Return To Ravnica Rundown

Get ready for Return to Ravnica by reading Ashley Morway’s thoughts about some of the new cards. She’s particularly looking for cards with potential in Standard as well as for goodies to add to her Commander decks.

Return to Ravnica comes out in just a few weeks, and everyone’s talking about it. And why shouldn’t they? Ravnica block was one of the most popular blocks of all time, and just from the cards we know about so far Return to Ravnica looks like it’s going to be every bit as awesome. Just like everyone else, I’m excited, probably the most excited I’ve been about a set since, well, Ravnica. So I want to share my thoughts about RTR this week, with a particular eye towards the upcoming Standard season and State Championships as well as looking for goodies to add to my Commander decks.

So without further ado!

The Shocklands

I want to start by saying that I think it was absolutely correct for Wizards to reprint the shocklands. From a sales perspective, those cards alone sell the set.

Damnation helped sell Planar Chaos (as Mark Rosewater talks about here: “All we have to do is show the card,” I said time and time again, “and we’ll sell the set. We won’t have to waste the ad guys’ time. Just have a blank white sheet with Damnation in the middle. By itself, it will sell the set.”)

Fetchlands sold Zendikar.

So why wouldn’t they put cards in the set that are guaranteed to sell packs? I, for one, am glad whenever I can open packs and find lots of non-mythic value. Plus, I just think they’re fun, and above all else Magic should be fun. The only reason I’m even mentioning this stuff is because, shockingly, some people are unhappy that these lands are being reprinted! (You see what I did there? Hehe!) Some people will be unhappy about anything so… Moving on.

Reasons to be HAPPY? Well, we’ll have great mana bases in Standard again, including for enemy colored combinations, but this is nothing new. Mostly, I’m excited because of Commander. Sure, sometimes I feel special because I have shocklands and one (or several) of my opponents does not, but my regular readers will know that I like a competitive game and would rather have good cards be more accessible to players.

In my last article, I talked about templating a little bit and how I typically start with the same base of blue cards whenever I build a (blue) Commander deck. Well, I do the same thing for my lands, always starting with a core of every Revised dual I can have, every fetch, and every shock. In a tricolor deck, you can effectively run all but one fetch, and with access to duals and shocks each fetch can become any of the three colors of mana at will. Not to mention there are cards like Nature’s Lore, Skyshroud Claim, and Ranger’s Path that find “Forest” including nonbasic ones, as well as Liliana of the Dark Realms who finds a “Swamp” card, and so on.

But I don’t want this whole article to just boil down to “shocklands are good,” so again, moving on.

Abrupt Decay

I think this card is great for Standard. It’s cheap, versatile, instant speed, and can’t be countered, but I don’t think it’s that exciting for Commander. The games I usually play in are ruled by big things of which this handles far too few in my book, but I’m definitely putting a playset of these on my Standard want list immediately.

Angel of Serenity

It’s a bit too expensive for Standard, and I’m not sure you’ll even want the effect. But you can certainly do some fun things with this in Commander, including exiling your own creatures (all with comes into play effects of course) and then playing Wrath of God. Eternal Witness is fun because you can exile it and then when the Angel dies you can get it back over and over. I’ll pick up at least one of these for sure.

Ash Zealot

It’s not that unusual to find a 2/2 for two with a couple of great abilities anymore, but first strike and haste are just what an aggressive red deck wants, so I think this is exactly what red mages are looking for even if it didn’t have the third (though highly situational) ability. Its only strike against it is that it’s not a Goblin, but it’s more important to be Human these days anyway. There has to be a viable aggressive red deck in the new format (hint: there ALWAYS is!). I’ll want four of these for Standard, but the impact on the board is too small to make a dent in 40 life (times X players) to play it in Commander.

Carnival Hellsteed

I really like this card, but mostly because I have a soft spot in my heart for Nightmares. This one is actually pretty good. First strike is probably going to be irrelevant most of the time on a creature this big, but unleash gives you the option of getting a little more aggressive with an opponent and haste lets you hit out of nowhere. That being said, we’ve been spoiled with six casting cost Titans for a couple of years now, so it might take a while for this one to catch on, if ever. I’m still going to pick up four. They’re cheap right now and besides, look at that artwork!

