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Magic: The Gathering Ravnica Allegiance Pre-Release – Live by Nikya, Die by Nikya

by Ron Duwell | January 26, 2019January 26, 2019 7:30 am EDT

American elder and founding father Benjamin Franklin once said “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” However, despite him being a grand-grand-uncle of mine, we never got the chance to meet, and he never saw me compete at Magic: The Gathering. Once again this past weekend at the Ravnica Allegiance Pre-Release, I barreled through my first two matches with no sweat before getting clobbered in my final match, leading to yet another healthy but typical 2-1 record.

Forever Mr. 2-1 is my official nickname if I ever settle for one on the Magic: The Gathering scene.

This time, my 2-1 deck was absurdly perfect and provided me with almost every card I needed to make a solid Red/Green Gruul deck. I had several cards over-perform, but in my final match, it was one of my bomb rares that ultimately doomed me.

The Pool

When I approached Guilds of Ravnica, I was torn between both Selesnya and Boros, thinking they would be the most fun Guilds to try. This time around, we had no complications in my decision process. Red/Green Gruul always has been and always will be my favorite color combination in Magic, and I grabbed my box before any other person got a chance to snag it.

And my goodness, what a pool! Two on-color bomb rares, most of the best commons and uncommons, plenty of Red and Green removal to back them up. The only disappointment was my promo card and the lack of a Frenzied Arynx, the Gruul card I wanted to try the most.

My promo was this dork. Not what Gruul wants to do in Limited at all, and better as a sideboard against control decks in Standard. The menace did help on occasion, but I was often too busy casting back-breaking creatures to make use of it.

Still, I needed a two-drop and this proved as viable defender against early attackers.

For those who don’t know, these Ravnica sets all come with five normal booster packs and a seeded booster that contains only the colors of the Guild you’ve chosen. The purpose is to strengthen your Guild and ensure you get to play what you want. Since I chose Gruul, all of my cards were either Green, Red or both.

And man, my seeded pack was rockin’! I apologize for the glare.

We landed some of the set’s premiere Green and Red commons here. Savage Smash is great removal, Rubblebelt Recluse gives us a heavy finisher to close the game with, Burning-Tree Vandal helps rummage through our deck to find the cards we really want, and both Gravel-Hide Goblin and Axebane Beast fill our curve nicely.

As for uncommon, Flame of the Raze-Boar is an expensive but overpowered removal spell that can wipe an opponent’s whole board. Zhur-taa Goblin is also sweet because a 3/3 for two mana is exactly the kind of aggressive stats that Gruul is looking for in this set. Then, there is a Biogenic Upgrade, which all but ensures victory in a deck full of trample creatures. For whatever reason, I didn’t play it…

The rest is filler or sideboard material, but for now, we’re looking strong in Gruul. Let’s hope this keeps up.

If we’re looking at Green and Red spells, our second pack has both Skewer the Critics and Scorchmark, Red’s two common removal spells. We’ll take those in a heartbeat, thank you! I won’t turn down a second Axebane Beast either in Sealed. That 4-toughness goes a long way in this set, and like I said, it fills a curve nicely.

Outside of our colors, a Grotesque Demise tempts me to splash Black, and that Sentinel’s Mark might be nice touch in a Naya beat down deck. Not enough to pull me into White, but it’s there.

Font of Agonies is our rare, but we are not playing the sacrifice game. NEXT!

Kaya’s Wrath is our rare here, and while it’s a drop dead bomb in Limited, we can’t play it. Black and White are far from our strongest colors. Definitely not enough White cards here either to pull me away from our Gruul deck. However, that Get to the Point further tempts me to go with Black as yet another solid removal spell.

In terms of our colors, I take another Zhur-Taa Goblin without hesitation, and I keep the Chillbringer in the back of my mind if we find any Blue cards. Nothing else really fits from this pack. Ghor-Clan Wrecker is there if we are desperate, but it’s not that great of a card.

BOOM, Sunder Shaman is great! As Gruul’s “hard to cast” cycle card, it delivers a huge punch for five-mana. A 5/5 that can’t be ganged up on and destroys enchantments is just boss. Easily inclusion.

Nikya of the Old Ways, the first of our rare Gruul bombs, is also in there. Man, that glare is killing me! She also gets included in the deck and plays a huge part in our decision process later.

