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Unified Ravnica Commander

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Readers!

The impact of Guilds of Ravnica is beginning to materialize and by all accounts this set is as good as we all dreamed it could be, and maybe even better. Ravnica is one of my favorite planes - how could it not be? Ravnica gave us a ton of good Legendary creatures, EDH staples, and it named the ten guilds and gave a lot of us a guild identity. Returning to the plane for the third installment in the Ravnica saga feels gratifying for someone who is so old that he was actually alive for the first Ravnica set. Not only was I alive in 2005, I was trying to buy cards AND beer with the money I made working 3 ½ hours a week in the dorm cafeteria. It’s no wonder I grew up and got into MtG Finance.

Ravnica has me so nostalgic for my halcyon college days of 2005 and the vaguely terrifying “maybe I could pursue Magic full time” days of 2012 that I wondered if there was a way to build a deck with only cards from a Ravnica set - that is Ravnica: City of Guilds, Guildpact, Dissension, Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Guilds of Ravnica. There are no playable cards in Dragon’s Maze. (I’m kidding, but barely). With a restriction like this, we can build with no other restrictions and be assured of a 75% deck that is slightly power-level attenuated but can be pretty consistent and powerful given some of the guild mechanics joining together to benefit each other. It’s a little premature for a project like this, perhaps, since we won’t get the other five guilds until January which means I can’t build a Simic deck; but, on the other hand, I won’t build a stupid Simic deck like my first inclination usually is so maybe I will actually get a little creative. I’ll pick a commander from one of the five guilds in Guilds of Ravnica and if you all like this article, I do it again in January with another (probably Simic) commander. This will be a true 100 card deck because without Sol Ring occupying the auto-include slot, I have to build a full list from scratch.

This is a daunting undertaking and it’s going to require me to pare down the card lists quickly so I’m not overwhelmed by the sheer number of cards to consider. I can eliminate huge swaths of cards by virtue of picking out a Commander and therefore eliminating 80%+ of some of the sets if that guild isn’t in that set.

I will not be limiting myself to a particular guild. The color requirements placed on us by Commander in general are pretty stringent and I don’t want to cut off playables by doing something to limit my access to cards on top of already restricting my card pool to a small number of sets. If I want to play Darkblast in Dimir or Life from the Loam in Selesnya, I’m going to. I want the best deck possible from these sets and while guild synergies are the way to go, there’s no reason an odd card from another guild wouldn’t be good. Undergrowth, Surveil and Jump-Start all seem to fuel each other in Guilds of Ravnica Limited play and there’s no reason to deny ourselves access to those synergies as well.

The first thing to do is pick a commander to help whittle down our card choices. I think I would rather build around a guild and its mechanics than a specific commander, many of whom I’ve already written about and that means we should look at the mechanics from the available guilds.

Boros - Radiance, Battalion, Mentor

Izzet - Replicate, Overload, Jump-Start

Dimir - Transmute, Cipher, Surveil

Golgari - Dredge, Scavenge, Undergrowth

Selesnya - Convoke, Populate, Convoke 2 - the Revokening

The primary guild mechanics don’t have as much cohesion as I maybe would have guessed before I listed them like this. Selesnya can’t seem to decide if it wants to go wide or tall. Izzet’s all about casting spells but the individual spell you draw is all that matters and the abilities don’t build on each other. Boros is just not great in Commander (although I really want to Assemble the Legion) since the mechanics are designed for you to curve out in a 20 life format and you get out-scaled easily. Transmute and Surveil can both be good for Golgari decks and I briefly thought about using as much Black from Dimir as I could to boost a Golgari deck but I want to take one more second to talk about secondary set mechanics and see if any of those jive together.

Boros - Lifegain, Lifegain, Curving out (?)

