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Jason’s Archives: Time to Pick a Side

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There has been a lot of talk about Return to Ravnica heralding a three-, four- or even five-color format. Easy mana fixing in Shocklands coupled with their co-partners the M10 duals and other spoiled cards like Chromatic Lantern hint at the tantalizing possibility of a solid, five-color control build.

I'm here today to rain on that parade. You will be better served by playing a 2-color deck.

What Makes You Say Craziness Like That?

First of all, like never before, Wizards is pushing people to identify with a guild. This quiz is used to help you identify which of the ten guilds is in line with your play style and philosophy. And there are special, guild-specific achievements to unlock on the planeswalker points page to make you feel like you're contributing to the success of your chosen guild.

This push will also help players choose which of the five guilds in Return to Ravnica they might want to choose at the prerelease in order to get their special "guild pack" and, for the first time ever, playable-in-the-prerelease promo specific to the guild they elect.

Once a guild is selected, the player can read the letter from their guild.


Clearly a lot of effort has gone into making the election of a guild more than just an arbitrary exercise.

How Does Identification with a Guild Preclude Five-Color Decks?

If you will notice, subtle differences are evident everywhere you look, which show how players are being cajoled toward making their own Sophie's choice-esque guild election.

Exhibit A

Let's compare a cycle of guildmages from both old and new Ravnica.

Even though hybrid mana is back, confirmed by other cards previously spoiled, the new cycle of guildmages doesn't have hybrid mana in the mana cost or activation cost. This makes them much less splashable in draft and, if picked early, likely to steer players toward a guild.

The absence of signets and their early pickability will also help to steer players toward a two-color combination early in draft, and the lack of hybrid mana on the most playable cards makes the sealed format a little more hostile to splashes.

Certainly splashes aren't precluded, and three-color seems like it may almost be a necessity with certain sealed pools. The "gate" cycle of common dual lands that come into play tapped can help fragile mana bases in limited and have the added benefit of powering certain other cards that look for gates. Expect them not to table in draft.

Doesn't Hybrid Mana Promote Splashing Outside of a Guild?

I would argue quite the opposite. From what we've seen so far, absent activated abilities that use hybrid mana, the hybrid cards spoiled so far may actually steer players toward fewer colors rather than more.

I'll explain. Taking for example, this bad boy below, we can illustrate how the hybrid mana in its cost may lead players to play it in a mono-colored deck rather than a three-or-more-colored one.

Back in my day, hate bears had to be bears

While obviously a good one drop in a Selesnya build, couldn't this card just as easily fit in a 5-color control deck as a way to shut down opposing Snapcaster Mages? Upon closer inspection, its aggressive nature makes for a better fit in a chain of aggressive creatures such as turn one Dryad, turn two Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, turn three Silverblade Paladin, etc. Mono-green could also easily make use of this card.

Again, the design of the card doesn't necessarily preclude use in a Selesnya or three-plus-colored deck. However, I feel that it's much more attractive to players who want access to salient elements of a given guild without requiring the other color.

Magical Christmas Land

From what we've seen so far, it seems that five-color control decks don't have the support they'd need besides the mana base and, barring huge new developments, probably won't be better than fringe playable.

However, three-color decks may be a bit more realistic. If a player were to pick two guilds and combine them, there are exciting possibilities. Golgari and Rakdos, for example, would combine to give the player access to all of the best removal spoiled so far and Izzet and Azorious would have the best control elements.

While the mana base can certainly support these combinations, it seems much stronger to build around the powerful guild mechanics. Golgari's scavenge, in particular, scarcely needs help from a few red cards when that room could be better served by jamming in a ton of Innistrad block zombies.

Time will tell whether or not players will truly benefit by going deep on a guild strategy, or whether the availability of easy mana fixing will yield a format dominated by four- or five-color good stuff decks. Certainly more cards need to be spoiled before we can say for certain, but if you haven't chosen a guild yet, you'd better get on that. It's time to pick a side.