Beyond these two, we have another Burning-Tree Vandal, a killer two-drop in Sauroform Hybrid, a Clan Guildmage (glare card), and even an Act of Treason, which I don’t mind running one of in a Gruul deck.

Spear Skewer is a solid card, but it’s meant for Rakdos as a trigger for its spectacle ability. Not Gruul. Imperial Oligarch is fine, but not enough to pull me away from this crazy Gruul pack.

Another Get to the Point further pushes me towards Black, but that Aeromunculus tied with the previous Chillbringer makes Blue a quality fallback plan too.

In our colors, we easily take a Rubblebelt RunnerRampaging Rendhorn, and even that Storm StrikeStorm Strike is a solid combat trick, and the scry ability makes it playable.

Deputy of Detention was our rare card in the pack. Great card, but not nearly close enough to our colors to be played. Meant more for Modern in a Bant Company deck anyway.

I got shudders after opening our final pack. There it is! The Gruul mythic rare Ravager Wurm. How could I lose now? How could I play anything else besides Gruul?

Outside of that, Titanic Brawl is Green removal that we want, and the Skitter Eel gives us a third quality option if we try our Blue backup plan.

The deck

From the way I saw it, there was three ways to build this deck. First step, ignore my White cards. They’re all awful and should never be played… ever. Despite strong Orzhov and Azorius rare cards, those Guilds are officially cut.

Since we got the seeded Gruul pack, Green and Red are obviously our strongest colors and will make up the core of our deck. We can either stick with two colors or splash for a third, going with our Black removal or our Blue creatures, meaning a Jund Black/Red/Green deck or a Temur Green/Blue/Red deck.

Starting off, here are the creatures that definitely make the cut.

What a ramp! That’s absurdly powerful! With the exception of Immolation Shaman and Axebane Beast, which are still quality creatures, this selection of monsters is aggressively paced and are designed to crush an opponent ahead of curve. Our strategy is clear: simply play creatures, turn them sideways, and don’t give out opponent an inch.

As for our removal and our spells, these obviously make the cut.

All excellent cards to clear the path. Savage Smash is so good that I was looking through our uncommon section in the article builder to find it, forgetting it was only a common card. I also main-decked an Act of Treason because, while it’s cute to use for sacrifice outlets, one is perfectly fine in a deck like this if all you’re doing is jamming in creatures. It removes a blocker, gives you an attacker, and could easily finish the game in some cases.

If I switched any card out, it would be this. Act of Treason is our weakest card, no question.

We definitely have enough power to turn on Flames of the Raze-Boar as well. No question, if we draw it, we’ll wipe a board with it.

So right now, we have 22 cards, one less than the recommended 23 for a Limited deck. If I was playing safely, our Biogenic Upgrade should be the choice since it fits nicely on our curve and gives us a nice win condition. However, I chose the riskier card.

Despite our fine removal, I took a gamble with Nikya of the Old Ways, betting that I could slam into opponents with her and my creatures to deal crazy damage, not worrying about the removal. Her addition makes a nice 23 card Gruul deck that I ultimately chose to run with.

Other builds I looked at was the Jund deck with heavy removal.

Playing these three cards, we would take out Nikya, as our non-creature spell count would be way too high, and possibly an Act of Treason, an Axebane Beast, or that Immolation Shaman. This gives us plenty of access to control the board and still charge in with our creatures.

However, without a Rakdos Guildgate, I didn’t have good splash options, and I abandoned this plan.

However, I did get two Simic Guildgates, meaning we would have no problem to splash Blue into our deck. With three solid Blue creatures, we could add Nikya to the deck, take out our Act of Treason and the next weakest removal spell, probably Titanic Brawl, and just go heavy on creatures. Aeromunculus and Chillbringer give us flyers, where we are very weak, and Skitter Eel is just a nice 5/5 option that attacks big.

This would have been fine, and I might have tried it if the main Red/Green deck didn’t steamroll my first few opponents.

Two other interesting cards. The Wrecking Beast seemed legit with Nikya in the deck, and I played it once. However, it was a dead draw since I simply couldn’t get to seven mana without Nikya in play. Didn’t even matter since my other cards crushed before I got to six mana!

I cut it and put the Act of Treason back in. Sagittar’s Volley is a great sideboard card against Orzhov and Azorius decks, the ones that have an abundance of flyers and spirit tokens. I kept them nearby but never actually put them in.

