Covering all of the Deck Archetypes in Ravnica Allegiance Draft on MTG Arena
Ravnica Allegiance is returning as the Ranked Draft format on Magic Arena! My previous article about Ravnica Allegiance Draft talked about individual cards that surprised and impressed me. But now that I’ve done a ton of drafts both on Arena and in paper, it’s time to go one level up and talk about deck archetypes - strategies for a Draft deck that informs your card choices to a greater degree than simply picking the best guild card out of a pack.
Let’s get started!
Azorius: High Alert
The Azorius guild is full of high-toughness, low-power creatures that are perfect for defending, and maybe a little (or a lot) worse at helping you win the game. High Alert turns that all around and guides you from a slow-seeming start into a blistering finish.
The key card for this deck is, of course, High Alert. If you don’t have it, you can still win - but now you’re giving your opponent time to find a way to break through your defenses. If you want to draft this deck, don’t pass this card.
Of course it’s not enough to simply have one (or two if you’re lucky) High Alert in your deck. You also have to draw it, and so cards such as Sphinx's Insight and Dovin’s Acuity are critical. Not only do they get you closer to putting your High Alert into your hand; the lifegain also buys you time if you whiff.
High-toughness creatures also buy you time. Cards such as Senate Courier are good, protecting you on the ground and in the air. Azorius Knight-Arbiter is even better, as it presents a reasonable clock even without High Alert - and an insane clock with it.
Finally, you’ll want removal spells. Just remember that you don’t need these to deal with small 2-3 power creatures; those will be dealt with by your high-toughness army. Save your interactions for the true threats.
Azorius: Clear the Mind
If you play Limited to avoid those evil, evil control players skulking around in Constructing formats, then I have some bad news for you: control is very real and very viable in Ravnica Allegiance Draft. These decks have lots of interaction, a few threats… and two Clear the Minds to do the dance over and over and over again, until the opponent runs out of life, runs out of deck, or runs out of patience and goes screaming out into the wilds.
The two key cards in the deck are two copies of Clear the Mind. Without them, your opponent can simply deal with your threats and leave you with no way to win. Clear the Mind doesn’t need to be taken extremely highly… but it does need to be taken. So if one Clear the Mind fails to wheel in the first pack, consider taking them sooner in the second and third.
Your deck also wants lots of interaction: kill, bounce, or counter. Instants and sorceries such as Summary Judgment are preferable over enchantment-based removal - remember that the plan is to return your graveyard to your deck - but that’s no reason to pass high-quality removal such as Lawmage’s Binding.
If you can’t find a ton of removal, the next best thing is card draw to find that removal in your deck. Sphinx’s Insight does double duty again, drawing cards and buying you time through lifegain.
And remember, you do presumably want a way to win outside of decking. Take a few creatures, preferably large or evasive or both.
In theory, it feels as if Orzhov is set up to win in the long game, with Afterlife generating incremental advantage along with incidental life drain. In practice Orzhov gets outclassed in the later turns, either by huge creatures or a control strategy that locks them down.
What does this mean? Cards such as Ill-Gotten Inheritance and Grasping Thrull shouldn’t be the beginning of your strategy; they should be the end. Flood the board with evasive or Afterlife creatures, take care of threats with removal, chip in as much damage as you can, and make your victory inevitable before your opponent has a chance to recover.
Take a good mix of Afterlife and evasive creatures, with cheap Afterlife creatures such as Imperious Oligarch and Ministrant of Obligation being especially important. Fliers are also great, especially mass-buffers such as Spirit of the Spires. Round out your deck with removal and finishers, and you should be set!
Traditionally Blue is the color of strong spells and Green is the color of strong creatures. Smash them together, and who wins? In Ravnica Allegiance the answer is “creatures”. The common Simic Adapt creatures have incredible latent power, from Sauroform Hybrid to Aeromunculus to Skitter Eel.
