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February 7, 2013

23

Gatecrash: Gruul Goliaths Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

As we’ve seen both in Gatecrash as well as Return to Ravnica, Wizards felt in some cases that designing new mechanics for the guilds was a chance to do justice to some that may have gotten the short shrift in the first go-around. While there were some obvious hits, such as convoke for the Selesnya and replicate for the Izzet, there were also some that fell somewhat short of ambition. The Azorius Senate’s forecast was deliberately underpowered, the Golgari’s dredge was dancing on the line between fair and broken, and radiance for the Boros was “the big miss of Ravnica block” according to Mark Rosewater. But guild mechanics weren’t the only things getting a second chance.

Just like mechanics, not all Theme Decks were created equal. Azorius Ascendant and Code of the Orzhov were the block’s runaway hits. Meanwhile, the hapless Gruul Wilding and Rakdos Bloodsport languished in the basement, a victim of their own poor design. Though we enjoyed the evocative hellbent mechanic, the Rakdos were saddled with poor card choices that ran counter to the aggro deck it wanted to be (hello, Torpid Moloch). Meanwhile, the Gruul tried to be all things to all people, lumping together elements of three different archtypes- auras, bloodthirst, and fatties. It was a hodgepodge mishmash, and in the end earned them a well-deserved spot at the bottom of the list.

This time around, though, the Gruul seem to have rediscovered what makes them one of the most ferocious and fearsome guilds in all of Ravnica. Bloodthirst was a very strong and well-balanced mechanic, such that it was picked to return in Magic 2012, but it was the deck that let them down. This time they’re back with bloodrush, a mechanic which- like bloodthirst- directly rewards an attack-minded strategy. By turning certain creatures into potential combat tricks, an opponent must be on their toes at all times when assigning blockers, knowing that the deck has far more than a couple of Giant Growths to protect its creatures.

Unlike some of the new guild mechanics which were largely selected early in design thanks to the fruits of the Great Designer Search 2, bloodrush was a later creation. Initial designs tended to center around the fighting mechanic, pitting a creature against an opponent’s. As related by Rosewater, the first version of this was called rowdy, and triggered whenever a creature with the ability dealt combat damage to an opponent. That creature could then get into a fight with an opposing creature, giving the Gruul a certain ‘saboteur’ character. This proved problematic for a number of reasons, not least because it was too powerful an ability to be granted to common cards.

The next iteration was “kickboxing,” a variation on the kicker mechanic used in Invasion and Zendikar. With kickboxing, a creature could be summoned with an additional cost, and doing so allowed it to fight another creature straightaway. This still didn’t address the issue of cards at common rarity, for as Rosewater has often stated, “if your theme isn’t at common, it isn’t your theme.” Development challenged design to create something that didn’t involve fighting, and a sub-team was created to deep dive into creating a flavourful mechanic for the Gruul. The result was bloodrush. 

Gruul Goliaths is an attack-minded deck designed to take advantage of this new mechanic. Can it redeem them from the failure that was Gruul Wilding?

Another Riot

Gruul Goliaths Scorecard

The deck begins with a singleton Arbor Elf, an extra dose of mana ramping in a deck that has a few options for this- and, judging by the mana curve above, can make good use of every last one. It’s a bit of an odd inclusion as a singleton, as this is a card you usually want to see early rather than late. Still, even then it’s welcome (four 5-drops, four 6-drops, two 7-drops, and an X-spell). You also have a Foundry Street Denizen, a small creature that carries a power buff every time you play a Red creature. Although many of the deck’s creatures combine Red and Green and thus trigger the buff, a full nine of the deck’s twenty-four beaters are mono-Green. Taking on-board as well the deck’s steep creature pricetag, and you won’t often see the Denizen rise to great heights- this simply isn’t the deck to help him reach his lofty potential.

Moving to the two-drops, we begin with a pair of Disciples of the Old Ways. A strictly-better Grizzly Bears, these are an on-curve body that have the option for first strike. It’s the kind of ability that’s almost as effective in its potential as in its actual activation, since with a Mountain up your opponent will have to assume you’ll do so when running the mental math on the profitability of any attack. Next up is the Skarrg Guildmage, the Gruul entry in this very useful cycle. Like many, the Guildmage’s abilities synergise with another, turning one of your lands into a 4/4 beater for three mana, and giving all of your creatures trample for two. Both are valuable, with the latter all the moreso given the nature of the deck. Thanks to bloodrush, your creatures can get sizable in a hurry, but for the most part they’re spent once they run into one of your opponent’s creatures. Thanks to trample, every bit of extra damage will be put to proper purpose.