The Deck

Creatures (16)

  • 1x Clan Guildmage
  • 1x Gravel-Hide Goblin
  • 1x Immolation Shaman
  • 1x Sauroform Hybrid
  • 2x Zhur-Taa Goblin
  • 2x Burning-Tree Vandal
  • 1x Rubblebelt Runner
  • 2x Axebane Beast
  • 1x Sunder Shaman
  • 1x Nikya of the Old Ways
  • 1x Rampaging Rendhorn
  • 1x Rubblebelt Recluse
  • 1x Ravager Wurm

Spells (7)

  • 1x Storm Strike
  • 1x Scorchmark
  • 1x Titanic Brawl
  • 1x Act of Treason
  • 1x Savage Smash
  • 1x Skewer the Critics
  • 1x Flames of the Raze-Boar

Lands (23)

  • 7x Forest
  • 8x Mountain
  • 2x Gruul Guildgate

The Games

I wish I could remember in full what happened. I’ll give my best recollection.

Match 1

I played against an opponent using an Orzhov deck. Their first game flooded out, which is always a bad feeling, and they kept using Final Payment to remove my Zhur-Taa Goblins, dealing 5 points of damage to himself each hit. The game ended when my Ravager Wurm ate their final creature, a Grasping Thrull, pushing them to scoop.

In game 2, their deck played a bit better, but their small creatures and Spirit tokens simply couldn’t keep up. They did bring down their Promo bomb at one point, a Teysa Karlov, but it got hit with an immediate Savage Smash, and he scooped.

Match 2

Can’t remember exactly, but my opponent ran a weaker Gruul deck. No Ravager Wurm and no Sunder Shaman. I believe I saw a Feral Makaa, a Sauroform Hybrid, and a Grave-Hide Goblin, and that’s all he had the chance to get to before my creatures overran his.

Rubblebelt Recluse closed both games, and I did wipe their board in one of the games with a Flames of the Raze-Boar. That felt good.

Match 3

And now, my folly. My opponent played a Simic deck splashed with White and a Gate sub-theme. The first game I lost, drawing my Forests too late. I know, excuses, right? Their adapt creatures simply pounded my red wimps while the Green backup was forced to remain in my hand.

My last game was the more interesting one, even though I lost. We both built out our boards into a stalemate, and I finally played Nikya of the Old Ways for the first time all night. The only other card in my hand was my Flames of the Raze-Boar, which was somewhat useless in the face of their big creatures. Neither of us could get through, so I started jamming with Nikya in hopes of trading, doing damage, or at least getting her off the board. She got hit with a Slimebind, making all three impossible.

Everything could block her safely while keeping her alive, and my opponent realized she had become a liability.

Meanwhile, my opponent played a Chillbringer, and I could do nothing about it. Three points of damage every turn while that Flames of the Raze-Boar sat in my hand. They also had dominance of the board with two Gatebreaker Rams that were 7/7 at the time, meaning even my riot Gruul creatures could not get through. Rubblebelt Recluse was swatted aside like a fly, and my Ravager Wurm never came down.

I almost got through their defenses with my Immolation Shaman, thanks to Nikya allowing it to get pumped up to a 9/12 menace, but it got immediately bounced back to my hand.

In the end, my luck ran out with Nikya, and hindsight tells me I should have run the Biogenic Upgrade, which would have easily made my creatures bigger than my opponent’s while my Flame of the Raze-Boar could have killed his Chillbringer and a few other defenders along with it. Nikya did nothing to help me, only hurt me, hence the title of our article today.

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Still, Gruul itself is amazing. I won every game where I played a Zhur-Taa Goblin on turn-2 making it a superstar in the deck. Axebane Beast also felt great because my opponent would often kill a Zhur-Taa Goblin on their third or fourth turn with a removal spell, only to be met with an even bigger creature the next! Rubblebelt Recluse is everything you want in an aggressive and big Red creature, and it closed out more games than the Ravager Wurm.

I also used my free draft code I got from the pre-release for Magic Arena that night and drafted a Gruul deck that went the distance, winning every game. It’s clearly one of the more powerful Guilds in the set, and from what I can tell, only Simic has a chance of keeping up. That’s not from my personal experience, that’s just what I’ve seen around the net so far.

I already like Ravnica Allegiance more than I like Guilds of Ravnica. The abilities of the clans are both more interesting and more powerful, and they syngerize nicely with one another. Can’t wait to play it more.

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