Returning To The Good Ol’ Days

GP Nashville finalist Todd Anderson discusses some of the more interesting spoilers released at PAX this past weekend and goes over the implications of those cards as well as their respective guilds.

This past weekend, Wizards decided to spoil a metric ton of cards from Return to Ravnica, and the hype surrounding the set is at an all-time high. Personally, the original Ravnica was my favorite Limited format of all time, and the Standard format(s) containing the block weren’t too shabby either. To say that I’m excited about this trek back to my favorite land is an understatement, but they have some big shoes to fill. Today I’ll be discussing some of the more interesting spoilers released at PAX this past weekend and go over the implications of those cards as well as their respective guilds.

When the original Ravnica was released it showed us only four guilds, while the corresponding sets of Guildpact and Dissension showed us the last six, three each respectively. As those sets were released, you could really tell that Ravnica/Guildpact/Dissension was designed with the full block Draft format in mind. This was one of the first sets released where I really felt like the designers didn’t forget anything. There was flavor. The colors were balanced. The format was, above all, fun, which is not something I could say about a lot of the previous Draft formats that I’d encountered.

Ravnica, for me, signified a new age of Magic. They weren’t afraid to print new mechanic dual lands, knowing full well that they would change Extended (and every iteration of Extended) forever. Much like the Extended sets of old, fetchlands and dual lands went hand in hand, and this era was no different. They weren’t afraid of making the mana too good, as long as the price was steep enough. Paying that amount of life to make your mana perfect was acceptable to them and acceptable to the general public as well. This time around we still have the fetchlands for Modern—the only thing that has changed is their mindset.

They aren’t afraid to reprint staples for Modern; that is one of the coolest things that Return to Ravnica is showing me. In the past, they’ve gotten into some awkward situations with the reserved list, but I’m glad that this hasn’t become a similar situation. If card are popular in Modern, they want the players to have access to them. There is nothing more frustrating as a player than having to spend $30+ on a single land for your deck.

The reprinting of shocklands demonstrates to me that Wizards has a no-tolerance policy for Modern legal staples to be expensive. I would not be surprised if Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant are next on the agenda, let alone certain niche cards like Vedalken Shackles. I personally own four copies of all the shocklands from Ravnica block on Magic Online, and I couldn’t be happier about them reprinting the shocklands in Return to Ravnica. I mean, what am I going to do, sell them so I can rebuy them again?

But enough about the financial aspect of return to Ravnica, as I’ll leave that subject to people a bit more qualified. Today we’re going to talk about some of my favorite cards spoiled thus far and their impact on their respective Constructed formats! First up, I just want to say that the Charm cycle is pretty awesome. For those of you who haven’t seen them yet, here is my favorite:

There is one of these Charms for each guild in Return to Ravnica, and I think that each Charm demonstrates three of the most basic principles from the guild it represents. Just take a look at Izzet Charm. The guild of red/blue mages enjoys setting things on fire, countering spells, and drawing cards! You can even see the mixed elements of each color at work since there is no card advantage to be gained here, as even the “draw” ability forces you to discard.

What each Charm represents is an idea, and those ideas are what each guild exemplifies and the principles that those guilds hold dear. See Azorius Charm:

This card is just oozing with flavor, all the way down to the flavor text! Azorius is a guild of logic, reason, and justice. Each member of the order makes their decisions with these principles in mind, and it would be foolish to think that they actually had a choice in the matter!

The rules of logic and order have already made the choice for you.”  -Isperia

While Return to Ravnica is full of flavor, I’m here today to look for something more: power and playability. While this aspect of card evaluation bleeds into Limited as well, today I’m going to be focusing on Constructed. For one, I’m under the impression that the Charms will all see some amount of play. They are all diverse, and most of their abilities are useful. Since they are also cheap, it seems like a no-brainer.

The Charms that will see the most play are the ones that have the ability to kill creatures. While we only have three Charms at the moment, all of them can deal with creatures in some way or another. Izzet Charm can kill small creatures, while Azorius Charm and Selesnya Charm are little more selective with the creatures they can kill. Of the two, Selesnya Charm is much more apt to deal with Dragons or other finishers and can double as a 2/2 Knight when the opponent doesn’t have any offense of note. Azorius Charm can kill any creature, big or small, but requires them to be attacking or blocking, and it just puts it on top of the library. While this is still a decent ability, the “draw a card” ability seems to be the most played option.

But that’s the beauty of the Charms! Even though some of the abilities will be much less played than the others, they are all still useful and will likely be used at one point or another when the situation calls for it. By themselves the Charms can’t really create card advantage, but they can all create tempo advantage and just blow people out in certain situations. I fully expect to utilize the +2/+2 and trample ability of Selesnya Charm, considering just how good Mutagenic Growth has been over the last year.

Card 3

This is the card that I’m most excited about so far! I’m under the impression that LOL Troll will be seeing play in nearly every Constructed format, including Legacy! Just imagine how good this guy is with Life from the Loam, and the fact that it regenerates is just absurd. It can grow larger than Tarmogoyf pretty easily in the right deck, and it can even trample over small creatures that get in its way!

I’m most excited about this card in Modern since there aren’t a lot of great discard outlets. While it could take some work to fit LOL Troll into the same deck as Faithless Looting, it shouldn’t be overly difficult. After all, I once built a deck using Faithless Looting, Lingering Souls, Liliana of the Veil, Gifts Ungiven, Seismic Assault, and Life from the Loam.

While I don’t think that LOL Troll will be the best enabler or the best midrange threat, I do think it definitely has a place alongside cards like Countryside Crusher, which has done well in major Legacy events. With LOL Troll and Seismic Assault combining forces with Life from the Loam, expect that engine to become more powerful in Modern and Legacy. With just a few cards spoiled thus far for Golgari, I fully expect to see at least one more awesome card for this type of deck, since dredge and utilizing “mediocre” card advantage is what black and green do best!

