This past weekend saw pre-release events for the newest Magic: The Gathering set, Gatecrash. The second set of three in the Return to Ravnica block, Gatecrash continues the revisiting of the plane of Ravnica, a gigantic world-city containing ten different guilds, each of which represents a different two-color combination. Gatecrash features the blue/black House Dimir, the white/black Orzhov Syndicate, the red/white Boros Legion, the red/green Gruul Clans, and the green/blue Simic Combine.
At the pre-release, each player chose one of the guilds to represent. I played as a member of House Dimir, who hide in the shadows and manipulate the other guilds to their own ends. Quite flavorfully, the Dimir have a very control-oriented style of play, trying to keep the opponent’s creatures from killing them early while they set up a dominant position.
Each guild also has its own mechanic. The Dimir mechanic is called cipher. It lets you essentially equip an instant or sorcery spell to a creature you control, so that when the creature deals damage to your opponent, you can play the spell again for free.
The Dimir also have a subtheme of “milling” the opponent—trying to put all the cards from that player’s deck into his or her graveyard, also referred to as “grinding” by Wizards of the Coast itself. This is an alternative win condition serving as an additional option beyond the normal goal of reducing your opponent’s life total to 0. If a player has no cards left in his or her deck and that player tries to draw a card, they lose the game.
During the pre-release, my first match was against a member of the Boros Legion, the soldiers of the city of Ravnica. The Boros are very fast, playing lots of creatures early in the game and trying to overwhelm their opponent before they can stabilize a defense. The Boros mechanic is battalion, which triggers when at least three creatures attack at the same time. Every creature with battalion gets an extra effect, ranging from making the creature stronger to dealing damage directly to the opponent or creatures they control.
I also played against members of the Simic Combine. The Simic are biological mad scientists, creating new and unique lifeforms and altering themselves, a bit similar to the Izzet League. The Simic are very synergistic, playing several creatures that work well together and protecting them in combat. The Simic’s mechanic, evolve, ties into this style nicely—creatures with evolve get stronger if you play a creature stronger than they are. This lets the Simic make their weak creatures as powerful as their strongest ones.
Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to play against the Orzhov Syndicate, who run the churches and banks of Ravnica, or the Gruul Clans, a collection of violent barbarians. The Orzhov ability is extort, which lets you pay extra mana every time you play a spell to drain away your opponent’s life and gain back some of yours. The Gruul, meanwhile, have bloodrush, which lets you discard creature cards to buff your attacking creatures for a turn.
The pre-release was a blast to play; I always love multicolor-themed sets, and Ravnica is the greatest of them all. If you have any interest in Magic whatsoever, I highly suggest picking up some Gatecrash cards if you have the chance. It’s a great set!
I drafted Orzhov (white/black) during the Gatecrash prerelease. The Orzhov mechanic, Extort, is a triggered ability that gives its controller the opportunity to pay a white or black mana whenever they cast a spell to cause each of their opponents to lose 1 life, then to gain life equal to the total amount lost this way. The best aspect of the ability is that it stacks; whenever one casts a spell, for each permanent one controls with extort, one may pay the cost.
Orzhov had some of the same problems as Return to Ravnica Rakdos (black/red); without a significant crop of low drops, the deck works a lot worse. That said, having a use for extra mana and carefully playing spells behind curve gives a lot to Orzhov. However, Orzhov mirror-matches were rather silly, amounting to back-and-forths of the sort of “You lose 2 life and I gain 2 life.” “Well, you lose 2 life and I gain 2 life.”
Gatecrash has some very appealing cards for constructed play, as well. In terms of 60-card games, Boros Charm is an amazingly versatile two-mana instant that can be a 4-damage player-only burn spell, a temporary indestructibility to your permanents, or a simple double strike to a creature you control. For only a red and a white mana, it’s quite possibly the best card in the set. Another Boros card, Aurelia’s Fury, is a variable burn spell that taps down creatures and partially silences players dealt damage this way. An Orzhov card, Blind Obedience, makes opponents’ artifacts and creatures enter the battlefield tapped and has extort for the low cost of two mana in mono-white.
For Commander, the set is a gold mine; between the seven-mana primordials–large creatures with enters-the-battlefield effects–the legendary guild leaders, and the two planeswalkers. The green primordial may even get banned in Commander; it destroys a noncreature permanent and plops out a forest onto your field for each opponent. White/black also got a new wrath, Merciless Eviction, which is a six mana sorcery with your choice of exiling all artifacts, creatures, enchantments, or planeswalkers. All in all, Gatecrash is rather unimpressive for any format other than Commander, but the next set, Dragon’s Maze, should be a good follow-up, with a shockland or guildgate in every pack and a currently unannounced mythic rare land. Until then, happy planeswalking!