The Gates Come Down: Gatecrash Prerelease Primer

All around the world, planeswalking friends are counting hours until the Gatecrash Prerelease this Friday. Have you picked your guild? If not, here’s how to pick the one you will enjoy and win with! If you have your heart set on one already, I have advice on how to optimize your deck and what to watch out for.

The Boros

You should be Boros if you’re an aggressive player. That means you like winning fast, and want your creatures to rush onto the battlefield fighting. At the end of my Return to Ravnica Prerelease, not one person left the store without a story of being beaten to death by an unleashed Rakdos team. At the Gatecrash Prerelease, this will be the Boros’s job. Fast, furious, and unforgiving, this is going to be the guild that will keep the speed of the format in check.

Tips for Building Your Deck:

  • Have enough guys! Ideally, you will have 16-17 guys with rest as pump and removal spells. The worst thing that can happen to your Boros deck is missing a two drops, delaying getting attack with battalion fast enough.
  • Haste is powerful in battalion decks.  Not only will it allow you to trigger battalion a turn before they expect it, but also surprise them when they hoped to blow up your battalion with an instant removal spell in the beginning of your combat step.
  • See if you can lower your curve enough to justify 16 lands. Don’t go overboard though: This is still a Sealed event and if you have bombs that are worth splashing for, go for it. [Editor’s Note: This means you should still consider playing 17 lands. Guildmages are great mana sinks.]

The Gruul’s bloodrush offers synergy with battalion, while Orzhov’s extort offers some reach to kill opponents that block the ground. Consider adding both, and play all the Scorchwalkers that come your way.


While every Boros creature screams “Make me attack!” keep in mind that you are still a weenie deck. There may be a point when you need to sit out a turn and drop some more power before you can get through for enough damage to finish the job; Don’t throw away half your team. Consider using your removal early if there’s no reason to save it for scary six-drops when you can win before that.

The Gruul

You should be Gruul if you love Red and Green, and you love fat creatures that get scary if someone tries to match them in combat. This guild will be the most familiar to early Magic, which can be good when you are bombarded with new cards and interactions. The Gruul will give you efficient creatures at every point of the curve, solid removal, and quality pump.

Tips for Building Your Deck:

  • Your mana curve is very important. Your plan is to play an efficient creature every turn, and if your deck were to be made solely of bloodrush creatures, that’s great.
  • Most red battalion cards do not work very well with the rest of your deck, but look out for Simic cards that can. For example, Miming Slime is amazing: Swing in with a 3/2 Slaughterhorn, pump it up with another one to survive their block, then make a 6/6 Ooze after combat for three mana. Not bad!
  • Try your best to play your RubbleHulk guild promo as a creature rather than a pump spell. He’s a 6/6, which is huge in Gatecrash. There aren’t many answers for him, and there are fewer tokens to chump block as well.


Bloodrush offers immense flexibility where many of your spells have two modes. As a rule of thumb, in the cases where you can trade and play a creature or spend your mana winning that combat with that creature’s bloodrush mode, you will want to trade and play a larger creature.  There will be times when you will have to decide whether to “go for it” and spit out your creatures as pump spells to finish off your opponent. It will get easier as you know what to watch out for, but for now at least remember that Totally Lost costs five mana,  Aetherize costs four, and Smite, Grisly Spectacle, and Pit Fight are all common removal spells.

The Simic

You should be Simic if you enjoyed Zendikar’s Ally creatures. I’ll tell you a secret: I like that synergy so much that I have a special name for this obsession, Squadron Hawk Syndrome. If you’re like me you will remember feeling tempted to pick an early Squadron Hawk over an Assault Griffin, or passing a Flinthoof Boar in favor of chasing the dream of picking seven Timberpack Wolfs in the same draft.

Tips for Building Your Deck:

  • Do not have too many early drops. Consider no more than three one drops (Experiment One, Cloudfin Raptor) because they don’t trigger evolve late in the game, and you’ll have fewer creatures to play afterwards.
  • Do not forget that evolve works for both power to power or toughness to toughness. You are the only one to blame for hindering your team’s evolution.
  •  Gruul’s bloodrush creatures splendidly compliment your evolve team. You can power through bigger creatures while your guys are still babies or help trigger evolve later with your already large creatures.


