Winning in Return to Ravnica

My dabbling on Rath had been rather short-lived – the shortcomings of that environment, coupled with my own, convinced me to take a break from MTGO again, until Return to Ravnica was available for drafting. For personal reasons, I had to wait even a bit longer than I thought, but with the start of this week, I finally got into the world of the guilds again.

I did two drafts so far, and the decks I got were quite different from each other: One draft I started with a Mercurial Chemister and decided to force Izzet if there wasn’t a clear signal that another guild was open. There wasn’t, but I wasn’t too happy with my picks, either, especially with the stark lack of 2-drops I encountered. In the second round, I kept my options open for both a black and a white splash, neither of which seemed too attractive to me, in the end deciding on White mainly because I could snatch two Azorius Guildgate. Finally, in the last round, a couple Forstburn Weird and a Crosstown Courier allowed me to have an actual early game, and all of a sudden the heap of cards I had collected so far transformed into an entity resembling something like a deck, albeit not a great one.

In the other draft, however, after I had started out with Supreme Verdict over Azorius Arrester (which I consider not entirely clear-cut because of the Verdict’s color requirements), I soon moved into Selesnya with a couple of Centaur Healer following a Call of the Conclave, and that Arrester actually WHEELING (no, that shouldn’t have happened). In the end, my deck was one or two (still quite reasonable) cards away from excellent; GW beatdown (without a splash to ensure maximal mana security), featuring a great curve (including 2 Dryad Militant), very satisfying quality (including 2 Sunspire Griffin), and 3 Giant Growth + 1 Common Bond.

So, I drafted a deck which was nearly a failure, and one which was nearly perfect. The outcome was a loss in the semi-finals and an overall win – and of course I won with the clearly weaker deck…

Great as my mana distribution and mana curve were with the GW deck, the shuffler still got me. One game I got flooded severely, always one Giant Growth away from making a breakthrough; another game in the same match I sent back five lands, Common Bond and Rubbleback Rhino – the Rhino being my filler card – and got 4 Forest, 2 Sunspire Griffin instead. Actually, with the five-card hand I got aftwerwards I still came really close to winning, but close ist not enough, and in both games I lost it was in the end my opponent’s Corpsejack Menace, flanked by a large number of creatures with Scavenge I knew I mustn’t kill, which stopped me from simply overrunning his defenses even with weak draws.

So it was the weaker deck which had to bring me the win:

7 Mountain
4 Island
1 Plains
2 Izzet Guildgate
2 Azorius Guildgate
1 Crosstown Courier
1 Goblin Electromancer
2 Frostburn Weird
1 Stealer of Secrets
1 Tower Drake
1 Splatter Thug
2 Vassal Soul
1 Viashino Racketeer
1 Runewing
1 Armory Guard
1 Batterhorn
1 Mercurial Chemister
1 Voidwielder
1 Isperia’s Skywatch
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Pursuit of Flight
1 Izzet Charm
1 Azorius Keyrune
1 Annihilating Fire
1 Thoughtflare
1 Trostani’s Judgment

Relevant SB:
Bellows Lizard, Paralyzing Grasp, Security Blockade, Traitorous Instinct

Well, at least my mana was excellent… A little less fillers would have been appreciated, and if Izzet had actually been really open, I would not even have needed the splash. But I suppose that is a bit too much to ask – when drafting Izzet, you need to be prepared for the necessity of a third color.

Match one I was pitted against an Azorius opponent, who curved out perfectly, starting with Judge’s Familiar (which was doubly annoying since I held Thoughtflare and Mizzium Mortars in my hand). I managed to slap Pursuit of Flight on a Stealer of Secrets and draw a card with it, but then was forced to keep it back.  A Voidwielder returned the Stealer to my hand, and my opponent attacked with half a dozen creatures into my lone Vassal Soul, knocking me down to 7, but losing the Familiar to my Soul – meaning I was able to wipe his board with the Mortars. From then on, I should have easily won, but somehow a lone Sunspire Griffin stopped everything I had at my disposal, and then I proceeded to draw a second-digit number of lands, while my opponent played a creature nearly every turn. After my Skywatch was countered by Fall of the Gavel, nearly every card which could have helped me get past that Griffn was among my last four (Annihiliting Fire, Trostani’s Judgment, Mercurial Chemister) – I know because I actually drew my complete deck, losing since I was not able to draw a card, just when I finally had the board under control again.

