Over the past month, we’ve taken a look at M13 and the Return to Ravnica expansion that has dominated the Magic: the Gathering scene. Gatecrash, the latest expansion, was released on February 1st, and already seems to be taking the competitive league by storm. Today, we’re going to examine this new expansion set, looking at the flavour of these new guilds, what they do, and how they fit with what’s come before (mostly M13, since RTR had five different multicoloured guilds that don’t share any obvious traits with the cards presented in Gatecrash). Strap in, boys and girls. It’s going to be a heck of a ride.
Boros Legion Fights As One
Who they are: The Boros Legion is the standing army of the city of Ravnica. Where the Azorious Senate made laws, the Boros Legion serves to enforce them at all costs, willing to put lives at risk on the fields of battle in hopes of securing a peaceful, united Ravnica.
What they do: The Boros Legion uses a tactic known as Battalion. Battalion gives your attackers special abilities as long as they are joined by two or more attackers, which really emphasizes the “strength in numbers” flavour of the group. These Battalion abilities can range from Firemane Avenger‘s 3 points of Lifelink damage before combat to the Ordruun Veteran‘s ability to gain double strike until the end of turn. There’s a lot of potential for some great combos once you assemble a large enough army.
How they fit: Remember that White/Blue soldier spawner deck I talked about in M13? There are a ton of cards from that set that would fit in perfectly here. Attended Knight and Captain’s Call are both cheap ways to get multiple soldier creatures for cheap mana costs, which help activate those battalion triggers (though honestly, I’d rather replace Captain’s Call with Assemble the Legion, as it has far greater potential for only one more mana). Odric, Master Tactician‘s special ability operates very similarly to the Battalion mechanic, as he is able to determine how the enemy blocks, or doesn’t block, when he attacks in large groups. Captain of the Watch would also be a perfect fit, as her +1/+1 and Vigilance bonus would apply to most cards in the Boros arsenal as well as get a ton of cheap creatures down onto the battlefield.
Their leader: Aurelia, the Warleader commands the Boros Legion and is probably my favourite card in the set. I’ll admit to having a natural bias towards angel cards (love the art and flavour of them), but Aurelia is more than strong enough to make her a must have in every Boros deck. She’s a 3/4 Vigilant Flier with Haste for six mana, which would make her a solid card on its own, but her additional ability is what sets her apart from the rest. After your first combat phase, Aurelia untaps all of your creatures and starts a second combat phase. This gives you the ability to do massive amounts of damage, force some awkward blocks, or, at the very least, allow some attacks in the first combat phase while keeping people back to block after the second. That’s an incredible amount of power for one card, and makes it more than worth the price of hunting it down to add to your deck.
The Gruul Clans Smash for Revenge
Who they are: The Gruul Clans are a Green/Red guild that used to be a noble group that protected the wild lands of Ravnica. Since the city has taken over and destroyed most of the remaining wildlife, the Clans have grown savage and now destroy everything in their path in attempts to reclaim what they have lost.
What they do: The Gruul are known for their Bloodrush technique, which many of their creatures possess. By paying a mana cost specified on the card (usually lower than casting the creature) and discarding said creature from your hand, the card becomes an Instant, greatly amplifying the power of an attacking creature or a blocker. When every creature can also be a great combat trick, that gives you a lot of versatility that one would not otherwise have. Great examples of this are the Ghor-Clan Rampager, which is a 4/4 with Trample for four mana that can give another creature +4/+4 and Trample through Bloodrush until end of turn for a red and a green, and the Rubblehulk, which is a six mana creature with strength and toughness equal to the number of lands under your control that can give an equivalent boost to another creature with Bloodrush for three mana.
How they fit: The Gruul are pretty unique to everything previously in this block, but that’s not to say there aren’t some obvious cards from M13 that would help them greatly. Arbor Elf is always useful in getting some ramp, which is more than necessary for a deck like the Gruul that has a lot of powerful late-game cards with high mana costs. If you’re looking for some more late game tactics, the Elderscale Wurm is nearly unmatched in what it can do. And hey, if you think you can ramp up to the Worldspine Wurm from Return to Ravnica, it’d be a ton of nice power to go with this power themed guild.
