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7.5 Thoughts About Guilds of Ravnica

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This past weekend was the Guilds of Ravnica prerelease. Those who got a chance to participate will likely attest to it having been a great sealed and draft experience. If you happened to miss Bruce Richard’s piece about a prerelease that didn’t happen, make sure you go back and take a look at it. That piece will put you in a fightin’ mood, but it may also make you grateful that you got to play in events this past weekend. If you didn’t, I have some thoughts about how the first chance I got to play with the cards from the set will inform my Commander deck-building going forward and about what I thought over- and under-performed. I think my experience playing 2-Headed Giant, my favorite format of all, will inform how I evaluate some of the new cards for multiplayer. In the spirit of 75%, I gathered 7.5 thoughts (7 thoughts and a decklist) about the set based on my prerelease experiences and I think these lessons can help us build 75% decks moving forward.

1. Selesnya is very good

Venerated Loxodon
We sort of figured Selesnya was going to be good given the support for the color, but to me it seemed like all of the real support for Selesnya strategies was concentrated in the rares and therefore it would have been a poor choice for my seeded guild pack (I went Dimir every time. I wanted lots of hard removal and I wanted a lot of surveil so I could cross over into Jump Start or Undergrowth). The thing is, you got at least 1 rare in Selesnya in that seeded guild pack and almost all Selesnya rares are very difficult to beat and make the commons and uncommons much better in a way that you didn’t see in the other colors, even Boros. Able to curve out and deal a ton of damage quickly but also last long into the late-game and build up overwhelming forces, Selesnya really impressed me more than any other color combination. I underestimated it quite a bit, to my detriment. I definitely lost games attacking tapped-out opponents with 1 card in their hand only to have them tap 3 chumps that couldn’t block my fliers to convoke a Fog, and that’s spicy.

Selesnya got 2 fun new commanders and a ton of rares and mythics that are all pulling in the same direction. I was really proud of the design team for sticking with Convoke and not trying to come up with a new ability (or running back populate). Concentrating on ways to make small creatures relevant, grow them and fill the board with them let cards like Citywide Bust and Venerated Loxodon outclass Mythics in every other color. Don’t get me started on how miserable it is to sit across from Dawn of Hope - that card is an absolute beating in Limited if you can survive to the mid-to-late game. Few rares give the game a sense of inevitability like that card does.

I brewed with Emmara a few weeks ago and seeing how much Selesnya is able to make good use of small creatures, I would likely go for a wide, not tall approach moving forward. Populate was great for making a smaller number of bigger creatures (I remember really crushing people with Seance, Voice of Resurgence, and Scion of Vitu-Ghazi in Standard) but now we have two sets worth of Convoke cards and they’re really adding up. Divine Visitation and March of the Multitudes are both selling out online since they’re overperforming in Standard testing. I expect them to be mainstays in Commander as well. I think Venerated Loxodon is better in Standard than Commander but I fully intend to play it in a Convoke deck. While Emmara would be the commander, the real focal point of the deck would be seeing how much havoc I could wreak with Glare of Subdual, a card I may even include tutors for. I don’t think that makes the deck too linear, I think it makes everyone else miserable and I hope they concede angry that they underestimated Selesnya like I did this weekend.

2. Hexproof is annoying

Invisible Stalker
I like having hexproof creatures but I hate being across the table from them. I wish they would stop making giant, hexproof 6 power creatures but I know they won’t and we’re going to have to respect Green’s ability to rule the late-game as a result. My Dimir build benefitted immensely from being able to turn Lazav into a slain Nightveil Predator for 4 mana to stave off targeted removal and make Lazav an unstoppable killing machine. Not every color gets a ton of hexproof creatures, but the frustration of being unable to interact with those creatures the way we would like is a reminder that sometimes the most profound break in parity can come at the uncommon slot and not mythic rare. I think since I brought up Lazav, it’s fitting that we take a second look at some cheap hexproof creatures that can make him untargetable and highlight one in particular - Invisible Stalker. Invisible Stalker checks a lot of boxes - he’s a human which is the tribe that’s currently terrorizing Modern, he can get through unblocked meaning a Lazav deck can sneak through enemy lines and explode into a Phyrexian Dreadnought for one mana to deal them more than half of the Commander damage it will take to kill them, then turn back into an Invisible Stalker for two mana and his art and flavor text imply that Invisible Stalker is eluding the enemy by running around naked like Kel Mitchell in Mystery Men.

