mind for future articles' presentation.

by Mark (Unregistered) 210.55.201.197 (not verified) at Sun, 07/08/2007 - 19:29
Mark (Unregistered) 210.55.201.197's picture

Yeah, this article is well out of date, plus it misses the 'key' to RGD drafting:  URG.

Go guildless in pack 1, but that's ok since green and blue are both full of strong mono-coloured cards.  Then take the two best guild in the strongest pack.  Then take the underdrafted guild in the final pack, Simic.  Note how noone that follows yous 'guild per set' guideline will be taking simic?

So essentially, you give up a guild in the deepest and least guild bound set (Ravnica), and in exchange you get to be greedy in the best set and get an underdrafted guild in the final set. 

by Mark (Unregistered) 210.55.201.197 (not verified) at Mon, 07/09/2007 - 22:17
Mark (Unregistered) 210.55.201.197's picture

Yeah, I did miss that, but I still think that your emphasis was way off.  YOu spend 2600 words talking about the different guilds and how to match them up, then slip in a single 180 word paragraph talking about the actual dominant strategy.  I didn't think that you talked about how awesome karoos are and how they and the signets are what enable yoru amazing multicoloured decks.  But upon a reread I see you've made it the very finish of the article (when it should probably be at the very start).

Maybe you should give more weight to the things that you want the readers to pay more attention to.

Look at your article as similar to a newspaper column, and imagine that your readers will only read the first half of the article.  In this article, you're still introducing the guilds to them! 

Having said that, I don't want to be all negative.  You do have a decent style, and it would probably be at least marginally worthwhile doing a similar writeup for TPF (even though that format is pretty well explored as well).

 

by Stormsinger at Sun, 07/08/2007 - 23:00
Stormsinger's picture

Mark,  I don't think you were reading too carefully, since the URG option is covered in the "GUILDLESS IN RAV" section, and I also specifically mentioned that it was good because you get to drop the RAV guild and pick up great mono-colored cards instead.

And sorry if it wasn't clear, but I wasn't advocating Guild Per Set as the only option; indeed, I even stated that URG was one of my favorite archetypes!

by dragonmage65 at Sat, 07/07/2007 - 16:40
dragonmage65's picture

Excellent article. You have a good writing style that kept me engaged, so keep it up!

by runeliger at Sat, 07/07/2007 - 16:40
runeliger's picture

Definitely well written and extensive... Only thing is.... you're a year late :P  

 

by Stormsinger at Sat, 07/07/2007 - 21:54
Stormsinger's picture

Yeah, it's late, but hopefully RGD will somehow become a retro summer hit. It seemed like a beloved format (and a beloved block in general), so there's a good chance that the closer we get to Rav block going out of print, the more folks will try to get in some nostalgia drafts. And everyone loves opening shocklands :)