For my first article here, I had a lot of fun making some predictions about what the state of M19 limited might look like. Here we are, about a month away from Guilds of Ravnica, and spoiler season has only just begun with about 30 cards at our disposal at the time of this writing. We’ve been given the five guilds and their mechanics. From those, I’m going to give you my insights as to what I’m looking for as clues to how powerful or supported those mechanics might be and what synergies may be available between different guilds. Here are the five mechanics:
Convoke (Selesnya): Your creatures can help you cast this spell. Each creature you tap while casting this spell pays for (1) or one mana of that creature’s color.
Mentor (Boros): Whenever this creature attacks, put a +1/+1 counter on target attacking creature with lesser power.
Jump-start (Izzet): You may cast this card from your graveyard by discardia card in addition to paying its other costs. Then exile this card.
Surveil (Dimir): Look at the top card of your library. You may put that card into your graveyard.
Undergrowth (Golgari): A keyword that cares about the number of creature cards in your graveyard.
Convoke is the only returning mechanic. It originally appeared back in the first Ravnica block and was seen more recently in M15 and Modern Masters 2. We sort of get a freebie here in terms of evaluating the mechanic for limited since we’ve had a chance to play with it many times before. Convoke is, in my opinion, an excellent limited mechanic. Generally, spells with Convoke are slightly overcosted because they can be powered out earlier by using the board you’ve already started to develop. Though Rosemane Centaur looks like it will be out on turn four a lot of the time and that’s quite a strong rate for a common.
Things often snowball out of control because creatures with summoning sickness are used to cast spells with Convoke. This makes cards that produce multiple bodies very strong. Imagine casting a
Yavimaya Sapherd into a card like
Siege Wurm. You’ve essentially cast your Sapherd for only 1 mana since both the sapherd and the saproling were able to tap for mana. Chaining together multiple
Scatter the Seeds was something I especially enjoyed doing in Modern Masters 2. Anything that creates multiple creatures is going to be great with Convoke as will anything that cares about your board being wide. I imagine an
Inspired Charge effect would go quite nicely in this archetype as would any kind of creature like
Scion of the Wild or
Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy.
I think that if there's a mana dork in green it may be slightly worse than recent top green commons
Druid of the Cowl and
Llanowar Elves. If the best things to ramp into already have Convoke, then all your creatures can already help cast them and you don’t need to prioritize the elves as highly. If there are any instants with Convoke in the set, you’ll have to start to train your eye to see untapped creatures as potential mana sources for such a spell.
Stoke the Flames has been cast many a time with no untapped lands available.
I’m also interested in how this color pair plays with its two other buddy guilds in the format: Boros and Golgari. Golgari caring about creatures in the graveyard seems like there won’t be much exploitable synergy beyond just playing creatures and trading off, but the Mentor mechanic from Boros has potential. I think these two mechanics will play nicely because they both get value out having small creatures. Both color pairs here are interested in cheap creatures since Selesneya can use them to power out larger threats for cheap and Boros can attack with them and turn them into formidable threats.
My first impression of Mentor is a resounding “meh.” My bias against RW in most formats aside, this just doesn’t look like it’s going to pack the punch that some of these other mechanics can. As I’m writing this article, a couple of commons have already been spoiled.
Certainly if these punch through once triggering Mentor and come back again the next combat for more, your opponent will be in a world of hurt. But the low toughness on these creatures worries me. Trading down with your four drop or five drop to get a counter on one of your smaller creatures (assuming it hasn’t died in combat as well) just doesn’t seem that appealing to me. Historically, Boros mechanics that rewarded creatures for attacking have been very strong. I’m thinking specifically of batallion from Gatecrash and exert from Amonkhet.
But in those cases, you got a lot of bang for your attacking buck. If you attacked with 3 or more creatures and triggered batallion, it benefited each creature with the keyword. Exert didn’t require a lot of set up cost and you could either alternate attacks with exerted creatures to keep the hits coming every turn or wait for an all out exert attack, both strategies being powerful in their own right. Mentor doesn’t really let you do that. Multiple copies of a single creature with Mentor can’t help each other out. A 3/3 can only Mentor a 2/2 once, and then even if the 2/2 has Mentor itself, it would need something smaller attacking to be able to use its ability.