The last two-drop on offer here is in fact the deck’s first bloodrush creature, the Skinbrand Goblin. If the Disciples trump the Grizzly Bears, these Goblins are a step up from the classic Goblin Piker. The bloodrush bonus isn’t much, being +2/+1, but it will certainly increase in value later in the game, when having another 2/1 body is less appealing. Moving up to the three-drops, we find our next such offering, Slaughterhorn. For one mana more- and a shift in the colour pie- we find a creature one rank up in power and toughness. For added volume and efficiency, we also have a pair of Centaur Coursers here, vanilla 3/3’s.  They’re not the sexiest of cards, but they are the most solid bodies in the deck thus far for sheer efficiency.

The four-drops are where things start to get really interesting, because for the first time we find bloodrush creatures that give more than just a static stats boost. The Viashino Shanktail, for instance, conveys +3/+1 and first strike, taking it beyond mere combat trick and putting it firmly in the realm of ersatz removal. The deck gives you a pair of them. In addition, the Ghor-Clan Rampager is a delightfully-efficient beater that can boost a creature +4/+4 and trample. Naturally, both are very solid here when cast as creatures as well, as they put any bloodrushes you endow them with to good use for the same reason that they make good bloodrushers to begin with.

Somewhat less sexy is the Scab-Clan Charger. A 2/4 is a typically defensive-minded body, while the Gruul’s strategy is predicated on relentless attacking, using bloodrush to overcome any and all obstacles. This means it’s not a particularly intimidating offensive threat, but it can shore up the back-line while your better attacking options put in a few shifts. The hefty toughness boost also can greatly add to the survivability of an attacker n the red zone. Finally, we find a Primal Huntbeast, an addition from Magic 2013. The Huntbeast is a 3/3 with hexproof, which protects it against one of the inherent weaknesses of combat tricks or enchantments. Bloodrush is great for pumping up a beater, but a removal spell in response can end up two-for-one’ing you, putting you behind in cards to no appreciable benefit. It’s a risk you’ll always have to run in this deck, but at least with the Primal Huntbeast you can avoid that sort of blowout. 

Gruul Guildgate

Gruul Guildgate

The top of the deck’s mana curve contains the lion’s share of Gruul muscle, with a number of very robust- if pricey- options for inflicting grievous bodily harm upon your opponent’s life counter. The Fire Elemental is a card from the very dawn of the game, but has gone for a long span of time without reprinting. Now it’s back in Magic 2013, and is a nearly on-curve option for Red as a five-mana 5/4. It brings nothing else to the table, but is a very sturdy option. Take out a Red mana and stick in a Green, and you end up with the Zhur-Taa Swine. Also a 5/4, the Swine comes equipped with bloodrush, providing one of your creatures with a seismic boost for only three mana.

Not enough? Let’s throw another mana into the mix and see what we get. First is a pair of Ruination Wurms. These six-mana bruisers are plain vanilla, letting their intimidating power and toughness do their speaking for them. A Ripscale Predator is slightly smaller (though still a nasty 6/5), but makes up the difference by being much harder to block. The Predator is chumpable, but to stop it your opponent is going to need to offer up two or more creatures.

Finally, the deck’s foil premium rare appears here as the Rubblehulk. The Rubblehulk’s power and toughness are derived by the number of lands you control, which means that it will most often be a 6/6 when summoned (though it can potentially be as small as a 3/3). Notably, its bloodrush costs the same as the Zhur-Taa Swine for approximately the same boost, but the Swine’s is static while the Rubblehulk’s gets bigger as the game goes long. This makes its bloodrush ability not unlike a direct damage X-spell, and can finish off a wounded opponent on its own.

The last two creatures here cost a hefty seven mana: Gruul Ragebeast and Duskdale Wurm. The Duskdale Wurm costs one more mana than the Ruination one, and all you get for the extra mana is an extra point of toughness. Given the amount of time it can take to hit that seventh land drop, in most cases you’ll simply be better off running Ruinations over Duskdales, but this being preconstructed you have to make the most of what you get. More encouraging is the 6/6 Gruul Ragebeast, which can provide a trmeendous amount of value as your creatures can fight your opponent’s as they enter the battlefield, winnowing away at the weaker ranks of the opposing army. It also effectively turns each of your creature spells into removal, and is a worthy inclusion as the deck’s second rare.

