Beginners Guide to Magic: The Gathering Drafting: Return to Ravnica 101
I’m sure by now you have all realised that it has finally happened, the Guilds are back! And with them Return of Ravnica brings a new lease of life into Magic: the Gathering. The set literally offers something for everyone, whether your flavour of choice is EDH, Standard, Modern or Draft. Return to Ravnica has it covered.
My passion for competitive play has not diminished over the years and I still love to pit my deck against my opponents, my format of choice being draft, which is what I am going to discuss in this article.
A draft in general is a complex thing. Even before we get to actually playing in a match the tournament has begun. The decisions you make after you crack open that first pack are going to have a drastic impact on how you fare in the coming games. Cards you take become your arsenal, cards you pass become the enemy…
Return to Ravnica adds an additional layer of complexity to the draft with the return of gold coloured cards and the strength that lies in each of the guilds. So take a seat, sharpen a pencil and get ready to go back to school… this is “Beginners Guide to Drafting: Return to Ravnica 101”.
Forget about me, what about them!
By far, the single most important skill in any draft is being able to put your opponent on a colour or colours. If you can work out what the guys on either side of you are playing then every single pick you make becomes so much easier because of it. If you know the guy on your left is playing Rakdos, do you think it’s wise that you also play Rakdos?
No! Of course it’s not!
You will be in constant competition for cards and as a result, both of you will have a sub-standard deck versus the field.
So how do you put an opponent on a set of colours, or in this set, a guild?
Well you have two key indicators:
1) What you are passing.
2) What you are being passed.
What you are passing
When you crack open that first pack you’re not only concentrating on your first pick, but the next pick, and the next pick, and the one after that. You are effectively deciding in your head which order these cards are going to disappear in. Assign the cards a number based on how you would pick them, put the pack in that order if it helps.
My first pick here is:
…and I fully expect the Guild Feud to come back around to me (and get passed again!). The chances are the guy to my left will have a similar thought process, so if I take the Guildmage he will take the Slime Molding and the guy to his left will take the Azorius Charm.
The next booster I get has:
I duly take the Selesnya Charm and pass the pack along. The guy to my left figures the Decoy is in his colour and it leaves him open to go into black or white as the draft progresses. The guy to his left can’t believe his luck when he gets a third pick Skymarc Roc!
The above example is somewhat limited as I haven’t included the commons but from it you can see how it’s possible to take an educated guess at the colours those to your left will be playing.
Note how picking the Vitu Ghazi Guildmage actually presents a possible detrimental result for you. If the guy to your left does indeed pick as you suspect then he is in half of your colours. In pack two he is going to have the first pick of all those juicy green cards, and even worse! What if he goes into white? Now you are both in competition for the same deck and your chances of winning the draft are already under pressure!
What you are being passed
So what about the guy to the right? Well, what is he passing you?
Pack 1 Pick 2 we notice the rare is gone and we have the same un-commons as above: The Guildmage, the Slime Molding and the Azorius Charm.
Well, what’s he playing?
At this stage it’s impossible to tell. The fact that the rare is gone tells us nothing, it is often the first card to go. Having three juicy un-common cards to choose from is pretty standard in P1P2.
Things get easier as we get passed Pack 1 Pick 3 with a rare and 2 commons missing. Here again our opponent passes strong Selesnya (Selesnya Charm), Azorius (Skymarc Roc) and Green (Golgari Decoy).
If his first pick was a BOMB rare in Selesnya or Azorius then he is VERY unlikely to pass either of the guild cards. If he is playing green of any sort, he is unlikely to pass the decoy over a common as:
A) Given the decoy’s rarity he is unlikely to see it again and
B) There aren’t many green commons that are better than a creature with in-built lure!
By evaluating the strength of the cards we are getting passed we can take an educated guess at the cards we aren’t getting passed. And pick accordingly.
In the above example, to my right is most probably not in Selesnya or Azorius. He has passed a strong green uncommon so potentially that scratches Golgari off the list. This means he is most likely in Rakdos or Izzet.
So now What?
Ideally, we want to be in colours that are going to be getting passed to us from both directions. If we are passing cards in Azorius colours and getting passed Rakdos then snap up those Rakdos cards!
Why? Because in pack 2, when the boosters are going the other way, the guy to our left has no interest in Red or Black so will not be competing with us for cards.
A lot of players make the mistake of diving into a colour or guild early, often based on the strength of their first pick. This is just wrong.
I guarantee you that you will have a much stronger deck if you can work out what colours are open and play them!
Once we know our colours…
Once we know our colours, drafting becomes a whole lot easier. In general the normal rules apply. You want a solid mana curve, a good creature base, and enough removal and combat tricks to keep your opponents guessing.
Stick to the B.R.E.A.D acronym (Bombs over removal, evasion, aggro and draw) and you won’t go far wrong!
One of the more interesting dynamics in Return to Ravnica drafts are the strength of guild mechanics. If you are playing a particular guild, then you definitely want to be putting more store in cards that have your guild’s mechanic.
For example: If you are playing Golgari and Pack 2 Pick 6 offers you a Druid’s Deliverance or a Korzoda Monitor, you probably want to take the Monitor. It is a strong four drop guy who has some form of evasion (trample), you can scavenge on to him to make him bigger and scavenge him on to others when he dies.
