Dire times descend upon Ravnica. Nicol Bolas is moving his pieces into position for the inevitable checkmate that will upend the plane as we know it. Will you stand with your guild and protect the world you love, or will you succumb to the elder dragon's machinations? When it comes to a game of Magic: The Gathering, that outcome is up to you.
Guilds of Ravnica returns us to one of the most popular planes in the Multiverse for both flavor and limited formats. Sets with a multicolor theme always shift limited in interesting ways, but they can be more difficult to navigate than other sets. This is especially true in Guilds of Ravnica, which features five two-color guilds that don't follow an ally-color or enemy-color pattern.
Today's article aims to illuminate these quirks for the Prerelease (September 29-30), Draft Weekend (October 6-7), and all your future journeys into Guilds of Ravnica limited. Since Limited decks are mostly constructed from commons and uncommons, I won't be talking about any bomb rares or mythic rares that could otherwise shift the focus of your deck themselves.
Gold Sets in Limited
The irony of sets like Guilds of Ravnica is that their two-color structure actually lends itself better to three-color decks in Limited. In Sealed, this will happen because the format is slower, you'll have a lighter density of a given color pair's gold cards (partially alleviated at the prerelease thanks to seeded packs), and Gates in every pack make splashing for powerful gold cards is quite easy. In draft, math gets in the way of creating a functional two-color deck. Since there are five guilds and eight drafters, three drafters will find themselves in a place where they can't just slide into a guild. They are heavily incentivized to draft a three-color deck. The ease of splashing in Guilds of Ravnica impacts drafts as well, so even the five guild drafters are going to be on the lookout for powerful gold cards to play in their two-color decks.
What this all means is that Guilds of Ravnica isn't a format with ten defined archetypes like most sets. This article will look a bit different from my previous archetype pieces. Instead of breaking down ten color pairs, I'm going to look at what each of the five guilds wants to be doing and how to best pair them with a third color. Because of the way the set is constructed, it's even difficult to pair a guild with all three other colors! For example, if your deck is based on the red/white Boros guild, you're likely to pair it with Izzet (blue/red) or Selesnya (green/white) since those are the other guilds in those colors in this set. You're not incentivized to add black because neither Rakdos (black/red) nor Orzhov (white/black) are in this set; you don't have powerful gold cards with black that you can splash into a Boros deck.
The upshot is that Guilds of Ravnica has a unique texture that makes it deep and varied in different ways from a more typical set.
Our first guild is House Dimir, led by the enigmatic Lazav. The Dimir keep to the shadows, trading in secrets and assassinations in order to manipulate Ravnica as they see fit. As such, their limited archetype is a control deck looking to manage card advantage over a long game and sneakily swoop in for the kill when the moment is right.
Dimir's mechanic in Guilds of Ravnica is surveil. Surveil is a twist on scrying that allows you to put cards into your graveyard instead of the bottom of your library. While scry renders your unneeded cards virtually inaccessible, surveil lets you store them in the graveyard for later use. Most importantly, however, surveil is a card filtering mechanic. While it's not going to draw you more cards, it's going to draw you better cards. Plan to hit your land drops, dig for your bombs, and set up your removal to arrive at the right moment to use it most effectively. If you're drawing better than your opponent, you'll win longer games more often.
Control decks in limited also want lots of removal. Capture Sphere can eliminate large threats, Mephitic Vapors eliminates small ones, and Artful Takedown staples a tempo advantage onto solid removal at common. Every card that gives you a small advantage while also dealing with your opponent's threats edges you closer to a win.
How does Dimir actually want to win? Fliers are a key to unlocking that puzzle. Removal and board control can keep the skies clear as fliers large and small peck away at your opponent's life total. Dimir Spybug is the perfect insect for the job, avoiding blockers with menace and growing larger each time you surveil. Watcher in the Mist looks to be just as impactful as Cloudreader Sphinx was in Dominaria limited. Passwall Adept is also a fantastic source of evasion, pushing through any one of your creatures in a board stall.
