Returning to Ravnica

For one week, the old Ravnica block draft has returned to Magic Online, and I couldn’t resist. Thus I took a break from Magic 2013 to refresh my memory of how to draft the probably most complex official draft environment of all times!

Before that, I’d done a couple more M13 drafts and brought my rating back into the 1780s. That was mostly my fault, because I had accidentally double-queued (I am still not entirely convinced I really didn’t drop from that other queue, though) and found the challenge to draft and play two decks simultaneously (both drafts started about a minute after each other) too much to handle. I concentrated on one good deck (RW control), and mostly rare-drafted an experimental RG ramp deck with Hamletback Goliath and Elderscale Wurm in the other tournament (an 8-4). I also found it hard to concentrate on two matches at once and lost with the RG deck in the first round without ever getting to seven mana. I might have survived longer if I had played perfectly, but I just wasn’t able to. At least I went 1:1 in the other draft (a 4-3-2-2). Afterwards I played a couple of 2:1 drafts in 4-3-2-2 and Swiss, and I think I dropped another tournament 0-1 somewhere in between. Shit happens.

In Ravnica, I recalled the paths you could go if you wanted to be “just” three colors (there are actually only 5 combinations which allow you to draft a guild from each expansion, but it is also possible to draft the others if circumstances are right). I also recalled the important lesson I had learned back then: You should NOT firstpick bounce lands and build some 5-color monstrosity which spends the early and midgame sorting out its mana and tries to play only the endgame. In my experience, the key to Ravnica draft was establishing board presence as early as circumstances allowed it, which means I would always draft Signets over bounce lands, and I would choose to play. Also, Ravnica draft was about millions of synergies you could exploit. My first deck was reasonably fast Jund, with a few creatures with dredge, two Macabre Waltz and a lot of removal. It lost in the finals, though (Ravnica drafts are all 4-3-2-2), so you’ll get to see my second deck insread, which won.

Here I had started out firstpicking Ribbons of Night over Char. I then got passed a Szadek, which I decided to take, and forced Dimir (well, forcing in this environment just doesn’t work the way it usually does…). I got passed a few nice cards in this combination and could leave my choice open to draft either Izzet or Orzhov in Guildpact (and then close the arc with Rakdos or Azorius, respectively) I had to decide without a clear leading card or clear signals, and took Izzet from quite balanced boosters. Alas, Rakdos didn’t flow much in Dissension, so my deck wasn’t as great as it could have been, with the main problem being a lack of good creatures.

A quick aside: If a draft table is competent, but not excellent, Rakdos will actually usually be overdrafted (and Simic underdrafted), because three of the five “easy” paths close with Rakdos, but none with Simic. However, I just don’t believe that I can rely on the majority of drafters to remember or figure out the path system, so I’m not actively looking on gambling that system (which would mean to plan going UGR, which gives you access to two guilds from the second pack and the underdrafted guild from the third, while only sacrificing the first booster round, other than picking monocolored cards).

In the end, I was happy to at least get a couple of Eidolons and resigned myself to win with a lot of card draw, recursion and removal. That plan worked, and I also won every single game I played Szadek (at least half of them, if I remember correctly) with that run-of-the-mill vampire. I actually drew so many cards that I got myself a single-digit library twice, and in the deciding game of the finals, I won with just a minute or so on the clock. That’s just not my preferred style of play, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and I had to make comebacks from really terrible board positions in both games I won (the one I lost I couldn’t deal with a Sunforger), with my opponent playing Vigean Hydropon into Patagia Viper both times and playing five colors with almost no mana-fixing, but seemingly even less effort.

My own deck was just three colors (okay, I got full use out of my Court Hussar several times, but that was pure bonus – my white mana sources were in there for tempo and card advantage), and I relegated Red to a minor color, leaving stuff like Pyromatics and Gobhobbler Rats in the sideboard. This was it:

5 Island
5 Swamp
5 Mountain
1 Dimir Aqueduct
1 Azorius Chancery
1 Terrarion
1 Azorius Signet
1 Rakdos Signet
1 Rakdos Guildmage
2 Wee Dragonauts
1 Court Hussar
1 Orzhov Euthanist
1 Entropic Eidolon
1 Sandstorm Eidolon
1 Hellhole Rats
1 Steamcore Weird
2 Izzet Chronarch
1 Helium Squirter
1 Szadek, Lord of Secrets
1 Train of Thought
1 Fiery Conclusion
1 Compulsive Research
1 Consult the Necrosages
1 Wrecking Ball
1 Flight of Fancy
1 Ribbons of Night

(Yep, it’s all about attrition and so much card advantage that I could get away with nearly 50% – depending on how you count the Terrarion in – mana cards!)

I didn’t actually have many meaningful sideboard options – I once sided in Cremate against a guy with 2 Shambling Shell, Vigor Mortis and Verdant Eidolon; I sided in Smash against the guy with the Sunforger (and ended up using it on my own Terrarion – I guess that’s fine, too); and I had a Vertigo Spawn if someone tried to overrun my with a fast deck. Okay, and the Pyromatics was another option, of course.

Ravnica draft really feels a LOT different from M13 draft (which I will return to once the RAV queues are gone again), and on the surface, they have very little in common. Actually, the main difference is that due to the incredibly complex guild structure, it is nearly impossible to give and read signals. However, both formats have this in common: They really reward drafting and deck-building skills and are not about filling out archetype decks – a strategy that has become so popular lately. Also, they are about tempo and card advantage and rarely about dropping bomb rares or mythics… And there were no planeswalkers back then. Good ol’ times…

(Oh, and my rating is back at 1810 again.)

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