Welcome back, Arena grinders!
The dust may have barely settled on my first Guild Build article, buuuuut I just couldn’t stay away for long. Those Wizards of the Coast have been working overtime in the spoiler factory, cranking out some primo cards that are crying out for some experimental brews to play them.
And oh, we are definitely headed to the laboratory this time! Just as my first article showed off what the new Orzhov cards can do in Arena’s Ranked Play, this time we will be focusing our efforts on the Simic Combine!
Biovisionaries or Mad Scientists? YOU Decide!
The slimy biomancers are definitely one of the most polarising Ravnica guilds among the fanbase. For a start, the guild is 50% blue, which is already the most divisive colour to be playing. Their stated philosophy is all about creative experimentation, a desire to grow physically and mentally, an openness to new ideas and results-focused thinking; ideas which outside the game, many Magic players probably sympathise with. They certainly seem more relateable than the murderous Rakdos or amoral Orzhov. Yet, they were the ultimate villains of the first Ravnica block. The ordinary folk of the town fear them as crazed mutant makers, detached from reality.
When it comes to card design, the guild has maybe the strongest mechanical identity, beyond even the Orzhov’s obsession with life drain. +1/+1 counters have been the Simic’s stock-in-trade since 2004, and while Graft, Evolve, and now Adapt are each interesting keywords, some UG aficionados have expressed their disappointment that such a versatile and creative guild is still hung up on the same ideas 3 blocks later.
For those who haven’t gotten all oozy with the Simic yet, “Adapt X” is an ability which allows a creature to have X +1/+1 counters placed on it, so long as it currently has no such counters. The cost to Adapt varies by creature, most being around 3-4 mana. If you’ve played with the Monstrous cards from Theros block, this mechanic will feel very familiar.
While Adapt is already shaping up as a fantastic Limited mechanic, here in the Constructed end of the Breeding Pool I think the most interesting part of these cards is the triggered abilities on some of the uncommons and rares. Nominally designed to reward you for paying to Adapt by letting you loot or tap down a creature, the Standard format gives us some far more efficient ways to slap counters on these creatures as needed. Some, like the briefly-played flip enchantment Hadana’s Climb, require us to look back to past sets. Others are sitting right here in RNA, requiring us only to peer over a neighbouring Guildgate…
See if you ask me, all these Simic cares-about-counters creatures need to do is get a little loose and boogie down to the Rhythm of the Wild! The new Gruul enchantment is outstanding in any creature-heavy deck, giving you incredibly valuable free Haste on all your attackers or extra +1/+1 counters when you need to play them 2nd main phase or outgrow a possible removal spell. And because instances of Riot stack, we can happily imagine scenarios where every creature we play comes down with permanent +3/+3 AND Haste!
Cards like Benthic Biomancer, Growth-Chamber Guardian and Herald of Secret Streams are so much easier to include when you can reliably access their abilities without an additional mana investment. Ranked Queue on Arena is chock-full of creature removal and sweeper effects to handle typical aggro decks. But with so many of our creatures able to both replace themselves and/or attack immediately thanks to Riot, we’re able to keep up a stream of pressure even through great adversity.
Several of our creatures are able to beef up and survive Deafening Clarion or Fiery Cannonade, so Izzet Drakes will have to try and race us in the air. Gruul Spellbreaker out of hand can be instant lights-out for a player who was relying on a big Settle the Wreckage. Hadana’s Climb may occupy a precarious position as the 5th and 6th 3-cost enchantments in a creature-based deck, but once it flips into Winged Temple of Orazca our poor, terrified opponent has to worry about even our smallest attackers barreling in for 5+ flying damage the turn they’re played, making it easier to play the long game.
In particular, a late game Kraul Harpooner can look like the most absurd 2-drop of all time as it comes down, kills a Doom Whisperer or Niv-Mizzet, then flies past the smoking corpse for lethal! Make sure you think about how you’re stacking abilities as it comes into play – depending on how large a flier you want to kill, you may want to allow the Undergrowth ability to resolve before activating Winged Temple for maximum combat damage, or you might respond to the Undergrowth trigger so your Harpooner is large enough to survive fighting a larger bomb. If you have any Rhythms in play you make your Riot choices before any of these other effects, opening up even more options – this becomes one of the most versatile creature-based plays you can make in Arena. The little bug just keeps on giving!