Perilous and Unpredictable

With so much of the deck given over to creatures, there’s only a little bit of room left to go around for the noncreature support suite. Traditionally Red/Green beatdown decks will have a fair sampling of combat tricks, but as you might expect given that that base is well covered by bloodrush there are none to be found here. Instead, we get a small removal suite, some ramp, a creature augment, and- perhaps surprisingly- some lifegain.

The ramp comes in the form of a pair of Gruul Keyrunes, which double as extra 2/2 bodies with trample. Thanks to bloodrush these are especially relevant in a way that most Keyrune bodies aren’t, with the possible exceptions of evasive models like the Azorius and Dimir. In addition, there’s a copy of Ranger’s Path. While expensive at four mana, it does offer you the gift of two Forests, which can accelerate you right to the top of your mana curve at a stroke. Just as in Return to Ravnica, there’s a cycle of land enchantments in Gatecrash as well, and the Green one- Verdant Haven– is included here. Essentially a Fertile Ground that gives you 2 life in return for costing one mana more, this isn;t a card you’ll always feel great about playing on turn three when you’d rather be summoning creatures, but it’s worth noting that the deck has few three-drop creatures to begin with. A turn-4 Zhur-Taa Swine is a lovely thing.

For removal, you have a few cards that are either slow or conditional. Ground Assault can deal massive damage for only two mana, though it’s better later in the game and at sorcery speed. It’s also restricted to a creature, so you can’t hammer your opponent with it. Pit Fight is an instant-speed version of Innistrad/Magic 2013’s Prey Upon, costing one more mana. Interestingly, the restriction that the second creature must be one that you control is lifted on Pit Fight, opening the door to having two of your own creatures fight one another. Why you would want to do this in Gruul Goliaths is beyond us, but certainly there are a few Johnnies out there who might find some way to put that to use. Finally, a Volcanic Geyser offers a torrent of instant-speed damage that can rain down on a creature or an opponent, which is very welcome. The Gruul are all about the red zone, but having the reach of a finishing spell is never unwelcome.

Alpha Authority

Alpha Authority

The last two cards are a pair of miscellaneous effects. There’s a pure lifegain card in Predator’s Rapport, which will always be hit and miss. Certainly given the size of some of the deck’s creatures this can give you a ton of life, but like all lifegain cards it does nothing to change the board state of the game, and is close to a dead draw when you’re ahead of the game. There surely exists somewhere some relative point where a dedicated lifegain card would be snap playable. Who wouldn’t play a three-mana sorcery that said, You gain 100 life? On the other end of the spectrum would be Healing Salve without the damage-prevention effect, a simple lifegain card that would be virtually unplayable given the small return. Although Predator’s Rapport is closer to the latter over the former, there will be times that this thing steals a game for you if you’ve managed, say, a Duskdale Wurm. 

Finally, there’s Alpha Authority. An unusual creature aura, the card offers a pair of augments that wouldn’t ordinarily be worth a card on their own- though even together are perhaps a little suspect. The first ability makes your creature hexproof, which conveys the benefits discussed above with the Primal Huntbeast. The other ability is a touch more intriguing- it makes your creature unable to be gang-blocked. That boils each attack into a one-on-one contest, which you should have the edge in considering how many combat tricks your bloodrush cards give you access to. Overall, it helps reinforce the notion that blocking any Gruul is a dangerous and unpredictable thing.

As with the other decks, you do get a Guildgate here as well. Next time, we’ll be giving the Gruul a run through their paces, to see how the deck plays itself out. See you then!

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23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Morten Dall
    Feb 7 2013

    Again, I must say that while lifegain does not advance your board stance, there are still times when I’m happy to see it. Especially in situations where early assaults have brought you close to burn range. This could easily be done by a Boros or Azorius player. Then you can stabilize safely at 8 life by playing a Predator’s rapport, rather than being stuck on dangerously low 3 life. Of course this requires you to have a suitable defense to hide behind, but I still see a spot for it.

    Reply
    • Feb 7 2013

      Morten, I totally understand where you’re coming from, and you’re absolutely right- there will be circumstances where just a little more life can buy you the time you need to win the game. What I ask myself, though, are two questions.

      First, how often do those situations arise? I have to think that if I’m consistently letting my opponent drop me into burn range, maybe there are other, better opportunities to improve the deck so that happens less.