While you will quickly win some games with the synergistic evolve draws, you will also struggle in others as a result of seeing cards in the wrong order. The Simic can also have some terrible top decks.

Every game will play out differently. You can come out swinging with your Cloudfin Raptor into Shambleshark into Elusive Krasis into other monsters, or you may be just surviving, slowly building up your forces. Look and try to understand which one it is for each game.

The Orzhov

You should be Orzhov if you’d like access to the best guild promo! Treasury Thrull is card walking card advantage. In fact, it doesn’t even have to connect with an opponent to bring back something exciting. Some of the experienced players I have talked to are very excited to go with Orzhov, and there’s something appealing about the corrupt church of the powerful Obzedat.

Tips for Building Your Deck:

  • Look for cards that are good whether or not you get to extort with them. It will give you a lot more flexibility in your games if you can be faster or slower without sacrificing card quality.
  • Of all the guilds in Gatecrash, I believe the Orzhov have the highest number of unplayable cards. While it may well be the most powerful guild, it also means you may need a third color for a quality deck. Look at a Dimir splash for a more evasive-control deck, and Boros for a faster, aggressive build.
  • Vizkopa Guildmage is quietly powerful. Activating both of her abilities will give your biggest guy a kind of “supertrample” or double strike.
  • Auras in Return to Ravnica were excellent. All of the “pants” – positive effect creature enchantments – had a purpose. It isn’t clear if Gatecrash is quite the same, but Orzhov gets two great pairs of pants at uncommon: Holy Mantle and Gift of Orzhova. Try either in a deck full of small creatures.


One of the dangers of choosing the Orzhov is overestimating extort. Remember Mentor of the Meek, thinking “Every token and every bear draws me a card!” When was it that simple? Adding mana to each spell you resolve is brutal. As a result, the Orzhov will be the hardest guild to play. You will have to choose whether to advance the board faster or drain your opponent. Additionally, multiple extort creatures isn’t as good as having multiple evolve or battalion creatures working together since each spell is even more expensive. When in doubt, play the more expensive creature and only worry about extort when your opponent’s life total is low or you aren’t activating it at the expense of playing a larger creature.

The Dimir

You should be Dimir if you want to gather an army of sneaky spies to mess up your opponents’ plans. Fans of alternative win conditions can even do it with dignity. Dimir is an excellent choice if you enjoy games where you make calculations to pick the best line of action, and intense battles when you mill their last card, or bring them down to 0 life, the turn before their creatures kill you.

Tips for Building Your Deck:

  • When drafting Dimir you do not actually have to be a mill deck – a deck that wins by emptying your opponent’s library into their graveyard. Evasive creatures paired with cipher spells will be a powerful. There are two reasons you would focus on mill if you are Dimir at Prerelease: (1) Your promo, Consuming Aberration, is a great addition to a mill deck, and (2) your guild pack will have Dimir cards rather than just an assortment of Blue and Black, which can push you deeper into a mill strategy.
  • There are five common mill cards and five uncommon ones. All of them are playable. Paranoid Delusions is the only one that does nothing other than mill; Every other card is worth playing on a dedicated mill plan or not. I suggest playing every card that strips their deck of cards.
  • Don’t go overboard cipher. Encoding multiple spells onto one guy is too risky, and evasion creatures are fine on their own without cipher spells. Cipher is a high-risk, high-reward mechanic: It can be a source of amazing card advantage, but it also makes you vulnerable to two-for-ones.


Be prepared to do a lot of math. There may be points in the game when you need to choose whether you are winning by destroying their library or their face, or when you will need to decide how many guys you would need to leave back to block – with bloodrush in mind – to swing back the next turn. Unlike Boros, you have to be picky with your removal, especially with cards like Grisly Spectacle that gain twice as much value later in the game.

I hope this got you even more pumped about Gatecrash. This set is going to rock, and the fun starts in less than 3 days!

Have a wonderful Prerelease, friends. Now let the Gates come down!


And when you see a raven, head for the hills…