The other very notable new RNA card here is one of the Simic’s guild split cards, Incubation//Incongruity. As a beatdown deck which is devoting 6 slots to enchantments, we are very grateful to be slotting in a premium removal spell which can be spontaneously converted to another creature when we don’t need it. Giving our opponent a Frog Lizard is definitely a real drawback, but our creatures should be big or evasive enough to barrel past it. It’s also worth remembering that we really only cast the Incongruity side on threats which are a category more dangerous than a 3/3 token would be – roadblocks like Lyra come to mind.
Playing this many loot, cantrip and commune effects at once lets us include a few more situational creatures in quantities less than 4, hoping to select our way into the right ones for the matchup. Gruul Spellbreaker, as mentioned, is a great option against control – not only blanking Settle, but the Hexproof/Haste combo all but guarantee you a big Winged Temple hit.
Gruul Beastmaster is another way to push extra damage, with huge explosive potential should your opponent tap out for a turn. Herald of Secret Streams lets us push lethal past boards clogged with tokens, which will only be more common now with Afterlife cards and Hero of Precinct One.
Finally, Frilled Mystic is a card many people are very excited about. I can see why, but it feels a little expensive and reactive for this deck’s play patterns. I couldn’t resist including one, and it’s still far from bad. While you’re going to look very suspicious holding up UUGG in a deck this aggressive, with our other creatures providing a clock our opponents can hardly afford to be keeping back their key spells. The Lizard Wizard then becomes more of a tempo play, eating the card your opponent tries to stabilise with before helping us slam the door on our next attack.
If the meta online is slower at your rank, I could easily see the potential to fill a few more slots with Mystics. I could also see a more consistent list replacing the Beastmasters with more Spellbreakers, Llanowar Elves coming in as a 1 drop, or even a full Merfolk Tribal build. Experiment a little on your own – the Simic’s strength comes from their diversity, after all.
As promised, my look at each guild’s new Ravnica Allegiance cards will also speculate on how they might impact older, paper-only formats. In this case, one of the most prominent and interesting decks currently in the Modern format – Amulet Titan!
This deck is tough to summarise as it includes some totally unique cards, but the key piece here is Amulet of Vigor. This unassuming artifact massively increases the value of the other namesake card Primeval Titan (since we can use the lands from its triggers immediately). But it’s also part of a sort-of-combo with cards that give us bonus land drops and the “bounce lands” from the original Ravnica block.
1. The Amulet triggers to untap the bounce lands, making them produce 2 mana as soon as they are played.
2. Because each Amulet in play creates its own untap trigger, we can make 2 mana in between each one, giving us 2 mana per Amulet, per bounceland.
3. We can use the “return a land” trigger on the bounce lands to return that bounceland to our hand after getting mana from it, meaning every card which lets us play extra lands is generating 2-8 mana.
We use this obnoxious amount of mana to cast our Primeval Titans as well as other absurdly large things. The deck has perhaps the most glorious land base this side of legacy, running tons of unique effects the Titan can tutor up for us.
The important cards added here are Growth Spiral and the other new Simic split card, Repudiate//Replicate. Growth Spiral is a standout option for a deck that was already dabbling in instant speed interaction and Explore effects. Even just the fringe case of being able to put a Bojuka Bog trigger on the stack at instant speed makes me feel happy inside.
Repudiate//Replicate offers the deck a new luxury from each of its sides. Being able to slam Replicate is situationally great; you can get extra land drops through a copied Wayward Swordtooth, make a new Azusa in response to removal targeting the original, or double up on Titans for an even faster kill. Repudiate is just some more “free” interaction from a deck building standpoint, with the added bonus of attacking from an angle Modern has long forgotten – it’s going to take people a while to start playing around Stifle. Oh, and you can use it in a pinch to counter “pay or lose” triggers from your Pacts!
While considering these RNA cards, it’s also worth acknowledging their valuable interactions with the hot new Titan tech which Dominic Harvey used to win an SCG Open recently. That version was playing a full 4 copies of Through the Breach to either power out a 20 damage turn from a slightly-modified Primeval Titan combo, or just drop in the classic Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
In a Breach build, Growth Spiral can be used to put down a Gruul Turf and generate Through the Breach mana at instant speed when your opponent least expects it. Repudiate also gains the mode of countering the sacrifice trigger on your Breached-in creature if the first attack isn’t game ending, although in some cases cloning your Titan or Hornet Queen is still better.
NEXT EPISODE: OPERA IN LEATHERS
Well, that’s 2 out of 5 Ravnica Allegiance guilds with plans sketched out ready for their FNM and Arena debuts. Next time we look at how things are shaping up for the Rakdos as the format starts to solidify, and revisit a perennial Modern favourite in the wake of the KCI banning.