Chaos Imps

Seriously, wouldn’t you rather have a Nightmare Horse?

Chromatic Lantern

Yet another reason that mana bases are about to get AWESOME! I think this will be great in Standard if the format shifts in a less aggressive direction. If it were legal right now, it would probably see niche play only. It’s obviously bonkers in Commander though. All my colorless lands tap for any mana I want? My FETCHLANDS tap for mana? This is good competition for those Darksteel Ingot or Coalition Relic spots in your Commander decks now. Or heck, run all three!

Collective Blessing

Not impressed. A weaker Overrun that costs more mana and is more color specific, albeit in enchantment form. It doesn’t cut it in Standard but might make the grade for some Commander decks. I still wouldn’t bother though.

Corpsejack Menace

I wish I could like this card just because it’s an evil Fungus, but sadly it doesn’t have a lot going for it. A 4/4 for four is an old hat by now. If you can’t regularly abuse its ability, don’t bother.


You’ll rarely ever want to pay the overload cost. Unless not being countered back matters a lot to you, this is a weaker Double Negative, Dissipate variant. Because of the very small edge over Cancel I’m not sure I’d run it, even in a U/R deck, because of its stricter color requirements.

Cryptborn Horror

For this to be good, you’d have to regularly land it as a 3/3 or better, and I’m not sure it’s worth it for all the times it’ll be smaller than that. If it had haste (or haste/wither a la Boggart Ram Gang) I might consider it.

Cyclonic Rift

I wish it could target your own stuff because it would have so much potential (and many broken applications!), but I’m sure this isn’t good enough for Standard even though it is pretty sweet for Commander!

Deadbridge Goliath

Here we have a more aggressively costed creature than the ones we’ve looked at so far, with the added upside that you can get more value out of it after it’s died. It’s probably good enough for Standard for those reasons alone, but I don’t think it pushes the envelope enough for Commander games where it is big and nothing else.

Death’s Presence

The fact that this costs six and doesn’t impact the board on its own or even with one other creature means that this probably isn’t good enough to make the cut in Standard. It could be pretty amazing in Commander providing that the usual run of sweepers and exile effects don’t nip those dreams in the bud…

Desecration Demon

In one versus one play, this is like an Abyss that doesn’t ask you to sacrifice your own creatures and can sometimes attack for massive damage. It’s also easier to remove from the board. That being said, I don’t know why this card isn’t priced higher than it is. Sure, it’s not a mythic, but it’s way better than Abyssal Persecutor ever thought of being. It’s rather lackluster for Commander where an Abyss would shine instead.

Detention Sphere

I’m sure someone must’ve said this already…but this is like a Maelstrom Pulse and Oblivion Ring all rolled into one. That being said, it shares the strengths and weaknesses of both. Looking at the other two cards, we can tell that it’ll be a four-of in several Standard decks while possibly not making it into many Commander decks as a one-for-one often temporary answer.


How likely are we to play Terminate if it is a sorcery instead of an instant? Well, this one kills planeswalkers. So that’s what we’re buying by giving up instant speed. Is it worth it? Probably for Standard. I wouldn’t touch it for Commander though. Planeswalkers are attack magnets in multiplayer and having instant removal is particularly relevant since creatures might actually attack in other directions and not come your way in the first place.

Epic Experiment

This card gives me hope that we might actually have a combo deck in Standard (you know, other than Infect…), but I’m not sure how that combo will take shape yet. In Commander, I foresee this possibly ending some games by itself: “Oh, Time Stretch, Regrowth, Time Stretch again…” Well, I guess that’s not exactly “by itself,” but it still seems like a really sweet card that can enable some very strange mostly sorcery/instant decks in much the way that Warp World encouraged strange mostly permanent-based decks. Warp World wasn’t exactly mainstream, but Warp World doesn’t have blue mana in its casting cost.

