A Map of Ravnica Part 3: Four/Five Colour Drafting – Know Your Limits by Sean Davey
Welcome back to my series where I discuss the three main archetypes in Ravnica block draft. If you want to catch up on the previous two parts you can find number 1 here and number 2 here. This is the last part of the series and will discuss…
Four/Five Colour Gates
I think most people were excited to try out this kind of strategy when Dragon’s Maze was released and it hasn’t disappointed. The liberation you feel when the colour barriers are torn down is like letting yourself loose in a sweet shop. An obvious edge to this strategy is that you will never pass a bomb, premium removal spell or other powerhouse. These cards are simply going to flow right from the packs into your pool.
Another real advantage is that you can ignore colour signals almost completely. What you do need to look out for though are strategic signals. A lack of fixing and high end spells could be a signal, as are late aggressive only cards along the lines of Viashino Firstblade. Seeing multiple signs like these probably indicates that you would perhaps be better off in another strategy.
The colour of cards is generally not that important. What you should shy away from is two or more mana symbols of the same colour or lots of early drops from different colours. The amount of sources you need to include for double colour symbol or early game only cards are significantly higher and should be avoided. You should only really stretch in this regard for premium removal and legitimate bombs.
Always remember that your spells are going to be on average better than your opponents, so as long as you secure your mana quickly and effectively you are very much set up to win games. Pick up fixing whenever you can, especially gates. Even if you do not yet have on colour cards to cast with your fixing, do not worry as they will be coming and you will be glad that you already have the capability to cast them.
It is very likely, but not mandatory that you should play a base green deck with eight or more lands that produce green mana. Gatecreeper Vine, Greenside Watcher and Verdant Haven to name a few are going be huge inclusions in your deck and they will not be as highly contested as gates.
As for the actual construction of your mana base there are a few simple rules you can follow. These are the minimum number of each colour mana source you should include based on how many cards you have from that colour. I am assuming that all of these spells have only a single mana requirement from each colour. If you are expecting to splash double coloured spells, even something as powerful as Bloodfray Giant, don’t. The reward just doesn’t match up favourably to the risk.
One card from a colour – Minimum of two sources
Two cards from a colour – Minimum of three sources
Three cards from a colour – Minimum of four sources
Four to five cards from a colour – Minimum of five sources
Any more cards than this in a colour would lead me to consider it a core colour. I would generally include seven or more sources in this colour and start to be open to playing early game spells as it now becomes reasonable to expect to reliably see these sources early on. You would love to have more sources than above and cards like Prophetic Prism will go a long way help you achieve this, but to avoid disaster don’t go any lower than these guidelines.
Like the three colour decks your minimum requirements will inevitably be higher than the total number of lands you run. Although instead of being over by around three it tends to end up being closer to seven or eight. Just as an example I usually end up including around six mana fixing lands and then approximately three spells that have a mana fixing component. Your numbers will vary, but this is a solid baseline.
There is one piece of synergy beyond just good spells with good mana and that is the Gatekeeper cycle. Despite how awesome their effects look, you will actually see them surprisingly late. I have seen them come round as late as picks 8-12. This is of course because of the hidden cost of having to pick up gates highly and possibly miss out of some good spells. Fortunately, if we are perusing this strategy we are picking up the gates anyway.
Don’t be tempted to pick them early, because they will be coming round again. You look at them and see Rhox Mediants and mini Nekrataals, but your fellow drafters only see Pillarfield Ox. I made the mistake of picking them too highly to start with and I lost value, because of it. They are great tools, but trust that you can spend low value picks on them and dedicated your higher picks towards more contested spells.
As for the number of gates required to reliably trigger your Gatekeeper’s ability, I would not play less than four and I only really start to feel confident if I have included five or more. It is worth considering a half off-colour gate to tweak the numbers if necessary, although this would usually only apply to a three colour deck.
How does this deck win?
Quite simply, it plays the best cards! Of course any rare bombs will be a shoe in, but there are also numerous uncommon powerhouses printed in Return to Ravnica block, think along the lines of Skymark Roc, Ghor-Clan Rampager, Guildmages etc. and you get to play all of them. At the same time most players will be scrabbling for premium removal, of which there is very little. You on the other hand can get some surprisingly late ones from neighbours who aren’t able to cast them.
There is generally a gate sub-theme running through these decks, with cards like Ogre Jailbreaker, Gatekeepers and sometimes even Crackling Perimeter if you have gone that deeply into the strategy. The main synergies however, are merely between a well thought out manabase and high quality spells.
What are you looking to pick?
First of all you want to look for must answer threats and premium removal. Premium fixing comes in a close second, but I’ll talk more about that in the next section. If you do not see a good number of these cards it might be best to stay away from the strategy. I would hope that at least my first five picks fall into these categories. Playing all the colours is risking your consistency and you need very good reasons to move into this strategy.