Maybe we should take a look at Old Lazav while we’re at it - Hexproof made him a force to be reckoned with back in the day although I think more combos are possible with new Lazav. If you want to be on the good side of the Hexproof battle, maybe consider including Archetype of Endurance or Asceticism to your deck to combat their targeted removal. There’s always Swiftfoot Boots to protect your most important creature and it’s possible people forgot how miserable it is to face off against a suited-up Uril, the Miststalker. I think if you don’t own at least 4 copies of Invisible Stalker, you may want to stock up - Wizards is backing way off from how much Hexproof they print these days so it’s not likely to get reprinted soon and the card could get pricey - in the last few months we have seen two decks, Lazav and Yuriko, that are excellent homes for Stalker and it’s likely that future Dimir decks would be similarly suitable.

3. I like Izoni even more now

I liked Izoni, Thousand-Eyed quite a bit going into the weekend but considered her a little weak compared to a lot of similar Golgari commanders. I think I had it wrong. You don’t want to compare Izoni to a commander like Meren, you want to compare Izoni to a commander like Nath. When you have the proper perspective, you see that Izoni is going to flood the board with insects and those insects are going to get thrown under busses and that’s going to hopefully wreak some havoc on your opponents. Watching how Izoni took over the game completely once she hit the board, I was in awe of how miserable it was to try and swing through a swarm of insects that drew cards when they chump blocked if your opponent held the mana up to punish you. I’m going to show you my idea for an Izoni deck at the end of this article and you can judge for yourself whether Izoni is about what you thought prima facie or if you’re with me that Izoni is a good Nath and not a bad Meren.

4. Lockets are amazing

Before this weekend, I thought the only locket that could see play in Commander would be Boros Locket. Boros decks run cards like Dreamstone Hedron because they have to, and that’s a very significant mana investment for something that is basically overkill mana-wise by the time you can put it out in your low-curve deck. It’s played to crack immediately a lot of the time. I thought I would like Lockets less than Cluestones, which I see run but don’t like to run myself (yet until they printed Commander's Sphere, I ran banners) but I actually like the Lockets a lot more. You have to wait longer to crack them, but two cards makes it more than replace itself and, coupled with the utility of having a mana rock, I think decks beyond Boros may trifle with these a bit. Over 4,000 of you are running Manalith in the decks you registered on EDHREC and if you have room for Manalith in a two color deck like The Scarab God, like a baffling 43 people do (Dana Roach had an entire EDHREC article series where he was just professionally mad about stuff like this, including Manalith specifically), you can jam Dimir Locket or Dimir Cluestone. If you had Commander's Sphere, Chromatic Lantern, Darksteel Ingot, Dimir Cluestone and you needed one more 3 mana rock so you jammed Manalith, I hope Dimir Locket takes its place, you absolute lunatic.

5. Surveil was born to be paired

Surveil is a great mechanic for Dimir but all weekend I found myself powering my Blue Jump-Start spells and Black Undergrowth creatures with the ability to sculpt the ‘yard, fix my draws and dump excess lands. If you were thinking of Surveil in strict terms of Dimir, think wider. You can do a lot of work with Doom Whisperer in a Golgari deck like Meren, Dream Eater in a Sultai deck like Muldrotha, Mission Briefing in an Izzet deck like Niv-Mizzet, Connive // Concoct in an Esper deck like Sen Triplets, or Sinister Sabotage in a Mono-Blue deck like Talrand. Surveil isn’t only on gold, Dimir cards; and, accordingly, it has utility in a lot of color combinations. It’s quite good a lot of the time. Green decks get to thin and shuffle their decks often and sometimes people who don’t play Greenless decks don’t realize how hard it is out here for a Black mage stuck on mana and so desperate that they use Demonic Tutor as a Land Grant. Everyone could use draw-smoothing and both Black and Blue gives us powerful Surveil cards that will benefit decks that traditionally struggle to do those Green things and give a huge boost to the decks that do them already. You can’t tell me you don’t think Dream Eater will be nuts in Maelstrom Wanderer or Animar. They don’t need the help but they’ll sure take it.

6. 2HG All-stars will shine in Commander

Mnemonic Betrayal
2HG is my favorite format and the fact that it’s played at every prerelease means WotC has to be a little more careful with cards that say “each opponent” now than they did during the many years where they ignored the format. If you wanted a taste of what is likely to do a ton of work in Commander going forward, take a look at cards that were doubly powerful in 2HG over the weekend. It’s not always a smooth transition - Infectious Horror isn’t making the cut anytime soon despite how much havoc it wreaked in core set 2HG, for example. No, not even if you put a Blade of Selves on it. Although, now that I think about it, that seems like a lot of fun.