I’m guessing that with Mentor and Convoke we'll see some sort of token making spell in white (maybe just a reprint of
Raise the Alarm.) What else might make me more excited about Mentor? Well certainly combat tricks or other ways to augment power (though they would need to augment the power before the Mentor trigger went on the stack) will be strong to cheat in continued triggers. Small creature with lots of keywords like the above Healer’s Hawk look like they will be quite strong in Mentor decks. It would be nice to see some cards that care about having +1/+1 counters on them as another incentive to trigger Mentor and to make defending players have to think twice about what may seem like suboptimal attacks just to get a Mentor trigger going. Only time will tell as the spoilers progress, but my guess is that Boros will be more a traditional beatdown deck than it will be a deck centered around this mechanic.
Jump-start is another variant on a mechanic we’ve seen before: Flashback. Flashback is a fantastic limited mechanic as it gives you places to put your mana in the late game. Jump-start is no different, allowing you to cast these spells a second time by pitching excess lands. As a result, I imagine that any deck with a number of Jump-start spells in it will be very inclined to run 18 lands. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for any cards that care about spells being cast. Prowess is not a mechanic that will be around anymore, but I imagine that a card like
Aven Wind Mage or
Guttersnipe may be printed here and will feel quite at home. Murmuring Mystic is a card I’m very much looking forward to building around. Ironically,
Enigma Drake may not be quite as powerful since you’ll be exiling these spells from your graveyard.
Izzet has been the “spells matter” color pair for some time now, and I don’t see much changing with the Jump-start mechanic being its identity this time around. I think this will play particularly well with the Dimir Surveil mechanic. If you Surveil a card with Jump-start into the graveyard, you’ve essentially drawn a card since you now have access to cast that as if it were in your hand. Also any incidental mill that exists in this format is going to be a boost for both cards with Jump-start and Undergrowth. If a card shows up with the same kind of text as
Homarid Explorer, I would recommend always targeting yourself.
Scryveil? Gravescry? Deathscry? Whatever cute nickname the MTG community comes up with for this mechanic, it will be strong. This is another mechanic that is great for limited as it lets you help sculpt your future turns ever so slightly. This synergizes so well with both Izzet and Golgari since both of those care about cards being in the graveyard, either Jump-start spells themselves or creatures for Undergrowth bonuses. That, combined with how this lets you smooth out your draws, makes for a mechanic I’m very excited to be able to play with. Beyond that there aren’t many things I imagine we’ll get to do with this in limited. If there end up being cards that care about the top card of your library, Surveil will be helpful there.
Perhaps we’ll get some kind of Zombie variant of
Llanowar Empath with Surveil instead of scry. I’m most excited for a
Gravedigger or just plain
Raise Dead effect. These get a lot stronger with Surveil since you’ll be able to get creatures into your graveyard outside of them just dying from the battlefield.
Self-mill is the name of the game here if there is going to be any traction with exploiting this mechanic. Just coming off the KTK flashbacks, I’m very much looking for reprints or variants of cards like
Scout the Borders, or
Rakshasa’s Secret. If you are relying only on creature combat to fill your graveyard with creatures to fuel your Undergrowth triggers, I think you will probably be doing it wrong. This is one of the reasons that Surveil is such a great mechanic to pair with Undergrowth triggers. There will be a tough balance to strike if Undergrowth ends up appearing on a lot of non-creature spells. You will need to make sure you have enough creatures in your deck, probably 15 at the minimum, to be able to reliably trigger these other spells in a meaningful way. If there aren’t strong ways to fill up your graveyard with creatures incidentally, I imagine Undergrowth triggers just may not get there a lot of the time.
Obviously this is all speculation. But I think exercising this part of your magic brain is what can give you a leg up during a format’s infancy. If you’re primed to seek out synergies as spoiler season reveals itself, you could end up with a huge edge come pre-release weekend. I’m very much looking forward to returning to the world of guilds, gates, and graveyard shenanigans and I hope you are too!