Grove of the Guardian

Totally unplayable rubbish! Downside #1: you get colorless mana. Downside #2: for the first downside, you’re only getting an 8/8 with vigilance for six mana (one of which you have to lose permanently) AND you need to have two other creatures AND you need to tap them too! Why? Just… WHY?

Growing Ranks

I haven’t seen any indication that this is even remotely playable in Standard, but it will serve a niche role in some Commander decks. You probably want to use this with Spitting Image to have good creature token to copy.

Guild Feud

Another card that’s obviously bad for Standard but great for Commander. Target someone who is playing a creature-light deck or make sure your deck is full of creatures that win fights—you know, like Titans. Your opponents are probably running creatures with a lot of great comes into play abilities just like you are, but at best they’ll have even odds in that scenario. You can make your odds look even better with a Sensei’s Divining Top and some shuffle effects to get ready for your upkeep.

Havoc Festival

It costs a lot for an effect that hurts you just as much, and I wouldn’t play it in either Standard or Commander. But hey, some people like shorter Commander games, and this might make them a LOT shorter!

Hypersonic Dragon

I’m a big fan of the name and the art. The card itself isn’t bad. I just think I’d want a Thundermaw Hellkite instead most of the time. Heck, you can only have one of each in Commander, I guess, so you might want both. In a pure heads up though, Hellkite wins.

Isperia, Supreme Judge

I think this is all right for Standard (remember that Titans, Consecrated Sphinx, and Wurmcoil Engine are all rotating…), but it just SCREAMS Commander by discouraging people from attacking you. Make sure to run more planeswalkers than normal though to give them lose-lose scenarios.

Jace, Architect of Thought

I definitely want four of these for Standard, though I’m a little uncertain how good it will really be. I think that’s just because the other four casting cost Jace raised our expectations. This one can protect itself (and us) while occasionally drawing us cards in the form of mini Fact or Fictions. Its ultimate is most fun in multiplayer, but alas, it can’t take damage for four whole trips around the table, which is pretty unlikely.

Jarad’s Orders

Probably a worse Diabolic Tutor for Standard, but I could see running it in my The Mimeoplasm Commander deck as a way of Tutoring for two cards instead of one.

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord

It’s going to take some time in a one-on-one game for this guy’s power/toughness to be a bargain for four casting cost. Sacrificed creatures can do more damage over the long haul by just attacking, and the “each opponent” phrasing is worded to encourage this card for group games. The fact that it’s a legend further suggests it as a possible Commander, where it shines. Otherwise, it falls short in most other scenarios.

Lotleth Troll

Decent casting cost to power ratio. With three good abilities to go with it I can see this getting heavily played in Standard, where the +1/+1 counter and regeneration abilities help keep it alive and make it more relevant in the late game besides. Its small starting power and vulnerability to exile and sweeping effects will keep it out of my Commander lists though.

Loxodon Smiter

Again, we’re going to give this a Standard thumbs up just because of an aggressive casting cost to power ratio. The other abilities are nice to have on top of that too, but they’re situational and not really what you’re paying for. In Commander, it’s just a dude.

Martial Law

You have to wait a turn for this to kick in and it costs four, both of which keep it from being Standard playable. But it’s very good for Commander where games are slower and you can keep detaining bigger and better creatures, not only protecting yourself but potentially opening up your opponents to attack.

Mercurial Chemister

For both Standard and Commander I think this guy costs too much, but if he’s going to find a home it’ll be in a Commander deck since Commander games take more time to develop. I think there are better things you could be doing, but there are certainly worse things too. Just please find a way to give him haste so you can get something out of him since you’re paying five mana and utility creatures like him have extremely short life expectancies. Fervor or Lightning Greaves works. So does Anger. An angry Chemister? Look out!

Well, I hate to end on a cliffhanger like that, but I’m all out of time (and words!). We’ll pick up next time with the rest of the Return to Ravnica rares and mythics, concluding with my very own Return to Ravnica want list: a summary of what cards and in what quantities I plan on buying/trading/winning in order to be ready for the next Standard season and all those Commander games in between rounds!