Man this format is sweet! I was worried that having 5 guilds would restrict creativity more than usual (instead of 10 potential colour pairs like in a normal set, you get 5 with more benefits) but it has been pretty good. Decks are almost always either straight 2 colour, or 2 colour splash an ally (with the odd 4 colour, 5 colour, or heavy 3 colour mess).
First lesson: Don’t pass Pack Rat.
The hardest part is figuring out how to begin a draft, since I feel as though gradual shifts are better than jumping off the deep end, but sometimes it can turn in to a mess. In one practice draft I had, I started off picking up pick 1 Annihilating Fire, followed by pick 2 Annihilating Fire, then a few Rakdos cards, then a few Golgari cards intending to splash green. By pick 9 or so I realized that green was way more open than red and went in to full on Golgari (splashing a few red cards), and both my Fires ended up on the bench.
That draft taught me a lot, since I find it’s slightly better to pick up a gold card than a single colour card that has double mana requirements, as counter-intuitive as that is. Picking the fire locks you in to hoping that Rakdos or Izzet are open, but picking something like Auger Spree allows you to move in to a base of Rakdos, Izzet or Golgari, since it is easily splashable.
The next thing is that the removal in this set is typically not as good as it looks. The decks in this format are either playing undercosted aggressive monsters (Rakdos), flyers (Azorius), or swathes of tokens (Selesnya) and the removal is all on the expensive side. On the other hand, there are infinite tricks, and they all play out slightly differently. Playing around Chorus of Might, Common Bond, Giant Growth, Savage Surge, Swift Justice and Rootborn Defenses all at once is pretty much impossible. This means that players tend to have to run in to your tricks and just hope you have the wrong one in hand, making them extremely effective. One thing to keep in mind when drafting a Selesnya deck is that it is better to have single copies of multiple tricks than to have a whole bunch of Common Bonds or whatever, since in games two and three your opponents might play around only the ones they have seen earlier.
With that I’m going to go in to what I plan to continue from now on, my list of overrated and underrated cards.
OverratedLaunch Party The problem with Launch Party is that you almost never get a good deal. Occasionally you can sac a bird token to kill an Archon of the Triumvate, but more commonly your board is full of Gore-House Chainwalkers and Ogre Jailbreakers and their board has a few 3/3 Centaurs and 2/2 Knights or whatever. Often the thing that is killing you is a 0/4 Lobber Crew, or a 2/2 Vassal Soul, or a random dork with a Rogue’s Passage. In those cases when you draw Launch Party you just want to cry. Azorius Arrester 2/1 with an upside! It has to be good right? Well not really. There are a lot of commons that stonewall a 2/1 (Frostburn Weird, Centaur tokens, Grim roustabout, concordia pegasus, splatter thug, etc). The second problem is that it’s kind of an awkward card for both of its guilds, with Selesnya preferring tokens to Populate, and Azorius preferring flyers. Don’t get me wrong, this little guy is still fine, I just don’t think he’s always an auto-include. Essence Backlash Four mana is a lot to leave up for a counterspell, especially one that they can sometimes play around without stunting their development. If you’ve ever left four open and watched your opponent cast Eyes in the Skies or Courser’s Accord you really feel blown out. The upside isn’t even very good, since if you’re playing a deck that wants a 2 to 4 point burn spell, why does your deck also want a four mana Essence Scatter? Annihilating Fire Annihilating fire is great. For three mana you get three damage at instant speed and the odd time you can deny someone their scavenging (see? I read the card too). In most formats this would be an easy first pick, but I dislike first picking it in RTR for the reasons mentioned earlier. The double red is brutal and a ton of creatures in the format are X-4 or bigger. Even at common you have Tower Indrik, Ogre Jailbreaker, Frostburn Weird (though you sometimes do kill the Weird), Rubbleback Rhino, Hussar Patrol, Doorkeeper, Perilous Shadow, Voidwielder, Spawn of Rix Maadi and Lobber Crew that all frequently make up a large part of the decks, as well as not dealing with most of the format’s bombs. I wouldn’t disagree with anyone first picking this card, I’m just saying if anything else in the pack is of comparable power level, I’d go for the alternative. Izzet Staticaster Not pinging players means that the Staticaster just sometimes does nothing. If only he and Lobber Crew had taken lessons together, they could have been so much more… Add that to the fact that people aren’t playing as many 2/1s as they used to (Shred Freak and Azorius Arrester just aren’t that good) and he starts to lack targets. Still fine, just nowhere near as good as Cunning Sparkmage.
UnderratedDispel (and to a lesser extent, Mizzium Skin):
According to Lucas Siow, Dispel is actually unbeatable. While I think this MIGHT be an exaggeration, people aren’t maindecking this card and they should be. In fact I’d maindeck two, and maybe even three. All the removal is instant speed, and there are a whole bunch of combat tricks that people rely on resolving when they make their attacks or blocks. Knightly Valor This card is WAY better than it looks. It’s actually just a common Serra Angel in disguise. I’ve first picked these before and been happy. The fact that it also combos with Populate is just gravy, but sticking this on a flier, or even just a Rubbleback Rhino is hot stuff. Centaur’s Herald The unassuming 0/1 is the key to a good populate deck. The activate ability actually has a lot more utility than at first glance. It Dodges detain, and fogs for a turn. They can’t attack you with their small guys or else you ambush them with a Centaur, and they can’t attack you with their fatty because you just block and sac. It might seem like a hill giant at first, but really unless you have a gate on the first turn, that green mana that you spend on turn 1 didn’t cost you anything, then later on it curves well in to Eyes in the Skies (turn 1 Herald, turn 2 X, turn 3 token, turn 4 attack then ambush). Frostburn Weird I think people have caught on by now, but this guy is the second best common in the set behind Stab Wound. Be aware. Faerie Impostor Anti Stab Wound and Paralyzing Grasp tech. Resets Detain. Allows you to Unleash/releash. Combos with Voidwielder or Izzet Staticaster. Costs one mana. Attacks for 2 in the air. Pursuit of Flight/Deviant Glee Double blocking is so dangerous. Especially in Ravnica. You are just a Giant Growth or Dramatic Rescue away from being blown out. That’s why I like the Auras here. Putting a Deviant Glee on a Splatter Thug or a Pursuit of Flight on a Cobblebrute is basically building your own bomb, for which there aren’t that many answers. Rogue’s Passage And finally one of my favorites. Even in three colours I still try to find room for this thing. It’s obviously better in something like Golgari, where you can use it on some random 5 power dork but it’s still very good in other decks. Your opponent is doing their combat match based on whatever your current damage output is (whether it’s Lobber Crew or fliers or whatever) and then this comes down and a look of horror spreads over their face. I’m not even joking, I have both been on the giving and receiving end of the horror-look as a reaction to having this come down. Bonus points if you control a Stealer of Secrets.
This set is no Innistrad, but it’s been awesome for Limited so far. Hopefully these things help, and if you think I missed anything, or my analysis is off feel free to let me know! I’ll be at Grand Prix Toronto at the beginning of December, so while that may not be a Limited event (boooooo), if you need an extra for a team draft or just want to say hi, please do so!