Although Guildpact's power level isn't as high as Ravnica's, there are still plenty of great cards for both competitive and noncompetitive players across all formats. As a more casual player myself, I tend to focus more on interesting cards than on powerful cards. Obviously, I'll still play powerful cards in casual decks (as I'm still looking to win), but I like to have fun with Magic, and I get a lot of fun out of making interesting things happen. I'm always looking for different ways to use cards, different strategies to try out, and so on. And it's always a blast.
I'm not interested in trying to give you a power ranking for all the cards in Guildpact; I'll let the more experienced tournament players do that. Today, I'm just going to give you an overview of what Guildpact offers to casual play (and perhaps even competitive play), and hopefully inspire some creativity around the mostly overlooked cards in the set.
I can't go without saying that the entire Ravnica block (not just Guildpact) is giving us some great mana fixing, and it's almost never been easier to get your mana right for any deck you want. While this is a really obvious plus for Guildpact (and the rest of Ravnica), I feel it's especially important for casual players, as you can do a lot more interesting things in casual play when you can build multicolor decks with ease. And for lovers of variant formats like 5-Color or Prismatic, all this mana fixing can be very useful. What's especially notable about Guildpact with regards to mana is that it features two strong color combinations that are generally poorly supported: U/R and B/W.
Speaking of which, let's look at the guilds in Guildpact. In casual play, you don't necessarily need to build around these guilds, but there are cards geared towards specific color combinations. Any UR deck can play Izzet cards, any GR deck can play Gruul cards, and any BW deck can play Orzhov cards. The guild mana cards, don't even need to be run in their guild colors!
RG clearly picks up some powerful cards in Guildpact. Any player wanting an aggressive RG deck can take advantage of Bloodthirst, as it's pretty easy to sneak a point of damage in to get an undercosted beater. There are also plenty of Bloodthirst enablers around, including ones in this set and in Ravnica. Two of the better ones are Burning-Tree Shaman and Rumbling Slum, which are both playable in competitive formats as well. Land-destruction players also pick up a great spell in Wreak Havoc.
UR decks get some fun cards, particularly with the instant and sorcery theme. Gelectrode, for example, is an incredibly fun pinger to play with, and it almost becomes a game to see how many times you can ping someone in a single turn. It might even be possible to run it as a win condition in an infinite deck, given that you have some combo mechanism for playing tons of spells in a turn. You also have Wee Dragonauts to support an instant/sorcery deck (and how awesome is it to lay the beats with your Wee Dragonauts!), along with solid cards like Electrolyze and Invoke the Firemind that can make the UR combination even more playable.
BW players also pick up some playable cards here. Overall, Guildpact offers more to the control side of BW than to its aggro side (though black aggro players may like the power-efficient Daggerclaw Imp). Ghost Council of Orzhova is definitely a strong card, being a real pain for an opponent who wants to get rid of it. Solid cards like Castigate give discard decks more options, while the ever-playable Mortify will see play in most BW decks. The Haunt mechanic can lead to some interesting card advantage opportunities, and it also helps support 187 ("comes into play") strategies, which deserve a bit more attention.
The 187 Comeback
Well, it might not really be a "comeback," but I've always liked playing this kind of deck ever since Recurring Nightmare. Abusing "comes into play" effects generates a very strong form of advantage. Even though you're using lots of mana for the effects, you're getting lots of card economy, as you're getting multiple uses out of a few cards. Guildpact has followed in the footsteps of Ravnica, giving us many more 187 creatures to play around with.
Because I enjoy this strategy so much, Ravnica gave me a gift in the form of Cloudstone Curio. While it's definitely no replacement for Recurring Nightmare, it still serves its purpose and is fairly efficient. Combining the Curio with cards in Guildpact and other cards in Standard, I've been trying all kinds of decks to make a satisfying casual Standard or Block deck. One of my current concoctions is a BW discard/control deck, which gained from Guildpact a few good 187 creatures (Shrieking Grotesque, Blind Hunter, Orzhov Pontiff), more cheap discard spells (Castigate, Cry of Contrition), and of course the Godless Shrine for mana fixing.
