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Lessons from the Ravnica Allegiance Prerelease


I played in two Ravnica Allegiance prereleases this weekend. I'll share my sealed pools, the decks I built, and the lessons I learned from the experience.

First Prerelease

I thought Gruul and Simic were the two strongest guilds. For the first prerelease, I chose Gruul because I thought it was stronger and because it looked to be so popular that I wasn't sure there'd be any Gruul guild kits left for the afternoon prerelease.

This is my sealed pool from the first event (including the promo card).

Lands (6)

Azorius Guildgate
3 Gruul Guildgate
Orzhov Guildgate
Simic Guildgate

Artifact (2)

Azorius Locket
Gruul Locket

White (11)

3 Arrester's Zeal
Expose to Daylight
Hero of Precinct One
Knight of Sorrows
Resolute Watchdog
Sentinel's Mark
Summary Judgment
Syndicate Messenger
Watchful Giant

Azorius (3)

Emergency Powers
High Alert
Sphinx's Insight

Blue (12)

Arrester's Admonition
Clear the Mind
Coral Commando
Gateway Sneak
Precognitive Perception
Quench
2 Sage's Row Savant
Slimebind
2 Swirling Torrent
Windstorm Drake

Simic (4)

Aeromunculus
Frilled Mystic
Galloping Lizrog
Growth Spiral

Green (16)

Axebane Beast
2 Biogenic Upgrade
Enraged Ceratok
Gift of Strength
Guardian Project
Saruli Caretaker
Sauroform Hybrid
2 Stony Strength
2 Sylvan Brushstrider
2 Territorial Boar
2 Titanic Brawl

Gruul (2)

Frenzied Arynx
Savage Smash

Red (14)

Act of Treason
Amplifire
Clamor Shaman
Feral Maaka
2 Goblin Gathering
Gravel-Hide Goblin
2 Rubblebelt Recluse
Scorchmark
2 Skewer the Critics
Smelt-Ward Ignus
Spear Spewer

Rakdos (3)

Macabre Mockery
2 Rafter Demon

Black (10)

Bladebrand
Catacomb Crocodile
Dead Revels
Drill Bit
Grotesque Demise
Noxious Groodion
Orzhov Racketeers
Plague Wight
Thirsting Shade
Undercity's Embrace

Hybrid (5)

2 Rubble Slinger
2 Senate Griffin
Vizkopa Vampire

Split cards (2)

Bedeck // Bedazzle
Collision // Colossus

 

I was disappointed by my Gruul seeded pack (the promo was Amplifire) and ended up playing a Simic deck that splashed Red for some removal and a Frenzied Arynx. The splash was relatively painless because I had four in-color Guildgates. Here's the deck I built:

My last cut was a Growth Spiral for the Mountain. While the pair of Sage's Row Savants could help me find lands, they could also help me get rid of unwanted lands, and the deck really wanted to get to four mana. I also tend to run a slightly higher-than-usual land count during prereleases, to avoid losses due to manascrew. In addition, I figured that Gateway Sneak, Guardian Project, and Precognitive Perception would help draw me more gas if I got flooded.

The deck looked quite strong to me and I won my first two rounds, but then lost the next two. In the first round, I faced an Orzhov deck that was really good at stalling the ground but that didn't seem to have any removal. My opponent played very conservatively, and pretty much didn't attack unless he had Angelic Exaltation on the board. It won him game one, but he didn't see it game two and it came too late in game three, and I won both games fairly easily with some flyers and some removal for his flyers. My second round was against an Azorius deck piloted by a strong player, but I was able to pull out game one and he triple mulliganed in game two. Side note: players who claim they're "luckier than most" are usually better players than those who regularly complain about bad luck.

My third round was against an Orzhov player with three (!!!) Mortifys, Cry of the Carnarium, Final Payment, and at least four other more conditional removal spells, plus a bunch of creatures with Afterlife 2. He won game one pretty handily. I was doing pretty well in game two until I used Frilled Mystic to counter a Final Payment because it would let me alpha strike the following turn. My opponent untapped and played Cry of the Carnarium, a card that I'd already seen in game one and that I should have played around. It killed all but one of my creatures and he was able to take over the game from there.

