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INTO THE ARENA: Building the Guilds, Pt.1

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Jan
18

It’s a brave new world for Magic.

Millions of games are being played round the clock on MTG Arena, giving us Standard and Limited formats that move faster than ever before! With so many spells being slung around Arena, it helps to have an extra set of eyes to watch for the juicy stuff – that’s where I come in. I’m TheWanderingBard; Into The Arena will bring you my perspective on MTGA as a player and tournament commentator. I’m looking forward to it.

 

First up, it’s the dawn of a new set, and the Arena world has joined the broader Magic community in the grips of RAVNICA FEVER! The plane-spanning magic metropolis has become possibly the most popular setting in MtG, and as another set full of shocklands and multicoloured bombs every player has cause to get pumped up for Ravnica Allegiance. If your favourite guild is one of the five featured in Ravnica Allegiance, you’re probably already swooning at the thought of all the sweet new options which have been unveiled.

Into the Arena will be brainstorming some of the new decks we can build around RNA cards, so you have lists ready to ueue for matchmaking as soon as you crack your packs! Kicking things off in our Guild Builds will be my own favourite team in the RavnicaBowl – those ectoplasmic plutocrats, the Orzhov!

 

"Karlov of the Ghost Council" - Volkan Baga
Afterlife Goals

The specific new hotness with RNA’s Orzhov cards is Afterlife. Creatures with this ability continue to pay their dues in death, by bursting into a cloud of flying Spirit tokens. While most of the base creatures seem like low value for their casting cost, that’s because you aren’t thinking of them like the Orzhov do.

 

Creatures like Ministrant of Obligation are just expendable, fleshy wrappers for the real ghostly goodness that’s inside! A true patrician of the Church will find ways to get value out of every part of the package when building their Afterlife-themed deck…

 

While we can’t really brew around hypothetical cards, there’s already plenty going on down at the Orzhov Basilica. My gut feeling is there’s a very nice tokens-and-sacrifice aggro deck lurking in the format. We even got a Cartel Aristocrat lookalike printed in the form of Pitiless Pontiff! But until we see more play from the format, I’m looking to take the guild in a different direction – and I’m taking my inspiration from its newest 3 mana planeswalker.

 
"Ethereal Absolution" - Eric Deschamps

The New Girl In Town

From very early on after the announcement of Ravnica Allegiance, I assumed we’d be getting a new WB planeswalker card. Kaya, an assassin of ghosts, was the natural choice – she seemed like the ultimate secret weapon for best-girl Teysa in her ongoing feud with the Obzedat. Sure enough, Kaya appears in RNA as the new Bolas-backed leader of the Orzhov guild, although her new card is not as directly powerful as some of the other planeswalkers currently in Standard.

 

It’s hard for a 3 mana planeswalker to be bad, but Kaya has some significant weak spots compared to multiformat allstars like Dack and Liliana. To start with, most walkers which have succeeded in constructed either protect themselves or generate card advantage on the turn they come down.

 

 

Asking yourself “how much can this walker do with one activation should the opponent immediately kill it” shows Kaya’s floor as a card is quite low. If WotC printed a 3 mana sorcery which let you cast one of her first 2 abilities, I wouldn’t be looking at it for Standard. Therefore, playing Kaya means thinking seriously about how you can get her past that first untap step.

Casting Kaya on turn 3 against any creature deck seems like a huge liability, and even in the later game she’s more of a narrow utility card which demands protection from your opponent’s forces. Her ultimate is easier to get off than some, but I also can’t see it winning games on its own. However, there are a good number of exiling removal spells in the format, as well as threats like Phoenixes which reward you extra for packing them. How much work can the new leader of Orzhova do if we lean into her style of assassination?

 

THE LEADER IN EXILE

As you read, remember! This and some other decks featured on Into The Arena are optimised for Best-of-1 ladder play on MTGA. The 26 lands are to get the desired spread of opening hands from the Bo1 shuffler, and the deck features a wider variety of cards to have answers for many different strategies without needing a sideboard.

I arrived at this deck by blending some of the new Orzhov cards into an already successful Arena laddering list; it’s based off a creatureless control deck by user Ain on AetherHub.com. I’ve been playing my own version for a week or so and finding it has a gameplan which sneaks by most of Arena’s popular strategies. Try it out yourselves!

As an Orzhov deck, it can only get stronger with the injection of black-white cards in RNA, and we’ve used them to emphasise the exiling subtheme which was already somewhat present in the list.

 

The already precise spread of sweepers gets more powerful. Cry of the Carnarium is a straight upgrade to Golden Demise in our creatureless list, and I would bet money that we’re sometimes happy to cast it as a 3 mana kicker cost that adds “Exile” to a Kaya’s Wrath or Cleansing Nova. Even in the early game, the exile clause makes the difference between stopping the charge of Hunted Witness and Tithe Taker, and dying to their leftover tokens.

 

Speaking of Kaya’s Wrath, it’s a delicious improvement over Ritual of Soot even without the lifegain, and we’ll still sometimes be drawing a card or two off it using Dawn of Hope for that real nice feeling. Cleansing Nova may not prove necessary, but if it kills even a single Lich’s Mastery player (or lets our key permanents out of Ixalan’s Binding jail) I feel it’s paid for itself.

 

A bigger shift from the original list is Phyrexian Scriptures. In this deck it’s almost a Cleansing Nova that goes off in our next upkeep, since we’ll rarely have a creature to benefit from the first “chapter”. But Kaya’s ultimate really wants us to be putting as many of our opponent’s cards into exile as we can, and this card is a less risky maindeck inclusion than something like Sentinel Totem that serves no purpose on its own.