When it comes to finding partners for Dimir in limited, the Izzet and Golgari are ripe for recruitment. Each guild mechanic has synergy with parallel guilds, so I want to take time in each section to discuss those interactions.
The Izzet mechanic is jump-start, a riff on flashback that allows you to cast an instant or sorcery out of your graveyard by discarding a card. The overlap with surveil is clear: you can dump your jump-start cards into your graveyard if you don't need them now while still having access to them later. You treat your graveyard like a second hand while you ensure you hit your land drops or find creatures. Red is aggressive in this set, so adding it to your Dimir deck is going to push it a little more tempo than control.
The Golgari mechanic is undergrowth, an ability word that keys off the number of creature cards in your graveyard. Again, the overlap with surveil is easy to see: you can put creatures directly into your graveyard from your library in order to make your undergrowth spells stronger. Green's larger creatures will act as finishers for your control deck, so prioritize protecting them once they hit the battlefield.
The Selesnya Conclave is a sect of spiritualists who follow the holistic teachings of Mat'Selesnya, an elemental living in the core of their city-tree. She currently speaks through the triune dryad Trostani, whose three forms rise from the wooden knots of their parun. The guild believes in the oneness of all life, and they flex martial power through the collective might of the creatures they nourish.
Convoke returns as the Selesnyan mechanic in Guilds of Ravnica. In the guild that wants to cast creatures at every point in the game, using those creatures to cast more creatures just makes sense. We've seen this mechanic twice before (also appearing in Magic 2015), and the same basic strategy remains the same. Small creatures and tokens create an initial aggressive force that becomes a source of mana later in the game to get a discount on high-impact spells. When 1/1s can no longer attack, they become resources that allow you to cast multiple spells in a single turn. The new quirk in this set is that some cards reward you for convoking. Ride your snowballing battlefield to victory as your opponent is overwhelmed by unity.
There are two parts to the convoke snowball. The first is that you need a host of smaller creatures to fill the battlefield first. They can begin as an aggressive force, attacking for early damage, but your midrange plan will rely on your casting some more impactful spells later in the game too. Sworn Companions and white's various cheap creatures are perfect for expanding your battlefield early. Green's creatures tend to aim for added value instead. Generous Stray has a powerful enter-the-battlefield ability before it becomes a mana dork, while Wary Okapi can attack and be convoked on the same turn thanks to vigilance.
The second part is the actual convoke mechanic. You don't need a whole lot of expensive convoke creatures for your deck, so Siege Wurm is the common you want to focus on. Many of the more powerful options are at uncommon. Flight of Equenauts, Arboretum Elemental, and Worldsoul Colossus are all fantastic finishers to top your curve. It's also important to remember that creatures can be tapped to convoke spells even when they have summoning sickness, so chaining a creature into a Conclave Tribunal or casting a defensive Pack's Favor on your opponent's turn are plays to watch out for.
Selesnya decks can easily add black or red to build out their options. Adding black means joining with the Golgari to make use of the undergrowth mechanic. While there isn't any direct synergy here, the deck that plays a lot of creatures will naturally end up with more creatures in the graveyard as the game progresses. Undergrowth builds on your natural momentum here, giving a Selesnya greater power in the later stages of its midrange strategy.
On the other hand, the Boros can bring a more aggressive red side to the guild. Their mechanic is mentor, which plays well with convoke's need for small and cheap creatures. Mentor's +1/+1 counters mean your early-game creatures can become potent threats if your opponent stumbles in the early game while not losing value as mana sources later. Red pushes this archetype more towards the aggro end of the midrange spectrum. Expect to attack first, convoke later if you need it.
Niv-Mizzet is the draconic leader of the explosively scientific Izzet League, but he has recused himself to work on a secret project. In his place, the Planeswalker Ral Zarek now directs the guild on his own secret project. So much invention, such little time! Always in a rush, the Izzet's strategy is to stay aggressive, sling a bunch of spells, and improvise a way to win while the opponent is off-balanced.