Their Leader: Borborygmos, in addition to having an awesome name, is more than capable as a leader of the Gruul Clans. As a 7/6 with Trample for eight mana, he’s already one of the most ferocious fighters in the set, but his ability makes him incredibly tough to mange once he hits the table. Whenever he does damage (which is often, thanks to his Trample ability), Borborygmos allows you to draw reveal the top three cards in your deck, putting lands into your hand and the rest into your graveyard. Since you already have the eight mana needed to summon him in the first place, this land is probably not necessary as a mana source. Instead, Borborygmos allows you to discard these lands at will to do damage to creatures that can stand in your way or directly to your opponent. In single opponent matches, the potential to do up to nine points of direct damage every turn you swing in with this creature is pretty incredible. With Borborgymos leading the way, you can feel confident knowing your enemies will nto be around for much longer.
The House of Dimir Gets Sneaky
Who They Are: The House Dimir are the shady criminal underbelly of Ravnica. They provide service like theft and assassination for a price, while also striking from the shadows to turn things in their favour. This is a secret organization so secretive that most of its own members aren’t entirely sure who they’re working for. Now that’s shady.
What they do: Unlike the rest of the Guilds in this set, the Dimir’s special abilities come from their spells, not their creatures. Many of their sorceries have an ability known as Cipher. This ability allows the player to cast the spell as usual, but instead of sending the care to the graveyard after use, the spell is exiled and copied onto a creature on your side of the field. From that point forward, whenever the creature to which the spell is attached does damage, you can cast that spell again without paying its cost. This can create some very powerful combinations. Attaching Call of the Nightwing to a powerful creature can ensure an endless supply of 1/1 Horrors with Flying. However, in my experience, Cipher is best used to attempt to mill an opponent, as cards like Paranoid Delusions can force your opponent to discard cards over and over again, making cards like Consuming Aberration, whose power and toughness is based on the number of cards in your opponents’ graveyards, extremely powerful and getting ever closer to a possible win condition.
How they fit: There aren’t many cards that have come out so far that really amplify the Dimir deck on their own. Mill hasn’t been a popular strategy in this cycle, though there are cards like Jace, Memory Adept from M13 that would happily find a place here, as would Mind Sculpt. I will point out that Dimir thrives best in multiplayer decks that can take advantage of Consuming Aberration, which, in my experience, is a must have for the deck and should serve as a focal point for any build. I was able to get it to become a 29/29 when it came out on my sixth turn thanks to some previous burn and a Ciphered Paranoid Delusion in a game against three of my good friends. It would reach the 50s before I was undone by my own Duskmantle Seer (which I’d honestly recommend against, since you’ll likely have taken significant damage in early game due to Dimir being a sorcery heavy deck, and unless you have plenty of Lifelink, you can’t afford the burn at that point).
Their leader: Lazav, Dimir Mastermind is more reliant on luck and his deck build than other guild leaders, but in the right system, he can easily be the most powerful of the guild leaders. In his standard form, Lazav is a 3/3 with Hexproof for four mana, making him a pretty useful mid-game creature in his own right. However, if you’re playing Dimir properly and milling your opponent every chance you get, his second ability becomes quite relevant. Any creature card that enters your opponent’s graveyard can become Lazav’s new form, as he becomes an exact copy of that card while retaining his Hexproof ability and the right to change again later should something better come along. That Hexproof makes him very difficult to remove, since he can’t be specifically targeted, and if a truly powerful card enters the graveyard, he can become your opponent’s worst nightmare. Just imagine if you were able to mill off a Worldspine Wurm, or any of the other guild leaders in Ravnica! The possibilities are endless if you are able to get some good discards from your opponent. If he or she discards nothing but land or you don’t draw your mill cards, Lazav can be very underwhelming. But the potential for greatness makes Lazav a necessary part of any Dimir deck.
Orzhov Power Corrupts Absolutely
Who they are: The Orzhov Syndicate are the most corrupt body in all of Ravnica. While they began as a religious group and may have had good intentions in the past, they have since become extorters of businesses, squeezing every last drop out of the Ravnica population that they can.
What they do: The Orzhov are masters at using Extort to squeeze every last drop of life from an opponent. Whenever you cast a spell, for each creature on your side of the field with Extort, you may pay one black or white mana. If you do so, an opponent of your choice loses one life and you gain one life in return. It may not be as quick as some of the other abilities in the set, but it has the potential to grind enemies down over time as you claw away bit by bit at their life total. Some great cards that use Extort include the Kingpin’s Pet, Treasury Thrull (which also serves as a great pace card, returning permanents to your opponent’s hand every time it attacks), and the Vizkopa Confessor (which also allows you to exile a card from an opponent’s hand).