A deck that plays these creatures on curve and uses Adapt at key moments will be effective; you can win some games simply by growing a Skitter Eel and attacking every turn. But if you want to go beyond being merely effective, you’ll need some added interaction. Blue and Green don’t have great removal spells; instead, they have strong tempo cards such as Arrester’s Admonition and Applied Biomancy.
Bounce effects and the occasional pump spell ensure that your opponent will never have a favorable combat step against your big creatures. That’s all you need to win a game.
People are split in their evaluation of this strange rare:
Some think that this card is a slam-dunk first pick. Others think that it’s a trap that takes far too long to affect the board. And then there’s the special few who find it irresistible in combination with this card:
The Simic Ascendancy/Wilderness Reclamation deck takes advantage of the fact that you care less about winning through damage - or winning consistently at all, really - and just want to generate enough mana to win a single game through Simic Ascendancy’s alternate win condition. Card draw and durdles are how you get there, and if you manage to go off just once know that you’ll be a hero to anyone who is lucky enough to witness your feat.
Gruul decks want to smash and smash and smash some more. The key is that they have to smash, leaving the opponent reeling and on the back foot. If a Gruul deck gives an opponent space to breathe, the opponent may win the race or find time to establish control of the board.
That means a Gruul deck should be comprised of cards that either attack, or enable you to force through an attack. The goal is to curve out with aggressive creatures and attack every turn. Frenzied Arynx is great, but make sure you also have a generous helping of two-drops such as Gravel-Hide Goblin.
Gruul is the most aggressive deck in Ravnica Allegiance, even more so than Rakdos (for reasons I’ll explain in the next section). So if you’re playing Gruul, remember: attacking is life.
One might assume that a good Rakdos deck is full of cheap creatures that Live Fast and Die Young - creatures that chip in early damage before going out in a Blaze of Glory. This is a good assumption: the strongest Rakdos decks have a plethora of two- and three- drops such as Plague Wight and Hackrobat.
So what differentiates Rakdos from Gruul? While Gruul has bigger late-game creatures, Rakdos has effects that force through damage in other ways. Vindictive Vampire drains whenever your creatures die. Fireblade Artist allows you to sacrifice lesser creatures in return for damage. Ill-Gotten Inheritance provides a steady pulse of life drain.
Putting this information together, a Rakdos deck needs to contain a swarm of low drops that chip away at an opponent’s life total, and a few effects that close the game out through non-combat damage. The combination of the two will produce a deck that’s hard to defend against.
There are five “Gates matter” cards in Ravnica Allegiance (six if you count Plaza of Harmony). Two are powerful attackers: Gatebreaker Ram and Gate Colossus. Two are strong utility creatures: Gateway Sneak (which draws cards) and Archway Angel (which gains life). One is a conditional board wipe: Gates Ablaze.
The strongest of these cards is Gatebreaker Ram, but it’s not a reason to take all Gates on sight; it’s better to be judicious and only take Gates that share one of your deck’s primary colors. What really pushes a deck to be four or five color is the desire to splash powerful cards: removal or a bomb like Ethereal Absolution taken late in the draft. Alternatively, you may find yourself going down this route if you’re cut from your colors.
Either way, the recommendation is the same: try and stay concentrated within two colors. If one of those colors is Green, look for Open the Gates; if Blue, look for card draw. Save your splashes for late-game cards. And take Gates aggressively. This strategy is difficult to pull off, but it’s a blast to play when it works!
Five-Color: Excessive Optimism
In her very last Guilds of Ravnica draft, my daughter drafted a solid Selesnya deck - until pack 3. Then she opened Niv-Mizzet, Parun.
Having only been on the receiving end of the dragon’s fury, she promptly snatched him up. Then she spiraled out of control, picking every Gate and any other card that caught her eye, no matter the color.
Did she win the Draft? Nope! Did she win a match? Nope! But she did play a game where she somehow cast Conclave Cavalier and Niv-Mizzet, Parun on the same turn. Afterwards she was ecstatic. “Best. Draft. Ever!”
I don’t recommend going down this route. But hey, doing so may just change your life.
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