Next up:

Goblin Electromancer, while just a simple Goblin with a simple taste for power, exemplifies the nature of Izzet all the way down to its flavor text. Izzet mages always want more power, more resources to fuel their fire and their whimsy. Goblin Electromancer’s ability helps aid in this endeavor, and I’m excited to begin some trial runs!

Although Goblin Electromancer is just a 2/2 Goblin, it does provide the Izzet mage with something of an adrenaline shot in the arm. It makes cards like Think Twice actually bearable to cast and could help fuel all sorts of combo-esque decks in Standard. When a card is primed to provide the controller with more mana than the investment, then we need to take a second look! Nightscape Familiar, as well as the rest of the Familiars, was pretty awesome in its heyday, and I fully expect Electromancer to help fund the required costs of the greed of Izzet mages, though I don’t expect them to stay in two colors!


This is what I’m talking about! This is the type of creature that really gets me excited! I love cheap creatures with awesome abilities, and Judge’s Familiar definitely doesn’t disappoint. It flies and can disrupt the opponent pretty easily. I always liked Spiketail Hatchling when it was in Standard, and I think Judge’s Familiar will be a better version of that since it can be played more easily and for cheaper! While the ability is the same as Cursecatcher’s, the creature type is only relevant in Legacy (and maybe Modern). I think that Judge’s Familiar will see a lot of play in Standard and will do wonders in helping aggressive decks (both blue and white) stave off sweeper effects.

But that isn’t everything. Judge’s Familiar can act as a deterrent for a lot of slower decks. The threat of Judge’s Familiar will often be more powerful than the card itself, since no one will want their spell to get countered. This means that people will wait a turn to cast their spell, even if it is to their disadvantage! Much like Mana Leak, Judge’s Familiar will have more of an impact when it is not being used as opposed to when it is actually being used. After all, countering a spell is less powerful than Time Walking your opponent for multiple turns!

Unfortunately, Judge’s Familiar only affects instants and sorceries and will be less powerful against a lot of the aggressive strategies in Standard. We are also losing important cards like Honor of the Pure and Swords of Something or Other, which could otherwise make the body more relevant. I do expect there to be an Anthem effect printed for white in Ravnica, but I also expect there to be a Wrath of God of sorts. I may end up being disappointed on both ends.

While all of the cards listed thus far are multicolored cards, I didn’t want to focus entirely on that aspect of Return to Ravnica. Traditionally speaking, multicolored cards are generally more powerful for their converted mana cost than single colored cards, simply because they are harder to cast. With that said, as cards tend to have more and more mana symbols in the cost, they become more powerful.

This is evident in something like Leatherback Baloth, where you wouldn’t normally see a 4/5 for only three total mana. Being harder to cast has its advantages because you get to access incredibly potent cards for less mana than they would normally cost. This means that you should value mana fixing higher than most other cards in Return to Ravnica, in Limited as well as Constructed.

When you have perfect mana, the cards tend to fall in place around you. However, when you are stumbling on hitting your colors, that is when you begin to fall behind, and few cards can dig you out of a lot of those situations. This is why I am a huge advocate of the bouncelands (such as Izzet Boilerworks) from Ravnica block, because they help provide the controller with mana fixing as well as virtual card advantage. In Ravnica, Civic Wayfinder and Farseek were easily first pick cards, whereas Borderland Ranger and Farseek can be seen much later in M13. Since you aren’t focusing on casting more than two colors of cards, mana fixing is less important and ultimately less valuable.

I don’t think this will be the case in Return to Ravnica, as we’ve already seen with most of the spoiled cards thus far. I fully expect mana fixing to be the most important aspect of Limited, and I think that having the best mana base possible will push certain Standard archetypes ahead of others. This is evident by the printing of the gatelands. For example:

While it is not entirely clear how powerful the “Gate” subtext on these lands will be, we can see from certain cards that finding gatelands will be almost as easy as finding basic lands, which is refreshing. I’m looking forward to an Evolving Wilds of sorts that can fetch out gatelands, making them even stronger in Constructed and Limited, seeing as Evolving Wilds has seen Constructed play for the last year or so. Even Terramorphic Expanse was integral for the foundation of Time Spiral Block Constructed. There might be a drawback involved, which is almost certainly the case for this sort of thing as they don’t like giving strict upgrades to cards, and especially so when those other versions are already in Standard!

While Ravnica was one of the most popular blocks in Magic’s history, I fully expect Return to Ravnica to blow it out of the water. These people know what they’re doing in both flavor and play experience. Over the last six years, they’ve gotten a lot better at what they do, and thus far I am impressed with the set.

While I’m still waiting to see a lot of the mono-colored cards, I can definitely understand their haste in marketing the multicolored aspect of Return to Ravnica. After all, people still refer to U/W cards as Azorius and U/R cards as Izzet, even though they have nothing to do with either of those guilds! Everyone who plays Magic has an infatuation with multicolored cards. For a while, they were almost taboo, but I think that, with the right flavor and mix of good mana fixing, they can be a staple of Standard with little effort. 

Over the next few weeks, I am excited to discuss the new spoilers and to begin building decks! While Ravnica Limited (the original) was something to behold, the cards we’ve seen thus far in Return to Ravnica are starting to get my juices flowing. But this is only the tip of the iceberg! The original Draft format with Ravnica wasn’t that amazing, but we saw exactly what they were trying to do when the full block was released. Return to Ravnica should be something to behold, and I’ll be there along with you gawking at the spoilers every step of the way.

The expectations we have are great, and my only hope is that they come even remotely close to what I’m expecting. If they do, then we’ll all be very happy.

Thanks for reading.


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