That was a really strange and frustrating loss against a deck which on one hand was probably overall better than mine (2 colors, great curve, good quality), but on the other hand should have been dead after the overloaded Mortars if I hadn’t drawn abysmally afterwards. Even more strange, although not at all frustrating, just irritating, though, was that my opponent afterwards conceded the next game and the whole match – must have been for RL reasons. I was even behind on the clock…

Match two was against Rakdos, or so it seemed in the first game. An unleashed Gore-House Chainwalker couldn’t get through double Frostburn Weird, an Auger Spree had to hit my Stealer of Secrets with Pursuit of Flight (after the aura had already replaced itself), and an Ogre Jailbreaker came to late to the party when my flyers had already taken over. My opponent had mulliganed to five, though, and I was wary of him starting with a 7-card-hand. However, it turned out he hadn’t really drafted a focussed Rakdos deck at all, toying around with Golgari Guildgate and Golgari Keyrune, and featuring 6-mana-duds like Rakdos Ringleader, as well as anti-tempo / card disadvantage spells like Slaughter Games, some of which I only came to see because I went aggressive with Crosstown Courier and an unleashed Splatter Thug against an empty board. Deathrite Shaman proved to be a nice answer to the Courier, but the Thug beat him down mercilessly, and I reloaded with Thoughtflare. Rakdos on defense didn’t work too well, as could have been expected, and I was in the finals.

Here, against a Selesnya opponent who didn’t play anything before turn four, I felt pretty strong, until his turn-four-play proved to be Trostani, which I couldn’t deal with, and while I was still looking for an answer to that, Collective Blessing killed me practically out of nowhere.

In the second game, my opponent mulliganed, and I was able to apply some pressure with early flyers, and once he dealt with those, with Pursuit of Flight on Crosstown Courier. Trostani went to his graveyard, the Blessing didn’t show in time, and the makeshift 4/3 flyer went all the way.

Game three he had three Plains and a Forest in play for an eternity, and it was blatantly obvious that he held a Trostani he couldn’t play. I got a medium-good overloaded Mortars in, but he was able to empty the board with Avenging Arrows and Aerial Predation. However, I had held back a Pursuit of Flight for my Forstburn Weird, and even though Trostani finally hit the board, that was in the end too much for him. He acted a bit the sore loser, but in the end I had actually won the draft with my so-so deck. Note that I never had to thank my Chemister for that…

Just in case you didn’t hear me the first thousand times: This environment is about playing on curve, meaning you typically need all the reasonable 2-drops you can get and a good selection of quality 3-drops, as well as a mana base which supports them. Don’t waste your time trying to make the 5-color-lategame deck work, unless it is based on Gatecreeper Vine and Axebane Guardian, and don’t waste early picks on 5- and 6-mana spells which aren’t absurdly strong bombs, even if they look impressive – there are plenty of those, but good 2-drops are at a premium. Yes, if both players make sure they have a strong earlygame, the decision will come down to the lategame, but even so it is the player who has won the tempo in the earlygame who is favored there.

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3 Comments on “Winning in Return to Ravnica”

  1. I’ve actually come to dislike the Two-drops a little bit – not the actual insane stuff like Frostburn Weird, which seems like the best blue (and possibly also the best red!) common to me. But stuff like Rakdos Shrek-Freak, Keening Apparition or Crosstown Courier just gets outclassed so quickly that their primary purpose seems to be blocking other mediocre bears and Gore-House Chainwalker. You mentioned yourself how your complete board got stalled by a single Sunspire Griffin, and that happens a lot in this format because the three-drops are so good. I do agree that this is in its core an aggressive format in which you can’t pick the strong two-drops (Call of the Conclave, Frostburn Weird etc.) high enough, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all the two-drops are crucial to your strategy. I think that this is very similiar to M13 which also was an aggressive format, but one where you didn’t really want all those Silvercoat Lions. You just played them because you got them late and didn’t really have anything better, but you were seldom happy about them.

    • Well, you need not just to pick them, but to build your deck according to your curve. You want cheap removal, combat tricks, auras like Pursuit of Flight, scavenge counters etc…

      If you just throw a couple of 2-drops into a deck, they will not do much, that’s true. If you, however, build your deck to take full advantage of them, you are at a clear advantage over those who don’t.

      That one game where I decked myself is misleading – I didn’treally lose to the Griffin, but because I was incredibly flooded AND couldn’t just attack with everythingf for the win over two or three turns because I was already so low on life (an advantage which my opponent had earned because he had curved so well!)

      I am drafting a heck of a lot at the time, and I usually lose when my opponent mangaes to curve out better than I do (decided either by a better positioning in the draft – you don’t just need to know how to draft a certain deck type, you need to find the correct one to draft in each draft, which isn’t too wasy – or by sheer luck of the draw).

      Let me be clear: When I lose, I lose to better developed boards over the first few turns, not because my 2-drops are outclassed later; and when I win, it is usually because I was able to dictate the terms of the game. (A few games go to flood or screw, as always.)

  2. Till Riffert Says:

    I think it is important to note that toughness 4 is the benchmark for the defensive creatures. Therefore I agree the generic two drops do not seem impressive. The key is to play cards which make sure they are not outclassed, not playing less two drops. Best cards for this are giant growth effekts, deviant glee and pursuit of flight.

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