My last round was against a really slow Rakdos player; I guess it's good that he chose a fast guild. He had Cry of the Carnarium, at least three Hackrobats, and splashed white for Mortify and Unbreakable Formation. I'd figured Rubblebelt Recluse was good, but it was really strong in his deck since it usually prevented me from attacking for a turn and then traded with two creatures, and was sometimes brought back by Dead Revels for more of the same. He won game three just after time was called, so maybe I shouldn't have been urging him to play faster. Oh well, no prizes this time.

Some observations:

  • This is obvious, but Guardian Project is a bomb. It's basically a Beast Whisperer that doesn't attack (although I don't think I've ever actually attacked with one) and doesn't die to creature removal. Gateway Sneak and Precognitive Perception are also excellent sources of card advantage.
  • I really like Sage's Row Savant. They made keeping two-land hands a much more reasonable proposition, and they provided some early defense (and occasional offense). The 2/1 body was usually outclassed quickly by 2/3's, 3/3's, and 4/4's, and they often traded with a 1/1 Spirit token if I attacked with them after the first few turns of the game.
  • I had high expectations for the Swirling Torrents because I felt they could really punish Adapted creatures and mid-range decks like Gruul. They ended up being somewhat underwhelming because my opponents often didn't have two creatures that I wanted to get off the board. There were even a couple of games where I played them targeting one creature because my opponent didn't have a second creature on the table or because it had a relevant enters-the-battlefield ability. Those game states may not be representative however, so I certainly want to try the card again.
  • Unlike in most sets, Green doesn't have enchantment removal at Common! I realized this in round one when I wanted to side in enchantment removal for my opponent's Angelic Exaltation and found that I didn't have any Green enchantment removal in my sideboard.
  • All my opponents chose to play because they were concerned about facing Rakdos. I usually chose to draw because I was three colors and had good early defense, but I should also have been choosing to play first since I had a number of sources of card advantage. In particular, you're more likely to be able to play Guardian Project on turn four if you're on the play since you're less likely to be under pressure.

Second Prerelease

For my second prerelease, I decided to choose Simic. If I was going to build Simic decks anyway, I figured I might as well get the seeded pack for the guild, and Simic also had the most valuable Mythics (Prime Speaker Vannifar and Hydroid Krasis). My promo card this time was Zegana, Utopian Speaker, not particularly valuable, but a pretty good card in Limited, and far better than Amplifire. (Side note: are all the bad puns in this set an indication that Magic has finally jumped the Sharktocrab?)

Here's my sealed pool in the second prerelease event I played in:

Lands (6)

Azorius Guildgate
Gruul Guildgate
Orzhov Guildgate
Rakdos Guildgate
2 Simic Guildgate

Artifacts (4)

Gruul Locket
2 Simic Locket
Sphinx of the Guildpact

White (8)

2 Arrester's Zeal
2 Impassioned Orator
Justiciar's Portal
Ministrant of Obligation
2 Twilight Panther

Azorius (2)

2 Lawmage's Binding

Blue (15)

Chillbringer
Code of Constraint
Faerie Duelist
2 Prying Eyes
Pteramander
2 Sage's Row Savant
2 Senate Courier
Shimmer of Possibility
Skitter Eel
Slimebind
Sphinx of Foresight
Verity Circle

Simic (4)

Aeromunculus
Applied Biomancy
Sharktocrab
Zegana, Utopian Speaker

Green (14)

Mammoth Spider
Open the Gates
2 Saruli Caretaker
2 Sauroform Hybrid
Silhana Wayfinder
Steeple Creeper
2 Stony Strength
Trollbred Guardian
Wilderness Reclamation
2 Wrecking Beast

Gruul (3)

Bolrac-Clan Crusher
Frenzied Arynx
Savage Smash

Red (11)

2 Act of Treason
Ghor-Clan Wrecker
Goblin Gathering
Light Up the Stage
Rix Maadi Reveler
2 Rubblebelt Recluse
2 Spikewheel Acrobat
Tin Street Dodger

