Ravnica Block Constructed: The Format That Never Was
By DarkRitual on September 13th, 2006 · Filed in Variant Formats · Comments not available just now
Around the time the third set in the block comes out, Block Constructed starts becoming really popular. Sadly, that's not the case this year. This is mostly because there has been no major tournament that attracted players to start paying attention to Block Constructed. The only thing close so far was a Team Block Constructed Pro Tour event, but team play is much different than individual play. Sadly, the one year they dont have an individual block constructed event is the same year that probably one of the best block constructed formats in a while occurs. There is no card that warps the format in the same way Jitte warped Kamigawa Block constructed. Control isn't too strong, aggro isn't too strong, and there are just enough counter spells and removal to balance the format. Not to mention that the multicolor theme is probably one of the most fun themes that a block could have (Just look at Invasion!). So what makes Ravnica Block Constructed tick? It's not like normal formats. There are a couple of things that make RBC unique compared to most formats.
By DarkRitual on September 13th, 2006 · Filed in Variant Formats · Comments not available just now
Game starts on turn 2
In Ravnica Block Constructed, rarely does anything happen on turn 1 other than playing a land. Why is this the case? The main reason is because of the Ravnica Dual lands. Unless you want to take 2 on your first turn, you dual land comes into play tapped on the first turn. Additionally, there are few good plays on turn 1. There is no one-cost 2/2 weenie that you can play turn 1. The only plays you could make on turn 1 aren't worth the 2 life you would lose. As a result, no one bothers to do anything on turn 1. On the other hand, turn 2 has a bunch of good plays you could make. Farseek, Dark Confidant, Lightning Helix, Remand, Fall. Enough that cards like Spell Snare are actually good enough to play in block.
Most decks are 3-4 colors
The other thing about RBC is most decks will be 3 colors, some even splashing for a 4th. Again, the dual lands make this possible. In Invasion, you would rarely see 4 color decks because it would require most of your lands to be painlands, meaning you will be taking more damage than its worth. Why make a 3-4 color deck over a 2 color deck? You would think with the way the set is designed to reflect 2 color guilds instead of 3 color pairings like in Invasion would make 2 color decks a bit more popular. But why make a 2 color deck when you can add in another color and include 2 more guilds worth of better cards into your deck and make it 3 colors? In Ravnica, you don’t sacrifice that much consistency to go from a 2 color deck to a 3 or 4 color deck, but your deck gets much better by adding in one or two more colors.
How do you pull off 3-4 color decks?
The easiest way to pull off 3-4 colors is to play green. Green has a couple of mana fixers in Birds of Paradise, Utopia Sprawl, and Farseek to make your mana base more consistent. But even if you don’t play green, you can still get away with playing at least 3 colors because you can play at least 12 dual lands. Even aggressive decks can pull off 3 colors by playing 12 dual lands. Some control decks can even pull off splashing a 4th color depending on what the card they are splashing for is.
Rav Block archetypes
This is where I would normally just throw decks at you and tell you what decks are good in the format and which ones don’t cut it in Rav Block Constructed. But since there really hasn't been a major RBC tournament for us to get a glimpse of what the metagame is, there isn't any way of knowing what the best decks are in the format. What might be the best deck in your area might get clobbered at another FNM. So what I've done is picked two archetypes that are somewhat opposite of each other, and we will go in depth into each one.
Red,Blue,Black splash White
This deck was basically built around Skeletal Vampire, probably the best creature in the format (more on that later). The strategy is to slow your opponent down with counterspells (yes, Rav Block Constructed DOES have counterspells), and spot removal, until you can gain control of the game with Skeletal Vampire and win.
The core of the deck is built around Skeletal Vampire and Demonfire. Skeletal Vampire is just a bitch to get rid of, and some builds will have him as the only creature. Demonfire sounds like an unusual win condition, but due to the nature of how this deck will try and drag the game out, you can hit your opponent for as much as 10 sometimes.
Then you have your "essentials". Cards that are virtually auto-include unless your metagame is such that another card would be much better. This includes cards like Odds // Ends. Playing Ends is virtually a one sided Wrath of God in a format with few Weenie style decks that are actually good. Playing Odds gives you a good counterspell-counterspell. Play this on Remand and no matter what the result of the flip is, Remand is countered and your original spell goes through. Speaking of Remand, its also a good fit for this deck. Its a great card for gaining tempo in the early game, and sometimes it can turn into a quasi-time walk late game if your opponent plays a huge spell. That extra turn might be what it takes to gain control of the game.