On the flip side of that coin if you are playing Selesnya then Druid’s Deliverance increases in value and get picked before the Korozda Monitor does. Not only does it present itself as a nice combat trick, it also copies one of your tokens, YAHTZEE! A main deck ‘fog’, I’ve wanted to justify running these for years!
The same can be said about all guild mechanics, if you’re drafting the guild, then reap the rewards and run the mechanic.
Another key point to note when deciding to go into certain guild colours, are what cards become ‘splashable’.
Now let me just stop here and define ‘splashable’ because this is important. If you are solidly into Green/White and you open a Utvara Hellkite. This is NOT splashable without already having the right fixing. To run this card you realistically want 4/5 red mana sources. If you don’t have the fixing then this is going to drastically eat into your available mana, meaning more mulligan’s and less options.
A card would have to be particularly powerful, a single colour of the splash (I.E Supreme Verdict if I’m in Selesnya) and GUARANTEED to make an impact whether I play it early, middle or late-game. A lot of cards that players ‘splash’ just don’t make the grade. It’s amazing how often one bad splash card can totally change the structure and mana base of a deck.
Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah, guilds and how to splash them…
Selesnya can splash Golgari as easily as it can splash Azorius. You are already in half of the guilds colours and mana fixing is readily available in the form of Guild Gates and Keyrunes. Rakdos can overload as often as it can scavenge etc etc
Sure you could splash green for a Slime Molding if you were playing Izzet, but wouldn’t it be better to splash black and open yourself up to the whole host of common and uncommon cards that Rakdos has to offer? Definitely.
Other things to consider: Enter The Metagame.
Passing Double Playable’s
Let’s have another example here:
The foil falls off of pack 1 and you see:
Now any one of the first three are totally legitimate first picks. Most of the time, it’ll be Isperia… but consider this…
I pass Isperia and the Skymarc, sending a clear signal to the guy to my left that I am not playing Azorius. Figuring this is good for him he snap picks Isperia, Supreme Judge and congratulates himself on being sat next to such a fish.
But he passes the Skymarc Roc to the guy to his left. He takes a look at it and thinks ‘How am I getting this 3rd pick? Azorius must be open!” He picks it and cements himself in his choice.
I took the Guildmage first pick. Why?
Well, now there is a strong chance of both opponents to my left fighting over blue and white. In pack one, the guy two to my left gets second best of the colours. In pack 2, the guy one to my left gets the raw deal. How does this effect us? They both pass black and green, and I reap the rewards.
By picking the Korzoda Guildmage first I have successfully diminished the strength of two of my opponents decks (because they are each taking turns at getting the second best for their colours) AND I have made my own deck so much stronger by ensuring that I am getting passed the best black and green cards in pack 2.
Obviously the above is situational. You may first pick the Guildmage and find the guy to your right is cutting you off from Golgari forcing you to change tact, you may not open two bomb cards in matching colours. But for the times that you do, remember the above example.
And don’t fret too much about passing a card as strong as Isperia. Often I watch MtGO drafts online where someone ‘hate’ drafts a card when there is a perfectly playable card for his deck in the pack. Removal kills Isperia just like anything else, on top of that, you’re only giving it to 1 out of 6 possible opponents – there is a very small chance you will have to play against it.
What’s going around comes around…
Always look at the entire pack. It’s as simple as that. Even if you can’t put your opponent’s on a colour or a guild, you have to know what’s out there. I played a game on MtGO recently where I passed an Azorius Charm for a Slime Molding.
I came up against an Azorius deck and managed to get the Slime Molding off for 9 when the board was stalled. My opponent didn’t hesitate in pressing ok with one card in hand.
His turn he draws and taps five of six available mana, then stops. Un-taps, and passes the turn.
Now I am suspicious. He obviously has something to play, why would he hold back unless he had a combat trick/nasty surprise?
I draw a forest and add it to my empty hand. Ponder what I passed and then hand the turn back over to him. Despite having a creature that he is forced to block and lose some guys too, I think I would be swinging into a trap, possibly the charm.
His next turn he draws, plays a plains and taps 5 to drop a vanilla dude. He leaves a plains and an island up…
Now this guy was sitting 3 or 4 seats away from me, it would be nigh on impossible to put him in a guild while we were drafting. But because I knew what I had passed, I knew It would be unwise to attack with the Slime Molding token.
One turn later I drew Trostani’s Judgement and swung in with the ooze. He played Azorius Charm, and conceded when I played the Judgement in response.
Isn’t Magic fun!
In conclusion, Return to Ravnica drafts are a whole lot of fun, offering whole lot of diversity! With the mana fixing it’s possible to feasibly run a four or even five colour deck and go long. Hopefully some of you found the advice in this article useful, to others it will be old hat. And to some, it will be considered nonsense.
Whether you agree or disagree, comment below. After all, this is a community dedicated to Magic The Gathering and we all have different opinions about how the game is played, the best way to improve is to talk to one another about it!
If you are interested, below is a video of one of my online MtGO drafts where I discuss each pick and why I think it is the best one for me.
Video: Return to Ravnica Booster Draft
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to comment!