Even if you're not a fan of the Curio, Guildpact also gave us another card for taking advantage of the 187: Ghostway. Players are already trying to abuse this card, given that Standard also offers Otherworldly Journey to support the strategy. Some have even tinkered with the possibility of a recurring lock with Izzet Chronarch. Ghostway does have a few advantages over the Curio, but personally I prefer the Curio's reusability.
Let's take some time to go over some of the individual players and see what they can offer:
Abyssal Nocturnus - A lot of people hate on this guy. Sure, you could play with something more aggressive or more devastating, but potential beaters with fear always have a chance of being useful. I think a lot of people misjudge it by saying that you would rather have a Hippie than this guy, but if I'm playing the Nocturnus, it's really only for the possibility of doing some serious damage quickly. A double-discard spell lets you swing for 6, and you might get more if you're playing something like Persecute. But what I really like about the Nocturnus is the idea of playing it in multiplayer formats. Sure, it'll put a target on your head, but playing Strongarm Tactics and then attacking for 8 or more is quite appealing. And Wheel and Deal can be pretty useful even on its own in multiplayer.
Ætherplasm - Definitely not a power card, but it does give you the opportunity to play with overcosted jank without resorting to Tooth and Nail. It can even be an indefinite blocker on its own (though costly), stalling long enough for you to hardcast your overcosted jank if you need to.
Angel of Despair - While it's pleasing to Timmies, there are also some indications that it may even be good in competitive Block. In any case, big fliers can always find a home in casual play, and it has a 187 effect to boot.
Bioplasm - While I personally think it's bad, I'm sure some people will still have fun trying to find a way to use it. If you're one of them, I suggest instant speed tricks such as the Top or blue library manipulation tricks. Unfortunately, even with a Krosan Cloudscraper, it still only swings for 17.
Burning-Tree Shaman - This is an efficient creature with a very nice effect. It's worthy of competitive play, but that doesn't mean you can't also have fun with it in other ways! One cute idea is to combine it with cards that give your opponents activated abilities to use (such as Flailing Ogre or Jinxed Choker), but that doesn't really have much impact. Instead, you can also combine it with cards like Armadillo Cloak or Curiosity to make your opponent really pay for using activated abilities!
Cerebral Vortex - A decent card-drawer to add to UR's arsenal, though it can double as a sneaky win condition. Suggested combos include Wheel of Fortune-type effects such as Shocker, Teferi's Puzzle Box or even Flux (giving your opponent the option). It can also be used as tech against your friend's super card-drawing combo deck.
Debtor's Knell - A powerful effect, but it's a card that's unlikely to stay in play long in competitive formats. It's sure to see some casual play, however.
Djinn Illuminatus - Another fun Izzet card. The possibilities for this are almost endless, but it's pretty much stuck in the world of casual due to the huge mana requirements. I don't think anyone really needs suggestions from me for this card, although obviously cheaper spells are better.
Earth Surge - Yes, it's a vulnerable 4-mana enchantment. But beating down with lands is fun! +2/+2 is a pretty nice bonus. You can use the natural manlands (4/4 Factories, 5/5 Villages and Stalking Stones, 3/3 Nexuses), or you can use Genjus for reusability (I recommend GR with Life of the Loam). Other options include Soilshaper and Siege of Towers.
Gatherer of Graces - Another possible asset for Enchantress decks. Unfortunately, it gets only a +1/+1 bonus per enchantment, but it at least works well with Rancor.
Gigadrowse - A fairly generic Replicate spell. It's been compared to Mana Short, though it's not nearly as good. Casual players may find a use for it as a limited stall spell, or they might like it simply for being able to target lots of things at once. I know some players who already enjoy playing with Cowardice.
Graven Dominator - Another reasonable 187. It's 6 mana for a 4/4 flier, so it's not all bad on that basis alone, and it has a potentially useful ability (with Haunt too). It can be used as a lopsided Wrath in conjunction with other spells like Pyroclasm and Night of Souls' Betrayal, or even with the Guildpact addition Orzhov Pontiff if you have the mana.