Trial // Error is also a good fit for this deck. Usually you play the Error side of the card. There are a bunch of multicolored spells that are good targets for this spell, such as Giant Solifuge, Lightning Helix, Simic Sky Swallower, Burning-Tree Shaman, Loxodon Hierarch, Putrefy, Mortify or indeed any split card. The Trial side isn't that bad either. It can save your Skeletal Vampire from lethal combat damage if they have managed to kill all of your bats. Rise // Fall is another split card that you will usually see in this deck. Both sides are good. Rise will get Skeletal Vampire out of your graveyard and it will return a creature in play to their owners hand. The drawback is that its a sorcery. So usually you will end up targeting an opponent’s creature during your turn, but at least it slows him down. Fall is the better side. Cheap hand disruption that gets stronger late game unless your opponent is ready for it. If you don't maindeck this, it will definitely fit in the sideboard against control decks. Finally you have Mortify, one of the few cards that will straight up kill Skeletal Vampire in the format. Destroying enchantments also comes in handy, seeing as Faiths Fetters is another popular form of removal.
That's it for the essentials, but there are a couple cards that you could throw into your sideboard, or perhaps the main deck. First up is Spell Snare. There are a bunch of key cards that cost 2 mana. Dark Confidant, Lightning Helix, Remand etcetra, so this card will keep those from hitting play. Next is Consult the Necrosages. It's not really a smart choice for the sideboard unless control is big in your environment, but I have seen it played maindeck because of its versatility, which is why I included it here. Then there's Electrolyze. Two damage and a card for 3 isn't that impressive, but in certain situations you get 3-1 card advantage. It's also one of those cards that helps stop Skeletal Vampire if you play it the turn it hits the table and you kill the two bats that come into play. This means that there are no more bats in play to regenerate the Vampire with, so unless he plays another one soon, his 3/3 flyer is vulnerable.
Giant Solifuge might sometimes be seen in the sideboard. Surprised? I would be, considering the aim of this deck is to control the game and drop Skeletal Vampire. But this is sort of a creature version of Char, and it also comes really in handy against Control decks that don’t run that many creatures. Finally you have Angel of Despair. If you are playing a creature other than Skeletal Vampire maindeck, this is it. It fits the scheme of the deck, and a 5/5 flyer is pretty impressive.
Red, Black, White
It's funny that both decks contain Red, Black and White, but they are at opposite spectrums in terms of strategy. This deck isn't built around one card per se, but it's built to keep pressure on your opponent. If you condition in this deck, it's going to be Giant Solifuge and Dark Confidant. Dark Confidant is my favorite creature in the entire block, and it fits perfectly here. You probably won't be losing that much life, and the extra card a turn really helps keep the pressure on. Giant Solifuge is nice, too. Your opponent is going to have so much trouble keeping up with the pressure you are putting on him, so when you drop this guy, it's something else they have to deal with. Since it has haste, the extra unexpected creature could be a game winner for you.
Demonfire has a place in this deck. This is a surprise, considering that this is a fast paced deck. But when you think about it, it's a good plan B if your opponent can gain control of the game with fatties that you can't race. Hit // Run is also a fine choice for this archetype. You can only play Hit since you aren't playing green, but it's still a good card nonetheless. It's usually a Chainer’s Edict with some extra damage tacked in. Against control decks it's really handy because it can kill a huge creature and deal a lot of damage at the same time.
That’s really it for the main part of the deck. The rest of the deck consists of burn and weenies. For burn you are looking at Char, Lightning Helix, and Seal of Fire. All handy removal for some small creatures, and can also finish off an opponent at a low life total. For weenies you have Skyknight Legionnaire, Rakdos Guildmage, Lyzolda, the Blood Witch, Plagued Rusalka, and Scorched Rusalka. If you want to keep pressure on your opponent, you need the creatures to do so. These guys will help get your opponent down to zero as fast as possible. The Guildmage and the Witch dont have haste or evasion like the Skyknight does, but they can double as removal also. With the Rusalkas, usually its one or the other in this deck and not both. Personally I like the Plagued Rusalka because it makes combat interesting, with your opponent has worrying about that ability.
For sideboard cards, Rise // Fall is a consideration. You can only play Fall, but late game it will almost always hit two cards since your opponent has played most of their lands. Mortify and Faiths Fetters are good removal if you need something to take down fatties that are out of burn range. That leaves 3 spots left. You can probably throw in land destruction like Ghost Quarter, or maybe another creature (the Rusalka you didn't use in the maindeck). This is totally your decision.
