Return To Ravnica Sketches

This week Mike shows you a few rough Return to Ravnica Standard decklists to give you some new and different ideas of what can be (and how the shape of the world might soon look) with the new set.

Epic Experiment…Miracles…Tap-Out Control…and Blazing a man to death with Jund!

Return to Ravnica is gearing up for exactly the kind of Magic that I love best: a fluid ability to flit from great cards to great cards between different archetypes without strict loyalty to any particular linear. You want to resolve a big Dragon? Figure out how to set up the game so you can stick your big Dragon then. You want to flip over your deck and show ’em what you’ve got? Despite the rotation of Genesis Wave…we’ve actually got a card that can do that (but being Izzet, it’s not clear if we have a work of [Draco]genius or just a blowup in the lab just yet).

Like yours, my mind has been racing with the possibilities that Return to Ravnica is giving us. Here are some of the more exciting I have put to paper:

Epic Experiment

Epic Experiment is an exceedingly interesting and challenging new option. My sense (having seen it for the first time less than ten minutes ago) is that it will be a poor support card but an—ahem—truly epic build-around card.

Epic Experiment is obviously the Izzet answer to Genesis Wave, but perhaps even more restrictive. When I worked on the various U/G Genesis Wave builds that Dave Williams championed at Worlds, that Brian David-Marshall took to a SCG Standard Open X-2, and that fellow brewer Conley Woods used to nearly take down an Open, I took a very narrow view. Is Preordain a permanent? No? No Preordain then. Spreading Seas was our Preordain!

So at least as the curtains part at this point, I am thinking no Snapcaster Mage and no Augur of Bolas! I mean, you probably have to ask yourself at some point if it is even worth playing Epic Experiment if we are giving up such a basic and powerful complement to cheap instants and sorceries as Snapcaster Mage… But Epic Experiment on the bonus isn’t just a card advantage machine, it is also mana. It casts all your spells for you!

Obviously we are just sketching at this point, but I wanted to carry two major themes in the build: 1) super low land count and 2) super cheap instants and sorceries only (besides Epic Experiment of course). The advantage Genesis Wave has over Epic Experiment is that you actually get to keep your lands, which is not the case here. Between Thought Scour, Izzet Charm (technically "card disadvantage" when used as a card selection spell), and the twelve flashback draw cards, you should be okay for lands even though you only have twenty physical land cards; in fact, this deck might play like a 30-land deck (which is good as you are eventually planning to spike a big Epic Experiment). With a little tinkering we might be able to go the Japanese Delver route and actually cut to eighteen or nineteen physical lands.

Every land we can cut is a potential benefit to our Epic Experiment strategy as flipping over lands is poison (but flipping over anything else is awesome).

For this sketch I would reserve Cyclonic Rift and Mizzium Mortars for the sideboard (though that may be wrong, in particular in the case of Cyclonic Rift). The maindeck is all card selection and flexible burn.

So all that said the main thing I am worried about is actually being able to close out a game. I can imagine being in what seems like commanding position with tons of seeming card advantage but up against an opponent who has simply gained too much to beat (imagine any opponent armed with Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice).The deck is capable of doing a maximum of 40 damage, and that is if you resolve every single burn spell directly at the opponent’s face. Over time we might have to move around card draw for more burn spells or even move into different colors.

But like the card’s name, anything we do that is ultimately useful will probably be the result of much experimentation.

Cyclonic Rift

Cyclonic Rift is such a card. Jeezum-wow, just when you thought that the removal of Vapor Snag was going to mean something!

To be fair, Cyclonic Rift (also a cheap bounce spell) is quite a different card from Vapor Snag and probably doesn’t even fit into a Delver shell; it costs twice what Vapor Snag did and doesn’t do any damage (and it is unlikely the typical Delver deck is generally in a position to pay the overload).

Now, do we have a shell for a deck that both needs cheap defense and potentially has tons of mana in the late game to pay for the overload on this kind of a card?

The sideboard might include Feeling of Dread a la Hayne and should probably be able to go eight Wraths with brand spanking Supreme Verdict. Detention Sphere will be a good catchall as well as a direct trump to Entreat the Angels, so that might be something that demands a bit of consideration.

Azorius Charm is a good complement as instant speed card draw for your miracles while giving you even more potential defense.

Of course, Cyclonic Rift could also be perfect in Tap-Out:

The sideboard would include Negate (for other people’s big bombs), Pillar of Flame (fast combo with Snapcaster Mage + Strangleroot Geist resistance), possibly the last two copies of Rakdos’s Return (because I love it so much), and setup cards for the turns prior to Rakdos’s Return (the red carpet as it were)…some mix of Duress (again great with Snapcaster Mage) and up to three copies of Slaughter Games (because it’s not like your opponent can stop you from resolving it). At which point you crush them with huge tap-outs of Rakdos’s Return to clear answers and Niv-Mizzet and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker for the Dragon twin finish.