Hatching Plans - One of those cards that just wants to be abused, but no one's really sure how. Phantatog has been a common suggestion, while others are trying to break the symmetry of Crack the Earth. A more competitive suggestion has been to use it in Stax decks, though it remains to be seen whether it will be viable. One MTGS writer has a very interesting take on it that I won't reveal, but I can say that it certainly looks fun.
Izzet Guildmage - Ah, how popular this card is among casual players... It's been one of the most talked-about cards in the set, simply for the fact that it enables a possible third-turn kill using Lava Spike and Desperate Ritual (and some mana acceleration, of course). The combo itself is consistent enough for most casual players, especially with the Transmute power of Muddle the Mixture. The typical deck also has alternate wins using Ideas Unbound plus the Ritual, as well as simply trying to burn out the opponent. The nice thing about this Guildmage is that you can have fun with it even if you're not playing UR; you can play this in BR or RG, for example, and still have plenty of spells to copy. If you're looking for something convoluted, try Stone-Seeder Hierophant, Summer Bloom, and two bouncelands.
Killer Instinct - This is another card with a fun effect that's difficult to play. As a 6-mana enchantment, you usually want more impact, but hey, you can't have it all. It's not my type of card, but I'm sure lots of people will have fun flipping giant creatures into play for free, although most I think will stick with Sneak Attack. And just like the Sneak, this also gets a lot better if you can some extra use out of your creatures rather than just sacrificing them at end of turn.
Mizzium Transreliquat - This card has been dismissed due to comparisons with Sculpting Steel. Most have missed that this artifact has an extra dimension to it because you can transform it any time you want, at instant speed. This lets you artificially combine two artifacts into one, and I'm sure there are some hidden combinations out there that can do some crazy things. At the least, you can swing as a creature and then avoid lethal damage. It may take some time before a worthwhile combination is found, though.
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind - Another Timmy/Johnny card that's great for casual. The Curiosity combo has spread far and wide, while others try to combine it with Mindmoil or Teferi's Puzzle Box. Even two Tops can be nuts with this. This card has a lot of possibilities for comboliciousness, and it may continually come up as future cards are added to the pool.
Quicken - It's competitive worthiness is still in question (though the verdict seems leaning towards no), but lots of players will still have fun with this in casual play. It's not Aluren or even Vedalken Orrery, but it's much cheaper and it replaces itself.
Revenant Patriarch - This one's really only worth mentioning because it's a 187 with a decent lockdown effect. If you can repeatedly use it (through something like Skull Collector, perhaps), you can shut your opponent out of a combat phase. It's clearly fragile, but at least the Collector can also combo with other 187s.
Skarrgan Firebird - Recurring creatures always have potential. This offers casual players another option for control decks, but it's easily inferior to Shard Phoenix. This one may end up finding other uses because you can recur it any time during a turn, and possibly multiple times in one turn if you're discarding it. Not to mention it can be a quick finisher as well.
Sky Swallower - I've yet to see a very good use for this, but some of the suggested combos are pretty funny. Donating multiple Blood Funnels? Hahahaha....
Souls of the Faultless - This might be good for setting up defenses in multiplayer games.
Spelltithe Enforcer - It's not as aggressive as Glowrider, but it still can be very annoying in lockdown decks utilizing Hokori, Dust Drinker or Winter Orb.
Stitch in Time - Some people like flipping coins. The immediately obvious combo is Krark's Thumb, but it can still be played on its own as a sometimes-Time Walk while fueling other Izzet cards.
Storm Herd - Like many other cards that seem to find homes in casual decks, it's an expensive card with a flashy effect. But with the Urzatron, this isn't too hard to cast, and if you do cast it quickly, you'll probably be in pretty good shape.
