So, from the title, you were no doubt expecting pithy puns about uninvited guests showing up at parties, and such, yes? Well, sorry to disappoint, but I will forgo such obvious devices and move straight into a look at the latest expansion pack from Wizards of the Coast. Gatecrash is the second (of three) expansions in the Return to Ravnica block. Unusually for its placement within the block, it is a large expansion (of 249 cards), and unusually for a large expansion it features no basic lands – which is great, as it means more slots for “real” cards! In addition to “unaligned” cards belonging to none of the Ravnica guilds, this expansion proffers up arsenals for the following five guilds: Boros Legion (red and white), House Dimir (blue and black), Gruul Clans (red and green), Orzhov Syndicate (black and white, and my personal favourite, which got me into national try-outs a few years ago), and Simic Combine (blue and green). Each of these has its own game mechanic/theme…
Boros: Battalion – bonuses granted for attacking with three or more creatures, as is common for a weenie-horde; also, abilities that grant weenie tokens.
Dimir: Cipher – imbuing creatures with abilities from spell cards; also, Dimir’s signature library grinding and milling abilities.
Gruul: Bloodrush – discarded creature cards temporarily infuse in-play creatures; also, abilities proportional to number of lands controlled.
Orzhov: Extort – additional mana spent on spells drains life from each opponent; also, additional bleeding abilities, and graveyard retrieval abilities.
Simic: Evolve – creatures get stronger when stronger creatures are brought in by their Simic controller; also, various abilities generating or harnessing +1/+1 counters.
This completes the guild line-up (with the other five having been reintroduced in Return to Ravnica), so presumably the third and final expansion in the block will either (and most likely) contain additional cards to deepen these guilds, or (less likely – pure speculation, even!) introduce three-colour guilds or some other new angle.
As has been the custom lately, new event decks accompanied the release of the expansion, and the two currently featured are the Boros Rally and Rout, and the Simic Thrive and Thrash. I am very sad that Orzhov and Dimir have received no love as yet. In both cases, the commons and uncommons are very well focused, and quite synergistic, while the rares are an eclectic mix of synergistic but unfocused cards that suggest possible options for “after-market” tuning and focusing. Both of these decks are quite strong, and can serve as excellent examples of basic deck contruction for novices. Let’s take a look at these offerings:
Rally and Rout: The Boros deck is extremely creature-aggressive, as is normal for the Legion. It hits the ground running, featuring powerful game openers at the 1-mana point of the mana curve, as well as some enablers that power up weenies in the later game, making them worth bringing out at any stage of the game. Of course, the Battalion game mechanic enhances this, further buffing attackers when they go to war three or more at a time. As well as the creature aggro, the deck also features a decent amount of control, especially in the sideboard, including the very powerful Electrickery, which can clear enemy weenies, Oblivion Ring for exiling troublesome permanents (including big creatures), Skullcrack for killing creatures that come back from the dead, and Bonds of Faith to either buff your own creature or disable an opponent’s one (excellent versatility, here!)
Thrive and Thrash: This Simic deck is a curious mix of accelerated mana (typical of green, of course), control (mostly in the sideboard, as a combination of counterspells and off-colour damage spells), card draw, flash creatures, and really big nasties with abilities. There’s a strong theme of “comes-into-play” abilities, which make the creatures serve double-duty, both as troops and as once-off or repeated spells. Although the evolution and +1/+1 counter mechanics of Simic are oddly not used here, this deck can be quite intimidating.