First Look at Gatecrash

Basilica Guards
Hey there! This past weekend, I had the chance to try out the new Gatecrash Limited environment for the first time. I played two Prereleases at our local gaming store Poromagia. For the Return to Ravnica Prerelease, I had studied the different guilds and tried to come up with which was the best one, but this time around, I didn’t have much time to do that. I narrowed it down to Orzhov, Gruul, and Boros, as Dimir just felt underpowered and Simic seemed way too swingy. Some of the evolve creatures seemed to be very good when drawn early but horrible top-decks after turn five.

In this article, I have compiled some of my initial thoughts about the format. I will be presenting the two decks I played at the Prerelease and then listing some things I learned while playing. I’ll end the article with a quick look at some stats from the Prerelease weekend.

In general, I’m not the biggest fan of the guild pack Prerelease system, but I have understood that many players love it. When you choose a guild, you still have to open a lot of good cards from your normal boosters to go along with the cards from the guild booster to have a good deck. If you don’t, you are basically playing a five-booster Sealed deck when everyone else is playing something equivalent of a seven-booster Sealed deck. In other words, the guild packs just increase the variance that is already big in Sealed deck. Grand Prix: London is in just a little over a week, so I needed all the Sealed practice I can get. Plus, Prereleases are always fun, and I don’t mind if I once in a while have to play a format or system I’m not the biggest fan of.

Black and White

In the first Prerelease, I went for Orzhov because it seemed that white and black would offer a lot of removal and the possibility to splash bombs from other colors. As any Orzhov deck would probably be on the slow side, playing multiple Guildgates was not a problem, and splashing was quite easy. I decided that three was the maximum number of Guildgates I wanted to play, as I didn’t want to become stuck playing lands that come into play tapped for many turns in a row. This is the deck I ended up with during the first Prerelease.

I ended up going 1–2 and dropping, but I did learn some valuable lessons. The deck had what I thought was an okay amount of removal, but I quickly discovered it wasn’t enough. I lost to Simic because this deck could not handle the big evolve creatures, and I was quickly entering chump-block mode. I also lost a very grindy Orzhov mirror in which we both had two or three extort creatures out, so the life total was swinging back and forth. Here are some of the things I learned.

Holy Mantle
Devour Flesh is very mediocre, and unless you have a lot of other removal, you can’t really expect to get rid of big or problematic creatures with it.

Holy Mantle was very impressive. I used to both defensively to keep my opponents’ creatures back and offensively to punch through the last points of damage.

Extort quickly gets out of hand. I was in several situations in which there were three extort creatures on the battlefield, meaning every spell I played in the late game drained the opponent for 3.

Wight of Precinct Six was solid. Your opponent will have a hard time blocking it or attacking into it if you have mana open, as any removal spell means the player might lose most of his board presence. Any card that leaves my opponent guessing that much is solid in my books.

I first felt that Zarichi Tiger would be very awkward, but it turned out to be good in this kind of defensive deck. It often negated a 2-power evasive creature, and if the board ever stalled, it allowed me to start building a life buffer for later in the game.

Orzhov has all the elements that are classically good in Sealed. It offers quite a bit of removal and ways to control the game. We’ll just have to see how good the extorting guild is once we get to play some more Sealed deck tournaments with Gatecrash.

Charge!

For the second Prerelease, I decided to go with Boros. There were a few reasons for doing this. The first was that I thought the Prerelease promo was the best of the bunch. You always generated some value out of it, and actually killing Foundry Champion in combat is difficult. The second reason was that every Boros deck I had seen seemed at least decent. For a good Boros deck, all you need is basically aggressive creatures, where as a more controlling Orzhov deck really needs a lot of removal to be good. Here is the deck I ended up with.

I thought this deck was something between decent and good, and with it, I ended up going 3–2. Compared to the Orzhov deck I played in the first Prerelease, I liked this deck much more because it had more of a plan to it. The Orzhov deck just aimed to stay alive and somehow then win, but this deck had a clear plan: Smash face! Here are some of the things I learned while piloting this deck.