Sword of the Paruns - I really don't see this as being a very good piece of equipment, but casual players may still enjoy it. It does have one other thing going for it: an untap effect. Unfortunately, Freed from the Real and Pemmin's Aura already do it for cheaper, so this probably won't find a place in any deck, unless it's in an Elf deck doubling as an aggro enabler and a way for Wirewood Channeler to go infinite (and once you've done that, you can move the Sword around and let your other creatures go infinite as well).
Teysa, Orzhov Scion - It's reminiscent of Rotlung Reanimator, and will likely be popular among players. It has competitive value in Block as well, and possibly in Standard (if not now, then post-rotation). You also have the option of comboing Teysa with Mind Bend for total control of the board.
Tibor and Lumia - An interesting card design-wise, and it offers UR the possibility of clearing your opponent's board if you can play enough spells. Casual Izzet decks that aren't going the combo route can utilize this duo.
To Arms! - It's an okay surprise card, and it at least replaces itself. But I'm more interested in being silly with it and slapping it on a stick to combo with Tidewater Minion or Aphetto Alchemist. Yes, I like being janky sometimes.
Ulasht, the Hate Seed - While it's generally inferior to RG's other 4-drops in the current formats (thanks Rumbling Slum!), there's the possibility of playing Ulasht in a deck focused on Gruul creatures. Since it gets 2 counters for each RG creature you have, the Seed could easily be 6/6 or more by the time you cast it.
Fun with Cycles
There are two notable cycles in Guildpact: the Leylines and the Nephilim. The Leylines are very interesting in concept; getting cards in play for free always has potential, no matter what they are. They're a little unwieldy at 4 mana, but they're still very playable casually. With the exception of the green Leyline, each one can be the basis for a deck.
Leyline of Singularity has spawned decks featuring Hunted creatures, taking advantage of the multiple tokens being produced, while some Johnnier players are combining it with Honor-Worn Shaku for mana acceleration. Leyline of Lightning provides a weaker but more generic Lightning Rift, and it can also serve as a Bloodthirst enabler. Leyline of the Meek supports token rush decks, and it has the bonus of being stronger in multiples. Leyline of the Void will see competitive play as a SB card, but it can also be used casually to break the symmetry of mass resurrection effects like Patriarch's Bidding or Twilight's Call.
One idea I had for an even more casual approach to the Leylines is to run them all (except Singularity) in the same deck. Your hope is to drop a couple into play at the start of the game, then play Serra's Sanctum to power out an early Opalescence and start the enchantment beatdown. Aren't you glad they cost 4 now?
And then you have the Nephilim cycle. The Nephilims have been heavily criticized for being weak cards, and rightfully so - they're just not cut out for competitive play. But casual players seem to be having fun building their own decks around each of these cards. Part of the pleasure is the challenge of trying to build a reasonable deck out of a small 4-color creature. And guess what? It can be pretty satisfying to finally get one of these guys to connect.
In the end, the Nephilims are very vulnerable 4-color creatures that mostly require dealing combat damage to a player. That's a lot to ask, isn't it? Well, how about we take care of all of that with the one card that makes these guys shine: Earnest Fellowship. Suddenly, they're very invulnerable and unblockable creatures! What a deal! Of course, your Nephilims will also be unable to block your opponent's creatures, so you have to rely on some board control to keep the opponent away. Cards like Savage Twister guarantee that yours won't get hurt with the Fellowship in play, and stall cards like Ghostly Prison can help keep you alive. To facilitate all this, you can also run Sterling Grove for enchantment tutoring.
Outside the Box
Guildpact also contains plenty of goodies for lovers of variant formats. Here's a look at some of these formats post-Guildpact:
3-Card Blind (and others)
The biggest additions to the Blind formats are the Leylines. Free effects are always good, and these are guaranteed to come into play before the match. Leyline of Singularity has already been showing its muscle in 5CB (combining with Karakas), and the Hunted Horror decks aren't half-bad. Leyline of the Meek has potential if it can find a suitable token generator (perhaps Words of Wilding?), but it most likely will prove to not be worth a card slot. The previously mentioned Opalescence combo is also an option with Leylines.