Too Much Magic for Just One City

It appears last week's Star City Classic wasn't just a fluke as there was another Classic this weekend, this time in Birmingham, Alabama.

Birmingham Classic Top 16

Always sort of a deck, but never really dominating the metagame, Esper Control managed to get there in Birmingham, this time piloted by Chi Hoy Yim. Also referred to as Solar Flare, this deck hasn't experienced much popularity recently as Bonfire of the Damned slowly creeps up toward $45-$50 dollars. But there were as many copies of this deck in the Birmingham Top 16 as copies of U/W Delver.

A Zombie Pod deck managed Top 8, which warms the cockles of my heart. Needs more Gloom Surgeon if you ask me. However, pilot James Kingsley used those spots to jam Restoration Angel. Angel is hardly a bad card when used in concert with Thragtusk, Skinrender or Geralf's Messenger, and it was only a matter of time before it made it into decks as the sole white card. I'm really going to miss Birthing Pod when it rotates.

Also a blast from the past was a Heartless Summoning pile, maneuvered into the Top 8 by Zac Hicks. Jamming four copies of Thragtusk seems OK in a deck with Havengul Lich, a card that also forms a machine gun kill combo with Heartless Summoning and Perilous Myr.

It's nice to see a (somewhat) diverse Top 16.

The Spirit of the '90s is Alive in Portland

Portland SCG Open Top 16

B/R Zombies managed to win the day in Portland, running through an angry gauntlet of Mono-Green Infect, G/W Elves, Pod and Zombie decks and... zero Delver decks! A Top 16 with zero copies of Delver and four copies of Bonfire of the Damned will likely have the pundits scratching their heads.

Mono-Green Infect was clearly the deck to beat that day and may have been what kept Delver lists from finishing well. Whatever it was, I hope it continues, as a Top 8 with six different decks is oh so refreshing.

Zombies, Pods and both together appear to be very popular plans and I would expect Zombies to be a force post-rotation as the deck remains mostly intact and gains some powerful new allies from the Golgari guild. Quinn Kennedy's winning list is pretty stock and resisted the temptation to jam Bonfire of the Damned, electing instead to bank on the synergy between Mortarpod and Brimstone Volley.

With a few weeks left until rotation, it's nice to see U/W Delver unseated as the king of Standard. Will Mono-Green Infect be a force to be reckoned with in Modern? Will Delver survive rotation given the loss of Vapor Snag, Mana Leak and Ponder? This is shaping up to be the most exciting rotation in a decade.

Any Given Sunday

Legacy is a diverse format. Play skill matters to a much greater extent than does metagaming, and sideboarding can shore up matchups more effectively than it can in Standard. Every once in a while, a deck we had forgotten about can come out of the woodwork and take an event by storm. This weekend in Portland was no different.

Portland Legacy Top 16

Death and Taxes, named for its tendency to destroy enemy permanents and tax opponents' mana bases, managed an upset this weekend in the hands of pilot Ben Nash.

Filled with hate monsters and the abusive combo of Mangara of Corondor, Aether Vial and Karakas, this deck can give permanent-based strategies fits. Whenever Flickerwisp is vialed in at instant speed hilarity ensues, and the Fiend Hunter out of the sideboard can get join the fun to really ruin some lives. Considering I built and promoted this deck a few years ago, I love to see it win an event. Congrats, Ben!

Fourteen different decks in the Top 16 says all that needs to be said about the health of the format. Legacy is a format where you can pick a deck you like, learn how to play it, sideboard for the meta and do well every week. You may not win them all, but your play skill and familiarity with the field matter a lot. Practice really can make perfect here and it shows in the plethora of decks that continue to perform.

And Finally...

I expected more blue

Redditor Wafflecopter42 compiled the results of the informal reddit guild poll which more or less jive with the results on the Planeswalker Points page. You will want to take the quiz if you haven't already. Which guild are you? Tell me in the comments.

Hit me up next week for more of the same. Until then, kiddies.

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