Folks will descend on Cleveland this weekend to play a lot of Ravnica Allegiance Limited. There will be plenty of opportunities at the Mythic Championship and MagicFest Cleveland to draft this fun set. RNA has proven to be a deep format that rewards creativity.

Guild-based draft formats sometimes stifle creativity, forcing you to pick a guild and do what that guild does. RNA has a bit more flexibility. Partly that’s because of the strong gates-matter cards, which reward multicolor drafting—if you have two Gatebreaker Rams, Gates Ablaze, and twelve gates, you have a solid gameplan separate from all the guild shenanigans. But I’ve also found that guild can bleed together into new archetypes. Mardu control, blending grindy Orzhov cards with powerful Rakdos effects, has proven popular and effective. Temur seems better than straight Simic, and Jund works fine too. The format is slow enough that splashing a third color usually works.

Drafting the “hard way” (as Ben Stark calls it) works well in flexible formats. Basically, you want to stay open early in the draft, and then move into the archetype that is most open. The goal is to be rewarded with a sequence of powerful cards in pack three based on the cards that kept being passed to you in pack one. At the start of a draft, you favor cards that are either overpowered, flexible, or colorless.

In Ravnica Allegiance draft, my favorite non-rare first pick fits this strategy perfectly: Gate Colossus. It goes in any deck, encourages you to take gates early, and it universally strong in this slow format. The draft deck below started with Gate Colossus and three gates before Orzhov revealed itself as the correct guild for my seat.

Gates of Orzhov

Creatures (15)
Rakdos Trumpeter
Prowling Caracal
Impassioned Orator
Tenth District Veteran
Noxious Groodion
Vizkopa Vampire
Carrion Imp
Basilica Bell-Haunt
Catacomb Crocodile
Grasping Thrull
Archway Angel
Gate Colossus

Spells (8)
Kaya’s Wrath
Ill-Gotten Inheritance
Revival // Revenge
Consecrate // Consume
Undercity’s Embrace
Get the Point
Drill Bit
Orzhov Locket
Lands (17)
Gateway Plaza
Orzhov Guildgate
Rakdos Guildgate
Azorius Guildgate

Sideboard (15)
Plague Wight
Tenth District Veteran
Debtors’ Transport
Azorius Knight-Arbiter
Sphinx’s Insight
Sentinel’s Mark
Drill Bit
Cry of the Carnarium
Justiciar’s Portal
Arrester’s Admonition
Rubble Reading

You can definitely draft a better Orzhov deck than this, but it’s quite strong. A Syndicate Guildmage and some Imperious Oligarchs would be nice—in general the deck is low on Afterlife cards—but I was able to fill the early parts of the creature curve with tenth through fourteenth picks. When you’re looking to survive and trade often, that’s all you need. Vizkopa Vampire and Impassioned Orator do a great job at this.

I was hoping to play Esper but didn’t get enough blue cards to justify putting islands in the deck. Sphinx’s Insight is exactly what you want in a deck like this however, and can easily come in from the sideboard for control mirrors. Get the Point fit the manabase much more easily. I was honestly trying to draft a multicolor good-stuff deck, but my good picks in the final two packs were pretty much all Orzhov all the time. Kaya’s Wrath is a nice card to get passed, you know.

The deck played well. I was often able to play a normal game, trading off early while exhausting my opponent’s cards, all while sitting on Kaya’s Wrath to thwart their comeback attempt. Archway Angel doesn’t gain a ton of life in this deck, but the 3/4 fliers make solid finishers while supplementing the other incidental lifegain in the deck. And Gate Colossus continues to be a premier finisher that is hard to block and mostly pointless to kill.

Revival // Revenge fit this strategy well—I’d often look for places to use Revival to buy back a creature, but it always ended up being better to “change the clock” later in the game. Against a Rakdos deck, I was able to pop off Revenge at 23 life after trading off everything and taking no damage. I proceeded to draw five lands in a row, but 46 life buys a lot of time to draw action, which eventually I did and won. Revenge also helps win Orzhov mirrors, which can often end up in a strange stasis of each player draining the other of a few life a turn while generally staying at life total parity.

During Guilds of Ravnica, I really hated lockets. But in Ravnica Alleiance, they are great cards for slow decks. You really do want to ramp up to five or seven mana, and you really really want a free Divination after you run out of cards. You can even get away with playing two or maybe three lockets. That’s a sign of a fun format that supports all sorts of nonsense. Patient drafters can go to town.

I can’t wait to see what the pros get up to during the Mythic Championship in Cleveland. Stay open, my friends!

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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