Another potential Guildpact card is Sky Swallower. It's less vulnerable than Eater of Days and doesn't lose you turns, but there's quite a big difference between 4 and 5 mana in the Blind formats. Still, the Donate effect can also be taken advantage of.
Prismatic (and the similar 5-Color format) can be quite competitive, and I don't play it at all, so I can only offer an outside opinion here. I imagine that there aren't any power cards in Guildpact for the format, and there are only a few playables as far as I can tell. Frazzle is a color-light option for control decks, and it's guaranteed to have targets. Shattering Spree is powerful artifact removal that can be used early if you need to. Mimeofacture also has potential, especially if you can replicate it a couple times.
One of the best aspects of Mental Magic is that every new set improves nearly every card in your deck. Mental Magic is all about options, and it's good to be aware of what new possibilities open up with Guildpact.
Replicate can be very powerful, since most of the Replicate cards have very common mana costs. The most important ones are Shattering Spree (:symr:), Pyromatics (:1mana::symr:), Gigadrowse (:symu:), Train of Thought (:1mana::symu:), and Vacuumelt (:2mana::symu:). Even Thunderheads might come in handy.
Other useful cards to keep in mind:
- :2mana::symb::symb: - Seize the Soul is a very good removal option, and it shares a mana cost with many other powerful cards.
- :3mana::symu: - Frazzle gives you another counterspell option at a very common mana cost.
- :4mana::symu: - Crystal Seer can set up your next few cards, then return to your hand to be played as something else.
- :3mana::symg::symg: - Predatory Focus can be a potent surprise finisher, though the mana cost isn't very common.
- :1mana::symr: - This is a pretty common mana cost, and Tin-Street Hooligan gives you yet another option.
- :4mana::symr: - Ogre Savant might not be a common play, but it can eliminate a particularly threatening creature or give you a chance to change one of your own.
- :2mana::symw: - Ghostway can be a lifesaver for your creatures, while also transforming each of them as they come back into play. This can be a very tricky card.
I've never played Type 4, but I'm including it with DC10 since there's a lot of overlap. These formats give you a chance to seriously play with all the overcosted cards in every set, and they love high-impact cards.
There are several expensive creatures that may find homes in DC10/Type 4 stacks, such as Angel of Despair, Borborygmos, Graven Dominator (a potential post-combat Wrath), Living Inferno, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, Petrified Wood-Kin, Sanguine Praetor, and Skarrgan Firebird. Most of these are particularly good for players who like creature-heavy stacks.
Guildpact also has some decent utility creatures in Crystal Seer, Droning Bureaucrats, Goblin Flectomancer, and Izzet Chronarch. Nephilims are also an entertaining option, especially the Witch-Maw and the Yore-Tiller.
Debtor's Knell can create a huge advantage, and Killer Instinct can randomly fetch your many giant beaters. Storm Herd is also incredibly powerful, but most likely it will be ejected from the formats. A few other spells may sneak their way into decks: Frazzle, Parallectric Feedback, and Seize the Soul.
Keeping it Casual
This is all just a sample of what Guildpact delivers to casual players. All the time, new interactions are being introduced, and revisiting older cards can really change the way you look at newer ones. Meanwhile, variant formats can take advantage of tons of cards that wouldn't otherwise see play, and the tournament junk may turn out to be powerhouses. Playing casual is more about fun than anything, and I always enjoy fusing together old and new ideas to make interesting and unusual things happen. I've seen plenty of other Guildpact combo suggestions in the forums, and I think there's really a lot more to find. And it's not just about specific card combos - it's also about finding new synergies and strategies that might otherwise go overlooked. Combining Ichorid with Dredge is an example of that interaction between the old and the new. It should serve as another reminder that looking at cards' potential is often better than trying to fit them into existing decks already in the established metagame.
While the competitive players may have already stopped reading by now, laughing at my suggestions, or maybe never even bothered to start reading this at all, I hope that the casual players out there can appreciate the things that Guildpact brings to the table. May you all continue striving for innovation and creativity, and above all, may you continue making Magic fun.
Credits: Goblinboy (editing), iloveatogs (banner)