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A First Glimpse at Return to Ravnica

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Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

A First Glimpse at Return to Ravnica

Summer is almost over and what that means in the Magic world is that the Core Set will soon cease to be the default limited block, as the big autumn block is going to descend on us. This time around, the new big set is going to be something a little special, something that many players are especially looking forward to with a great deal of anticipation. The first trip to Ravnica six years ago was a huge success and something that many players still remember as the „golden age“ of Magic, so expectations are high and one has been able to feel the tension for several months already.

One of the biggest questions had been if the Ravnica shock lands would be reprinted and many signs were showing that they would. Since this past weekend, we already know the answer, as the first batch of Ravnica goodies has been released at PAX Prime in Seattle, which is what I’m going to talk about today. We still don’t know what the rest of the set is going to look like, but we already know some 70 pieces from the 274-cards set (and the shock lands are among those), so making assumptions and wild guesses is starting to make more sense than a week ago.

So, as I’ve already said, the shock lands are back. The first set – Return to Ravnica – is apparently going to only contain five of the ten guilds (Golgari, Selesnya, Izzet, Azorius and Rakdos), so only duals from these five guilds will be present in Standard from the end of September, which is going to have a tremendous influence on which color combinations are available in Standard and which are not. The other five duals will likely join Standard with Gatecrash in February, but that’s still a long time from now.

When I said that there were many signs along the way pointing to the fact that Ravnica duals would be reprinted, I mostly meant cards from M13 that are going to get significantly better once players will have access to the shock lands. So which cards will benefit from the presence of the new duals the most?

Farseek seems to be one of the big winners, being miles better than your usual Rampant Growth when you have the chance to search up dual lands. Fetchlands aren’t available to turn colorscrew into something that only old people can remember from a distant past, so playing five colors won’t be „free“, but Farseek does seem like one of the best possible color fixing spells in a long time, giving you access to multiple colors at once and ramping you from two to four on the third turn. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the post-RtR green decks were playing more than two or even three colors.

Innistrad and M13 dual lands are other winners, cards that greatly benefit from the presence of shock lands in Standard. Ravnica duals are going to replace the Scars of Mirrodin dual lands, which were frequently played in tandem with the Innistrad and M13 duals, but this time, the number of situations when your duals have to come into play tapped is going to be way lower. Having a Glacial Fortress and a Seachrome Coast in your opening hand when you wanted to curve out from turn 1 was always an awkward experience, but having Hallowed Fountain + Glacial Fortress gives you a way faster start. The fact that you don’t need basics to „feed“ your M13 and Innistrad duals means that it will be easier to play three colors without having half of your lands come into play tapped all the time, which is going to smooth out the manabases of many decks.

Liliana of the Dark Realms searches for non-basic Swamps as well and her -3 ability also asks for Swamps of all kinds, be it Golgari tombs or Rakdos crypts. This means that the M13 black planeswalker is not only for mono-black decks anymore and you can happily play her in green-black or red-black decks as well if you think it’s a good idea (or even in „Jund“ concoctions). Liliana’s ultimate ability affects non-basic Swamps as well, although that’s fairly irrelevant, as nobody is ever going to ultimate this Liliana for a good profit anyway.

Fast aggro strategies are also happy to see shock lands in Return to Ravnica. First, having the option to pay life in order to curve out better is a huge plus, as fast aggro decks usually don’t care about their life total so much and trading some life for a faster start will usually be more than reasonable. And second, you’ll see a lot more players starting their life totals at 18 or 16 in the new Standard, which is very good for aggro / burn strategies, because it’s quite a big difference and will often be equal to one or two free spells (bolts to the face) for the player who’s beating down. In the new Standard, I would watch out for a fast red aggro deck that can burn the opponent out. Cards like Hellrider or Vexing Devil have a much easier life when your opponents keep dealing damage to themselves.

Innistrad Block Constructed was not very kind to one-drops, because all your dual-lands came into play tapped on the first turn. The Ravnica duals, just like the Scars of Mirrodin duals, put no such restrictions on one-drops of all kinds, so expect cards like Champion of the Parish, Stromkirk Noble or Delver of Secrets to continue entering play on turn one for as long as the old/new RtR dual lands are in Standard.

Arbor Elf untaps Forests, but not just those that are basic, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that Arbor Elf will be untapping Overgrown Tombs and Temple Gardens from September on (and very likely also Breeding Pools and Stomping Grounds, once Gatecrash gets added to the mix). Both Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise will be rotating out of Standard soon, which is going to leave Arbor Elf as the only green one-drop accelerant, unless you need white, provided by Avacyn's Pilgrim. This could still change, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Birds of Paradise’s second coming (or rather a twelfth coming or so) in Return to Ravnica, as that’s exactly the type of card I assume would fit into a multi-colored block.