Ravnica Block Constructed Awards
Best Aura: Faith’s Fetters
This is an answer to most of the cards out there. It's virtually creature destruction, you gain 4 life, and its white? White hasn't gotten removal like this in a while. But as I said before you can neutralize cards like Glare of Subdual with this card. And while we're talking about good Auras, I want to give an honorable mention to Moldervine Cloak. Probably the best permanent creature pump since Armadillo Cloak and Rancor. It won't go straight back to your hand like Rancor does, but it gives the biggest boost of the 3 and you can skip your draw and dredge it to your hand, so its never too far away.
Best Non-creature utility card: Farseek
If you are playing green in RBC, you are probably playing this card. It's cheap and it gets the job done. But when you compare Farseek to other classic mana accelerators, there are few that even stack up. Farseek gets an assist from the Duals though. The way it's worded, you can get any dual land in Ravnica Block. There aren't many mana accelerators that let you fetch a non-basic land AND put it into play.
Best creature utility card: Azorius Guildmage
Two mana for a 2/2 isn't bad, but for 3 mana you can either tap a creature or counter an activated ability. Both abilities come quite in handy, and it doesn't require the creature to tap. So your 6 mana will shutdown 2 creatures a turn or keep Skeletal Vampire from regenerating or putting two bats into play (they still have to sacrifice the bat since thats part of the cost). A shoutout to Coiling Oracle too. In my opinion Simic got shafted. After Simic Sky Swallower, there isn't really anything else to say about the guild other than Coiling Oracle. For two mana you get a 1/1 and a free card, but if it's a land it goes into play, so you can play something that costs 4 on turn 3 if you hit a land.
Most Popular Creature: Giant Solifuge
This guy is everywhere. Since you can play him as 2GG or 2RR, he fits fine in many decks. He's easy to kill in combat, but he's probably going to take something down with it and perhaps deal trample damage along the way. He's a tad weaker than Ball Lightning or Blistering Firecat, but those creatures can't go in a non-red deck, and they can get sniped by just about everything that deals damage, like a pinger or a spell like Shock. Loxodon Hierarch is up there too… probably one of the best 4 cast 4/4 creatures in the game. If you are playing Green and White, you are probably playing this card.
Best Non-Creature Win Condition: Demonfire
In any other format, a card like Demonfire would be crap. But something about the slow pace of Ravnica and how easily splashable the card is makes it so popular. In Ravnica, it's not uncommon to have 8-10 lands out late game and finish your opponent off with 7-9 damage. Debtor's Knell is also good almost for the same reason. Games usually don’t end before you can get to 7 lands, and before you know it its free card advantage every turn, assuming there are creatures in the grave.
Best Win Condition: Skeletal Vampire
Is it really a surprise? I mentioned this guy like 10 times in the article and don't go into detail about how good he is, so you have to figure something is going on. I'm not going to talk about the Vamp just yet. I'm going to first talk about the card it beat out: Simic Sky Swallower. People have compared this card to Akroma in terms of finishers. Its harder to kill Simic Sky Swallower, and it's cheaper. In Ravnica Block Constructed, there are really no flyers that are bigger than it, so in combat you are probably going to have to kill it by blocking with two flyers. There aren't that many times you are going to see two flyers that are big enough to take on SSS together.
So if Simic Sky Swallower is that good, why did I pick Skeletal Vampire over it? Is it because I like the card? No. It's because I hate it. I'm an aggro player. If I can't kill the Skeletal Vampire player before before the Vamp hits play, its over. There are few things you can do once he hits the table. You can't race him, cause he has 3 creatures, one that regenerates. Unless you find an answer fast he can just keep swinging in the air, and when you attack, just sacrifice a bat and put two more into play to chump block. And Skeletal Vampire is probably the only creature that can trump Simic Sky Swallower in combat. Just get 3 bats out and use them to block SSS along with Skeletal Vampire. then regenerate the Vamp.
There are just as many things that can deal with Simic Sky Swallower as there are that can deal with Skeletal Vampire. Anything that forces your opponent to sacrifice a creature can deal with Simic Sky Swallower, that means Ends and Hit will down the beast. Finally, if the Simic Sky Swallower player is on the ropes, since Simic Sky Swallower is only 1 creature, you are only able to kill one creature a turn by blocking. So sometimes its possible to win by attacking into the beast for a couple of turns then perhaps finishing them off with burn. But you couldn't do it as easily against Skeletal Vampire, because he could block up to 3 creatures a turn, then sacrifice one bat to regenerate the Vampire if need be and the other to put more bats into play. Its simply much easier to gain control of a game with Skeletal Vampire than it is with Simic Sky Swallower. Even though it was a really close decision, I choose the Vampire as best win condition.
And that's really all I can tell you about Ravnica Block. It's a shame that it didn't get as much exposure from the Pro Tour as other blocks got, because I think people would have found out that this is one of the best block environments in a long time.