The Izzet mechanic is jump-start, an ability that appears on instants and sorceries. Jump-start allows you to cast these spells out of your graveyard by discarding a card and paying their mana cost. (You exile them afterwards.) Essentially, any card in your hand is a copy of any jump-start spell in your graveyard. Later in the game, that means any excess lands you draw can be turned into relevant spells. In addition, you can discard jump-start spells to each other, mitigating the card loss by still giving you access to a new spell to cast later. Many Izzet cards also care about you casting instant and sorcery spells, so jump-start allows you to trigger those abilities twice.
Izzet decks want a lot of instants and sorceries, so creature slots are precious. This archetype wants to get aggressive and stay ahead by disrupting the opponent's plan. Evasion is especially good for getting these smaller creatures through even during the later turns of the game. Leapfrog and Smelt-Ward Minotaur both succeed at this due to their synergies with spells. Fliers in general are useful, as red's removal can keep the ground clear as you race for damage. Like with convoke, you don't need that many jump-start payoff cards; having a single copy of a few powerful uncommons will suffice. Wee Dragonauts and Crackling Drake are ideal here.
There is a single card I want to mention for this archetype, however. Electrostatic Field looks a lot like Thermo-Alchemist, a powerful build-around common from Eldritch Moon. While the spells deck could lean on Thermo-Alchemist in that format because it was easy to get multiple copies of it, I'm not sure Electrostatic Field can live up to that history. It's an uncommon, so there will be fewer opened in any given event. There also isn't a big spells payoff like Rise from the Tides. Feel free to experiment, but I'd be very cautious about trying to make Electrostatic Field a thing.
What is a thing is combining Izzet decks with either black or white cards. Black picks up on the Dimir mechanic, surveil, which can put jump-start spells into your graveyard if you need to draw a land or creature. Those spells can still be used later, so you don't lose all the value from them. Surveil also helps you dig for your key creatures, allowing a blue/red deck more power through a long game.
Boros lends the mentor mechanic if your Izzet deck adds white. Both mechanics have been designed in a way to supplement red's aggressive strategy, helping you punch damage into your opponent's face as quickly as possible. Mentor helps grow your otherwise smaller creatures while letting jump-start provide the card quality you need to make a final push to end a game. Aggression is rewarded here, maximizing your tempo plays as you turn your creatures sideways.
Long live Vraska, Queen of the Golgari Swarm! With the help of Nicol Bolas, the unseen gorgon has become seen after dispatching the former guildmaster, Jarad. Now she leads the underprivileged of the Golgari to war against their oppressors. The insectoid kraul, Erstwhile zombies, and all manner of fungal creatures form her army of the undercity. Justice may not be swift, but it is inevitable.
The Golgari have always been about the graveyard, and that stays the same in Guilds of Ravnica. Their mechanic is undergrowth, an ability word that covers a range of abilities that care how many creature cards are in your graveyard. Each spell with an undergrowth ability does something different, so read each card to find out what necrotic power it unleashes.
Since Golgari decks get better with more creatures in the graveyard, it's important that you play a lot of creatures in your deck. There won't be a lot of room for things like combat tricks, so prioritize removal in your spell slots. If you can, look for creatures like Affectionate Indrik and Plaguecrafter that double as removal spells. In combat, trade aggressively. With a lot of creature spells and cards that get better the more dead creatures you have, you'll tend to be the one who benefits from such trades. The Golgari archetype is a grindier midrange strategy, so don't feel rushed to leap into an advantageous position if you don't have to. Take your time and let your card quality improve so you can win the late game.
While creatures will die during combat in a normal game of Magic, you'll also want to keep an eye out for cards that enable your graveyard tricks on their own. At common, Erstwhile Trooper can help you discard creatures while Portcullis Vine and Severed Strands can sacrifice your board for graven strength. There are even some creatures that don't mind being sacrificed, such as Spinal Centipede. The trick with sacrifice effects is to not erode your own board presence to the point where you lose the game.
The Golgari are great at using all resources available to them, and that includes other colors. Adding blue maximizes this archetypes synergy with the Dimir mechanic, surveil. Undergrowth wants creatures in the graveyard, and surveil joins discard and sacrifice as another way to sow your rotfarm. The creatures you put into your graveyard are never truly forgotten.