Wrecking Ogre
Wrecking Ogre is a huge beating. In one game, I attacked for 18 out of the blue with Fortress Cyclops and the bloodrush ability of Wrecking Ogre. In the following game, I had an opportunity to attack for 18 again, this time with the combination of Wojek Halberdiers, Martial Glory, and Wrecking Ogre. Giving double strike is such a huge swing, and it allows you to win games you would have no business winning otherwise. Not to mention that the 3/3 double strike body is very solid.

Pit Fight felt a bit underwhelming in Boros, as most of the guys are small and there are not that many opportunities to profitably fight. I think Pit Fight is much better in Gruul or Simic, where the creatures are bigger and you get to use it to good effect.

Cinder Elemental was much worse than I thought. Most of the games, I would rather have had one of the solid 2- or 3-drops. I’ve played with Cinder Elemental in other formats, and it was very good, but it just felt too clunky in all but one of the games in which I played it.

Battalion as a mechanic was easier to make work than I initially thought. Many of the commons available to Boros with the ability are very powerful. I had the chance to play with Wojek Halberdiers and Warmind Infantry, and they were both very good, especially when I was able to trigger battalion.

In most Sealed formats, aggro is a bad strategy, but it seems that this is changing. In Return to Ravnica, aggro was a fine strategy, and it seems that with Gatecrash, this is also true. Boros offers the tools for some very good aggressive decks, as does Gruul, even though the Gruul decks seem to be a bit more expensive as far as mana costs go.

Which Guild Was Best?

Now, I personally can’t really say which guild was the best at the Prerelease or which will be the best once we start playing normal Sealed deck without all those Treasury Thrulls and Foundry Champions in everyone’s decks. However, I do have some stats from Prereleases here in Finland, courtesy of Arttu Kaipiainen.

The data was collected on the basis of which guild package each person had chosen, so it does not reflect what color combination the player actually played. For simplicity’s sake, we can assume that most people ended up playing the colors of their guilds of choice. Guild mirrors were omitted from this data. The sample size is not humongous, and I won’t go into a lecture about statistics, but it would be very interesting to see how the stats would change with a larger sample size. I’ve comprised some of the relevant information into the following table, but in case you want to look at the actual data, you can find it here.

GuildWin %Best againstWorst against
Boros60.6SimicOrzhov
Orzhov54.3BorosGruul
Gruul50.0SimicBoros
Dimir44.9GruulBoros
Simic35.8DimirBoros

As we can see, Boros had the highest win percentage, followed by Orzhov, Gruul, Dimir, and Simic. If you wanted to beat Boros, your best chance was Orzhov, so if many players were choosing Boros, such as in the second Prerelease I played, you could try to metagame. If this trend continues in normal Sealed deck, you will want to stay away from Simic and Dimir. Of course, normal Sealed deck is defined by the cards you open, and in the case of the Prerelease, this was skewed due to people having more of a certain color of cards.

Banhammer!

Seething Song
Before I end this article, I would like to say a few things about the Modern bans. By the time you read this, you have most likely read many opinions on the subject, so I’ll make it short. I was very surprised by the bans, as I don’t think Storm is too good in any way, even though I wrote about Storm recently.

At least the ban was aimed at the right card, as Seething Song is the single most important card in the deck along with Past in Flames. I understand the reasoning being that Wizards of the Coast does not want decks in the format that are difficult to interact with via normal means (removal and such). Bloodbraid Elf is a good card, but banning it does not really weaken Jund very much, as it is not even the best card in the deck. However, the ban might mean that people start playing “Jund” with other colors, as both white and blue offer good cards for the B/G shell. You could also just slam Huntmaster of the Fells or Olivia Voldaren into the slot formerly occupied by Bloodbraid Elf and call it a day.




That’s it for this week. I hope you liked what I had to say about the Prerelease experience and found something useful in this article. Next week, I will be taking another look at Gatecrash Limited, perhaps from the drafting point of view, as I hope to get in a few Drafts this week. As always, if you have any questions, comments or ideas, feel free to hit me up either via Twitter or the comments section below.

Thanks for reading,
Max
@thebloom_ on Twitter
Maxx on Magic Online
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