      Second, in tight situations, which am I going to want to draw more often: Predator’s Rapport, or Volcanic Geyser? We’ve looked at a scenario whereby Predator’s Rapport buys you a little extra time to win the game, and the other hypothetical scenario would be you draw a burn spell, alpha strike your opponent with everything then burn them out for the win.

      Both of these are hypothetical, and it’s hard to say which one happens more often (that depends in part on the deck). But… let’s say most games neither of these specific scenarios occur, which of the two options is more helpful, more often? I’ve rarely been frustrated at drawing removal, but I’ve certainly been so to draw lifegain. I’ve even been relieved to draw lifegain, only to go on and die one turn later when nothing else changed except for my life total (temporarily).

      This is absoslutely not to say you’re wrong- one of the phrases I love in Magic is “your mileage may vary,” it’s such a big game that there’s room for lots of different choices and preferences. But that’s the root of my own personal disregard for it. In my experience, lifegain is generally good in four different scenarios:

      1. Incidental lifegain. This is where the card is doing more than just gaining you life, like a Lightning Helix or Venerable Monk

      2. Targeted lifegain. This is a meta call, using it only in the right matchup (you might call this the ‘sideboard option,’ present in cards like Kor Firewalker). That right matchup is usually against RDW or other fast damage/aggro

      3. Combo lifegain. There are decks that gain a ton of life not for its own sake, but for what that life does for them. Like a big, fat Avatar from an Ajani Goldmane planeswalker, or to win a game through a Felidar Sovereign, etc.

      4. The lifegain is so huge, that its worth running the risk of a dead card in other matchups. Gnaw to the Bone is like this in dedicated self-mill decks, not least because you can cast it twice with flashback

      For me, Predator’s Rapport falls into none of these categories (except mayyybe #4), and as a singleton even in its own deck it’s inconsistent.

      Reply
      • Feb 7 2013

        In the Selesnya deck, the life gain was used as a buffer against more aggressive decks in order to buy time to get the populate engine churning out card advantage. I’d imagine that the same reasoning applies here (since the deck has its fair share of beefy high-end beaters), but with the right curve you’re so aggressive, and with so few life gain cards in the deck, that I can hardly imagine it mattering.

        Reply
  2. Lee
    Feb 7 2013

    I agree with lifegain feeling like a wasted card. If you are winning all it does is slow you down. If you are losing it slows down you defeat but doesn’t help unless you are in the position where buying time is what you need. In that case having one card in the deck means you can never reliably draw it in that few turns you need it.

    Not too sure about bloodlust as it feels like even in a best case senario you are trading a 1 for 1. Obvious strategic used ignored of course 😛

    Reply
  3. Matt
    Feb 7 2013

    I’ve known the horrible wrath of this deck at the hands of Jay. I can say this deck is awesome! With the pit fight ability, you can damage target creatures directly like in Pokemon. Not that I know much about Pokemon… I’ll shut up now.

    Reply
  4. Jason
    Feb 7 2013

    The Duskdale Wurm does have trample as well as an additional toughness from the Ruination Wurm, which makes the one mana increase in price between the two worth it to me

    Reply
  5. Varo
    Feb 7 2013

    This deck is solid, and it will perform well, i’m pretty sure of it. After experiencing bloodrush, i can say that it is one of the best mechanics from this set, and one that makes matches more enjoyable, at least for me.

    I won’t enter the discussion about the lifegain card, but c’mon, there are decks worse than this, you can’t complain when they slip a lifegain card to showcase green signature effects.

    Reply
  6. Limbonic_art
    Feb 7 2013

    I want to say that the list itself looks more impressive, curve-wise than its predecessor. However, I still feel that the deck should have had a few more two and three drops, especially more bloodrush ones. Gruul can try to stall the early game with a few 2 and 3 drop creatures so that boros doesn’t just stream roll unopposed. Overall I think the main diffrence this deck has over the guildpact one is individual creature quality. Many cards are efficient for their cost, although you are already paying for the added bloodrush versatility. The problem with Gruul Wilding was that it lacked enough small evasive critters and you were often forced to play un-bloodthirsted creatures so that you could eventually pay your top-of-curve creatures with bloodthirst bonus. This deck does not have that inefficiency dilema due to being a much more focused strategy, but it greatly forgoes the early and mid game for the late game comeback. It isn’t really until the four drops that the curve begins to shine, and there will be many games were the first creature lands until turn 4 due to being so few below it. I would have loved to see an almost enchantment, sorcery and instantless deck with the added benefit of bloodrush fulfilling this role. One problem I see is ramp is too little, but it could be part of the balance given to the deck. Overall it seems like the developers put some breaks into the intro pack when comparing sealed pools of Gruul or even gruul drafts, as then the player can place more critters into the 2 and 3-drop slots to make it more mid-rangey.