Convoke lets the Selesnya lend their white spells to the Swarm's cause. Since this archetype wants to run a lot of creature cards anyway, they can become a fantastic resource with which to cast spells. White's flying threats are also a great fit in a grindier strategy that might need help punching through damage to finish off a game.
Aurelia is still the commander-in-chief of the Boros Legion. (Where's Feather?) They are the long arm of the law, reaching out to police all of Ravnica whether you like it or not. They zealously patrol the plane, eyes open for the slightest sign of trouble. If crime exists, they will find it and punch it in its rotten face. The point is that the Boros are very aggressive in both attitude and play style.
The Boros mechanic in this set is mentor, which lets an attacking creature put a +1/+1 counter on another attacking creature with lesser power. Times are troubled on Ravnica, and the rugged veterans are looking out for the young hotshots in the Legion. In a world where no one else can be trusted, knowing that your partner has your back lets your strikes resound with the strength of teamwork. One life cannot protect the city, but a legion working together can forge a safer world.
Like most aggro decks, the most important thing to consider is your creature curve. For limited, that means making sure you play a two-drop, three-drop, and four-drop creature in as many games as you can. This is fantastic for mentor, as you'll want to play larger creatures to make your previous drops bigger as you attack. The games where you can go Skyline Scout into Wojek Bodyguard into Hammer Dropper will feel very powerful and hard to lose. Cards like Boros Challenger can even increase their own power to keep the mentor snowball rolling.
Attacking is one of the riskiest moves to make in Magic. It's important to ensure you're not making unprofitable attacks just to get your mentor triggers. There are a few ways to take advantage of this mechanic though. The first is to mentor creatures with evasion. Dropping a few +1/+1 counters on Healer's Hawk can turn a usually underwhelming card into a must-answer threat. Even if you lose a mentor creature on the ground, leaving behind a lifelinking flier will keep you ahead in the game. You can also use your aggressive strategy to leverage combat tricks. Your opponent is more incentivized to block your mentor creature so that it can't keep putting counters on its friends, so bluffing (or just having) a pump spell to save it becomes an important strategic move. This is especially true in a set with Sure Strike, a trick that lets even small creatures take down late-game monsters.
Like any fans of teamwork, the Boros are quick to accept help from blue and green. Izzet's jump-start mechanic doesn't have direct synergy with mentor, but the aggressive nature of those spells fits in with the aggressive game plan. Extra burn spells late in the game along with blue's card draw can help prevent this aggro archetype from running out of steam.
Similarly, green's large convoke creatures can help give Boros a more muscle in the late game. Mentor still charges in the early turns, but as those small creatures get outclassed, they can help a midrange strategy keep the beatdown stomping. Here it's just a matter of curve considerations and ensuring that more creatures are always entering the fray.
Stand with Your Guild
Or don't. Remember, this article doesn't represent hard rules, just ideal guidelines for how the set was designed to play. There are lots of ways to experiment in Limited, and I encourage the brave readers to try new things out. There are even some quirks in Sealed and Draft that are worth mentioning.
At the Prerelease, you'll choose a guild to represent and receive a seeded booster pack and five additional Guilds of Ravnica booster packs. This seeded pack will contain your promo and only cards in your guild's colors, so you'll very likely end up playing that guild based on card density alone. Other sealed formats will be trickier to solve. Draft is also a little more wide open, as there is a five-color Gates archetype lurking somewhere. Draft all the Guildgates you can and leverage Guild Summit, Glaive of the Guildpact, and Chamber Sentry as best you can.
That's all for today, folks. You have one week until the Guilds of Ravnica Prerelease, so start thinking about which guild you'd like to fight for! Will you plot with the Dimir or proclaim the harmonics of the Selesnya? That's up to you, just have fun with whatever hijinks ensue. If you enjoyed today's article and have any questions or comments, leave them below or reach out to me on Twitter @_SEV8. Good luck to all of you in your future tournaments!