A Map of Ravnica Part 2: Three-Colour Midrange – Know Your Limits by Sean Davey
Hello everyone, thanks for returning to read part two of this mini series. If you missed part one, which discussed two-colour aggressive decks you can find it here.
This time we go one step deeper and talk about….
Three Colour Mid-Range
When the guild structure was first announced I assumed this type of deck would be the dominating force in the metagame. With the ability to pick from 60% of the mono-coloured cards that are passed to you and 30% of the gold cards, you can count on picking up a good amount of powerful tools. There is also a generous amount of fixing to smooth out your mana as long as you value it high enough.
In my experience this is the direction you will go most often. This strategy offers a nice compromise between consistency and power. It was certainly in vogue at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze to draft two colour decks, but I believe when the format settles down a bit you will see maybe half of the drafters per table going down this route.
This is also the best archetype for taking advantage of cross-guild synergies. Extort is very powerful with an online Cipher spell and Battalion plays well with the Selesnya cards that make multiple tokens like Eyes in the Skies, just to name a couple. There are many more nice interactions like these and I will let you have fun working them out.
As soon as you have established which three colour combination you are in, you need to be aware of which pack holds two of your guilds and which holds just one.
2 Guilds in Gatecrash and 1 Guild in Return to Ravnica
Borzhov – Black, White and Red
Esper – Black, White and Blue
BUG – Black, Blue and Green
Naya – Green, White and Red
2 Guilds in Return to Ravnica and 1 Guild in Gatecrash
Bant – Green, White and Blue
American – Red, White and Blue
Jund – Red, Black and Green
Grixis – Blue, Black and Red
Junk – White, Black and Green
The pack that has two of your guilds will have an overlapping colour. Generally this colour is going to be your primary colour as you pick up most of your powerful cards here. Circumstances could lead to this being otherwise, but your decks will naturally tend to go this way and you should plan accordingly.
Putting the mana base together is actually relatively tricky. Even though we are playing a true three colour deck one of those colours still needs to be a tertiary colour, which can be viewed like a large splash. This should comprise of 4-6 cards with only a single colour symbol in the tertiary colour and the cards should all stay relevant later in the game as it’s fairly possible you won’t have the mana to cast them early.
For example you are not looking to play Wojek Halberdiers in a primarily Orzhov plus red deck even though the card is excellent and on colour. On the other hand, you will happily add a Tithe Drinker to a primarily Boros plus black deck, because the Tithe Drinker has an ability that continues to be relevant late in the game.
The absolute minimum number sources you want for each colour are; eight for your primary, seven for your secondary and five for your tertiary. You would like more if possible, but run less than this at your peril! Let me be blunt, do not split three colours equally. You will lose a lot of games if you do this.
Obviously this adds up to 20 and your land count will be 17 most of the time. This means that if you have no mana fixing spells at least three of your lands need to be a fully on colour gate, dual land or Transguild Promenade.
Cluestones and Keyrunes are obviously a big help as they provide an extra two sources each, but it is important to remember they are only truly effective at enabling spells that cost four mana or more. I usually end up playing only one or two mana rocks, but I will play basically as many gates as I can get, which should tell you their relative value. Bear in mind that the best fixers get picked up surprisingly early, so be ready prioritise them highly.
Another interesting phenomenon produced by having differently weighted 2nd and 3rd packs comes into play with signalling. If you are drafting a combination favoured in Gatecrash you will be receiving this from your left hand neighbour. Vice versa if you are more interested in Return to Ravnica it is your right hand neighbour that will be passing this to you.
This means that in pack one you will have to adjust the way you send and receive signals. If you are drafting Gatecrash guilds primarily it is more important than usual that you send clear signals. It makes me nervous to move in on something like Borzhov (BWR) later in Dragons Maze for this reason, especially if you have let anything strong in these colours to pass through you. However, if Return to Ravnica is your thing try to forget about sending signals and focus on what you are getting passed instead.
I actually like drafting a colour combination focussed in Return to Ravnica more than Gatecrash. I like having that guarantee that something good is coming in the last pack and I can draft my Gatecrash pack, which will be more of an unknown quantity, based on this knowledge.
I also like how it is easier to detect that your combination is going to be open. You can cut a Gatecrash guild hard in pack one and still have your left hand neighbour go into these colours, because of an awesome bomb they refuse to not play, but if you are getting the goodies in pack one it is a pretty safe assumption to say this will continue in pack three.
People that know me will know that I don’t like relying on sending signals too much as it is easy for your neighbour to misinterpret them, however well you are sending them.
How does this deck win?
This is the closest strategy to what I would describe as a ‘normal’ limited deck. All the cards should be generally quite reasonable on their own with perhaps some specific synergies between a few of the cards.
The strength of this deck is that it can change gears and be aggressive or controlling to suit the matchup. It simply plays good magic, trying to keep a reasonable board advantage and then wrap up the game while it is ahead.
What are you looking to pick?
The first priority will be to pick up any bombs or uncommon pseudo bombs like Jelenn Sphinx as well as premium removal. You get to play a decent number of these type of cards, so make full use of them. Slightly expensive removal, efficient creatures and excellent tricks are in the next tier along with gates and two cost mana fixing. You are then looking for decent creatures and awkward removal, followed by everything else.
As a general rule you want versatile cards that are good on attack or defence and provide consistent value. Aggressive only cards like Riot Piker are going as underwhelming as a pure defender like Murmuring Phantasm. You are also not really interested in pure reach cards like Act of Treason either, make sure everything you pick affects the board in a meaningful way.
Don’t think that if you have enough good delaying cards you will over-power your opponents if you just push it to late game, because you generally won’t unless you have been lucky enough to draft multiple on colour bombs. Remember that this is likely going to be the most common strategy at your table and a lot of other drafters can compete with you on a late game value level.
How highly do you pick gates?
On colour gates should be picked extremely highly. Very often between picks two and four and even first from later packs if there is not a really impressive card available. You can only make use of 30% of the gates, so funnily enough you actually need them more than the super greedy 4-5 colour decks who can happily snap up any of them. It’s very easy to lose to your own manabase, because you assumed that gates would come round late. They generally won’t and if they do they will inevitably not be in your colours.
Of course because the first pack is the one with the most gates the dilemma is that you may not have decided your colours by the time you have the opportunity to pick the right gates. Frankly this is one of the biggest weaknesses of the strategy and is one of the reasons you need to get those gates whenever you can.
How do you beat it?
To be honest this strategy doesn’t have too many inherent flaws, but it also doesn’t usually do anything too remarkable either. The way you usually get an edge against it is to present a focused game plan that attacks one particular axis heavily.
Either go under by playing a deck with great mana and a low curve which goes directly after the life total. The three colour strategy can stumble on its mana and if you are in a position to take advantage of that it can lead to easy wins.
The other is to play a similar game, but go one step bigger and have every card focussed on producing resource and board advantage. If you have access to more colours and/or a higher top end, especially with some ramp, you should eventually out power your opponent provided you don’t get too behind on the board early.
Creatures – 11
Non-Creatures – 12
2 x Executioner’s Swing
1 x Devour Flesh
1 x Auger Spree
1 x Rakdos Cluestone
1 x Orzhov Cluestone
1 x Grisly Spectacle
2 x Warleader’s Helix
1 x Punish the Enemy
1 x Knightly Valor
1 x Assassin’s Strike
Land – 17
Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing.
Join me again very soon when we go a bit crazy and play all the colours! As always please subscribe to my twitter @seanplaysdraft to get extra little titbits of draft wisdom and to give me feedback.
I like receiving your questions and they will be for sure answered or will even trigger future articles!