I am a gigantic fan of Rakdos’s Return, as you probably know. It is a card that can fight planeswalkers whether they are in hand or on the board, and I love Blazing a man to death regardless of whether he is still gripping cards or no.


And now I must hang my head in shame.

Gerry probably planned it this way. I’m sure he listened to my returning podcast the past couple of weeks, where Brian David-Marshall reminded the world that he predicted I would be playing Pilgrim’s Eye (and I reminded him that even though he was right, I played Pilgrim’s Eye in a $5K-winning infinite combo deck)… But yeah, I played Pilgrim’s Eye.

And yeah, this set has a two-mana Pilgrim’s Eye kind of thing.

Knowing this, Gerry throwaway-mentioned earlier this week that I looked at my historical performances and despite a love of green (I mean, how can you not love a Borderland Ranger?) assessed my actual tournament performance was much better with blue than green.

And yet…

Never mind!

Here is my first pass on Jund Ramp Tap-Out Two-for-One:

I limited my land selection to cards that have already been spoiled. This probably goes for some other decks in this sketch set. Obviously none of the decks are finished products, but the mana bases in particular can move around quite a bit based on, say, the revelation of a Stomping Grounds or the sudden appearance of a Gruul Guildgate.

The dream curve here, of course, is Gatecreeper Vine → Borderland Ranger → Huntmaster of the Fells → Acidic Slime… All the two-for-ones!

Lotleth Troll over Elvish Visionary is a twofold concession to 1) Lotleth Troll being insane and 2) this deck being able to do basically nothing with a 1/1 body that doesn’t do anything else.

… Though I suppose you could get very annoying with a similar shell going white instead of red:

I went with Corpsejack Menace over Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice on my incremental four because of the insane combinations with the Golgari beaters. Corpsejack Menace with Lotleth Troll is quite the combination and not bad at all with Dreg Mangler.

But what is really stupid if you can get it going is Corpsejack Menace with Gavony Township!

So you have a two-way deck strategy here, which is the aggro route (Arbor Elf → Dreg Mangler or Loxodon Smiter → Corpsejack Menace peppering with Gavony Township as appropriate and the mighty Lotleth Troll as available) and the two-for-one route of Elvish Visionary → Borderland Ranger → Restoration Angel → Acidic Slime (ideally with more Restoration Angels down the line).

Rancor makes even Elvish Visionary a threat!

It is likely this G/W implementation is too extreme in its not playing any removal cards. My guess from being a pretty successful deck designer the first time there was a Ravnica block is that the format is going to go more midrange. Cards like Dreadbore combined with the utter flexibility of the various Charms are going to slow down super-fast offense; for the most part, we aren’t going to see control as most of you think of control… The counterspells are too slow for cards like Lotleth Troll (which is exceedingly hard to kill or counter).

So the creature decks—to cope with other creature decks—are going to go more in the direction of slowing down for two-for-ones. "Up" rather than "forward" if you can visualize the development of the battlefield.

If the board is clogging down with creatures, cards like Rakdos’s Return are going to be very powerful. Either everyone is blocking or no one is attacking, so you will find yourself with the time to develop into one either via ramp or card draw…and then boom! If you can resolve it (and let’s be honest, Farseek into Slaughter Games means that you can resolve it), then your opponent is damned no matter what, for it is not only a Mind Shatter, not only a planeswalker-killer, but a Blaze.

This makes for a very interesting possible line for Grixis Control. Say we bide our time with little Pillar of Flames and Mortars and can trade one-for-one (really two-for-two) with our Snapcaster Mages and Izzet Charms. I think that the natural defense of the two-for-one creatures will find itself in a much less defensible spot. If anything, I might have put forth too few Rakdos’s Returns in my Grixis Tap-Out above. This is because Rakdos’s Return by itself is good, but against a deck of deceptive card advantage setting up with two-for-ones from two-through-four (or now newly full of cards in hand thanks to an overloaded Cyclonic Rift) is going to be meat for Rakdos’s Return.

And the prohibition on big bombs?

The big, scary Dreadbore?

You can suddenly tap for a Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker if your opponent is guaranteed to be empty, no?

Hey, just one man’s imagination!

Obviously I will have missed more than one thing along the lines with these sketches, but I trust you now have some new and different ideas of what can be (and how the shape of the world might soon look) having read this.