Mutilate doesn’t mind if you feed it with basic Swamps or with Ravnica duals, which actually helps a great deal here. As we all know, mono-black is just an illusion that many people want to be playable, but it never is (just kidding... to some extent). However, being able to play Mutilate in multicolor decks as well (although they should still be heavy-black, as you can only play four duals of each kind), pushes this card a long way towards Standard playability outside of decks like mono black Trading Post and actually turns Mutilate into something that resembles Damnation a lot more than it might seem.

The uncommon two-color creature cycle from M13 (Arctic Aven, Flinthoof Boar, etc.) also only asks for a land type, not one that’s necessarily of a basic kind. While some cards from this cycle don’t seem to be constructed worthy, at least two do look like material that could very well be shining in Standard. Crimson Muckwader and Flinthoof Boar (almost a strictly upgraded Watchwolf) have what it takes, very much thanks to Ravnica duals having the basic land types these creatures need.

That’s for the reprinting of Ravnica duals. But there’s more – over 70 cards have already been spoiled at PAX Prime and I’d like to briefly talk about some of them. So what’s new? In what way will Standard change after the rotation of Scars block + M12 and the introduction of Return to Ravnica?

The Golgari guild uses the graveyard as a resource and we already have plenty of graveyard-oriented cards from Innistrad. Frites was a deck that saw some play a while ago and cards like Grisly Salvage (Instant for BG that lets you reveal the top five cards of your library, put a creature or a land card from among them into your hand and the rest into your graveyard) could provide a solid boost to the Standard reanimator strategy. The card feels like a good cross-over between Mulch and Tracker's Instincts, which are two cards that both saw play in Frites.

Dreg Mangler (1BG 3/3 haste with Scavenge for 3BG) seems like another interesting card that graveyard-oriented self-mill strategies could use. I think that the card is really good, even if you’re not using the graveyard as your primary resource, and is basically a reincarnation of Boggart Ram-Gang, which was a card that saw a ton of play back in Shadowmoor. With Dreg Mangler, we keep the solid stats of 3/3 haste for three mana, but instead of Whither, we get the possibility to give a creature a permanent +3/+3 bonus for five mana, once Dreg Mangler hits the bin. This feels a little like Undying in a sense that if your opponent just kills the creature, they’re slipping into the card disadvantage territory. What also shouldn’t be overlooked is the fact that Dreg Mangler, just like some of his other Golgari friends, is a Zombie. A three-drop might not be exactly what Zombies need and green might not be the color they would like to pair the most with, but a powerful Zombie that’s very much playable on its own should be given a serious consideration by all the Zombie players out there, especially if some more Golgari goodies will follow.

If Golgari ends up being narrowly focused on the graveyard, I would take some time to go through all the old Innistrad graveyard cards to see if some old tools couldn’t be used here. Boneyard Wurm, among others, is a card that I would keep in mind, since there is a chance that it could become playable, if things go right.

With both Phantasmal Image and Phyrexian Metamorph saying goodbye to Standard, Whipflare also rotating out and Pyroclasm nowhere to be seen, I’m a little worried that we’re not going to have enough answers to certain legendary 2/2 creatures, especially those with Hexproof (you know, like some blue-white Grey Ogres, for example). I seriously doubt that Evil Twin and Clone will provide us with good enough answers to Geist, so hopefully Return to Ravnica will provide some good defenses here.

Jace 4.0 has also been spoiled already (Jace, Architect of Thought) and I honestly don’t know what to think about him so far. Just as his most famous form, he costs four mana. He has a defensive +1 ability which says that in the next turn, opponent’s attacking creatures receive -1/-0. That’s solid, although against some decks it will be hardly enough to keep him safe. Then he has a -2 „mini Fact or Fiction“ ability: revealing the top three cards of your library and then taking one of the two piles your opponent separates the cards into. That sounds about right, although you won’t be able to do it more than once in three turns if you want to keep Jace alive (unlike Jace 2.0’s Brainstorm ability). The ultimate of the new Jace sounds pretty brutal – searching both players‘ libraries for a spell and casting it, especially as you probably should be prepared for his ultimate with playing a spicy spell or two in your deck (some Ultimatum would fit the „ultimate“ ability’s flavor pretty well). But you know, the value of planeswalkers is usually not decided by their ultimate, since when you’re ultimating, you should be winning anyway.

So is the new Jace broken? Is he going to get banned before December or after? I like the fact that he only costs four mana, which is very much accessible. I also like that he has one defensive ability and one card-advantage ability. But I’m not very happy that his card draw ability costs half of his loyalty and that you can’t use it more than once in three turns if you want to keep the loyalty on a steady level. I think that Jace, Architect of Thought, is still pretty good. But he’s (fortunately) not a Jace, the Mind Sculptor caliber of a card, not even an Elspeth, Knight-Errant one. I’m looking forward to playing with him, though, just as much as I’m looking forward to playing with the rest of the new set, which is looking great so far. Hopefully the second trip to Ravnica is going to be as awesome as the first one.

That’s all from me for today. Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam Koska

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