It is likely that you will have to play a few slightly janky removal spells to round out your deck. When you are pushing the game late the opponent will inevitably draw a very powerful threat or two and you must have the answer at hand. Another thing to look out for is card advantage that simultaneously affects the board, think in terms of Opal Lake Gatekeepers and Scab-Clan Giant.
You will need to pick up some cheaper spells, but bear in mind your early drops should mostly be in one or two colours, so you can skew your mana that way in order to cast them early enough. The cheap mono-coloured creatures are ideal for early defence as they are the easiest to cast when it matters.
Pure defence cards like Hover Barrier actually have reasonable applications in your deck, so it is useful to spend later picks on these over anything underwhelming like a Gutter Skulk. While it’s better to have cards that actually help win you the game, hopefully the strength of your overall spell quality will be able to win through after the board has been gummed up.
Try not to worry about picking great spells you don’t have fixing for yet or fixing you don’t have spells to cast with. You want to focus on quality picks first and foremost, then shape your pool into a deck as the draft proceeds.
How highly do you pick gates?
This is an interesting one. You actually don’t need them quite so desperately as the three colour decks, because you can make use of any gate whereas they only get to use three different kinds. They are still however high picks and should always be in consideration.
I like to imagine a sort of gate threshold whereby if a spell is strong enough you take the best one in the pack and if there are no spells past the requisite power level you take a gate. This gets pretty subjective and based on your own card evaluations, but I will try and give an example of where I am with it.
The weakest cards that are just good enough include Fluxcharger, Ascended Lawmage, Blast of Genius and Tithe Drinker. All of these are often devastating on curve, have the potential to take over a game and will always have a high positive impact when cast.
The strongest cards that fall just shy for me are in the range of Maw of the Obzedat, Kraul Warrior, Bronzebeak Moa and Runner’s Bane. They are solid efficient cards, but you want to make sure your cards are primarily either game changers or enable you to get to a position to cast them. These cards, whilst excellent, do neither of those things.
An absence of gates for multiple picks early on is a warning sign that you should not be in this strategy. Likewise, seeing a lot of gates from fourth-fifth pick onwards lets you know that your neighbours are keeping their number of colours down.
How do you beat it?
The easiest way is to get aggressive as early as possible. The deck wins and loses on its mana base and by applying pressure you can hopefully swing that further towards the ‘lose’ end of the spectrum. If they are on the back foot it can be difficult for them to manoeuvre their spells and make full use of them even if you are unable to kill them quickly.
Keeping slow hands against this strategy is risky even if the hand is otherwise quite good. Every subsequent turn both players draw a card and yours is probably worse than theirs. Denying them draw steps can be powerful and it is often wise to take more aggressive and occasionally risky choices to make sure they see as few cards as possible.
Creatures – 15
1 x Gatecreeper Vine
1 x Frilled Oculus
1 x Duskmantle Guildmage
1 x Trestle Troll
1 x Varolz, the Sscar-Striped
1 x Drakewing Krasis
2 x Sluiceway Scorpion
1 x Saruli Gatekeepers
1 x Opal Lake Gatekeepers
1 x Sunspire Gatekeepers
1 x Zhur-Taa Swine
1 x Scab-Clan Giant
1 x Dinrova Horror
1 x Maze Glider
Non-Creatures – 8
Land – 17
I hope this has been a useful guide. I certainly think this is one of the deepest formats we have had in some time. It doesn’t seem like we will see several specific archetypes you can memorise like we have experienced with recent sets. Working with generic pick orders is not going to be constructive and you are going to have to get a little creative sometimes.
I don’t want to oversell this block though, one of it’s problems is that there does seem to be a higher than average variance than usual. More games are lost to mana issues, even when you construct your deck correctly. Most decks rely on one pack in particular, the two colour deck is an obvious example, but even three colour decks have one pack with two guilds in and get most of their goodies there. If this pack opens poorly you can have some serious damage done to your deck. In other formats the rewards tend to be more spaced out, which reduces the variance.
Another phenomenon I didn’t mention before is that there is somewhat of a Rock, Paper, Scissors metagame comprised of the three archetypes. Two colour gets one upped by three colour, which gets totally out valued by five colour which in turn gets quickly swarmed by two colour. It is extremely difficult to present a list that can compete on all these three axis and somewhat like constructed you can have an uphill struggle on your hands if the pairings system has it in for you. Sometimes you are going to have to roll with the punches and chalk it up as the price you pay for sweet multicolour guildy goodness.
Thanks for sticking through this series. My next article will probably be more focussed on general draft strategy, unless I get a lot of requests for Modern Masters or more Ravnica. 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!