In a deck with this much creature removal we can afford to cast Scriptures as our 2nd or 3rd wrath when we’re not under so much pressure, or just throw it out against control, as if to ask them: “are you really countering this???” . When our glorious leader shows up, she’ll thank us for doing all that exiling. 

Kaya herself pretty much comes down, upticks, then ultimates, possibly more than once. While we protect her quite well from creatures, she’s not so essential that we need to worry about exposing her to countermagic or removal. We can just go back to the original plan of tokens and lifegain.

 

The other card choices are more academic. Dawn of Hope, Fountain of Renewal, Arguel’s Blood Fast and Treasure Map are individually easy to get on the battlefield due to their cheap mana costs. Control players aren’t sure how important these are to our plan and will let them resolve more often than not. Once they do, the endless card draw from Dawn of Hope triggers and flipped Treasure Maps keep pulling us ahead until we can take over the match.

 

Duress is our trump card against control and combo; it’s not uncommon for me to wait until I have several Duress in hand to overload their mana/counters for the turn, then slap down an important permanent. Best-of-1 means that we have to play with these in our deck even against aggro, so remember to cast them ASAP if you see your opponent’s on Mono Red – at least that way you have a chance to throw away some burn spell before they shoot it at your face.

 

Ixalan’s Binding and Vraska’s Contempt snipe threats while building up exiled cards for Kaya’s ultimate. Part of me was tempted to jam in another new RNA card and swap Consecrate//Consume with the Contempts, but unless Phoenixes and Teferis start vanishing from the meta the flexibility and instant speed of Contempt are a core requirement.

 

The Immortal Sun, Divine Visitation and Profane Procession are silver bullets which go above and beyond against different decks. The Procession in particular is very good in lengthy control mirrors where our opponents try to play “hard-to-beat” threats like Chromium, Nezahal, or Niv-Mizzet + Dive Down. With the mana to activate this enchantment 2 or 3 times in a turn you can easily ignore or overwhelm these defenses and continue grinding your way to victory.

 

Divine Visitation is less narrow, mostly because 4/4 vigilant fliers are better than 1/1 lifelinkers. But the card especially shines when I come up against other clever spellslingers who have decided to game the Arena meta with creatureless strategies. These decks, like ours, tend to play tons of sweepers and other nasty effects like Thaumatic Compass. Increasing the efficiency of the mana we invest in making creatures by 300% swings these wars of attrition in our favour. Honestly, Visitation is a good enough closer it may end up being correct to play a 2nd copy.

 

I admit that The Immortal Sun is a trickier include in our Kaya-focused version, because our planeswalkers get turned off when it’s in play just as much as our opponent’s do, and we have no good way to remove it. Some Magic players don’t mind having these sorts of counterproductive “non-bos” in their deck so long as each card is good enough on its own. For those of you who just can’t stand it, you can get a similar token-buffing effect from the new enchantment Ethereal Absolution and card draw from Arguel’s Blood Fast.

HOWEVER, it is important to recognise how important the anti-planeswalker (and to a lesser degree, the extra draw) abilities of The Immortal Sun are against control and midrange decks. Our deck is already chock full of the best creature answers in standard, and even if you have a Contempt in hand and mana constantly up, a single activation from either Vraska, Vivien or Teferi can punch a hole in your pillowfort of permanents.

This is a good example of how you can be flexible with your ladder decks depending on what opponents are around. If your bracket is full of aggro decks, the second Visitation or Ethereal Absolution can replace The Immortal Sun. If the creatureless trend gets bigger, it could be worth including a couple of Never Happened over sweepers. Into The Arena encourages you to meddle with these Guild Build deck and change it to suit your own style and metagame. Let me know how you go in a comment!

 

BONUS BUILD: TEYSA’S MODERN MONUMARTYR

As a sweet little addendum to each of these Arena guild brews, I’ll be showing off some of the potential homes for these spoiler cards in older paper-only formats! Modern and Legacy let us set up synergies with our new toys that would never be available in Standard, so they’re worthwhile perspectives to keep in mind. First up, let’s harness the stickiness of our afterlife cards in a spicy Modern tokens list!

 

While the Orzhov in Ravnica Allegiance might be under fancy new management, there’s no getting away from how cool the original Teysa, Orzhov Scion is. Exiling removal is even more relevant in the current Modern metagame than in Standard, and in a deck with plenty of spare bodies Teysa can easily keep some decks off the table by herself. She also has a neat synergy with the new Afterlife cards, as the Spirit tokens they create are of the rare White-Black variety, allowing her “free” sacrifice activations.

 

The rest of the deck is designed to create a sticky board state of tokens and grind out the match. Martyr of Sands helps survive early aggression and powers up Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim (which is also a fine deathtouch blocker). Oketra’s Monument gives all our creatures a better rate and combos with Whitemane Lion like a reusable Secure the Wastes. We have a decent selection of threats to help finish the game if simply swarming over our opponent isn’t enough.

 

The sideboard is an attempt to disrupt the many dastardly things our opponents will try and do, because That’s Modern, Baby. As a slow, durdly deck we rely on crippling our opponents to get an edge after game 1, and the best way to do that is by slamming multiple different hate permanents back to back. Embrace it and enjoy smothering your opponent in the souls of your petitioners while they struggle to remove Stony Silence.

 

ON THE NEXT EPISODE: SLIME!

The guild-building continues with more Ravnica Allegiance spoiler cards in the next Into The Arena. This time, the Simic Combine! Can the genius of the biomancer’s invent a theme more interesting than +1/+1 counter decks? You and I will be finding out together! Until then, take care, and win at Magic.