    Reply
  7. So what happens when you stick an Alpha Authority on a Ripscale Predator?

    Reply
    • Feb 7 2013

      Something beautiful.

      (can’t be blocked)

      Reply
  8. Chris X
    Feb 7 2013

    I went Gruul at prerelease expecting it to be aaaaaammmaaaazzzzing. Sadly I was disappointed, but I do think a deck built around bloodrush can still be really good, I would love to see how this deck preforms.

    Reply
  9. Feb 7 2013

    Hummmm, we’ll have to see how this one does. So far, the only one that’s impressed me is the Boros one, and I’m hoping this will at least be decent.

    I’m not a huge fan of all the alliterative names, but I have to say I enjoy this one.

    Reply
  10. necrotyr
    Feb 8 2013

    I’m keen to see how this one plays out as well. When I first read about bloodrush I thought it was a very simple mechanic, but a very very strong one. Transforming all your creatures into strange versions of giant growths seemed great to me, but I suppose that decision of a new permanent creature vs spending all that mana on beefing up your creature once can be a tough one at times.

    Reply
  11. TheB00kah
    Feb 8 2013

    Who will be Gruuls opponent for the match?

    Simic has some early creatures that will grow over time, the question is if they are able to grow fast enough to compete with Gruul.

    The only noteworthy creatures Dimir has to offer cost about 3 Mana. So I Dimir will be no challenge for them.

    Boros has had two appearances allready. Boros VS Orzhov and Dimir VS Boros. So it is quit unlikely that we will Gruul VS Boros.

    Orzhov VS Gruul could be quit interessting. If Orzhov can assemble enough permanents with Extort they could be able to win. At least I hope so, as this could be the most exciting match up for Gruul in my oppinion.

    Reply
  12. Jacopo Sassi
    Feb 9 2013

    The deck as a balanced curve, a bit of ramp and some removal, so it’s definitely an improvement from its previous iteration. That being said, it is highly inconsistent, boasting the largest 1-of number of the 5 precons(and no 3-of, unlike the other decks!), and some choices are really underwhelming(only one Rampager and Slaughterhorn against two fire elementals? That’s a really poor design choices)

    Reply
  13. alza6991
    Feb 9 2013

    I really like this, it reminds me of the M12 Intro Pack: Stampede of Beasts (essentially big stompy creatures). The size of these creatures alone is impressive, and when you how much removal you are given, it is really pleasant.
    With this sort of deck it isn’t right to complain about removal (or the lack of it) because the goal of this deck is to get out and deal direct damage.

    Reply
  14. Emanuele Galletto
    Feb 10 2013

    Ripscale predator + Alpha Autority looks kinda nasty as an intro pack combo 😀
    Glad that Gruuls got the deck they deserved, finally!

    Reply
  15. outhouseinferno
    Feb 10 2013

    Predator’s Rapport was pretty good to me at least in the prerelease, even as the 2nd fastest guild in Gatecrash it’s still a slow second to Boros, and those were everywhere. That big chunk of life helped stabilize, no other guild had as big creatures as well. My friend went from 4 to 20 life thanks to a big Rubblehulk, and Rapport does have synergy with bloodrush.

    Gruul this time around is a big improvement over the old one powerwise.

    Reply
  16. Zack
    Feb 12 2013

    I can imagine this deck being just brutal. My first ever Magic deck was Red and Green, and ever since my favourite strategy has been pairing mana ramp with huge beaters… Hello, Rubble Hulk!

    Reply
  17. mcc1701
    Feb 14 2013

    Quite a few typos there. You said bloodlust instead of bloodrush.

    The one thing this deck needs is evasion. The trample is great, but smite will ruin bloodrush.

    Reply
    • Feb 14 2013

      Whoops! Thanks for the head’s-up, fixed ’em.

      Reply
  18. Gabriel
    Feb 14 2013

    Knowing myself is good. Knowing my enemy is better.

    Reply
  19. Keryn
    Mar 3 2013

    Duskdale is a bit overrated. Though i got a Gaint Adephage in a booster. same mana cost, same power, and trample, with the added advantage of creating a token copy of itself on damage to a player.

    Reply

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