Rakdos (3)

Cult Guildmage
Judith, the Scourge Diva
Rakdos Roustabout

Black (9)

Bankrupt in Blood
Blade Juggler
Carrion Imp
Consign to the Pit
Cry of the Carnarium
Dead Revels
Ill-Gotten Inheritance
Noxious Groodion
Thirsting Shade

Orzhov (5)

Basilica Bell-Haunt
Final Payment
Imperious Oligarch
Pitiless Pontiff
Teysa Karlov

Hybrid (4)

3 Scuttlegator
Senate Griffin

Split cards (2)

Consecrate // Consume
Incubation // Incongruity

 

While there were good cards in each color and guild, nothing other than Simic had enough playables, and I decided to also splash White for the pair of Lawmage's Bindings. As with my first prerelease deck, this one also needed to get to four mana to be able to play its more powerful creatures. In addition, it had eight creatures with Adapt and a Steeple Creeper, so I decided to run 16 lands despite having an Open the Gates, two Sage's Row Savants, and a number of other early drops.

My first round opponent was playing a Rakdos deck that splashed Green, and he won in three games. Simic doesn't have many answers to Judith, the Scourge Diva and he had three Hackrobats, which are pretty good against the large four drops that my deck relies on to stabilize. My second round opponent had also chosen Simic and was also splashing White for additional removal and an Unbreakable Formation, and he won even more handily in two games. With no possibility for prizes, I dropped and went home.

PS: Unbreakable Formation is bonkers. During both prerelease events, I lost every game where my opponent played it. It was never played on my turn.

Conclusions

Ravnica Allegiance has plentiful removal and numerous X/X's for X mana (most of which also have a useful ability to boot). It also has Spirit tokens generated by Afterlife, Guildgates that make it easy to be in three colors, and a surprising amount of card selection (Shimmer of Possibility, Silhana Wayfinder, and Incubation // Incongruity, in addition to a number of spells and creatures that draw cards, scry, loot, or rummage). Consequently, it seems likely to be a slower format where games are decided by whoever has the last bomb or flyer standing, and where card advantage and mana sinks are more important than usual.

Most of White's Common creatures seem underpowered, and I think most of the playable ones either have Afterlife or flying (the exceptions are Civic Stalwart, Elite Arrester if you're also in Blue, and Twilight Panther if you're also in Black). In most sets, the strongest White Common is usually a Pacifism variant, but in this set that card is in Azorius, and the monowhite one is an Uncommon (Sky Tether). There are a number of strong White Uncommons like Forbidding Spirit, Ministrant of Obligation, Spirit of the Spires, Angelic Exaltation, and of course Sky Tether, but it's probably not going to be a very popular color. Orzhov is decent because of Afterlife and a number of excellent removal spells, but Azorius is probably going to be the Golgari of this set. (Perhaps Wizards of the Coast R&D decided that they didn't want White/Blue flyers to be the strongest deck in Limited, as often happens.)

Simic doesn't feel super strong either. It has some really strong creatures, but most of the best ones cost four mana, and there's enough removal that you can't sit safely behind just one of them. Adapt was weaker than I'd expected because you could get blown out by a removal spell on an Adapted creature if you didn't have other creatures to block with, so I usually only activated it once I'd played out most of my hand. The color pair doesn't have any permanent creature removal other than Eyes Everywhere at Uncommon and Mass Manipulation at Rare, and so can't deal with creatures like Judith, the Scourge Diva that have static and/or triggered abilities. Finally, I think the +1/+1 counter lords (Skatewing Spy, Trollbred Guardian, and Zegana, Utopian Speaker) are actually better in Gruul than in Simic because Gruul doesn't have to pay additional mana to get +1/+1 counters on its creatures, and so these cards will often be drafted very highly by Gruul players.

 

That leaves Gruul, Rakdos, and Orzhov. If those are really the most powerful guilds, it may make sense to prioritize Black and Red cards in draft unless the other colors or guilds seem particularly open.

Isn't it amazing what far-reaching conclusions you can arrive at after just six matches in a new format? :)


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