Izzet - On-cast triggers, On-cast triggers, On-cast triggers

Dimir - Mill, Mill, Mill yourself for some reason, but also some Mill

Golgari - +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters, return from graveyard, return from graveyard

Selesnya - 1/1 tokens, huge tokens, 1/1 tokens but now they have lifelink so good luck winning

Looking at how some of the secondary guild abilities (which aren’t all even really intended but were what I got a sense of regarding each guild from each set and the abilities on the secondary Legendary creatures) interact, it’s possible that the guild abilities sync up a little better than we thought when we think about how the deck will play. Convoke and Populate are sort of at odds because tapping a 5/5 trample Wurm token to Convoke out a 3/3 Centaur isn’t ideal but both abilities benefit from Doubling Season in the deck. Izzet has no real cohesion between the abilities and replicate is sort of the opposite of overload the way convoke is the opposite of populate, but all of those abilities are on spells and if you’re casting a lot of spells, you’re going to trigger a lot of on-cast abilities on cards spread throughout all of the sets. I can basically build a pretty cohesive deck across the sets within a guild and, with the exception of Boros which I think gets out-scaled too hard when you transition from 20 life to 40 and one opponent to many, we can basically pick which deck we think is the “most 75%” and I think it’s clear that the 75% thing to do is swipe their stuff. Dimir seems like the way and while mill is pretty bad in commander, I think I found a way to make it work. Let’s talk about how we’re going to 75% them in Unified Ravnica Commander.

Szadek, Lord of Secrets
First up, the commander I am electing to use is Szadek, Lord of Secrets. He’s going to have a pretty big target painted on him to say the least, but if he connects at all, they’re going to wish he hadn’t. Milling them with Szadek exposes their deck to juicy spells like Dimir Doppelganger and Lazav, Dimir Mastermind. It also makes our Consuming Aberration huge in case we want to go that route. Mnemonic Betrayal, Thief of Sanity, Nightveil Specter, and a ton of other spicy Dimir characters are going to show up to help us get the most out of playing with their cards. Cards like Mission Briefing that give you access to your own graveyard will make your Transmute cards better. Enhanced Surveillance can re-buy your whole yard for you, allowing you to dodge a crippling Bojuka Bog or have access to your Transmute spells again. Finally, all the ways we can make a creature hard to block will help us KO people in one or two Szadek swings. We’ll be playing a bit of a pseudo-Voltron deck, mostly loading up and swinging with our commander and loading him up with cipher spells so it’s important to keep him alive. A lot of the countermagic available to us is pretty bad but ideally you would play this deck against other players also built around just the Ravnica block. However, if the game goes slowly, you have a good shot at making Szadek large enough to KO in one hit and unblockable when he attacks.

Let’s take a look at what I’d play.


Thief of Sanity
This deck… is bad. It’s OK, though - we aren’t required to take every deck we brew here into battle at an unknown table and do battle just because we built using 75% principles. The biggest difference between this stinker and your average underpowered 75% build is that this has really nowhere to go. We limited ourselves quite a bit by restricting our card pool to just a few sets and that limited our card selection considerably. If you can convince your friends to all build a Unified Ravnica deck, then we’re talking. If the other players at the table built with the same restrictions and are forced to use cluestones for mana in lieu of Sol Ring, I think this has a lot going for it.

Simic gave us a few Mono-Blue ways to steal creatures in the form of Simic Manipulator and Cytoplast Manipulator and we have Govern the Guildless as well as Soul Ransom. We can play their spells with our Primordials, with Mnemonic Betrayal and with Nightveil Specter and Thief of Sanity. Szadek doming people for half a library worth of cards really improves the selection for our graveyard-poaching spells and usually Szadek can get there for a lot. I excluded Leyline of the Void from this deck because we want to play their spells but we could just as easily not include the cards that help us do that, I guess. I’m not about stuff like that, but you do you.

The deck’s weaknesses are that it’s mana-hungry, doesn’t punch very hard with creatures that aren’t Szadek and has to mill some people out of the game. I do think this would scale nicely against decks built from the other 4 guilds from Guilds of Ravnica, though, and I would like to see more people build this way. This deck even gets to play Cyclonic Rift and Chromatic Lantern, which makes me feel right at home. This is a goofy build and I wouldn’t take this where I take normal 75% decks, but this is well-positioned in a Unified Ravnica meta should one exist anywhere. Try this build challenge with your playgroup. Or don’t, I’m not the police.

Thanks for reading, everyone! I hope this was as much fun to read as it was to brew even if the end result was a little lackluster versus some of the other Guilds of Ravnica decks we’ve brewed. Until next time!