Burglar Rat was a card I picked out before the weekend to impact Commander and its overperformance in 2HG over the weekend solidified its spot. Similarly, Mnemonic Betrayal allowed for multiple spells cast and it was a lot of fun (and will be more fun with good mana rocks and potentially Paradox Engine to cast everyone’s whole ‘yard).

Cards that are too narrow to play with one opponent got a lot better with 2 opponents. Bounty Agent was better than a mere Grizzly Bears in 2HG as there were multiple opportunities to nuke a Legendary permanent and in Commander there will be even more.

Trostani Discordant was a card that looked a lot better in 2HG than regular 1v1 because the odds an opponent had a way to steal a creature went way up with multiple opponents and otherwise, a spell like Connive // Concoct was fairly backbreaking, especially if they took a strong blocker like Hitchclaw Recluse or Hired Poisoner. Multiplayer made Trostani have less of a dead last ability.

This isn’t always true as something like Legion Guildmage blasting the opposing team for 20% of their life is great but getting 3 other people for 7.5% of their life total is less impressive (7.5% you say?) in Commander. 2HG allstars don’t always port over since your opponents aren’t pooling life totals in Commander the way they do in 2HG. Still, it’s worth looking at what was good there and thinking about how you can make it overperform in other multiplayer formats.

7. Jump-Start makes excess lands an asset

Jump-Start is such a good mechanic and it’s stapled mostly on spells I never want to play in Commander. Still, giving any spell a second shot, removing some of the feel-bads associated with incidental mill nailing an important spell and letting you dredge very heavily all make me want to play with this mechanic more. I think decks like Sidisi, Brood Tyrant will like a few of these spells. Quasiduplicate is something I am looking at for Brudiclad, a double Beacon Bolt could potentially kill someone (especially with a Thousand-Year Storm in play) and with 4,700 decks on EDHREC running Deep Analysis, I think Chemister's Insight is a reasonable inclusion. The best part about not having to pay a lot more mana or some other resource like life when you Jump-Start a spell is that you’re paying with pitching a card, usually an excess land, which means you can usually replay the spell right away if you had the mana the first time. Lots of spells with flashback have much higher costs to flash the spell back, but a flat rate increase on Jump-Start means you’re more likely to be able to play the spell again soon. I think a lot of the Jump-Start spells are an upgrade on their Flashback equivalents and they deserve a look. Browbeat is still bad in a format with multiple opponents to tank the damage if they want your hand empty, though.

7.5. Izoni is a blast!

Izoni is a creature-dense deck that really gums up the board and creates a lot of problems for your opponent. More than that, those insects can be sacrificed for cards and life which puts you way ahead. Personally, what I want to be doing is casting Izoni as much as I can, filling my yard with creatures and wiping the board. My solution? Look at Standard builds and double the number of sac outlets. I want to be churning through my deck quickly. That means a ton of altars, a ton of Birthing Pod effects and a ton of Grave Pacts. Izoni with Food Chain and Parallel Lives is a beating in and of itself and despite the lack of cards like Purphoros to really punish opponents with such a loop. What I DO have access to is Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat. I want creatures with ETB abilities because I don’t want them to stick around for long - I want Acidic Slime to hit the board, blow something up and then die to Evolutionary Leap so I can get out a Wurmcoil Engine long enough to sac it for tokens. Eventually I’ll either combo off or cast Living Death and make them pay. Am I in big trouble if they Bojuka Bog me? I don’t know - I am going to draw so many extra cards with Izoni I shouldn’t feel the pinch.

Altared Beast | Commander | Jason Alt


While it’s certainly nice to have creatures in play stick around, this deck doesn’t insist on it. Churn through your deck quickly so you can cast Izoni for large amounts of tokens and sac those for cards, life, mana and combinations thereof to your various outlets. If you have to sac Izoni and let her go to the ‘yard because the Commander tax is too high, that’s OK there are ways to bring her back. You should be able to clear the board with Dictate of Erebos and kill them with Blood Artist if you get a nice loop going without having to use Food Chain too many times since this isn’t Prossh and you don’t get more mana each time. I am much more token-focused than most builds but I also have fewer cards like Beastmaster Ascension because I think even the tokens are expendable. Tap them to Cryptolith Rite then sac them to Phyrexian Altar or Ashnod's Altar, recast Izoni and use the mana to dump your hand. We are very enchantment-heavy because I guess that’s my favorite kind of permanent. They do so much in this deck! Don’t worry if your only permanents are lands, enchantments and insect tokens - that’s how the deck thrives.

That does it for me. I hope you found this long read edifying and I hope you're hard at work on your own brews. Let me know what you want to see me brew up next week. Thanks for reading, all. Until next time!