How they fit: The slow nature of the Orzhov ensures you’re going to want to play a control style deck, limiting your opponents’ assets long enough to Extort them to nothing. As such, cards like Pacifism and Oblivion Ring from M13 work great, as they remove potential threats from enemy lines. It may even be a good idea to steal an Azorius trick like Arrest. I wouldn’t put it past the Orzhov to impersonate an officer like that. And in a pinch, I’d say having a Planar Cleansing or two would be a good choice, should one of the other guilds gain an upper hand at any point.
Their leader: Who else could lead this shady bunch of crooks than a creepy ghost council? It seems obvious in retrospect. The Obzedat are the ultimate embodiment of the Orzhov. When they enter the battlefield, you do two Lifelink damage to a target opponent. That’d be good enough, since the Obzedat are a 5/5 for five mana, which is not too shabby. But if you have enough blockers other than Obzedat, or you wish to attack with him anyway (or even just as a trick to maximize your Planar Cleansing), you can exile him at your end phase, only to bring him back onto the battlefield–now with haste–and sting your opponent for two more Lifelink damage, repeating this until there’s nothing left of your opponent but a withered husk of what once was a formidable deck. Getting a stronger version of Extort every turn without having to pay any mana cost? Sounds good to me. They truly are the best Orzhov has to offer.
The Simic Play with SCIENCE!!!
Who they are: The Simic Combine are a very different group of scientists from the Izzet League from RTR. At first, the guild was designed to focus on preserving life, but as time went on, the group changed their focus from protecting what they had to creating new, better forms of life. You know, for science.
What they do: Most of the Simic forces are mutants altered in some way by the Simic scientists. This genetic manipulation has given them the ability to Evolve. Essentially, every time a creature comes onto your side of the battlefield that has higher power or toughness than a creature with Evolve, your Evolve creature gets a +1/+1 counter on it. This gives you bonuses that make you bigger and stronger every time you get bigger and stronger with the creatures you summon. That “or” is key here, because it means that creatures that are top heavy on either side are great for triggering Evolve. Some classic Evolve creatures include the Shambleshark, Elusive Krasis and the Fathom Mage. There are also spells and creatures that maximize the effectiveness of Evolve cards, such as the Master Biomancer and Bioshift.
How it fits: It’s good to think of the Simic as a more creature focused Izzet deck. Cards like the Nimbus Swimmer are far more powerful when there’s a ton of mana to support them, and cards like Unexpected Results and Urban Evolution are great ways to get both of those things. In terms of other sets to incorporate, stealing some Izzet tricks like Blustersquall and Cyclonic Rift couldn’t hurt, nor would some green dudes like the Garruk’s Packleader that could provide potential card draw and activate some Evolve triggers. Also, Talrand, Sky Summoner, because he’s an awesome Merfolk Wizard, and the world can use more of those.
Their Leader: The Simic are lead by Prime Speaker Zegana. Unlike some of the other guild leaders, whose powers are such that they could thrive in just about any deck, Zegana’s abilities make much better in a full fledged Simic deck than anything else (though she’s still viable for reasons I’ll explain later). That said, Zegana knows how to put her people in the best position to succeed. While starting as a 1/1 for six mana, that will obviously not be the case due to her first ability, which gives her +1/+1 counters equal to the greatest power of all the creatures you control. This also ensures that Zegana will be the strongest creature on your side of the field, which means all of your Evolve triggers will activate. And if that wasn’t enough, you get card draw equal to Zegana’s power when she enters the battlefield. While Zegana’s ultimate power is based on forces that can be affected by randomness (what creatures you draw before you can play her), the promise of a creature that will undoubtedly be more powerful than your previously established team that also brings card draw makes her a must have in all Simic decks.
So, what guild do you believe is right for you? Are you a geneticist like the Simic Combine? Brutal as the Gruul Clans? Perhaps you strike from the shadows as a member of the House Dimir, or extort those in your way like the Orzhov Syndicate. Or maybe, just maybe, you grab a sword and shield and fight to unite your city as a member of the Boros Legion. Whatever you are, please be sure to let us know in the comments below, as well as your experiences with Gatecrash thus far. As for me, next week, I’m going to do something completely different. See ya then.